Silver Screen: The Score Card, June 16, 2011 Edition
> Opening this week (Friday unless otherwise noted).
< Leaving Carbondale this Friday.
by Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
Bridesmaids (R, ****): Kristen Wiig leads a sharp ensemble in this Judd Apatow-produced comedy that's been pitched as The Hangover for women, but which is in fact a unique and winning comedy all its own. While cowriter Wiig is part of a very funny group of women (including standout and SIU alum Melissa McCarthy), she's definitively the star as a down-on-her-luck gal from Milwaukee who is competing for the affections of her engaged best friend (Maya Rudolph) with her BFF's rich, seemingly perfect new gal pal (Rose Byrne). Wiig's attempts to outdo Byrne send the entire pre-wedding affair into an awkward game of one-upsmanship (one-upswomanship?), even as our hilariously unsteady heroine attempts to make a connection with a good-natured cop (the charming Chris O'Dowd). While a couple of scenes stray into territory a little too broad and seem dissonant with the rest of the film, Wiig's first big star turn is exceptionally funny, with both big comic setpieces and smaller moments of naturalistic dialogue to spare. The always-impressive Paul Feig (Freaks and Geeks) directs.
Fast Five (PG-13, **1/2): The unlikely fourth sequel to the slick car-chase symphony that temporarily made Vin Diesel a star isn't quite as good as the last one, but the gonzo spirit and cartoonish action sequences remain thrilling enough to make sitting through the unbelievably leaden writing and wrenching banter worth it. Barely. Diesel and cohort Paul Walker return as fast-driving fugitives looking to make a big score, and this time they're pursued by an elite team of American lawmen led by Dwayne "Are You Seriously Going to Make Another Rock Joke?" Johnson. The physics-defying action setpieces, especially the last one, put this uneven actioneer over the top, but just barely. Also featuring Jordana Brewster, who only really does this sort of thing anymore, as well as the charming rapper Ludacris and the less charming rapper Tyrese Gibson.
The Hangover Part II (R, **1/2): This inexcusable cash-in of a sequel-- perhaps the most conceptually shameless since Macaulay Culkin got left alone on a second Christmas vacation-- is not without its share of solid gags. Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, and Ed Helms all inject great energy into their well-established characters, but the whole thing is burdened by a sense of going through the motions. This time it's Ed Helms getting married in Thailand, and it's his naï ve future brother-in-law who goes M.I.A. during a blackout period after Galifianakis's chaotic manchild drugs everyone. You know the drill. Every time the film drums up a nice little surprise or two, it smothers it with more callbacks to and retreads of the original, as if novelty was some sort of terrible affliction. Characters repeatedly vocalize their disbelief that this whole thing is happening again; yeah, well, we're with you, guys.
Kung Fu Panda II (PG, ***): Jack Black returns as a portly panda, an overconfident lout who is also a master of kung fu. This time he and his highly trained and weaponized group of jungle friends must stop a vengeful peacock (voiced with pitch-perfect menace by Gary Oldman) from seizing control of China. The story is a little more nuanced than that of the mostly unambitious original, but the stunning art design returns. The lush backgrounds and explosively colorful sets, as well as some beautiful 2D animation sequences in flashback, are a consistent delight, and able voicework from a celebrity-overstuffed cast (including the particularly funny Seth Rogen and David Cross) help carry it through slower moments. It's hard to imagine anyone, even very little someones, crossing their fingers every day in hopes of a Kung Fu Panda followup, but it's pretty welcome anyway. Also featuring the voices of Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Lucy Liu, and Michelle Yeoh. In 2D and 3D versions.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (PG-13, *1/2): The third sequel in the surprisingly popular series gets a shot at freshness with a new director and a new focus, jettisoning the convoluted mythology of the first three as well as deadweight costars Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley. But alas, the franchise falls back into all its old habits with a bloated running time and a tangle of uninspired subplots. Lost in the fray yet again is Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow, who here must team up with his former flame (Pené lope Cruz) and her legendarily evil father, Blackbeard (Deadwood's Ian McShane), to win a race against British-sponsored Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) to the fabled Fountain of Youth. Director Rob Marshall is inept with the action sequences, and the potential fun of Depp interacting with McShane and Rush is kept to a minimum as neither of the villains receives near enough screen time. Yet again it's Depp trying to save the movie through sheer effort of mincing and mugging, and yet again he comes close without succeeding. In 2D only.
Something Borrowed (PG-13, *): A surprisingly odious romantic comedy despite its resiliently chipper tone, this misguided, dissonant story spends much of its time trying to justify the actions of wallflower Rachel (Ginnifer Goodwin), who consummates a long-standing crush on the staggeringly uncharismatic Dex (Colin Egglesfield) even though he's due to marry her best friend Darcy (Kate Hudson) in a matter of months. Director Luke Greenfield, working off a novel by Emily Giffin, stacks the deck against Darcy by making her selfish and grating, but that doesn't make Rachel and Dex's dual betrayals any more sympathetic. Only supporting player John Krasinski as a third-wheel childhood friend seems to be striking the tone required of the material; everything else is pop-music and dewy-eyed montages. The bracing premise could be a good one for a sharp-edged comedy in the vein of Woody Allen or Neil LaBute, or even an introspective dramedy à la James L. Brooks, but what it is not is the airy, romantic romp it feigns to be.
X-Men: First Class (PG-13, ***): Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass, Stardust) kickstarts the X-Men prequels, with James McAvoy taking the role of the young Charles Xavier and Michael Fassbender the young Magneto. The ensemble here is pretty weak overall, with a mostly uninspiring crew of actors, and First Class strikes some discordant historical notes. The heart of the movie, however, is the relationship between Erik, the once and future Magneto, and Xavier, and that element of the film-- in many ways a riff on the difference of opinion between the nonviolent protest of Martin Luther King and the whatever-it-takes mentality of Malcolm X-- works nicely. Also starring Rose Byrne, Oliver Platt, Jennifer Lawrence as the young Mystique, and only one degree away, Kevin Bacon.
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
Cave of Forgotten Dreams (G): A documentary by the often excellent Werner Herzog (Grizzly Man, The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call-- New Orleans, Invincible) about the Chauvet caves in southern France, where humans created some of our species' oldest known artwork. (Wissmann)
The Conspirator (PG-13): Robert Redford's well-received film about Mary Surratt, the only woman charged and executed for conspiring to assassinate Abraham Lincoln. Starring James McAvoy, Evan Rachel Wood, Tom Wilkinson, Kevin Kline, Alexis Bledel, and Robin Wright as Mary Surratt. (Wissmann)
> Green Lantern (PG-13): Ryan Reynolds stars as DC Comics' B-list hero, a pilot who has a chance encounter with an alien being who imbues him with cosmic superpowers-- just in time to foil a plot by the dastardly Sinestro. In 2D and 3D versions.
Jane Eyre (PG-13): Yet another film version of Charlotte Brontë 's novel, this one directed by Cary Fukunaga (in his first American feature) and starring Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland, HBO's In Treatment) in the title role. (Wissmann)
Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer (PG): Frenetic, candy-colored kiddie flick based on the popular book series about the eponymous pre-teen heroine (played by Jordana Beatty) and her calamitous attempts to have the most exciting summer ever. Featuring Heather Graham.
> Mister Popper's Penguins (PG): Kid-friendly comedy about a businessman (Jim Carrey) whose life gives way to eccentricity when he inherits a group of penguins. Warning: Computer-generated penguin dancing sequences are involved.
< 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.
Super 8 (PG-13): J.J. Abrams writes and directs this blatantly Spielbergian tale about a group of movie-obsessed kids making their own film who stumble upon the source of a supernatural disaster in their small Ohio town. Featuring Elle Fanning and Friday Night Lights' Kyle Chandler.