Family Filmgoer reviews ‘The Nut Job,’ ‘Ride Along’ and ‘The Legend of Hercules’

January 16
7 and older

The Nut Job (PG). Surly the squirrel survives on his wits in the big city. He and his scruffy rat pal, Buddy, don’t cooperate with the organized park animals, led by Raccoon and the silent pet cardinal on his shoulder. It’s going to be a hard winter, and Raccoon worries that they haven’t stored enough nuts. Andie, a red squirrel, and Grayson, a gray squirrel who fancies himself an action hero, check out a nut-seller’s wagon. They don’t realize that the wagon is owned by gangsters planning a bank heist and that Surly and Buddy also aim to rob it. The critters’ initial caper ends in chaos. Next, Surly, Buddy, Andie and Grayson happen upon the actual storefront nut shop the gangsters are using as cover for a tunnel they’re digging into the bank.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Kids may get briefly scared during non-injurious gunplay, a truck chase and a couple of explosions. Animal characters are believed to have drowned, but they’re okay. There are multiple flatulence gags.

PG-13

Ride Along. Despite the PG-13 rating, “Ride Along” is too profane to recommend for middle-schoolers, but is okay for high-schoolers. Kevin Hart plays Ben, a school security guard in Atlanta. He wants to marry his live-in girlfriend, Angela, but her big brother, James, a police detective, disapproves. He thinks the diminutive Ben is a loser. James takes Ben, who longs to be a police officer, on a ride along. Things get serious after Ben unwittingly unearths clues regarding an elusive gun-running gangster for whom James and his partners have been hunting for months. Ben experiences car chases, shootouts and bullet wounds for real.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The dialogue features many, many uses of the
S-word, the A-word and multiple variations upon both. Although it’s largely midrange profanity — with the F-word used out loud just once and cut off just before it’s used a second time — the film contains a lot of sexual innuendo and slang, some of it fairly graphic, though euphemistic.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. Teens may scoff at the outlandish computer acrobatics in “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit,” but they’re still likely to get a kick out of this slightly jingoistic spy thriller. It imagines a new, post-Soviet Cold War that mixes terror with financial chicanery. While one violent confrontation gets pretty intense, most of the mayhem is more implied and fast-moving than bloody. Chris Pine cuts a dashing figure as Jack Ryan, the super-intellectual, super-brave superspy. This film is not based on a Tom Clancy novel, just the characters he created, and the story involves a cabal of  Russian oligarchs. Pine’s Ryan is a grad student in London when the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks occur. He joins the Marines, sustains a serious back injury in the Afghan war, falls in love with the medical student who helps him in rehab, and is recruited by CIA honcho Thomas Harper. His job ever since has been to work undercover in Wall Street firms, looking for suspicious accounts that could fund terrorists. It’s 2013 when Jack uncovers strange Russia-based funds. Harper sends him to Moscow, where Ryan must shift from analyst to operative when someone tries to kill him. The Russian CEO he has come to meet with, Viktor Cherevin, plans a huge terror attack against America, followed by a sell-off designed to create a second Great Depression.  

The bottom line: The scene in which Ryan kills an attacker is a  knock-down, drag-out head-banger that ends with Ryan drowning the man in a bathtub. It is pretty strong stuff that stays more or less within PG-13 boundaries. The rest of the film includes rare profanity and a whole lot of chases on foot and in SUVs.  

The Legend of Hercules. Based on the most cursory Internet research, it seems the film’s mythic mishmash could confuse and even misinform teens interested in the ancient myths of Greece and Rome. In 1200 B.C., King Amphitryon squabbles with his queen, Alcmene. She hates his warlike nature and longs for peace. She prays to the gods and is told she will lie with Zeus and give birth to a demigod with superhuman strength: Hercules. Amphitryon never accepts Hercules and favors his older, weaker son, Iphicles. Now 20, Hercules and the princess of Crete are in love, but the king promises her to Iphicles. Hercules and Amphitryon’s lead warrior, Sotiris, are sent on a mission to Egypt, where they are ambushed and sold into slavery. They fight as gladiators and work their way back to Greece to raise a rebellion against the king.

The bottom line: Even when warriors are run through by spears, the level of blood and gore remains minimal. Sexual situations are steamy but never explicit and only imply undress. The lion that Hercules kills is clearly computer-generated, but the 3-D version could be pretty scary for tweens and younger viewers.

R

The Invisible Woman. The film follows Charles Dickens at the height of his popularity in the mid-19th century. But we see him through the eyes of Nelly Ternan, the 18-year-old actress he took as his mistress. Dickens lost interest in his wife, Catherine, who bore him 10 children. His gaze settled upon Nelly, the youngest sister in a family troupe of actresses headed by their mother, Frances. Short on funds and noting the obvious chemistry between Dickens and Nelly, Frances gives her blessing to the relationship. Nelly, the film implies, had far more misgivings, agonizing over the morality of it.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The R rating reflects one rather explicit, though clothed, sexual situation, and a couple of others that are steamy in tone but less graphic. Dickens and Nelly are injured in a rather frightening train derailment.

Lone Survivor. Too realistically violent to recommend for anyone younger than 17, “Lone Survivor” is a war story for grown-ups. Based on a memoir of former Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, the film re-creates what happened to him and three fellow SEALs while on a mission in Afghanistan in June 2005. Their target is a Taliban leader in a village near the Pakistan border. While scoping out the village from a wooded hillside, the SEALs encounter several unarmed shepherds. After a brief debate over whether to kill them, detain them or let them go, the SEALs decide that killing them would be a war crime. They release them, knowing that the shepherds will give their location to Taliban fighters. The four Americans are soon surrounded. The battle goes on and on, as Marcus’s buddies die and he, while badly wounded, survives with help from a Pashtun villager.

The bottom line: The endless firefights are edge-of-the-seat depictions and the wounds are painfully realistic and bloody. The SEALs shoot many Taliban fighters, but it is how they themselves take bullets and grenades, plummet down hillsides and die with lungs full of blood that the film shows up-close. The profanity is very strong.

Horwitz is a freelance writer.

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