Opening This Week
Jane Austen Book Club (R) Reviewed here
The Heartbreak Kid (R) Ben Stiller reteams with gross-out gag kings, The Farrelly Brothers (There's Something About Mary), for this comedy about a man who discovers that his knew bride is not the gal he thought she was. The Farrelly could certainly use a hit — every outing since Mary has been a mildly amusing box office underperformer (Shallow Hal, Stuck on You, Fever Pitch). Judging by the trailer, more heartbreaks are in order for the duo.
The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising (PG-13) From the folks who brought you The Chronicles of Narnia comes this fantasy about a contemporary lad who learns his lot in life is to battle the forces of darkness. The film is based on The Dark Is Rising series by British author Susan Cooper.
2 Days in Paris (R) Actress Julie Delpy makes her directing debut with 2 Days in Paris, which is at once a gimlet-eyed love story and a refreshingly cynical take on the French character. Her Paris is a hotbed of racists, nationalists, on-the-make men, and vegan anarchists who blithely set fast-food restaurants on fire. What makes her first effort compelling and richer than its jokey patter initially suggests is how she overturns the cinematic allure of the City of Light. The film follows the snarky Parisian Marion (Delpy) and an equally critical American, Jack (Adam Goldberg), as they hop off a night train from a Venice vacation and appear to suffer the consequences of too little sleep and too cramped quarters. While some of Delpy's gags can feel derivative — such as a diagram that pops up onscreen to illustrate Jack's reading material and a scene with Marion's artist ex that has the attitude of an '80s sex comedy — the act of seeing France and relationships through a world-weary woman's eyes is certainly worth the admission price. —Felicia Feaster
3:10 to Yuma (R) If James Mangold's 3:10 to Yuma can't generate life into that most moribund of genres, the western film, then it's probably time to consign the idea of westerns to Boot Hill and be done with it. The film is a remake of a more-or-less assembly-line 1957 film of the same title — and one of the rare occasions where the remake is much better than the original. Deeper and darker than the 1957 original, Mangold's film still follows the basic outline of a poor rancher (Christian Bale) who agrees to help escort a local badman (a charismatic Russell Crowe) to the titular train that will take him to prison. The problem is that the prisoner's gang has a different idea. Perhaps the film's greatest achievement is that it's a revisionist western that manages to feel traditional — up until the ending. Tense, thought-provoking, well-acted, and exciting. —Ken Hanke
The Brave One (R) The always interesting Neil Jordan brings us this dark, complex, deeply disturbing film starring Jodie Foster as an NPR radio host who turns vigilante when her fiance (Naveen Andrews) is killed by a gang of thugs in Central Park. The story is more than a little like Michael Winner's Death Wish with Foster in the old Charles Bronson role, but the film itself is closer in spirit to Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs — and just as uncomfortable. This is no pro-vigilante screed, but a sober, somber look at the darkness of the soul of an otherwise decent person who gives in to vengeance and violence — and in so doing makes us look at ourselves. It's powerful stuff, but not exactly pleasant. —Ken Hanke
Eastern Promises (R) Movies about gangsters: You expect a lot of noise. Shouting and screaming. Barrages of gunfire. Not here. Here we have somber reflection, the lurking gray peril of an urban underbelly, shifting shifty glances and unspoken threats. Eastern Promises is almost silent — even its title sounds like a shush. Terror swells inexorably and unavoidably, like the ebb and flow of the Thames River along the banks of which much of this story, with its tidal unease, takes place. And the slow creeping gloom of it lingers like a chill you can't shake. Viggo Mortensen's second pairing with director David Cronenberg is even more powerfully, magnificently disturbing than their first joint effort, 2005's A History of Violence. His performance and the gradations of uncertainty that he gives to Nikolai are part of what makes this one of the best movies ever about life in the mafia. —MaryAnn Johanson
Feast of Love (R) Good dialogue and performances — plus a refreshingly adult view of sex — aren't quite enough to overcome absurd contrivances and a clockwork plot in Robert Benton's Feast of Love. Worse, its multi-story plot gets the better of it. Characters do things in a manner that suggests their only motivation lies in the fact that they read the script and that's what it says they do. Morgan Freeman's professionalism helps, but he's done this wise old man schtick to death, while Greg Kinnear can only do so much in the role of a human doormat desperate to fall in love with anyone. What is supposed to present us with a feast of love is finally more like a $4.99 all-you-can-eat buffet of love — lots to choose from, but little of it done very well and all of it kind of tepid.—Ken Hanke
The Game Plan (PG) The story of a hotshot, self-centered football player who suddenly finds out he has a long-lost daughter who turns his life upside-down, The Game Plan is passable family entertainment that suffers from being wholly predictable and about 15 minutes too long. Think along the lines of The Pacifier or Kindergarten Cop, with the majority of the humor revolving around Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson being emasculated. The Rock remains more of a personality as opposed to an actor, but this works in his favor in this case, as he's never given much to do. —Justin Souther
Good Luck Chuck (R) Vile is too kind a word to describe this utterly loathsome "comedy" starring Dane Cook as a man with a peculiar problem. Seems some goth girl hexed him when he was 10, and now every girl he has sex with dumps him and marries the next guy she meets. This makes him very popular with marriage-minded ladies, but poses a big stumbling block when he falls in love with Jessica Alba. By turns misogynistic, leering, smarmy, and just plain unfunny, it's a hateful exercise in softcore porn and witless slapstick. —Ken Hanke
In the Valley of Elah (PG) With his latest film, In the Valley of Elah (Biblical site of David's set-to with Goliath), Paul Haggis informs us that he's against the war in Iraq and not a lot more — for two solid hours. Haggis' specialty is belaboring the obvious — and making movies that confuse the importance of the subject matter with that of the movie. Is he actually in search of some great truth, in search of an Oscar, or merely trying to compensate for having been a staff writer on TV's The Facts of Life for a couple years? Elah suggests all three. It's not that it's a bad movie. It's that it's simplistic, reductive, and obvious. An excellent performance from Tommy Lee Jones as a father investigating the murder of his soldier son and an even better one from glammed-down Charlize Theron as the cop helping him make it seem weightier than it is.—Ken Hanke
The Kingdom (R) An FBI team — Jennifer Garner's forensics examiner, the intelligence analyst played by Jason Bateman, Chris Cooper's explosives expert, and the team leader played by Jamie Foxx — loses one of their own in their horrific multiple shootings and bombings at the Riyadh housing complex of an American oil company. But when the U.S. government refuses to allow the FBI to travel to Saudi Arabia to investigate, the crew sneaks off to the Middle East, where they encounter more politicking from local princes and from their own ambassador (Jeremy Piven, in fine weaselly form). It's a law-enforcement clusterfuck, with the agents thwarted at every turn. And it's entirely frustrating — the desire to kick some ass just to get things moving seems like an understandable response. The Kingdom is a hard-edged story about a criminal investigation — think CSI: Riyadh — and it features an intense final act jammed with enough action for three movies. —MaryAnn Johanson
Resident Evil: Extinction (R) Adapted from a series of video games, these films are pretty much just a series of gory action set-pieces involving a scantily-clad woman named Alice (Milla Jovovich) battling hordes of zombies. The appeal lies entirely in watching Jovovich kick zombie ass for an hour and a half, while fans live in hope that she will display her private parts as she did in the original Resident Evil. (For the record, she does not.) The big additions this time are zombie crows and a post-apocalyptic Las Vegas setting. Neither are especially impressive. —Ken Hanke
Shoot 'Em Up (R) In Shoot 'em Up, a dour gentleman named Mr. Smith (Clive Owen) sits on a bench eating a carrot when a pregnant woman being chased by a man flashes past. When Smith sees her pursuer take out a gun, he decides to take a hand. Very soon he has disposed of the would-be killer, ended up in a full-scale gun battle, delivered the baby, and attempted to get mother and son to safety. He fails as far as the mother is concerned and finds himself saddled with a hungry infant and a clearly psychotic hitman (Paul Giamatti) and his endless supply of henchmen in pursuit. This is the first five minutes — and writer-diector Michael Davis manages to keep things at that speed for most of the movie. It's preposterous, violent, bloody, and it recognizes the existence of no societal taboo. It is perhaps the most refreshingly creative explosion of pure bad taste to come our way in far too long. —Ken Hanke
Sydney White (PG-13) A modern retelling of Snow White, starring Amanda Bynes and set in college, Sydney White is a generic, fairly inoffensive comedy that's simply too long and too run-of-the-mill. Every reference and allusion to the Snow White story is handled in such a heavy-handed manner (instead of the Seven Dwarves you get the Seven Dorks, and instead of a poison apple, you get a poisoned Apple computer) that it soon becomes groan worthy. Not just that, but the humor is a mixed bag of lame sitcom-style wackiness and overwrought "nerds are weird" humor. —Justin Souther