" Can you bring me a very heavy stone? A kind of lumpy squarish one. "
— Andy Goldsworthy, Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working with Time

MRQE Top Critic

Muscle Shoals

Even if the Muscle Shoals sound isn't on your iPod, you'll like seeing where it came from —Marty Mapes (review...)

Etta sings in Muscle Shoals

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If only somebody had smacked Cherry upside the head while he was growing up and making stupid decisions, the world could’ve been spared having to endure this movie.

Apocalypse Not

A dulled romance
A dulled romance

Directors Anthony and Joe Russo have strayed from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, their bread and butter, and the result is a spectacular debacle. After cutting their teeth on TV with episodes of Arrested Development and Community, they’ve proven their big screen mettle with Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Endgame. But this time, they’ve thrown a cherry bomb at the screen that is more along the lines of Avengers: Infinity War. That adventure didn’t even feel like a movie; there was so much CGI and so precious little humanity.

Here, they go full tilt on style. It’s all style. Nifty camera angles, slick camera movements; overhead shots, tracking shots. Breaking the fourth wall. Split screens. Surreal backgrounds. A ridiculous collection of diverse musical influences that almost seems like they’re stealing from Tarantino. When the operatic notes hit, the movie turns downright grating. Maybe, if they tried a little harder, they could’ve squeezed in one more cliché.

They even — for no apparent reason — pull out the shifting aspect ratio trick that’s become quite popular of late. This time, it makes no sense. It doesn’t add anything to the movie’s boot camp scenes. Instead, it’s just one more artful technique that adds to the distraction.

And the distraction is from characters that aren’t very interesting in and of themselves. There’s an attempt at an epic on-and-off romance between Cherry (Tom Holland, Spider-Man: Homecoming) and Emily (Ciara Bravo, TV’s Red Band Society), but that pairing is woefully lacking in chemistry. Their first college hookup? Bizarrely passionless.

Quarter Metal Jacket

It’s all based on the 2018 semi-autobiographical novel by Nico Walker (who, nonetheless, starts the book with this note: “This book is a work of fiction. These things didn’t ever happen. These people didn’t ever exist.“) Doing a little more digging, the book was written by Walker — who served as a U.S. Army medic in Iraq — while he was performing a different type of service: 11 years in prison for bank robbery. He was aided and abetted by a number of professional writers and editors who weren’t sitting behind bars. No doubt those professionals were living in big houses, but not The Big House.

The story goes something like this: a kid goes to college, falls in love, joins the army after the inevitable break-up, reunites with his love, gets married, drops out of college, serves in Iraq, returns home with PTSD, picks up a drug addiction, robs banks to pay for his habits. That’s the gist. It’s supposed to be “darkly funny,” but this movie adaptation is one sorely humorless affair.

It’s soul-sucking.

It’s somewhat clever how the protagonist — to the extent the lead character can be classified as a protagonist — has no name. Following in the footsteps of Clint Eastwood’s “Man with No Name” and The Protagonist in Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, he is never addressed directly by name. So, for convenience, he’s identified as “Cherry.”

By the time Cherry enters the war zone, there’s been so much blatant stagecraft and artifice, all sense of gravity is lost. Sure, there’s a lot of war zone profanity and the titular Cherry is — of course — also a sexual reference in regard to a soldier getting his first kill in combat. But the end effect is less Platoon and more like the boot camp scenes from Across the Universe, the Beatles musical.

There’s no grit in the combat. Given everything before it had been so carefully choreographed, none of the typical grim and gruesome horrors of war carry a lick of gravitas or even a basic grain of reality.

American Swiper

Cherry in the combat zone
Cherry in the combat zone

There is only one reason to even try to watch Cherry and that’s for Tom Holland’s performance. Clearly, his involvement is every bit as coldly calculated as every single frame in this movie. It’s a role to break Holland away from the peppy, happy world of Spider-Man, where he’s so gosh darn likable.

According to Walker’s own comments, the character who’s known as Cherry is supposed to be an asshole. But a likable asshole.

Here, Holland drops “F” bombs with aplomb, hits the drug scene and morphs from a bespectacled nerd to an army grunt before heading down the sewer into a drug-addled life of self-destruction. Holland’s good, but unfortunately the movie makes it a hard sell to root for Cherry or to even care about anything that’s going on. The Russo brothers were too busy being focused on the technique instead of the story and the people.

In other words, Cherry’s an asshole alright, but not the least bit likable.

That makes this Holland’s second bomb in rapid succession, right on the heels of last week’s release of Chaos Walking.

Instead of serving as a salute to the valor of soldiers and those who make it home alive — and instead of engendering compassion for those who struggle with addiction — Cherry turns into a toxic movie experience that perpetually undermines whatever the best intentions might’ve been.