Spies and spooks spice kids' stuff

By Jane Horwitz

Jane Horwitz looks at Jason Bourne, Star Trek Beyond and more and gauges their suitability for younger audiences.
Matt Damon and Julia Stiles star in Jason Bourne. Photo / Supplied
Matt Damon and Julia Stiles star in Jason Bourne. Photo / Supplied

Jason Bourne

Lightning-fast action, complex plot, deadly serious characters - this riveting thriller could engage high-schoolers fully, whether they know the other "Bourne" films (adapted from Robert Ludlum's Cold War novels) or not. The violence, however, is brutal and warrants an R, so Jason Bourne would be a problematic choice for many middle-schoolers. This movie tells us what rogue CIA assassin Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) has been up to since 2007's The Bourne Ultimatum. Still on the CIA's most-wanted-dead list, he lives off the grid in Athens, fighting tough guys for cash. His ally, Nicky Parsons, hacks into the CIA and downloads files about covert ops that explain Bourne's true identity - how he was turned into a CIA killer and memories of his past erased. A specialist at the agency spots the hack and a tenacious hit man is sent after Bourne but he's hard to kill. (123 minutes).

The bottom line: While the dialogue includes occasional crude language, including the S-word, there is no sexual content or nudity. Yet the R-level violence, while not showing much blood, involves multiple gun killings, fights ending in strangulation, stabbing and neck-snapping, along with spectacularly destructive car chases.

Star Trek Beyond

The plot is convoluted at best, its details nearly drowned amid massive digital effects. Even so, most teens and some pre-teens can revel in Star Trek Beyond because it is so well cast. The characters are eccentric and lovable. Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and his new Federation starship, the Enterprise, have been on a long mission and the crew is restless. The ship docks at a giant space station but their break is cut short. A Federation cruiser has crashed on to a hostile planet, and Kirk volunteers the Enterprise for a rescue. It's an ambush, and they, too, are forced to crash on to the planet. The mad villain Krall, determined to destroy the Federation, takes some of the crew prisoner. An alien rebel, Jaylah, helps Kirk and the others plot an escape. (122 minutes).

The bottom line: Most of the action is effects-driven and not bloody, but one character is badly wounded when a piece of metal is embedded in her body and its removal gets intense. The largely profanity-free dialogue does include one barnyard curse.

Karl Urban plays Bones in Star Trek Beyond. Photo / Supplied
Karl Urban plays Bones in Star Trek Beyond. Photo / Supplied

Lights Out

An angry spirit materialises in the dark to haunt and kill, then vanishes when a light comes on. Creepy, but with a low gore quotient and good acting, this thriller weds hauntings and mental illness in classic horror-film style. It also depicts a young child at risk and is just scary enough to be an iffy choice for middle-schoolers, or any nightmare-prone teens. Seasoned teenage horror buffs, however, will appreciate the film's jumpy chills. Paul works late at his warehouse one night and is killed by a malevolent spirit lurking in the shadows. His distracted widow, Sophie (Maria Bello), stays up at night, talking to an invisible friend. Her little boy, Martin (Gabriel Bateman), sees and hears things and is petrified. Sophie's estranged daughter, Rebecca (Teresa Palmer), takes her little half-brother to live with her and her boyfriend, but Sophie's "friend" comes after them, too. A bizarre tale of paranormal revenge emerges. (81 minutes).

The bottom line: Not many of the scares are graphic, but a few approach R territory: briefly bloody images like a silhouette burned into an electro-shock therapy chair.

Nerve

A fast, glitzy, nearly amoral tale based on the ever-widening and addictive reach of social media, Nerve will entertain many high-schoolers, at least superficially. But it glamourises dangerous behaviour enough to make it problematic for some middle-schoolers. Based on a 2012 novel by Jeanne Ryan, heroine Vee (Emma Roberts), is a shy high school senior from Staten Island who longs to study photography in California, but can't summon the courage to tell mum she wants to leave home. Vee's brash pal, Sydney, eggs her on to join a hot new social media game, Nerve, where one takes crazy dares as a player or observes them as a watcher. Vee impulsively downloads Nerve and becomes a player. On her first dare, she kisses a stranger, Ian (Dave Franco), who (surprise!) is a player, too. They have a spark - note that Vee is 17 or 18 and Ian could easily be 30 - and continue the game together. They gain followers as they accept dares: upscale shoplifting; speeding on Ian's motorcycle while he's blindfolded. It's all a rush. But the game has a dark side. (96 minutes).

The bottom line: Some of the dares are life-endangering, while others are just crude (a cheerleader exposing her bare behind). The script includes rare crude slang and rare uses of the S-word and B-word. Vee walks in on a steamy, semi-clothed make-out session. Teens get drunk at a party, and there are visuals of drugs but no use depicted.

Nerve opens in New Zealand on September 16

- Washington Post

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