Silver Screen: The Score Card, April 7, 2011 Edition

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Silver Screen: The Score Card, April 7, 2011 Edition
Bryan Miller

> 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.

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.

Paul (R, ***1/2): Comedy duo Nick Frost and Simon Pegg reteam for another culture-riffing comedy, this time with Adventureland's Greg Mottola standing in for Edgar Wright. Frost and Pegg costar as a sci-fi writing/illustrating team who stumble upon an actual alien while taking an RV tour of extraterrestrial hotspots in the American Southwest. That alien, a jaded, laid-back little gray man voiced by Seth Rogen, needs help evading government agents (Jason Bateman, Bill Hader, Joe Lo Truglio) on the way to a rendezvous with a spaceship that will take him home. What threatens to be an amusing but in-joke-laden string of pop-culture references takes a surprising turn toward the touching thanks to the affable Paul and a great supporting performance from Kristen Wiig as a fundamentalist Christian whose beliefs are rattled by her close encounter of the third kind. It's slight and requires viewers to have at least an associate degree in geekology, but it's funny, sweet stuff.

Source Code (PG-13 , ****1/2): Duncan Jones's followup to the nifty Kubrickian riff Moon is even better than his excellent debut. This time, with the help of screenwriter Ben Ripley, he's channeling Philip K. Dick, but the pair navigate the big ideas and cerebral plot twists to ultimately deliver a climax with startling emotional resonance. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Colter Stevens, an army pilot who wakes up disoriented on a commuter train set to explode in eight minutes. He's thrust back in time over and over, forced to relive those eight minutes until he can discover the identity of the bomber. But even as he attempts to complete his mission, he uses his time in the past to uncover the secrets of his place in the high-tech project known as the Source Code. The parallel mysteries work brilliantly and dovetail in the end to add up to much more than the sum of their parts. Doubtlessly there will be some debate about the film's final twist, which depending on your perspective either undercuts the humanism subtly drawn out of the concept or folds the plot back in on itself one more time in an act of cinematic origami. Either way, it's pretty fantastic. Costarring Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, and Jeffrey Wright.

Also in or Coming to Local Theaters

> Arthur (PG-13): Remake of the Dudley Moore semi-classic in which a boozy heir risks his family fortune for love. The grating Russell Brand is Arthur as sheltered manchild, although his spacey girlfriend is played by the fetching Greta Gerwig. Featuring Helen Mirren and Jennifer Garner.

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.

> Hanna (PG-13): When an errant secret agent (Eric Bana) is sought by his former handlers, the teen daughter he groomed as an assassin (Saoirse Ronan) goes on revenge quest. Featuring Cate Blanchett. From director Joe Wright (Atonement).

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.

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.

> Soul Surfer (PG): Christian-themed inspirational true-life drama about a teen surfing enthusiast (AnnaSophia Robb) who takes back to the waves after she loses her arm in a shark attack. Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt costar as her parents.

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.

> Your Highness (R): Meditative indie director and, of late, stoner goo-off David Gordon Green (Undertow, Pineapple Express) helms this slackerized medieval swashbuckler in which a reluctant goofball (Danny McBride) joins his noble brother (James Franco) to rescue the latter's kidnapped wife (Zooey Deschanel). McBride cowrites with Eastbound and Down cohort Ben Best, and Natalie Portman costars.