Silver Screen: The Score Card, April 21, 2011 Edition
by Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
> Opening this week (Friday unless otherwise noted).
< Leaving Carbondale this Friday.
< The Adjustment Bureau (PG-13, *1/2): Matt Damon makes a rare misfire in director George Nolfi's adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story that captures the sci-fi master's sense of paranoia and psychic manipulation but unfortunately captures even better the logical inconsistencies and absurdities of Dick's fever dreams. Damon looks pretty credible as a young, brash politician who learns, via a mishap, that the world is overseen by a group of metaphysical bureaucrats called the Adjustment Bureau. They're God's paper pushers, and they can either alter your day slightly to change your overall life path, or they can erase your brain when you're bad. Damon is threatened with the latter if he can't reveal to his love at first sight (Emily Blunt) the truth about the bureau and why they can never be together. Most of the movie is spent explaining the powers (and occasional lack thereof) enjoyed by the boys in the bureau, but despite all the exposition it remains vague and, worse, gets pretty silly. They can't track your mind in the rain, they can't travel through special portals unless they're wearing a hat, et cetera. The film's tone is too somber and straightfaced to credibly embrace such weirdness, despite significant help from the two talented stars as well as John Slattery and Terence Stamp.
Hanna (PG-13, ****): Joe Wright (Atonement, Pride and Prejudice) directs this art-house/action-flick fusion about a solitary young girl (Saoirse Ronan) raised in a lonely woodland cabin with her former secret-agent father (Eric Bana) and trained to be a ruthless assassin, all in preparation to execute a single mission linked to her mysterious past. The movie grows more conventional in both pacing and plot as Hanna races toward a final battle with her steely nemesis, a high-level government agent (Cate Blanchett) with significant interest in her family, but it's still an impressively paced, beautifully shot film that's refreshingly meditative and nuanced. Wright ultimately eschews Hanna's more interesting character conflicts in favor of thriller-plot machinations, but the excellent Ronan creates an extraordinary character truly worthy of a franchise, however unlikely that may be, and the result is a soulful and compelling action movie that recalls classics of the genre as disparate as Leon, Run Lola Run, and The Bourne Identity.
< I Am Number Four (PG-13, *): This off-brand superhero knockoff, based on a pseudonymous novel from coauthor and noted liar James Frey, is tangled up in its own silly mythology before it ever gets off the ground. The stilted, almost comically uncharismatic Alex Pettyfer stars as the fourth of nine alien beings sent into hiding on Earth after their planet was colonized by the evil Mogadorians, a nefarious alien race that looks like someone tried to recreate the villains from Dark City from memory but did a poor job. The Mogs hunt our bland hero, who, with his expendable protector (Timothy Olyphant), must navigate the mundane world of high school despite seemingly having a lot else on his plate. A silly climax involving lots of laser guns, a football field, and a shapeshifting alien puppy give rise to what is clearly supposed to be the launch of a franchise. Let's hope I Am Number Four turns out to be the only one.
Insidious (PG-13, ***1/2): The original Saw writer-director team of Leigh Whannell and James Wan reteam for a gore-free, not-entirely-novel riff on the haunted house genre, with familiar but worthwhile results. Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne costar as the doting young parents of three kids, the oldest of whom slips into a sudden coma that turns out to be his soul getting lost in a spectral realm called the Further, a place in between life and death populated with restless ghosts. The couple fights to regain their son even as the spirits attempt to cross the divide into the world of the living. None of this is new, but Wan and Whannell generate some excellent scares, sometimes through mounting suspense and dread-filled atmosphere, and sometimes through cheap sound cues and quick cuts. At times the movie plays like a highly evolved carnival ghost-house ride, but then again, carnival ghost-house rides can be a lot of fun.
Limitless (PG-13, ***): Bradley Cooper stars as a hack writer turned super genius by a designer street drug that maximizes the brain's potential in this uneven thriller, which is driven forward by a strong concept yet never really goes anywhere. Cooper's Eddie Morra finds himself involved in a series of violent crimes, pursued by mysterious figures, and entangled in a vast financial power play with a wise and skeptical tycoon (Robert De Niro, who doesn't have enough to do here), all while dealing with the side effects of the long-term abuse of a drug nobody knows anything about. There's a lot going on here, and almost none of it is resolved well, or at all, with some major subplots left dangling-- director Neil Burger seems to entirely forget about one involving a murder. Burger and writer Leslie Dixon only feign to address the myriad themes and ideas raised by the nifty conceit at the heart of the film, and it's a shame. Instead of being a strange trip or even a great ride, Limitless just turns out to be enough to get viewers through to the next fix.
The Lincoln Lawyer (R, ***): Matthew McConaughey sheds his stoner Romeo image for a slick suit as Mick Haller, a corner-cutting, wheel-greasing shyster who operates his law practice from the back of a chauffeured Lincoln. He takes the case of a preppy heir (Ryan Phillippe) accused of attempting to kill a prostitute and is drawn into a web of deception that reaches far back into his past. McConaughey's fast-talking antihero is far more intriguing than the plot in which he becomes enmeshed, but the movie, based on the novel by thriller writer Michael Connelly, delivers when it needs to. This unessential but consistently entertaining genre exercise is elevated by nice supporting turns from a slew of excellent actors including Marisa Tomei, Josh Lucas, Michael Pena, Shea Whigham, and William H. Macy.
Scream IV (R, *): Tired horror master Wes Craven and yesterday's Variety news Kevin Williamson reteam to stab a dead horse in this utterly empty third sequel to their wonderfully sardonic, influential original. Neve Campbell, David Arquette, and Courteney Cox reprise their roles alongside a new crew of young hotties (including Emma Roberts, Alison Brie, Hayden Panettiere, and Rory Culkin) who are stalked, quizzed with movie-trivia questions, and massacred by the Ghostface Killer. Williamson and Craven seem to think that wry acknowledgement of the film's endless shortcomings qualifies as excusing those failings, rather than just highlighting them. Insufferable, unfunny, and never scary. Scream? Not so much. Yawn? Almost certainly.
Source Code (PG-13 , ****1/2): Duncan Jones's followup to the nifty Kubrickian riff Moon is even better than his excellent debut. This time, with the help of screenwriter Ben Ripley, he's channeling Philip K. Dick, but the pair navigate the big ideas and cerebral plot twists to ultimately deliver a climax with startling emotional resonance. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Colter Stevens, an army pilot who wakes up disoriented on a commuter train set to explode in eight minutes. He's thrust back in time over and over, forced to relive those eight minutes until he can discover the identity of the bomber. But even as he attempts to complete his mission, he uses his time in the past to uncover the secrets of his place in the high-tech project known as the Source Code. The parallel mysteries work brilliantly and dovetail in the end to add up to much more than the sum of their parts. Doubtlessly there will be some debate about the film's final twist, which depending on your perspective either undercuts the humanism subtly drawn out of the concept or folds the plot back in on itself one more time in an act of cinematic origami. Either way, it's pretty fantastic. Costarring Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, and Jeffrey Wright.
Your Highness (R, ***1/2): Cerebral indie auteur turned inspired lowbrow comic director David Gordon Green helms this bizarre stoner spin on the knight's quest movie in which the lazy, brash, and often buzzed Thadeous (Danny McBride, doing what he does so well) must join his showoff brother Fabious (James Franco) on a mission to rescue the kidnapped maiden (Zooey Deschanel) from horny wizard Leezar (Justin Theroux in a scene-stealing role) with some help from the kingdom's lone badass (Natalie Portman). It sounds like a simple, bawdy riff on The Princess Bride, but cowriters McBride and Ben Best are so outlandish and profane, and Green's sensibilities are so strange, that the film becomes an incredible mashup of the stupid and the brilliant. Child-molesting wizards, priapic Minotaurs, and lusty damsels abound in this filthy, expensive, wonderful mess of a movie.
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
Arthur (PG-13): Remake of the Dudley Moore semi-classic in which a boozy heir risks his family fortune for love. The grating Russell Brand is Arthur as sheltered manchild, although his spacey girlfriend is played by the fetching Greta Gerwig. Featuring Helen Mirren and Jennifer Garner.
> Atlas Shrugged: Part I (PG-13): First installment in a three-part adaptation of Ayn Rand's philosophical tract espousing the virtues of selfishness and elitism, a talisman of modern-day conservatism. Taylor Schilling is Dagny Taggart, an entrepreneur struggling against a corrupt government and dysfunctional society. Director Paul Johansson costars as the dreamy John Galt.
Beastly (PG-13): Alex Pettyfer stars as a hunk who has it all-- until a witch (Mary-Kate Olsen) puts a curse on him that turns him ugly, which will remain intact forever unless he can find someone to love him within one year. Vanessa Hudgens costars in this remake of Beauty and the Beast.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules (PG): Sequel to the surprisingly popular film based on the children's book series. This time the weakling hero Greg (Zachary Gordon) and his similarly beleaguered pal (Robert Capron) are tormented by Greg's older brother (Devon Bostick).
Hop (PG): Holidaysploitation computer-animated kiddie flick about the rock 'n' roll dreams of the Easter Bunny's teenage son. Featuring the voices of Russell Brand, Hank Azaria, and Hugh Laurie.
Rango (PG): Johnny Depp provides the voice for the title character in this computer-animated kiddie comedy about a lizard who is mistaken for the sheriff come to clean up a desert town populated by dastardly critters. Also featuring the voices of Isla Fisher, Harry Dean Stanton, Timothy Olyphant, Stephen Root, and Alfred Molina, and directed by Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean, The Ring).
Rio (PG): Computer-animated kiddie comedy about an awkward, domesticated macaw (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg) from Minnesota who inadvertently undertakes an eventful trip to Rio de Janeiro when he's paired with free bird Jewel (Anne Hathaway). Also featuring the voices of Jamie Foxx, Jane Lynch, and Tracy Morgan. In 3D and 2D versions.
Soul Surfer (PG): Christian-themed inspirational true-life drama about a teen surfing enthusiast (AnnaSophia Robb) who takes back to the waves after she loses her arm in a shark attack. Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt costar as her parents.
> Tyler Perry's Madea's Big Happy Family (PG-13): Another hyper-moralizing dramedy from one-man-hack-factory Tyler Perry, who writes, directs, and dons drag to star in another installment about the titular sassy granny who this time around must reunite her relatives to aid her ailing niece. Featuring Loretta Devine and Bow Wow, no longer so Lil'.
> Water for Elephants (PG-13): A would-be veterinarian (Robert Pattinson, star of Twilight and a lot of detachable-shower-head-inspired fantasies) stricken by tragedy runs off and joins the circus, where he falls for sexy circus lady Marlena (Reese Witherspoon). Based on a popular novel by Sara Gruen and featuring an intriguing cast that includes Christoph Waltz, Paul Scheider, Hal Holbrook, and Jim Norton.