Silver Screen: The Score Card, March 28, 2013 Edition
> opening this week in Carbondale (Friday unless otherwise noted).
< leaving Carbondale this Friday.
by Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
< Argo (R, **1/2): Ben Affleck directs this well-crafted, intriguing thriller based on a fascinating true story that just happens to make for a pretty boring movie. Affleck stars as state department agent Tony Mendez, who concocts an elaborate scheme to rescue six Americans secretly living in Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis. His solution is to use Hollywood moviemakers (Alan Arkin and John Goodman) to pose as a Canadian film crew and extract the Americans before they’re taken hostage. The story is fascinating, and Affleck constructs the film more than competently, but the story is front-loaded and better suited to a documentary. The final hour is a slog, with the climax being a twenty-minute trek through airport security that makes you feel exactly like you just went through airport security.
< A Good Day to Die Hard (R, *): The original 1986 Die Hard remains one of the greatest, if not the single greatest, action movie of all time. What remains onscreen for this fourth sequel bears almost no resemblance to it whatsoever, as former everyman cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) is transformed into an aging superhero who jaunts off to Russia to help his estranged CIA-agent son (Jai Courtney) stop terrorists from acquiring weapons-grade plutonium from Chernobyl. It’s a mess of car crashes and shootouts that’s big and expensive-looking without packing any real thrills. The plot is hard to follow right up to the point that it becomes not worth following at all, thanks largely to a generic villain unworthy of Alan Rickman’s great Hans Gruber or even Jeremy Irons’s turns as Gruber’s aggrieved brother. Only the stale Yippie-ki-yay catchphrase serves to remind audiences this isn’t just another assemblyline shoot ‘em up coughed out in the waning winter months. It’s a sad, shoddy perversion of a franchise that should have bowed out gracefully in the 1990s.
The Call (R, **1/2): This throwaway thriller is both overheated and undercooked, but its suspenseful real-time kidnapping sequence generates enough suspense to make it fun. Halle Berry stars as a 9-1-1 operator whose mistake leads a young girl to be abducted by a killer. Months later, she gets a call from a kidnapped girl (Abigail Breslin) who Berry suspects was taken by the same mystery man. The girl attempts an escape while Berry talks her through the process. When Michael Imperioli (The Sopranos) shows up as a do-gooding limo driver, the stakes are raised and the chase takes a sharp turn. Silly as it is, The Call makes the most of its premise and ratchets up the tension in its middle stretch, which makes it all the more unfortunate when it lapses back into utter preposterousness in the last act when it all but becomes an expensive episode of CSI.
Identity Thief (R , ***): This mismatched-buddy road comedy about a disastrous journey that takes several unexpected turns travels all the main roads on the way to a place we already know we’re going, leaving no too-broad calamity unturned. But despite its surfeit of distractions and clichés in the form of a painfully generic crime syndicate plus a scruffy bounty hunter (Robert Patrick), stars Jason Bateman and SIU alum Melissa McCarthy keep it fun through sheer dint of comic ability. The two leads make a hilarious pairing as Sandy (Bateman), a hardworking businessman trying to provide security for his family, and Diana (McCarthy), the crazed monster of selfishness who steals his identity and runs up massive credit-card bills during an orgy of consumer spending. He cajoles her into traveling from Florida back to his home in Colorado to help clear his name, paving the way for some needlessly absurd plot twists but also a lot of fantastic interactions between two terrific comic actors. When the movie slows down enough to let the leads indulge in some character-based comedy, it’s very funny. More Melissa McCarthy, please.
Olympus Has Fallen (R, zero stars): A potentially great premise for a silly action movie-- Die Hard in the White House-- is bungled at every level and reduced to a smoldering pile of absurdities and leaden quips in this patience-testing study of incompetence from director Antoine Fuqua. Ex-Secret Service agent Mike Bannerman (bad-movie king Gerard Butler) is back near his old office when the White House is attacked from without and within by North Korean terrorists. They take the President (Aaron Eckhart) hostage and force him to reveal nuclear codes that will allow them to detonate America’s entire nuclear stockpile in one fell swoop. Plot holes fall into other, bigger plot holes as Butler races around the White House dispatching terrorists with ease while all the politicians make blatantly stupid decisions. Fuqua’s inept action sequences are borderline incoherent, and he piles on the gore and exploitative September 11 imagery, along with American flags in various tattered states, making this an absolute slog.
Oz the Great and Powerful (PG, **): The real wizards of this Oz prequel are the digital-effects crewmembers who do all the conjuring. Pretty much everything in this vivid but sometimes gaudy cartoon is computer animated except for the actors. The story is something between a faithful recreation and an unimaginative rehash (pre-hash?) of the original, with the titular wizard sucked into a tornado during a black-and-white prologue and transported to a magical land where he must do battle with some wicked witches, aided by new friends, including a sassy flying monkey (voiced by Zach Braff). It’s not a terrible movie by any stretch, but its cheap aping of the original and total lack of a raison de Oz renders it little more than an expensive but craven cash grab piggybacking on someone else’s imagination. Starring James Franco as Oz, Michelle Williams as Glinda, and Mila Kunis as a soon-to-be-wicked witch. In 2D and 3D.
Silver Linings Playbook (R, ***1/2): The eccentric David O. Russell moves yet another step closer to convention with this adaptation of Matthew Quick’s novel about a bipolar divorcé (Bradley Cooper) trying to reconnect with his ex-wife after a stint in a mental hospital. In addition to dealing with his compulsive gambler of a father (a very good Robert De Niro), he becomes entangled with a socially maladjusted widow (Jennifer Lawrence) who coerces him into partnering with her in a dance contest. It’s a well-acted, frequently funny take on a pretty conventional romantic drama. The characters are uniquely depicted, and Russell does a particularly strong job of presenting the daily tribulations of dealing with mental illness. The story follows an arc that should be familiar to anyone who’s ever gotten a peek at Hollywood’s playbook.
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
Admission (PG-13): Tina Fey stars as a Princeton admissions officer who pulls strings for a plucky underachiever when she discovers he might be the baby she gave away as a teen. Costarring Paul Rudd.
The Croods (PG): Computer-animated family comedy about a prehistoric family that ventures out of a cave to discover the wonders and terrors of the natural world. Featuring the voices of Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone, and Ryan Reynolds. In 2D and 3D.
Escape from Planet Earth (PG): Computer-animated, family friendly comedy about a group of goofy space aliens who crash land and must subsequently get off of Earth. Featuring the usual spacecraft full of celebrity voice talent, including Brendan Fraser, Ricky Gervais, Jessica Alba, and Sofia Vergara, among others. In 2D only.
G.I. Joe: Retaliation (PG-13): The long-delayed sequel to the shoddy live-action adaptation of the 1980s cartoon sees Bruce Willis joining the gang to fight Cobra, who have taken over the White House. Featuring Channing Tatum, Jonathan Pryce, RZA, Walton Goggins, and Dwayne “Not Another Middle Name Joke” Johnson. In 2D and 3D.
> The Host (PG-13): Adaptation of Twilight author Stephanie Meyer’s non-vampire novel about a young girl (Saoirse Ronan) who must fight back when alien invaders overtake her mind. Featuring William Hurt and Diane Kruger.
InAPPropriate Comedy (R): Comedy sketch film that is, no kidding, based on computer apps. Politically incorrect computer apps. Featuring Rob Schneider, Adrien Brody, and Lindsay Lohan. Seriously, though, it’s a movie about computer apps.
< The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (PG-13): An estranged duo of flamboyant Vegas magicians (Steves Carell and Buscemi) must re-team lest they lose the spotlight to an oddball upstart (Jim Carrey). Featuring Olivia Wilde, Alan Arkin, and James Gandolfini.
Jack the Giant Slayer (PG-13): Bryan Singer directs this blockbuster approach to a fairytale in which Jack (Nicholas Hoult) ascends his famed beanstalk only to find a land of giants eager to wage war on humans. Featuring Ewan McGregor, Ian McShane, and Stanley Tucci. In 2D and 3D.
Quartet (PG-13): Dustin Hoffman directs this light drama about aging musicians (Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Billy Connolly, Pauline Collins, and Tom Courtenay) who settle old scores as they reunite for a concert celebrating Verdi’s birthday.
Spring Breakers (R): Sleazemonger Harmony Korine writes and directs his most commercial effort to date, in which a quartet of college girls (including Disney princesses Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, and Ashley Benson) rob a diner to get money for a spring break trip that lands them in cahoots with a drug dealer (James Franco).
Tyler Perry’s Temptation (PG-13): A marriage counselor begins cheating on her husband. Written and directed by Tyler Perry, but not starring him-- the cast includes Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Vanessa Williams, and Brandy Norwood.
Warm Bodies (PG-13): Romantic comedy in which girl (Teresa Palmer) meets boy (Nicholas Hoult), but dad (John Malkovich) doesn’t approve. Except here the boy is a sensitive zombie and the girl and her dad are fighting for survival against hordes of the undead.