Silver Screen: The Score Card, April 12, 2012 Edition
> Opening this week (Friday unless otherwise noted).
< Leaving Carbondale this Friday.
by Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
American Reunion (R, **1/2): All the key players are back for the seventh installment in the American Pie franchise, this one a nostalgia-heavy throwback to the original that also happens to be the second most watchable of the bunch. It’s an overstuffed mashup of subplots involving sex lives crimped by kids, familiar feelings for old flames, and sad-sack tales of employment woes, and tied together with a string of grossout gags. A too-brief storyline about Jim’s relationship with his now-widowed father (Eugene Levy, the only castmember to appear in every movie) could have made for a nice movie in and of itself, but alas. New writer/director team Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, the addled minds behind the Harold and Kumar series, aren’t slinging the gags as fast and furiously here but they do by far the best job since the original, making this throwaway pop-culture callback as irresistibly and guiltily nostalgic as the Semisonic and Third Eye Blind tunes on the soundtrack. Featuring Jason Biggs, Seann William Scott, Alyson Hannigan, Chris Klein, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Tara Reid, Mena Suvari, and Eddie Kaye Thomas.
The Hunger Games (PG-13, ***): Director Gary Ross’s adaptation of Suzanne Collins’s wildly popular young adult novel is exceedingly competent but never better than pretty good, mostly thanks to its slavish devotion to the source material. The story’s protagonist, a flinty Appalachian hunter named Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence), living in a dystopian future, is forced to participate in a brutal battle to the death with twenty-three other students to be televised for the amusement of the wealthy citizens of the Capitol. Yet in the film’s (that is, the studio’s) eagerness to adhere as closely as possible to the book to avoid pissing off the fanbase/core market, it fails to fully actualize a visual spectacle and is rather a blunt, direct translation. Lawrence does nice work, supported by a strong cast that includes Stanley Tucci, Woody Harrelson, and Donald Sutherland. It’s tough to make a movie about class warfare and child murder bland and inoffensive, yet here it is.
< Jeff Who Lives at Home (R, ***1/2): The latest character-driven comedy from the Duplass brothers is as shaggy and likeable as its protagonist, a stoner who does indeed live in his mother’s basement. Jeff (Jason Segel) is obsessed with destiny and, convinced by a wrong-number that he is calling, sets out on a micro-epic quest that entwines him with his older brother Pat (Ed Helms), who just learned his wife (Judy Greer) is cheating on him. A nice supporting turn from Susan Sarandon as Jeff’s lovelorn mom rounds out a great ensemble that perhaps overreaches for profoundity but nevertheless finds lots of true moments along the way. Cowriters Jay and Mark Duplass (the later best known as Pete on The League) keep their impressive streak alive with another winner.
Safe House (R, ***): Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds square off against one another in this thriller in which a low-level CIA agent (Reynolds) becomes entangled with a notorious traitor (Washington) who allows himself to be captured in order to evade mercenaries. Reynolds’s uncertain rookie must keep Washington’s calculating killer alive but still in custody, requiring an uneasy alliance. The battle of wits is the real fun here, with both actors bringing plenty to their respective roles. But once the action breaks out of the claustrophobic title location the tension lets up and Safe House becomes just another action flick, albeit a decent one. Featuring Brendan Gleeson, Vera Farmiga, and Sam Shepard.
Titanic (PG-13, ***): James “Blame Me for 3D” Cameron retrofits his modern-kinda-classic melodrama with shiny, pokey 3D. The nineties nostalgia comes right out of the screen as Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio live out their brief, doomed romance about the steamer ship headed for infamy. There’s a lot packed into three hours-- some good, a little great, plenty cliché d. Cameron is undeniably one of the great action choreographers all time, and the ship-sinking sequence is awe-inspiring. The story is pure soap opera, but usually more soapy than operatic. (We’re looking at you, Billy Zane).
21 Jump Street (R, ***): Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star in this bizarre remake of the not-all-that-popular late-1980s drama about cops going undercover as high-school students to stop youth crimes. It's less a straight retread, however, than a parody of the kind of movie that an actual 21 Jump Street remake would be-- that is to say, it's a pop-culture mashup thoroughly drenched in irony. It's moderately funny, too, thanks largely to the two leads, especially Tatum, who gets most of the big laughs as a clueless ex-jock forced to ingratiate himself with the nerds and losers he spurned during his school days. A bloody and outlandish finale only amps up the weirdness in a movie that's both consistently odd and relentlessly conventional.
Wrath of the Titans 3D (PG-13, 1/2*): This grueling followup to the utterly needless 2010 remake is a failure in every way save for one: While the original promised lots of 3D action but delivered only slightly in the opening and closing sequences, there’s an almost self-conscious amount of 3D this time around. Ardent fans of things seeming far away and then moving kind of close if you wear special glasses should be satisfied. Everyone else will be bored by a meaningless story stretched too long in interminable stretches of stiff, expository dialogue delivered by lots of great older actors wearing robes and silly ZZ Top beards (Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Danny Huston, and Billy Nighy). Sam Worthington is flat as ever as the hero Perseus, who must restore balance among the gods before they release the volcano monster Kronos-- the movie’s lone truly cool feature.
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
> The Cabin in the Woods (R): A group of teens (including Chris Hemsworth, Kristen Connolly, and Anna Hutchison) go for a weekend getaway to a remote cabin in the woods, but the menace is not what you expect. From the Cloverfield team of Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon.
Doctor Seuss's The Lorax (PG): Computer-animated adaptation of Doctor Seuss's environmentalist fable in which the titular creature (voiced by Danny Elfman) must save the beauty of the natural world from the greedy Once-ler (Ed Helms). Featuring the voices of Zac Efron, Taylor Swift, and Betty White, among others. In 2D and 3D.
> Lockout (PG-13): Sci-fi action flick in which a grizzled loner (Guy Pearce) must infiltrate a prison during a riot to rescue the president’s daughter (Maggie Grace)-- but the prison is in space. Featuring Peter Stormare.
Mirror Mirror (PG): The first of the year’s two live-action Snow White movies is a more kid-friendly take starring Julia Roberts as the queen who fears Lily Collins might turn out to be the fairest of them all. Featuring Armie Hammer and Nathan Lane.
> The Raid: Redemption (R): Indonesian film about a SWAT team pinned down in a slum controlled by a mobster.
> Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (PG-13): A sheik wants to bring the sport of flyfishing to his desert nation and imports a fisheries expert (Ewan McGregor) to make it so. Costarring Emily Blunt and Amr Waked, and directed by Lasse Hallströ m (Chocolat, The Cider House Rules, What's Eating Gilbert Grape).
A Separation (PG-13): This year’s Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Language Film hails from Iran. A family is torn apart when a wife wishes to move to another country to give her daughter a better life, but a husband feels he must stay behind to care for his elderly father.
A Thousand Words (PG-13): Eddie Murphy stars as a fast-talking agent who discovers he is cursed and can only speak one-thousand more words before he dies. Costarring Kerry Washington.
> The Three Stooges (PG): Probably ill-advised reboot of the classic comedy trio. Larry (Sean Hayes), Curly (Will Sasso), and Moe (Chris Diamantopoulos) investigate a murder and accidentally land their own reality show while trying to save an orphanage. Directed by Peter and Bobby Farrelly.
< Tyler Perry's Good Deeds (PG-13): In Tyler Perry's latest Tyler Perryfest, writer/producer/director/actor/caterer/key grip Perry stars as a high-powered businessman who learns redemptive lessons about family and stuff when he falls for a struggling single mom (Thandie Newton). Featuring Gabrielle Union and Phylicia Rashad.