by Jeff Boam
Opening this weekend
Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans
Blind Faith. Humble Pie. Power Station. The Honeydrippers. The Traveling Wilburys. These are what music fans call supergroups, glorified garage bands stuffed with more over-the-hill rock stars than an episode of Celebrity Rehab. But what about comic book movie supergroups? Well, with the blockbuster success of Iron Man in May 2008, Marvel Studios found itself a tentpole movie with which to kickstart its version of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Now that Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger have bowed, The Avengers are assembling under the direction of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon. In this PG-13-rated adventure based on the Marvel comic book, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and the international spy agency S.H.I.E.L.D. bring together a team of superhumans — Iron Man (Downey), Captain America (Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) — to fight off the evil Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and an otherworldly legion. The Plus: The franchise. This flick combines characters from four blockbuster movies in one candy-coated shell. Under the direction of Whedon (who further earned his geek credentials creating and show-running Fox’s Angel and Firefly), Downey (Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows), Evans (The Losers), Hemsworth (Star Trek), Ruffalo (The Kids Are All Right), Jackson (Lakeview Terrace), Johansson (We Bought a Zoo), Renner (Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol), and Hiddleston (War Horse) should shine. The Minus: The fallout. If — for whatever unlikely reason — this flick doesn’t deliver the goods (making a tidy profit on its reported $220 million budget), the future of all of Marvel’s properties might be in jeopardy, starting with next summer’s Iron Man 3.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Judi Dench, Bill Nighy
Counter-programming has given many small films the David Vs. Goliath advantage against the resident blockbuster. In the summer of 1997, My Best Friend’s Wedding opened against the number one film, Batman and Robin. The latter, more expensive flick, which has since become somewhat of a laughingstock among critics and moviegoers, eventually tapped out at $107 million, whereas Wedding stayed strong the whole summer and netted $127 million. With this in mind, moviegoers who aren’t fans of comic book flicks may choose to book a room at The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel this weekend. In this PG-13-rated dramedy, a group of British pensioners (Dench, Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Maggie Smith) decide to outsource their retirement to a less expensive and exotic Indian hotel run by a patient young man (Dev Patel). The Plus: The players. Here, John Madden (Shakespeare in Love, The Debt) is directing a great cast of legendary Brit thesps, including Dench (Quantum of Solace), Nighy (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest), Wilkinson (Michael Clayton), Smith (PBS’s Downtown Abbey), and Patel (Slumdog Millionaire). The Minus: The material. If the movie isn’t well reviewed from the get-go like My Best Friend’s Wedding, even its status as Avengers counter-programming won’t be able to help this Marigold grow.
The Five-Year Engagement
Jason Segel, Emily Blunt
Even though this overly long trip down the cinema aisle won’t exactly make audiences forget Forgetting Sarah Marshall, The 5-Year Engagement is a marriage of hilarious laughs and amazing performances. Granted, it’s a great chemistry set. The leads prove to be a great coupling, as does the writing and directing. In fact, some of the bits are so funny, you just want to put on the baby-making music and forget the foreplay — instant gold standard comedy. So, why does it sound like this reviewer is about to dish out some marriage counseling? Well, let’s just say that the title is quite apropos. After the screening, despite holding one’s sides from laughter, it still felt like five years had passed.
In this R-rated comedy co-written by Segel (who also starred in/wrote Marshall), a long-suffering engaged couple (Segel, Emily Blunt) keep getting tripped up on the way to the altar, hence their Five-Year Engagement.
It’s not enough to say that Emily Blunt is good. In regards to acting, she’s good the way Jonas Salk was good for health care. Likewise, Jason Segel is a much better screenwriter than actor … and his acting’s pretty damn solid, so this is a high compliment. Together, there isn’t an insecure moment between them. Indeed, this isn’t a rom-com where two impossibly beautiful stars are thrown against the wall and have the connectivity of Israel and Palestine. Rather, it’s a brilliant comedy with a great through-line. Unfortunately, the through-line is strung too long like a lot of potentially classic comedies these days (Funny People, anyone?). Bottom line: Guffawing to the chapel.
Jason Statham, Chris Sarandon
Despite being heavy-handed and lead-footed, Jason Statham’s straight-on, knockaround, roughneck latest is a Safe bet for action fans. Granted, it’s right in his 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 Statham’s 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.
In this R-rated actioner, a second-rate cage fighter and former NYPD cop (Statham) rescues an abducted Chinese girl (Catherine Chan) being used as a human computer for a numbers games, only to find himself fighting the Triads, Russian Mafia and corrupt city officials to keep her safe.
Writer/director Boaz Yakin (Remember the Titans) knows Statham’s strengths and uses them to everybody’s advantage, particularly action-loving moviegoers. He keeps the action tight and in confined settings like subway cars and hallways. He also holds back the star until the right moment, building the intensity to a fever pitch. When the Stath reaches his boiling point, however, all hell breaks loose in a story that’s often clichéd but more-often-than-not clever. Yes, it becomes cloying in a way only movies about tough guys with a hidden gooey center protecting children inevitably become, but — so long as the serpentine plot keeps the bullets and brawn a-flying – Safe-ty comes first. Bottom line: Decent combination.
The Cabin in the Woods
Chris Hemsworth, Kristen Connolly
As evil as The Evil Dead and more of a scream than Scream, confectionary mindscrew The Cabin in the Woods is a brilliant blending of horror, comedy, and movie geekdom that’s as fun as it is frightening. In this R-rated thriller, horror gets turned on its ear when bad things happen to five pretty young things (Hemsworth, Connolly, et al) after they go on a remote trip to a, uh, cabin in the woods. This flick doesn’t re-invent horror, it just reprograms the genre much like Capt. Kirk did to the Kobayashi Maru program in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Bloody and bloody funny, the genre mash-up occasionally falls prey to the very clichés it’s lampooning, but the audience quickly forgives any loose mindscrews because they just watched the slasher movie get turned on its disembodied head. Bottom line: Cabin fervor.
The Hunger Games
Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson
Falling somewhere between the Harry Potter series and the Twilight saga in terms of pure spectacle, Games doesn’t quite live up to the killer hype, but it manages to stave off moviegoers’ hunger for summer blockbusters, albeit briefly. In this PG-13-rated adaptation of Suzanne Collins’s bestselling novel, young Katniss Evergreen (Lawrence) takes her sister’s place in a televised fight-to-the-death battle between children living in the ruins of North America. Director Gary Ross gets points for keeping the action gritty and violent even with a PG-13 rating. He loses points, however, for allowing the costume and make-up design to run wild. Yes, it’s a commentary on reality TV, class and our accelerated culture’s desensitization to violence, but moviegoers are ultimately desensitized to anything but the garish window dressing that’s oftentimes more farce than satire. The shaky camerawork also proves more jarring than in-the-moment. Bottom line: Game of throes.
The Lucky One
Zac Efron, Taylor Schilling
Unlucky in everything but smarm, Zac Efron’s harmless latest is One kitsch away from sitting in a Hallmark card rack. In this PG-13-rated romantic drama, a U.S. Marine sergeant (Efron) returns from his third tour of duty in Iraq to search out the woman (Schilling) whose picture kept him alive through the fighting. Nicholas Sparks is the Thomas Kincade of the written word — all fuss, no muss. Time (The Notebook) and time again (Dear John), his treacly novels have become treacly three hanky weepers. True, they’re likable fluff with great hooks for hopelessly romantic moviegoers. Still, there’s no denying that the scripts are chocked full of contrivance, predictability, and arch antagonists, regardless of the audience’s romanticism. With lines like “You should be kissed — every day, every hour, every minute,” the luck on anything — however likable, will inevitably run out. Bottom line: Luck of the drool.
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 some chops. Bottom line: Act like a malady.
The Three Stooges
Will Sasso, Sean Hayes
Giving moviegoers more n’yuks than yucks, the Farrelly brothers put the cart before the farce and someway somehow bring The Three Stooges into the 21st century, backstory and all. In this PG-rated comedy, three knucklehead orphans (Sasso, Hayes, Chris Diamantopoulos) find themselves embroiled in everything from a murder plot to reality TV as they fight to save an orphanage. The odds, of course, were stacked against this flick being more of a knuckleheaded than chuckleheaded endeavor.
The Farrellys have Babe Ruth kind of stats — yes, they’ve made some ace comedies (There’s Something About Mary), but they have a helluva strikeout record too (Shallow Hal). Here, however, they get their forebears’ comedy more right than wrong, proving that this brand of Depression-era slapstick is still funny. Perhaps, this flick’s greatest accomplishment is its PG rating, which affords younger moviegoers an introduction. Bottom line: Three cheers.