Movie Reviews: The Secret Life of Pets, Elvis & Nixon, Independence Day: Resurgence

Owing a significant debt to the Toy Story movies, The Secret Life of Pets (G) is an animated adventure in which a host of New York pets come together to form their own community as soon as their owners’ backs are turned.

Movie Reviews: The Secret Life of Pets, Elvis & Nixon, Independence Day: Resurgence

Max (voiced by Louis CK) is an apartment-living terrier whose nose is put out of joint when his owner brings home a shaggy rescue dog, Duke (Eric Stonestreet).

In attempting to get rid of Duke during walkies, mild-mannered Max tangles with Snowball (Kevin Hart), a cute bunny who leads the Flushed Pets — a sewer-dwelling gang of abandoned animals waging war for pet liberation. Lost on the mean streets, pursued by the Flushed Pets and the dog catchers of Animal Control, Max and Duke must join forces to find their way home…

Directed by Chris Benaud and Yarrow Cheney, this animation from the Illumination studio (Despicable Me, Hop) is a vividly drawn, vibrantly colourful, and fast-paced caper.

Kevin Hart steals the show as the most vicious comedy rabbit since Monty Python and The Holy Grail, but Louis CK is also well-cast as the loyal but hapless Max, with Jenny Slate’s Gidget — a fluffy Pomeranian with a surprisingly steely resolve — masterminding a search party for Max that involves marshalling the bloodthirsty hawk Tiberius (Albert Brooks).

There are plenty of neat comic asides for adults (particularly pet-owners), but this movie is aimed squarely at a younger audience.

If the reaction of my eight-year-old expert is any guide — she laughed throughout, and can’t wait for the DVD to appear — they’ve succeeded handsomely.

Elvis & Nixon (12A) is Liza Johnson’s fictionalised account of one of the most unlikely meeting of minds in recent history. In late December 1970, Elvis Presley (Michael Shannon) decides it’s his patriotic duty to help out America by becoming a badge-wearing, gun-packing ‘federal agent at large’ (was there ever a less likely candidate for undercover work?).

He flies to Washington DC to request a meeting with President Richard Nixon (Kevin Spacey), who is initially repulsed by the idea; when Nixon’s daughter steps in to insist that he meet with Elvis, however, a brief meeting is arranged…

It all sounds ludicrously improbable, given that Elvis and Nixon occupy opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of the public’s affection, but while Johnson (directing a screenplay written by Joey Sagal, Hanala Sagal and Cary Elwes) acknowledges the comic possibilities of Elvis meeting Nixon, the story steadily moves away from farce towards understanding and pathos.

Shannon is in towering form as a craggy, jowly Elvis, a man fully aware of his cultural status and personal magnetism, but privately plagued by self-doubt and desperate to be perceived as a man more serious than his frivolous public image allows. Spacey (no stranger to a fictional White House) is equally charismatic as the loathsome Nixon, keen to emphasise the pair’s bond as working-class heroes but also suffering the private agonies of insecurity.

The result is an engrossing character study that explores the limitations of power and popularity, a fascinating story of a one-off historical event that is as touching as it is absurd.

Two decades on from the alien invasion of Independence Day (1996), Earth is again besieged by extra-terrestrials in Independence Day: Resurgence (12A). As the alien queen and her innumerable ‘hive’ drill down through the seafloor in order to extract the earth’s molten core, ex-president Whitmore (Bill Pullman) joins forces with a young breed of heroes — among them fighter-pilots Jake (Liam Hemsworth) and Dylan (Jessie T Usher) — in a desperate bid to save humanity from obliteration.

It’s a disaster movie on a global scale, and director Roland Emmerich creates a turbo-charged tale of epic destruction, albeit one that offers very little new or inventive.

The visual effects seem dated and half-hearted, and the scenes in which various famous architectural icons are blasted to smithereens are so conventional that the scientist Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) gets to quip that the aliens “like to get the landmarks”.

The huge cast of gung-ho heroes, wacky boffins and dithering politicians (which includes Judd Hirsh, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Rain Lao, Brent Spiner and William Fichtner) results in a cat’s-cradle of character arcs and sub-plots, very few of which are vividly written enough to warrant the audience’s emotional investment, and the dialogue is some of the clunkiest you’ll hear all decade.

If it’s big, dumb, explosive fun you’re after, Independence Day: Resurgence will likely fit the bill — although you may come out wondering why, if the alien race is as clever, evolved and technologically advanced as they seem to be, they didn’t arrive armed with a Plan B.

The Secret Life of Pets ****

Elvis & Nixon ****

Independence Day: Resurgence **

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