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The good, the bad and the (not entirely) ugly films on Netflix this month

While movie theaters all over the world remain largely closed, and film studios continually push back the release dates for new pictures, streaming services remain, for the most part, the only game in town to see first-run movies. Netflix, in particular, is cranking “originals” out at a frankly frightening pace, with new narrative films, documentaries, comedy specials and TV series nearly every single week.

This month, it’s been especially hard to keep up with Netflix. And during a July in any “normal” year, when it concerns Netflix films, I would not have recommended anyone really even attempt to keep up, as the theater would usually be the preferred place to see even horrible movies in the summer.

But alas, this is the furthest thing from a “normal” year, and Netflix – more so than any other streaming service, whether we like it or not – is where it’s at, for now. Among their releases this month are the romantic comedy “Desperados” (July 3), the action/fantasy “The Old Guard” (July 10) and thriller “Fatal Affair” (July 16).

But just because Netflix is among the limited choices we’ve got, that doesn’t mean these are all worth watching. In fact, while one is surprisingly good, one is unspeakably bad and the other is merely passable.

“The Old Guard” (US-rated R)

Cast: Charlize Theron, KiKi Layne, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Matthias Schoenaerts

Genre: Action/fantasy

Dwight’s Rating:

I was so prepared to dislike this movie.

Honestly, I was actually hoping I’d dislike it. (Writing reviews for bad movies is often more fun than for the good ones!)

But c’mon, the previews looked so cheesy. Plus, I saw a couple interviews in which star Charlize Theron gave some details about the picture and her character and about all the training she did for the fighting scenes. I rolled my eyes the whole time.

The way the Oscar winner described the plot, it sounded like this would be retreading some well-worn and worn-out stories we’ve seen over and over.

And it’s true. “The Old Guard” may not necessarily be breaking any new ground. But, like a master blender combines the best spirits from here and there to form a superb whiskey, this picture takes elements from some of the most successful comic books, novel series and film franchises over the past few decades, and emerges as one of the better movies we’ve seen so far in this very bizarre year.

In the film, a covert team of mercenaries – all centuries-old immortals with the ability to heal themselves – discover someone is onto their secret, and they must fight to protect their freedom.

So, yes, that sounds like something you might find with a Marvel of DC Comics “origin film”. And add in those questions and concerns about “immortality”, and perhaps “Twilight” or any other vampire-type series might come to mind, along with hints of any number of dystopian dramas we’ve seen recently. That’s not entirely surprising as “The Old Guard” is written by comic book writer Greg Rucka, and is based on his graphic comic book series of the same name.

But despite the fantastical nature of the plot, and what sounds like similarities to other works, this feels more grounded and adult and even realistic than any of the films to which one might be inclined to compare it.

Thankfully, unlike more juvenile “superhero” movies, there are none of the hokey, superfluous characters inserted solely to provide comic relief. Yet it never feels stiff or overly serious. We get measured action, with no excessively lengthy and unnecessary and inexplicable fighting scenes and explosions.

Theron, who has long demonstrated she’s as good at intense emotional drama as she is at intense action, seems perfect in this role. The supporting cast is stellar, especially KiKi Layne. If you saw her in “If Beale Street Could Talk”, rest assured she is living up to the immense potential you witnessed there.

You might not have thought you wanted and needed a superhero movie for adults. But it is here. And it is good! And it appears there will be more of “The Old Guard” to come.

I can’t find anything to dislike about that!

“Fatal Affair”
(US-rated TV-14)

Cast: Nia Long, Omar Epps, Stephen Bishop, Maya Stojan

Genre: Thriller

Dwight’s Rating:

Some of you may be old enough to remember a very odd marketing campaign the NBC television network used in the summer of 1997.

Before YouTube and DVRs and every single TV network having its own streaming service, should you happen to miss an episode of a show you liked, and you didn’t set your VCR, you’d just have to wait until the summer reruns to catch it.

Of course, even more so now than then, reruns were never popular. But before summers on the traditional networks were handed over to game shows and reality competitions, people who wanted to watch TV at that time of year basically had no choice but to sit down for shows that had already aired anytime between the previous September and May.

So, NBC marketing geniuses decided to put an innovative twist on humdrum rerun season by appealing to folks who might have missed an episode (or never watched their shows to begin with) by proclaiming: “If you haven’t seen it, it’s new to you!”

All summer long, “It’s new to you!” promos played during almost every commercial break. And almost immediately, the public ridicule commenced. It is now a hilariously embarrassing moment in television history.

Of late, I believe filmmakers have decided to adopt NBC’s old summertime slogan. What else could explain how something like “Fatal Affair” has come to exist?

I personally have seen “Fatal Affair” at least 425 times. It wasn’t called that, of course. And about nine of the previous outings were not exactly awful. But all the others were as predictable as the probability that within the next 12 to 18 months there will be another movie about a psychopath becoming obsessed with someone and doing everything possible (usually very odd, highly extreme and horribly violent) to have that “love” be requited.

The Lifetime cable network alone has built its foundation on these stories, airing at least several movies of this type daily.

So, as is apparently required by law with these flicks, with “Fatal Affair”, someone (in this case, a woman, played by Nia Long) tries to mend her marriage after a brief encounter with an old friend (in this case, a man, played by Omar Epps). She soon realizes that he is more dangerous and unstable than she had thought.

Hmmm! Of course!

Perhaps Netflix has heard the complaints about the unnecessarily long running times of their films. But to help “Fatal Affair” clock in at just under 90 minutes, clearly some things were left on the editing room floor. If that wasn’t the case, then obviously the script was just complete garbage from the very beginning.

Long and Epps do their best with the ridiculous story, which calls for overreactions and oversimplifications and nonsensical conveniences. The other, less-experienced actors, however, struggle mightily!

Even though it’s obvious early on that there’s no need to become overly invested here, one can easily point to missed opportunities that would have allowed this to attempt to be something I might actually remember by the end the month.

While “Fatal Affair” seeks to draw inspiration, perhaps, from arguably the most famous film of this ilk, “Fatal Attraction” – which itself was not exactly a first-of-its-kind tale – it unfortunately does more closely align with the bottom rung of the romantic-thriller assembly line of the last few years, namely “Obsessed”, “When the Bough Breaks” and “The Perfect Guy”.

Thus, with “Fatal Affair”, you’ve definitely seen it! And unless you literally are just this year starting to watch movies or television of any kind, this is absolutely not new to you!

And for goodness’ sake, if you indeed have never seen anything like this before, I’m glad you’re finally out of that coma, and please don’t allow “Fatal Affair” to be your first. As I’ve seen at least 425 times, you’d be embarking on a relationship you will likely come to painfully regret.

(US-rated R)

Cast: Nasim Pedrad, Lamorne Morris, Anna Camp, Sarah Burns

Genre: Romantic comedy

Dwight’s Rating:

There’s something for everyone on Netflix.

Some of it is good, quite a lot of it is bad and most of it is just middling to mediocre.

The romantic comedy “Desperados” fits snuggly into the latter category, featuring elements of practically every single film in this genre in the past two or so decades, especially “Bridesmaids” and “There’s Something About Mary”.

A panicked woman (Nasim Pedrad) rushes to Mexico – with her reluctant friends (Anna Camp and Sarah Burns) in tow – to try to delete a ranting email she sent to her new boyfriend (Robbie Amell).

The zany storyline results in a film that is indeed funny at times, but at other moments, just drags its feet. Talented “Saturday Night Live” alum Pedrad is adorable. (Let’s all hope she soon finds a project and/or platform that will best show off her many capabilities.) And her chemistry with Lamorne Morris (TV’s “New Girl”) is pretty good, with decent performances from the rest of the cast.

Overall, though, “Desperados” is a like a conveyor belt-produced appliance. It’s probably pretty similar to the last romantic comedy you watched.

But after you’ve had your fill of mind-numbing newscasts jam-packed with depressing COVID updates, or you’ve been watching something you’re certain has killed several of your brain cells (like “Fatal Affair”), this may be exactly what you need.

So, “Desperados” works as a break from reality and an escape from sanity. Or if you simply adore mediocrity!

• Dwight Strachan is the host/producer of “Morning Blend” on Guardian Radio and station manager. He is a television producer and writer, and an avid TV history and film buff. Email and follow him on Twitter @morningblend969.

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