By Jeff Boam
Opening this weekend
The Bourne Legacy
Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz
After back-to-back-to-back successes in the Bourne series (Identity, Supremacy and Ultimatum for those keeping score), actor Matt Damon pretty much has his pick of projects these days. Continuing on as superspy Jason Bourne, however, isn’t one of
these picks. Instead, he’ll play Scott Thorsen to Michael Douglas’s Liberace in Steven Soderbergh’s Under the Candelabra for HBO and reunite with Good Will Hunting and Gerry director Gus Van Sant for Promised Land, which is based on a script that he wrote with NBC’s Office star John Krasinski. Meanwhile, the franchise is hoping to be Bourne again with Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker, The Town). In this PG-13-rated continuation of the action series (minus Damon, mind), 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). The Plus: The franchise. Renner already has two franchises under his belt (Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, The Avengers), which only speaks for his salability. Under the direction of Supremacy and Ultimatum screenwriter Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton, Duplicity), the series has more than a fighting chance at becoming re-invigorated. Finney (A Good Year), Norton (The Incredible Hulk), Allen (Death Race), and Oscar Isaacs (Robin Hood) also star. The Minus: The odds. This blockbuster franchise not only lost Damon, it also lost director Paul Greengrass (United 93, The Green Zone) and further adaptable Bourne books from Robert Ludlum, who only wrote the three. Novelist Eric Van Lustbader took over the series in 2004 (Legacy is his first of seven thus far), but moviegoers might not be willing to invest the time in a reboot that’s missing some key components.
Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis
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. The Plus: The players. Again (Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby) and again (Step Brothers) and again (The Other Guys), Ferrell has proven to be a box office Pied Piper, luring comedy-craving filmgoers to the theaters in droves. Here, he seems perfectly matched with funnyman Galifianakis (The Hangover, Due Date). The Minus: The odds. Yes, these actors seem to hold the hue of comedy gold and the timely material has the added bonus of arriving during a presidential election year, but both candidates have recently faltered at the box office (Ferrell: Land of the Lost, Everything Must Go; Galifianakis: Dinner for Schmucks, It’s Kind of a Funny Story).
Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones
Following the boffo box office and Oscar nomination that came with Julie & Julia, Meryl Streep’s career has certainly been cooking. Granted, it’s not as if this H’wood legend was ever on H’wood’s backburner. Not only does she have three Oscars wins under her belt (Best Supporting, Kramer Vs. Kramer; Best Actress, Sophie’s Choice; Best Actress, The Iron Lady), she has also had a particularly lucrative run commercially (The Devil Wears Prada, It’s Complicated) and critically (Doubt, The Fantastic Mr. Fox) as of late. Now, she’s reuniting with her Devil Wears Prada director David Frankel for Hope Springs. In this PG-13-rated comedy, a long-devoted couple (Streep, Jones) try to reconnect and spice up their love life by visiting a renowned couples specialist (Steve Carell). The Plus: The players. Streep is one matter, but Jones (Captain America: The First Avenger, Men in Black 3) and Carell (Date Night; Crazy, Stupid, Love) are certainly no box office slouches either. The Minus: The competition. Though Hope Springs provides great blockbuster counter-programming (especially for older demographics), the Cineplex is still teeming with heroes and remakes and ‘toons — oh my!
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. 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 are featured gratuitously in the trailer. Some involve humiliating a friend’s odd family and some involve comic mishaps like a Civil War re-enactment gone awry, but most unfortunately involve upping the gross factor to the Ugh degree. Still, moviegoers can’t help but become embroiled in the ne’er-do-well misadventures of Greg Heffley.
In this PG-rated family-friendly sequel, wimpy kid Greg Heffley (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. Smartly, the series has relegated some supporting characters to the far fringes of the script (disgusting tag-along Fregley and Indian nerd Chirag, we hardly missed ye) while elevating more interesting players to the forefront (goody love interest Holly and Greg’s wacky put-upon Dad, please step up). It’s not always a fun-filled day at the beach but it’s far from sitting through a laborious session of summer school. What’s most amazing is that — given the modest budget, B-Level cast, and this series’ success thus far — Diary hasn’t been further exploited and spun into a Disney or Nickelodeon TV program. Bottom line: The Kid is all right.
Colin Farrell, Jessica Biel
Drained of all life despite some lively aesthetics, this totally bogus remake misses the mark by a quantum leap. Come for the arresting visuals, don’t stay for the dumbed down adaptation. So much as this actioner features a painstakingly realized and rendered future society along with the science and mechanics behind it, the landscape is all hat and no cattle. It’s interesting to look at, but ultimately just computer generated and empty, which goes double for the soulless script. 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 muscle-bound 1990 adaptation had a sense of humor.
In this PG-13-rated, sci-fi thriller, Farrell takes over for Arnold Schwarzenegger as factory worker Douglas Quaid, a man whose foray into escapism implanting triggers a memory that indicates he’s a double spy in a war between two nations … but is it a reality? Director Len Wiseman sure can pick them. This is a reference to his ridiculously beautiful actress wife, Kate Beckinsale, of course (here, she’s on hard-hitting baddie duty). Having sat through one passably entertaining Underworld flick, one godlessly awful Underworld sequel, and the worst Die Hard sequel yet, this reviewer can safely say that Wiseman’s style-over-substance directing skills denote a general lack of choosiness. At one point, Farrell mutters, “Everybody seems to know me but me.” Really, Colin? It’s not hard to figure this Total Remake out. It’s just a (Philip) Dick-less retread. Bottom line: Is it real or is it ridiculous?
The Amazing Spider-Man
Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone
Though not quite Amazing enough to make moviegoers forget Sam Raimi’s more comically bookish trilogy, Spider-Man v. 2.0 still proves spectacularly entertaining. In this PG-rated comic book adaptation, a teenage orphan (Parker) investigating his parents’ disappearance is put on a collision course with a radioactive spider bite and the villainous Lizard (Rhy Ifans). Coming so close on the heels of its forebears, this twice-told tale can’t help but feel a bit derivative. Instead, Spidey’s story becomes an edgy, stylish performance piece that tries to be authentic-as-hell … but then a scientist turns into a giant lizard and plots to coat New York with a transformative chemical agent, which kinda sorta counter-acts the set-up. Still, director Marc Webb’s creates a vervy character-driven actioner powered by two leads with so much winning chemistry that it’ll set your Spidey senses a-tingling. Bottom line: With great power comes great agreeability.
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 second act sags a bit but the payoff is pure Pow! and Bam! Bottom line: All Aces, no Joker.
Ice Age: Continental Drift
Voices of Ray Romano, Queen Latifah
Giving moviegoers more of a blissful drift than audience divide, Continental Drift at least improves upon the freezer-burned dino-sour last sequel. In this PG-rated animated sequel, the Ice Age pals (Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary) find themselves braving high seas and battling a rag-tag group of pirates on their journey homeward. Early on in this chapter, lispy sloth Sid makes a direct tongue-in-cheek reference to the previous outing, which went all Jurassic Parka. This outing plays havoc with Pangaea the way Ice Age 3 did with, well, the Dawn of the Dinosaurs. It’s ludicrous, but so are talking toys and bears practicing martial arts. Though it panders the same force-fed lessons about family and being oneself for another tired helping, this tad overly-long sequel has enough energy and humor to keep families glued for one last skate on thin ice. Bottom line: Nice ice baby.
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 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 at this point. Forget the Wayans Brothers. The Step Up franchise has become its own parody of dance flicks. Bottom line: So You Stink When You Dance?
To Rome with Love
Woody Allen, Alec Baldwin
Definitely more of a Roman holiday than burning Rome, Woody Allen’s latest patchwork ensemble is a disjointed, but ultimately wondrously entertaining comedy. In this R-rated comedy, a number of people in Italy — some American, some Italian, some residents, some visitors — find romance, adventure, and predicaments complicating their lives in Rome. Normally, with films composed of separate vignettes that never intersect, some stories connect with filmgoers better than others. Here, however, all four of these rotating doors prove equally passable. Granted, some seem like half-baked premises that luckily worked out in the end (Alec Baldwin’s character, however awesome the performance, certainly fits this bill), but the film’s overall fanciful feel and magical bent puts this go-round on a higher Wood-pile …. but with Love. If Allen keeps gems like this coming, who are we to look a gift Horsefeathers in the mouth? Bottom line: With love to Woody.
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!