Silver Screen: The Score Card , March 31, 2011 Edition
> Opening this week (Friday unless otherwise noted).
< Leaving Carbondale this Friday.
by Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
The Adjustment Bureau (PG-13, *1/2): Matt Damon makes a rare misfire in director George Nolfi's adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story that captures the sci-fi master's sense of paranoia and psychic manipulation but unfortunately captures even better the logical inconsistencies and absurdities of Dick's fever dreams. Damon looks pretty credible as a young, brash politician who learns, via a mishap, that the world is overseen by a group of metaphysical bureaucrats called the Adjustment Bureau. They're God's paper pushers, and they can either alter your day slightly to change your overall life path, or they can erase your brain when you're bad. Damon is threatened with the latter if he can't reveal to his love at first sight (Emily Blunt) the truth about the bureau and why they can never be together. Most of the movie is spent explaining the powers (and occasional lack thereof) enjoyed by the boys in the bureau, but despite all the exposition it remains vague and, worse, gets pretty silly. They can't track your mind in the rain, they can't travel through special portals unless they're wearing a hat, et cetera. The film's tone is too somber and straightfaced to credibly embrace such weirdness, despite significant help from the two talented stars as well as John Slattery and Terence Stamp.
Battle: Los Angeles (PG-13, **): Generic low-budget alien invasion thriller that’s essentially a flea-market version of Independence Day with some military gravitas thrown in. Aaron Eckhart leads a platoon of Marines against some generic interstellar invaders who’ve come to harvest our water. In a series of urban-combat sequences suspiciously similar to Black Hawk Down (and with a climactic fight lifted straight out of Saving Private Ryan, the big spaceship aside), our boys shoot it out with the E.T.s and attempt to rescue civilians (including Michael Pena). A few of the sequences are moderately thrilling, but mostly it’s a familiar trudge through a computer-generated landscape of cliché s and stolen sci-fi tropes. The aliens themselves, and the visual template of the movie in terms of effects, are almost identical to that of last year’s awful Skyline, which was directed by the Sprouse brothers, the same guys who did the computer effects for Battle: L.A. Speaking of suspicious....
Cedar Rapids (R, ****): Tim Lippe (Ed Helms) is an innocent from Black Valley, Wisconsin, abroad in the big, bad city of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The sweet-natured insurance agent is dispatched to an industry convention to bring home a big award, but he quickly falls into trouble with a new group of friends, fellow convention attendees who include mild-mannered Ronald (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), rebellious lout Dean (John C. Reilly), and a seductive married woman (Anne Heche). Tim is beset on all sides by temptation, including from the religious hypocrite heading the convention (Kurtwood Smith); he falls from grace and must reattain it in this wonderful comedy from director Miguel Arteta. The ensemble, especially Reilly, is fantastic, and the essential sweetness of the characters never gets lost despite a barrage of jokes. The humor has a sharp edge but the movie never even briefly threatens to ditch its feel-good vibe.
Hall Pass (R, *1/2): Grossout kings Peter and Bobby Farrelly make the first half of a marital comedy decent in this ultimately painful flick about a pair of suburban doofus husbands (Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis) who are granted one week off from marital commitment by their wives (Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate). The bros bungle their way through the singles scene en route to discovering that prison of monogamy actually made for happy homes, but not before stumbling through a lot of perfunctory crudity and obnoxious comic set-pieces. Only supporting player Stephen Merchant (Ricky Gervais’s regular collaborator) gets enough laughs to justify his existence here, while the two stars flounder in this limp sex comedy.
< Just Go with It (PG-13, *): Adam Sandler is an incredibly likeable performer, and even though the majority of his movies are lazily constructed around a similar template (sweet-natured manchild irresponsibly acting out meets a pretty girl and learns to be marginally more adult), he often manages to make them work. Not this time. Here he plays a megarich plastic surgeon whose sympathy-grab of a backstory (claiming to be an abused married man) attempts to provide a reason for why he lies to presumably dozens of women to get them to sleep with him-- at least until he meets a bikini model (Brooklyn Decker). He convinces his not-hot-until-she-takes-off-her-glasses assistant (Jennifer Aniston) to pretend to be his wife, and to loan him her kids, to complete an elaborate ruse he’s constructed to be with the model... but has true love been under his surgically altered nose the whole time? Of course it has been, which isn’t the problem-- the problem is an endless succession of dissonant tit and poop jokes that are too racy for kids and too dumb for adults, not to mention an escalating series of absurd plot machinations that drive the empty characters toward the inevitable climax. Only a late appearance by Nicole Kidman and singer Dave Matthews as a self-obsessed married couple lend any laughs to this grueling clunker.
The King's Speech (R, ****): The story of King Edward VIII’s abdication of the throne in favor of the love of an American woman has been told many times before, but director Tom Hooper’s excellent film follows a much less salacious consequence of the royal changeover, which is the ascension of Edward’s brother, King George VI (Colin Firth), and his struggles with a speech impediment. The smaller-scale story becomes a microcosm of the newly crowned little brother’s struggle with the responsibilities of leadership and the psychological baggage that comes with royal life. Geoffrey Rush is fantastic as the Australian speech therapist whose unconventional methods help Firth’s staid ruler find his footing. Hooper’s focus on this singular conflict amidst a more sweeping backdrop-- World War II is looming-- helps humanize the characters and cut through the faç ade of the monarchy without ever sinking to the level of lurid tell-all. Helena Bonham Carter costars as the future queen.
Limitless (PG-13, ***): Bradley Cooper stars as a hack writer turned super genius by a designer street drug that maximizes the brain's potential in this uneven thriller, which is driven forward by a strong concept yet never really goes anywhere. Cooper's Eddie Morra finds himself involved in a series of violent crimes, pursued by mysterious figures, and entangled in a vast financial power play with a wise and skeptical tycoon (Robert De Niro, who doesn't have enough to do here), all while dealing with the side effects of the long-term abuse of a drug nobody knows anything about. There's a lot going on here, and almost none of it is resolved well, or at all, with some major subplots left dangling-- director Neil Burger seems to entirely forget about one involving a murder. Burger and writer Leslie Dixon only feign to address the myriad themes and ideas raised by the nifty conceit at the heart of the film, and it's a shame. Instead of being a strange trip or even a great ride, Limitless just turns out to be enough to get viewers through to the next fix.
The Lincoln Lawyer (R, ***): Matthew McConaughey sheds his stoner Romeo image for a slick suit as Mick Haller, a corner-cutting wheel-greasing shyster who operates his law practice from the back of a chauffeured Lincoln. He takes the case of a preppy heir (Ryan Phillippe) accused of attempting to kill a prostitute and is drawn into a web of deception that reaches far back into his past. McConaughey’s fast-talking antihero is far more intriguing than the plot in which he becomes enmeshed, but the movie, based on the novel by thriller writer Michael Connelly, delivers when it needs to. This unessential but consistently entertaining genre exercise is elevated by nice supporting turns from a slew of excellent actors including Marisa Tomei, Josh Lucas, Michael Pena, Shea Whigham, and William H. Macy.
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
Beastly (PG-13): Alex Pettyfer stars as a hunk who has it all-- until a witch (Mary-Kate Olsen) puts a curse on him that turns him ugly, which will remain intact forever unless he can find someone to love him within one year. Vanessa Hudgens costars in this remake of Beauty and the Beast.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules (PG): Sequel to the surprisingly popular film based on the children’s book series. This time the weakling hero Greg (Zachary Gordon) and his similarly beleaguered pal (Robert Capron) are tormented by Greg’s older brother (Devon Bostick).
The Grace Card (PG-13): A religious film about a police officer who loses a child. Directed by David G. Evans and starring Michael Joiner, Mike Higgenbottom, Louis Gossett Jr., and Rob Erickson.
> Hop (PG): Holidaysploitation computer-animated kiddie flick about the rock ‘n’ roll dreams of the Easter Bunny’s teenage son. Featuring the voices of Russell Brand, Hank Azaria, and Hugh Laurie.
> Insidious (PG-13): Saw cocreators Leigh Whannell and James Wan reteam for this horror thriller about a couple (Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson) fighting to prevent their comatose son from being taken to a terrifying netherworld.
< Mars Needs Moms (PG): Computer-animated kiddie comedy about an ungrateful young boy (voiced by Seth Green, who’s a little old for this sort of thing by now, right?) who learns to appreciate his mother (Joan Cusack) after he must rescue her from invading Martians. Based on the children’s book by noted cartoonist Berkeley Breathed (Bloom County, Opus). In 2D and 3D versions.
Paul (R): Nerd-centric parody featuring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (the leads from Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) as geeks who set out on a road trip with an extraterrestrial hitchhiker (voiced by Seth Rogen) who turns out to be a foulmouthed slacker and the basis for many of their sci-fi favorites. Featuring Jeffrey Tambor, Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Sigourney Weaver, and Jason Bateman.
Rango (PG): Johnny Depp provides the voice for the title character in this computer-animated kiddie comedy about a lizard who is mistaken for the sheriff come to clean up a desert town populated by dastardly critters. Also featuring the voices of Isla Fisher, Harry Dean Stanton, Timothy Olyphant, Stephen Root, and Alfred Molina, and directed by Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean, The Ring).
Red Riding Hood (PG-13): Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke helms this stylized, horror-tinged riff on the classic folktale. Amanda Seyfried is Red, a bit saucily dressed for a trip to granny’s, judging by the trailers. Also featuring Billy Burke, Virginia Madsen, Julie Christie, and Gary Oldman as a werewolf hunter.
> Source Code (PG-13): Duncan Jones (Moon) directs this high-concept sci-fi thriller in which an agent (Jake Gyllenhaal) is transported into the body of a man on a commuter train that will explode in eight minutes. Featuring Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, and Jeffrey Wright.
Sucker Punch (PG-13): ADDirector Zack Snyder (Three-hundred, Watchmen) cowrote and directs this videogame-and-animation inspired, computer-effects heavy fantasy about a group of girls (Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens) stuck in a boarding school who imagine themselves to be in a magical realm as they fight to escape their prison. Also featuring Carla Gugino, Jon Hamm, and Scott Glenn.