In 2013 Forbes Magazine declared Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson the year’s highest grossing actor. Coincidentally, 2013 was also the year of the 2013 Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson Initiative. Did my coverage of every theatrical release starring The Rock here on Pony Tricks result in something of a Pony Tricks Bump for Mr. Johnson? Who can say?
Me. I can say.
So as 2014 crept up infighting broke out amongst the Hollywood Illuminati, all of whom sought the aforementioned Pony Tricks Bump. And from on high I bestowed it unto one Channing Tatum.
Out of the goodness of my heart I declared the 2014 Channing Tatum Initiative. And what have I gotten out of it?
Well I got to sit through Tatum’s latest, The Book of Life. Which is not a sequel to Tree of Life.
I’m a little late on this one, Book of Life has been out for two weekends now, but you have to understand – I really, really didn’t want to see Book of Life at all, and now that I have I still don’t.
I’ve seen three movies as a part of the 2014CTI and two of them have been animated and PG. It’s been rough.
To fulfill my obligation to this year’s Pony Tricks Initiative I had to go to a weekday morning showing of a children’s movie by myself, a lone, grown-ass man in a hoodie. Always a welcomed sight in a theater full of young children. Luckily for me there was no one in the showing I went to except an old lady.
Add to that sketchy experience the barrage a mind-numbing trailers for other kid-friendly movies I had to sit through and you’ve got some pretty successful birth control. Lord knows I don’t want to sit through any such nonsense ever again, let alone get dragged into it with any regularity.
Also the guy at the concession stand took forever to figure out how to fulfill my order of one cup of black coffee.
This is the thanks I get for the Pony Tricks Bump?
Come on Channing! At least send me a GD screener.
Book of Life, the actual movie rather than the suspect, interactive film-going experience, is steeped in Mexican culture, which is the only thing lending any sort of character to an otherwise by the numbers children’s movie. It tells the story of three childhood friends, two guys and a girl, sans pizza place, whose inevitable love triangle becomes the focus of a wager between two gods. One of the boys (Tatum) grows up to become a decorated soldier in peak physical condition, the other a humble, reluctant bullfighter who dreams of perusing his musical dreams.
Do I need to tell you anything else or have you figured out the entire story beat for beat yet? Cause you should have.
Book of Life shines brightest when it pretends to be progressive. Maria, the boys’ trophy made flesh, claims she is her own person and that she belongs to no one. We learn she studied fencing and kung fu. She turns down the advances of both of her suitors. Initially. She proves herself a formidable leader. And then we hit the third act and Maria is reduced to a damsel in distress left to fall in love with whichever suitor rescues her best.
Those fencing skills? That Kung fu? More a recurring joke than a particular set of skills, as Zoe Saldana’s voice talents are essentially wasted on a plot device masquerading as a character. The message here feels like something along the lines of “it’s okay to be a strong, independent woman as a parlor trick at dinner parties, as long as you revert to helpless swooning when it counts.”
What stuck with me the most about Book of Life was the discussion I had with myself afterwards as I silently tried to figure out exactly how I’d clarify the hackneyed character tropes to my theoretical future daughter, who needs to know that her future isn’t tied to a meager, predetermined list of men from which she must choose and who needn’t be a perpetual damsel in distress waiting for a hero to whom she’ll be indebted to love.
Basically, my kids are going to love going to the movies with me as much as I’ll love going with them. Hopefully they’ll emancipate themselves young.
The 2014 Channing Tatum Initiative wraps next month with Foxcatcher, a grownup movie for grownups. And seriously Channing, I think I’ve earned a screener.