“SHAZAM!” CASTS SPELL FOR SUPERHERO FUN; “ABBY’S” ON TV
A Film and TV Review by Tim Riley
The question that some people may be asking is what does a 14-year-old kid do when he comes into possession of superpowers that could be used for the public good in amateur crime-fighting? Does he become Batman without a really cool costume? That’s the awkward thing in “Shazam!” when the streetwise young Billy Batson (Asher Angel) utters the magic word and ends up wearing a cape and an outfit of red spandex with a bright yellow lightning bolt on the chest.
But first, how did a foster child looking for the mother that abandoned him years ago and evading the Philadelphia police for pulling pranks come to be an unlikely hero? Placed in yet another foster home with a caring, loving yet oddball family, Billy’s roommate is the nerdy, sarcastic Freddy (Jack Dylan Glazer), a collector of superhero mementos, who gets bullied at school. Escaping from bullies that hassled Freddy, Billy rides on a subway that transports him to another realm called the Rock of Eternity where the aging Wizard (Djimon Hounsou) has to find someone pure of heart to take on the mantle of his superpowers.
Aside from Billy’s origin story at the film’s start, we also learn more about another young kid going back to 1974 who was verbally abused by his uncaring father and grew up to have serious daddy issues. That kid became Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong), a disturbed adult miffed that the Wizard did not choose him to take the powers conferred to Billy aka Shazam. For spite, Sivana decides to release the Seven Deadly Sins in the world.
It will be up to Billy as he alters ego Shazam (Zachary Levi) to do battle with Sivana. First, however, Billy has to adapt to his new-found identity not to mention the discomfort of being an adolescent in an adult’s body. To his credit and with plenty of good humor, Zachary Levi has to carry off the giddy immaturity of a 14-year-old who delights in making YouTube videos of his exploits to become a media sensation. Shazam gets a kick out of using the lightning in his fingers to pop soda cans out of a vending machine and randomly charging the cell phones of passersby, or showing up at school to give Freddy some street cred for hanging with a superhero.
Before getting down to the serious business of protecting his community, Shazam messes around with his powers as you might expect from a kid not even close enough in age to buy beer unless he’s wearing his spandex costume. Not only filled with humor, but “Shazam” also has plenty of heart as Billy finds comfort and love in his new extended family that he wants to protect from the evil unleashed by Sivana. Of course, being in an action film, Shazam is relentlessly stalked by the vengeful Sivana, until the climactic showdown at a Christmas carnival has them fighting an epic battle on the ground and in the skies above Philadelphia. Lighthearted fun with plenty of good wit, “Shazam!” is a family-friendly fantasy film with ample charm, good action scenes and a positive message about family values. All is well in this DC Universe.
“ABBY’S” ON NBC NETWORK
Does a sitcom about a neighborhood bar with regular customers that are apparently unemployed or have no other place to go sound recognizable? “Abby’s” has an air of familiarity that is unmistakable. During the winter press tour, executive producer Michael Schur said that his team was “acutely aware of the fact that no matter what we did, the show would be compared to ‘Cheers’.” That’s not a bad thing for a series seeking out feel-good camaraderie for its barflies.
The twist for “Abby’s” is that former Marine veteran Abby (Natalie Morales) is operating an unlicensed backyard watering hole at a house she is renting from a lady who has just passed away. The denizens of her neighborhood sanctuary selling beer and spirits at affordable rates are a motley crew that includes Beth (Jessica Chaffin), a mother escaping from her unruly kids, and James (Leonard Ouzts), the putative bouncer disinclined to any physical activity. Barstool regular Fred (Neil Flynn) proudly announces that he hasn’t missed one day at the bar in three years, which prompts Abby to proclaim that he’s the “Cal Ripken of low-grade alcoholism.” The neighborhood fun almost comes to a screeching halt when straight-laced Bill (Nelson Franklin), a nerdy engineer attuned to legalities, arrives to notify Abby that he inherited the house from his deceased aunt. Stating the obvious, Bill is shocked that an unpermitted commercial enterprise is operating out of the backyard without any insurance or other safeguards. Bill didn’t even mention the likely zoning violation.
“Abby’s” is rife with standard sitcom humor that often seems predictable but still elicits plenty of chuckles. The cast is delightfully likable and the interaction of the goofball characters may well merit watching a few episodes to see if the series hits the right groove.