Reel Report: June 7, 2012

Reel Report

by Jeff Boam

 

Opening this weekend

Prometheus
Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender
Every director needs a go-to guy. John Ford partnered with John Wayne on 22 films (The Quiet Man and The Searchers among their best). Tim Burton has partnered with Johnny Depp on eight films thus far (Edward Scissorhands, Dark Shadows). Not to be outdone, Martin Scorsese often partners with either Robert DeNiro (Taxi Driver, Goodfellas) or Leonardo DiCaprio (The Departed, Shutter Island) when the right project arises. For Ridley Scott, however, the go-to guy is definitely Russell Crowe. After four films in a row together, however (A Good Year, American Gangster, Body of Lies, Robin Hood), Scott is going in another direction. The legendary director is revisiting his past sci-fi triumphs. After releasing Prometheus, a kinda sorta prequel to his sci-fi classic Alien, he’s attached to direct a follow-up to his other sci-fi classic, Blade Runner, which leaves the door open for another blockbuster reunion: Scott and Harrison Ford. First, in the R-rated sci-fi thriller Prometheus, a team of explorers (Rapace, Fassbender, Idris Elba) gets asked by a corporation (Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce) to follow a clue to mankind’s origins to a dark and terrifying corner of the universe. The Plus: The material. Seeing that the Alien quadrilogy gave way to the below average Alien Vs. Predator monster mash-ups, this franchise is definitely due for a reboot. The amazingly pulse-pounding, but cryptic, trailer, however, hints there could indeed be some alien DNA. The star power of Rapace (Sherlock Holmes: Book of Shadows), Fassbender (Haywire), Elba (BBC’s Luther), Theron (Young Adult), and Pearce (The King’s Speech) can only help matters. The Minus: The competition. In a box office full of sequels, comic book movies, and remakes, this high fallutin’ original story (one that isn’t exactly a prequel, mind) might be a hard sell … especially considering that the early reviews have been mixed.

Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted
Voices of Ben Stiller, Chris Rock
With the gi-normous, back-to-back-to-back success of How to Train Your Dragon, Megamind, and Kung Fu Panda 2, DreamWorks Animation capped off an already
impressive roster that also includes the blockbuster Shrek franchise (add Puss in Boots into that list above). In addition, the studio further proved that Pixar isn’t the only game in town when it comes to blockbuster computer animation. Next up is the holiday icons vs. boogeymen epic Rise of the Guardians … after Madagascar 3, that is. In this PG-rated, animated sequel to the hit family franchise, a group of city zoo animals (Stiller, Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Cedric the Entertainer) hide themselves among the talent in a European traveling circus (Sacha Baron Cohen, Frances McDormand, Bryan Cranston) on their journey home to the Big Apple. The Plus: The players. From writing to celebrity voices, this animation division always assembles an impressive roster of voice talent. This cast includes Stiller (The Legend of Zorro, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger), Hayek (Bandidas, Grown Ups), Galifianakis (Due Date, The Hangover Part II), Billy Bob Thorton (Duplicity, Faster), Amy Sedaris (Strangers with Candy, Jennifer’s Body), and Danny McBride (Your Highness, HBO’s Eastbound and Down). The Minus: The competition. DreamWorks still has a long way to go to beat Pixar, which gave moviegoers Cars 2 and Toy Story 3, the highest grossing animated movie of all time and an Oscar winner.

 

Now Playing

Snow White & the Huntsman
Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron
A fairy tale sprinkled with more grit and spit than pixie dust, this re-imagining of Snow White thankfully owes more to a Huntsman than Uncle Walt. The last such re-telling, March’s dreadfully cartoony Mirror Mirror, certainly owed an unseemly amount to Disney’s first animated feature — Seven pratfall-prone Dwarfs and all. Here, however, there arises the same vulnerability-derived fierceness and brutality that redefined James Bond and Jason Bourne for the post-9/11 age. And so, Snow White’s characters become more than caricatures, the setting becomes more than Fantasyland, and the exposition becomes — gasp — engaging. The winning performances and stylish direction, however, truly drive this hunt despite a few stray dogs.
In this PG-13-rated fantasy adventure, Snow White (Stewart) becomes a warrioress alongside the huntsman sent to kill her (Chris Hemsworth) after an evil queen (Theron) declares war on the fairest-of-them-all. Catherine Hardwicke’s Red Riding Hood tried. Next year, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters will try again. Hell, ABC’s Once Upon a Time and NBC’s Grimm are still trying. In the here and now, however, Snow White & the Huntsman delivers a hard-hitting and exciting reloaded fairy tale with a palpable romance. Much of the credit goes to director Rupert Sanders, who cleverly colors outside the lines with arresting flourish. It’s a breathtaking drama powered by fine performances, most notably the deliciously villainous Theron and some well-known Brit tough guys playing small fries. The tale’s only fractures include an overlong running time and obligatory inclusion of a star-crossed teen love triangle a la The Twilight Saga and The Hunger Games. Bottom line: Princely charming.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Judi Dench, Bill Nighy
Despite more than a smidgen of heavy-handedness, more than just a touch of predictability, and more than simply a pinch of smarminess, it’s worth checking into this occasionally charming getaway if only for the wonderfully genuine performances. Yes, the end picture is as predetermined as a puzzle with a photo of the neatly assembled pieces featured prominently on its box. There are worse transgressions in modern cinema, however … namely one-note paper doll portrayals standing on a stories as weak as a house of cards. True, this story isn’t built much stronger but it’s a solid ensemble piece powered by older thesps who aren’t beloved simply because they’ve lived long enough to have a respectable CV, but because they’re damn fine performers. Period.
In this PG-13-rated dramedy, a group of British pensioners (Dench, Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Maggie Smith) decide to outsource their retirement to a less expensive Indian hotel run by an overzealous young man (Dev Patel).
Here, director John Madden not only directs a brilliantly spot-on cast of legends, he captures the colorful verve and kinetic energy of India for the target demographic: pensioners themselves. Granted, he doesn’t portray as much color as Wes Anderson’s
The Darjeeling Limited or as much energy as Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, but his latest flick isn’t as high-minded or high-kicking as either. Rather, it’s meant to be a feel-good patchwork quilt sewn together by multiple stories stocked with Ones-to-Grow-On.
Cloying at times, but ultimately harmless, this Marigold is neither the best nor most exotic, but it does offer pleasant refuge for a spell. Bottom line: Average accommodations.

The Avengers
Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans
Assembling the Invincible Iron Man, Incredible Hulk, Mighty Thor, and First Avenger Captain America into an astonishingly superb mash-up, this is a spectacularly fun and uncannily exciting comic book flick due a hero’s welcome. In this PG-13-rated Marvel Comics adventure, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson)’s international spy agency S.H.I.E.L.D. brings together a team of superheroes (Downey, Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner) to fight off the evil Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Giving moviegoers an equal mix of heroic action, comical relief, ace casting, and decent character building, writer/director Joss Whedon forms the most rewarding supergroup since George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, and Roy Orbison took to the stage as The Traveling Wilburys. Yes, it runs long … but do you hear that noise? Nom nom nom. It’s the sound of audiences eating popcorn and loving every minute of it. Bottom line: A Hulk smash.

Battleship
Taylor Kitsch, Liam Neeson
In pulling off his best Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, 2012) imitation, director Peter Berg’s Battleship ends up giving audiences a naval exercise in futility. In this PG-13-rated, sci-fi adventure, a fleet of American Navy ships must do battle with an armada of robotic otherworldly forces set on a destructive path. Granted, it’s not exactly a board game. The star-studded talent pool, weapons-grade effects, and clever play on Hasbro’s board game of the same name keep it from becoming a total wash. Unfortunately, even this often-rusty bucket’s unique points aren’t enough to sink moviegoers’ disbelief for over two looooong hours. Blockbuster action flicks should never feel as long as Titanic, even if a love story and ship goes down within the running time. As for the actors getting rained on with awards, pop star Rhianna needn’t bring her umbrella-ella-ella. Bottom line: A sinking feeling.

The Chernobyl Diaries
Jonathan Sadowki, Jesse McCartney
A found footage thriller without the benefit of a mocumentary feel or thrills, Chernobyl Diaries is pretty much a horrific meltdown of near-epic proportions. In this R-rated thriller, six young tourists (Sadowski, McCartney, et al) hire an “extreme tours” guide to take them through the site of Russia’s Chernobyl disaster … only to find that the town might not be abandoned. Sometimes, you just wish that found footage thrillers would remain lost. Oren Peli, the director of Paranormal Activity, managed to produce this tale with little of the genre-defying flair afforded his unique twist on the Blair Witch recipe, despite the promising nuclear fallout zone hook. Instead, contrivance replaces innovation, bad acting replaces suspension of belief, and a Z-movie label replaces any chance of greatness being written in the stars for this entry in the Chernobyl Diarrhea. Bottom line: From Russia with flubs.

Dark Shadows
Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer
Creepy, kooky, mysterious and spooky with a story that occasionally gets a ’lil ooky, director Tim Burton presents an oftentimes fun and stylish camp update of an unintentionally funny and camptastic soap opera ripe for reimagining. In this PG-13-rated remake, fishing tycoon-turned-vampire Barnabus Collins (Depp) awakes in the ’70s after a centuries-old slumber to find his heirs carrying on the family business in a cursed town. Granted, this remake’s unlikely success, however slight, came from a risky roll of the dice. The movie flirts more with comedy than horror as opposed to NBC’s episodic deathly seriousness ’90s remake. The script, however witty, clever and sometimes frightening, never keeps the audience in the dark OR shadows as to its color-by-numbers final act. Even though it’s far from perfect, this horror show is well worth the price of reinvention. Bottom line: Shadows and fog.

The Dictator
Sacha Baron Cohen, Anna Faris
Despite the fact that he often evokes the chameleonic comic abilities of Peter Sellers, Sacha Baron Cohen’s skills just can’t keep this wannabe classic from ending up as a Dicta-phony. In this R-rated comedy, a buffoonish foreign leader (Cohen) gets stripped of his royal trappings and gets forced to live as a poor everyman in New York City. From frame one, the audience knows right where this surprisingly color-by-numbers Easy Bake performance piece is headed: the discount bin. There are definitely some funny bits, but they are interspersed with numerous misfires and dummy rounds. It’s certainly not uncommon for intelligent comedians to raunch up their material these days, but here, Cohen never flushes out his potty mouth. He’s notorious for ramping up the shock value, yes, but there’s nothing shocking about tired Dick-tator and fart jokes set on repeat. Bottom line: One-man bland.

Men in Black 3
Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones
More in the Black than in the red, this sequel is three times more charming than the last go-round … and “time” is the key word. In this PG-13-rated sci-fi sequel, extraterrestrial investigator Agent J. (Smith) time travels to the ’60s where he teams up with a young Agent K. (Josh Brolin) to stop an alien from assassinating his partner’s future self (Jones). This threequel presents a fun-filled, well acted time travel story that proves a much better follow-up to the stylish alien-hunting original than the series’ unfortunate deuce … doubtful as it seems, given its pedigree (eight years since 2, unfinished script during production). Invaded with great humor, SFX, and performances (Brolin, as the younger Jones, delivering a pitch-perfect performance) this trifecta ends up to be a slightly above average way to hang up the series … if only H’wood was that high minded. Bottom line: Bet on Black to the future.

Reel Report: May 31, 2012

Reel Report

by Jeff Boam

 

Opening this weekend

Snow White & the Huntsman
Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron
In a city full of dreamers, it only makes sense that fairy tales would become one of H’wood’s hottest commodities … however fractured. Earlier last year, Catherine Hardwicke directed Amanda Seyfried in a Gothic re-imagining of Red Riding Hood. Then, Julia Leigh directed Emily Browning in a very adult re-telling of Sleeping Beauty. Next year brings Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton in the gritty period actioner Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. First, however, comes this, the second of two takes on the Snow White legend this year. In this PG-13-rated fantasy adventure, Snow White (Stewart) gets turned into a warrioress by the huntsman sent to kill her (Chris Hemsworth) after an evil queen (Theron) declares war on the fairest-of-them-all. The Plus: The players. In this stylish re-imaging of the legend, hot commercial director Rupert Sanders makes his feature debut with an even hotter cast that includes Stewart (The Twilight Saga), Oscar-winner Theron (Young Adult), Hemsworth (The Avengers), Sam Claflin (The Pirates of the Caribbean: On Strange Tides), and Lily Cole (The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus) as well as dwarves the likes of Ian McShane (44 Inch Chest), Bob Hoskins (Doomsday), Toby Jones (Captain America: The First Avenger), Ray Winstone (Edge of Darkness), Eddie Marsan (Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows), and Nick Frost (Paul). The Minus: The gamble. Here, a first-time feature director is helming the second (with a larger budget) Snow White flick in three months. Moviegoers have saturation points. It’s doubtful, but perhaps, they’ve reached their fill of fairy tales already.

Piranha 3DD
Danielle Panabaker, Matthew Bush
While not a remake so much as a follow-up, the success of 2010’s Piranha 3D has, as yet, failed to do career-wise for director Alexandre Aja (High Tension, The Hills Have Eyes) what Piranha and Piranha Part Two: The Spawning did for their respective directors, Joe Dante (who went on to helm The Howling and Gremlins) and James Cameron (Titanic, Avatar). Still, this hasn’t stopped John Gulager (Feast) from helming a sequel. In this R-rated horror comedy, a school of blood-thirsty, pre-hysteric fish with nasty over-bites are unleashed in a water park full of young, beautiful people in bikinis … in three dimensions. The Plus: The genre. Panabaker (The Crazies) and Bush (Halloween II) are relative unknowns, but B-movie actors David Koechner (Final Destination 5), Gary Busey (HBO’s Entourage), Christopher Lloyd (Piranha 3D), Ving Rhames (Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol), and David Hasselhoff (Click) are hopefully in on the joke. The Minus: The competition. In a crowded summer box office already ruled by the likes of The Avengers and Men in Black III (both more family friendly with a PG-13 rating, mind), this adults-only confection might find that is has no bite come the weekend.

 

Now Playing

Men in Black 3
Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones
More in the Black than in the red, this sequel is three times more charming than the last go-round … and ‘time’ is the key word. MIB 2 was a choppy tale borne out of studio execs looking to bank some serious bucks on a predetermined sophomore slump. This three-quel presents a fun-filled, well acted time travel story that proves a much better follow-up to the stylish alien-hunting original than the aforementioned deuce …doubtful as it seems, given its pedigree (eight years since the last chapter, unfinished script during production). Invaded with great humor, SFX, and performances, this MIB file is solid — not great, but consistently entertaining.
In this PG-13-rated, sci-fi sequel, extraterrestrial investigator Agent J. (Smith) time travels to the ’60s where he teams up with a young Agent K. (Josh Brolin) to stop an alien from assassinating his partner’s future self (Jones).
Smith works hard to be America’s Sweetheart. Here, he stands, delivers, and — based on the early box office returns – rakes in the glory. His performance, however, is not the gold standard. Rather, it’s Brolin as the younger Jones, delivering a pitch-perfect channeling of the older Oscar winner. Kudos also go to Jemaine Clement for playing brilliantly against type as the baddie. The legendary Rick Baker’s make-up and creature effects remain the true star. This wizard plays with ’60s H’wood style by aping some serious throwback designs. Because of these commitments to Black gold, this trifecta ends up being a slightly above average way to hang up the series … if only H’wood was that high minded Bottom line: Bet on Black to the future.

The Chernobyl Diaries
Jonathan Sadowki, Jesse McCartney
A found footage thriller without the benefit of a mocumentary feel or thrills, Chernobyl Diaries is pretty much a horrific meltdown of near-epic proportions. Sometimes, you just wish that found footage thrillers would remain lost. Oren Peli, the director of Paranormal Activity, managed to produce this tale with little of the genre-defying flair afforded his unique twist on the Blair Witch recipe, despite the promising nuclear fallout zone hook. Instead, contrivance replaces innovation, bad acting replaces suspension of belief, and a Z-movie label replaces any chance of greatness being written in the stars for this entry in the Chernobyl Diarrhea. In this R-rated thriller, six young tourists (Sadowski, McCartney, et al) hire an “extreme tours” guide to take them through the site of Russia’s Chernobyl disaster … only to find that the town might not be abandoned.
Within the past year, The Darkest Hour played the same game, pawning post-Communist Russia off as the setting for a so-unreal-it-hurts horror show featuring nebulous villains. That horrible genre tale, however, was at least a straight-ahead alien invasion tale masquerading as a handheld thriller. This B-sting toss-off is just a waste of time. Shoddy, er, shaky camerawork? Check. Placing the protagonists in a scary, isolated setting? Check. Picking off pretty people one by one? Check. Pitting shuffle-footed creeps against your worst fears? Check, please. These creature fissures are lead-footed, at best. Still, a few points get rewarded for the true ending, which delivers a helluva potboiler almost unworthy of the cliché-ridden hour and a half build-up. Bottom line: From Russia with flubs.

The Avengers
Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans
Assembling the Invincible Iron Man, Incredible Hulk, Mighty Thor, and First Avenger Captain America into an astonishingly superb mash-up, this is a spectacularly fun and uncannily exciting comic book flick due a hero’s welcome. In this PG-13-rated Marvel Comics adventure, Nick Fury’s (Samuel L. Jackson) international spy agency S.H.I.E.L.D. brings together a team of superheroes (Downey, Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner) to fight off the evil Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Giving moviegoers an equal mix of heroic action, comical relief, ace casting, and decent character building, writer/director Joss Whedon forms the most rewarding supergroup since George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, and Roy Orbison took to the stage as The Traveling Wilburys. Yes, it runs long … but do you hear that noise? Nom nom nom. It’s the sound of audiences eating popcorn and loving every minute of it. Bottom line: A Hulk smash.

Battleship
Taylor Kitsch, Liam Neeson
In pulling off his best Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, 2012) imitation, director Peter Berg’s Battleship ends up giving audiences a naval exercise in futility. In this PG-13-rated sci-fi adventure, a fleet of American Navy ships must do battle with an armada of robotic otherworldly forces set on a destructive path. Granted, it’s not exactly a board game. The star-studded talent pool, weapons-grade effects, and clever play on Hasbro’s game of the same name keep it from becoming a total wash.
Unfortunately, even this often-rusty bucket’s unique points aren’t enough to sink moviegoers’ disbelief for more than two looooong hours. Blockbuster action flicks should never feel as long as Titanic, even if a love story and ship goes down within the running time. As for the actors getting rained on with awards, pop star Rhianna needn’t bring her umbrella-ella-ella. Bottom line: A sinking feeling.

Dark Shadows
Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer
Creepy, kooky, mysterious and spooky with a story that occasionally gets a lil’ ooky, director Tim Burton presents an oftentimes fun and stylish camp update of a unintentionally funny and camptastic soap opera ripe for reimagining. In this PG-13-rated remake, fishing tycoon-turned-vampire Barnabus Collins (Depp) awakes in the ’70s after a centuries-old slumber to find his heirs carrying on the family business in a cursed town. Granted, this remake’s unlikely success, however slight, came from a risky roll of the dice. The movie flirts more with comedy than horror as opposed to NBC’s episodic deathly seriousness ’90s remake. The script, however witty, clever and sometimes frightening, never keeps the audience in the dark or shadows as to its color-by-numbers final act. Even though it’s far from perfect, this horror show is well worth the price of reinvention. Bottom line: Shadow of a doubtlessly good.

The Dictator
Sacha Baron Cohen, Anna Faris
Despite the fact that he often evokes the chameleonic comic abilities of Peter Sellers, Sacha Baron Cohen’s skills just can’t keep this wannabe classic from ending up as a Dicta-Phony. In this R-rated comedy, a buffoonish foreign leader (Cohen) gets stripped of his royal trappings and gets forced to live as a poor everyman in New York City. From frame one, the audience knows right where this surprisingly color-by-numbers Easy Bake performance piece is headed: the discount bin. There are definitely some funny bits, but they are interspersed with numerous misfires and dummy rounds. It’s certainly not uncommon for intelligent comedians to raunch up their material these days, but here, Cohen never flushes out his potty mouth. He’s notorious for ramping up the shock value, yes, but there’s nothing shocking about tired Dick-tator and fart jokes set on repeat. Bottom line: One-man bland.

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 T.V., 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.

Reel Report: May 24, 2012

Reel Report

by Jeff Boam

Opening this weekend

Men in Black III
Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones
Come every July 4 holiday weekend, there used to be the gi-normous matter of Big Willy. Indeed, the Independence Day holiday was always Will Smith’s for the taking. Leading back to, well, Independence Day, he has opened strong on this weekend again (Men in Black) and again (Wild Wild West) and again (Men in Black II) and again (Bad Boys II) and again (I, Robot) and again (Hancock). For his return to the comic book franchise Men in Black, Smith is taking on a new holiday: Memorial Day. In this PG-13-rated sequel to the sci-fi blockbuster, extraterrestrial investigator Agent J (Smith) time travels to the ‘60s where he must team up with a young Agent K (Josh Brolin) to stop an alien from assassinating his partner’s future self (Jones). The Plus: The players. Even out of summer, Smith has opened strong (Hitch, I Am Legend, The Pursuit of Happyness) and been nominated for an Oscar besides (Ali). Together with Jones (No Country for Old Men, Captain America: The First Avenger) and MIB series director Barry Sonnefeld (The Addams Family, Get Shorty), this bankable movie star could seize the dogs days again. The Minus: The buzz. From gossip about Smith’s trailer taking up most of a New York City bock to shooting without a complete script, this movie has been dogged since day one. Add in the fact that it’s been 10 years since the last chapter (profitable, yes, but also savaged by critics and moviegoers) and Smith’s bankability may not even be able to keep these men in the black.

The Chernobyl Diaries
Jonathan Sadowki, Jesse McCartney
It has been more than 12 years since micro-budgeted thriller The Blair Witch Project broke box office records by pioneering faux documentary horror (and 11 years since its awful sequel, which adopted a narrative structure, did not). In 2009, however, director Oren Peli brought faux documentary back to horror when his practically no-budget thriller Paranormal Activity became an instant classic and led the way for two sequels. Now, for The Chernobyl Diaries, Peli is on producing duties. In this R-rated found footage thriller, six young American tourists (Sadowski, McCartney, et al) hire an “extreme tours” guide to take them through the site of Russia’s Chernobyl disaster … only to find that the town might not be abandoned. The Plus: The genre. Paranormal Activity went on to net more than $109 million on Peli’s original investment of $15,000, making it the most profitable movie of all time. The sequels racked up impressive numbers as well. The Minus: The odds. Last year, The Last Exorcism and The Devil Inside, which both followed the Blair Witch formula, hit screens in short succession. Eventually, this horror sub-genre will reach its saturation point—possibly even with this movie.

 

Now Playing

Battleship
Taylor Kitsch, Liam Neeson
In pulling off his best Roland Emmerich imitation, director Peter Berg’s Battleship ends up giving audiences a naval exercise in futility. Granted, it’s not exactly a board game.
The star-studded talent pool, weapons-grade effects, and clever play on Hasbro’s game of the same name keep it from becoming a total wash. It’s a somewhat unique spin on a story that moviegoers have seen countless times before and done remarkably better. A cocky military man who must prove his muster to the higher-ups? Hello, An Officer and a Gentleman. An intergalactic invasion movie where humans battle impossible odds while fighting against advanced technology? Hiya, Cowboys & Aliens. Unfortunately, even this often-rusty bucket’s unique points aren’t enough to sink moviegoers’ disbelief for over two looooong hours.
In this PG-13-rated sci-fi adventure, a fleet of American Navy ships must do battle with an armada of robotic otherworldly forces set on a destructive path. The previews smacked of Transformers, what with the big-gunned alien robots chocked full of moving parts laying waste to Earth. Truthfully, this board game-come-to-life more closely resembles Emmerich’s multi-storied, disaster from outer space flick Independence Day. Berg gives the players room to breathe, developing the characters beyond simple action figures and building up to the first encounter with a slow burn. Unfortunately, he gives them too much room. Blockbuster action flicks should never feel as long as Titanic, even if a love story and ship goes down within the running time. As for the actors getting rained on with awards, pop star Rhianna needn’t bring her umbrella-ella-ella. Bottom line: A sinking feeling.

The Dictator
Sacha Baron Cohen, Anna Faris
Despite the fact that he often evokes the chameleonic comic abilities of Peter Sellers, Sacha Baron Cohen’s skills just can’t keep this wannabe classic from ending up as a Dicta-phony. From frame one, the audience knows right where this surprisingly color-by-numbers Easy Bake performance piece is headed: the discount bin. There are definitely some funny bits, but they are interspersed with numerous misfires and dummy rounds. It’s certainly not uncommon for intelligent comedians to raunch up their material these days, but here, Cohen never flushes out his potty mouth. He’s notorious for ramping up the shock value, yes, but there’s nothing shocking about dick-tator and fart jokes set on repeat.
In this R-rated comedy, a buffoonish foreign leader (Cohen) gets stripped of his royal trappings and gets forced to live as a poor everyman in New York City. With the inventive, unscripted Borat, Cohen’s brilliant character work and the movie’s faux-documentary style led to some classic side-splitting laughs. With his follow-up, the unscripted Bruno, he unfortunately followed the same formula to the point of redundancy. Now, with the scripted Dictator, he follows the same sad trend while bringing his own hilarious, topical, and sharply written character to the screen with the awe-inspiring comic greatness usually afforded a Great(er) Dictator, Chaplin. It’s amazing how predictable and connect-the-dots his character’s vehicle becomes, however.
The credits betray the fact that it took four writers working separately (including Cohen) to whip up the Simple Sadam, er Simon, story. A dictatorship, of course, is a one-man job and Cohen should’ve chosen his allies better. Bottom line: One-man bland.

The Avengers
Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans
Assembling the Invincible Iron Man, Incredible Hulk, Mighty Thor, and First Avenger Captain America into an astonishingly superb mash-up, this is a spectacularly fun and uncannily exciting comic book flick due a hero’s welcome.
In this PG-13-rated Marvel Comics adventure, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson)’s international spy agency S.H.I.E.L.D. brings together a team of superheroes (Downey, Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner) to fight off the evil Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Giving moviegoers an equal mix of heroic action, comical relief, ace casting, and decent character building, writer/director Joss Whedon forms the most rewarding supergroup since George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, and Roy Orbison took to the stage as The Traveling Wilburys. Yes, it runs long … but do you hear that noise? Nom nom nom. It’s the sound of audiences eating popcorn and loving every minute of it. Bottom line: A Hulk smash.

Dark Shadows
Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer
Creepy, kooky, mysterious and spooky with a story that occasionally gets a lil’ ooky, director Tim Burton presents an oftentimes fun and stylish camp update of a unintentionally funny and camptastic soap opera ripe for reimagining. In this PG-13-rated remake, fishing tycoon-turned-vampire Barnabus Collins (Depp) awakes in the ’70s after a centuries-old slumber to find his heirs carrying on the family business in a cursed town. Granted, this remake’s unlikely success, however slight, came from a risky roll of the dice. The movie flirts more with comedy than horror as opposed to NBC’s episodic deathly seriousness ’90s remake. The script, however witty, clever and sometimes frightening, never keeps the audience in the dark or shadows as to its color- by-numbers final act. Even though it’s far from perfect, this horror show is well worth the price of reinvention. Bottom line: Shadow of a doubtlessly good tale.

The Raven
John Cusack, Alice Eve
More ‘the pits’ than pendulously entertaining, The Raven is horrifically miscalculated American Gothic. In this R-rated 19th century-set crime thriller, writer Edgar Allan Poe (John Cusack) joins forces with a young Baltimore detective (Oliver Jackson Cohen) to hunt down a mad serial murderer basing his crimes around Poe’s works. One of this reviewer’s guiltiest pleasures is From Hell, the Hughes Brothers’ flawed, but stylish, Jack the Ripper who-done-it based on an Alan Moore graphic novel. It’s a great murder mystery based on real events that colors outside of the lines with great style. The Raven, which shares From Hell’s strikingly similar DNA, checks off these same boxes. Cursed with a wretchedly contrived script that never lives up to the premise’s great potential, however, this Raven loony is just a Po-faced pot-boiler. Bottom line: Watch The Raven nevermore.

Safe
Jason Statham, Chris Sarandon
Despite being heavy-handed and lead-footed, Jason Statham’s straight-on, knockaround latest is a Safe bet for action fans. 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. Granted, it’s right in Statham’s wheelhouse of cheese: he has a clean-shaven head throughout, delivers his lines with a fake American growl, squints more than Renee Zellweger in a rom-com, and kicks bad guys in the head … a lot. The flick smartly keeps the action coming at a furious clip and his pint-sized co-star’s lines to a minimum. When it does slow down to catch its breath, however, a kid’s precociousness starts to rise and the audience’s interest starts to sink faster than a safe on the Titanic. Bottom line: Decent combination.

Think Like a Man
Michael Ealy, Jerry Ferrara
If it acts so-so and it thinks so-so, chances are that the romantic pastiche Think Like a Man is a Just so-so tale. 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. 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 funnyman 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… Instead, this Man-handled shtick sticks strictly to the Middle of the Road — laughs, loves and all. Granted, Allen’s 1972 was a mixed bag, but at least it had a set of chops. Bottom line: Act like a malady.

 

Reel Report: May 17, 2012


Reel Report

by Jeff Boam

Opening This Weekend

Battleship
Taylor Kitsch, Liam Neeson
From Super Mario Bros. to Street Fighter to Lara Croft: Tomb Raider to Resident Evil to Max Payne to Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, H’wood never seems to tire of making video game adaptations. But board games? Yes, the film industry is officially rolling the dice on old school family entertainment becoming big business. Since 2010, Great Scott Productions, which is owned and run by directors/brothers Ridley and Tony Scott, has been circling a Monopoly movie. Very recently, Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison Productions announced plans for a Candyland movie. First, however, Universal is sinking some serious dough into Battleship. In this PG-13-rated big budget take on the Hasbro board game, a fleet of American Navy ships must do battle with an armada of robotic otherworldly forces set on a destructive path. The Plus: The angle. Rather than have actors yell numbers and move pegs around for two hours, the producers have taken an explosive cue another Hasbro property, Transformers. For the human elements, Peter Berg (The Rundown, Hancock) directs Kitsch (John Carter), Neeson (The Grey), Alexander Skarsgard (HBO’s True Blood), Brooklyn Decker (Just Go with It), and Rhianna (R & B star, “Umbrella”). The Minus: The odds. Most of the expensive properties coming at moviegoers this summer are sequels, remakes, or comic book adaptations. Risking a reported $200 million on an unproven franchise becomes even riskier when it follows the record-breaking The Avengers.

The Dictator
Sacha Baron Cohen, Anna Faris
Though he was educated in Israel and ultimately graduated from the upper crust and altogether proper British university known as Cambridge, Sacha Baron Cohen made a name for himself in a faux-documentary style film as a controversial, anti-Semitic, and altogether rude television interviewer named Ali G. Cohen. His hip-hop-loving, Albanian, on-air alter-ago connected so well with British viewers that the hysterically over-the-top character was given his own show: Da Ali G. Show. From this program (which he would later take across the pond to HBO), Cohen developed other popular characters including the over-sexed Kazakhstani reporter Borat and the star of his last faux-documentary film comedy, Bruno. Now, Cohen shakes things up in the R-rated, non-faux doc, straight-on comedy The Dictator, in which a buffoonish foreign leader gets stripped of his royal trappings and is forced to live as a poor everyman in New York City. The Plus: The players. Cohen proved a hit with critics and audiences alike when Borat became the comedy hit of summer, 2007 ($128 million). Director Larry Charles, who also helmed Bruno, is back directing Cohen. The Minus: The odds. Bruno underwhelmed critics and moviegoers, eventually netting under $60 million in the U.S. Normally, this is a healthy gross, but Universal had paid the star $30 million to bring him to life on-screen, which questions his bankability.

What to Expect When You’re Expecting
Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez
Blame He’s Just Not That Into You. The ensemble rom-com combined multiple stories and stars to the tune of more than $93 million. Then, Warner Brothers took aim at Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve by releasing the aptly titled, er, Valentine’s Day and New Year’s
Eve, rom-coms chock full of more stars than It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World meets Circus of the Stars! Now, the subject of pregnancy gets the same treatment. In this PG-13-rated adaptation of Sharon Mazel’s book What to Expect When You’re Expecting, multiple couples are put to the test when pregnancy affects their already topsy-turvy modern lives. The Plus: As always, the talent. Here Kirk Jones (Everybody’s Fine) directs Diaz (Bad Teacher), Lopez (The Back-Up Plan), Elizabeth Banks (The Hunger Games), Brooklyn Decker (Just Go With It), Chris Rock (Grown Ups), Chase Crawford (CW’s Gossip Girl), Dennis Quaid (G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra), Matthew Morrison (Fox’s Glee), Anna Kendrick (50/50), Wendy McLendon-Covey (Bridesmaids), and Joe Manganiello (HBO’s True Blood). The Minus: The competition. One weekend, three big releases, two of them comedies … there’s only room for one comedy at the already crowded box office and this flick had better hope that women drag their girlfriends and their men to the theaters this weekend or Lionsgate shouldn’t expect much.

Now Playing

Dark Shadows
Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer
Creepy, kooky, mysterious, and spooky with a story that occasionally gets a lil’ ooky, Dark Shadows presents an oftentimes fun and stylish camp update of a decidedly unfunny, unstylish, camptastic soap opera ripe for reinvention. Granted, this remake’s unlikely success, however slight, came from a risky roll of the dice. The movie flirts more with comedy than horror as opposed to NBC’s episodic ’90s remake, which sadly circumvented the original’s unintentional comic moments for deathly seriousness.
Somehow, the latest gambit pays off … albeit barely. The script, however witty, frightening and sometimes clever, never keeps the audience in the dark or shadows as to its plain final act.
In this PG-13-rated reimagining of the cult hit, fishing tycoon-turned-vampire Barnabus Collins (Depp) awakes in the ’70s after a centuries-old slumber to find his heirs trying to carry on the family business amid a town full of witches and monsters.
Except for a rare exception (Planet of the Apes), director Tim Burton never disappoints when it comes to style and verve. His vision of Dark Shadows ends up more atmospheric and edgy than any other monster tale today. Thankfully, he has a bloody great cast that’s thirsty for some bloodletting. It’s hard not to have a man-crush on Johnny Depp.
He delivers a letter perfect performance that nails laughs, thrills, and pathos as a killer trying to save his family’s fortunes. It almost seems improbable that he and longtime collaborator Burton haven’t made a vampire tale yet. Even though it’s far from perfect, their horror show is well worth the price of reinvention. Bottom line: Shadow of a doubtlessly good.

The Raven
John Cusack, Alice Eve
More ‘the pits’ than pendulously entertaining, The Raven is horrifically miscalculated American Gothic. One of this reviewer’s guiltiest pleasures is From Hell, the Hughes Brothers’ flawed, but stylish, Jack the Ripper who-done-it based on an Alan Moore graphic novel. It’s a great murder mystery based on real events that colors outside of the lines with great style. The Raven, which shares From Hell’s strikingly similar DNA, checks off these same boxes. Cursed with a wretchedly contrived script that never lives up to the premise’s great potential, however, this Raven loony is just a Po-faced pot-boiler.
In this R-rated 19th century-set crime thriller, writer Edgar Allan Poe (John Cusack) joins forces with a young Baltimore detective (Oliver Jackson Cohen) to hunt down a mad serial murderer basing his crimes around Poe’s works.
The opening shot shows a deathly ill Poe looking up at — dum, dum, dum — a raven. A victim shows up in a coffin that also encases — dum, dum, dum — a raven. The killer fires a shot at Poe and instead hits — dum, dum, dum — a raven. Laying it on thicker than Karo syrup, director James McTeigue answers the question as to whether or not he improved upon the promise he demonstrated with his decent debut, V for Vendetta.  Um, no. A ridiculous overly-bloody display of style over substance, his heavy-handedness puts the final nail in the movie’s coffin. Worse, Cusack, who’s usually aces in everything from comedy to thrillers, gives a hammy performance more becoming of this week’s other release, Dark Shadows. Bottom line: Watch The Raven nevermore.

The Avengers
Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans
Assembling the Invincible Iron Man, Incredible Hulk, Mighty Thor, and First Avenger Captain America into an astonishingly superb mash-up, this is a spectacularly fun and uncannily exciting comic book flick due a hero’s welcome. In this PG-13-rated Marvel Comics adventure, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson)’s international spy agency S.H.I.E.L.D. brings together a team of superheroes (Downey, Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner) to fight off the evil Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Giving moviegoers an equal mix of heroic action, comical relief, ace casting, and decent character building, writer/director Joss Whedon forms the most rewarding supergroup since George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, and Roy Orbison took to the stage as The Traveling Wilburys. Yes, it runs long … but do you hear that noise? Nom nom nom. It’s the sound of audiences eating popcorn and loving every minute of it. Bottom line: A Hulk smash.

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.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits
Voices of Hugh Grant, Martin Freeman
Though it definitely generates more “arg” than “ugh,” The Pirates! still runs a good many chickens short of greatness. 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. Granted, the painstaking artistry and inarguable inventiveness of the movie continue the grand Aardman Animation tradition, even if the wit and spit just isn’t up to the crackling wit of, say, Pixar or Dreamworks.
And no, this isn’t a slight against British humor (this reviewer would run away with the Flying Circus any day). Still, there’s no escaping the fact that this kid flick tries for Caribbean-sized booty with Cutthroat Island-bound material. Band of Misfits is still rollicking fun even if it doesn’t sail on those particular high seas. Bottom line: On standard tides.

Safe
Jason Statham, Chris Sarandon
Despite being heavy-handed and lead-footed, Jason Statham’s straight-on, knockaround latest is a Safe bet for action fans. 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. Granted, it’s right in Statham’s wheelhouse of cheese: He has a clean-shaven head throughout, delivers his lines with a fake American growl, squints more than Renee Zellweger in a rom-com, and kicks bad guys in the head … a lot. The flick smartly keeps the action coming at a furious clip and his pint-sized co-star’s lines to a minimum. When it does slow down to catch its breath, however, a kid’s precociousness starts to rise and the audience’s interest starts to sink faster than a safe on the Titanic. Bottom line: Decent combination.

Think Like a Man
Michael Ealy, Jerry Ferrara
If it acts so-so and it thinks so-so, chances are that the romantic pastiche Think Like a Man is a just so-so tale. 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.
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 funnyman 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… Instead, this Man-handled shtick sticks strictly to the Middle of the Road — laughs, loves, and all. Granted, Allen’s 1972 was a mixed bag, but at least it had a set of chops. Bottom line: Act like a malady.

Reel Report: May 10, 2010

Reel Report

By Jeff Boam

 

Opening This Weekend

Dark Shadows
Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer
Forget The Twilight Saga, The CW’s The Vampire Diaries, and HBO’s True Blood. This year, the next potential vampire sensation will be … a big screen reboot of a low-budget camp ‘60s soap opera notorious for its piggy bank production budget?! ‘Tis true. After two years of circling a remake of Dark Shadows (which originally ran on ABC from 1966 to 1971), director Tim Burton (Batman, Ed Wood) finally sank his teeth into the property after novelist Seth Grahame-Smith (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) turned in a script that’s as much camp as vamp. In this PG-13-rated reimagining of the cult hit, shipping tycoon-turned vampire Barnabus Collins (Depp) awakes in the ‘70s after a centuries-old slumber to find his heirs trying to carry on the family business amid a town full of witches and monsters. The Plus: The players. All joking aside, the cold-blooded are hot properties in H’wood right now (The Twilight Saga, for instance, is one of the most profitable franchises of the last decade). But let’s be frank, the star wattage of Depp (The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, the Oscar-winning Rango) and frequent collaborator Burton (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Alice in Wonderland) are what’s driving this update. The participation of Pfeiffer (New Year’s Eve), Helena Bonham Carter (The King’s Speech), Jackie Earle Haley (A Nightmare on Elm Street), Eva Green (Casino Royale), and Chloe Grace-Moretz (Hugo) will only help matters. The Minus: The odds. Not all vampire flicks fare well at the box office (Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant, Daybreakers) or on television (CBS’s Moonlight). This version is definitely aiming for more of a comedic than dramatic tone, which is already rankling some longtime fans and could create some bad word of mouth if the scares/laughs don’t mix well.

The Avengers
Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans
Assembling the Invincible Iron Man, Incredible Hulk, Mighty Thor, and First Avenger Captain America into an astonishingly superb mash-up, The Avengers is a spectacularly fun and uncannily exciting comic book flick due a hero’s welcome. Granted, it was bound to fare better than the last Avengers, a terribly miscalculated adaptation of a ’60s British TV program that saw Sean Connery scream “I control the weather now!” Still, it’s a bit of a tall order combining multiple franchises into one actioner and making it, well, good. Even Hulk and Cap’s solo flicks were just average affairs. Regardless, The Avengers makes for the most rewarding supergroup since George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Roy Orbison took to the stage as The Traveling Wilburys.
In this PG-13-rated Marvel comic book adventure, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and the international spy agency S.H.I.E.L.D. bring together a team of superheroes — Iron Man (Downey), Captain America (Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) — to fight off the evil Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and an otherworldly legion. Here, geek god (not to be confused with Greek god, mind you) writer/director Joss Whedon meets moviegoers’ vaulted expectations by giving them an equal mix of heroic action, comic relief, an ace cast (Mark Ruffalo officially beats out Eric Bana and Ed Norton for best Hulk), decent character building, and satiating geek satisfaction into one streamlined vehicle. Yes, it runs long … but do you hear that noise? Nom nom nom. It’s the sound of audiences eating popcorn and loving every minute of it. Bottom line: A Hulk smash.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits
Voices of Hugh Grant, Martin Freeman
Though it definitely generates more “arg” than “ugh,” The Pirates! Band of Misfits still runs a good many chickens short of greatness. Granted, the painstaking artistry and inarguable inventiveness of the movie continue the grand Aardman Animation tradition, even if the wit and spit just isn’t up to the crackling wit of, say, Pixar or Dreamworks.
And no, this isn’t a slight against British humor (hell, this reviewer wanted to run away with the Flying Circus years ago). Still, there’s no escaping the fact that this kid flick tries for Caribbean-sized booty with Cutthroat Island-bound material. It’s decidedly difficult to spot a Sparrow in this dodo’s nest, however.
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 voice cast proves so rousingly good that you wish that they had acted it out in live action while swigging grog. Hugh Grant sounds unrecognizable, but hilariously barmy as the aptly named “Pirate Captain.” Also, the 3D adds a welcome diversion that’s perfectly suited to enhance the first-rate animation and slapstick skullduggery. Perhaps, it’s the Curse of the Were-Rabbit that keeps this flick’s full potential in Davy Jones’s locker. Aardman’s own Wallace & Gromit proved that stop-motion animation was an entertainment form worthy of the big screen. Wes Anderson’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox, however, proved that the form is the art. Band of Misfits is still rollicking fun even if it doesn’t sail on those particular high seas. Bottom line: On standard tides.

The Five-Year Engagement
Jason Segel, Emily Blunt
Even though this overlong trip down the cinema aisle won’t exactly make audiences forget Forgetting Sarah Marshall, The Five-Year Engagement is a marriage of hilarious laughs and amazing performances. In this R-rated comedy co-written by Segel (who also starred in/wrote Marshall), a long-suffering engaged couple (Segel, Emily Blunt) keep getting tripped up on the way to the altar. Along with the writing and directing, the leads prove to be a great coupling. In fact, some of the bits are so funny, you just want to put on the baby-making music and forget the foreplay — instant gold standard comedy. So, why does it sound like this reviewer is about to dish out some marriage counseling? Well, let’s just say that the title is quite apropos. After the screening, despite the laughter, it still felt like five years had passed. Bottom line: Guffawing to the chapel.

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.

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. 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. Nicholas Sparks is the Thomas Kincade of the written word — all fuss, no muss. Time (The Notebook) and time again (Dear John), his treacly novels have become treacly three hanky weepers. True, 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. Bottom line: Luck of the drool.

Safe
Jason Statham, Chris Sarandon
Despite being heavy-handed and lead-footed, Jason Statham’s straight-on, knockaround, roughneck latest is a Safe bet for action fans. 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. Granted, it’s right in Statham’s wheelhouse of cheese: He has a clean-shaven head throughout, delivers his lines with a fake American growl, squints more than Renee Zellweger in a rom-com, and kicks bad guys in the head … a lot. The flick smartly keeps the action coming at a furious clip and his pint-sized co-star’s lines to a minimum. When it does slow down to catch its breath, however, a kid’s precociousness starts to rise and the audience’s interest starts to sink faster than a safe on the Titanic. Bottom line: Decent combination.

Think Like a Man
Michael Ealy, Jerry Ferrara
If it acts so-so and it thinks so-so, chances are that the romantic pastiche Think Like a Man is a just so-so tale. 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.
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 funnyman 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… Instead, this Man-handled shtick sticks strictly to the Middle of the Road — laughs, loves and all. Granted, Allen’s 1972 was a mixed bag, but at least it had some chops. Bottom line: Act like a malady.