Silver Screen: The Scorecard July 29, 2010 Edition

Silver Screen: The Scorecard July 29, 2010 Edition
Bryan Miller

> Opening this week (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.
 
 Salt (PG-13, ***): Phillip Noyce (Patriot Games, The Quiet American) directs this throwback spy
thriller about American agent Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie), whose loyalties are
questioned when a Russian defector claims she's a sleeper spy planted in the
days of the Soviet Union as part of a long-term conspiracy to bring down
America. She goes on the run, but is she trying to clear her name or execute
the plan on behalf of Mother Russia? The answer to that question isn't as
straightforward as viewers might expect from a mid-level summer shoot 'em up,
and the ambiguity elevates the movie, if only slightly, over its competition.
Noyce and screenwriter Kurt Wimmer are increasingly more interested in action
sequences than espionage as the movie wears on, which is unfortunate, but Jolie
is compelling and the movie is effective enough as entertainment/diversion.
Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ejiofor costar.
 
 Sorcerer's Apprentice (R, **): National Treasure team Nicolas Cage and director Jon
Turteltaub reunite for this passable but uninspired action-fantasy flick
pitched toward the younger members of the family. An ancient sorcerer (Cage) recruits
an unknowingly powerful science nerd (Jay Baruchel) and trains him to defeat an
evil magician from the past who may reemerge with the help of the nefarious
Maxim Horvath (Alfred Molina). Since the Harry Potter series is already a mash-up of
myths and other fantasy stories, it's not entirely accurate to say this is a Potter retread-- but it seems hard to
argue this movie would exist without Potter. Cash-in might be too strong a
term, but it might not. Endless effects shots and action sequences, not to
mention a hyperkinetic pace, can't distract from how the movie feels a little
desperate and familiar in all the wrong ways. Cage's trademark twitchy
overacting is fun, though.
 
 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

> Cats and Dogs: The
Revenge of Kitty Galore
(PG): Warring camps of furry household pets must temporarily call a
truce to stop the world-domination plans of a particular evil cat in this
talking-animal spy spoof targeted directly at the tots. Featuring the voices of
Bette Midler, Nick Nolte, Neil Patrick Harris, and Roger Moore, among others.
Also, the actual Chris O'Donnell.
 
> Charlie Saint Cloud (PG-13): When his young brother is
killed in a car crash, Charlie (Zac Efron) skips college and becomes a
depressed townie so he can hang around and play baseball with the little guy's
ghost. But when he meets a beautiful girl with plans to sail around the world
(Amanda Crew) he must choose between the past and the future. Featuring Ray
Liotta, Kim Basinger, and Donal Logue.
 
> Dinner for Schmucks (PG-13): Director Jay Roach (Austin
Powers
, Meet the
Parents
) dumbifies
the sharp French comedy Le Diner de Cons, about a group of high-society jerks who host dinner
parties to see who can bring the most pathetic guest to be the target of
mockery. Steve Carell is the alpha schmuck of the title, and Paul Rudd is a
reluctant participant. Also featuring Zach Galifianakis and Ron Livingston.
 

 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.