Silver Screen: The Score Card, May 26, 2011 Edition
> Opening this week (Friday unless otherwise noted).
< Leaving Carbondale this Friday.
by Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
Bridesmaids (R, ****): Kristen Wiig leads a sharp ensemble in this Judd Apatow-produced comedy that's been pitched as The Hangover for women, but which is in fact a unique and winning comedy all its own. While cowriter Wiig is part of a very funny group of women (including standout and SIU alum Melissa McCarthy), she's definitively the star as a down-on-her-luck gal from Milwaukee who is competing for the affections of her engaged best friend (Maya Rudolph) with her BFF's rich, seemingly perfect new gal pal (Rose Byrne). Wiig's attempts to outdo Byrne send the entire pre-wedding affair into an awkward game of one-upsmanship (one-upswomanship?), even as our hilariously unsteady heroine attempts to make a connection with a good-natured cop (the charming Chris O'Dowd). While a couple of scenes stray into territory a little too broad and seem dissonant with the rest of the film, Wiig's first big star turn is exceptionally funny, with both big comic setpieces and smaller moments of naturalistic dialogue to spare. The always-impressive Paul Feig (Freaks and Geeks) directs.
Fast Five (PG-13, **1/2): The unlikely fourth sequel to the slick car-chase symphony that temporarily made Vin Diesel a star isn't quite as good as the last one, but the gonzo spirit and cartoonish action sequences remain thrilling enough to make sitting through the unbelievably leaden writing and wrenching banter worth it. Barely. Diesel and cohort Paul Walker return as fast-driving fugitives looking to make a big score, and this time they're pursued by an elite team of American lawmen led by Dwayne "Are You Seriously Going to Make Another Rock Joke?" Johnson. The physics-defying action setpieces, especially the last one, put this uneven actioneer over the top, but just barely. Also featuring Jordana Brewster, who only really does this sort of thing anymore, as well as the charming rapper Ludacris and the less charming rapper Tyrese Gibson.
< 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.
< 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.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (PG-13, *1/2): The third sequel in the surprisingly popular series gets a shot at freshness with a new director and a new focus, jettisoning the convoluted mythology of the first three as well as deadweight costars Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley. But alas, the franchise falls back into all its old habits with a bloated running time and a tangle of uninspired subplots. Lost in the fray yet again is Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow, who here must team up with his former flame (Pené lope Cruz) and her legendarily evil father, Blackbeard (Deadwood's Ian McShane), to win a race with British-sponsored Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) to the fabled Fountain of Youth. Director Rob Marshall is inept with the action sequences, and the potential fun of Depp interacting with McShane and Rush is kept to a minimum as neither of the villains receives near enough screen time. Yet again it's Depp trying to save the movie through sheer effort of mincing and mugging, and yet again he comes close without succeeding. In 3D and 2D versions.
Priest (PG-13, 1/2*): Non-star Paul Bettany reteams with his abysmal Legion director Scott Charles Stewart for this insufferable genre mashup of horror cliché s, Matrix action riffs, Orwellian dystopia, and Catholic iconography in which a trained vampire-killer priest (Bettany) must seek out a hive of allegedly defeated vampires to rescue his kidnapped niece (Lily Collins). The whole shoddy endeavor is silly and self-serious, with nary an original idea or scene, with uninspired action sequences the only buffer between grim post-apocalyptic wanderings. Karl Urban, so good as Bones in Star Trek, is the only one who appears to have even a little bit of fun here as the half-vampire bad guy, but that's not nearly enough to save this long, trying ordeal, which feels like the dumbass daydream of a slow-witted teenager as he drowses his way through Catechism class. In 2D only.
Something Borrowed (PG-13, *): A surprisingly odious romantic comedy despite its resiliently chipper tone, this misguided, dissonant story spends much of its time trying to justify the actions of wallflower Rachel (Ginnifer Goodwin), who consummates a long-standing crush on the staggeringly uncharismatic Dex (Colin Egglesfield) even though he's due to marry her best friend Darcy (Kate Hudson) in a matter of months. Director Luke Greenfield, working off a novel by Emily Giffin, stacks the deck against Darcy by making her selfish and grating, but that doesn't make Rachel and Dex's dual betrayals any more sympathetic. Only supporting player John Krasinski as a third-wheel childhood friend seems to be striking the tone required of the material; everything else is pop-music and dewy-eyed montages. The bracing premise could be a good one for a sharp-edged comedy in the vein of Woody Allen or Neil LaBute, or even an introspective dramedy à la James L. Brooks, but what it is not is the airy, romantic romp it feigns to be.
Thor (PG-13, ***): The God of Thunder Thor (Chris Hemsworth), here reimagined as a hunky alien defied by Viking folk, is cast out of his kingdom by his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and banished to Earth, thanks to treachery on the part of his scheming brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Stripped of his powers and abandoned in our world, Thor hooks up with a sexy scientist (Natalie Portman) who helps him try to regain his hammer and his magic powers so that he can defend our realm from the war spilling out from his. It's all a long setup for the forthcoming Avengers movie, which will team Thor with previously established heroes Iron Man and the Hulk as well as Captain America, who will get his own flick later this summer. But it's a fun setup-- and an entertaining, weird one with its mashup of psudo-mythology, sci-fi, paranoid conspiracy, and action movie, played straight by director Kenneth Branagh but with just enough of a sense of humor to recognize its own ridiculousness. In 3D and 2D versions.
Water for Elephants (PG-13, ***): Totally adequate but uninspired adaptation of Sara Gruen's novel about a grieving veterinary student (Robert Pattinson) who hooks up with a failing circus circa 1931. He falls for Marlena (Reese Witherspoon), who's married to the mercurial and potentially murderous owner and ringmaster (Inglourious Basterds' ace villain Christoph Waltz). The unique setting is dulled by the film's conventional staging and utter disinterest in any kind of examination beyond the cursory. It helps not one bit that romantic lead Pattinson has the wooden inexpressiveness to make him a shoo-in to star in Frowning Toward Freedom: The John Kerry Story in thirty years. It doesn't give Witherspoon much with which to work, but she manages, although her best scenes come with Waltz, who steals the show, such as it is. But this isn't even The Greatest Show in Your Local Mall Movietheater.
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
The Conspirator (PG-13): Robert Redford's well-received film about Mary Surratt, the only woman charged and executed for conspiring to assassinate Abraham Lincoln. Starring James McAvoy, Evan Rachel Wood, Tom Wilkinson, Kevin Kline, Alexis Bledel, and Robin Wright as Mary Surratt. (Wissmann)
> The Hangover Part II (R): Director Todd Phillips directed the most financially successful comedy of all time with The Hangover, so he basically just does it all over again, but this time in Thailand. Once more the goody-goody (Ed Helms), the cad (Bradley Cooper), and the ugly (Zach Galifianakis) get drunk and drugged on the eve of a wedding and must retrace their steps to find a lost friend. Featuring Paul Giamatti, Ken Jeon, and Jeffrey Tambor.
Jane Eyre (PG-13): Yet another film version of Charlotte Brontë 's novel, this one directed by Cary Fukunaga (in his first American feature) and starring Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland, HBO's In Treatment) in the title role. (Wissmann)
Jumping the Broom (PG-13): Rev. T.D. Jakes produces and has a part in this Christian-themed moralizing romance about a couple (Paula Patton and Laz Alonso) that agrees not to sleep together until they're married in front of their warring families. Featuring Angela Bassett, Loretta Devine, and Mike Epps.
> Kung Fu Panda II (PG): Sequel to the passably entertaining, visually impressive (if lazily written) computer-animated kiddie flick about a chubby panda (voiced by Jack Black) who joins a group of kung-fu-fighting animals (Dustin Hoffman, Seth Rogen, Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, David Cross, Lucy Liu) to defend the land against evil. In 2D and 3D versions.
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 the 2D version only.
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'.