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"SICARIO: DAY OF THE SOLDADO"
(2018) (Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Action/Drama: To try to start a war among Mexican drug cartels who are smuggling illegal immigrants and possibly terrorists across the border, covert U.S. government agents and their operatives kidnap a cartel kingpin's teenage daughter.
PLOT:
With a recent number of suicide bomber incidents occurring within the U.S., the government believes those terrorists are being smuggled across the Mexican border by drug cartels, possibly among the illegal immigrants transported by the likes of Gallo (MANUEL GARCIA-RULFO) who's recruited teenager Miguel Hernandez (ELIJAH RODRIGUEZ) to help with such matters.

Accordingly, Secretary of Defense James Riley (MATTHEW MODINE) wants something done about it and asks covert government agent Matt Graver (JOSH BROLIN) for his suggestion. He proposes that they kidnap the 16-year-old daughter, Isabela Reyes (ISABELA MONER), of one such kingpin and make it appear that a rival cartel is responsible.

Given the green light and with Cynthia Foards (CATHERINE KEENER) overseeing the general operation, Matt enlists his hitman associate, Alejandro Gillick (BENICIO DEL TORO), and other operatives to pull off the kidnapping.

They succeed, but when Mexican police end up dead during part of the mission, Cynthia pulls the plug and orders Matt to clean the situation -- meaning kill everyone involved, including Isabella. When Alejandro refuses to comply, things become increasingly tenuous and dangerous for all involved.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
Most long-time readers of my reviews know I'm generally not a fan of sequels. Not only is that because they're usually far more of a cash grab than any sort of attempt at needing to continue the story as creatively as possible, but also it's not unusual for one or more of the key people who helped make the original so good in the first place opt not to return for the second go-round. Easy to recognize examples of that would be "Jaws 2" and "Grease 2" that didn't come close to matching -- respectively -- the brilliance and fun of their predecessors.

Thus, when I heard that a sequel to "Sicario" -- the hard-hitting action-drama from 2015 that might not have been a huge box office hit but made many a critic's top ten list, including mine -- was coming out minus a number of the pivotal names involved with the first, I naturally had my doubts.

Gone are talented director Denis Villeneuve, unparalleled cinematographer Roger Deakins, the late composer Jˇhann Jˇhannsson, and star Emily Blunt (whose character served as our green guide in terms of learning all about this world and the characters operating within it). All mightily contributed to what made the film work so well on a visual, aural and storytelling level.

Yet, with terrific screenwriter Taylor Sheridan returning along with stars Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro, would it be possible this sequel could be as good (or maybe even better) than the original, or at least not sully and sour our feelings about it?

Well, having just seen "SICARIO: Day of the Soldado," I can say that while it's missing the touches that Villeneuve, Deakins, and Jˇhannsson left all over the first film, the end result here is an okay crime drama meets hard-hitting action flick. But it also feels fairly recycled, somewhat redundant, and doesn't exactly justify its existence in terms of fulfilling some tremendous need to continue the storyline.

When we last saw Del Toro's lawyer turned hitman Alejandro Gillick, he stepped away from nearly killing Blunt's FBI agent character, but not without informing her that she's not a wolf in what's now a land of wolves (meaning he knew she won't kill him when given the chance).

With her character now removed from the equation, it is indeed survival of the fittest -- or, more accurately, the most ruthless -- as Gillick agrees to help kidnap the 16-year-old less than a princess daughter (Isabela Moner) of a cartel kingpin. With suicide bombers striking within the U.S. and growing suspicion that they're coming across the border from Mexico (talk about being a timely movie in relation to today's headlines), Secretary of Defense James Riley (Matthew Modine) asks for suggestions from Brolin's covert federal agent. He thinks they should start a war between the cartels and the best way is for them to kidnap the girl.

At the same time, but far less interesting and ultimately seemingly only present for a third act coincidence (but also yet another potential sequel), Sheridan's story follows a teen (Elijah Rodriguez) who's a wolf in the making who agrees to help a human smuggler (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) get people across the border. While there's potential there in regard to the corruption of youth angle, that subplot didn't really do anything for me and thus I was glad when the story returned to the parts featuring Del Toro and Brolin's characters.

Director Stefano Sollima handles everything in an efficient manner, and perhaps in a world where the first film didn't exist, this would have come off better as a standalone pic. As a follow-up, however, and despite being competent across the board, it ends up feeling redundant and unnecessary. "SICARIO: Day of the Soldado" thus rates as only a 5 out of 10.




Reviewed June 28, 2018 / Posted June 29, 2018


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