Silver Screen: The Score Card August 5, 2010 Edition

Silver Screen: The Score Card August 5, 2010 Edition
Bryan Miller

> Opening this week (Friday
unless otherwise noted).

< Leaving Carbondale this
Friday.

 
by Bryan Miller unless otherwise
credited.

 
 Charlie Saint Cloud (PG-13, **): Burr Steers's third feature sports all the essential
elements of a Nicholas Sparks melodrama-- a quaint community bordering water, starcrossed
young lovers, the black cloud of a family tragedy, and the looming
inevitability of a thematically clarifying catastrophe. What that doesn't
account for is all the weirdness, which at least makes the movie a little more
interesting. Dreamboat Zac Efron stars as the title character, a talented
sailor who turns down a college scholarship when he barely survives a car crash
that kills his little brother-- and leaves him seeing and speaking to ghosts.
His relationship with his ghost brother starts to cut in on his mack time with
a maritime hottie (Amanda Crew), causing Charlie to decide between his past and
his future. Guess which one he opts for. Manipulative, but odd enough and
properly dedicated to its goofy premise to at least justify its running time.
Featuring Donal Logue and Ray Liotta.
 
 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.
 
 Dinner for Schmucks (PG-13, *1/2): There's a decent enough idea for a movie here--
even one that potentially splits the difference between broader American comedy
and the significantly lighter touch of the French film Le Diner de Cons, on which this is based-- but Meet
the Parents

director Jay Roach isn't the man to find it. Paul Rudd's passive protagonist
Tim is given the thinnest veneer of an excuse why it's kinda okay for him to
participate in a sleazy dinner at which his rich coworkers vie to see who can
drum up the stupidest guest. Enter Barry (Steve Carell), a clueless IRS worker
and amateur taxidermist who makes Tim's life into something that's supposed to
resemble a comic nightmare en route to the big dinner, which is even more
overplayed than the rest of the movie. Not even Rudd can smarm and charm his
way to likability in this simultaneously too soft and too mean debacle that
gropes for slapstick when satire is called for. Several funny actors, including
the leads and Zach Galifianakis, give performances that are better suited to a
funnier movie.
 
 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.
 
> Joan Rivers: A Piece of
Work
(R): A documentary about the
comedian created around her seventy-fifth birthday. Directed by Ricki Stern and
Anne Sundberg, and featuring Melissa Rivers, Don Rickles, Kathy Griffin, and
Phyllis Diller.
 
 The Kids Are All Right (R): Lisa Cholodenko (High Art, Laurel Canyon) cowrites and directs this topical
family dramedy about a happily married lesbian couple (Julianne Moore and
Annette Bening) who face new challenges when their children strike up a
relationship with their biological father (Mark Ruffalo).
 
> The Other Guys (PG-13): Anchorman cohort Will Ferrell and cowriter
and director Adam McKay reteam for this comedy about a pair of incompetent
police officers (Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg) who wreak havoc when they try to
imitate their supercop idols (Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne "Do You Detect
Notes of Sweet Basil and Fennel in the Vegetarian Lasagna the Rock Is
Preparing?" Johnson). Also featuring Steve Coogan, Eva Mendes, and Michael
Keaton.
 
 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.
 

> Step Up 3D (PG-13): Some teenyboppers and
maturing whippersnappers team up to win the big dance contest-- in a totally
street kind of way-- in this second choreography-porn sequel.