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Saturday, February 7, 2015

Jupiter Ascending 2015 * * 1/2 Stars

Jupiter AscendingDirectors: Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski
Year: 2015
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum

With a bloated budget of over $175 million, a release date that seems to have been delayed by several months, and reviews from the nation's critics that prove to be less than overwhelming, Jupiter Ascending might be destined for doom. I'm here to tell you however, that it's not that bad. At a running time of two hours and change, this is a tighter version of what we have come to expect from the Wachowski siblings (Lana and Andy). Every since they gained worldwide fame via The Matrix, their mantra has been outlandish plot workings, variable themes on a universe that we thought we knew, funky characters explaining themselves through rules or anomalies before taking action, and lush, saturated production values that come off as a little overcooked. "Ascending" indeed has these Wachowski trademarks tattooed all over it. But with it, comes less ambition and more informality.

Not necessarily taking place in the future but instead frolicking in saucy visual splendor, Jupiter Ascending is a little Fifth Element, a little Star Wars, and a little Guardians of the Galaxy. The story begins by harvesting an uneven contingent between the setting of present day Chicago and the freakish, planetary hesitance of ancient astronauts (you can also call them aliens if you want). Poor Windy City resident and maid to order Jupiter Jones (played by Mila Kunis), is actually heir to all seeded planets in multiple solar systems (who knew). The movie doesn't really explain why but it thrusts her into a world of ruthless dialings who want to kill her and steal her inheritance. Three children from the quote unquote "House of Abrasax" are after her. Their names are Balem (played by Eddie Redmayne), Kalique (played by Tuppence Middleton), and Titus (played by Douglas Booth). Only half-man, half-wolf Caine Wise (played by megastar Channing Tatum) can save Jupiter. He's got a special set of skills, big ears, and plenty of shields. To quote a 1998 Foo Fighters song, "there goes my hero, watch him as he goes". Nuff said.

To my dismay, Jupiter Ascending is probably the easiest film to follow (storywise) in the Wachowski's uncanny arsenal. In terms of the acting, it's hit-or-miss (but in truth, it's mostly hit). Beefcake Tatum as the lead protagonist (and hero), dons an effective British accent and meets the physical demands of his role. His only misstep is that he sometimes overacts as Caine with spas mastic face grimacing. Oh and then there is his hover boarding feet which makes it appear like he's skating away from his enemies. I felt like I was watching Xanadu all over again coupled with a dramatic channeling of Roller Boogie (break out the tube socks people, just kidding). As the antagonist and alien form who wants Earth all to his lonesome, Eddie Redmayne (a newly crowned Oscar nominee) is ominous and creepy playing Balem Abrasax. His eyes alone will give you the heebie jeebies. That leaves Mila Kunis contributing as Jupiter Ascending's weakest asset. She plays the object of supposed royalty and with some truly vague line readings, strains in scene after scene. This is an actress that belongs in a summer romcom or a That '70's Show reunion, not a dramatic sci-fi actioner.

Speaking of action scenes, they are abundant in Jupiter Ascending. With other films by the Chicago-born duo, you have to patiently wait for slow buildups and then short payoffs. Not this one. If you revert back to the Wachowski's epic yarn Cloud Atlas, there was a story vignette in it called "Neo Seoul, 2144". The laser gun battles featured are similar here in scope and in sound. They are relentless, breakneck, and shot with trigger-happy intensity.

Overall though, despite its tantalizing movie poster and the exciting, swashbuckling antics of star Tatum (and even co-star Sean Bean who plays the Han Solo-like, Stinger), nothing can mask the notion that Jupiter Ascending is still just another, all too familiar action adventure. The Wachowskis try to one up every other filmmaker in the realms of costume design, makeup artistry (the characters are way too nasty and funked up for their own good), and good old fashioned visual effects (you gotta wonder that if this flicks bombs, was it worth it to have over 1000 cast and crew members contribute? Just curious). In all honesty, this is preferably hot air from the brother and sister team of mighty Chi town. They take their action packed skit from 2012's Cloud Atlas and stretch it to a full length featurette. Result: Something that "ascends" into a gallantly mixed review from me.

Written by Jesse Burleson

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