Silver Screen: The Score Card August 26, 2010 Edition
> Opening this week (Friday unless otherwise noted).
< Leaving Carbondale this Friday.
by Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
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.
Eat, Pray, Love (PG-13, ***): Director Ryan Murphy (the creator of Glee and Nip/Tuck) turns Elizabeth Gilbert's bestselling memoir about her spiritual journey into a lovely looking travelogue with vague ambitions. It's partly his conventional approach, but also the limitations of the medium that keep the movie focused more on the surface of Gilbert's book than its depths. But Julia Roberts does a fine job as Gilbert, who leaves her flaky, aimless husband (Billy Crudup) after a decade to find herself-- in the Oprah sense of the phrase-- by taking a yearlong trip to dine in Italy, learn meditation in India, and kick it with her main medicine man in Bali, where she also happens to meet the swarthy and charismatic Javier Bardem, who provides the "love" part. Murphy's adaptation is unremarkable, but it's not bad, either. It's well-intentioned, beautifully shot by cinematographer Robert Richardson, and nicely acted by Roberts and some better-than-the-material supporting performances from bit players like the great Richard Jenkins. It's absolutely pleasant, if pleasant is what you're looking for.
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.
Scott Pilgrim versus the World (PG-13, ***1/2): The latest from Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead and the disappointing Hot Fuzz) is the candy-colored, distractible, frenetic, pop-culture-steeped bleeping-and-blooping embodiment of hipster youth culture. It's all there-- indie rock, manga and anime, American comics, sitcoms, videogames, and a megadose of irony. That sounds as irritating as your emo nephew who won't stop texting at Thanksgiving dinner, but the sparky, energetic film is surprisingly fun, even for aspiring codgers. The one-note Michael Cera plays that note pretty well as a mediocre bass player who falls for a totally standard-issue manic pixie dream girl (the overpoweringly lovely Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and then learns that to win her over he must defeat her seven evil exes in combat-- as in, actual combat. One of the most familiar stories of all is recast as madcap fantasy, and the clash between the often mundane lives of teens and twentysomething teens at heart and the movie's over-the-top digital fantasy aesthetic makes some awesome noise. It's an artful, low-culture mashup, based on the graphic novels by Bryan Lee O'Malley, and it's going to have a cult following before you can say "Twitter." Featuring Jason Schwartzman, Chris Evans, Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza, and several other smirking young actors with better musical taste than yours.
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.
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.
> Last Exorcism (PG-13): The juvenile but not untalented Eli Roth produced this documentary-style horror flick about a showy but jaded Southern preacher (Patrick Fabian) who is called to perform an exorcism on a farm girl whose family takes her alleged possession deadly serious.
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.
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.
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.
> Takers (PG-13): Matt Dillon, Idris Elba, Zoe Saldana, Hayden Christensen, and Chris Brown costar in this heist flick about a crack crew of exceptionally good-looking bank robbers whose big score is threatened by an ace detective.
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)