Silver Screen: The Scorecard July 22, 2010 Edition

Silver Screen: The Scorecard July 22, 2010 Edition
Bryan Miller

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

< Leaving Carbondale this
Friday.

 
by Bryan Miller unless otherwise
credited.

 
< 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.
 
 Despicable
Me
(PG, **1/2): Moderately entertaining but
underwhelming computer-animated kiddie comedy about a sort-of criminal
mastermind (Steve Carell) who adopts three little girls as part of his plan to
outdo his upstart rival baddie, Vector (Jason Segel). Our villain's heart melts
a little, of course, forcing him to choose between his new charges and infamy.
It's less a cohesive feature than a forty-five-minute movie padded with as many
minutes of comedy sketches, a few of which generate some laughs, and several of
which don't. The movie's more interesting elements are frequently undercut by
the incessant butt/fart/toilet gags and its ambling pace. In 2D and 3D
versions.
 
 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.
 
 Inception (PG-13, ****1/2): Christopher Nolan's fifth
Batmanless film is his best since Memento, and his most visually stunning work to date.
Leonardo DiCaprio and Joseph Gordon-Levitt play thieves who specialize in
entering people’s dreams and stealing information from their minds. When an
industrialist (Ken Watanabe) hires them to actually plant an idea in the mind
of an heir to an energy monopoly (Cillian Murphy), they bring in a brilliant
young girl (Ellen Page) to help them with their most difficult assignment yet.
This is big, beautiful, plot-driven, mind-bending sci-fi weirdness. It's a rare
creature: a complex effects-driven blockbuster that demands intense focus from
the audience. The puzzle comes together nicely, although Nolan does seem to run
low on ideas near the end (Arctic commandos?). Still, it's dazzling.
 
 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. Only in the 2D
version.
 
 Predators (R): Robert Rodriguez oversees this
unambitious but capable sequel to the first two Predator movies... kind of skipping over all
the awful Aliens versus Predator stuff. Adrien Brody leads a crew of killers unwittingly
airdropped onto an alien planet, only to be stalked by a group of predators.
They fight. This goes on for awhile. The movie delivers exactly what it
promises, for better or worse, without a trace of irony or self-awareness.
Director Nimró d Antal does a solid job with the sci-fi action, which is nicely
suited to a cheap summer matinee. Featuring Laurence Fishburne, Topher Grace,
Alice Braga, Walton Goggins, and Danny Trejo.
 
 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

 
> Ramona and Beezus (G): Beverly Cleary's popular
children's book series gets this big-screen treatment as Beezus (Disney teen
star Selena Gomez) struggles with her often out-of-control little sister (Joey
King). Featuring grownup stars John Corbett, Ginnifer Goodwin, and Bridget
Moynahan.
 
> Salt (PG-13): Is sexy spy Evelyn Salt
(Angelina Jolie) a traitor, or is she being framed for a larger purpose? That
question drives this action thriller from Phillip Noyce (Patriot Games, The Quiet American), costarring Liev Schreiber and
Chiwetel Ejiofor.
 

 Sorcerer's Apprentice (R): Nicolas Cage reunites with National
Treasure
director
Jon Turteltaub in this family friendly fantasy adventure about a sorcerer
(Cage) who must recruit a young trainee (Jay Baruchel) to help him defend New
York against an evil wizard (Alfred Molina, who has menaced New York City
previously in Spider-Man II). Featuring Monica Bellucci.