Silver Screen: The Score Card, July 21, 2011 Edition

Silver Screen: The Score Card, July 21, 2011 Edition
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Silver Screen: The Score Card, July 21, 2011 Edition
Bryan Miller

> Opening this week (Friday unless otherwise noted).

< Leaving Carbondale this Friday.

by Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.

Bad Teacher (R, ***): Cameron Diaz stars as an amoral conwoman shortchanging her students and scheming against her coworkers while she barely works as a junior-high teacher. She decides she needs $10,000 to pay for a boob job to woo a potential sugar daddy, a wealthy but naï ve new teacher (Justin Timberlake), which prompts her to actually try to be good at her job-- sort of. The basic plot of the movie, not to mention the lead character, is strikingly similar to that of Bad Santa, a far superior dark comedy, but this one works at the very least as a joke-delivery system and a showcase for talented supporting players, including Jason Segel, Lucy Punch, and, too briefly, Modern Family’s Eric Stonestreet. It almost but never quite comes together, but it’s funny enough along the way. Directed by Jake Kasdan (Zero Effect, Freaks and Geeks).

< 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.

Cars II (G, *1/2): Pixar’s first misfire is a mess of shoddy plotting and market-driven logic. While the rest of the first movie’s cast is relegated to cameos bookending the rest of this too-long movie, Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) and his pal Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) go to Europe for a three-tiered race to promote alternative energy that gets sabotaged by a big oil conspiracy. The film takes on an ill-conceived espionage story as hapless Mater bumbles through the spy plot while McQueen races pretty much in the background. New characters add next to nothing, while the clash of cash-in logic and a shoehorned pseudo-environmentalist message add to the dissonance. It doesn’t even look all that sharp, and only a sequence on the streets of Tokyo comes close to dazzling audiences the way most Pixar films do from start to finish. Featuring the voices of Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, and Eddie Izzard. 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.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II (PG-13, ****): The long-- sometimes too long-- story of Harry Potter reaches a conclusion that's both viscerally thrilling and emotionally resonant in this spectacular finale from director David Yates. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his pals Ron and Hermione (Rupert Grint and Emma Watson) are nearly finished destroying the magical talismans providing power to the evil Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), but then they must meet him for a final confrontation during the siege of the Hogwarts school. Astounding effects and some exceptional acting by a host of British thespians, most notably Alan Rickman, work in perfect concert with J.K. Rowling's story to bring this elaborate saga to a deeply satisfying conclusion. Rowling's great achievement was to create a story that grew along with its audience through the most tempestuous years of life. During the dark, climactic battle, what we're watching isn't just the destruction of Hogwarts but the destruction of childhood, razed to make way for adulthood, and it's both thrilling and terrifying. In 2D and 3D.

Horrible Bosses (R, **1/2): This passably funny but mostly uninspired comedy with a dark premise and no teeth stars Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, and Jason Sudeikis as old school friends who labor under tyrannical bosses. They agree to help each other kill the evil employers (Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell, and Jennifer Aniston), setting in motion ill-advised schemes that give way to bumbling at every turn. The likeable leads help sell an intermittently sharp script, one sprinkled with good zingers but never strong concepts. Some notable guest stars and fun cameos help pad things out, but the movie never really clicks as a workplace satire or macabre humor. Only Spacey is good enough to really inspire murderous feelings, while Aniston is saddled with an embarrassingly misguided subplot as an ethically bankrupt, sexually voracious dentist, which sounds a lot more fun than it actually is.

Larry Crowne (PG-13, *1/2): Tom Hanks cowrites, directs, and stars in this surprisingly bad recession-based dramedy about a downsized middle manager who goes back to college and reinvents himself. This potentially promising premise is quickly squandered on a group of preposterous, unfunny supporting players as the films winds its way through minor conflicts-- and sometimes seemingly no conflicts at all-- toward an unrewarding romantic storyline with the shrewish, awful professor Mercedes Tainot (Julia Roberts, saddled with a deeply unlikable character). Hanks is in his element, performance-wise, and his easygoing charm keeps the movie afloat for awhile even when it shouldn't, but the rest of the picture is uninspired and inert. A handful of fun scenes between Hanks and George Takei, playing a stern economics professor, hints at an interesting movie that could have been and never was, but the whole project is too underbaked and vague to register as anything but a forgettable disappointment. Featuring Bryan Cranston and Pam Grier.

Midnight in Paris (PG-13, ****): Woody Allen's latest is one of his strongest efforts in years, a delightful intellectual trifle that gives way to something more substantial in its final act. Owen Wilson stars as Gil, a screenwriter vacationing with his philistine of a fiancé e (Rachel McAdams) and her family (Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy) in Paris. Even as they fail to appreciate the history and Old World charm of France, Gil gets lost in its past, quite literally, when a car picks him up on a lonely street and ferries him to a party in the 1920s. Every night he boards the car and returns to the past to booze it up with Papa Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds, Salvador Dali, Gertrude Stein, and a host of other great artists, but a fling with a beautiful art groupie (Marion Cotillard) and a dive further into the magical-realist concept that drives the movie changes Gil's mind about nostalgia and gives him a new perspective on the future. This is great fun from start to finish and features an exceptional cast of characters doing more-than-credible work as some of the most brilliant minds in modern history. Particularly good are Tom Hiddleston as Fitzgerald, Corey Stoll as Hemingway, Adrien Brody as Dali, and Kathy Bates as Stein. It's unabashedly intellectual, kind of like English Major Night at the movies, but it never loses its momentum and good humor.

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.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (PG-13, *1/2): Michael Bay’s third Transformers movie is hyperkinetic and overstuffed even by his own extreme standards. A perfunctory plot involving a mechanized MacGuffin, the American moon landing, and the former Autobot leader (voiced by Leonard Nimoy) create an excuse for a bunch of robot-fighting sequences. And some of them are pretty dazzling, notably the destruction of Chicago and a chase through the smoldering guts of a collapsing skyscraper. But the crazed overabundance of subplots, side characters, and strained attempts at comic relief-- including a barely sane John Turturro, Kevin Dunn and Julie White as star Shia LaBeouf’s Midwestern-caricature parents, Ken Jeong in an out-of-the-atmosphere-above-the-airspace-over-the-top performance, John Malkovich as a finicky industrialist, Alan Tudyk as a computer-literate personal assistant with a crazy accent, the Kennedy assassination, Richard Nixon, and Barack Obama, plus Bill O’Reilly and Buzz Aldrin playing themselves-- it’s a frenzied, migraine-inducing hash of pop culture designed to stupefy people into silence while it sells them shit. In 2D and 3D.

Zookeeper (PG, *): It's fair to cut a family comedy a little slack for a mild tone and a few easy gags, but by any standard Kevin James's latest vehicle is exceptionally lazy and middling, every bit as its bland ads seem and even worse still. The portly TV star turned actor in exclusively god-awful movies stars as a childishly innocent zookeeper lovestruck by a shallow hottie (Leslie Bibb) who wants him to quit his job. The animals in the zoo reveal they can talk in order to help him romance her and keep his job at the same time, leading to all the strained, zany hijinks you'd expect. It's a big, hot mess of pratfalls, poop jokes, and product placement, culminating in a sequence at a TGI Friday’s that may qualify as the first full-length commercial ever inserted directly into a feature film. This is all unpardonably awful, but in such a bland way that it can't even summon any bile. Featuring the voices of Sly Stallone, Cher, Judd Apatow, and Nick Nolte.

Also in or Coming to Local Theaters

> Captain America: The First Avenger (PG-13): Chris Evans stars as Marvel Comics' fascist-fighting superhero of the 1940s, a weakling Army reject who gets pumped up by the wonders of science and heads off to defeat Hitler and his occult-obsessed underling, the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving). In 2D and 3D.

> Friends with Benefits (R): Another romantic comedy in which a former castmember of That Seventies Show attempts to have a sexual relationship with a friend without all the emotion. This time it's Mila Kunis paired up with Justin Timberlake. Featuring Patricia Clarkson, Woody Harrelson, and Richard Jenkins.

Winnie the Pooh (G): The honey-loving bear and his pals from the Hundred Acre Wood set out on a misguided quest to rescue their friend Christopher Robin. Featuring the voices of John Cleese and Craig Ferguson.