Family Filmgoer reviews ‘Need for Speed’ and ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’

March 13
6 and older

Mr. Peabody & Sherman (PG). Will kids 6 and older be as amused as adults by this 3-D animated time-travel adventure featuring a genius talking dog and his adopted human son, both of them bespectacled nerds? Well, yes, because it’s a hoot. The pooch Mr. Peabody is a master of science, history, math and more. He is also the inventor of the WABAC (as in way-back) time machine, in which he and his boy, Sherman, travel back to meet the likes of Marie Antoinette, Leonardo da Vinci and Gandhi. When Sherman starts school, a girl named Penny bullies and mocks him for having a dog for a dad. She headlocks him, so Sherman bites her. A grim social worker threatens to have Sherman taken away from Mr. Peabody. Hoping to mend fences, Mr. Peabody invites Penny and her parents to dinner. Sherman and Penny play with the WABAC machine, and Penny gets stuck in ancient Egypt. Mr. Peabody puts her parents in a trance while he and Sherman go to save her.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The script includes mild sexual innuendo that only adults will catch, toilet humor and adult characters who drink.

PG-13

Need for Speed. Despite its utter predictability and ludicrously intense James Dean-ish acting, “Need for Speed” may take teen viewers along for the ride. Inspired by a video game, its high-risk driving and fiery crashes could be too scary for some middle-schoolers, especially in 3-D. Aaron Paul (“Breaking Bad”) plays Tobey, an ace mechanic and street racer. In need of cash, he agrees to soup up a classic Mustang for Dino, a smug former NASCAR driver and a former high-school rival. Tobey, Dino and Tobey’s pal Pete race one another, and Pete dies in a crash caused by Dino. Dino sneaks away and Tobey serves two years in prison for Dino’s crime. Tobey emerges wanting revenge. He and his pals soup up another Mustang for a car broker, whose pretty British assistant, Julia, rides cross-country with Tobey to California, where he hopes to compete against Dino in a race called the De Leon.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The stunt-driving, much of it without seat belts, looks exceedingly dangerous and potentially lethal. Dino’s thugs try to shoot out Tobey’s tires. The dialogue includes the B-word, the S-word and rare use of the F-word.

Non-Stop. High-schoolers who don’t mind their action heroes a little haggard can get an adrenaline jolt from this formulaic flick. “Non-Stop” is a tad violent for middle-schoolers. Bill Marks (Liam Neeson) may be an air marshal, but he still grips the armrest during takeoff on his London flight. Soon after, threatening text messages start popping up on his phone. The anonymous texter is on the plane and knows who Bill is, though air marshals travel undercover. The texter warns that he’ll kill a passenger every 20 minutes unless he gets $150 million. As tension builds and deaths occur, the texter incriminates Bill as the bad guy. Bill must hunt for the killer among people who don’t trust him. The finale is not for nervous flyers.

The bottom line: The violence isn’t bloody, but it involves neck-breaking, head-banging, pistol-whipping, shooting and an explosion. Characters drink and use a few moderate swear words.

Veronica Mars. High-school-age fans of the “Veronica Mars” TV series, which ended in 2007, will feel right at home watching the sharp-tongued teen super sleuth all grown up and back at work. Those unacquainted with the show may not warm to the movie so fast, and the frequent sexual humor makes it a bit much for middle-schoolers. The jokes — too many of them “inside” gags — land with thudding sitcom timing, and the murder-mystery plot is a spaghetti twist. Veronica, played with a nice edge by Kristen Bell, tells us in a hardboiled voice-over that she left blue-collar Neptune, Calif., for Stanford and then Columbia Law School. She’s up for a big job at a New York firm when her one-time high-school love, Logan, asks her for help; he’s a suspect in a murder. Back with her private-eye dad and her pals from the old days, Veronica attends her reunion to ferret out the facts. Funded in part by a fan-fueled Kickstarter campaign, the movie may give new life to the TV show, if not to the film world.

The bottom line: There are lots of jokey, semi-crude, sexual allusions, most of them not explicit. Snippets of incriminating “sex tapes” are not graphic and involve no nudity, but aren’t for middle-schoolers. Brief violence involves lethal gunfire, tasering, a truck slamming into a car, and a bar fight. The script gets salty, with occasional use of the F-word, the B-word and more often, the S-word.

R

The Grand Budapest Hotel. Stylized and sophisticated, this comic confection from director Wes Anderson is really for adults. That’s not only because of the film’s sexual content and language, but also because the between-the-wars atmospherics and between-the-lines profundities will leave teens in the dark. An older writer recalls in flashback a tale he heard while staying at the rundown Grand Budapest Hotel in the (fictional) country of Zubrowka. The hotel owner tells the young writer how he came to work at the Grand Budapest in the opulent 1930s and how the legendary concierge, Monsieur Gustave, took him on an adventure that involved a dead dowager, her greedy son, a hired thug, a Renaissance painting, a prison escape, young love, excellent pastries and fascist soldiers.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The R rating reflects occasionally explicit sexual situations and drawings, nudity, strong profanity and sexual slang, homophobic slurs and briefly startling, though nongraphic, violence.

300: Rise of an Empire. This loud, bloody sequel/prequel to “300” is not meant for viewers younger than 17 because of its blood-gushing battles and an explicit sexual situation. In the first film, Spartan warriors led by King Leonidas fought to their deaths against the invading Persian forces of Xerxes at Thermopylae in 480 B.C. In “Rise of an Empire,” Leonidas’s widow, Queen Gorgo, recounts what led to the war — the killing of Xerxes’s father by a Greek general, Themistokles, years earlier. The Persians came back for revenge and Themistokles feels responsible. After the defeat at Thermopylae, he leads a small Greek navy against a huge Persian armada led by bloodthirsty Artemisia.

The bottom line: The blood gushes operatically as Greek and Persian warriors hack through necks, torsos and limbs. A single sadomasochistic sexual situation with partial nudity gets quite explicit. There is rare but strong sexual language.

Horwitz is a freelance writer.

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