Andy Bockelman: The hits and misses of spring’s flicks
May 18, 2011
As the summer movie season comes once again, we reflect on movies from the last few months — some of which are either still in theaters or already on DVD — a period between the more influential films of the year and the high energy popcorn flicks of May, June, July and August. And while not every movie of the winter and spring months is a keeper, occasionally quality does show itself in this dry spell.
But then again, so does garbage.
Here's a look at some of both:
• "Crazy on the Outside" — Upon his release from prison, lifelong loser Tommy Zelda (Tim Allen) has a tough time acclimating to life without a jumpsuit, whether it's trying to get back together with his ex (Julie Bowen) or avoiding the bad influence of his former friend and partner in crime (Ray Liotta). But with the help of a sympathetic parole officer (Jeanne Tripplehorn), he may just get his act together.
It's hard to conceive how this ever received a theatrical run, as this uninteresting story goes nowhere fast, even with an impressive cast that includes Kelsey Grammer, J.K. Simmons and Sigourney Weaver, who's the lone standout as Tommy's overprotective sister, a chronic liar. What makes the movie's failure even more astounding is the fact that Allen himself made his directorial debut and couldn't turn his own experiences as an ex-con into something worthwhile.
• "Extraordinary Measures" — Harried executive John Crowley (Brendan Fraser) and his wife (Keri Russell) are desperate to save the lives of their children (Meredith Droeger, Diego Velazquez), who are afflicted with the debilitating Pompe disease, which ticks away their life daily. John's search for a cure leads him to Robert Stonehill (Harrison Ford), a temperamental research scientist who may have the answer, though getting through all the red tape and financial setbacks proves its own struggle.
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As the first feature by production company CBS Films, this certainly feels like a TV movie of the week, but the stars' performances combined with the genuine emotion of the Crowleys' true story makes it work.
• "Edge of Darkness" — When his daughter, Emma (Bojana Novakovic), is killed right in front of him on his front stoop, Boston detective Thomas Craven (Mel Gibson) can think of nothing but finding the people responsible. Though he believes someone killed her to get to him, he soon finds out that his little girl was mixed up in very treacherous business.
Gibson's first starring role in years after becoming a social pariah is a moody, disturbing mystery that grips you by the throat and refuses to relinquish its hold.
Based on Martin Campbell's 1980s BBC series, the story works well enough as a feature film, although the supporting characters, good and bad, become increasingly implausible, albeit well-played by Danny Huston, Jay O. Sanders and Ray Winstone.
• "From Paris with Love" — Up-and-coming CIA operative James Reese (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is itching for a chance to prove himself to his superiors rather than continue to function as an aide to the U.S. ambassador to France. But when he gets his chance to start a mission, his partner is less than ideal as he gets paired with rowdy American triggerman Charlie Wax (John Travolta), who leads the two of them on a dangerous, high adrenaline romp through the City of Lights.
"Taken" filmmaker Pierre Morel tries his hand at a less grim action movie, succeeding in getting at least a bizarrely likable showing out of Travolta, who just looks weird as a cueball. The relative lightheartedness of the dialogue works for the most part, even if the energy dissolves all too soon.
Royale with cheese, anyone?
• "Cop Out" — Unorthodox NYPD cops Jimmy and Paul (Bruce Willis, Tracy Morgan) screw up majorly in their latest case, resulting in a temporary suspension without pay from the force. When Jimmy attempts to make some money through other means, the two become embroiled in the business of a baseball card-loving drug kingpin (Guillermo Diaz) who is ready to take over the Big Apple.
Director Kevin Smith limits himself to being a director and editor in his newest film, and without his talent for writing believable dialogue, this buddy cop movie flounders quickly. An early interrogation scene in which Morgan quotes every movie from "Scarface" to "The Color Purple" may get some laughs, but even the most patient viewer will be turned off by Seann William Scott as an acrobatic criminal who has a personality more infantile than every younger brother ever born. At least we were spared from the movie's original title: "A Couple of Dicks."
• "Repo Men" — In 2025, artificial organs are readily available for the health-stricken — as long as the price is right. As workers for the leading corporation in the field of "artiforgs," good friends Remy and Jake (Jude Law, Forest Whitaker) collect on transplant patients whose payments are past due. It's decent pay as long as they can suppress their compassion, but after an on-the-job accident Remy has a change of heart — literally — leaving him unable to continue his work and at the mercy of his employers.
Given the tempestuous climate surrounding the topics of the economy and health care, the underlying theme of a cutthroat business holding the lives of patients in its hands should have more relevance. However, the content is so on the nose that it's an insult to the subtlety of the science fiction genre. Where's Phillip K. Dick when you need him?
Plus, for a film prominently featuring surgery, the bloodiest moments are purely unnecessary violence. Still, this parable does its job in showing a futuristic society most of us would hope to avoid.
An advertisement for a 10th installment of "The Fast and the Furious" certainly terrifies me.
• "The Runaways" — When troubled suburban girl Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning) meets unruly young rocker Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) in 1975, punk music history is made as the all-girl group The Runaways is born. But their fast fame isn't enough to compensate for endless in-fighting, a manipulative manager (Michael Shannon) and a struggle to be taken seriously in the music world.
As with any story of music post-1950, it's all about sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll as these girls become a worldwide sensation. Stewart is ideal as shaggy-haired guitarist Jett, the backbone of the group, but Fanning gets more of a focus as 15-year-old cherry bomb Currie, who quickly gets sucked into a torrent of rebellious behavior and personal crises.
Currie's memoir "Neon Angel" served as the inspiration, but all the personal touches added by debuting writer/director Floria Sigismondi, best known for her expertise as a music video artist, is what drives the narrative and lets us connect with the young women at its center as they become tough as nails.
After all, who wouldn't become a better musician after being pelted with dog droppings?
• "Chloe" — Successful Toronto gynecologist Catherine (Julianne Moore) has a strained relationship with her husband David (Liam Neeson), and when she suspects him of being unfaithful, she resolves to find out for sure. She hires a beautiful young call girl (Amanda Seyfried) to seduce David and report back to her, but what she finds out may be more than she can handle.
The cast is dynamic in this erotic thriller but none more than Seyfried, absolutely chilling as the eponymous escort who insinuates herself into the lives of this couple, even going as far as sexually toying with their teenage son (Max Thieriot). The plot moves slowly but steadily, emphasizing an unbearable amount of separation between the people involved, as well as the quiet, cold, Canadian surroundings, before a wallop halfway through that will shock after a second-hand look at sexuality in the lead-up. Be forewarned: The film's art house aesthetics aren't for everyone, and like Catherine, you may be in over your head before you know what's happening.
• "The Last Song" — Promising pianist Ronnie (Miley Cyrus) has given up music after her parents' (Greg Kinnear, Kelly Preston) divorce, but when she is forced to visit her estranged father in his small coastal Georgia town, she starts to reconnect with him in spite of her anger. But the summer also holds love in store for her, as she meets and falls for a local boy (Liam Hemsworth).
Nicholas Sparks' novels seem to be making the leap to the silver screen faster than he can write them, as he co-adapts his own book for a feature film. The story and stock characters should be more than familiar to his fans by now, but the latest rendition of his literary line is by far the weakest.
Kinnear barely gets a chance to shine at all, while Hemsworth gets a gratuitous amount of attention, never once looking like anything less than the Frankie Avalon of the new millennium. As for the Annette in this modern "Beach Blanket Bingo," Cyrus looks like she's really trying but that can't compensate for her being terribly miscast as a musical prodigy turned hellraiser.
The "Hannah Montana" star would have benefited from watching Jack Nicholson in "Five Easy Pieces," but her real-life boyfriend Hemsworth would have quite a time being a male Karen Black.
• "The Losers" — After a South American operation goes bad, a team of American commandos fakes their deaths and goes off the radar, but their leader (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) wants a chance to find the mysterious warlord (Jason Patric) who fouled things up for them. And when a beautiful mercenary (Zoë Saldana) crosses their path, The Losers may just be back in business.
Morgan and Saldana glide through this slick, low-key adaptation of the Vertigo graphic novel created by Andy Diggle and Jock — British artist Mark Simpson's pen name — but the rest of the gang is even better, including Chris Evans as wise guy hacker Jensen, Óscar Jaenada as suave sniper Cougar, Columbus Short as upbeat transport expert Pooch, and Idris Elba as no-nonsense second-in-command Roque.
The story in this shoot-'em-up action flick is occasionally fun and occasionally laughable, but how can you not love any movie that ends with Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'?" Releasing it before the summer season was a good move on the studio's part considering the slew of big name heavy artillery blockbusters scheduled for upcoming release, including "The A-Team" and "The Expendables."
• "Furry Vengeance" — Chicago real estate businessman Dan Sanders (Brendan Fraser) relocates to a tiny mountain town to oversee the development of a new housing project, only to find that the natives aren't interested in the business boom. Led by a crafty raccoon, the woodland critters begin to do everything they can to drive Dan and his company out of their neck of the woods.
If "George of the Jungle" and "Dudley-Do-Right" taught us anything, it's that goofy slapstick is Fraser's bread and butter, although the extra pounds he's sporting in his newest role shows that maybe he should lay off the margarine altogether. The references to classic cartoons are endless with picnic baskets and plunges off cliff faces reminding the adults in the audience of Yogi Bear and Wile E. Coyote, though the kids may find Dan's Port-a-Potty prison funnier.
That's the problem with this blend of "Home Alone" and "Over the Hedge" as the animals' slaphappy antics get more and more tasteless and the humans get dumber and dumber.
The one redeeming quality is the indictment of corporate hypocrisy and the trendiness of "going green," but most of the younger viewers won't make the connection.
At least the animals don't talk. Unless you count the little animated thought bubbles that pop up when they communicate.