Every Netflix Original Movie Released in April 2020, Reviewed

April, T.S. Eliot famously said, is the cruelest month, and he may well have been talking about April 2020. Not only were many of us stuck in the house as the pandemic raged on, but Netflix didn’t help by releasing 20 feature-length “original” films with a collective level of quality reminiscent of Eliot’s most famous poem: The Wasteland. Here to walk you through all of Netflix’s film releases from a disappointing month on many fronts is Christopher Meir from Netflix Original Movies Reviewed.

English-Language Films

Coffee & Kareem

Director: Michael Dowse
Runtime: 88 Minutes | Genre: Action, Comedy
Cast: Ed Helms, Taraji P. Henson, Terrence Little Gardenhigh, Betty Gilpin, RonReaco Lee

This buddy cop comedy pairs Ed Helms, playing the blundering Officer Coffee, with his African-American girlfriend’s 14-year-old son Kareem to stop a dangerous drug dealer. It is a pretty lame set up that yields few laughs as the film’s script takes two jokes about sensitive topics – one about pedophilia and another about racial tensions in America – and beats them to death, leaving the films 85-minute running time feel very long.

Star Rating:


Dangerous Lies

Director: Michael Scott
Runtime: 96 Minutes | Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller
Cast: Nick Purcha, Joe Costa, Camila Mendes, Briana Skye, Jessie T. Usher

Camila Mendes of Riverdale fame stars in this twisty melodramatic thriller. The plot centers on a healthcare worker (Mendes) who unexpectedly inherits the estate of her elderly client (Eliot Gould, who cashes a check here but does little else). Soon she and her husband start finding skeletons in the old man’s closet, literally. This could have been a fun movie and maybe even one that skewered generational economic inequality in America (millennials vs. boomers, etc.), but it squanders all that in favor of ridiculous twists, cheesy acting, and a super annoying score.

Star Rating: ★★


Extraction

Director:
Runtime: 116 Minutes | Genre: Action, Thriller
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Bryon Lerum, Ryder Lerum, Rudhraksh Jaiswal, Shivam Vichare

In terms of script, this month’s Netflix action extravaganza is as dumb as previous offerings (thinking here of Spenser Confidential, 6 Underground, etc.) but the action is pretty intense and effective. The plot – such as it is – has Chris Hemsworth’s mercenary character Tyler Rake trying to rescue a drug lord’s son from his rival’s stronghold in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Do yourself a favor and skip over any part that doesn’t involve fighting, like everything else apart from the action scenes is pretty forgettable.

Star Rating: ★★★


Love Wedding Repeat

Director: Dean Craig
Runtime: 100 Minutes | Genre: Comedy
Cast: Sam Claflin, Olivia Munn, Freida Pinto, Eleanor Tomlinson, Joel Fry

This poor quality knockoff of Four Weddings and a Funeral adds a high concept twist that sees its titular wedding repeat itself a second time, giving all the lovelorn guests a second chance to make once in a lifetime connections. If the bad acting, poor writing and lack of any charm or comedy weren’t bad enough the first time around, wait until you get to experience it all over again.

Star Rating: ★


The Main Event

Director: Jay Karas
Runtime: 101 Minutes | Genre: Action, Comedy, Family
Cast: Seth Carr, Tichina Arnold, Adam Pally, Ken Marino, Aryan Simhadri

This family-oriented film from WWE Studios is little more than a feature-length commercial for professional wrestling (and was released nearly simultaneously with The Big Show Show a sitcom with similar aims). The plot is lifted from Shazam as a down on his luck kid finds a magical wrestling mask that gives him the powers he needs to stand up to bullies and fix his family’s problems, economic and otherwise. If the premise isn’t enough to make you gag, the film’s horrible acting and poor screenwriting might just get you to tap out early.

Star Rating: ★½


Sergio

Director: Greg Barker
Runtime: 118 Minutes | Genre: Biography, Drama, Romance
Cast: Wagner Moura, Ana de Armas, Brian F. O’Byrne, Bradley Whitford, Garret Dillahunt

Narcos star Wagner Moura (aka Pablo Escobar in the series) co-stars with a luminous Ana de Armas in this biopic of Brazilian UN envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello. The two stars are by far and away from the best parts of the movie as they bring heart, soul, and romantic heat to their roles, livening up what is otherwise a straightforward and at times cheesy biopic/romance.

Star Rating: ★★★½


Tigertail

Director: Alan Yang
Runtime: 91 Minutes | Genre: Drama
Cast: Tzi Ma, Christine Ko, Hong-Chi Lee, Yo-Hsing Fang, Fiona Fu

A retirement-aged Taiwanese immigrant to America looks back with regret on his life, lamenting the woman he left behind in Taiwan as well as his strained relationship with adult daughter. Good intentions and an interesting story can’t overcome some poor acting, clichéd writing, and weak direction in what should have been one of Netflix’s best releases this year.

Star Rating: ★★


The Willoughbys

Director: Kris Pearn, Cory Evans
Runtime: 90 Minutes | Genre: Animation, Adventure, Comedy
Cast: Will Forte, Maya Rudolph, Alessia Cara, Terry Crews, Ricky Gervais

In this family offering, a group of mistreated siblings who find themselves orphaned when their feckless parents jet off on holiday without them. The animation is really cool and some of the jokes work, but the tone in this film is really odd and inappropriate for children, making it a questionable commission for a company that hopes to compete with Disney+ for the family market. The plot hinges on you finding abusive and neglectful parents amusing and admiring the pluck and determination of the victims of that abuse. While I did in fact admire the kids, I didn’t want my own to see the film.

Star Rating: ★★★


Foreign-Language Films

Earth and Blood

Director: Julien Leclercq
Runtime: 80 Minutes | Genre: Action, Crime, Thriller
Cast: Sami Bouajila, Eriq Ebouaney, Samy Seghir, Sofia Lesaffre, Redouanna Harjane

A French take on the “geriaction” Liam Neeson-type shoot-em-ups has a dying man defending his sawmill and his deaf daughter from a group of drug dealers who have come to recover a stash that one of the sawmill’s employees has hidden there. I am all for minimalism in action films, but this one barely has a script, right down to having long passages (of an 80 minute running time) without any dialogue at all. The action itself is spotty and the conceit is more than a little racist as the hero is of light-skinned North African descent, his daughter is mixed race and the attackers are all dark-skinned Africans who barely talk.

Star Rating: ★★½


The Legacy of the Bones

Director: Fernando González Molina
Runtime: 121 Minutes | Genre: Crime, Thriller
Cast: Marta Etura, Nene, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Francesc Orella, Imanol Arias

The second in a trilogy of serial killer detective stories featuring detective Amaia Salazar (Marta Etura) is a definite upgrade in quality from the disappointing first film The Invisible Guardian (also available on Netflix). This film retains the noir atmosphere of rural Navarra but adds considerable helpings of intrigue and even horror as the latest case puts Salazar’s own baby in danger. While it is much better than the first film, it also, unfortunately, has some of its predecessor’s penchant for illogical screenwriting and detective story clichés, but in general it is a fun movie to check out if you’re into European detective fiction.

Star Rating: ★★★½


The Plagues of Bresla

Director: Patryk Vega
Runtime: 93 Minutes | Genre: Action, Crime, Thriller
Cast: Malgorzata Kozuchowska, Daria Widawska, Katarzyna Bujakiewicz, Andrzej Grabowski, Maria Dejmek

One to avoid, however, if you’re into detective/serial killer stories is this cheaply made gorefest. The film tells the story of a killer stalking the titular Polish city, apparently re-creating Biblically-inspired killings from the city’s past. Acting, costume design, screenwriting are all abysmal as writer/director Patryk Vega seems only to want excuses to show off his ability to generate stomach-turning images of death and mutilation. One of several recent cheaply made Eastern European filler that Netflix has been picking up (see also The Coldest Game and Curtiz in previous months).

Star Rating:


Rich in Love

Director: Bruno Garotti
Runtime: 104 Minutes | Genre: Comedy, Romance
Cast: Danilo Mesquita, Giovanna Lancellotti, Jaffar Bambirra, Lellê, Ernani Moraes

A Brazilian romcom that is sweet and fun even if the script has more than its fair share of holes. The plot involves the education of the rich, spoiled son of a tomato magnate who is determined to impress an idealistic doctor he is romancing as well as his own father by earning his spot at the tomato company by merit rather than privilege. To do this, he moves to Rio and switches identities with his maid’s son and in the process gets to see how the other half lives. In addition to its charms as a rom-com, the film manages to shed some light on race, class, and inequality in contemporary Brazil.

Star Rating: ★★★½


Rising High

Director: Cüneyt Kaya
Runtime: 94 Minutes | Genre: Comedy, Drama
Cast: David Kross, Emily Goss, Janina Uhse, Frederick Lau, Sophia Thomalla

In this poorly made German knockoff of The Wolf of Wall Street, a young man from the country comes to Berlin to make his fortune. To do so, he cooks up one real estate scam after another and soon loses himself in a tidal wave of drugs, prostitution, and general villainy.

Star Rating: ★★


The Silence of the Marsh

Director: Marc Vigil
Runtime: 92 Minutes | Genre: Thriller
Cast: Pedro Alonso, Nacho Fresneda, Carmina Barrios, José Ángel Egido, Àlex Monner

A noir-infused tale of a writer researching corruption and taking the law into his own hands, a decision that sets off a chain of events that shakes up the Valencia underworld. Despite featuring the always interesting Pedro Alonso (aka Berlin in Money Heist), this movie suffers from a confused script and fatal problems with story, tone and pacing, with the film ending up being equally dull as it is confusing.

Star Rating: ★½


Time to Hunt

Director: Sung-hyun Yoon
Runtime: 134 Minutes | Genre: Crime, Drama, Sci-Fi
Cast: Lee Jehoon, Jae-hong Ahn, Woo-sik Choi, Jung-min Park, Hae-soo-Park

Along with Extraction and Earth and Blood, this is the third veritable orgy of violence released by Netflix this month. This one is set in a dystopic South Korea in the near future where a group of friends rob an underground casino only for a hitman to chase them down seeking revenge. This premise could have made for a tidy 90-minute film like its counterparts but stretched to nearly 140 minutes it gets boring and monotonous. Making matters worse is the ludicrous bits of screenwriting necessary to stretch the action out for that long.

Star Rating: ★★


School Life

Director: Mehdi Idir, Grand Corps Malade
Runtime: 111 Minutes | Genre: Comedy, Drama
Cast: Zita Hanrot, Liam Pierron, Soufiane Guerrab, Moussa Mansaly, Alban Ivanov

The intimate, warts-and-all look into multicultural French youth culture has been done before (e.g. Bad Seeds, Divines or Street Flow on Netflix), but this film nevertheless finds a way to inject new life into the subgenre of realist melodrama. By simultaneously following students and teachers in a poor Parisian suburb throughout an entire academic year, School Life shows us their common struggles and common humanity in ways that avoid the cheap sentiment or grim miserabilism of some of its predecessors.

Star Rating: ★★★★


Documentaries

L.A. Originals

Director: Estevan Oriol
Runtime: 92 Minutes | Genre: Cultural

A documentary portrait of tattoo artist Mister Cartoon and photographer Estevan Oriol, two Chicano icons of Hip Hop culture in the eponymous city. Snappy editing and charismatic subjects are not enough to hold the audience’s attention in this glorified bragging session. In place of the many interesting ways the film could have gone – race and class in America; the cultural snobbery that led both figures to be overlooked, etc. – the film is content to just repeatedly tell us how cool the subjects are and how many famous friends they have. Maybe the fact that Oriol himself directed the film has something to do with these faults…  

Star Rating: ★★


Circus of Books

Director: Rachel Mason
Runtime: 92 Minutes | Genre: Biography

This Ryan Murphy executive produced film takes an intimate look at the family that ran one of L.A.’s most important gay porn stores for over 30 years. The film balances the personal and political by using the store as a way to explore gay history during that period and also delving into the personal contradictions within the family itself, contradictions that come to the surface when the family matriarch can’t cope with her own son’s homosexuality. How exactly to understand this particular contradiction makes the film both thought-provoking and potentially controversial.

Star Rating: ★★★★


Murder to Mercy: The Cyntoia Brown Story

Director: Daniel H. Birman
Runtime: 96 Minutes | Genre: Crime, Biography

This true-crime documentary deals with a case that became a cause celebre during the #MeToo movement, involving the titular Cyntoia Brown, a woman is sentenced to life in prison for the shooting of one of her “clients” when she was a 16-year-old victim of sex trafficking. While the film is informative and engaging, it needed a tighter edit at times – the court scenes are interminable, for instance – and it would have been much better if it had illuminated some of the moral and legal complexities surrounding the case. Instead it is a simple but effectively sympathetic portrait of Brown herself.

Star Rating: ★★★


A Secret Love

Director: Chris Bolan
Runtime: 81 Minutes | Genre: Biography

The second of the Ryan Murphy documentaries released this month is a sentimental portrait of an elderly lesbian couple who look back on their nearly 70 year relationship while contemplating the decision of whether or not to move into an assisted living facility. While it is billed as a film about being closeted in the pre-Stonewall era, this film is actually more about aging and the difficult decisions that face so many couples, straight or not, though the closeted history is there as well. The couple themselves are lovable, but complex people and their story is very interesting indeed.

Star Rating: ★★★★


Monthly Awards

Best Overall Movie: School Life

Worst Overall Movie: Coffee & Kareem

Biggest Disappointment: Love Wedding Repeat

Hidden Gem and Best Documentary: A Secret Love


What was your favorite Netflix Original movie in April 2020? Let us know in the comments below!