In addition to "The Meg," also currently in wide release, "Crazy Rich Asians" is a film co-produced by American and Chinese studios, an effort to appeal not only to viewers in the United States, but also those in the Far East, a market that Hollywood studios are now focusing on.
The advent of digital media has made it much easier and more economical to expand in this region of billions of potential ticket-buyers, and some of the financial peril is minimized when two companies split the cost.
"Crazy Rich Asians" is a less-risky venture, what with its budget of $20 million compared with $130 million for "The Meg." However, it remains a crucial venture as it serves as a barometer as to whether U.S. viewers will be open to Asian-centric films.
Based on the novel by Kevin Kwan, "Crazy Rich Asians" is a pleasant enough affair, though hardly groundbreaking narratively. Think of an episode of "Dynasty," but with a much lighter tone, and you have some idea of what this movie it all about.
While there's nothing startlingly original about this culture-clash romance, other films have worked with less and succeeded. The pace of this predictable affair flirts with tedium throughout, while the entire story is brought low as well with superfluous subplots that bring nothing to the table.
Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) is a sociology professor from New York City who is traveling overseas to attend a wedding and meet the family of her boyfriend, Nick Young (Henry Golding) — chief among them the stern matriarch, Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh).
Unbeknownst to this lamb being led to a social slaughter, the Youngs are loaded, a family built on the type of old money that brings with it not only fantastic wealth but also high social standing. Poor Rachel finds this out the hard way when, upon landing in Singapore, she soon finds out she's the envy and target of quite a few other women her age who have had their eyes set on Nick. Not only are these harpies out to get her, but also Eleanor has already determined that an American, though of Asian descent, will never be good enough for her darling boy.
In addition to this mildly engaging story, the familial trials of Nick's cousins are delved into as well. Fashion icon and philanthropist Astrid (Gemma Chan) is a loving wife whose husband (Pierre Png) suffers from a massive inferiority complex that will come back to haunt them; Alistair (Remy Hii) is squandering his part of the Young fortune producing a film because he's enamored with its sexy star (Constance Lau); and Eddie (Ronny Chieng) is a ruthless tycoon who treats his family with disdain and flaunts his money every chance he gets.
The result of these intersecting storylines is more pedestrian than intriguing. Each plot point plods along, crawling from one predictable turn after another, none of them generating a modicum of suspense. And while the characters are appealing enough and the cast is very beautiful and handsome, the story they're trapped in is as exciting as a beige-on-beige ensemble.
As Rachel's best friend Peik Lin Goh, Awkwafina provides some hearty laughs, and if nothing else, "Crazy Rich Asians" is a fantastic tool for Singapore's tourism industry, as the country is effectively showcased as a paradise replete with 21st-century innovation.
The locale comes off as far more interesting than those who inhabit it, which may encourage travel to this Pacific region but likely won't have American film-goers clamoring for more films set there.
'Crazy Rich Asians' (★★ out of four)
Cast: Constance Wu, Michelle Yeoh, Henry Golding, Gemma Chan, Awkwafina, Ken Jeong, Jimmy O. Yang, Sonoya Mizuno, Jing Lusi, Ronny Chieng and Fiona Xie.
Directed by Jon M. Chu; produced by Nina Jacobson, John Penotti and Brad Simpson; screenplay by Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim.
A Warner Brothers release. 120 minutes. Rated PG-13 (suggestive content and language). At AMC-Champaign 13, AMC-Danville Village Mall 6 and Savoy 16 IMAX.
Also new in theaters
Animated beast in "The Meg" its undoing (★★ out of four).
One sign of a good salesman is the ability to take something old and sell it as something new. If you’re able apply a little bit of razzle dazzle, some misdirection and some shiny ribbon per se to make the consumer think that they’ve never seen what’s being peddled before, instill a sense of urgency that they darn well better jump on board and buy this new thing RIGHT NOW and before you know it, you’ve unloaded a ton of potato peelers that have been taking up space in a warehouse.
Based on the results of the box office for the first weekend of "The Meg" — nearly 150 million in international dollars over its first three days — it would be safe to say that director Jon Turteltaub is a heck of a salesman. Nothing more than a "Jaws" retread on steroids, the movie benefited from a strong advertisement strategy, the presence of international action guy Jason Statham and … well, really who doesn’t like to see people munched on by sharks?
Based on the principal that bigger is better, the shark in this adaptation of Steve Alten’s best-selling novel is no mere Great White, but a prehistoric Megalodon, a 70-foot killing machine that has survived undisturbed in the deepest part of the Pacific Ocean. Of course, some intrepid scientists go mucking about in this newly discovered abyss and conveniently show this deep sea death machine to the surface where a whole new menu of surf and turf awaits to be devoured.
On board to play part in the game of "Who’s going to be eaten next?" is expert sea diver Jonas Taylor (Statham), marine biologist Suyin (Bingbing Li), the money behind the project Morris (Rainn Wilson), navigator chick Jaxx (Ruby Rose) and a bevy of other actors and actresses whose names you won’t recognize, which means they more than likely will be served up as a appetizer or entrée.
There’s nothing new as far as the story is concerned, as it blatantly rips off "Jaws" (or is that pays homage to?) on a least four occasions, and overstays its welcome by a good 20 minutes, clocking in at nearly two hours. The cast does a fine job hitting their marks, saying their lines and looking distressed or heroic, as the case may be, while most of them look really good when wet.
More than anything, the most obvious and damning difference between "The Meg" and Spielberg’s classic lies in their respective sharks. For all the mechanical issues the beast in "Jaws" presented, the tangible nature of a true-to-life model added a weight to the terror once he made his ultimate appearance. Only on screen a total of six minutes, that shark, while obviously fake in some shots, had a presence about him that was hard to shake, much of it due to the director’s ability to suggest much of the danger it was capable of instead of showing it. Quite simply because it was a tangible thing, it was scary. The beast in "The Meg" is computer-generated and as such, never poses a true threat. We’re well aware that Statham and the cast are reacting to a green screen and as such, there’s no palpable sense of danger or suspense. As such, the film comes off as more of a cartoon rather than a realistic adventure.
"The Meg" has little in the way of bite to it, and though audiences don’t seem to mind, I doubt we’ll be watching this film some 40 years in the future as we do a certain other shark movie.