Director: Ariel Vromen (2016)

What isn’t extraordinarily stupid in this brain dead thriller is astonishingly misjudged or alarming dull.

It’s a grey spongey mess of ageing stars, woeful dialogue, cheap looking stunts and preposterous plotting.

Gary Oldman and Tommy Lee Jones play CIA bosses who need to recover the memory of  of a murdered agent to locate a computer hacker who is selling nuclear codes to the Russians.

So using untested technology, they implant the dead agents memories into the mind of an emotionless killer, played by  grunting Kevin Costner.

Developing a conscience and language skills as a result of the operation, he goes off mission and pursues a creepy Patrick Swayze ‘Ghost’ style romance, giving a new meaning to the word spook.

Meanwhile Spanish anarchists try to muscle in on the nuclear action. There is expensive London location work and the screen is busy with military hardware.

It all goes Alan Partridge Alpha Papa (2013) as Costner evades a squad of police cars in an ambulance.

Various Brits bystanders are beaten up for comic effect. Plus there is a cut price reprise of Schwarzenegger in Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) when Costner steals a sandwich, a beanie hat and a van.

Fresh from playing Wonder Woman in Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), Gal Gadot chats about her lingerie, parades on the beach and is tied to her bed.

Flush with success from his mega smash Deadpool (2016), Ryan Reynolds appears briefly at the beginning but is curiously underplayed on the advertising.

Antje Traue is an incompetent leather clad assassin called Elsa and while it’s great to see Alice Eve on screen, she needs to have serious words with her agent about this non-role.

The uncertain tone, scattergun editing and woeful storytelling hint at heavy handed interference in production. Costner’s performance seems out of control. There a host of executive producers credited.

Just when you start considering the value of your own lobotomy, TV host Piers Morgan appears as himself to convince you there’s always a more suitable candidate.







Director: Niki Caro (2015)

Spanish students face an uphill climb in this aspirational high school sports drama.

It’s set in the world of competitive cross country running. Free from surprises, it’s a leisurely jog along the route to self-improvement.

When PE teacher Jim White is sacked for misconduct, the only job he can get is in the down market California town of McFarland.

It’s an hispanic area and his beautiful blonde family struggle with the language, food and local hoodlums.

Keen to move on, up and out of the school and the neighbourhood, he seizes upon an opportunity for funding for a cross country team as a means of resurrecting his career.

Jim sees potential in the seven pupils he recruits to form a team, but they must run up real and metaphorical mountains in pursuit of success.

Kevin Costner is well cast as the coach, the film capitalises on his decent demeanour, gruff charm and physical presence to good effect.

Sadly the talented Maria Bello hasn’t much to do as Jim’s wife, though she fares better than the youngest daughter who serves no purpose whatsoever.

The film is careful to treat Spanish culture with respect, placing an emphasis on the importance of family, food and hard work.

It’s a struggle to give the individual boys’ screen time or fully develop their characters but they’re an agreeable, engaging group. Carlos Pratts as Thomas Valles is given the closest to a genuine character arc.

Jim’s charges’ have to skip school and training runs to work in the fields. Though the script hints at domestic violence and gang culture, it shies away from showing it.

They race against teams of all-white privileged posh boys. Qualifying for the state championships offers the boys the chance of a university place, away from a future of fruit picking or prison.

As the team show signs of success, Jim faces a fork in the road between loyalty to his team or his career.

A nicely realised postscript saves this film from descending into a simple white saviour flick such as Michelle Pfeiffer’s Dangerous Minds (1995).

McFarland is competently crafted and nicely acted. Though the pace slows in the uphills of sentiment, it has sufficient reserves to provide a satisfying finale.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Director: Kenneth Branagh (2014)

This insipid reboot of Tom Clancy’s CIA agent Jack Ryan is the character’s fifth big screen outing – and the least entertaining.

It squanders its acting talent, glossy design and glamorous locations on a dated plot, weak script and limp action sequences.

Lacking the self-knowing ridiculousness that makes the Mission Impossible films so much fun, it resorts to stealing its best (only?) joke from Indiana Jones and the finale of a Batman movie.

Chris Pine plays Ryan, a US marine turned top analyst. He’s commissioned by a CIA division so secret the movie can’t even be bothered to invent a name for it.

Pine has one excellent scene as a boorish drunk but isn’t allowed the swagger that made his Captain Kirk so entertaining. Kenneth Branagh plays the menacing Russian agent Viktor Cherevin and smuggles in some welcome acting subtlety.

Ryan is sent undercover to Moscow where he forgets his training at the first opportunity and is left huddling at night on the cold streets. Luckily, incompetent CIA chief Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) – his first kill was an innocent bystander – rocks up with a van full of surveillance gear to help out.

Then Ryan’s civilian fiancée Cathy (Keira Knightley) jets in to check on his suspected infidelity and immediately mucks in with the assignment.

She’s a natural at the espionage game and even helps out Ryan with some analysis – his best talent, don’t forget – and loyally doesn’t take any credit. Clearly the CIA have employed the wrong man, er, woman.

Mind you, the Russians are no better. Their not-so-dastardly two-pronged plot involves creating a huge economic depression – as if anyone would notice these days – and blowing up some Wall Street banks, which may not cause the outrage among the western world they anticipate.