by Jeff Boam
Opening this weekend
Men in Black III
Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones
Come every July 4 holiday weekend, there used to be the gi-normous matter of Big Willy. Indeed, the Independence Day holiday was always Will Smith’s for the taking. Leading back to, well, Independence Day, he has opened strong on this weekend again (Men in Black) and again (Wild Wild West) and again (Men in Black II) and again (Bad Boys II) and again (I, Robot) and again (Hancock). For his return to the comic book franchise Men in Black, Smith is taking on a new holiday: Memorial Day. In this PG-13-rated sequel to the sci-fi blockbuster, extraterrestrial investigator Agent J (Smith) time travels to the ‘60s where he must team up with a young Agent K (Josh Brolin) to stop an alien from assassinating his partner’s future self (Jones). The Plus: The players. Even out of summer, Smith has opened strong (Hitch, I Am Legend, The Pursuit of Happyness) and been nominated for an Oscar besides (Ali). Together with Jones (No Country for Old Men, Captain America: The First Avenger) and MIB series director Barry Sonnefeld (The Addams Family, Get Shorty), this bankable movie star could seize the dogs days again. The Minus: The buzz. From gossip about Smith’s trailer taking up most of a New York City bock to shooting without a complete script, this movie has been dogged since day one. Add in the fact that it’s been 10 years since the last chapter (profitable, yes, but also savaged by critics and moviegoers) and Smith’s bankability may not even be able to keep these men in the black.
The Chernobyl Diaries
Jonathan Sadowki, Jesse McCartney
It has been more than 12 years since micro-budgeted thriller The Blair Witch Project broke box office records by pioneering faux documentary horror (and 11 years since its awful sequel, which adopted a narrative structure, did not). In 2009, however, director Oren Peli brought faux documentary back to horror when his practically no-budget thriller Paranormal Activity became an instant classic and led the way for two sequels. Now, for The Chernobyl Diaries, Peli is on producing duties. In this R-rated found footage thriller, six young American tourists (Sadowski, McCartney, et al) hire an “extreme tours” guide to take them through the site of Russia’s Chernobyl disaster … only to find that the town might not be abandoned. The Plus: The genre. Paranormal Activity went on to net more than $109 million on Peli’s original investment of $15,000, making it the most profitable movie of all time. The sequels racked up impressive numbers as well. The Minus: The odds. Last year, The Last Exorcism and The Devil Inside, which both followed the Blair Witch formula, hit screens in short succession. Eventually, this horror sub-genre will reach its saturation point—possibly even with this movie.
Taylor Kitsch, Liam Neeson
In pulling off his best Roland Emmerich imitation, director Peter Berg’s Battleship ends up giving audiences a naval exercise in futility. Granted, it’s not exactly a board game.
The star-studded talent pool, weapons-grade effects, and clever play on Hasbro’s game of the same name keep it from becoming a total wash. It’s a somewhat unique spin on a story that moviegoers have seen countless times before and done remarkably better. A cocky military man who must prove his muster to the higher-ups? Hello, An Officer and a Gentleman. An intergalactic invasion movie where humans battle impossible odds while fighting against advanced technology? Hiya, Cowboys & Aliens. Unfortunately, even this often-rusty bucket’s unique points aren’t enough to sink moviegoers’ disbelief for over two looooong hours.
In this PG-13-rated sci-fi adventure, a fleet of American Navy ships must do battle with an armada of robotic otherworldly forces set on a destructive path. The previews smacked of Transformers, what with the big-gunned alien robots chocked full of moving parts laying waste to Earth. Truthfully, this board game-come-to-life more closely resembles Emmerich’s multi-storied, disaster from outer space flick Independence Day. Berg gives the players room to breathe, developing the characters beyond simple action figures and building up to the first encounter with a slow burn. Unfortunately, he gives them too much room. Blockbuster action flicks should never feel as long as Titanic, even if a love story and ship goes down within the running time. As for the actors getting rained on with awards, pop star Rhianna needn’t bring her umbrella-ella-ella. Bottom line: A sinking feeling.
Sacha Baron Cohen, Anna Faris
Despite the fact that he often evokes the chameleonic comic abilities of Peter Sellers, Sacha Baron Cohen’s skills just can’t keep this wannabe classic from ending up as a Dicta-phony. From frame one, the audience knows right where this surprisingly color-by-numbers Easy Bake performance piece is headed: the discount bin. There are definitely some funny bits, but they are interspersed with numerous misfires and dummy rounds. It’s certainly not uncommon for intelligent comedians to raunch up their material these days, but here, Cohen never flushes out his potty mouth. He’s notorious for ramping up the shock value, yes, but there’s nothing shocking about dick-tator and fart jokes set on repeat.
In this R-rated comedy, a buffoonish foreign leader (Cohen) gets stripped of his royal trappings and gets forced to live as a poor everyman in New York City. With the inventive, unscripted Borat, Cohen’s brilliant character work and the movie’s faux-documentary style led to some classic side-splitting laughs. With his follow-up, the unscripted Bruno, he unfortunately followed the same formula to the point of redundancy. Now, with the scripted Dictator, he follows the same sad trend while bringing his own hilarious, topical, and sharply written character to the screen with the awe-inspiring comic greatness usually afforded a Great(er) Dictator, Chaplin. It’s amazing how predictable and connect-the-dots his character’s vehicle becomes, however.
The credits betray the fact that it took four writers working separately (including Cohen) to whip up the Simple Sadam, er Simon, story. A dictatorship, of course, is a one-man job and Cohen should’ve chosen his allies better. Bottom line: One-man bland.
Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans
Assembling the Invincible Iron Man, Incredible Hulk, Mighty Thor, and First Avenger Captain America into an astonishingly superb mash-up, this is a spectacularly fun and uncannily exciting comic book flick due a hero’s welcome.
In this PG-13-rated Marvel Comics adventure, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson)’s international spy agency S.H.I.E.L.D. brings together a team of superheroes (Downey, Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner) to fight off the evil Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Giving moviegoers an equal mix of heroic action, comical relief, ace casting, and decent character building, writer/director Joss Whedon forms the most rewarding supergroup since George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, and Roy Orbison took to the stage as The Traveling Wilburys. Yes, it runs long … but do you hear that noise? Nom nom nom. It’s the sound of audiences eating popcorn and loving every minute of it. Bottom line: A Hulk smash.
Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer
Creepy, kooky, mysterious and spooky with a story that occasionally gets a lil’ ooky, director Tim Burton presents an oftentimes fun and stylish camp update of a unintentionally funny and camptastic soap opera ripe for reimagining. In this PG-13-rated remake, fishing tycoon-turned-vampire Barnabus Collins (Depp) awakes in the ’70s after a centuries-old slumber to find his heirs carrying on the family business in a cursed town. Granted, this remake’s unlikely success, however slight, came from a risky roll of the dice. The movie flirts more with comedy than horror as opposed to NBC’s episodic deathly seriousness ’90s remake. The script, however witty, clever and sometimes frightening, never keeps the audience in the dark or shadows as to its color- by-numbers final act. Even though it’s far from perfect, this horror show is well worth the price of reinvention. Bottom line: Shadow of a doubtlessly good tale.
John Cusack, Alice Eve
More ‘the pits’ than pendulously entertaining, The Raven is horrifically miscalculated American Gothic. In this R-rated 19th century-set crime thriller, writer Edgar Allan Poe (John Cusack) joins forces with a young Baltimore detective (Oliver Jackson Cohen) to hunt down a mad serial murderer basing his crimes around Poe’s works. One of this reviewer’s guiltiest pleasures is From Hell, the Hughes Brothers’ flawed, but stylish, Jack the Ripper who-done-it based on an Alan Moore graphic novel. It’s a great murder mystery based on real events that colors outside of the lines with great style. The Raven, which shares From Hell’s strikingly similar DNA, checks off these same boxes. Cursed with a wretchedly contrived script that never lives up to the premise’s great potential, however, this Raven loony is just a Po-faced pot-boiler. Bottom line: Watch The Raven nevermore.
Jason Statham, Chris Sarandon
Despite being heavy-handed and lead-footed, Jason Statham’s straight-on, knockaround latest is a Safe bet for action fans. In this R-rated actioner, a second-rate cage fighter and former NYPD cop (Statham) rescues an abducted Chinese girl (Catherine Chan), only to find himself fighting the Triads, Russian Mafia, and corrupt city officials to keep her safe. Granted, it’s right in Statham’s wheelhouse of cheese: he has a clean-shaven head throughout, delivers his lines with a fake American growl, squints more than Renee Zellweger in a rom-com, and kicks bad guys in the head … a lot. The flick smartly keeps the action coming at a furious clip and his pint-sized co-star’s lines to a minimum. When it does slow down to catch its breath, however, a kid’s precociousness starts to rise and the audience’s interest starts to sink faster than a safe on the Titanic. Bottom line: Decent combination.
Think Like a Man
Michael Ealy, Jerry Ferrara
If it acts so-so and it thinks so-so, chances are that the romantic pastiche Think Like a Man is a Just so-so tale. In this PG-13-rated romantic comedy, four interconnected fellows (Ealy, Ferrara, Kevin Hart, Terrence Jenkins) find their love lives turned upside down when their respective ladies start reading Steve Harvey’s book on relationships. Granted, there are some zingers and a game cast willing to give them some zing. Also, it’s based on a bestselling relationship book by funnyman Steve Harvey. Keith Merryman and David A. Newman’s screenplay, however, doesn’t take the Devil-may-care, caution-to-the-wind chances of, say, Woody Allen’s Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex… Instead, this Man-handled shtick sticks strictly to the Middle of the Road — laughs, loves and all. Granted, Allen’s 1972 was a mixed bag, but at least it had a set of chops. Bottom line: Act like a malady.