What Happens When Big Names with Big Personalities Spend ‘One Night in Miami…’? Let’s Find Out!

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One Night in Miami (CREDIT: Amazon Studios)

Starring: Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom Jr., Lance Reddick, Nicolette Robinson, Michael Imperioli, Joaquina Kolukango, Beau Bridges

Director: Regina King

Running Time: 114 Minutes

Rating: R for Language (There’s a Lot of Dialogue)

Release Date: December 25, 2020 (Theaters)/January 15, 2021 (Amazon Prime Video)

On one particular day in February 1964, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown spent an evening together in Florida and the makers of One Night in Miami… thought we might like to see how that may have played out. First this idea took the form of a 2013 play written by Kemp Powers. Now he’s adapted it into a screenplay, with Regina King making her feature directorial debut. (Spoiler alert: you can tell that it started out as a play.) Are these African-Americans titans of the 20th century just as interesting together as we knew them to be individually? Although of course, the more relevant question is: do the actors playing them do them justice, and can they find the right chemistry for their little powwow? The answer probably won’t blow your mind, though it might satisfy you.

Reporting for duty on this night are Kingsley Ben-Adir as X, Eli Goree as Ali (actually still going by Cassius Clay at the time), Aldis Hodge as Brown, and Leslie Odom Jr. as Cooke. Odom’s casting makes the most sense to me, because he can sang. He can be musical anyway you want him to, so summoning the majestic voice behind “Chain Gang” is no problem for him. Meanwhile, Ben-Adir commands most of the attention, and he’d better, because Malcolm had plenty to cover that he thought was pretty damn urgent, and he wanted everyone to hear him. Goree and Hodge, alas, fade a bit into the background. That might mean that the promise of the premise isn’t fully fulfilled, but the others pick up on the slack as this ultimately becomes the “Malcolm & Sam Show” more than anything else. Everyone, especially Malcolm, picks on Sam for not carrying his weight in the civil rights fight, while Sam fires back that he’s actually figured out part of The Man’s formula for getting a piece of the pie and he’s in fact been sharing it with his associates. In conclusion, they’re all doing their part!

Whenever people with big personalities are having passionate debates about the issues of the day, you can pretty much guarantee that there will be at least something satisfying. But I did find myself wondering throughout much of One Night in Miami… why I wasn’t finding it as dynamic as I thought I would. It probably boils down to the fact that I would rather watch these famous guys do what they’re famous for, rather than watching them talk. To be fair, Malcolm and Muhammad were partly famous for their wordsmanship, but playing to a big crowd and having an intimate conversation are two very different situations. We do get to see some of Muhammad in the ring, but we don’t get to see any of Jim on the football field or roughing up Martians. At least we get a decent amount of Sam onstage. Letting Leslie Odom Jr. loose with the Sam Cooke songbook is hardly a groundbreaking revelation, but it gets the job done enough when we need it to.

One Night in Miami… is Recommended If You Like: Movies That Walk and Talk Like Plays

Grade: 3 out of 5 Close-Cropped Haircuts

 

Movie Review: ‘John Wick: Chapter 3’ Might Be the Loudest Action Movie Ever Made

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CREDIT: Niko Tavernise

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Laurence Fishburne, Mark Dacascos, Asia Kate Dillon, Lance Reddick, Anjelica Huston, Ian McShane, Saïd Taghmaoui, Jason Mantzoukas, Robin Lord Taylor

Director: Chad Stahelski

Running Time: 131 Minutes

Rating: R for Traditional and Improvised Weaponry Galore

Release Date: May 17, 2019

Either I have really sensitive ears, or other critics and action film buffs have had their hearing blown out by cinematic cacophony.

The first John Wick had some cool ideas about how a worldwide network of assassins would be managed and litigated, but it was sloppily edited and so, so overwhelmingly loud. (It’s possible that the theater I saw it in didn’t have the sound properly calibrated, but I’ve seen plenty of movies in that theater before and after in which that hasn’t been an issue.) Then Chapter 2 came along and cleaned up those execution snafus.* But now Chapter 3 is backsliding, or just leaning too hard into the danger zone. The outrageously choreographed fight sequences are still shot gracefully, but the soundtrack is now oppressive at Guinness record-shattering levels. (*-Although, looking back at my review of Chapter 2, I am reminded that this trilogy actually never quieted down.)

This edition opens with Keanu Reeves and a fellow assassin breaking every possible glass surface within reach, and the volume for that level of destruction never lets up. And look, I could forgive this movie my eardrums getting blown out if everything else were satisfying, but I just don’t really much care about the mess that Wick has gotten himself mucked up in. He’s run afoul of some sacred rules, and now he and whoever’s helped him must atone rather ritualistically, but I just want to shout to the enforcers, “Get over yourselves!”

At least the performances remain commendably committed. Reeves, Ian McShane, and Laurence Fishburne are as righteous as you remember them. Among the newcomers, Asia Kate Dillon commands respect in the rather thankless task as the uber-rules-respecting adjudicator, while Jason Mantzoukas is a little helper fellow who is nowhere near as unhinged as his typical roles, though he does wonders with his face acting. That’s some subtlety that could have been quite useful elsewhere in this overloaded buffet of gore.

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is Recommended If You: Have less sensitive hearing than I do

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Shattered Windows