By Jeff Boam
Opening this weekend
Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham
After years of direct-to-DVD gems (D-Tox, Avenging Angelo), Sylvester Stallone resurrected his career with updates of two of his most popular franchises, 2006’s Rocky Balboa and 2008’s Rambo. He truly staged his comeback, however, with 2010’s The Expendables, an explosive mercenary tale chocked full of more action heroes than the discount rack at the video store. There are two more muscle-bound thrillers in Stallone’s future, Bullet to the Head with Hong Kong action star Sung Kang and The Tomb with Arnold Schwarzenegger … after The Expendables 2, of course. In this R-rated actioner written by Stallone and directed by Simon West (Con Air), a group of old-school mercenaries (Stallone, Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews) go on a personal vendetta against an outfit led by a dangerous adversary (Jean-Claude van Damme) who killed one of their own in a plot to smuggle weapons-grade plutonium. The Plus: The players. The cameos of Arnold Schwarzenegger (Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines) and Bruce Willis (Red) have been beefed up from the last movie while classic action stars Chuck Norris (Missing in Action) and van Damme (JCVD) are joining young recruit Liam Hemsworth (The Hunger Games) as the new additions. The Minus: The scuttlebutt. First, Mickey Rourke refused to return even though his character was reportedly set to play a central role. Next, a stuntman was tragically killed during production. Then, Norris reportedly demanded and got a PG-13 rating until the other stars thankfully stepped in. Lastly, there’s Schwarzenegger’s tarnished public image in the wake of his infidelity and looming divorce. With such a dark cloud hanging over it, is this whole franchise suddenly expendable?
The Odd Life of Timothy Green
Jennifer Garner, Joel Edgerton
In this quirky PG-rated drama, a couple unable to have kids of their own (Garner, Edgerton) plant their dreams and desires into a box … only to find that it grows to life in the form of an odd little boy. The Plus: The marketing. In the face of shoot-‘em-ups (Dark Knight, Total Recall, Expendables) this is pure counter-programming for families. Also, it helps to have a name actor like Garner (Valentine’s Day, Arthur) and hot up-and-comer like Edgerton (Warrior, The Thing). The Minus: The odds. With options boasting proven box office staying power (Brave, Ice Age, Diary of a Wimpy Kid), however, not even a well-placed Green thumb will be able to help Timothy hitch a ride to success come the weekend.
Voices of Kodi Smit-McPhee, Casey Affleck
In this PG-rated stop motion animated flick from the creative team behind Coraline, a boy who can speak to the dead (Smit-McPhee) leads ghosts, zombies, kids, and grown-ups (Aflleck, Anna Kendrick, Leslie Mann) on a mission to save their town from a centuries-old curse. The Plus: The players. Writer/director Chris Butler birthed life into the cult hit Coraline. Together with H’wood voices including Smit Mc-Phee (The Road), Affleck (Tower Heist), Kendrink (50/50), Mann (Funny People), Tempest Bledsoe (NBC’s The Cosby Show), Jeff Garlin (HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm), John Goodman (The Artist), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Kick-Ass), Elaine Stritch (Monster-in-Law), and Alex Borstein (Fox’s Family Guy), he has the potential to turn out another quirky gem. The Minus: The competition. One weekend, four new flicks, two of them PG-rated and family friendly … it wouldn’t be the norm for audiences to flock to funereal stop motion animation given numerous other choices.
Jordin Sparks, Whitney Houston
Whitney Houston (in her final performance) sings and plays mother to three girls (Jordin Sparks, et al) who form a successful singing group only to suffer the slings and arrows of fame in this PG-13-rated remake of the 1976 musical Sparkle. The Plus: The players. Seventies musicals like Chicago and Dreamgirls enjoyed a successful big screen reboot with strategically placed H’wood stars in the balance (Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Beyonce, Eddie Murphy). With this being Houston’s last singing and acting performance, moviegoers will want to pay tribute. Of course, it helps to have support from Sparks (Fox’s American Idol), Derek Luke (Notorious), Mike Epps (The Hangover), Cee Lo Green (ABC’s The Voice). Also, there’s the matter of Curtis Mayfield’s original compositions and new tunes by R. Kelly. The Minus: The competition. One weekend, four new flicks … oh, you get the idea.
The Bourne Legacy
Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz
Right from its opening scene, with an operative floating lifelessly in shadowy waters, this third sequel flaunts its Bourne DNA. In fact, it even runs concurrent with the events of this franchise’s last entry, The Bourne Supremacy. Unfortunately, Legacy also has the now-clichéd exchanges between old intelligence higher-ups plotting golden parachutes over glasses of Scotch, dehumanized soldiers falling in love, and strains of Moby. The biggest difference, however, is that the first three put forth shaken camera chop-socky first and then tried to back it up with BS politics and science. The latest chapter reverses this trend and spends too long bulking up the popgun mechanics. Granted, it’s good BS, but a still-Bourne do-over nonetheless.
In this PG-13-rated continuation of the action series, the ramifications of Bourne’s actions get the assassin-building Treadstone Program closed down, only one killer (Renner) won’t lay down and die at the hands of his superiors (Finney, Norton, Allen, et al). With Matt Damon’s marquee mug gone, the franchise hopes to be Bourne again with a new star. Renner, fresh from other franchises like Mission: Impossible and The Avengers, demonstrates the swift-fisted skills and charisma but isn’t backed up with tight-fisted scripting. It’s a fascinating recharge to Robert Ludlum’s spy series if reading the ham-fisted medical conspiracy novels of Robin Cook is your idea of a decent follow-up to Doug Limon’s game-changing original and Paul Greengrass’s hard-charging sequels. It eventually builds to solid excitement and suspense … if only the build-up weren’t so talky. Even the obligatory vehicle chase feels drawn out. Bottom line: Bourne sloppy.
Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis
More heavy-handed than a South Paw with Elephantiasis, The Campaign has about as much a chance of winning as a Kennedy announcing his candidacy from the banks of the Chappaquiddick. Like Talladega Nights, the funniest moments take place around the dinner table. This time, however, the yuks involve wildly funny but inappropriate admissions from one of the candidate’s kids. It’s hilarious and timely considering that it’s a presidential year, but not enough to gloss over the fact that this is not a whammy of a modern political indictment — it’s an over-the-top cartoonish retread of the modern election process. Think: Primary Colors with a hue called oblique. In this R-rated comedy, a long-term congressman (Ferrell) faces stiff competition from an unlikely simpleton contender (Galifianakis) after committing a major political gaffe. Moviegoers expected this from Ferrell. After all, the funnyman has a proven shtick that works or so the success of Anchorman, Step Brothers, and The Other Guys stands testament. Likewise, Galifianakis has a well-regarded bag of offbeat tricks honed in such edgy R-rated comedies as The Hangover and Due Date … but he still has something to prove and a career to build. Here, such tricks quickly get traded for a Hee Haw hoedown unworthy of a Hard-R. Together, their double-edged sordidness grows old quickly because the comedy aspires to something more — namely, satire. Instead, it’s farce of the lowest and most common of denominators. If 1972’s The Candidate echoed voters disbelief in modern politicians, the spoon-fed laughs of The Campaign solidifies moviegoers disbelief in modern cinema. Bottom line: Heave to the Chief.
The Dark Knight Rises
Christian Bale, Tom Hardy
Raising the bar by disproving the H’wood rule of three, Christopher Nolan closes out his trailblazing Batman trilogy on a high point. In this PG-13-rated finale, Batman (Bale) resurfaces after a self-imposed exile to seek out a mysterious cat burglar (Anne Hathaway) and battle a terrorist named Bane (Hardy) who’s lain siege to Gotham City. Granted, it’s not the series’ highest point yet (The Dark Knight provided the tightest and most entertaining chapter), but it does aptly reward fans who’ve already fallen under Nolan’s hypnotic filmmaking and storytelling spell with a thrilling and satisfying bow. With Rises, he brings to head the recurring themes of civil disobedience and vigilante justice in a post-9/11 terrorism-rocked world. Granted, the Catwoman’s story isn’t fleshed out enough and the 2nd act sags a bit but the payoff is pure Pow! and Bam! Bottom line: All Aces, no Joker.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days
Zachary Gordon, Steve Zahn
Dogged by simplicity, but not dazed beyond redemption, Wimpy Kid at least whiles away an hour and a half of your summer. In this PG-rated family-friendly sequel, the titular wimpy kid (Gordon) pretends to have a job at a ritzy country club to while away the dog days of summer, but ends up embroiled in everything from a camping disaster to a public pool mishap. Lightyears better than its predecessor, Rodrick Rules, this second sequel can’t stand up to the all-around A-level family entertainment of Pixar but it does put forth better summertime hues than blues. In fact, there are a number of funny moments that thankfully aren’t featured gratuitously in the trailer. Although most unfortunately involve upping the gross factor to the “ugh” degree, moviegoers still somehow manage to become embroiled in the ne’er-do-well misadventures of Greg Heffley. Bottom line: The Wimpy Kid is all right.
Step Up: Revolution
Ryan Guzman, Kathryn McCormick
More of a revulsion than Revolution, Step Up 4 doesn’t have any new moves, but it does have heart … oh wait, heart’s not the word — soullessness, that’s it. In this PG-13-rated dance flick, a wannabe professional dancer (McCormick) falls for the leader of a flash mob dance crew (Guzman, et al) who’s Miami neighborhood is set to be destroyed. If anybody’s wondering where the slick over-produced music videos from the ’90s went, they’re masquerading here as filler. It’s just the same old song and dance with funkily choreographed dance-offs and wooden acting aplenty. And yes, the hoofing is well staged and shot, but the theme of dance as protest art is the only intriguing Step-ing stone. Ultimately, it’s strictly dancing-by-numbers with two left feet. Forget the Wayans Brothers. The Step Up franchise has become its own parody of dance flicks. Bottom line: So You Stink When You Dance?
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), which 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.
Colin Farrell, Jessica Biel
Drained of all life despite some lively aesthetics, this totally bogus remake misses the mark by a quantum leap. In this PG-13-rated sci-fi thriller, factory worker Douglas Quaid (Farrell)’s flirtation with escapism implanting triggers a memory that indicates he’s a double spy in a war between two nations … but is it a reality? Come for the arresting visuals, don’t stay for the dumbed down adaptation. Philip K. Dick’s short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” explores some wonderful themes and concepts, but they’re non-existent here. Instead, the story has been stripped down to a lunk-headed action film. At least Paul Verhoven’s Arnold Schwarzenegger-starring muscle-bound 1990 adaptation had a sense of humor. At one point, Farrell mutters, “Everybody seems to know me but me.” Really, Colin? It’s not hard to figure out that this is just a (Philip K.) Dick-less retread. Bottom line: Is it real or is it ridiculous?
Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn
Watch, look, and listen: When three H’wood funnymen neglect to bring the funny to their own space invader comedy — there goes the neighborhood. In this R-rated comedy, a group of humdrum suburban Average Joes (Stiller, Vaughn, Jonah Hill, Richard Ayoade) accidentally stumble upon an alien invasion while patrolling the ’burbs. Here, it appears that everybody was cast to stand and deliver some tired and true shtick. Stiller plays the same put-upon well-meaning husband he played in Meet the Fockers. Vaughn plays the same motor-mouthed Goodtime Charlie that he played in Couples Retreat. Hill plays the angry, smart alecky loner that he played in anything that Judd Apatow produced. Oh, there are a few good laughs from a scene involving a dead alien photo-opp, but the rest is just a gratuitous excuse for product placement and paycheck-cashing that’s nothing to phone home about. Bottom line: Marred Attacks!