Silver Screen: The Score Card, May 3, 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 Five-Year Engagement (R, ***1/2): This romantic comedy from Forgetting Sarah Marshall collaborators Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller is charming but at times as unfocused as its confused protagonists. Segel costars as a chef planning to marry academic Emily Blunt, whose career takes them away to a college town in Michigan and delays their nuptials. They fall into relationship purgatory, and not incidentally the movie begins to flounder-- understandable when the central conflict is “nothing keeps happening.” An armada of ace supporting players, including Allison Brie, Chris Pratt, Brian Posehn, Chris Parnell, Kevin Hart, David Paymer, Mimi Kennedy, and Mindy Kaling help keep the movie afloat, but at times the jokes seem just a distraction from the lack of focus. Still, Segel is very funny as both a writer and performer, and his charm is undeniable, so the movie is engaging if forgettable.
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.
The Lucky One (PG-13, *1/2): The premise behind this weepie romance actually pretty solid. War vet Logan (Zac Efron) finds a photograph of an anonymous woman on the ground just before a firefight and believes the mystery girl (Taylor Schilling) to be his lucky charm. Back stateside, he tracks her down and finds her living a life marred by the tragic deaths of her parents and brother, and menaced by an abusive ex-husband (Jay R. Ferguson). But author Nicholas Sparks, on whose novel the movie is based, piles on the melodrama until it curdles into unintentional comedy. The charismatic Efron does his best to anchor the film, but he doesn’t get much help from co-romantic lead Schilling, who does little more than frown and wear gauzy white fabrics. Yet another pretty much indistinguishable Sparks story full of untimely deaths, miscommunication, old boats, and animal rescues.
The Raven (R, *): This ludicrous thriller is so bad it very nearly works as a comedy-- think a bizarre mashup of the Roger Corman adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe and The Comedy of Terrors. But nobody's trying to be funny here, certainly not star John Cusack, who nearly outdoes colleague Nicolas Cage in terms of high-octane miscalculations. Cusack's Poe is like Edgar Allan by way of Hunter S. Thompson by way of Jack Sparrow. In his final days he must save the woman he loves (Alice Eve) by solving a string of murders that draw inspiration from his morbid stories. It's an amusing premise rendered entirely silly in execution-- Poe stalks the foggy streets carrying a booze bottle and fountain pen, has a friendly pet raccoon as a sidekick, and gets into shouting matches with his deadline-weary editors. Vincent Price would not approve; I shall see it nevermore.
The Three Stooges (PG, ***): Peter and Bobby Farrelly are just the right guys to helm this utterly unnecessary but surprisingly pretty funny revamp of the Three Stooges, which plays like a loving tribute to the timeless comedy of Larry Fine and Moe and Curly Howard. Sean Hayes, Chris Diamantopoulos, and Will Sasso do a nice job playing the slow-witted slapsticky scoundrels out on a mission to raise money to save an orphanage. All the modern references fall flat-- the prolonged riff on Jersey Shore nearly sinks the movie during the final third-- but the short comic setpieces are classic Stooges. Larry David playing angry nun Sister Mary Mengele is the icing on a cake you know someone is going to fall into. It ain’t high art, but it’s fun.
< 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.
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
> The Avengers (PG-13): A slew of Marvel movie plots from the last five years culminate in this it-had-better-be-big epic in which Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and Nick Fury (Samuel Jackson) team up to save the Earth from big digital effects. Directed and cowritten by Joss Whedon. In 2D and 3D.
< 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 only.
< October Baby (PG-13): Right-wing propaganda flick about an adopted woman who discovers her parents tried to abort her. (Wissmann)
The Pirates! Band of Misfits (PG): Claymation kiddie comedy about a band of scurvy dogs competing for the Pirate of the Year Award, featuring the voices of Hugh Grant and Salma Hayek, from the director of Chicken Run. In 2D and 3D.
Safe (PG-13): The biannual Jason Statham action-movie trend continues, this time with Statham playing a former cage fighter defending a girl with a photographic memories from a slew of gangsters who want valuable information only she can remember.
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).
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.