Jon Hamm has no trouble looking like a movie star. Dapper or bedraggled, it doesn't matter what kind of role. He'll make it believable. What he doesn't have yet is a starring role worthy of his talent, although Beirut (R) comes pretty close.
Hamm, right, stars as Mason Skiles, a U.S. diplomat in Lebanon during civil war in 1972, refereeing disputes in a cultural boiling pot of Arabs, Muslims and Israel. An act of violence upends Mason's life; a decade later he's stateside, usually drunk and mediating labor disputes to pay for bar tabs and cheap motels.
He learns a former colleague (Mark Pellegrino) has been kidnapped in Beirut, his captors demanding Mason negotiate a release. Why him isn't much of a mystery, but how this distrusting dance commences in Tony Gilroy's alluring screenplay, detouring into a triptych of political deceit, makes Beirut a grownup's pleasure.
Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl) co-stars as a CIA operative likelier to be trusted than her superior (Dean Norris) or State Department officials (Shea Whigham, Larry Pine) with ulterior motives. Beirut's intrigue is sprawling, a bundle of deceits with too many twists to neatly wrap up.
Gilroy and director Brad Anderson have a complex, contested situation to explore, that likely won't be depicted to the complete satisfaction of culturally or politically invested viewers. Hamm makes for a compelling guide, Bogart-weary and mind racing, assessing each situation with a readable face for the camera. Beirut won't make him a bigger movie star, but more interesting actors are tough to find. B
Dwayne Johnson's movie career is firmly in its video game phase, after the roaring success of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and now Rampage (PG-13), based on the '80s arcade rage.
Rampage casts the artist formerly known as the Rock, above, as primatologist Davis Okoye, whose best friend is an intelligent gorilla named George. When a genetic experiment on George goes awry, he grows to enormous size and goes ape on similarly evolved critters. Giant lizards, flying wolves, that sort of thing. Davis fights his way through the mutated menagerie to save his simian pal, collecting a lot of box office coin along the way.
BLUMHOUSE'S TRUTH OR DARE
Move over, Tyler Perry. You aren't the only cinema cheese clearinghouse putting its brand name in titles anymore.
Truth or Dare (PG-13) marks the first time the Blumhouse low-budget horror assembly line puts its name out front, after years of hits including the Paranormal Activity, Insidious and Purge series. This time, an innocent game turns deadly when players are caught telling lies or refuse dares. As a wise man once bellowed: "This isn't 'Nam; there are rules."
SGT. STUBBY: AN AMERICAN HERO
Which brings us to the World War I animated true story Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero (PG), from something called Fun Academy Motion Pictures. Doesn't exactly roll off the tongue like Pixar or Dreamworks, but I have a feeling we won't need to say it much.
Stubby is a stray dog adopted during boot camp by U.S. soldier Robert Conroy (voice of Logan Lerman), joining him in combat. Stubby's heroic deeds led to the official military rank of sergeant, the first dog earning such an honor. I hoped Gérard Depardieu would voice Stubby, but he's doing a French soldier. Typecasting again.
in theaters: our Top 5
Current movies recommended by the Tampa Bay Times:
1 Isle of Dogs: Go fetch Wes Anderson's all-star animated treat. (Tampa Theatre)
2 Beirut: Why isn't Jon Hamm a bigger movie star?
3 Black Panther: Marvel's latest superhero is a cultural game changer.
4 Annihilation: Alex Garland's sci-fi bio-puzzle starring Natalie Portman.
5 Unsane: Steven Soderbergh makes a lurid thriller on a cellphone.
(Dates subject to change)
April 20: Super Troopers 2; Dolphins; Duck Duck Goose
April 27: Avengers: Infinity War; I Feel Pretty; Lean on Pete; Animal Crackers; Traffik
May 4: Overboard
May 11: Life of the Party; Breaking In
May 18: Deadpool 2; Book Club, Show Dogs
May 25: Solo: A Star Wars Story