Arts+Movies » Capsule Reviews

Capsule Reviews of current and ongoing movies

comment

Opening This Week

Obsessed (PG-13) Beyoncé has a lot of ass kicking to do what with that skinny white girl after her man and all. Think Disclosure or Fatal Attraction with an African-American twist.

Earth (G) Disney is only two years beyond the BBC and Discovery in bringing this high-definition nature documentary to a wide audience, but better late than never.

Fighting (PG-13) Terrence Howard teaches the young Channing Tatum how to take one on the chin in a film that's hopefully more satisfying in a bare-knuckle-boxing way than Fight Club.

The Soloist (PG-13) A movie, starring a schizoid and homeless cellist Jamie Foxx, that proves artists don't need to get paid as long as they have their art. Also stars Robert Downey Jr.

Critical Capsules

12 Rounds (PG-13) Once upon a time, a young Renny Harlin made Die Hard 2, which, in the end, just turned out to be a simple re-hash of John McTiernan's Die Hard. After that, McTiernan returned to the franchise with 1995's Die Hard: With a Vengeance. And now, 14 years later, Harlin has finally gotten the chance to rip off that movie with 12 Rounds. OK, so the movies aren't exactly the same, but the plots — centering around a master European terrorist leading a cop through a series of dangerous challenges in a bid for revenge — are uncannily similar. But in this case, there's no Bruce Willis. Instead, we get pro wrestler John Cena, a man with a neck bigger than his head, and the kind of range that makes Willis look like Laurence Olivier. Seriously, the guy walks through the movie with the pained look of someone trying really hard to do long division in their head. It all revolves around a master criminal getting revenge on Cena by kidnapping his fiancée and making our hero pass 12 challenges (all involving much property damage) to save her. You've seen it before — and better. —Justin Souther

17 Again (PG-13) Seeing how the very first scene in 17 Again is Zac Efron shirtless and sweaty, and that the next scene is Efron dancing, it's not difficult to see what purpose this movie is supposed to serve. Namely, it's here to please his tween fans by parading around his heartthrobiness for 100 minutes while occasionally showing off his unique talents (and yes, being shirtless counts as talent in some corners). The movie is one of those family friendly fantasies that crop up here and there, where an adult is transformed into a teen and sent off to learn important life lessons — think either version of Freaky Friday or pre-Christian Soldier Kirk Cameron and Arthur 2-era Dudley Moore in Like Father Like Son. In this case, it's an exhausted looking Matthew Perry. This take offers nothing new, though a couple scenes are a little creepier than usual. It's strictly for fans of Efron, who may actually be young enough to find it fresh. —Justin Souther

Adventureland (R) James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) is a college graduate whose Europe-trekking and Ivy League grad-school plans wind up in limbo after his dad loses his job. He's forced to take summer work on the midway at the titular amusement park in his hometown of Pittsburgh, and quickly finds a kindred "why am I here?" spirit in Joel (Martin Starr). But his even-more-kindred spirit may be co-worker Em (Twilight's Kristen Stewart). Director Greg Mottola does a terrific job of establishing the milieu of the run-down Adventureland, with its carnival attempts to con the customers. He was also smart enough to cast Starr as the bitterly seething intellectual Joel, SNL's Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig as the park's managers, and a pleasantly restrained Ryan Reynolds as the park's Lothario handyman. The script is full of the small touches that give a story a kick of specificity. Even the broader comedy proves enjoyable. But the real appeal comes from the romance, and particularly from Eisenberg. First, it seems as though Mottola is forcing him to channel Michael Cera, but his star eventually finds his own appealing take on sensitive, hyper-literate romanticism. There's something perfectly pitched about James' affected over-use of the expression per se, his embarrassment at being caught sporting wood at a pool party, and even about his willingness to indulge his immature "sack-whacking" high-school buddy. —Scott Renshaw

Crank: High Voltage (R) Chances are if you enjoyed the wild ride of the original Crank, you're going to have a good time with this even more outrageous sequel. Truth to tell, what you really get here is the same movie all over again — only more of it. What it lacks in surprise, it makes up for in heightened absurdity, and even though it starts to feel like it's running low on gas in the last few minutes, it generally succeeds. It's a movie that revels in its own preposterousness, that delights in affronting the viewer with explosive bad taste, nudity, sex, violence, and gore. It's a lot like a Guy Ritchie movie — if Guy Ritchie was a horny 14-year-old. The premise finds the presumably dead Chev Chelios (Jason Statham) not dead at all, but with his heart stolen by Asian gangsters, who've equipped him with an artificial one to keep him alive so they can farm out the rest of his organs. His shady pal Doc Miles (Dwight Yoakam) is "reasonably sure" he can put Chev's heart back — assuming Chev can get it, something that's complicated by the need to zap himself with electricity every little bit to keep the bogus heart going. Yes, it's that preposterous and more — and if that appeals to you, you're good to go. If it doesn't, go elsewhere. —Ken Hanke

Dragonball: Evolution (PG) I can't really sort out all the various permutations of Dragonball with its Dragonball, Dragonball Z, and Dragonball GT incarnations. I did see a few episodes of Dragonball Z about eight years ago, and it very nearly put me off anime for life. The fact that this laughable, silly, borderline incoherent live-action version hasn't had a similar effect on me for movies in general suggests that it's at least better than that. That, however, is damning the film with faint praise if you couldn't tell. It's not good; it's just less bad than the series. Beyond that, its value is that it's too dumb to actively hate. And dumb this tale of a mysteriously Caucasian Asian named Goku (Justin Chatwin) and his search for the seven dragonballs in order to prevent the destruction of the world by an ill-tempered green gent called Piccolo (James Marsters) certainly is. Apart from some incidentals — including a side-trip to a bargain basement Mordor and Ernie Hudson (yes, Ernie Hudson, but with Uncle Remus eyebrows) as the end-all-be-all martial arts master — this is pretty much all there is. For anyone over the age of six or seven, it's probably not enough, unless you also find a piece of string good for hours of fun. —Ken Hanke

Duplicity (PG-13) With its fractured narrative and its myriad convolutions, Tony Gilroy's Duplicity still isn't as clever and sophisticated as it's obviously meant to be, but I'm not sure it matters very much. It's a stylish, entertaining movie with pretty people in pretty clothes (or in very few clothes, which is OK as long it's pretty people) in pretty locations saying witty things. At this point in the moviegoing year, it's probably foolish to ask for more. This is a movie for movie people — with a bottle of Dom Perignon at the end. Stylish direction, a script that "thinks," Clive Owen, Julia Roberts, and champagne. It's late March and that ain't bad. The story is basically a reworking of a Cold War spy flick with rival corporations rather than superpowers, and Owen and Roberts as former secret agents out to use their skills to con and defraud the corporations in question for personal gain. Gilroy, however, isn't content with that alone and has created a "golden age"-style, battle-of-the-sexes romance for his stars, making them unable to trust each other and having that be part and parcel of the very reason they find each other irresistable. It's the kind of film bona fide movie stars were made for. —Ken Hanke

Fast & Furious (PG-13) On the plus side, at least some of the action scenes are put together in a coherent manner (an increasingly rare phenomenon). Also, Paul Walker no longer looks like he's waiting for the director to tell him what to do next. What else can be said? Well, it's not nearly as funny as Vin Diesel's last picture, Babylon A.D., but whether that's in the movie's favor is as personal a call as deciding whether Mr. Diesel's second chin is really getting that obvious, or if director Justin Lin just shoots him in profile way too often. As a mindless — verging on incompehensible — action flick, Fast & Furious probably scales the heights of adequacy. That's to say people drive fast, perform improbable stunts, things blow up, and the leads glare at each other a lot. Neither the plot nor individual set-pieces, however, survive even cursory scrutiny. All you need to know — not that there's much more to know — is that Diesel and Walker are out to bring down a Mexican drug lord, who was responsible for the death of Diesel's girlfriend (Michelle Rodriguez). If that — and watching people drive fast — appeals to you, so might the movie. —Ken Hanke

The Great Buck Howard (PG) Instead of the scatological humor in raucous bromances like I Love You, Man, The Great Buck Howard offers a more low-key thoughtfulness about how success is defined. But part of its refreshing modesty is also a liability. Though wholesome and unthreateningly boyish in the mode of his famous father, Colin Hanks lacks dad's charisma. It's a bit of a shock when fast-talking Manhattan talent wrangler Valerie (Emily Blunt) flies into town during Howard's Cincinnati gig and keeps chiding Troy for squandering himself on a job that is beneath him. Little in Troy's demeanor convincingly conveys the promise that he could be doing better things. But there is nevertheless something in Troy that will undoubtedly resonate with many in the audience who by virtue of age, the economy, or dramatic life changes, have had to appraise what they want from life. Troy is at a crossroads, and Howard (John Malkovich) is what you might call his transitional object, the person who will help him make the adjustment from childhood to adulthood. Howard represents love of work as an admirable goal, something different from his father's (Tom Hanks) emphasis on an impressive paycheck. But Howard represents something more ethereal, too: happiness as more a matter of belief — a self-hypnotism — than of observable reality. —Felicia Feaster

Hannah Montana: The Movie (G) Adults are clearly not the audience for this big-screen version of the apparently popular TV show, so it hardly matters what anyone says about it. It's hard to imagine people who read movie reviews are even considering this concoction — unless under pressure from a small girl. The idea of the film revolves around the bizarre notion that the fictional Hannah Montana character is actually the fictional Miley Stewart character (something a blonde wig keeps the whole world from noticing), who, of course, is Miley Cyrus in real life. Somewhere in that conceit there is almost certainly something deeply philosophical, but I'm too worn out by the film's frantic need to be frantic to poke around for it. The plot finds Miley losing touch with her roots, owing to her celebrity status as pop star Hannah. Things reach crisis level when Hannah gets into a shoestore fight where she tries to skewer Tyra Banks with a stiletto heel. Civilized people might well consider this a laudable attempt, but Dad Robby Ray Stewart (real-life Miley dad Billy Ray Cyrus) takes a dim view of it, and whisks his cash-cow daughter off to Tennessee for a deprogramming dose of appallingly idealized "real life" — a reality envisioned by folks whose idea of such was obviously cobbled together from the more backward examples of 1950s sitcoms. It's all pretty frightening. —Ken Hanke

The Haunting in Connecticut (PG-13) Peter Cornwell's The Haunting in Conneticut is the latest in a long line of "based on a true story" haunted house films in the style of The Amityville Horror (1979). What this generally means is that any old yahoo who thinks the ghost of grandma is running around flushing toilets and flipping the porch light on and off can get a movie deal. Couple that with the fact that this is the haunting in Connecticut, it would appear that this is the definitive tale of spookiness in the Nutmeg State. Be sure to thank Mr. Cornwell the next time you see him. Regardless, what we get is a family, whose oldest son Matt (TV actor Kyle Gallner) is suffering from some unnamed form of movie cancer. They ill-advisedly move into a house with a "history." In this case, the house used to be a mortuary, and Matt begins to see spooky goings on. This mostly consists of murky figures popping up in mirrors or the reflections of television monitors, but quickly graduates into broken dishes, bloody mops, charmingly animated crabs, and a column on their porch filled with what appears to be maggot-infested beef stew. It's downhill from there with the climactic "true evil" of the house being a fridge full of moldy food and a killer shower curtain. Evil has never been so banal. Justin Souther

I Love You, Man (R) I Love You, Man is only the latest in a long line of movies called the "bro-mantic comedy" or perhaps the "dick flick." And it may have much to teach us about ourselves, my brothers — as we are, as we wish we could be, and as we want to make it excruciatingly clear to everyone that we're not. It's kind of depressing watching I Love You, Man look so insecure when attempting to prove its protagonists' heterosexuality. On the surface, it seems very gay-friendly to have Peter's (Paul Rudd) out-and-proud brother serving as one of his mentors in wooing male companionship. But one of the big early guffaw moments involves a misunderstanding on one of Peter's "man-dates," ending with a vigorous tongue-kissing. Neither director John Hamburg nor Rudd overplays the panic of the moment, but it becomes clear that the gay characters here exist primarily to prove by contrast what Peter and Sydney are not. It's a shame, really, that I Love You, Man isn't funnier, and that it feels as uncomfortable in its own skin as its hero. We're getting closer to learning something interesting about what guys need from other guys, but the sociologists won't be gleaning more from this effort than a few chuckles. There's more bro-vado here than bro-mance. —Scott Renshaw

Knowing (PG-13) The first third to one-half of the film is remarkably atmospheric and assured most of the time — even with Nicolas Cage's patented flat performance. The effects work tends to be very good. Even when it's not wholly believable, it's so visually striking that it hardly matters. And there's a very good Marco Beltrami score to top it off. The problem is that the direction, the effects, and the music are at the service of a screenplay that gets sillier and sillier as it moves from provocative horror thriller into the realm of religious allegory science-fiction. The premise of the movie — that a series of seemingly random numbers put in a time capsule in 1959 by a strange little girl (Lara Robinson) who hears voices whispering to her actually predict disasters for the next 50 years — is OK. The problem is that the more we learn about where the movie is going, the more preposterous it becomes and the less sense it makes — unless you're willing to accept the notion (never really explained) of what might be called "Freewill Aliens." Worth a look, but it's apt to produce about an equal number of thrills and groans. Ken Hanke

Madea Goes to Jail (PG-13) Tyler Perry is a cultural icon, regardless of how you feel about his work. Similarly, Mr. Perry's admirers could not conceivably care less what I have to say about the man or his work or his latest film. They know what they're getting. They know that Perry is going to do his Madea drag act and that it will be in support of some worthy message. The bad guys will be very bad. The comedy will be extremely broad. Virtue will be rewarded, and God will be name-dropped. If that's what you're looking for, Madea Goes to Jail will not disappoint. What we have is a ridiculous melodrama about an assistant district attorney (Derek Luke), who's all set to marry another assistant district attorney (Ion Overman), until he runs into an old friend (Keshia Knight Pulliam in an ill-fitting red wig) who's been arrested for prostitution. The meeting provokes a crise de conscience on his part (there's much talk about "what happened that night") that causes him to want to help her — much to the distaste of his upscale (and patently no good) fiancée. True feelings emerge and duplicity ensues. While all this is going on, there's an unrelated plot involving Madea, her dope-smoking brother Joe (Perry in the usual high school drama department old-age make-up), the Browns (David and Tamela J. Mann), and lawyer Brian (Perry), who tries to keep Madea from a well-deserved stint in the big house. After more than an hour of this, we finally get to Madea — and, of course, the wrongfully railroaded prostitute — in jail. Predictability follows. —Ken Hanke

Monsters vs. Aliens (PG) The basic idea of making a spoof of 1950s science fiction movies using the quintessential 1950s gimmick of 3-D is in itself inspired. The idea of filling it with cross-references to 1950s-'60s sci-fi movies from the well-known — The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Fly — to the culty — Attack of the 50 Foot Woman — to the esoteric awful — The Amazing Colossal Man — is a nice nod to film and SF nerds. There's even something sweetly nostalgic about the idea that the government has had all these out-of-date monsters locked away for about 50 years. The voice casting is surprisingly good, especially Rainn Wilson as the evil Gallaxhar. The results of all this, though, are rarely more than pleasant. The individual components suggest it should be better. It's less a case of anything being actually wrong than it simply being no more than OK. The idea basically finds the earth invaded by aliens and calls on their stash of homegrown monsters to save the day. Apart from the personal stories used to flesh this out, that's the plot and it works fine for what it is. At bottom, I liked it well enough. I found it consistently clever and that it maintained a pleasantly giddy sense of fun. In a year, I'll have only the vaguest sense of ever having seen it. —Ken Hanke

Observe and Report (R) Yes, this willfully ugly Seth Rogen "comedy" is exactly what it looks like — an R-rated version of Paul Blart: Mall Cop. Its existence almost makes one think that Paul Blart was a pretty good movie. That should tell you all you need to know about Observe and Report. Rogen plays a sociopathic mall-security officer with an alcoholic mom (loads of laughs there) and a crush on a thoroughly reprehensible cosmetics counter worker (Anna Faris in the most thankless role of her career, if such a notion can be believed). He sees his big chance when the mall is beset by a flasher and a series of robberies. Things don't go exactly as planned, which is supposed to lead to big laughs, but these rarely materialize. The big problem is that the film is so concerned with being hip and edgy that it manages to make its racist, homophobic, self-centered, and smarmy hero thoroughly unlikable. (That it also constantly confuses the merely repellent with edgy is another drawback.) A couple of cold laughs may result, but the whole affair is too unpleasant to like. —Ken Hanke

Race to Witch Mountain (PG) If someone forced me to come up with a single adjective to describe Andy Fickman's Race to Witch Mountain, the first to pop into my mind might be "superfluous." This isn't because the movie's a remake of 1975's Escape to Witch Mountain. The movie is just pointless and unnecessary. Since the film carries the Disney banner, its existence as a moneymaker is already established. But that's no excuse for the lack of effort. The whole ordeal feels shoddy and cheap. The sets are unconvincing, the action lackluster, the CGI corny bottom-of-the-barrel, and the plot's riddled with contrivances. It's all about a taxi driver (Dwayne Johnson) helping a couple of kids (AnnaSophia Robb and Alexander Ludwig) get back to their spaceship (they're really aliens, you see) in order to prevent an invasion of Earth by their planet. Kids may care. Chances are you won't. —Justin Souther

State of Play (PG-13) Little think-bombs punctuate State of Play — the original BBC version was more about the touchy gray areas between friendship and business, but this one, starring Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, and Rachel McAdams, is more about whether real journalism can be done when profit is all and the internet will scoop whatever story a boots-on-the-ground grunt of a writer can scrape up on the streets when he has to deal with sources and, you know, ethics and stuff. Yeah, this is still Hollywood. There's a Hollywood action sequence that's not exactly out of place, except when you compare it to the original, which was all silently exchanged glances speaking volumes and quiet moments about character that made you ache for them even when you had to acknowledge that the characters were huge assholes. But I cannot bitch about this new State of Play, much as I was prepared to. It's exciting and urgent. It's a beautiful and sad fantasy about the last gasp of investigative journalism, which has already passed. —MaryAnn Johanson

Sunshine Cleaning (R) OK, I admit: I have a huge girl-crush on Amy Adams. Her Rose Lorkowski is struggling in a way that many women will recognize: She's raising a child on her own, with the occasional help of her unreliable sister, Norah (Emily Blunt), and their slightly wacky dad, Joe (Alan Arkin). She's in love with a totally inappropriate man, Mac (Steve Zahn), once her high-school sweetheart and now married to someone else. She's a mess, but not a walking disaster area. She's coping, but she's frustrated, and she's just one misfortune away from a meltdown. Which comes, of course, when her son, Oscar (Jason Spevack), gets kicked out his elementary school. He's a nuisance, but of the creative, imaginative, won't-be-corralled type. The school wants to Ritalin him into submission, but Rose won't have it — she'll figure out a way to pay for the private school that will give Oscar the attention he deserves. So Rose gets a job cleaning up crime scenes, and it turns out mopping up blood and brains actually gets some respect. Sunshine Cleaning is tidy as a film, thanks to spiffy direction by Christine Jeffs and a lovely script by Megan Holley. Perhaps the very best moment of the movie comes when Rose explains why she loves this new job, and how useful it makes her feel. —MaryAnn Johanson

Add a comment