Silver Screen: The Score Card, June 23, 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.
Green Lantern (PG-13, *1/2): Stupefying, inarticulate studio pabulum, an utterly perfunctory and wildly expensive genre exercise that reduces the modern-day superhero formula down to its most bland and basic. Ryan Reynolds stars as Hal Jordan, a cocky test pilot granted cosmic powers by a dying alien. He must unite with the universe-spanning police force the Green Lantern Corps to help save Earth and the rest of the galaxy from an evil black cloud of energy, which has taken root inside the mind of a mad scientist (Peter Sarsgaard). Wildly underwritten and overladden with computer-generated effects, often very mediocre ones, this failed franchise-starter is too silly to be as serious as it wants to be but not silly enough to be good fun. Its sins are pretty unforgivable if you're over the age of twelve. In 2D and 3D.
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 were 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 only.
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.
Super Eight (PG-13, ****): J.J. Abrams's homage to the early work of Steven Spielberg brilliantly captures the childlike enthusiasm and sharply realized spectacle of the original master of the summer blockbuster. A group of enterprising kids (led by newcomers Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning) are shooting a homemade monster movie when they witness a train crash and inadvertently capture on film an actual monster escaping the wreckage. The creature terrorizes their town, and only the young filmmakers-- with the help of our young hero's emotionally closed-off dad (the always-excellent Kyle Chandler)-- can solve the monster-mystery and stop the Army from destroying their homes. As much an ode to youthful imagination and moviemaking as an effects-driven blockbuster, Abrams's latest is one of the most deeply satisfying popcorn flicks in a long time.
X-Men: First Class (PG-13, ***): The faltering X-Men franchise is semi-revived with this prequel set in the early sixties in which a young, swinging Xavier (James McAvoy), still to earn his "professor" title, begins his quest to locate fellow mutants, one of whom is master of magnetism Erik (Michael Fassbender). The two unite to help stave off a secret mutant plot (led by a villainous Kevin Bacon, no less) to start World War III, but their efforts will lead to the schism that will define their lives. Bryan Singer's return as cowriter and producer elevates the film above the series' last couple of efforts-- this is a real movie with an arc and character development to match the effects and spectacle. And it's decent, but not great, with a weak ensemble of mutants surrounding the two leads. Bacon is good fun as the bad guy, but with his 1960s suit and mutton chops, he's less world-domination evil and more bang-your-mom-at-a-key-party evil. Also featuring Rose Byrne and Jennifer Lawrence.
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
> Bad Teacher (R): Cameron Diaz stars as an amoral golddigger who sees a way out of her teaching gig in the form of a wealthy, well-meaning substitute teacher (Justin Timberlake) in this bawdy dark comedy from Zero Effect and Freaks and Geeks director Jake Kasdan. Also featuring Jason Segel.
> Cars II (G): Sequel to Pixar's only dud, a demography whore of a cash grab that paled in comparison to the studio's usual gently iconoclastic brilliance. This time around, Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) and his pal Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) are mistaken for spies during a European race and must deal with the calamitous consequences. Featuring a host of celebrity voices including Emily Mortimer, John Turturro, Bonnie Hunt, and Michael Caine. In 2D and 3D.
< 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)
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.
> Ready (PG-13): A Bollywood romantic comedy by director Anees Bazmee about a rich bachelor who falls in love with a woman whose greedy uncles have designs on her inheritance. (Wissmann)