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SICARIO: DAY OF THE SOLDADO

Sicario sneaked up on moviegoers and critics alike in the latter part of 2015, earning excellent reviews and ultimately finding its audience online. This sequel reunites two of its stars (Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro) and boasts a script by the original writer, Taylor Sheridan. But despite their best efforts, it falls far short of the earlier film.

At first, Sicario: Day of the Soldado seems to have the grit and substance of the original but it soon becomes evident that the story isn’t going anywhere. It’s difficult to assign blame for this misfire. Is it the absence of a strong female protagonist like the one played by Emily Blunt, or Roger Deakins’ cinematography, or the late Johan Johannsson’s score? Sheridan has done first-rate work since that breakout opportunity (including Wind River and Hell or High Water, which he also directed). Director Stefano Sollima, primarily a television director (with episodes of Gomorrah under his belt) seems to have a handle on the material.

It all goes back to the screenplay, which has a multitude of flaws. As soon as the U.S. Secretary of State (Matthew Modine) hires Brolin to execute a black ops assignment in Mexico, it’s clear he doesn’t understand how things work with drug cartels and the government south of the border. Why is he so clueless when we know what to expect?

Catherine Keener is wasted as the government agent supervising Brolin and del Toro’s sub rosa operation. I must admit, Del Toro is so good he almost makes the film worth seeing. Almost. The best scene in the movie involves him, the kidnaped daughter of a cartel kingpin, and a dirt-poor farmer he approaches for food and shelter. The actor is remarkably expressive and his low-key approach is highly effective.

As for the storyline, it’s difficult to describe without revealing spoilers. Suffice it to say that the American protagonists haven’t got a chance because everybody in Mexico is corrupt and cannot be trusted. The violence is extreme and worthy of an R rating. A fair amount of effort went into this production, but the results are simply unsatisfying.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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