Tom Cruise

Edge Of Tomorrow

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2014

Warner Brothers Pictures

Directed by Doug Limon

Produced by Erwin Stoff

Screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth

Based on “All You Need Is Kill” by Hiroshi Sakurazaka

After all these years Hollywood has finally managed to do it. They’ve made a video game movie that actually is entertaining to watch and is clever enough that most people who watch it won’t even realize they’re watching a video game movie. But make no mistake; that’s exactly what EDGE OF TOMORROW is. Whenever the hero dies, his life is reset back to a starting point and he has to start all over again. But each time he gets a little further as he gains more knowledge and experience. And there are different levels where he has to accomplish certain tasks before he can move onto the next level.

The story begins in the fifth year of a vicious war humanity is waging against an alien race called Mimics. All of Earth’s armies have combined into the United Defense Force and it’s the job of a slick public relations officer, Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) to keep the propaganda machine well oiled. He’s assigned by General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) to provide on the spot coverage from the front line during Operation Downfall, an all-out invasion of Europe, which is entirely under Mimic control. Cage is no combat soldier and foolishly tries to blackmail the General to get out of the assignment. Brigham promptly has Cage arrested, stripped of his rank and thrown to the tender mercy of Master Sergeant Farrell (Bill Paxton) and his squad of misfits.

Cage and the squad land on the beaches of Normandy and are quickly wiped out by the hordes of Mimics who have apparently been waiting for them. Cage doesn’t last five minutes but is covered in the blood of an Alpha Mimic and it’s this that “resets” him every time he dies. Every time Cage gets killed he immediately wakes up on the tarmac at Heathrow Airport on the morning of the day before Operation Downfall.

Now it doesn’t take Cage long to figure out what has happened and of course he can get no one to believe him. No one except Sergeant Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) known as “The Angel of Verdun” due to her spectacular victory there where she slaughtered hundreds of Mimics by herself while wearing a Jacket.  Jackets are armored exoskeletons that effectively turn a soldier into a walking tank. It would do that for Cage if he could only figure out how to turn the damn thing on.

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Turns out that Rita once had the ability to “reset” as well and it was this ability that allowed her to kill so many Mimics at Verdun. Before she lost her ability she learned of The Omega Mimic which is the consciousness that controls all the other Mimics and can also reset time. Rita agrees to train Cage so that he can survive long enough to get them to The Omega Mimic and destroy it.

Once you get the gimmick behind the time loop, you can sit back and relax and just enjoy the mayhem. Cage gets progressively better at using his Jacket and since he remembers when and how he and Rita get killed in the previous life he’s able to use that knowledge to avoid getting killed the same way twice and get closer and closer to his goal. You’d think that a movie about a time loop would be repetitive but there’s some really funny moments thrown in to break up the grimness of the story. And I wonder if Rita isn’t a statement on video game players who have no patience with the game they’re playing when they can’t advance as when she gets frustrated she simply kills Cage to “reset” everything and start all over.

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The Mimics aren’t terribly clever enemies. Looking like great big whirling balls of tentacles they’re simply here to fulfill what every video game needs: something to shoot at. Don’t go in expecting a lot of characterization here either. We’re told exactly what we need to know about the characters, no more and no less. I did like how Tom Cruise wasn’t playing his usual gung ho Man Of Action who jumps into the fray with fearless abandon. Will Cage is a coward, straight up and he’s not in the least bit ashamed to admit it. He has to grow and develop into being a hero and Cruise sells it well.

It’s always fun to see Bill Paxton, no matter what and Emily Blunt does a more than capable job backing up Tom Cruise. So how does EDGE OF TOMORROW measure up against the other science fiction/action movies Tom Cruise has done? It’s light years ahead of “War of The Worlds” and “Oblivion” but doesn’t come close to touching “Minority Report” It’s an undemanding movie that does exactly what it’s designed to do: provide you with 113 minutes of spectacular action. It’s also a lot smarter than I expected and a lot more fun as well. It’s the best video game you’re going to see at the movies this summer. Enjoy.

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113 minutes

PG-13

 

 

 

Oblivion

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2013

Universal Pictures

Directed by Joseph Kosinski

Produced by David Fincher, Peter Chernin and Ryan Kavanaugh

Screenplay by William Monahan, Karl Gajdusek and Michael Arndt

Based on “Oblivion” by Joseph Kosinski and Arvid Nelson

I get what OBLIVION is trying to do. Or at least I think I get what it’s trying to do. Watching OBLIVION I felt myself squinting like Fry from “Futurama” in one of those “Not Sure If…” memes. OBLIVION makes a noble try at being a Science Fiction movie with some action in it rather than an Action Movie with some science fiction. If that makes any sense to you. It started out to make sense to me but the longer the movie went on, the more I squinted. The movie’s leisurely pace gave me time to think about what was going on and yep, start doing the “Not Sure If…” thing.

After a devastating war with a race of aliens known as Scavengers, The Moon is destroyed and humanity’s Hail Mary use of nuclear weapons has all but destroyed the Earth’s ability to continue supporting life. Technician Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) and his communications officer/partner/lover Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) are part of a massive operation to extract water from Earth to use on Titan where the human race has relocated. Jack and Victoria get their orders from their commander, Sally (Melissa Leo) who communicates with them from The Tet, a gigantic space station that resembles an upside down pyramid.

Now all of this information is conveyed to the audience in a voice over by Jack in the first ten minutes of the movie. I kid you not. I gave you the short version but just about everything you read in the paragraph above this one is relayed in a voice over, along with the information that Jack and Victoria had their memories wiped five years ago as a security measure in case they’re captured by Scavengers. Do I really have to tell you that any character in any science fiction movie who’s had their memory wiped is not to be trusted? Or that at some point in the movie, everything the characters in the movie have been experiencing will turn out to not be real? Didn’t think so.

Jack’s job is pretty much being a glorified maintenance man as he keeps the weapon-laden drones running. They protect the ginormous water extraction machines from those Scavengers that still remain on Earth. But Jack is conflicted in his job. Unlike Victoria who has no desire at all to go down to the surface, Jack feels more at home there than in the mile high tower complex they live in that looks as if it were designed by the same architect who designed the spire where The Jetsons live. He has reoccurring dreams about being on Earth before the war. He’s on the 86th floor observation deck of the Empire State Building with a woman he knows he has deep feelings for but cannot remember her name or why he has these dreams. The answer comes one day during his routine patrol when a sixty year old spaceship,  The Odyssey, crash lands near the ruins of the Empire State Building. The ship contains a number of hibernation capsules carrying humans. One of them is Julia (Olga Kurylenko) who is the woman in Jack’s dreams. Defying direct orders from Sally to bring Julia to The Tet, Jack and Julia begin their quest to discover what The Odyssey’s mission was and how it is connected to the war with The Scavengers.

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OBLIVION has some good things going for it. It’s a gorgeous looking movie with some really cool gadgets and gizmos to ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ over. I really dug Jack’s flier which is one of the coolest flying machines I’ve seen in movies recently. The special effects are appropriately amazing but in this day and age of computer wizardry do we ever see a movie with bad special effects anymore?

I really wish I could tell you to go for the acting but Tom Cruise doesn’t do anything to stretch his acting muscles in this one. And Tom Cruise can act when he wants to. I point at “Tropic Thunder” “Magnolia” “Collateral” and “Valkyrie” as just a few examples of what Cruise can do when he takes himself off autopilot.

I’ve seen Olga Kurylenko in three movies now and the more movies I see her in, the less I want to see of her. Didn’t like her in “Hitman” and actively disliked her in “Quantum of Solace.” She’s not much better here. And Andrea Riseborough is just plain dull. And despite what you see in trailers, Morgan Freeman isn’t a major character in this movie. His character’s name is Malcolm Beech but it should have been Malcolm Exposition as that’s the main purpose Freeman serves here.

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So should you see OBLIVION? Are you a Tom Cruise fan? If so, you’ve probably seen it already or have plans to see it and so nothing I say will change your mind. And that’s okay. Believe me, I understand. But for the rest of you I say wait for OBLIVION to come to Netflix.

124 minutes

PG-13

Mission: Impossible-Ghost Protocol

2011

Paramount Pictures

Directed by Brad Bird

Produced by Tom Cruise, J.J. Abrams and Bryan Burk

Written by Andre Nemec and Josh Applebaum

Based on the television series “Mission: Impossible” created by Bruce Geller

Unlike a lot of people I really don’t have anything against the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE film series.  The major argument people always throw at me is that it’s not the TV series.  Well, of course it’s not.  The only way to make it faithful to the TV series would be to get together a group of little known, semi-retired or B/C list actors in an ensemble piece.  Once I heard that Tom Cruise was going to be starring in the first one, I knew it was going to be his movie all the way.

And to be honest, I don’t have a problem with that.  America needs her own world-saving superspy and Cruise’s Ethan Hunt has been doing a respectable job in the four movies to date.  I liked “Mission: Impossible” directed by Brian DePalma even though I think it deplorable what they did to the Jim Phelps character.   The second one was a let-down.  If it had been any other director, it would have been a home run but I was expecting more from John Woo.  Not that “Mission: Impossible II” was a bad movie.  It was my own fault for having such high expectations.  “Mission: Impossible III” was just okay.  Again, not that it was a bad movie and I enjoyed seeing Seymour Philip Hoffman play a bad guy as much as he appeared to be enjoying it.  But ten minutes after seeing that movie, I couldn’t begin to tell you what it was about.

But I’m glad to be able to say that MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE-GHOST PROTOCOL knocks it out of the park.  For me it’s the most satisfying and exciting of the four.  Wonderful globetrotting locations, great action, phenomenal stunts and engaging characters tied into a plot that wouldn’t be out of place in a Cold War era James Bond movie adds up to an entertaining package.

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is broken out of a Moscow prison by IMF agents Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and Jane Carter (Paula Patton) who need him to infiltrate The Kremlin.  Carter, Dunn and another agent, Trevor Hanaway (Josh Holloway) were working a mission involving the interception of a courier working for a shadow agent codenamed Cobalt.  Hanaway was killed during the mission and now Jane and Benji need Ethan as a replacement to complete the mission.

The mission turns out to be a colossal set-up.  The Kremlin is blown up with Ethan and his team implicated.  The President of The United States invokes The Ghost Protocol which disavows the entire Impossible Mission Force.  Ethan and his team, along with intelligence analyst William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) are considered to be rogue agents.  Despite their having no backup at all, the four elect to pursue Cobalt and clear the IMF force.  It’s during their investigation they learn that Cobalt actually is Kurt Hendricks, a nuclear strategist who believes that nuclear war is necessary for human evolution.  He used the Kremlin bombing as a cover for his theft of a nuclear launch code device and framed the IMF so that he’d be in the clear.  From then on it’s a race against time as Ethan and his team has to stop Cobalt starting World War III.

I really enjoyed how the team aspect of the Mission: Impossible concept was used in this one.  It comes the closest to being faithful to the teamwork in the TV show as everybody on Ethan’s team is essential to the success of the mission and has their role to play.  If one person drops the ball, the mission is screwed.  Add to that the fact that Ethan has never worked with them before.  He’s in a situation where he has to trust them and get them to mesh together as a smoothly functioning machine.  In the previous three movies we’re constantly told what a great team leader Ethan Hunt is but this is the first time that we actually see him working at it.

The movie also has something the previous three didn’t have: some much needed humor thanks to Simon Pegg.  Thankfully, he doesn’t overdo the comedy relief.  He does just enough to enable us to laugh and relax a bit.  Especially during some of the exhilarating and truly harrowing action sequences such as the climbing of the Burj Khalifa tower.  If you have any kind of fear of heights at all, this scene will definitely leave you with no fingernails as I can guarantee you’ll chew them all off while watching.

The story takes some really clever twists and turns and there are resolutions to the sub-plots I honestly didn’t see coming, most notably the sub-plot involving the Jeremy Renner character.  And I loved the opening credits which pays homage to the opening credits of the TV show.

So should you see MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE-GHOST PROTOCOL?  If you’ve seen the first three then you probably already have.  If you’ve never seen any the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE films then this is a good one to start with.  You don’t have to worry about not having seen the first three to understand this as the writers and director get you up to speed on everything you need to know.  And with this movie, Brad Bird, who has done animated features such as “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille” shows that he’s an action director to watch.  MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE-GHOST PROTOCOL is a terrific action picture.  Go watch and enjoy.

133 minutes

PG-13

War Of The Worlds

2005

Paramount Pictures

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Produced by Kathleen Kennedy

Screenplay by Josh Friedman and David Koepp

Based on the novel by H.G. Wells

I think the best way that Steven Spielberg’s version of WAR OF THE WORLDS can be described is in the words of my wife Patricia, who about an hour into the movie leaned over and whispered in my ear; “This ain’t no war.”and she’s right.  I think if you go to see a movie called WAR OF THE WORLDS then you have a right to expect a war between worlds and we don’t get it in this movie.  Now, it is faithful in its way to both the 1953 version starring Gene Barry and Ann Robinson as well as the original H.G. Wells novel but it’s not faithful to what we expect in a big summer blockbuster science fiction action adventure directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Cruise.  In fact, it’s a letdown in a lot of ways.

Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise) is a happy-go-lucky guy.  When we first see him, he blows off his boss who is practically begging Ray to take overtime and then we see that Ray is late to meet his ex-wife and her new husband so that Ray can take charge of his children for the weekend.  Rachel (Dakota Fanning) is a precocious child with wisdom and a vocabulary far beyond her age while Robbie (Justin Chatwin) is our typical rebellious teen who has issues with his father because Dad wasn’t there to wipe his nose every time he had a cold.  This dysfunctional family unit has their weekend together ruined when a series of bizarre lightning strikes break out all over the world, including their New Jersey backyard.  The lightning strikes act as EMP pulses, knocking out all electrical devices, including radios, TVs, cell phones and radio in the immediate area.

Ray goes with his neighbors to check out a lightning strike right in their neighborhood and a huge metal creature comes up out of the ground and starts blasting everything in sight with lethal death rays that instantly turn humans into dust.  Ray gathers up his kids and flees from his home, intending to take them to Boston where his wife is with her new husband and the grandparents.  While they’re dodging the deadly tripods, Ray and his kids fight, bicker and work through their family dysfunction issues.  The journey is a harrowing one as Ray and his kids see first hand for themselves the horror the Martian invaders are capable of.  Ray himself has to make some hard choices and do some growing up as a man and a father as he struggles to get his children and himself from New Jersey to Boston while surviving the alien invasion.

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Okay, you’re saying that this sounds like a pretty good movie and in fact it is a pretty good movie on a lot of levels.  The Martian Tripods are some pretty scary suckers if you ask me.  These are The Martian Tripods I envisioned when I first read the book many, many, many moons ago as a youth and the design of them is wonderful.  The scenes of mass panic are truly terrifying, especially during a scene where Ray and his children are attacked by a fear-crazed mob who want to steal their van and in a later scene where a Martian Tripod attacks a boat Ray and his children are on along with hundreds of other refugees trying to escape.  There are some great visuals of The Martian Tripods doing their thing, vaporizing humans, destroying buildings and just generally going about the business of conquering Earth.  And Steven Spielberg again shows us that he is capable of some truly haunting images such as the one where Ray and his children flee through a forest while the rags and dust of vaporized humans are floating like snow down on them and a shocking scene of a train with all the cars on fire roaring through a station like an express going to Hell.

But there’s a lot about WAR OF THE WORLDS that just doesn’t turn my crank.  For a Steven Spielberg movie it’s not really all that exciting or thrilling or suspenseful.  And this is the guy who directed the “Indiana Jones” trilogy and “Jaws”, remember.  I never worried about the characters because they never came alive for me.  I’m looking at Tom Cruise and Dakota Fanning acting and I was conscious of them being actors playing a role all throughout the movie.  And since they were virtually the only characters in the movie, I hardly figured that Spielberg would kill them off.  Tim Robbins shows up halfway through the movie as a survivalist hiding in his basement.  He’s not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, though and the Tom Cruise character has to make a difficult choice and follow through on it when his daughter’s life is in jeopardy due to the Tim Robbins’ character’s madness.  I thought it was an effective scene but one oddly lacking any real suspense or tension.

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And I guess that’s my main problem with WAR OF THE WORLDS.  While I applaud Spielberg and Cruise for wanting to make an alien invasion movie told from the viewpoint of ordinary working class folk as opposed to hotshot scientific genius adventurers or go-for-broke-give-‘em-hell super soldiers it doesn’t make for exciting watching as the characters do nothing but run and hide for the whole movie.  In this post 9/11 era can an American movie watching audience be satisfied with watching foreign invaders overrun our country while Americans cower in basements?  Bad as “Independence Day” was (and it’s nothing but an unaccredited remake of WAR OF THE WORLDS itself) it at least had to good sense to have its large cast of characters determined to kick a lot of alien ass before they took a dirt nap.

And perhaps the biggest mistake that Spielberg made was keeping the original ending of H.G. Wells’ novel.  It’s kinda hard to believe that aliens who demonstrate the level of advanced technology demonstrated in this movie would be unaware of the possible dangers of exposing themselves to our viruses, germs and microorganisms.  If Spielberg was going to keep the original ending then he would have done better to have set the movie in the original time period when H.G. Wells wrote it (the 1890’s, right?) or even the 1950’s.  As it stands, it’s kinda silly that aliens who have been planning this invasion for ‘millions of years’ (direct quote from the opening narration by the wonderful voice of Morgan Freeman) are taken out in 48 hours by the common cold.  I mean, how intelligent can they really be?  And just why did the aliens wait ‘millions of years’ before invading Earth?  If they were around that long, wouldn’t it have been simpler to have just colonized our planet back then?

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It also doesn’t help that there’s no real sense that the Martian Tripods are actually taking over the world.  It seems as if they’re blasting hell out of New Jersey and that’s it.  Except for one painfully brief scene where Tom Cruise encounters a news van and the crew shows him footage of The Tripods in other countries, that’s it.  I wanted to see The Martian Tripods blasting The Pyramids, The Great Wall of China, The Eiffel Tower and burning down the mollyfoggin’ Amazon rain forest and we don’t get that here.

So should you see WAR OF THE WORLDS?  I’d advise you guys to skip it unless you’re a confirmed diehard Tom Cruise and/or Steven Spielberg fan.  It’s not that it’s a bad movie.  It’s got wonderful special effects and the acting is professional and sharp.  But as a movie, it’s just not engaging and to be brutally honest, not that interesting.  I never got lost in the story or the characters and worst of all, I actually looked at the clock a couple of times during the movie to see how long I had to go until the end.  If you want a much better Cruise/Spielberg collaboration, go Netflix “Minority Report” and leave WAR OF THE WORLDS alone

116 minutes

Rated PG-13 and I believe they stretched it at that.  This may be the most PC alien invasion you’ll ever see.

Knight And Day

2010

20th Century Fox

Directed by James Mangold

Produced by Kathy Conrad and Steve Pink

Written by Patrick O’Neill

Is America’s great love affair with Tom Cruise over?  If you look at the numbers then you might be inclined to say ‘yes’.  KNIGHT AND DAY took in nowhere near as much as a Tom Cruise starring movie is supposed to make.  And especially when he’s teamed with Cameron Diaz who has that wonderful grin that somehow manages to be both gorgeous and goofy at the same time.  And both Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz know how to play comedy and action well so what happened with this movie?

Was it because it hit the theaters at around the same time as “Killers” starring Ashton Kutcher and Catherine Heigl which was a movie that in the trailers looked extraordinarily similar to KNIGHT AND DAY?  Or is that the audience who grew up with Tom Cruise in the 80’s and 90’s have moved on and just don’t want to see him on screen anymore?

June Havens (Cameron Diaz) is trying to get back home to Boston in time to attend her sister’s wedding.  And she keeps bumping into this cute guy with a really engaging grin who introduces himself as Roy Miller (Tom Cruise) who hints that maybe she really shouldn’t get on the same flight with him.  But she’s got a pesky dress fitting she can’t miss and so she gets on the plane.

It never occurs to June to wonder why a flight she was told was overbooked not more than twenty minutes ago is now almost empty except for herself, Roy, the flight crew and half a dozen men who look as if they are not casual travelers.

It isn’t long before the men and the flight crew are revealed to be assassins after Roy.  In between killing them all and steering the plane to a crash landing, Roy explains that they were sent by his ex-partner Fitz (Peter Saarsgard) who has gone rogue.  Fitz is after The Zephyr, a perpetual energy battery.  Roy has The Zephyr and he’s trying to rescue Simon Feck (Royal Dano) the eccentric genius who created/invented The Zephyr.   The situation is complicated because Fitz has convinced his boss (Viola Davis) that it is Roy who’s the rogue and so Roy is on the run from both the bad guys and the good guys.

Roy gets June to Boston and she tries to resume her life but that’s impossible as Roy re-enters her life in spectacularly explosive fashion, rescuing her from CIA hit squads as well as hit men working for the world’s most dangerous arms dealer, Antonio Quintana (Jordi Molla).  And the two of them are off on a world-wide chase to save Simon, keep The Zephyr out of Fitz’s hands and clear Roy’s name.

I really wasn’t all that hot to see KNIGHT AND DAY in the theaters.  Not because I dislike Tom Cruise, who I think is actually a pretty good actor but it looked like just another summer action flick with heaping helpings of comedy and romance thrown into the mix.  And that is precisely what it is.  There’s nothing deep or innovative or even exceptional about KNIGHT AND DAY.  I suspect that it got made simply because Cruise and Diaz wanted to work together and Cruise wanted to make a light action movie after the heavy drama of “Valkyrie”.

Tom Cruise doesn’t even try to stretch his acting muscles in this one.  He falls back on his tried and true standards: smiles and charm.  And really, there’s nothing more he needs in a movie or in a role like this.  Cameron Diaz gets to do a little bit more with her character development during the course of the movie in a satisfying manner.  Their scenes together are full of cuteness and fun.  Even when they’re being shot at by a dozen guys with machine guns they manage to say cute fun things.  It’s that kind of movie.  There’s a nice little mysterious subplot involving an elderly couple Roy is keeping tabs on via a hand held device and the supporting actors go about their business competently and with skill.

If there was any major reason I wanted to watch this movie it’s because of the director, James Mangold who directed three of my favorite movies: “Copland” which he also wrote and is for my money the movie that Sylvester Stallone turned in an Academy Award worthy performance.  He also directed the criminally ignored “Identity” starring John Cusack.  And “3:10 To Yuma” with Russell Crowe and Christian Bale

As with “3:10 To Yuma” and in KNIGHT AND DAY he demonstrates that he’s a terrific action director.  I’d love to see him tackle a James Bond film someday. He knows how to keep the story moving so that we know who’s doing what and why.  And he understands that in the slam bang fight scenes it’s important that the audience be able to see who’s hitting who.  No shaky cam here.  There’s a number of impressive shootouts and chases including one that takes place during The Running of The Bulls in Pamplona that I really enjoyed.

So should you see KNIGHT AND DAY?  It’s by no means at all a Must See Movie unless you’re a confirmed Tom Cruise or Cameron Diaz fan.  In which case you’ll probably seen it already.  Let me put it this way: I get emails from people all the time telling me I’m too hard on movies.  They say that they just want to turn off their brains and be entertained.  Well, here’s a movie that’s perfectly made for that purpose.  And it happened to catch me on a night when that’s all I wanted.  Your mileage may vary.

110 minutes

PG-13