Top Gun: Maverick and P-Valley make welcome returns, but the meta humor of Rescue Rangers falls flat

·6 min read

Each Friday, our critics provide a few quick-hit reviews of the titles that have them giddy and groaning — or, to put it another way, the Musts & Misses of the week.

Top Gun: Maverick

In theaters now

Top Gun: Maverick
Top Gun: Maverick

Paramount Pictures

In Top Gun: Maverick's opening scene, someone makes the mistake of asking Tom Cruise to take his fighter jet to Mach 9. He pauses, then flashes that megawatt Cheshire grin. Never mind that it's a practice run; there is only one Mach he knows, and it is 10 (or maybe 10.2). That's because he's a maverick, the Maverick — Captain Pete Mitchell of the United States Navy, a rogue's rogue for whom clouds part and Hans Zimmer synths soar.

He's also 36 years older than the cocky young lieutenant he played on screen in the 1986 original, a bare fact that its surprisingly satisfying sequel both elides and celebrates in a movie whose bright stripes and broad strokes feel somehow bombastic and tenderheartedly nostalgic at the same time. There's a new crew of fresh recruits (Miles Teller, Glen Powell) to school in the ways of the sky, and old friends (Jennifer Connelly, an ailing, poignant Val Kilmer) to find again; Jon Hamm and Ed Harris get to scowl and squint fiercely at the horizon. Director Joseph Kosinski (TRON: Legacy) revels in the sonic-boom rush of his many flight scenes, and the script, by Peter Craig (The Batman) and Justin Marks (The Jungle Book) toggles deftly between winking callbacks, grown-adult romance, and big-beat action stuff.

Teller and Powell are breezily appealing, actors at the apex of their youth and beauty, but the movie still belongs in almost every scene to Cruise. At this point in his career, he's not really playing characters so much as variations on a theme — the theme being, perhaps, The Last Movie Star. And in the air up there, he stands alone. Grade: B+ —Leah Greenblatt

Read our full review of Top Gun: Maverick here.


Friday, June 3 (Starz)

P-Valley season 2
P-Valley season 2

Erika Doss/Starz Elarica Johnson and Brandee Evans in 'P-Valley'

In the second season premiere of Starz' soapy stripper drama P-Valley, the "pandemmy" is in full swing, and everyone — from the pastors to the politicians to the dancers on the pole at the Pynk — is struggling for survival.

With Chucalissa on lockdown, reluctant partners Uncle Clifford (Nicco Annan) and Hailey (Elarica Johnson) scramble to keep their business afloat — and if that means having Mercedes (Brandee Evans) bust her main-stage moves in a car wash, so be it. The sudden exit of Mayor Tydell Ruffin (Isaiah Washington) brings Andre (Parker Sawyers) back to town and prompts an intriguing race to fill the political power vacuum, while the Kyle brothers (Josh Ventura, Donny Boaz, and Dan J. Johnson) are still determined to build a casino on the Pynk's prime piece of waterfront property.

Incorporating the pandemic is a risk for any TV series, but P-Valley isn't the type of show that takes the easy way out. COVID-19's crushing effect on the working-class residents of Chucalissa is particularly chilling for Keyshawn (Shannon Thornton), who's stuck in unofficial house arrest with her abusive boyfriend Derrick (Jordan M. Cox). Creator Katori Hall continues to explore Keyshawn's story of surviving domestic violence deep into the season, even as she embarks on a tour as "Miss Mississippi" with Lil Murda (J. Alphonse Nicholson) — because it's never as simple as "Why doesn't she just leave?"

There is light in all this darkness: Uncle Clifford keeps Chucalissa glam with her "Corona couture" (the red lace-and-rhinestones ensemble in episode 2 is particularly resplendent), and her battle of wills with Hailey prompts some fiercely funny exchanges. ("Heffa, you might be the owner, but you ain't the boss!") Mercedes makes a surprise connection that promises to deliver maximum messiness, and new Pynk stars Roulette (Gail Bean) and Whisper (Psalms Salazar) display some astonishing athleticism when they hit the pole. "Miss Rona" may be a formidable foe, but she's no match for P-Valley's Mississippi queens. B+Kristen Baldwin

Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers

Streaming now (Disney+)


Disney +

This sequel to the Disney Afternoon cartoon badly wants to be Who Framed Roger Rabbit? for the age of nostalgic reboots. The effect is more PG Deadpool, with a hyper-referential plot and a general mood of dudely self-awareness. Turns out that Chip (John Mulaney) and Dale (Andy Samberg) were actually actors, briefly famous in the '90s when they starred in Rescue Rangers. Thirty years later, Chip's an insurance salesman and Dale's hustling the fan circuit for social media juice. The disappearance of former co-star Monterey Jack (Eric Bana) reunites them for a real-life mystery. Can they rescue their old friend — and their careers?

Anecdotally, the reaction to this movie seems to be: "Wow, I can't believe they made such a meta Disney Afternoon movie!" There's no shortage of cameos and winks about unoriginality, plus one brilliant joke about the Uncanny Valley (here an actual place full of vacant-eyed digital-animation rejects from the Polar Express era). Director Akiva Schaffer seamlessly blends 2D and CGI effects with live-action and what looks like stop-motion.

But there's a secret blandness behind the frantic insider gags. I'm not going to argue the original Rescue Rangers was awesome. (It was less good than TaleSpin though definitely better than Gummi Bears.) But the toon conjured its own cutely weird landscape, these high-tech rodent detective-adventurers solving mysteries too small for cops/humans to notice. Surely the sharper move would be making an awesome version of that. (Sometimes, some crimes do go slipping through the cracks.) Instead, Hollywoodizing creates a more obvious tale: Celebrities voicing celebrities saving other celebrities. Like, the bad guy's great threat is that he will "bootleg" old characters like Chip and Dale into subpar movies. Oh, the horror: IP theft! Also, this is a 90-minute Rescue Rangers movie that has one full hour without Gadget (Tress MacNeille), the coolest wacky-inventor in the Disney pantheon. In fact, she has less to do than Ugly Sonic (Tim Robinson), a three-year-old meme this movie has successfully re-memed. Won't someone rescue us from the memes? C+Darren Franich

The Responder

Available now (BritBox)

The Responder
The Responder

BBC Adelayo Adedayo and Martin Freeman in 'The Responder'

Liverpool policeman Chris Carson (Martin Freeman) is so visibly exhausted and burnt out, even the young schizophrenic woman he just pulled from the garbage bin asks him if he's okay. ("You live in a bin," he shoots back.)

It's not just the brutality of the night shift that's grinding Chris down: His mom (Rita Tushingham) is dying; his wife, Kate (MyAnna Buring), is getting very tired of living with an emotional ghost; and the sketchy arrangement he has with menacing local drug dealer Carl (Ian Hart) is about to go sideways, thanks to some stolen coke and a junkie named Casey (Emily Fairn). "I'm a f---ing shell," a desperate Chris growls to his department-appointed therapist (Elizabeth Berrington). "The job has ruined me."

Freeman, sporting a severe buzz cut and a hollowed-out gaze, brings a chilling intensity to Chris, whose coiled-up rage threatens to strangle the last bit of humanity lingering in his soul. When the station forces him to pair up with a rookie named Rachel (Adelayo Adedayo), the compassion seeping through Chris' cynicism pushes the "seen-it-all vet vs. rule-bound newbie" dynamic beyond the cliché. Just one word of warning: The accents are thicker than a steaming bowl of scouse, so don't even try to watch without subtitles. B+Kristen Baldwin

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