Reel Report

By Jeff Boam

Act of Valor
Roselyn Sanchez, Sonny Manson
Two ex-H’wood stuntmen, Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh, directed and produced this portrait of the Navy SEALs, mixing actors with real soldiers in its depiction of real American heroes. In this R-rated military drama, an elite team of Navy SEALs (Sanchez, Manson, Alex Veadov, Nestor Serrano) embark on a hard-charging secret operation after a mission to recover a missing CIA operative uncovers a major global terrorist threat. The Plus: The pedigree. Ever since SEAL Team Six executed its mission to find and kill Wanted Terrorist # 1 Osama Bin Laden, interest in the U.S. Navy’s clandestine unit has skyrocketed. Though the flick wrapped production before this event occurred, the publicity points out the fact that the producers used actual soldiers during filming, which only ensures the movie’s salability. The Minus: The odds. Former stuntmen directing. Non-actors delivering lines. Well, at the very least, it’ll be better than the 1990 Charlie Sheen and Michael Biehn gem, Navy Seals … or will it?

Amanda Seyfried, Daniel Sunjata
After turning heads with her performance in Mamma Mia!, ‘It Girl’ Amanda Seyfried has turned in box office winner (Dear John) after winner (Letters to Juliet) … which is great news considering that she’s pretty much the only name actor in this thriller. In the PG-13-rated Gone, a former kidnapping victim (Seyfried) begins a heart-pounding search for her sister (Emily Wickersham) after becoming convinced that her same serial killer captor has returned. The Plus: The player. Even Red Riding Hood and In Time ended up making tidy profits with overseas audiences, showing that Seyfried has fans and legs beyond these shores. The Minus: The competition. The weekend before last, a box office record occurred when four flicks all opened to grosses more than $20 million … this prosperous net doesn’t necessarily extend to thrillers that look like they should’ve been direct-to-video releases, however.

Tyler Perry’s Good Deeds
Tyler Perry, Thandie Newton
Time (Madea Goes to Jail, $90 million) and time (I Can Do Bad All By Myself, $51 million) and time again (Why Did I Get Married Too?, $60 million), writer/director/studio mogul Tyler Perry has delivered at the box office — oftentimes opening at number one. For Colored Girls, an adaptation of the Obie Award-winning play, even won several African-American Film Critics Association and NAACP Image Awards. In this PG-13- drama, a businessman who lives his life strictly by-the-book (Perry) finds his world turned upside down when he falls for a single mother who works on the cleaning crew of his office building (Newton). The Plus: The players. Here, Perry has assembled an impressive cast that includes Newton (2012), Union (The Perfect Holiday), Eddie Cibrian (NBC’s The Playboy Club), Phylicia Rashad (NBC’s The Cosby Show), Rebecca Romjin (X-Men: The Last Stand), and Jamie Kennedy (Fox’s The Cleveland Show). The Minus: The odds. With two more projects also in various stages of production for 2012 (The Marriage Counselor, Madea’s Witness Protection, plus an acting role in Star Trek 2), Perry seems to be spreading himself more than a little thin. Perhaps, Good Deeds will not go unpunished because of this.

Jennifer Aniston, Paul Rudd
Former Friends star Jennifer Aniston runs hot and cold at the box office. For every winning streak (Marley & Me, She’s Just Not That Into You), she seems to have a … well, less-than-winning streak (Love Happens, The Switch). Aniston has been burning hot as of late, however (Just Go With It, Horrible Bosses)—a run that Universal and
Relativity Media are betting will continue with Wanderlust. In this R-rated comedy, an overstressed and overextended Manhattan couple (Aniston, Rudd) stumble upon an
idyllic community of free thinking modern-day hippies. The Plus: The players. David Wain (Role Models) directs Aniston (The Bounty Hunter), Rudd (Dinner for Schmucks), Malin Akerman (Couples Retreat), Justin Theroux (Your Highness), Alan Alda (Tower
Heist), and Kathryn Hahn (Step Brothers). The Minus: The odds. The cynic in this Reel Reporter is apt to believe that Aniston’s run as America’s Sweetheart (she was just
named “Hottest Woman of All Time” by Men’s Health magazine) will eventually come to an end.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
Nicolas Cage, Violante Placido
More than just an unbearable, unwarranted, unnecessary, unimaginative, and generally unwanted sequel, this unspirited deus is just a white hot mess. Granted, there were a lot of high concept, high caliber, and highly anticipated Marvel Comic movies coming to theaters this year … Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, however, was definitely not one of them. The first movie, after all, was a B-Movie wrapped in a high-budget sugary candy shell that seemingly turned the funny book on which it was based into a flaming bag of dog poo. Mercifully, the edgier follow-up ups the action and darkness quotient, but lets the cornball factor simmer. Unmercifully, the over-the-top style and seen-it-before story makes for a trail of tears that’ll have the audience wanting vengeance.
In this PG-13-rated fantasy adventure sequel, a former stunt driver and bounty hunter of demons (Cage) leaves a self-imposed exile to protect a mother (Placido) and son from a man who may actually be the devil (Ciaran Hinds).
Oftentimes, when a Marvel superhero is handed over to directors of vision, moviegoers get an X-Men (Bryan Singer), Spider-Man (Sam Raimi), or Iron Man (Jon Favreau).
However, when handed over to the ADD-addled high-octane directors of Crank and its sequel, High Voltage (Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor), they get taken for a headache-inducing ride. Oscar winner Cage takes a page from the Bobcat Goldthwait School of Acting, grunting and mugging his way through such brilliant dialogue as: “You’re the Devil’s baby mama.” After two needlessly bad chapters, this franchise is officially ridden hard and left for dead. Bottom line: Flame retarded.

This Means War
Chris Pine, Tom Hardy
A hollow point right to the noggin, heart, and funny bone, this spy thriller-come-rom com declares war on all of these genres but throws up its hands to all three faster than the French. The movie is supposed to work from the fact that the swinging dicks with their names just below the title are best friends going into the action .. .but they actually have the prickly association of Israel and Palestine on-screen. It doesn’t help that the script starts off with an unhealthy dose of telling/not showing, which perhaps predicted Pine and Hardy’s lack of chemistry: “You’re my best friend. We’re family.” Not even the eternally sunshiny Witherspoon can bail out this over-directed Spy Vs. Spy run-around.
In this PG-13-rated action-comedy, two deadly CIA operatives (Pine, Hardy) enjoy a close friendship until their love of the same woman (Reese Witherspoon) forces them to pull out all of the arsenal stops to defeat the other.
If Timothy Dowling and Simon Kinberg’s screenplay took itself even a little seriously, the movie’s prospects may’ve improved, however slightly. Hell, even Mr. & Mrs. Smith approached the spy stuff with a smidgen of reality unlike This Means War, which thrives on cartoony set pieces and clichéd storytelling. Unlike a lot of former music video directors (David Fincher, Michael Gondry, and Spike Jonze among them), McG seems unable to graduate beyond lickety-split editing and an M.O. that embraces style over substance. If anything, he’s regressing. Charlie’s Angels was a much better comedy/actioner. His latest is just Full Throttle bad. Bottom line: The Bored Ultimatum.

The Artist
Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo
A rapturously entertaining and emotional love letter to cinema, creativity, and romance, The Artist says more with no dialogue than the rest of the talky Best Picture nominees combined. In this PG-13-rated black and white silent dramedy, an up-and-coming H’wood bit player (Bejo) falls for a moving picture superstar (Dujardin) just as the advent of talkies changes the business. Calling it a masterwork of pure motion picture artistry would be as gross an understatement as saying talkies might someday replace silent movies in the ’20s. It’s edifying filmgoing from its letter-perfect performances right to its beautifully lensed homage to classic H’wood, but the sure-to-be Oscar hat trick is that The Artist is far more than an homage — it hangs in its own gallery, a heartfelt masterpiece that’s not just a piece of throwback pop art. Bottom line: The gold rush.

Safe House
Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds
Oftentimes as exciting as a House on fire, the explosively menacing Denzel Washington’s latest is the most entertaining bet at the box office this week. In the PG-13-rated actioner Safe House, a rookie CIA operative (Ryan Reynolds) running a Cape Town, South Africa holding cell finds himself in a deadly cat and mouse spy game when dangerous mercenaries come looking for his detainee, a renegade intelligence officer (Denzel Washington). Someway somehow, relatively new director Daniel Espinosa has made a no-holds-barred ’80s-style actioner with a post-9/11 consciousness as if he were the love child of Tony Scott and Paul Greengrass. Oh, the movie is rife with clichéd actioner moments — predictable turncoat, sneering henchman, third act face-off, and all of the Lethal Weapon meets Training Day-esque trimmings, but the shoes fit and Espinosa and Washington wear them well. Bottom line: Bet on the house.

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace 3D
Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor
Even with a fresh set of eyes and the benefit of hindsight, George Lucas’ space epic still gets off to a menacingly misdirected start. In this, the first of six 3D-enhanced re-releases of his PG-rated sci-fi adventure series, two Jedi knights (Neeson, McGregor) get tasked with protecting a young slave boy (Jake Lloyd) who may bring balance to a galactic government verging on collapse. For all of the writer/director’s neat-o effects and inventive designs, this ADD adventure plays out like a one-note video game chocked full of clichéd storytelling and caricatures. For children, the ludicrously annoying Jedi-to-be and his clumsy alien pal Jar Jar Binks hardly prove troublesome. For everybody else, however, it’s a childish exercise in candy-coated excess that barely hints of the awesomeness to come. Regardless, the benefits of 3D are completely negligible. Bottom line: Starry-eyed demise.

The Vow
Rachel McAdams, Channing Tatum
Swooning to its own overly discordant melody, The Vow plays out like a bad Nicholas Sparks movie. The shocker? Sparks never even penned this dreck. In this PG-13-rated drama supposedly based on a true story, a husband (Tatum) begins a difficult courtship with his wife (McAdams) after she loses any memory of their relationship in a car crash. No, it’s neither A Walk to Remember nor romantic lines in a Notebook nor a Dear John letter, but it feels eerily reminiscent of all three in terms of tone, feel, and lack of ambition. Watching this movie instead feels like Sparks spontaneously combusted and his ashes became this screenplay. On the big screen, the whole amnesia plot point is as old hat and schmaltzy as explaining away a whole unfortunately poor season of Dallas as a dream sequence. Bottom line: A walk to forget.

Woman in Black
Daniel Radcliffe, Ciaran Hinds
Scarily atmospheric but frightfully redundant, betting on Black ultimately proves to be a mixed gamble. In this PG-13-rated thriller based on Susan Hill’s novel, a young lawyer (Radcliffe) travels away from his young son to a remote village where the ghost of a scorned woman reputedly terrorizes locals. Between his ace use of angles, lighting, and well chosen locations, director James Watkins gives the audience a haunted house thriller that perfectly conjures up hell’s fury, scorned Woman and all. There are genuine hair-raisers throughout but one can’t help but shake their head at why seemingly intelligent but weak-kneed people seek out ominous sounds and specters when most of us would’ve yelled, “Exit, stage left even!” If Jane Goldman’s adaptation of this creaky story could’ve sold this, moviegoers would be talking Woman of the year. Bottom line: The deathly hollow.

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