by Jeff Boam
Opening this weekend
Hit & Run
Dax Shepard, Kristen Bell
When TV and print ads start touting a movie as funnier than The Hangover, moviegoers know it’s time to turn on their BS-O-Meter. This comedy, however, features real life couple Shepard (who also wrote and co-directed) and Bell. Here’s hoping more for a Bogie and Bacall chemistry (The Big Sleep) than the wet blanket effect of Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez (Gigli). In this R-rated action comedy, a former getaway driver (Shepard) jeopardizes his Witness Protection identity to safely deliver his girlfriend (Bell) to LA with some old bank-robbing cronies (Bradley Cooper, et al) in pursuit. The Plus: The rating. R-rated comedies are hot properties these days (Bridesmaids, 21 Jump Street) and this particular one comes courtesy of the Wedding Crashers producers. Also, the cast boasts Shepard (NBC’s Parenthood), Bell (When in Rome), Cooper (Limitless), Tom Arnold (True Lies), Kristen Chenoweth (You Again), Joy Bryant (Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins), and Beau Bridges (The Descendents). The Minus: The odds. Time (The Watch) and again (The Campaign), star-studded R-rated comedies have come in the wake of The Hangover promising the world but failing to deliver either laughs or boffo box office.
Ashley Greene, Sebastian Stan
Ah, young couples in terror! In this PG-13-rated thriller, a young couple (Greene, Stan) conducting a university parapsychology experiment is haunted by a presence that feeds on their fear and torments them no matter where they run. The Plus: The genre. Last year, the thriller Insidious snuck into theaters under the radar with very little star wattage attached and still managed to scare up more than $54 million at the box office on a relatively small budget. As the biggest cast names, C-list players Greene (The Twilight Saga) and Stan (Captain America: The First Avenger) have a lot of heavy lifting to do. The Minus: The odds. Earlier this year, haunted house thriller Silent House failed to wow moviegoers, opening weak and going on to gross a scary $12 million. The only thing going for The Apparition right out of the gates might prove to be the general lack of box office horror at the current moment.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon
Blame 3rd Rock from the Sun. The ‘90s NBC sitcom may have introduced Joseph Gordon-Levitt to the world, but the actor then toiled for years before getting another H’wood big break (Mysterious Skin, Brick, The Lookout). Since then, however, his career (500 Days of Summer, G.I.Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Inception) has been on somewhat of a Premium Rush, which is also the title of his latest. In this PG-13-rated actioner, a bicycle messenger (Levitt) makes a life-or-death delivery of an important package through Manhattan with a deadly client (Shannon) in pursuit. The Plus: The players. Here, Gordon-Levitt (50/50, The Dark Knight Rises) and Shannon (HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, the forthcoming Man of Steel) join Jamie Chung (Sucker Punch, The Hangover Part II) and Dania Ramirez (X-Men: The Last Stand, American Reunion) under the direction of David Koepp (Stir of Echoes, Secret Window). The Minus: The competition. With everything from comic book flicks (The Dark Knight Rises, also starring Gordon-Levitt) to sequels (Bourne Legacy and Expendables 2, not starring Gordon-Levitt) dominating the box office, this bike thriller might just look like it’s been hit by a bus come the weekend.
Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham
More agreeably combustible than expendable, this nostalgic franchise still has a lot of life in it so long as they keep stacking the deck with muscle-bound H’wood pensioners. It’s easy to liken The Expendables 2 to a bullet-ridden It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World cast with juiced up action movie dinosaurs, but this reviewer has come to praise geezers — not to bury them. Truthfully, it’s also a stand-alone, ham-fisted, shoot-em-up of a high order, albeit one that’s perhaps too tongue-in-cheek. The throwback factor is what truly powers this Hard-R He-Man and friends actioner. If you liked the fist-pumping wish fulfillment of Missing in Action, Rambo, Die Hard, Hard Target, and True Lies, than you’ll be highly entertained by this valentine to them all … if you’re in on the fact that this was never intended to be Shakespeare. Perhaps, another bard said it best. In the immortal words of Popeye: “I yam what I yam.” In this R-rated actioner, a group of old-school mercenaries (Stallone, Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews) go on a personal vendetta against a dangerous adversary (Jean-Claude van Damme) who kills one of their own in a plot to smuggle weapons-grade plutonium. This entry smartly gets rid of Jet Li quickly, dishing out the close-quarters chop socky early and then relying on heavy guns and heavy hands. Unfortunately, the movie proves too self-referential for its own good. Moviegoers already came in droves for star cameos. They also didn’t need Arnold Schwarzenegger snarling “I’ll be back” to Bruce Willis umpteen times. Bottom line: First Blood, then cheers.
Jordin Sparks, Whitney Houston
Not so much a Sparkle as a Glimmer, Whitney Houston’s heavy-handed swan song showcases an uneven musical that’s light on music and high on ones-to-grow-on. Showcasing more drama than songbook, this Afterschool Special is such a blatant cautionary tale that Houston actually uses the phrase “cautionary tale” while lecturing her on-screen daughters. When the above average Motown-style tunes spotlight the talent pool, however, the movie comes alive … if only for that aforementioned glimmer. It Careys on, but never channels the glorious toe tapping heights of A-list ’70s Broadway-turned-movie musicals like Dreamgirls. Rather, it’s more like the beaten-down redheaded stepchild of The Wiz. Houston (in her final performance) sings and plays mother to three girls (Jordin Sparks, et al) who form a successful Detroit singing group only to suffer the slings and arrows of fame in this PG-13-rated remake of the 1976 musical Sparkle. This is not a platform for the late Houston so much as it is for American Idol winner Jordin Sparks. She gives a fine performance that’s more of a showy start-up than star-making coming out, which thankfully gets buoyed by great supporting turns. If only there was more of a soundtrack. Well shot by director Salim Akil and well acted by all involved, Sparkle wants so badly to be a star-studded, A-level, H’wood musical, but it’s ultimately a C-level, preachy drama that just happens to have a few rollicking numbers crammed into it. Due to this treacly preamble, the whole shebang nearly runs out of gas before the show-stopping finale. Bottom line: Nobody beats The Wiz … even this.
The Bourne Legacy
Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz
In this PG-13-rated action sequel, a government-run, assassin-building program gets shuts down, only one killer (Renner) won’t lay down and die at the hands of his superiors (Ed Norton, et al). 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, Supremacy. 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 it’s a Bourne do-over nonetheless. 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. 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. It’s joke-filled 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. 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 have 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 second 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. Light years 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) whose Miami neighborhood is set to be destroyed. If anybody’s wondering where the slick overly-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?
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?