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Joe Bell: nothing new from Mark Wahlberg

Piling on the prejudice

Joe Bell: Reid Miller and Mark Wahlberg hit the road to misery.
Joe Bell: Reid Miller and Mark Wahlberg hit the road to misery.

A careful jog of the memory might help to recall the headline-grabbing story upon which Joe Bell is based. Those who have seen the trailer should find it fairly easy to ascertain the gingerly hinted-at mid-picture reveal. It is for the interested few who are subject to neither firsthand knowledge of the facts nor the manufactured studio hype that I issue this SPOILER ALERT! for what follows. Not that it matters. Regardless of what category you fall into, much about director Reinaldo Marcus Green’s film is bound to ring a bell.

Jadin Bell (Reid Miller, making an “Expect Great Things” debut) should learn to call his shots. Surely there was a better time for the teenager to come out to his sanctimoniously uncompromising father than on a Sunday afternoon with friends and family in attendance, all eager to christen Joe Bell’s (Mark Wahlberg) new giant screen TV with a football game? Dad’s advice to his delicately-boned boy is to learn how to handle his antagonizers in the event that fists start to fly. In many ways, Joe is as big a bully as his son’s aggressors. He mercilessly berates the kid for not lowering the toilet seat, but draws the line at physically abusing Jadin. He doesn’t have to. Joe uses his tongue much the same way other fathers would a belt.

It’s one thing not to try out for the football team, but Jadin’s participation in the cheerleading squad is a source of great embarrassment for Joe. The boy’s refusal to move his rehearsal to the backyard — instead of the front lawn for all to see — is met with a humiliating dressing-down in front of friends. As indicated in the previous paragraph, Joe has difficulty doling out advice on how to deal with the bullying Jadin’s classmates heap upon him on a daily basis. When the school guidance counselor suggests therapy as a solution, Jadin is quick to point out what everyone in the audience is thinking: he’s not the one in need of therapy, they are. And it’s not just his classmates piling on the prejudice.

Seated in the bleachers behind Joe and wife Lola (Connie Britton), a woman is overheard clucking her tongue at the sight of a boy working the pom-poms. Kids down front heckle Jadin and pelt him with trash. His parents make an early exit without standing up for their son.

Later, Joe decides to turn Jadin’s torment into a teachable moment. With nothing more than a cooler strapped to a pushcart, father and son embark on a cross-country trek from Oregon to New York City to spread the message of anti-bullying far and wide. Joe turns his son’s personal tragedy into a motivational speech tour, each appearance closing with a plug to follow him on Facebook. It’s also a bonding journey in which Jadin is constantly pointing out Joe’s penchant for hypocrisy. He calls Joe out for not practicing what he preaches when it comes to fisticuffs as an answer. And Joe revels in calling Jadin’s attention to the fact he’s taking the hike in his son’s name when, as we will soon learn, he’s walking for (and by) himself.

They stop at a Utah diner where, as per custom, Joe hands out cards that draw attention to the cause. Joe preaches a brief message of inclusion, much to the disgust of a couple of vocal bigots. As in the football game incident, rather than stand up for his son, Joe heads for the parking lot, where Jadin reminds him, “The people that come to your talks aren’t the issue, they are.” The same can be said of the film’s appeal. It will play to an audience of converts; those who would truly benefit from watching it will no doubt avoid it like they do the covid vaccine.

It isn’t until halfway through the purposefully jumbled chronology assembled by screenwriters Diana Ossana and Larry McMurtry (Brokeback Mountain) that we realize that Jadin’s life has been reduced to a cheap plot twist. He talks his dad into attending Drag Night at a remote watering hole, where Joe denounces the Catholic Church for turning a blind eye to pedophile priests while at the same time condemning someone like Jadin for being openly gay. When asked by the Dolly Parton impersonator why Jadin didn’t accompany Joe to the bar, a fellow patron drops the bomb: “He’s dead.” All of the conversations on the road were one-sided and too late, turning Joe’s Walk for Change into an extraordinarily depressing guilt trip for both star and viewer alike.

Mark Wahlberg not only plays a bully on the big screen, he was one in real life. (Google “Mark Wahlberg 1988 assault.”) The history adds to this choice of project an unheralded level of discomfort. In the role of grieving father, Wahlberg is a paragon of nothing new. He could have saved us a lot of time by opening the picture with the intertitle: “I’m sorry for what I did, and here’s a glorified Hallmark Movie to prove it.” Miller’s breakthrough performance has an elevating effect, but when Jadin goes, so does the movie.

—Scott Marks

Video on Demand and New Release Roundup

Jolt — Instead of getting love as a child, she got angry. Years later, Lindy’s (Kete Beckinsale) shrink (Stanley Tucci), diagnoses her ailment as ​​intermittent explosive disorder, a condition that causes her to fly off the handle at even the slightest disturbance. Dating was difficult to say the least — until a breakthrough in biochemistry made tranquilizing Lindy as easy as opening a garage door. (On one rare occasion, the remote didn’t work and a snotty waitress got hurt.) Endowed with a sudden “love conquers all” attitude, she still takes a moment on a second date to warns suitor Justin (Jai Courtney) to be very scared of her. Consider it good advice, seeing as how the sudden appearance of his bullet-riddled corpse in a dumpster is a good indication there will be no third date. It turns out Lindy had just enough info on Justin — he was an accountant with one client — to set her on a destructive path to discovering his killer. Beckinsale remains a formidable action hero, made better with a sense of humor. (A shoot out in a nursery is a howl, as are the electronics store nerds who freeze in the presence of a hottie who speaks fluent geek.) The good ideas remain underdeveloped, but that’s okay seeing as how the laughs frequently outpace the action. Tanya Wexler directs this Amazon Original. 2021. — S.M. ★★

Old — While on tropical holiday, a diverse gathering of the idle rich find themselves trapped inside a paradisiacal cove where they age at such an accelerated rate that their offspring meet, date, mate, and conceive before the sun sets. Perhaps the best way to approach this overlong Twilight Zone variation on Benjamin Button coming at you in reverse and at warp speed would have been through animation. As good as Alex Wolff can be, imagine the difficulty inherent in a 23-year-old actor playing a 15-year-old boy who ages fifty years. Even John Malkovich would find a challenge in being such a character. And did we really need to gracelessly ripen and putrefy a real life supermodel (Abbey Lee) or ask Rufus Sewell to add a note of misplaced messaging as the white billionaire who for no reason takes a pocket knife to rapper Mid-Size Sedan (Aaron Pierre)? Only Luis Buñuel (The Exterminating Angel, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie) was skilled enough to let his cast’s inability to leave go unexplained. To his credit, M. Night Shyamalan closes with a doozy of a reason, but not before dragging audiences through pages of laughable dialogue, scenes that repeat, and an unwelcome side trip to Slasher Film Land. That said, it’s been ages since I’ve taken away this much enjoyment from a Shyamalan picture. 2021. — S.M. ★★

Val — He was the only actor to turn down a return visit to Gotham City. (He hated the costume.) It doesn’t get much cooler than that. For the purpose of Ting Poo and Leo Scott’s biodoc, being the youngest drama student accepted to Juilliard takes a back seat to being the first guy on the block with a camcorder. No matter how tough times got, Val Kilmer managed to hold onto his storage locker-cum-personal archive. When a role arose that caught Kilmer’s attention (Pvt. Joker. in Full Metal Jacket, Henry Hill in Goodfellas) he would send directors homemade audition tapes, several of which are on display. Footage of buddy Brando in a hammock and John Frankenheimer on the defensive make for a much better time than The Island of Dr. Moreau. In 2017, Kilmer lost the ability to talk while on the road with Citizen Twain; throat cancer radiation treatment left his voice impaired. He speaks by pressing a voice box positioned near his Adam’s apple. Moments of heartbreak are stopped short by Kilmer’s unwillingness to seek pity, but nothing cuts to the quick like watching Kilmer make an appearance in San Diego. Of his time spent signing photographs at Comic-Con Kilmer says, “To some, it’s as low as an actor can get, living off their past characters.” 2021. (Now playing at the Angelika FIlm Center, Reading Town Square, and Landmark Hillcrest.) — S.M. ★★★

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“It’s basically a war on girls”
Joe Bell: Reid Miller and Mark Wahlberg hit the road to misery.
Joe Bell: Reid Miller and Mark Wahlberg hit the road to misery.

A careful jog of the memory might help to recall the headline-grabbing story upon which Joe Bell is based. Those who have seen the trailer should find it fairly easy to ascertain the gingerly hinted-at mid-picture reveal. It is for the interested few who are subject to neither firsthand knowledge of the facts nor the manufactured studio hype that I issue this SPOILER ALERT! for what follows. Not that it matters. Regardless of what category you fall into, much about director Reinaldo Marcus Green’s film is bound to ring a bell.

Jadin Bell (Reid Miller, making an “Expect Great Things” debut) should learn to call his shots. Surely there was a better time for the teenager to come out to his sanctimoniously uncompromising father than on a Sunday afternoon with friends and family in attendance, all eager to christen Joe Bell’s (Mark Wahlberg) new giant screen TV with a football game? Dad’s advice to his delicately-boned boy is to learn how to handle his antagonizers in the event that fists start to fly. In many ways, Joe is as big a bully as his son’s aggressors. He mercilessly berates the kid for not lowering the toilet seat, but draws the line at physically abusing Jadin. He doesn’t have to. Joe uses his tongue much the same way other fathers would a belt.

It’s one thing not to try out for the football team, but Jadin’s participation in the cheerleading squad is a source of great embarrassment for Joe. The boy’s refusal to move his rehearsal to the backyard — instead of the front lawn for all to see — is met with a humiliating dressing-down in front of friends. As indicated in the previous paragraph, Joe has difficulty doling out advice on how to deal with the bullying Jadin’s classmates heap upon him on a daily basis. When the school guidance counselor suggests therapy as a solution, Jadin is quick to point out what everyone in the audience is thinking: he’s not the one in need of therapy, they are. And it’s not just his classmates piling on the prejudice.

Seated in the bleachers behind Joe and wife Lola (Connie Britton), a woman is overheard clucking her tongue at the sight of a boy working the pom-poms. Kids down front heckle Jadin and pelt him with trash. His parents make an early exit without standing up for their son.

Later, Joe decides to turn Jadin’s torment into a teachable moment. With nothing more than a cooler strapped to a pushcart, father and son embark on a cross-country trek from Oregon to New York City to spread the message of anti-bullying far and wide. Joe turns his son’s personal tragedy into a motivational speech tour, each appearance closing with a plug to follow him on Facebook. It’s also a bonding journey in which Jadin is constantly pointing out Joe’s penchant for hypocrisy. He calls Joe out for not practicing what he preaches when it comes to fisticuffs as an answer. And Joe revels in calling Jadin’s attention to the fact he’s taking the hike in his son’s name when, as we will soon learn, he’s walking for (and by) himself.

They stop at a Utah diner where, as per custom, Joe hands out cards that draw attention to the cause. Joe preaches a brief message of inclusion, much to the disgust of a couple of vocal bigots. As in the football game incident, rather than stand up for his son, Joe heads for the parking lot, where Jadin reminds him, “The people that come to your talks aren’t the issue, they are.” The same can be said of the film’s appeal. It will play to an audience of converts; those who would truly benefit from watching it will no doubt avoid it like they do the covid vaccine.

It isn’t until halfway through the purposefully jumbled chronology assembled by screenwriters Diana Ossana and Larry McMurtry (Brokeback Mountain) that we realize that Jadin’s life has been reduced to a cheap plot twist. He talks his dad into attending Drag Night at a remote watering hole, where Joe denounces the Catholic Church for turning a blind eye to pedophile priests while at the same time condemning someone like Jadin for being openly gay. When asked by the Dolly Parton impersonator why Jadin didn’t accompany Joe to the bar, a fellow patron drops the bomb: “He’s dead.” All of the conversations on the road were one-sided and too late, turning Joe’s Walk for Change into an extraordinarily depressing guilt trip for both star and viewer alike.

Mark Wahlberg not only plays a bully on the big screen, he was one in real life. (Google “Mark Wahlberg 1988 assault.”) The history adds to this choice of project an unheralded level of discomfort. In the role of grieving father, Wahlberg is a paragon of nothing new. He could have saved us a lot of time by opening the picture with the intertitle: “I’m sorry for what I did, and here’s a glorified Hallmark Movie to prove it.” Miller’s breakthrough performance has an elevating effect, but when Jadin goes, so does the movie.

—Scott Marks

Video on Demand and New Release Roundup

Jolt — Instead of getting love as a child, she got angry. Years later, Lindy’s (Kete Beckinsale) shrink (Stanley Tucci), diagnoses her ailment as ​​intermittent explosive disorder, a condition that causes her to fly off the handle at even the slightest disturbance. Dating was difficult to say the least — until a breakthrough in biochemistry made tranquilizing Lindy as easy as opening a garage door. (On one rare occasion, the remote didn’t work and a snotty waitress got hurt.) Endowed with a sudden “love conquers all” attitude, she still takes a moment on a second date to warns suitor Justin (Jai Courtney) to be very scared of her. Consider it good advice, seeing as how the sudden appearance of his bullet-riddled corpse in a dumpster is a good indication there will be no third date. It turns out Lindy had just enough info on Justin — he was an accountant with one client — to set her on a destructive path to discovering his killer. Beckinsale remains a formidable action hero, made better with a sense of humor. (A shoot out in a nursery is a howl, as are the electronics store nerds who freeze in the presence of a hottie who speaks fluent geek.) The good ideas remain underdeveloped, but that’s okay seeing as how the laughs frequently outpace the action. Tanya Wexler directs this Amazon Original. 2021. — S.M. ★★

Old — While on tropical holiday, a diverse gathering of the idle rich find themselves trapped inside a paradisiacal cove where they age at such an accelerated rate that their offspring meet, date, mate, and conceive before the sun sets. Perhaps the best way to approach this overlong Twilight Zone variation on Benjamin Button coming at you in reverse and at warp speed would have been through animation. As good as Alex Wolff can be, imagine the difficulty inherent in a 23-year-old actor playing a 15-year-old boy who ages fifty years. Even John Malkovich would find a challenge in being such a character. And did we really need to gracelessly ripen and putrefy a real life supermodel (Abbey Lee) or ask Rufus Sewell to add a note of misplaced messaging as the white billionaire who for no reason takes a pocket knife to rapper Mid-Size Sedan (Aaron Pierre)? Only Luis Buñuel (The Exterminating Angel, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie) was skilled enough to let his cast’s inability to leave go unexplained. To his credit, M. Night Shyamalan closes with a doozy of a reason, but not before dragging audiences through pages of laughable dialogue, scenes that repeat, and an unwelcome side trip to Slasher Film Land. That said, it’s been ages since I’ve taken away this much enjoyment from a Shyamalan picture. 2021. — S.M. ★★

Val — He was the only actor to turn down a return visit to Gotham City. (He hated the costume.) It doesn’t get much cooler than that. For the purpose of Ting Poo and Leo Scott’s biodoc, being the youngest drama student accepted to Juilliard takes a back seat to being the first guy on the block with a camcorder. No matter how tough times got, Val Kilmer managed to hold onto his storage locker-cum-personal archive. When a role arose that caught Kilmer’s attention (Pvt. Joker. in Full Metal Jacket, Henry Hill in Goodfellas) he would send directors homemade audition tapes, several of which are on display. Footage of buddy Brando in a hammock and John Frankenheimer on the defensive make for a much better time than The Island of Dr. Moreau. In 2017, Kilmer lost the ability to talk while on the road with Citizen Twain; throat cancer radiation treatment left his voice impaired. He speaks by pressing a voice box positioned near his Adam’s apple. Moments of heartbreak are stopped short by Kilmer’s unwillingness to seek pity, but nothing cuts to the quick like watching Kilmer make an appearance in San Diego. Of his time spent signing photographs at Comic-Con Kilmer says, “To some, it’s as low as an actor can get, living off their past characters.” 2021. (Now playing at the Angelika FIlm Center, Reading Town Square, and Landmark Hillcrest.) — S.M. ★★★

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