Silver Screen: The Score Card, August 4, 2011 Edition
> Opening this week (Friday unless otherwise noted).
< Leaving Carbondale this Friday.
by Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
Captain America: The First Avenger (PG-13, **): Director Joe Johnston helmed the underrated 1991 superhero movie The Rocketeer, and unfortunately this pre-Avengers film looks like it was made only a year or two later. Cheap-looking effects and inertly staged battle sequences significantly hinder this bland actioneer in which a puny soldier wannabe circa World War II (Chris Evans) is injected with a super-soldier serum that turns him into the Ü ber patriot Captain America. He battles the ridiculous-looking and utterly uninteresting Red Skull with the help of his anachronistically empowered girlfriend and multiethnic band of ragtag soldiers. Only the climactic fight scene provides some thrills, which is all Marvel really needed to have happen-- it’s all a big, expensive tease to the Avengers movie next summer. In 2D and 3D.
< 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 only.
Cowboys & Aliens (PG-13, ***): Blandly satisfying big-budget popcorn-movie extravaganza in which aliens descend on a sleepy post-Civil War Arizona mining town. Mysterious outlaw Jake (Daniel Craig, flinty and awesome) and tyrannical cattle rancher Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) team up and lead a posse to find the creatures' hideout and rescue the abducted townsfolk. Director Jon Favreau plays the material surprisingly straight, and to his credit it never lapses into unintentional parody. At best, though, it's a blandly satisfying action flick that delivers exactly what it promises without ever hinting at anything new or particularly interesting. The movie is buoyed somewhat by a strong supporting cast that includes Sam Rockwell, Olivia Wilde, Keith Carradine, Paul Dano, and Walton Goggins.
Crazy, Stupid, Love (PG-13, **): Semi-ambitious misfire that attempts to be The Usual Suspects of romantic comedies, which is as awkward as it sounds. When he’s dumped by his restless wife Emily (Julianne Moore), Cal (Steve Carell) befriends local lothario Jacob (Ryan Gosling), who vows to help him learn the ways of being a ladykiller. But Jacob finds himself increasingly vulnerable after he meets a beautiful, high-strung law student (Emma Stone). The screenplay by Dan Fogelman strikes false notes at nearly every turn, from improbable plotlines to clunky dialogue and implausible characters. A side plot involving Cal’s son’s crush on a pretty babysitter (talented newcomer Analeigh Tipton), who herself has a crush on boring Cal, is particularly dissonant. The whole cast is strong, and Gosling and Stone are especially good, but they can only render their material tolerable. A respectable failure from directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, who generally do excellent work (Bad Santa, I Love You, Phillip Morris).
Friends with Benefits (R, **): Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis are an appealing couple who never have much to work with in this mediocre romantic comedy that matches its almost identical recent predecessor, No Strings Attached, beat for beat. Kunis and Timberlake are young, emotionally unavailable hotties who decide to start knocking boots without getting into romantic entanglements, but who of course get into a romantic entanglement anyway, the kind that can apparently only be clarified with the help of a mucho macho gay friend (Woody Harrelson) and a visit with an ailing father (Richard Jenkins). It’s passable, but barely.
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.
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-- make for a frenzied, migraine-inducing hash of pop culture designed to stupefy people into silence while it sells them shit. In 2D and 3D.
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
> The Changeup (R): Freaky Friday-style body-swap comedy in which two best pals, an easygoing lothario (Ryan Reynolds) and a frustrated family man (Jason Bateman), deal with the consequences of having their lives magically switched. Featuring Olivia Wilde and Leslie Mann.
> Rise of the Planet of the Apes (PG-13): This reboot of the sci-fi series tells the origin story of the super-intelligent primates that overtake mankind after they're scientifically engineered for superiority by a well-meaning but naï ve scientist (James Franco). Featuring Brian Cox, John Lithgow, and Slumdog Millionaire's Freida Pinto.
The Smurfs (PG): The annoying, hive-minded band of blue creatures living in a cartoon forest make the brutal transition to live-action when they’re chased into the real world by Gargamel (Hank Azaria). Neil Patrick Harris stars alongside animated smurfs voied by Jonathan Winters, Katy Perry, Wolfgang Puck, Paul Reubens, and Jeff Foxworthy. In 2D and 3D.
> The Tree of Life (PG-13): Acclaimed director Terrence Malick (The Thin Red Line) helms this impressionistic look at a Texas child’s loss of innocence in the 1950s. Starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn.
< 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.