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Capsule reviews of current movies


Opening this Week

Soul Men (R) Two backup singers, played by Samuel Jackson and the late Bernie Mac, agree to a reunion at the Apollo. Hilarity ensues.

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (PG) A sequal to the animated hit movie featuring the voices of Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, and David Schwimmer.

Role Models (R) Two energy drink salesmen, one jaded and one chirpy, are forced to enroll in a Big Brother-like program. The kids get the best of the adults. The adults learn a life lesson. It's really funny. And touching. Stars Paul Rudd, Seann William Scott, and Elizabeth Banks.

Appaloosa (R) Ed Harris' Appaloosa has the solid appeal of the traditional type of western picture, which is to say that it more resembles Kevin Costner's Open Range than James Magnold's 3:10 to Yuma. There's little moral ambiguity here in good guys and bad guys. But at the same time, it's revisionist in its sexual politics as concerns both the character of its heroine (Renee Zellweger) and the relationship of the two leads (Harris and Viggo Mortensen). In fact, the film's romance is more between the two men than it is between Harris and Zellweger. Harris and Mortensen are essentially hired killers of a special kind in that they're employed by small towns in need of law and order. Their latest town is Appaloosa where the city fathers, headed up by a very nervous Timothy Spall (in a performance that alone would make the film worth seeing), have become fed up with the lawless ways of a local bad man (Jeremy Irons). What follows is satisfying if standard fare made into something far more worthwhile by virtue of the characterizations. ­—Ken Hanke

Body of Lies (R) Throughout David Ignatius' 2007 novel Body of Lies, you can feel the potential for creating something ... deeper. While the surface markings were those of an age-of-terrorism espionage thriller, there were also hints of Mystic River author Dennis Lehane — the portrayal of a world in which moral decision-making was virtually impossible, and the best a soul could hope for was to make the least immoral decision. But whenever these ideas seemed ready to bubble over into something seriously probing, Ignatius would fall back on over-plotted genre convention. Director Ridley Scott's adaptation — working from a script by William Monahan (The Departed) — at times teases with the same promise of piercing insight into a no-win situation. While the film strips away much of the fat from Ignatius' storytelling, it also winds up frustratingly superficial. It's a nuts-and-bolts action drama putting on the undercover persona of something with a message. —­Scott Renshaw

Eagle Eye (PG-13) After the moderate hit that was Disturbia, Eagle Eye reteams the duo the world was yawning for, director D.J. Caruso and and star Shia LeBeouf, with the latter as angsty underachiever Jerry Shaw, who moonlights in a copy shop, spending his time off dodging his elderly landlady's pleas for rent and playing poker in the store's break room. After his more talented twin brother — who works for the Air Force — dies in a car wreck, Jerry finds $750,000 suddenly in his checking account and that his apartment has been filled with assault rifles and ingredients for explosives. He then gets a phone call from an uncredited Julianne Moore telling him he has 30 seconds to flee the premises before the FBI shows up. Then things get really silly. It's all a set-up for a series of increasingly preposterous set-pieces. It just goes to show that yes, unfortunately, Michael Bay does have influence in modern cinema, no matter how grotesque a concept that might be. —Justin Souther

The Haunting of Molly Hartley (PG-13) Films like The Haunting of Molly Hartley exist solely to make the longevity of the Saw series explicable. The idea, of course, is to provide the multiplexes with fodder for the PG-13 set on Halloween — mindless of the fact that a motivated pre-17-year-old is quite likely to find a way into the forbidden Saw V. What we have here is a TV-friendly cast shunted into a tepid tale of terror that would have been embarassing had it appeared as an ABC Movie of the Week back in 1971. These are bottom-of-the-dust-bin Satanic shenanigans sure to try the patience of anyone with even a cursory knowledge of horror movies. The incredibly low-wattage Honey, I Sold the Kid to the Devil scenario is more transparent than the invisible man in a roomful of Saran Wrap. There are neither thrills nor surprises as our titular heroine makes her way toward her fateful 18th birthday when she has a date with Lucifer, while the climax itself may well qualify as the least exciting ending ever to festoon a horror picture. —Ken Hanke

High School Musical 3: Senior Year (G) As plastic as a Tupperware convention, the big-screen incarnation of the Disney-ific High School Musical has stolen the Halloween season box office from Saw V, which is in itself something, though by the 30-minute mark of High School Musical 3: Senior Year, I'd have been overjoyed to see all these shiny, perky, squeaky-clean kids stumble into a Saw movie. I suppose it all depends on whether you're a fan of the TV films, but really this is little more than a collection of improbably pretty people energetically performing blandly photographed production numbers of incredibly unmemorable songs — smiling for all they're worth. What dramatic tension there is seems to center on whether Zac Efron will choose his love of basketball or his love of theater (though the latter is scarcely conveyed). If that's not enough, you can bite your nails over whether the fuel pump on his junker truck will hold out. That's about as exciting as it gets. Fans will feel differently. Its popularity probably assures us a series that might well end up in grad school. —Ken Hanke

Max Payne (PG-13) When Shakespeare penned the words "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing," I believe he looked some 400 years into the future and caught a glimpse of Max Payne. Rarely have I seen a movie so full of incident that was also completely and thoroughly dull and uninteresting. Yes, much happens ­— some of it incomprehensible and most of it pointlessly preposterous, and all of it slightly less involving than watching algae grow on a stagnant pond. Mark Wahlberg — in one of the more dubious choices of his post-Marky Mark career — plays Max Payne, a glum cop out to avenge the death of his wife and infant child. In attempting to pick up the trail, he finds himself involved with a woman, who is subsequently killed. Her vengeance-obsessed sister, Mona Sax (Mila Kunis), teams up with Max in the belief that the murders are related. And, of course, they are — and all of it has to do with a conspiracy by the very upper echelons of power of a drug company for whom Max's wife worked. As a result, much duplicity ensues. Much entertainment does not. —Ken Hanke

Pride and Glory (R) Likely to impress those who are impressed by a big-name cast and tons of murky cinematography (the film looks gloomier than Saw V), Gavin O'Connor's Pride and Glory is apt to be an endurance test for anyone else. It's a tale cobbled together (I wouldn't call it written) by O'Connor and the mystifyingly overrated Joe Carnahan. You've seen it a good 100 times before, and if only 85 of those 100 are actually better, the other 15 aren't any worse. It's Generational Police Drama 101 at its dullest — right down to its tightly-knit American "Oirish" family who all like to gather at one of those watering holes and quaff copious quantities of Jameson while pseudo-Celtic folk tunes spin on the jukebox. This rubbish was old back when Pat O'Brien was still getting lead roles in A pictures (roughly pre-1938). It's dull, depressing, predictable, and wastes both Edward Norton and Colin Farrell. —Ken Hanke

Saw V (R) The ad campaign assures the viewer, "You won't believe how it ends." This is true, because you won't believe it could possibly be this lame, even though it is. Even granting that the Saw pictures have always been the no-frills franchise of fear flicks — they're as generic as Chicago album titles; just number the damn things and ship 'em — Saw V is notably threadbare. Its story centers on Jigsaw's previously unknown other protégé, who carries on his mentor's work. This is intertwined with FBI agent Strahm (Scott Patterson) trying to uncover the truth of it all. There's also some red herringness involving Mr. Saw's widow (Betsy Russell), who inherits a never-revealed mysterious box (I'm voting for a collection of sex toys) from her late husband. Pass. —Ken Hanke

Secret Life of Bees (PG-13) Bees is a lovely story about an ugly time, the summer of 1964, when the new Civil Rights Act was making life in the American South more complicated for the very people it was meant to help. When Rosaleen Daise (Jennifer Hudson) dares to talk in a way less than 100 percent deferential to a white man in rural South Carolina, she is made to pay for it, to the horror of her adolescent charge, Lily Owens (Dakota Fanning), and this becomes the last straw in Lily's own personal upset. Haunted by memories of her long-dead mother and desperate to find out more about her — as well as to get away from her father, T. Ray (Paul Bettany), who has turned his misery on his daughter — Lily hits the road, dragging Rosaleen along, to another town she has reason to believe may hold some answers. If Bees feels as if it's dragging its feet just a bit in the beginning, that's all forgotten when Lily and Rosaleen meet the spirited Boatwright sisters, who run their own little honeymaking business, enjoy a cultured lifestyle the likes of which neither Lily nor Rosaleen has even been exposed to before, and accept the young woman and the young girl into their home with open arms and open hearts. —MaryAnn Johanson

Sex Drive (R) Sex Drive is one of those teen sex comedies that places an inordinately high value on gross-out gags. Apparently, the more repellent a thing is, the funnier it is. In this instance, anything that can be produced by the human body — they may have missed earwax, come to think of it — is a surefire laugh-getter. As a result, I don't think I've ever seen a movie as obsessed with bodily fluids as this one. By way of a plot we have nerdy kid Ian (Josh Zuckerman) who gets involved with a hot girl on the Internet, and is convinced by his equally nerdy, but somehow more sexually successful, friend (Clark Duke) to drive from Chicago to Knoxville to get his virginity cured. This involves borrowing Ian's brother's vintage muscle car, which of course is a bad idea. Somehow the local girl Ian really loves comes along for the ride. This too is a bad idea. Standard road trip mirth — wild Amish folks (headed up by Seth Green), a kinky trailer trash babe with an angry boyfiend, car trouble, etc. You've seen it before. You've seen it better. You hardly need to see it again. —Ken Hanke

W. (PG-13) The film has the feel of a filmmaker trying to understand his subject: what he is, what made him what he is, how he got where he did, and why. This results in a wholly subjective portrait of Bush, arrived at by piecing the facts together with the perceptions in a way that makes sense to director Oliver Stone. Whether you agree with his conclusions is another matter. Josh Brolin is brilliant in the title role, and the supporting cast is rock solid with Richard Dreyfuss' Dick Cheney probably taking the highest honors. For Stone, the film is surprisingly restrained and balanced, but whether Bush can be reduced entirely to daddy issues is debatable. It's certainly worth seeing in any case. —Ken Hanke

Zack and Miri Make a Porno (R) It's almost mind-boggling that it took director Kevin Smith this long to set a story in the world of adult movies. The guy practically invented "comedy porn." The strange, almost innocent thing about Zack and Miri Make a Porno is that it seems to be an idea as old as Clerks, at least if one is to judge from the premise. Our titular protagonists, Zack Brown (Seth Rogen) and Miri Linky (Elizabeth Banks), are lifelong platonic pals sharing a Pittsburgh apartment that they can barely afford on their service-sector incomes. It's clear, however, that Smith is just looking for a thin, naughty excuse on which to hang a tale of two friends who figure out they love each other — sort of a When Harry Fucked Sally on Camera for Money. In so doing, he ventures into the territory where he always has the most difficulty: capturing actual emotion. —Scott Renshaw

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