By Jeff Boam
Oliver Cooper, Jonathan Brown
Writer/director Todd Phillips may not have a household name, but there are certainly copies of his hit comedies in many households. Phillips wrote and directed back (Road Trip) to back (Old School) to back (Starsky & Hutch) laugh-riots … and then gave John Q. Moviegoer The Hangover and Due Date. Now, he’s wearing a producer’s hat with Project X. In this R-rated documentary-style raunchy comedy, three anonymous high school seniors (Cooper, Brown, Dax Flame) try to make a name for themselves by throwing a party that no one will forget … but word of mouth turns their get together into an epic blow-out beyond their control. The Plus: The genre. From Knocked Up ($148 million) to Superbad ($121 million) to Bridesmaids ($169 million), American moviegoers love their Hard-R comedies. It speaks well for Project X that Phillips made the most successful such movie of all time, The Hangover Part II ($254 million). The Minus: The odds. The deck is stacked with unknowns … including the director, which brings up another point. Phillips is producing, not writing/directing. Hell, even in the latter capacity, he hasn’t been completely infallible with audiences. Remember the god-awful School for Scoundrels?
Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax
Voices of Zac Efron, Taylor Swift
In regards to his books, Theodor Geisel has long been a hot commodity. In terms of movies, however, things really kicked off for this famed writer over the last decade. Of course, it helps that his pseudonym is ‘Dr. Seuss.’ In 2000, Jim Carrey and director Ron Howard helped to make the live action The Grinch Who Stole Christmas a hit. Though not nearly as successful, Mike Meyers and director Bo Welch continued the Seuss-to-screen run with The Cat and the Hat. Then, in 2008, Ice Age producer Chris Meledandri birthed a box office smash with the animated Horton Hears a Who. Now comes The Lorax from Illumination, the team that brought moviegoers Despicable Me. In this PG-rated adaptation of the classic Dr. Seuss book, a boy (Efron) journeys to find a tree for the girl he desires (Swift) only to encounter a grumpy yet charming creature (Danny DeVito) standing in his way. Ed Helms and Betty White also provide voices. The Plus: The genre. Like a lot of modern ‘toons, The Lorax has stacked the deck with celebrity pipes. Chris Renaud is directing Efron (New Year’s Eve), Swift (Valentine’s Day), DeVito (FX’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia), Ed Helms (The Hangover Part II), Betty White (The Proposal), and Rob Riggle (Going the Distance). The Minus: The odds. The Grinch and Horton Hears a Who are well known Dr. Seuss books. Even with the star wattage, will The Lorax have the same draw?
Act of Valor
Roselyn Sanchez, Sonny Manson
Wearing a Purple Heart on its sleeve despite some battle scars, this loving and wholly authentic portrait of true American heroism is the real reel deal. Though it brims with backslapping Hoo Rah, Act of Valor judiciously never feels like a recruitment film (it will doubtlessly pique enlistment interest, however). It presents a soldier’s life truthfully, fatal warts and all. Everything — from the lingo to the combat scenes, look so true to life that they sometimes make the Normandy Beach landing Saving Private Ryan look like an Afterschool Special. When the movie works to set up the plot and antagonists, however, it starts to feel like a cliched direct-to-video war flick, Bond-esque villains and all. Thankfully, the story keeps it simple which puts the intense fighting at the forefront.
In this R-rated war actioner, an elite team of Navy SEALs (Sanchez, Manson, Alex Veadov, Nestor Serrano) embark on a secret operation after a mission to recover a missing CIA operative uncovers a major global terrorist threat.
Having ex-H’Wood stuntmen Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh helm and produce the movie only enhances the action tenfold. Their decision to fill the magazine with actual soldiers makes for a real-as-hell experience. In an age when every other movie is a found footage mocumentary positing that handheld digital shooting must be more truthful than film, Act of Valor is pure old school Steadicam moviemaking, which serves it’s narrative battle cry well. If 1990’s Navy Seals had gone for realism instead of hokum, it would’ve looked like this. Bottom line: Hot extract.
Jennifer Aniston, Paul Rudd
An oftentimes wonderful comedy that starts to lose its Lust-er after awhile, Wanderlust still ends up being a hippie dippy laugh-in for moviegoers. It’s hard to find an original concept in comedy that hasn’t been laughed to death but this flick manages to make “Ha” while the celluloid shines. Oh, the Easy Bake structure is so formulaic that it should’ve come in a Do-It-Yourself-Comedy Kit but the laughs are genuine, frequent, and — more often than not — side-splitting thanks to an ace communal effort by cast, script and director. Also, despite clocking in at under two hours, the movie starts to feel a bit long by the time the predictable ending rolls around, but some great closing chuckles make up for lost time.
In this R-rated comedy, an overstressed Manhattan couple (Aniston, Rudd) stumble upon an idyllic community of free thinking modern-day hippies (Justin Theroux, Malin Akerman, Alan Alda, et al).
Forget choosing between Twilight’s Team Edward and Team Jacob. This reviewer is going with Team Apatow. From executive producing NBC’s dramedy Freaks and Geeks to writing/directing 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up to producing Superbad and Bridesmaids, blockbuster funnyman Judd Apatow has a true ear and eye for talent and laughs. Here, he’s shepherded this commune comedy to great success. Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd have great back-and-forth, but — after four movies together (Wet Hot American Summer and Role Models among them) — Rudd and director David Wain have an even better chemistry. The supporting cast is also in fine form, especially the hilarious Theroux. Bottom line: Some kind of wander-full.
Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo
A rapturously entertaining and emotional love letter to cinema, creativity, and romance, The Artist says more with no dialogue than the rest of the talky Best Picture nominees combined. In this PG-13-rated black and white silent dramedy, an up-and-coming H’wood bit player (Bejo) falls for a moving picture superstar (Dujardin) just as the advent of talkies changes the business. Calling it a masterwork of pure motion picture artistry would be as gross an understatement as saying talkies might someday replace silent movies in the ’20s. It’s edifying filmgoing from its letter-perfect performances right to its beautifully lensed homage to classic H’wood, but the sure-to-be Oscar hat trick is that The Artist is far more than an homage — it hangs in its own gallery, a heartfelt masterpiece that’s not just a piece of throwback pop art. Bottom line: The gold rush.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
Nicolas Cage, Violante Placido
More than just an unbearable, unwarranted, unnecessary, unimaginative, and generally unwanted sequel, this unspirited deus is just a white hot mess. In this PG-13-rated fantasy adventure sequel, a former stunt driver and bounty hunter of demons (Cage) leaves a self-imposed exile to protect a mother (Placido) and son from a man who may actually be the devil (Ciaran Hinds). Mercifully, the edgier follow-up ups the action and darkness quotient, but lets the cornball factor simmer. Unmercifully, the over-the-top style and seen-it-before story makes for a trail of tears that’ll have the audience wanting vengeance. ADD-addled high-octane directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor take moviegoers for a headache-inducing ride. Worse, Oscar winner Cage takes a page from the Bobcat Goldthwait School of Acting, grunting and mugging his way through such brilliant dialogue as: “You’re the Devil’s baby mama.” Bottom line: Flame off.
Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds
Oftentimes as exciting as a House on fire, the explosively menacing Denzel Washington’s latest is the most entertaining bet at the box office this week. In the PG-13-rated actioner Safe House, a rookie CIA operative (Ryan Reynolds) running a Cape Town, South Africa holding cell finds himself in a deadly cat and mouse spy game when dangerous mercenaries come looking for his detainee, a renegade intelligence officer (Denzel Washington). Someway somehow, relatively new director Daniel Espinosa has made a no-holds-barred ’80s-style actioner with a post-9/11 consciousness as if he were the love child of Tony Scott and Paul Greengrass. Oh, the movie is rife with clichéd actioner moments–predictable turncoat, sneering henchman, third act face-off, and all of the Lethal Weapon meets Training Day-esque trimmings, but the shoes fit and Espinosa and Washington wear them well. Bottom line: Bet on the house.
This Means War
Chris Pine, Tom Hardy
A hollow point right to the noggin, heart, and funny bone, this spy thriller-come-rom com declares war on all of these genres but throws up its hands to all three faster than the French. In this PG-13-rated action-comedy, two deadly CIA operatives and best friends (Pine, Hardy) pull out all of the arsenal stops to defeat each other when a woman (Reese Witherspoon) comes between them. The movie is supposed to work off of the fact that the bondsmen with their names just below the title are best friends going into the action … but they actually have the prickly association of Israel and Palestine on-screen, which explains the need for telling/not showing lines such as: “You’re my best friend. We’re family.” Not even the eternally sunshiny Witherspoon can bail out this over- directed Spy Vs. Spy run-around. Bottom line: The Bored Ultimatum.
Rachel McAdams, Channing Tatum
Swooning to its own overly discordant melody, The Vow plays out like a bad Nicholas Sparks movie. The shocker? Sparks never even penned this dreck. In this PG-13-rated drama supposedly based on a true story, a husband (Tatum) begins a difficult courtship with his wife (McAdams) after she loses any memory of their relationship in a car crash. No, it’s neither A Walk to Remember nor romantic lines in a Notebook nor a Dear John letter, but it feels eerily reminiscent of all three in terms of tone, feel, and lack of ambition. Watching this movie instead feels like Sparks spontaneously combusted and his ashes became this screenplay. On the big screen, the whole amnesia plot point is as old hat and schmaltzy as explaining away a whole unfortunately poor season of Dallas as a dream sequence. Bottom line: A walk to forget.