Silver Screen: The Score Card, April 19, 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, all 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 do by far the best job since the original American Pie, 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 Cabin in the Woods (R, ****): Drew Goddard (writer for Cloverfield, Lost, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer) directs and cowrites this thrillingly inventive, giddily over-the-top genre mashup that manages to deconstruct without disappearing into its own self-consciousness. A group of college kids (including Thor himself, Liam Hemsworth) head to a cabin for a weekend getaway only to be terrorized by dark forces in the forest. But all is not what it seems, as indicated by the opening scene featuring a pair of chatty bureaucrats (Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) who are somehow related to the kids' grizzly fate. If Scream is a horror movie about people who watch horror movies, this is a self-aware film about where horror movies come from-- and the motives of the people who watch them.
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.
Lockout (PG-13, **): Lazily constructed, moderately enjoyable sci-fi action flick in which a disgraced former CIA agent (Guy Pearce) is given the chance to clear his name by taking on a suicide mission: Infiltrate a prison floating in space-- during a riot-- and rescue the president's daughter (Maggie Grace), caught onboard during a goodwill mission. It's a fun, silly premise that writer/directors James Mather and Stephen Saint Leger seemingly can't be bothered to fully think out. It's another quick-and-cheap action movie from French director-turned-schlock-impresario Luc Besson's factory. It's both better and worse than the average output, entertaining in a pinch but woefully underbaked.
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
> Chimpanzee (G): Disney-produced nature documentary that follows a young chimp after he is separated from his troop.
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.
> The Lucky One (PG-13): Tearjerker romance based on Nicholas Sparks’s novel about an Iraq War veteran (Zac Efron) who goes searching for a girl from a photo (Taylor Schilling) who he believes to be his lucky charm.
< 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.
> October Baby (PG-13): Right-wing propaganda flick about an adopted woman who discovers her parents tried to abort her. (Wissmann)
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.
> Think Like a Man (PG-13): Ensemble romantic comedy about four women who take love advice from a book by comedian Steve Harvey-- an actual book that inspired the movie and lends a name-- only to have their men turn the tables on them. Featuring Michael Ealy, Taraji Henson, Kevin Hart, Meagan Good, Gabrielle Union, Chris Brown, and Jenifer Lewis.
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.