Silver Screen: The Score Card, December 16, 2010 Edition
> Opening this week (Friday unless otherwise noted).
< Leaving Carbondale this Friday.
by Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
Due Date (R, ***1/2): What is essentially a slightly filthier, wilder update of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles is both funnier and more affecting than it has any right to be thanks to the huge amount of talent shared between leads Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis. Galifianakis's clueless Ethan is a would-be actor looking to trek from Atlanta to Los Angeles to become a star, and also spread his father's ashes along the way. His ineptitude causes him to ruin the travel plans of a hot-tempered businessman (Downey) trying to get back to his imminently expecting wife (Michelle Monaghan). The two embark on a zany roadtrip punctuated with outlandish set pieces and goofy guest stars (Danny McBride, Jamie Foxx, Juliette Lewis, RZA), but it's the quiet moments and zippy dialogue between the stars that make this fast-paced comedy sing.
Faster (R, **1/2): This serviceable action flick is an awfully unsubtle homage to The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, but if you're going to spend an hour and a half tipping your hat to another movie, the Sergio Leone classic isn't a bad choice. Dwayne Johnson stars as the Driver, an ex-con left for dead after a bank robbery gone wrong, who then leaves jail with plans for bloody revenge. He's pursued by a nameless junkie cop (Billy Bob Thornton) and a rich hobbyist assassin (Oliver-Jackson Cohen). It's essentially a slick studio movie with aspirations to be a gritty B-picture, and though director George Tillman Jr. occasionally gets the aesthetic right, he lacks either the skills or the leeway from the studio to make a truly morally murky, badass pulp film. Still, it has its moments, most of them coming courtesy of the always-good Thornton.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I (PG-13, ***): After more than a decade of Harry Potter hype, it's hard to conjure up much enthusiasm for the seventh and penultimate installment of the film adaptations, especially considering ninety percent of the action in the book takes place in the last hundred pages. After an exciting escape-and-battle sequence, Harry, Ron, and Hermione (Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson) wander about in the woods staring glumly at a magic locket, which is just one of the talismans they must destroy to vanquish the evil Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes). The novel had no real middle point, so the first part of the bisected finale just ends, giving the movie the aimlessness and shapelessness of the first Lord of the Rings movie. Despite director David Yates being the most deft of the Potter directors (aside from perhaps the too-stylish Alfonso Cuaró n), this is the dullest installment since the lackluster first movie.
Love and Other Drugs (R, *1/2): This tonally inconsistent mess of a movie starts out promisingly enough as a skewering of the emergence of the commercial prescription-drug market in the 1990s. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as a med-school dropout who starts making big bucks convincing the public they need first Zoloft, then Viagra, but his shallow lifeplan-- and the movie at large-- is halted when he meets a beautiful girl (Anne Hathaway, who very much is that) suffering from early onset Parkinson's. The movie then turns into a flat romantic comedy, and then a maudlin Love Story knockoff. Not even copious nudity from both good-looking stars can redeem this deadly dull failure, which squanders a fair amount of promise on its way to becoming completely forgettable.
< Megamind (PG, ***1/2): Will Ferrell provides the voice for the title character of this Superman spoof with a perspective shift. Metro Man (Brad Pitt) is at last bested by his arch nemesis, Megamind, but soon the bumbling villain finds himself bored without a rival. His attempt to create one leads to a disaster that causes him to question the nature of good and evil, and his allegiance to villainy. This is frivolous stuff, but it's fun, sporting some solid gags and kickass visuals that are enhanced not in the slightest by the superfluous 3D. Ferrell, Pitt, and costars Tina Fey and David Cross wring extra laughs out of an already sharp script. It's not quite The Incredibles, or even just incredible, but it's big fun.
< Red (PG-13, ***): This pandering, bloodless action-comedy about retired CIA agents banding together for one last big mission should by all accounts be god-awful, but a crazily stacked cast (Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, and Brian Cox-- in a movie together?), a peppy script from brothers Jon and Erich Hoeber, and jaunty direction courtesy of Robert Schwentke-- but mostly just the cast-- make it big, frivolous fun. Bruce Willis stars as a retired agent who becomes a target of his former employers as a bureaucratic measure; he teams up with long-distance would-be-girlfriend Mary-Louise Parker and goes on the run, reuniting with his deadly colleagues (the aforementioned acting legends) to trade quips and turn the tables on younger assassins in the most brutal possible way that does not earn an R rating. Malkovich is especially good as the paranoid subject of a prolonged government-sponsored mind-control experiment, and even when the movie hits its too-familiar beats, it does so with a wry smirk that excuses the misfires.
< Skyline (PG-13, *): Directors Colin and Greg, pretentiously billed as "The Brothers Strause," prove that modern-day effects wizards can do just about anything with a computer-- anything, that is, except generate actual content. A slew of alien spaceships emerge from the green screen to menace Los Angeles, and an apartment complex filled with the best-looking actors a shoestring budget can buy must decide how to respond to the invasion. Eric Balfour not so ably leads a group featuring a couple likable TV star castaways (Donald Faison of Scrubs, who was good in the underrated Next Day Air, and David Zayas from Dexter) who make a series of obviously poor decisions that conveniently keep them inside a single set for most of the effects-heavy movie. The Cloverfield-meets-Independence Day ambitions are not entirely unadmirable, but the lackluster execution of everything that's not a computer-generated effect drains the movie of whatever thrills can be digitally conjured. (Even the effects, though, are just a hodgepodge of influences-- predator robots from The Matrix, some lighting tricks from Spielberg, and the ship from District Nine.) This is just a reminder that even the battle for interplanetary superiority can be made boring in the wrong hands.
The Tourist (PG-13, **): Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp costar in this limp attempt at light entertainment from Oscar-winning German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. Jolie is the wayward girlfriend of a crooked accountant on the lam from Scotland Yard as well as the gangsters he ripped off, and to help reunite herself with her Prince Scamming (and his money) she picks out a random jerk (Depp) from Wisconsin to serve as a patsy to feed to her pursuers. Depp's charmingly clumsy math teacher becomes infatuated with the mystery woman and follows her at his own peril, leading them to a series of adventures that aren't nearly as much fun as von Donnersmarck seems to think they are. The movie packs a few nice surprises, but they come too late, and the most interesting ideas in the film are sublimated in an attempt to service a twistier-than-necessary plot. The two stars evince too little chemistry to warm up this lackluster, lukewarm bit of throwaway entertainment.
Unstoppable (PG-13, **): This Tony Scott film boasts of being based on a true story. Considering that it's about a runaway train that cannot be stopped, that means either the heroes stop the train, or there's still a runaway locomotive somewhere tearing through the countryside. The problem here isn't that the ending is pretty obvious; costars Denzel Washington and Chris Pine have a good enough rapport that it's easy to be content to just watch them interact. Washington's old-timer railcar driver is about to be forcibly retired, while Pine's well-connected conductor is consumed with his crumbling home life. The two must form an instant bond in able to team up and stop a runaway train packed with deadly chemicals from jumping the tracks and destroying a working-class Pennsylvania city. Scott shoehorns an interesting story into a too-familiar format that causes some serious logical dissonance (Pine's wife and kid rush to what seems to be the site of the imminent deadly chemical explosion to cheer him on?) and chops it all up into his usual shaky, hyperkinetic blur. The film only highlights the gap between reality and Hollywood: Here in the real world, two hard-working guys can only accomplish so much.
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
Burlesque (PG-13): If the lens on costar Cher was any more soft focus, you could put your fingers through it. The surgically and Auto-Tune-enhanced pop singer plays den mother to a group of burlesque dancers (including Kristen Bell) that gives rise to a new star (Christina Aguilera).
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (PG): Michael Apted takes over the franchise based on C.S. Lewis's classic fantasy series, turned into computer-effects soup by Hollywood. The Pevensie children return to Narnia where they reunite with the Christ lion Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson) to sail on a magical ship toward the edge of the world.
> The Fighter (R): Boxer Irish Mickey Ward, who fought three heart-stopping fights with the late Arturo Gatti, gets a bio-pic treatment by the awesome David O. Russell. The director's usual fare tends toward the experimental (I Heart Huckabees, Three Kings, Flirting with Disaster), but The Fighter looks as if it will take a more standard approach, perhaps along the lines of Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler. Starring Mark Wahlberg as the pug, along with Christian Bale and Amy Adams. (Wissmann)
> How Do You Know (PG-13): Another ambiguously titled romantic dramedy from the once-mighty James L. Brooks. This time the perplexed lead is a female athlete (Reese Witherspoon) torn between her clueless baseball player boyfriend (Owen Wilson) and an ernest moneyman (Paul Rudd) wrongly about to take the fall for a corporate scandal created by his father (Jack Nicholson).
< Morning Glory (PG-13): Rachel McAdams stars as a TV producer charged with reinvigorating a low-rated morning talkshow fronted by a pair of bickering hosts (Harrison Ford and Diane Keaton). Good Morning America gets the Broadcast News treatment, but without James Brooks. Also featuring Jeff Goldbum and Patrick Wilson.
Tangled (PG): Yet another fairytale recycled through the Disney-o-Matic machine. This time it's the long-haired captive in the castle tower (voiced by Mandy Moore) being rescued by a Prince Charming (Zachary Levi) from boredom and a nitpicky mother. Featuring the voices of Paul F. Tompkins, Jeffrey Tambor, Ron Perlman, and Brad Garrett. In 3D and 2D versions.
> Tron: Legacy (PG-13): In this update to/reboot of the schlocky 1980s videogame-centric action movie that helped launch computer-generated imagery, the inventor of a game (Jeff Bridges, playing both himself and a younger version of himself thanks to some real-life computer magic) is swallowed by his own creation, prompting his son (Garrett Hedlund) to enter the digital fray in order to save him. Also featuring the lovely Oliva Wilde, the British Michael Sheen, and Daft Punk (?). In 3D and 2D versions.
< Waiting for Superman (PG): Well-received documentary by Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) about the problems faced in the U.S. education system, and the barriers to reform.
< The Warrior's Way (R): Let's just call it what it is: Cowboys versus Ninjas (not to be confused with the forthcoming Cowboys versus Aliens-- I smell crossover appeal!). Expect lots of wire work, computer effects, and green screen in this sparkly, hyperkinetic action tale about a ninja (Dong-gun Jang) who battles gunslingers (Danny Huston, Geoffrey Rush) in the Badlands. Featuring Kate Bosworth.
> Yogi Bear (PG): Disastrous-looking computer-animated big-screen outing of Jellystone Park's most notorious resident, a pic-a-nic-basket-loving bear (voiced by Dan Aykroyd) and his pal Boo-Boo (voiced by Justin Timberlake), as they concoct zany schemes to steal food despite amiable opposition from Ranger Smith (Tom Cavanagh of TV's Ed). Also featuring Anna Faris and T.J. Miller.