Silver Screen: The Score Card July 8, 2010 Edition

Silver Screen: The Score Card July 8, 2010 Edition
Bryan Miller

by Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.

> Opening this week in Carbondale (Friday unless otherwise noted).
< Leaving Carbondale this Friday.

 The A-Team (PG-13, **1/2): This perfectly serviceable remake of the pretty unruinable 1980s action-show franchise features the unnecessary return of Hannibal (Liam Neeson), Faceman (Bradley Cooper), B.A. Baracus (Quinton "Rampage" Jackson), and Murdock (Sharlto Copley). Framed by Blackwater-style mercenaries in wartime Iraq, the crew must finish their botched mission and get revenge on the various government stooges who wronged them. Director Joe Carnahan's retread is broad and dumb and self-aware of its stupidity, which makes it a little more amiable but no less stupid. The action sequences are passably thrilling, which means it delivers on its meager promise to anyone who knowingly walked into a movie about the A-Team, but it's also ambitionless and drowning in catch-phrases, cheeky self-references, and other in-jokey fanboy fodder.

< Get Him to the Greek (R, ***): The spinoff of 2008's affable Forgetting Sarah Marshall follows the continuing adventures of egomaniacal rock star Aldous Snow (Russell Brand), who, after releasing a hilariously misguided album dedicated to impoverished African children, falls off the wagon. Record-company stooge Aaron Green (Jonah Hill, not reprising his Forgetting Sarah Marshall role) is tasked with bringing the addled musician from London to L.A.'s Greek Theater for an anniversary concert, but a raft of booze and drugs, plus Aldous's sex-crazed ex-girlfriend Jackie Q. (Rose Byrne), threaten to derail the plans. Though neither as funny nor as touching as the movie that spawned it, this semi-sequel moves fast and packs in a fair number of laughs, certainly enough to justify its existence. Featuring the fatally adorable Elisabeth Moss and a surprisingly pretty amusing turn by P. Diddy.

 Grown Ups (PG-13, *): Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Kevin James, David Spade, and Rob Schneider costar as old friends from a basketball team who get together for a long holiday weekend with their families to commemorate their old coach's passing. What ensues is a weirdly offkey mashup of broad kids' movie gags, adult-ish grossout gags, and tired riffing. Each character gets a one-sentence character description and a single, easily remediable conflict on the way in, and each one checks out one conflict lighter and no different at all. Some excellent comedians (Sander, Rock, and bit players Tim Meadows and Maya Rudolph) and some very often tolerable performers of comedy (James, Spade, Schneider) are unable to sell more than a line here and there of the creaky dialogue as the characters saunter, pretty aimlessly, from one low-intensity situation to the next.

< Jonah Hex (PG-13, *): This incomparably silly Western/action/alternate-history/horror movie is as patched together and absurd as it sounds. More so, actually. Josh Brolin stars as the title character, a gunslinging avenger with supernatural powers and steampunk gadgets who is out for revenge against the Confederate general who killed his family (John Malkovich). Our hero is hired by Ulysses S. Grant (Aidan Quinn) to stop Malkovich's proto-terrorist from using an early weapon of mass destruction created by Eli Whitney. At eighty minutes of running time, including credits, it's clear that the movie was reconceived and reshot to death, then patched back together by some poor editor who had to make sense of a lot of incoherent, unmatched footage. The result is manic, misguided, and at times shockingly sloppy, but the movie is so dumb and short that it qualifies as a moderately diverting trainwreck. Featuring Megan Fox and Will Arnett.

 Karate Kid (PG, ***): In this remake of the 1984 kinda-classic, nerdy sixteen-year-old introvert Daniel Laruso is swapped out for twelve-year-old Dre Parker (Jaden Smith), whose mother doesn't just uproot him to southern California as in the original but schleps him all the way to China. There he learns kung-fu from a guarded maintenance man (Jackie Chan), who helps him stave off bullies. The remake is a little bigger and a little dumber and more than a little longer than the original, but it hits most of the same notes about as well. Chan is wonderful as Mr. Han, who's equal to the original's Mr. Miyagi, despite Han's character being burdened with the bulk of the movie's melodrama. Smith mugs too much, but he also pulls of some impressive physical feats; it's a shame his big kung-fu scenes are muddled with silly wire effects and overwrought slow-motion, making them a little ridiculous for a bunch of seventh graders dueling over a pre-pubescent Chinese violin prodigy.

 Knight and Day (PG-13, *1/2): Tom Cruise tries playing a maybe-crazy, motormouthed version of his superspy Ethan Hunt character in this agonizingly competent, steadfastly mediocre romp that manages to turn all the familiar notes flat. Roy Miller (Cruise) accidentally sweeps innocent June (Cameron Diaz) into an intelligence feud over a new super-battery. Miller claims he takes her along to keep her safe, but a pair of rival agents (Viola Davis and Peter Sarsgaard) say he's taken her hostage. The movie never feels arch or ballsy enough for the second possibility to be true. Exotic locales, shootouts, and bikini-clad women are all rendered dull and lifeless by the uninspired and uninspiring James Mangold.

 The Last Airbender (PG, *): This surprisingly shoddy live-action adaptation of the Nickelodeon cartoon series Avatar: The Last Airbender makes writer-director M. Night Shyamalan's former (never really credible) position as heir to the Spielberg throne seem even more distant. Yet again he delivers another heavily hyped summer dud in which the actors seem forced to recite awkward dialogue as flatly as possible. There's way, way too much story here for one movie, so the whole endeavor gets turned into a mush of exposition and voiceover narrative. It's roughly about a Dalai Lama-like boy who can manipulate the four elements, and must do so to keep the tyrannical Fire Nation from oppressing clans who follow the other elements. With tai chi moves and blasts of digital effects and what not. A half-dozen rushed subplots help propel it at warp speed toward a climax that turns out to be just a teaser for three more sequels that will likely never happen. Hopefully, anyway.

< Robin Hood (PG-13, *1/2): Director Ridley Scott and star Russell Crowe reteam for this joyless, mud-smeared, faux-historical take on the legendary adventurer, who here isn't a gentry-robbing outlaw but rather a soldier battling on behalf of his usurped king (Danny Huston) against a corrupt government bent on taxation. This seeming ode to the Ron Paul Revolution is politically convoluted, but worse, it's just plain boring, dragging on for nearly two-and-a-half hours and only delivering a recognizable Robin Hood in the final fifteen seconds. Featuring Cate Blanchett, William Hurt, and Max Von Sydow.

 Toy Story III (G, ****): The toys are back for a second sequel that feels a little perfunctory, although the joy and cleverness that made the first two films so endearing remains. Woody, Buzz, Jessie, and the rest of their toy crew are donated to a daycare center when owner Andy goes off to college. The daycare turns out to be a prison camp for toys run by a sadistically laid-back teddy bear, so once more Woody must lead his plastic pals to safety. The pathos is a little thick this time around, and a little too familiar-- the conflict is really no different than that of the second movie-- but a slew of excellent jokes and Pixar's winning animation style win the day. The real treat, though, is the stellar opening short cartoon, "Day and Night," which is as inventive as this movie should have been. Featuring the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Michael Keaton, Ned Beatty, and others. Only in 2D versions.

 The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (PG-13, *1/2): This installment of the goth teen romance/melodrama is the easiest to watch, but that's a relative statement. David Slade, the third director in as many films, does the best job so far, bringing a little more credibility to the horror elements of the series, as much as possible considering all the bloodsuckers are sparkly dreamboats. Bella (Kristen Stewart) is still planning to give her life over to Edward (Robert Pattinson), but she continues to harbor a crush on hunked-out werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner). The two rivals for her affection must form a truce to stave off the evil vampire queen Victoria (an underutilized Bryce Dallas Howard) and her army of foundlings. Though competently made and more straightforwardly plotted, it's still a slop of yearning and moping, undercut by three wooden, under-emoting leads peddling suspect ideas to the teen fanbase it so unabashedly indulges.

Also in or Coming to Local Theaters

> Despicable Me (PG): Computer-animated family comedy about a bumbling supervillain, Gru (Steve Carell), who must rethink his evil ways when he adopts three orphan girls he intended to kidnap. Featuring the voices of Kristen Wiig, Jason Segel, Russell Brand, Will Arnett, and Julie Andrews. In 2D and 3D versions.

> Predators (R): Producer Robert Rodriguez writes this sequel to the 1987 action classic. This time around it's a group of humans (including Adrien Brody, Topher Grace, Walton Goggins, and Danny Trejo) who wind up in Predator territory, with similar bloody results. Directed by Nimrod Antal (Vacancy).