Reel Report: April 26, 2012

Reel Report

By Jeff Boam

Opening This Weekend

The Five-Year Engagement
Jason Segel, Emily Blunt
Talk about a ‘package deal.’ After starring in the little watched, but critically hailed, TV comedies Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared, Jason Segel’s name never once fell out of uber-producer Judd Apatow’s rolodex. Though the aw-shucks star was passed up for a role in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Apatow luckily chose to follow up his back-to-back hits Knocked Up and Superbad by producing Segel’s script, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which helped make Segel a star. Now, Apatow is back to produce Segel’s latest, an R-rated comedy about a long-suffering engaged couple (himself, Emily Blunt) who keep getting tripped up on the way to the altar, hence their Five-Year Engagement. The Plus: The players. As producer, Apatow is a veritable hit machine (Superbad, Bridesmaids). Segel, who rotates between film comedies like I Love You, Man and the CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother, was the right writer/star to give The Muppets their recent comeback. Here, he’s got Emily Blunt (The Adjustment Bureau), Chris Pratt (What’s Your Number?), Alison Brie (NBC’s Community), Rhys Ifans (Anonymous), Kevin Hart (Think Like a Man), and Mindy Kaling (NBC’s The Office). The Minus: The marketing. Someway somehow, Universal wants moviegoers to buy the cow after giving away the milk for free. The trailer pretty much shows every major plot point of the whole two hour and two minute movie.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits
Voices of Hugh Grant, Martin Freeman
UK-based Aardman Studios became famous for Nick Park’s stop motion animated misadventures of a claymation man and his dog, or Wallace & Gromit as they’re better known. All together, this twosome’s short adventures bagged two Academy Awards and helped launch the studio into feature filmmaking. The box office success of Chicken Run led to Aardman trying their hand at computer animation with Flushed Away and Arthur Christmas. Now, they’re back to their stop motion roots with The Pirates! Band of Misfits. In this PG-rated animated comedy, a ship captain (Grant) defies impossible odds and leads his ragtag crew (Freeman, et al) on an adventure to win the coveted Pirate of the Year Award. The players. Ardman went on to win the Oscar for Best Animated Feature for Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Here, they’ve assembled the vocal talents of Grant (American Dreamz), Freeman (BBC’s Sherlock), Brendan Gleeson (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2), Salma Hayek (Puss in Boots), Jeremy Piven (HBO’s Entourage), Imelda Staunton (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1), and David Tennant (Fright Night). The Minus: The competition. In terms of box office and quality, Aardman still has a long way to go to beat Pixar, which gave moviegoers Toy Story 3, an Oscar winner and the highest earning animated movie of all time.

The Raven
John Cusack, Alice Eve
John Cusack will try any genre once, be it comedy (Hot Tub Time Machine), disaster picture (2012), romance (Serendipity), horror (1408), family flick (Igor), or straight-out drama (Runaway Jury). Before tackling musicals, however, he’s entering new territory with The Raven: period thriller. In the R-rated 19th century-set crime thriller The Raven, writer Edgar Allan Poe (John Cusack) joins forces with a young Baltimore detective (Oliver Jackson Cohen) to hunt down a mad serial murderer who’s basing his crimes around Poe’s works. The Plus: The players. Former assistant director James McTeigue made an impressive debut with V for Vendetta. Here, he’s directing Cusack (Grosse Point Break), Eve (She’s Out of My League), Oliver Jackson-Cohen (Faster), and Luke Evans (The Three Musketeers). The Minus: The odds. McTeigue’s, Ninja Assassin was a tepid follow-up to Vendetta. Also, The Raven’s date got pushed back from March to this weekend, which is rarely a good indication as to a movie’s quality.

Safe
Jason Statham, Chris Sarandon
Wake the kids and call the neighbors! It’s time for action star Jason Statham to squint and kick people in the head again! In his very own franchises (The Transporter, Crank), stand-alone actioners (Death Race, The Mechanic), or working with an ass-kicking team (The Italian Job, The Expendables), the Stath seeks out revenge better than any shaven-head Brit working H’wood today. In this R-rated actioner, a second-rate cage fighter and former NYPD cop (Statham) rescues an abducted Chinese girl (Catherine Chan), only to find himself fighting the Triads, Russian Mafia, and corrupt city officials to keep her safe. The Plus: The players. There’s a reason Statham gets offered these parts. He does action quite well and has cut a swath in other genres (Snatch, The Bank Job). The Minus: The odds. Statham’s next-to-last actioner went straight to video (Blitz) and his last one should have (Killer Elite).

Now Playing

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. Nicholas Sparks is the Thomas Kincaid of the written word — all fuss, no muss. Time (A Walk to Remember) and time (The Notebook) and time again (Dear John), his treacly novels have become treacly three hanky weepers. They’re fluff, yes, but 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.
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.
Efron has charisma. Charisma, however, doesn’t always translate to acting greatness. He stands, delivers his lines, and looks pretty under Scott Hicks’s very capable direction.
Regardless, newcomer Schilling is the movie’s true standout. Hopefully, John Q. Moviegoer will be seeing a lot more from her in the future, albeit not in movies that are so cloying. As for the rest, Bythe Danner hands out ones-to-grow-on as the wise and wisecracking grandmother, Jay R. Ferguson sneers his way through his role as the heavy (a mustache-twirling cop without a mustache) and the audience counts itself lucky to walk away with their sanity intact. 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 the romantic pastiche Think Like a Man is a just so-so tale. 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 once and future King of Comedy 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* But Were Afraid to Ask.
Instead, this man-handled shtick sticks strictly to the middle of the road — laughs, loves and all. Granted, Allen’s 1972 movie was a mixed bag, but at least it had some chops.
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, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man.
Ealy, Ferrara, Hart and Jenkins give it their all, but they’re relegated to filling out stereotypical character types (Mama’s Boy, Commitment-Phobe, Angrily Divorced, Happily Married, etc.), as are Meagan Good, Regina Hall, Taraji P. Henson, and Gabrielle Union. The men also play basketball together and show up at each other’s improbably posh apartments at the opportune moment like a conche shell was blown. The movie makes some great points about modern dating life and is likable and harmless enough, but every single one of the interrelated stories and the patchwork quilt itself is standard issue. Bottom line: Act like a malady.

American Reunion
Jason Biggs, Seann William Scott
As American as the whoopee cushion, this welcome Reunion tries for cheap laughs and heartstring tugs with a better-than-average success rate. In this R-rated comedy sequel, a group of friends who once quested to lose their virginity by 18 (Biggs, Scott, Mena Suvari, Chris Klein, Alyson Hannigan, Tara Reid, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Eddie Kaye Thomas) find that their priorities have changed when they reunite for a high school reunion. This franchise’s Rocky Balboa chapter hits most of the right notes of The Big Chill without trying to be The Big Chill, showing an impressive degree of maturity for a comedy that embraces its hard-R. Moviegoers just have to look in-between the poop and penis jokes to find it. Thankfully, these moments are much more amusing than an actual high school reunion. Bottom line: The levee’s not quite dry.

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.

Titanic 3D
Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet
Set adrift with memory drips, audiences re-watching Titanic with the dubious benefit of 3D will find that the film evinces the same majestic waves and seasick gurgles that it did 15 years ago … only not with much of the all-encompassing immersive Avatar feel as many had hoped. Even so, it’s all worth seeing again. The grandiose sweep of this spectacle has only improved in this second run, the top-shelf attention to detail and top-rate special effects illustrating the storied true events with a classic H’wood feel.
This classic H’wood feel, however, also extends to the wooden and melodramatic lines, which sound like they could’ve been spoken by Gary Cooper and Myrna Loy. Sadly, in an era when ’20s throwback The Artist sweeps the Oscars, this wondrous technical marvel would’ve been served even better with a silent re-release. Bottom line: A good sinking feeling.

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.