Silver Screen: The Score Card August 19, 2010 Edition

Silver Screen: The Score Card August 19, 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.

The Expendables (R, **1/2): Sylvester Stallone’s latest action flick is all about stunts— but there’s at least as much of that in the casting as in the fight scenes. Think of it as the Traveling Wilburys of action movies. Sly teams up with Dolph Lundgren, Jet Li, Mickey Rourke, Jason Statham, plus mixed martial arts champ Randy Couture and rassler Steve Austin to do battle with the puppetmaster of a military dictatorship (Eric Roberts). Bruce Willis and even Governor Badass make cameos. Where for art thou, Jean-Claude Van Damme? This knowingly dumb throwback is modestly entertaining in its own right, even though director and cowriter Stallone lacks the vision to capture a solid action sequence, and he’s become increasingly fond of computer-generated blood geysers. It’s exactly what it purports to be, which is both good and bad.

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.

The Other Guys (PG-13, ***): Will Ferrell reteams with his Anchorman co-conspirator Adam McKay for his funniest movie in quite awhile. The premise is paper-thin parody fodder— a pair of incompetent, desk-bound cops (Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg) attempt to break a major case and replace fallen supercop heroes (Samuel Jackson and Dwayne “Do You Smell the Supporting Performance the Rock Is Cooking?” Johnson). But director McKay opts out of the genre riffing that turned this year’s Cop Out into a snooze and instead packs his film with enough clever sketch concepts and running gags to keep it consistently funny. Wahlberg isn’t much help as a hotheaded screwup, but Ferrell does solid work as a paper-pusher whose secret past has equipped him with the skills for the streets. Michael Keaton reminds us how funny he can be as the atypically soft-spoken police captain. Also featuring Steve Coogan and Eva Mendes.

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.

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.

Eat, Pray, Love (PG-13): Julia Roberts stars in the film adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir, which follows the disintegration of her marriage (to a stiff Billy Crudup) and her personal rediscovery on the kind of long, ambling vacation wealthy people can afford. Featuring Javier Bardem, Richard Jenkins, and James Franco.

> Lottery Ticket (PG-13): Bow Wow, now regular-sized after a tenure as Lil Bow Wow, stars as a lottery winner who must hang onto his golden ticket during a long weekend fraught with comic turns from Ice Cube, Mike Epps, Charlie Murphy, Terry Crews, Loretta Devine, and Keith David.

< 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).

> Nanny McPhee Returns (PG): The not-even-remotely sequel follows the glowering, magical nanny (Emma Thompson) as she seeks to tame the rambunctious charges of wartime homemaker Isabel (Maggie Gyllenhaal) in this kiddie flick. Featuring Ewan McGregor and Maggie Smith.

> Piranha 3D (R): Masochistic goremaster Alexandre Aja (The Hills Have Eyes, High Tension) lightens it up, relatively, with this 3D remake about a school of flesh-eating fish released during spring break. Featuring beach-panic veteran Richard Dreyfuss, plus Ving Rhames, Christopher Lloyd, and Elisabeth Shue.

Scott Pilgrim versus the World (PG-13): Twee indie-pop comedy about a lovelorn bass player (Michael Cera) who falls for a beautiful, totally ambivalent girl (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and must fight her seven evil ex-boyfriends to win her. Featuring Jason Schwartzman, Chris Evans, and Anna Kendrick.

< 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.

> The Switch (PG-13): Wally (Jason Bateman), the best friend of a single mom (Jennifer Aniston), reveals that he switched the sperm samples in her artificial insemination and secretly fathered her child in this comedy costarring Jeff Goldblum, Juliette Lewis, and Patrick Wilson.

> Vampires Suck (PG-13): As if all the currently ubiquitous, pretentiously overwrought vampire films and television shows didn’t already exceed the President's Council on Physical Fitness standards for exercise in self-parody, along come Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer with the kind of genre spoof that Mel Brooks rarely made funny— and that Friedberg and Seltzer (Disaster Movie, Meet the Spartans, Epic Movie, Date Movie) never have. (Wissmann)