Capsule reviews of current movies 

Opening this Week

Lakeview Terrace (R) Sam Jackson plays a rogue LA cop who wants to make hell for an inter-racial couple.

My Best Friend's Girl (R) Dane Cook plays himself, a womanizer no one likes who's hired to con women into going back to their boyfriends and husbands. Very plausible. Also stars Jason Biggs and Kate Hudson.

Igor (PG) An animated film about an ambitious laboratory assistant striking out on his own to win the Evil Science Fair. Stars the voices of John Cusack and Molly Shannon.

Ghost Town (PG-13) A guy dies for seven minutes and comes back to life with a new skill — he can see dead people. And they are really annoying. Stars Ricky Gervais, Greg Kinnear, and Téa Leoni.

Critical Capsules

Babylon A.D. (PG-13) Though repudiated by its director, Mathieu Kassovitz, over changes made by the studio, there's ample evidence that this indigestible Vin Diesel sci-fi actioner was always a mess. I've no doubt that it's been compromised, since the ending comes out of nowhere. The damned thing simply stops — followed by an inexplicable tug-at-the-heartstrings scene and a corny wrap-up that only needs Vin Diesel being upstaged by a duck to set it up as The Pacifier 2. All the same, Babylon A.D. has "lox" written all over its dumb story about a mercenary (Mr. Diesel) hired to transport a girl (Melanie Thierry) — who is either the new messiah or a harbinger of doom — to New York. It never makes much sense and is rarely involving or believable. But since the filmmakers managed to coerce Michelle Yeoh, Charlotte Rampling, and Gerard Depardieu (what kind of mind feels it necessary to augment Depardieu with a prosthetic proboscis to "ugly" him up?) to be in this thing, who is to say what is believable? —Ken Hanke

Bangkok Dangerous (R) I guess the Pang Brothers settled on calling their remake of their own Bangkok Dangerous Bangkok Dangerous (what an inspiration!), because more truthful titles like Bangkok Boring, Bangkok Tedious, and Bangkok Moronic didn't have immediate audience appeal. This may have oozed on over into September, but it's every bit as bad as the previous month's studio floor sweepings. The film's biggest sin is that it's just damned dull. Even the sight of Nicolas Cage sporting some sort of matted animal pelt on his head offers insufficient amusement to enliven this moribund melange. Oh, sure, lots of things happen, but they're only surprising in their complete lack of surprise. Cage is an emotionless hitman doing the ubiquitous "one last job," when he meets a Thai street hustler who believes in him as a good man, and a pretty deaf mute Thai pharmacist who falls for him. Fill in the rest and see something else. —Ken Hanke

Bottle Shock (PG-13) In Bottle Shock's credit sequence, Napa is introduced in helicopter shots, bathed in golden light and touched by the gods, ready to take its place in wine history. Amidst the grapes, a scruffy family dynasty, hippies, a comely bartender, Mexican field hands, and a pretty blonde vineyard intern named Sam (Rachael Taylor) argue for the supremacy of the local wine in a pre-Sideways California. Director Randall Miller must have really put the thumbscrews to the already hammy Alan Rickman, whose face is a rippling landscape of arched eyebrows, bald delight, and animated surprise as he tastes the local wines, and other regional delicacies like guacamole, for the first time. Such moments typify Miller's tendency to advertise intent with a flashing neon arrow, but run counter to the film's otherwise easygoing, shaggy pace. The anecdotally interesting, but artistically underwhelming Bottle Shock is based on a true story, the so-called 1976 "Judgment of Paris" in which wine experts blind-tasted French and California wines to determine which was supreme. —Felicia Feaster

Death Race (R) If nothing else Paul W.S. Anderson's (no relation to Wes or Paul Thomas) Death Race is a sterling example of truth in advertising — there is a race and there is death. There's a lot of death, in fact. We have death by bludgeoning, gunfire, explosion, fire — and, for the viewer, the occasional threat of death by ennui. The film's a noisy knock-off of Paul Bartel's 1975 campy sci-fi satire, Death Race 2000. The satire is mostly absent and replaced by "lots of stuff blowing up real good." The race is now confined to a prison island and — apart from a plot that doesn't matter much — is nothing more than drivers offing each other on the track to boost ratings on the warden's (Joan Allen, who I'm tired of making excuses for when she shows up in crap) pay-per-view TV show of the carnage. The cast is better than the movie, and makes it all nearly passable. —Ken Hanke

Disaster Movie (PG-13) Crass, stupid, unfunny, cheap, infantile, mind-numbing, boring, witless, harebrained, asinine, senseless, fatuous -- and those are some of the more agreeable aspects of Disaster Movie, the latest in a seemingly unstoppable series of movie-movies from Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer. Messrs. Friedberg and Seltzer are to the 21st century what the Black Death was to the 14th. What can be said of the film itself? It may be said to scale new heights in "creative" chutzpah since it contains "gags" based not on actual movies, but on trailers for movies. If nothing else, this reduces the viewers' need to have themselves seen the movies being "parodied" to two-and-a-half minutes of trailer. There may be a way of further lowering the lowest common denominator, but I can't imagine what it would be. The overall "structure" follows that of Cloverfield, but it's just an excuse for pop culture references (not gags really) and digs at tabloid trash divas like Amy Winehouse and Jessica Simpson. Avoid it all cost. —Ken Hanke

Hamlet 2 (R) Steve Coogan is Dana Marschz, the kind of never-was actor whose career highlights included a commercial for herpes medication. Now living in Tucson with his miserable wife (Catherine Keener), Marschz scrapes out a living as a drama teacher at West Mesa High School, where budget cutbacks have forced many reluctant kids to sign up for his elective. It probably shouldn't work at all, except that Coogan holds it together. His Marschz is an inspired gloss on the kind of earnest drama enthusiast who should have been weeded out of actual theater long ago. When the supporting characters score big — as Keener does, or Amy Poehler as a ball-busting ACLU attorney — they never threaten Coogan's anchoring work. The best comedy in Hamlet 2 comes from watching a character who only barely grasps his limitations. —Scott Renshaw

The House Bunny (PG-13) I'm convinced that The House Bunny was written by taking random pages from the screenplays for Revenge of the Nerds and Legally Blonde, throwing them in the air, putting them together however they landed and turning the results over to the tastemakers at Adam Sandler's Happy Madison Productions for crudening up. The results are astonishingly less awful than you might suspect. This is no thanks to the screenplay or the flat direction by Fred Wolf. Two things make the movie likable — Anna Faris and Emma Stone — both of whom deserve better than this thin tale of a dispossesed Playboy bunny who becomes house mother and mentor to the geekiest, gawkiest sorority imaginable. It's all horribly predictable and rarely very funny, but the two stars make it imposssible to actually dislike. —Ken Hanke

Righteous Kill (R) Righteous Kill's sole selling point is the teaming of Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. What the film's advertising fails to mention is that there isn't the picture's only reunion, as Pacino and director Jon Avnet have worked together previously, on the egregiously terrible 88 Minutes. Maybe the biggest disappointment in Righteous Kill isn't the two leads phoning in their performances, but that it's never as unintentionally hilarious as 88 Minutes. What the two movies have in common is their convoluted, largely incoherent nature, but in this case, there're no exploding cars, no babe-magnet sexagenarians, no runaway fire trucks, no murderous lesbians. Instead, we get a plot that's just as pointless and inane, but instead wrapped up in a self-serious tone due to its "important" actors. It's a tame "which cop is taking the law into his own hands" mystery with a twist that's obvious from around the 10-minute mark. ­—Justin Souther

The Rocker (PG-13) Rainn Wilson plays Rob "Fish" Fishman, who was playing in the mid-'80s with hair-metal band Vesuvius, but was booted out just before they became mega-stars. Twenty years later, a still-bitter Fish bounces from menial job to menial job, and lives with his sister (Jane Lynch) and her family. So it's only natural that when his nephew Matt (Josh Gad) and Matt's high-school bandmates lose their drummer before the big prom gig, Fish would be asked to step in — and, when the band begins to gain momentum, attempt to live the rock-star party life that once was denied him. But the fact that the supporting cast stands out points to what doesn't work about The Rocker: It's got too flimsy a center. The bit players overshadow the "star" because as talented as Wilson is in a specific context, he is a bit player, playing dress-up as a leading man. —Scott Renshaw

Traitor (PG-13) The way Traitor came to pass is this: Steve Martin, in the throes of Bringing Down the House, had an idea for an espionage thriller. It involved an undercover U.S. military operative deep into war-on-terror territory in the Middle East, possibly at the center of a murderous international conspiracy, and on the run from terrorists and feds alike. And it ended with a major twist. Martin told his idea to a producer, who is said to have liked it but didn't seem to be doing anybody any favors by hiring Jeffrey Nachmanoff — the co-writer of that glum, dumb, global-warming disaster-flick The Day After Tomorrow — to write it up and direct. Still, Nachmanoff had a twist of his own to offer, which was that the protagonist should be a Muslim American, deeply conflicted about the moral imperatives of his actions. —Jonathan Kiefer

Tyler Perry's The Family That Preys (PG-13) Tyler Perry's latest opus is just more of the same. It's silly soap with ham-handed characterizations, dubious depictions of "family values" (here extended to watching a cuckolded husband backhand his wife across a lunch counter with the intent of generating a cheer from the audience), and impossibly clunky dialogue. Yet for all that, The Family That Preys is also the first Perry film that actually looks like it belongs on a movie screen rather than a TV set or projected on a basement wall in a church. More, the casting of Alfre Woodard and Kathy Bates as two long-time friends trying to hold their respective interconnected familiies together was a shrewd move on Perry's part. Unfortunately, the pair can only do so much with the material at hand and it's not enough to raise the movie out of the realm of the cheap melodrama that has marked all of Perry's movies. Perhaps if he'd get a co-writer and stop listening to the fans who tell him he's a genius, Perry might make a good movie. This isn't it. —Ken Hanke

The Women (PG-13) You'll see plenty of marketing that attempts to connect The Women and Sex and the City — the Gotham locations, the fabulous clothes and accessories, the hug-filled moments of camaraderie. But whatever one's thoughts on the artistic merits of the Sex and the City movie, it came with a built-in level of character depth. The Women offers nothing but glossy surface and wisecracks; it's more of a trite sitcom than Sex and the City ever was. ­—Scott Renshaw

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (PG-13) Rather than concern itself with strenuous thematic ambitions and contrivances of technique, here's a film that opts for what is perhaps a more enduring vitality, of empathetic candor. Here's a film that simply appreciates the emotional richness of life, and therefore nimbly dramatizes it. Vicky Cristina Barcelona is an old man's movie about young and restless women. If critics do bother to engage him, Woody Allen likely will have to contend with accusations of misogyny and delusion. But these claims would be false; to those who can admit that they recognize themselves in Allen's yearning characters, his film will feel more like attentive reportage. Vicky and Cristina are the women. They spend a fateful summer becoming variously involved with a beguiling bohemian artist (Javier Bardem) and his emotionally unstable ex-wife (Penélope Cruz). It's best not to go into all the details. —Jonathan Kiefer


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