Reel Report: February 21, 2013

Reel Report

by Jeff Boam


Opening This Weekend

Dark Skies
Keri Russell, Josh Hamilton
Ah, nothing brings a young couple together quite like extraterrestrial terror! In this PG-13-rated slice of sci-fi-horror from the producer of Paranormal Activity and Insidious, a husband (Hamilton) and wife (Russell) take matters into their own hands to try solving the mystery of what unimaginably terrifying and deadly force has targeted their family. The Plus: the genre. In January, Mama scared up some decent numbers at the box office. The Minus: the odds. Just months before, The Apparition failed to wow moviegoers while The Possession banked some decent grosses. So, what does this mean for Dark Skies? Horror moviegoers are quite choosy, which is a frightening affair in the dead of winter when movie studios tend to dump the projects in which Hollywood doesn’t have a lot of faith.

Dwayne Johnson, Susan Sarandon
After years of dishing his signature “People’s Elbow” move on countless testosterone-fueled WWE opponents, pro wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson probably never thought that his career would go the way of Don Knotts (The Incredible Mr. Limpet, The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, The Apple Dumpling Gang). After the blockbusting success of the kid-flicks The Game Plan and The Tooth Fairy, however, studios saw the potential in The Rock as family-friendly icon. Now, Hollywood sees further potential in the actor: as franchise rejuvenation. With Fast Five and Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, the Rock stepped into two series that were thought to be long past their sell-by dates only to see both movies bank their respective franchises’ biggest paydays yet. Now, before his March debut in the Hasbro action figure extravaganza G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Johnson goes it alone in Snitch. In this PG-13-rated crime-drama, a suburban father (Johnson) goes undercover to serve up a senior drug dealer to reduce his son’s sentence after his teenage son is sentenced to ten years under mandatory minimum drug laws. The Plus: the players. The Rock has done well in underdog dramas (The Gridiron) and standalone actioners as well (The Rundown). Here, he’s starring with Sarandon (That’s My Boy, Cloud Atlas), Michael Kenneth Williams (HBO’s The Wire and Boardwalk Empire), Jon Bernthal (Rampart, AMC’s The Walking Dead), and Barry Pepper (True Grit, Broken City). The Minus: going solo. Faster, Johnson’s last non-ensemble actioner, didn’t exactly get the box office tally racing.


Now Playing

A Good Day to Die Hard
Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney
It’s a Hard-schlock life for John McClane, a Die-d in the wool action hero who’s franchise has been slowly dying on the vine with increasingly worse chapters until A Good Day finally brings the hammer and sickle down on this, the nail in the coffin. Remember when this series was confined to smaller spaces like skyscrapers and airports? Well, that went out the window with a Vengeance in part three when the story expanded the action to include all of Manhattan, but there was still gas left in the tank thanks to the likeability of Willis and some clever moments. Here, with McClane playing Rambo in Russia, the franchise mushroom clouds into an overblown Last Action Hero-level bad parody of the 1987 benchmark. Despite some decent action sequences, some fizzled chemistry between leads, weak villains, annoyingly poor dialogue, and hackneyed storytelling just make for a bad day all around.
In this R-rated actioner sequel, New York cop John McClane (Willis) travels to Russia in search of his seemingly wayward son, only to find that the younger McClane (Courtney) is a CIA operative working to prevent a nuclear-weapons heist by dangerous underworld figures. Given the banner year that gave filmgoers Moonrise Kingdom and Looper, Bruce Willis certainly isn’t expendable to Hollywood. His fifth go-round as McClane, however, leaves much to be desired. Oh, he shoots bad guys and delivers quips but the material dies harder and faster than any previous entry, mostly because the forced father-son dynamic never really sizzles. Honestly, it’s a good day to just die already. Bottom line: Hudson Hack.

Safe Haven
Josh Duhamel, Julianne Hough
Love might mean never having to say you’re sorry, but this slice of heaving, er, Haven still has a lot to apologize for. “Life is full of second chances.” At least, that’s what actress Colbie Smulders tells co-star Julianne Hough, who’s looking for a fresh start and clean slate. This seems like a bit of a contradiction though because novelist/screenwriter Nicholas Sparks has been turning out twists on the same love story again and again. This one at least dabbles with becoming a crime-thriller before the inevitable coupling of two star-crossed beautiful people. Despite tinkering with the formula, however, Sparks still throws in his obligatory death scene during the climax. Oh, this is a spoiler? Why don’t you just write it in your Notebook and take a long Walk to Remember off of a short pier.
In this PG-13-rated drama, a young woman with a mysterious past (Hough) ends up in seaside North Carolina where her attraction to a single dad (Duhamel) forces her to stop running. “There’s no safer place in the world than right here with me.” Apparently, actor Josh Duhamel wasn’t sitting in the same theater as me. Oh, this soapy romance plays it Safe … only too safe, stuck firmly in Sparks’ predictable sudsy wheelhouse. Julianne Hough builds upon the great promise shown in Footloose and Rock of Ages while Josh Duhamel does his best Josh Duhamel imitation. Together, however, they do throw some, ahem, Sparks. This and an interesting twist at the end save the flick from completely deserving a Dear John letter from moviegoers. Bottom line: The Yucky One.

Bullet to the Head
Sylvester Stallone, Jason Momoa
More of a kick to the head than a shot to the heart, Sylvester Stallone’s standalone comeback ends up to be more of a number two with a Bullet. In this R-rated actioner, a D.C. cop (Sung Kang) and a Crescent City hitman (Stallone) form an alliance after a mercenary (Momoa) kills their respective partners. Oh, it starts out well enough, with the once and future Rambo Balboa kicking ass like a well-oiled dependable Expendable. Unfortunately, even under the capable direction of veteran action helmer Walter Hill (48 Hours), this formulaic Head-case tends to drag in-between explosively exciting set pieces. Like the misbegotten remake Get Carter, moviegoers will hope for an ace throwback actioner out of pure nostalgia, but this just slowly gives credence to the argument that the Italian Stallion needs to be put out to stud. Bottom line: Demolition Pan.

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters
Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton
A witch of a flick that falls on its duff despite a great cast keeping tongues planted firmly in cheek, this giddily gory Hansel & Gretel redux hunts up a very fractured fairy tale. In this PG-13-rated adventure comedy, grown-up siblings Hansel and Gretel (Renner, Arterton) take vengeance on the gingerbread house-dwelling witch (Famke Janssen) who tried to eat them as children. Witch Hunters tries boasting a Grimm sense of humor in spades, but it’s ultimately just a predictable period action flick with plenty of blood and salty barbs just for the sake of both. Simply put, the movie’s a mother of a goose that works neither as a fantasy adventure nor as a parody of the same. Despite a trim 88-minute running time, the overly-stylistic approach to an uncomplicated story just won’t keep audiences invested. Bottom line: Dunce upon a time.

Identity Thief
Jason Bateman, Melissa McCarthy
A hopelessly average Thief unable to completely steal away with moviegoers’ funny bones, the remains of this so-called comedy aren’t exactly criminally insane but they’re not really worth fully identifying either. In this R-rated comedy, corporate accountant Sandy Bigelow Patterson (Bateman) has a week to hunt down and bring back the female con artist who’s stolen his identity (McCarthy) before her spending spree ruins his life. Oh, it’s a combo platter of A-list comedic talent and a promising premise to boot, only the execution’s a bit, well, shoddily executed. Chock full of contrived writing and clichéd gags, it at least boasts a hilarious twosome who’d be on top of their A-game were it not for the oft-recycled buddy comedy hook. Unfortunately, their talents alone just aren’t enough to rob audiences blind with laughter, try as they hopelessly might. Bottom line: The Wince of Thieves.

Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau
Though far from being the mother of all creature features, Mama scares up some hair-raising thrills thanks to a frighteningly freaky ghoul and fearless lead performance. In the PG-13-rated horror flick Mama, a young couple (Chastain, Coster-Waldau) decide to raise their two young nieces that were left alone in the forest for five years … only they begin to wonder “How alone were they?” Of course, using creepy kids is certainly not the most unique addition to the cinematic halls of horror. After all, The Omen, The Ring, and Look Who’s Talking all capitalized on using pint-sized evil to equal adult-sized terror. Here, however, such scare tactics unfortunately get rooted in so many horrific clichés that it’s almost all for naught-y. Even with an ace card like Chastain, director Andres Muschetti head-scratchingly shrouds every scene in darkness — including daytime scenes. Bottom line: Mother clunker.

Side Effects
Jude Law, Rooney Mara
Suspensefully affecting and effectively suspenseful, Steven Soderbergh’s latest gets audiences wholly Hitched into an intriguing web of deception. In this R-rated psychological thriller, a successful New York couple (Mara, Tatum) finds their world coming unraveled after her new psychiatrist (Law) prescribes an anxiety drug with unexpected side effects. Perhaps, it’s the mind-bending pharmaceutical hook, which hasn’t really been utilized to as great effect in a modern thriller. Perhaps, it’s the intricately layered script that turns this hook into a slow-burning mystery. Perhaps, it’s the amazingly taut direction that makes this mystery a simmering-turned-white-knuckle nail-biter. Perhaps, it’s the amazing ensemble that helps to stoke these white-hot inner workings so well. Or, perhaps, it’s the sum of these steamy and steely parts turning together toward an almost perfectly timed and timely thriller by one of the industry’s all-time great directors. Bottom line: Better viewing through chemistry.

Warm Bodies
Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer
Warm-ing up undead leftovers with a winning dash of humor, this zombie rom-com ends up to be the furthest thing from the walking dread. In this PG-13-rated horror/comedy, a bizarre romance just might transform the entire world after a zombie (Nicholas Hoult) begins to change after getting involved with the girlfriend (Teresa Palmer) of one of his victims. Call it revisionist. Call it a George Romero-kissed twist on teen romance. Call it an undemanding piece of genre-blending popcorn. A flick about brain-eaters, Warm Bodies might feature the shuffle-footed but it moves briskly enough to catch unsuspecting moviegoers. Oh, it plays out predictably enough to warrant a shot to the head, but the successful melding of comedy, romance, and horror earns it a warm spot on a post-Apocalyptic sidewalk. Bottom line: 28 Yays Later.