by Jeff Boam
OPENING THIS WEEKEND
Ice Age: Continental Drift
Voices of Ray Romano, Queen Latifah
Ten years ago, 20th Century Fox found it had a mammoth blockbuster on its hands when the family ‘toon Ice Age became an overnight hit. Meltdown and Dawn of the Dinosaurs gave audiences more of the same but banged even more buck at the box office, both nearly breaking the $200 million mark in the U.S. alone. Now, a decade on from the original, Fox is hoping for a four-peat when Continental Drift hits theaters—in three dimensions, no less! In this PG-rated third sequel to Ice Age, Manny (Romano), Sid (John Leguizamo), Diego (Denis Leary), and Ellie (Latifah) literally break the ice, finding themselves adrift, braving high seas, and battling a rag-tag group of pirates on the journey homeward. The Plus: The players. Joining series holdovers Romano (CBS’s Everybody Loves Raymond), Latifah (The Dilemma), Denis Leary (The Amazing Spider-Man), Leguizamo (Righteous Kill), and Seann William Scott (American Reunion) are new voices Wanda Sykes (Evan Almighty), Jeremy Renner (Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol), Jennifer Lopez (The Back-Up Plan), Aziz Ansari (30 Minutes or Less), KeKe Palmer (Joyful Noise), Joy Behar (ABC’s The View), Nick Frost (Paul), and Nicki Minaj (pop star, “Super Bass”). The Minus: The odds. Both Ice Age and Meltdown opened in the cool days of March when the box office competition’s not nearly as hot as in the summer months (Exhibit A: Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted; Exhibit B: Brave).
The Amazing Spider-Man
Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone
Though not quite Amazing enough to make moviegoers forget Sam Raimi’s more comically bookish trilogy, Spider-Man v 2.0 still proves spectacularly entertaining. Coming so close on the heels of its forebears, this twice-told tale can’t help but feel a bit derivative. Still, like the rest of this super sub-genre, this iconic character has become all about darkness and realism. Just like with Batman Begins, it’s an origin tale borne out of grit, spit, and a looooooong first act before a troubled orphan becomes a costumed hero. A boy who gets super powers from a radioactive spider bite, however, is a harder realistic sell than a powerless millionaire exercising street vengeance. This is where Spider-Man loses some of its webbing. It’s an edgy stylish performance piece that tries to be authentic-as-hell … but then a scientist turns into a giant lizard and plots to coat New York with a transformative chemical agent, which kinda sorta counter-acts the set-up. Still, once the audience reconciles this, it’s a swinging and exciting web crawlier reboot.
In this PG-rated comic book adaptation (also available in 3D), a teenage orphan (Parker) looking for clues to his parents’ disappearance is put on a collision course with a radioactive spider bite and the villainous Lizard (Rhy Ifans). Oh, what a cool new-fangled web director Marc Webb weaves, ably transitioning from quirky rom com-in-reverse (500 Days of Summer) to this big budget extravaganza. Here, he’s created a vervy character-driven actioner powered by two leads with so much winning chemistry that it’ll set your Spidey senses a-tingling. Bottom line: With great power comes great agreeability.
To Rome with Love
Woody Allen, Alec Baldwin
Definitely more of a Roman holiday than burning Rome, Woody Allen’s latest patchwork ensemble is a disjointed but ultimately wondrously entertaining comedy. Normally, with films composed of separate vignettes that never intersect, some stories connect with filmgoers better than others. Here, however, all four of these rotating doors prove equally passable. Granted, some seem like half-baked premises that luckily worked out in the end (Alec Baldwin’s character, however awesome the performance, certainly fits this bill), but the film’s overall fanciful feel and magical bent puts this go-round on a higher Wood-pile….but with Love.
In this R-rated comedy, a number of people in Italy — some American, some Italian, some residents, some visitors — find romance, adventure, and predicaments complicating their lives in Rome. In his first acting gig since 2006’s Scoop, Allen speaks the line “I haven’t really achieved what I wanted.” And though it’s a character (but, let’s face it, all of his characters are mere extensions of the same angsty New Yorker comedy act he honed in ’60s clubs), this reviewer can’t help but think that the notoriously self-critical filmmaker still thinks he hasn’t made a ‘great’ film. Arguably, Annie Hall and Midnight in Paris alone disprove his disconcerting attitude, but most filmmakers would jump off the H’wood sign to make just one of Allen’s above average but non-classic entries, Zelig and Sweet and Lowdown among them. This fun-filled love-spun quilt sits among these films and, if Allen’s low self-esteem keeps gems like this coming, who are we to look a gift horsefeathers in the mouth? Bottom line: With love to Woody.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper
A revisionist history lesson that cuts like an axe through moviegoers’ minds eyes, this Gettysburg Redress proves a diverting piece of popcorn so long as it’s approached with a wink and a nod. In the R-rated thriller, America’s rail-splitting 16th president (Walker) eliminates Confederate bloodsuckers bent on taking down democracy. True, Honest Abe hunted as many bloodsuckers as Dwight Eisenhower wrangled zombies. In an age when originality-starved audiences bemoan the amount of remakes, sequels, and comic book adaptations littering the box office, however, this movie does put a clever story forward. The flick tinkers with the mechanics of the Civil War the way Quentin Tarantino did with World War II in Inglourious Basterds. Despite a uniquely fanciful spin on real events, Vampire Hunter unfortunately follows a rather formulaic path despite director Timur Bekmambetov’s eye-popping flair for pyrotechnical aesthetics Bottom line: With malice toward fun.
Voices of Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly
As colorful and awe-strikingly artful as its heroine’s photo-realistic fiery hair, this Scotland yarn marks a return to near-top form for Pixar following an unfortunate deuce. In this PG-rated animated family film, an impetuous young princess (Macdonald) defies tradition and refuses to be married off, inadvertently unleashing a beastly curse on her family that she must vanquish before her dynasty disappears forever. The title proves apropos beyond just describing Pixar’s first female hero headliner, who’s two parts Hunger Games and one part Cinderella. It comes down to this being an oft-kilter historically fictive fairy tale adventure without the benefit of a bevy of warm ’n fuzzy wisecracking animals to throw on a tee-shirt. For all of the welcome convention bucking, however, the movie unfortunately plays out like a Disneyfied crowd-pleaser in the home stretch — tonal shift, inconsistent characters, ones-to-grow-on, and all. Bottom line: Single malt Scotch whimsy.
Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted
Voices of Ben Stiller, Chris Rock
More hyperactive than a spastic thyroid, three-times-the-less-charming animated sequel Europe’s Most Wanted is not completely a case of audience cruelty … but it’s close. In this PG-rated animated sequel, a group of zoo animals (Stiller, Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Cedric the Entertainer) hide themselves among the talent in a European traveling circus (Sacha Baron Cohen, Bryan Cranston) on their journey home to the Big Apple. Still, this chapter begs the question: All along, was the franchise’s title just a portmanteau for madcap gassed-up cartoon? Ironically, Dream Works Animation chose to set this go-round in a circus. When the movie shows any trace of heart, it’s quickly bowled over by the frenetic nature of the goings-on. The characters zip around the screen more wildly than Ricochet Rabbit on a cocaine binge. Bottom line: Big Top Phooey.
Channing Tatum, Matthew McConaughey
In conjuring some slick H’wood Magic out of a simple premise and a screen full of himbos, Steven Soderbergh shows audiences how Mike makes right when it comes to pure filmgoing entertainment. this R-rated drama set in the male stripping world, seasoned dancer Mike (Tatum) takes a young dancer (Pettyfer) under his wing and schools him in the art of partying, picking up women, and making easy money … albeit mostly $1 bills. Nothing against his edgier more experimental fare like Schizopolis and Bubble, but this reviewer loves when this particular auteur goes H’wood. The closest bedfellow in his CV would improbably be another name-checked drama streaked with levity: Erin Brockovich … albeit with booty-less chaps. Just like the porn-tastic Boogie Nights wasn’t purely about carnal love, Magic Mike is about more than lap dances. Bottom line: Like Mike.
Bruce Willis, Edward Norton
A fantastically watchable coming of age story, the moon never sets in Wes Anderson’s latest fascinating misadventure. In this PG-13-rated 1960s-set drama, two young lovers make a pact and run away into the wilderness, riling the local townspeople (Willis, Norton, et al) intent on finding them before a violent storm touches down. Truthfully, this is not the auteur’s best work since Rushmore, but it hits a lot of the right notes … especially if you’re a fan of this writer/director’s life Quixotic. You have to trust his quirky vision by jumping in — not slowly dipping your toes to find the right temperature. This seems more the case with this film than any of his others. It’s a wondrously whimsical world painstakingly brought to life with specific brushstrokes and amazing performances. If you’re willing to fully immerse yourself, the payoff is worth a kingdom’s ransom. Bottom line: Makes hay while the moon shines.
Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis
A bear hug of a laugh-getter, Seth MacFarlane’s feature film debut is far from cuddly but – sure as a Teddy Ruxpin poops cassettes in the woods – it definitely brings dirty smiles to moviegoers. In this R-rated comedy, John Bennett (Wahlberg) must deal with his cherished teddy bear (voice of MacFarlane), who magically came to life through a childhood wish and became a profane leech. Except for one storyline too many, Ted clocks in at nearly a laugh-a-minute, comedy-wise. Unfortunately, it’s so rooted in pop culture jokes that you can already see the flick aging before your eyes. The gimmick proves funny enough, but so much of the movie follows MacFarlane’s Family Guy formula (dim-witted people interacting with a snarky dog/teddy bear) that it seems hopelessly derivative at times. Still, the concept elicits many ridiculously racy belly laughs. Bottom line: Mostly a Teddy bear picnic.