CNS reviews of recent films on the basis of moral suitability

Photo Caption: Animated characters Shaun, Slip and Bitzer appear in “Shaun the Sheep Movie.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents.

Rating: By Catholic News Service

The following movie reviews are supplied by Catholic News Service in conjunction with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office of Film and Broadcasting.

For full reviews of these films, as well as earlier releases, visit the CNS movie site here.

This list will be updated regularly.

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“American Ultra” (Lionsgate)

The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

Excessive violence overwhelms the appeal of this action comedy in which a small-town slacker (Jesse Eisenberg) discovers that he has been subjected to mental tampering as part of a CIA research program designed to turn ordinary citizens into highly skilled warriors. Although his memories of the experiment have been erased, he subconsciously retains the cutting-edge combat abilities it gave him.
These gifts come in handy as the would-be comic book artist and his live-in girlfriend (Kristen Stewart) find themselves caught up in a deadly power struggle between a ruthless agency bureaucrat (Topher Grace) and the more humane operative (Connie Britton) who initiated the project that altered him.
Though it amounts to the script’s single joke, the combination of low-key wonderment and ninja-like dexterity with which the pot-loving protagonist reacts to his peculiar circumstances is good for a few laughs, while his determination to marry Stewart’s character adds some positive morality to his situation. But, as portrayed by director Nima Nourizadeh, the gory results of his campaign of self-defense — during which he deploys everything from the edge of a spoon to an iron-headed club hammer — are far too explicit.
Frequent graphic bloodletting, cohabitation, drug use, at least one instance of profanity, pervasive rough and crude language.

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“Hitman: Agent 47” (Fox)

The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

In this second film adaptation of the video game series “Hitman,” virtually everyone in the cast is hunting for the missing biologist (Ciaran Hinds) who genetically engineered the purebred assassin of the title (Rupert Friend). The scientist’s estranged daughter (Hannah Ware) wants to reconnect with dad for personal reasons, the killer himself has a contract to fulfill, while two other pursuers (Zachary Quinto and Thomas Kretschmann) have reasons of their own for wanting to get their hands on the researcher.
Director Aleksander Bach tones down the sexuality featured in 2007’s “Hitman,” and some of the dialogue feebly defends free will in the face immoral manipulation. But philosophy is hardly the point; eliminating extras is the real agenda, and the means of death range from bullets and car crashes to conveniently placed airplane engines.
Pervasive nasty violence with excessive gore, brief partial nudity, a couple of profanities, about a half-dozen uses each of rough and crude language.

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“The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” (Warner Bros.)

The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

Droll humor punctuates this breezy espionage yarn, set at the height of the Cold War in 1963. Forced to work together to retrieve revolutionary nuclear know-how that may have fallen into the hands of the shady heir (Luca Calvani) to a fascism-tainted Italian industrial fortune and his scheming but elegant wife (Elizabeth Debicki), an art thief-turned-CIA operative (Henry Cavill) and a rage-prone KGB agent (Armie Hammer) team with the daughter (Alicia Vikander) of the missing scientist who developed the breakthrough to track the couple.
In adapting the mid-1960s television series, director and co-writer Guy Ritchie diverts his audience with James Bond-style glamour while keeping the violence vague. But the substantial, if slightly strange, relationship that increasingly tethers Hammer and Vikander is offset by Cavill’s carefree philandering. And the script’s anti-war, pro-friendship sentiments rest, to some extent, on an implied moral equivalence between the forces of East and West wholly at variance with history.
Much violence, including torture, but with little gore, brief gruesome images, off-screen casual encounters, glimpses of partial nudity, some sexual banter, a couple of crude terms.

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“Ricki and the Flash” (TriStar)

The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

Not even the storied talent of Meryl Streep can hold together the scattershot elements of this character study as it veers between drama and romantic comedy — and between a realistic view of moral shortcomings and the illusion of simplistic solutions.
Under Jonathan Demme’s direction, Streep plays an aging, unsuccessful rocker who long ago abandoned her family to pursue her musical ambitions. She’s forced to confront the legacy of her own selfishness, however, when her sympathetic ex (Kevin Kline) summons her back from L.A. to Indiana to help him cope with the downward emotional spiral into which their grown daughter (Mamie Gummer, Streep’s daughter in real life) has descended after being dumped by her husband.
Though Diablo Cody’s script is unsparing in its portrayal of the damage caused by the protagonist’s desertion, it not only offers her fresh hope in the person of her affectionate live-in boyfriend (Rick Springfield), but suggests that all the destruction she left behind can be cleaned up with good intentions and a well-chosen song.
Cohabitation, a nongraphic premarital bedroom scene, benignly viewed drug use, mature themes, including homosexuality, at least one use of profanity, several crude and crass terms.

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“Straight Outta Compton” (Universal)

The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

The rise and collapse of the gangster rap group worldview is recounted in this striking but gritty dramatization from director F. Gary Gray.
Focusing primarily on the two members — Ice Cube (played by the rapper’s son, O’Shea Jackson Jr.) and Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) — who went on to have headlining solo careers as well as on Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell), another founder whose life took a different turn, the story follows their collective effort to translate the frustrations of growing up in the Los Angeles-area ghetto of the title into popular protest music.
While the legitimacy of their radical stance — some held that their lyrics called for attacks on the police — is open to debate, the gulf between the materialistic lifestyle the whole genre of hip-hop tends to glamorize and an outlook based on scriptural values is undeniable. Thus retaliatory violence is treated ambiguously while women’s body parts are far more prominent than their personalities. Narrow perspectives are also in evidence as cops are relentlessly demonized and the one white character of any significance — the manager (Paul Giamatti) who successfully marketed the little-known ensemble in their early days — turns out to be more greedy manipulator than genuine mentor.
Flawed morality, some harsh violence, strong sexual content, including brief but graphic casual activity and full nudity, drug use, several instances of profanity, pervasive rough and crude language.

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“The Gift” (STX)

The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

What begins as a psychological thriller eventually reveals itself as another entry in the revenge-fantasy genre.
After relocating from Chicago to California, a smugly successful corporate security expert (Jason Bateman) and his interior-designer wife (Rebecca Hall) happen to reconnect with one of his high school classmates (Joel Edgerton), a socially awkward veteran whose increasingly disturbing behavior toward the couple is motivated by his memories of life as an adolescent outcast.
Edgerton, who also wrote and directed, happily embraces horror cliches in the midst of his understated style. While he competently delivers a few seat-jumping shocks, the conclusion of his film is marred by several logical flaws as well as by the misogynistic notion that Hall’s character can somehow be made to represent a sexual “gift” herself.
A vengeance theme, some physical violence, an implied sexual assault, adult banter, a couple of uses of profanity, frequent rough and crude language.

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“Fantastic Four” (Fox)

Glum origin story, drawn from the Marvel Comics series, recounts how a quartet of youthful science enthusiasts — Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara and Toby Kebbell — working under the sponsorship of a wealthy research institute (represented by Reg E. Cathey), develops a machine capable of transporting people to a previously unknown dimension. But a hurried, unauthorized visit there by the three lads, undertaken to forestall others from stealing the limelight, has unexpected and ambiguous consequences — for them, for Mara’s character and for a tag-along (Jamie Bell).
Director and co-writer Josh Trank’s reboot of a chronicle that stretches back, in print, to 1961 shows subtlety in its treatment of the group’s unsought superpowers. Yet the misfortunes that accompany these gifts become mildly miserable for the audience, while a ham-handed critique of the military-industrial complex does little to lighten the mood.
Parents of the teens at whom the film is squarely aimed will want to be aware of late scenes featuring some harsh bloodletting, forays into mayhem that make this doubtful fare even for older adolescents. Brief gory violence, glimpses of partial nudity, at least one use of profanity, a handful of crude terms, an obscene gesture.

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“Shaun the Sheep Movie” (Lionsgate)

The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

Co-writers and co-directors Mark Burton and Richard Starzak use stop-action clay animation to craft an endearing feature about the madcap adventures of a wooly English flock.
Unfolding without dialogue, yet filled with puns, the film follows the eponymous young ram (voice of Justin Fletcher) as he persuades his barnyard buddies to take a day off from the monotonous routine enforced on them by a myopic and clueless farmer and his trusty sheepdog (both voiced by John Sparkes). Predictably, things go awry, with the human and sheep worlds colliding to comic effect — and with the wicked ways of an animal warden (voice of Omid Djalili) further complicating matters.
Despite some questionable jokes, these entertaining and inventive goings-on make suitable viewing for most of the family. Some rude bathroom humor and vague innuendo.

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“The Vatican Tapes” (Lionsgate)

The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

In this low-budget exorcism flick, a young woman (Olivia Taylor Dudley) possessed by the Antichrist himself wreaks havoc on her family — Dougray Scott plays her gruff, devout dad — and on the clergymen (Michael Pena, Djimon Hounsou and Peter Andersson) trying to assist her.
Though its lurid title attempts to mask bad plotting and wooden characters, director Mark Neveldine’s horror exercise is both less bloody and more reverent than many of its counterparts. Still, his exploitative tactics in working in archival news footage of recent popes — and imagining the existence of a secret Vatican archive documenting the church’s unending fight with Satan — will not sit well with Catholic viewers.
Some mildly gory violence, occult themes, a sloppy portrayal of Catholicism, fleeting uses of profanity and of rough language.

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“Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation” (Paramount)

The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

Nifty espionage sequel centers on an American operative (Tom Cruise) whose battle against an underground terrorist organization of global reach (headed by Sean Harris) is complicated by the fact that the super-secret government agency for which he works (along with Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames) has been suspended by Congress at the urging of the CIA director (Alec Baldwin). The uncertain loyalties of a British agent (Rebecca Ferguson) who has managed to infiltrate the evil outfit add a further wrinkle to the proceedings.
The mayhem is steady but stylized in writer-director Christopher McQuarrie’s fifth installment in a franchise that dates back, on the big screen, to 1996. Anyone looking for more than a fun ride — with occasional reflections on the conflict between personal and patriotic allegiances thrown in along the way — will, however, scratch this film’s slick surface in vain.
Probably acceptable for mature teens. Pervasive but virtually bloodless violence, brief glimpses of partial nudity, a couple of uses each of profanity and crude language.

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“Vacation” (Warner Bros)

The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

Wretched revival of the comedy franchise that began with 1983’s “National Lampoon’s Vacation.” In an effort to shake up his family’s summer routine, the now-grown son (Ed Helms) of the original outing embarks with his wife (Christina Applegate) and quarrelsome kids (Skyler Gisondo and Steele Stebbins) on a road trip to the same California amusement park that served as the destination for that long-ago initial journey.
While the clan’s travels are beset by a variety of disasters, the real calamity befalls viewers who find themselves dragged along on a forced march through a landscape of tastelessness unrelieved by laughs. Co-writers and -directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley try to disguise their steamy material by cloaking it in family values, including the parents’ shared commitment to maintaining the vibrancy of their marriage. But scenes of enthusiastic exhibitionism, together with obscenities uttered by a child and jokes about AIDS and pedophilia, make the underlying rot unmistakable.
Pervasive sexual and extreme scatological humor, frontal male and upper female nudity, about a half-dozen uses of profanity, constant rough and crude language.

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