Silver Screen: The Score Card, June 30, 2011 Edition
> Opening this week (Friday unless otherwise noted).
< Leaving Carbondale this Friday.
by Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
Bad Teacher (R, ***): Cameron Diaz stars as an amoral conwoman shortchanging her students and scheming against her coworkers while she barely works as a junior-high teacher. She decides she needs $10,000 to pay for a boob job to woo a potential sugar daddy, a wealthy but naï ve new teacher (Justin Timberlake), which prompts her to actually try to be good at her job— sort of. The basic plot of the movie, not to mention the lead character, is strikingly similar to that of Bad Santa, a far superior dark comedy, but this one works at the very least as a joke-delivery system and a showcase for talented supporting players, including Jason Segel, Lucy Punch, and, too briefly, Modern Family’s Eric Stonestreet. It almost but never quite comes together, but it’s funny enough along the way. Directed by Jake Kasdan (Zero Effect, Freaks and Geeks).
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.
Cars II (G, *1/2): Pixar’s first misfire is a mess of shoddy plotting and market-driven logic. While the rest of the first movie’s cast is relegated to cameos bookending the rest of this too-long movie, Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) and his pal Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) go to Europe for a three-tiered race to promote alternative energy that gets sabotaged by a big oil conspiracy. The film takes on an ill-conceived espionage story as hapless Mater bumbles through the spy plot while McQueen races pretty much in the background. New characters add next to nothing, while the clash of cash-in logic and a shoehorned pseudo-environmentalist message add to the dissonance. It doesn’t even look all that sharp, and only a sequence on the streets of Tokyo comes close to dazzling audiences the way most Pixar films do from start to finish. Featuring the voices of Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, and Eddie Izzard. In 2D and 3D.
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.
Green Lantern (PG-13, *1/2): Stupefying, inarticulate studio pabulum, an utterly perfunctory and wildly expensive genre exercise that reduces the modern-day superhero formula down to its most bland and basic. Ryan Reynolds stars as Hal Jordan, a cocky test pilot granted cosmic powers by a dying alien. He must unite with the universe-spanning police force the Green Lantern Corps to help save Earth and the rest of the galaxy from an evil black cloud of energy, which has taken root inside the mind of a mad scientist (Peter Sarsgaard). Wildly underwritten and overladen with computer-generated effects, often very mediocre ones, this failed franchise-starter is too silly to be as serious as it wants to be but not silly enough to be good fun. Its sins are pretty unforgivable if you’re over the age of twelve. In 2D and 3D.
The Hangover Part II (R, **1/2): This inexcusable cash-in of a sequel— perhaps the most conceptually shameless since Macaulay Culkin got left alone on a second Christmas vacation— is not without its share of solid gags. Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, and Ed Helms all inject great energy into their well-established characters, but the whole thing is burdened by a sense of going through the motions. This time it’s Ed Helms getting married in Thailand, and it's his naï ve future brother-in-law who goes M.I.A. during a blackout period after Galifianakis’s chaotic manchild drugs everyone. You know the drill. Every time the film drums up a nice little surprise or two, it smothers it with more callbacks to and retreads of the original, as if novelty were some sort of terrible affliction. Characters repeatedly vocalize their disbelief that this whole thing is happening again; yeah, well, we're with you, guys.
< Kung Fu Panda II (PG, ***): Jack Black returns as a portly panda, an overconfident lout who is also a master of kung fu. This time he and his highly trained and weaponized group of jungle friends must stop a vengeful peacock (voiced with pitch-perfect menace by Gary Oldman) from seizing control of China. The story is a little more nuanced than that of the mostly unambitious original, but the stunning art design returns. The lush backgrounds and explosively colorful sets, as well as some beautiful 2D animation sequences in flashback, are a consistent delight, and able voicework from a celebrity-overstuffed cast (including the particularly funny Seth Rogen and David Cross) help carry it through slower moments. It's hard to imagine anyone, even very little someones, crossing their fingers every day in hopes of a Kung Fu Panda followup, but it's pretty welcome anyway. Also featuring the voices of Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Lucy Liu, and Michelle Yeoh. In 2D only.
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 against 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 2D only.
Super Eight (PG-13, ****): J.J. Abrams’s homage to the early work of Steven Spielberg brilliantly captures the childlike enthusiasm and sharply realized spectacle of the original master of the summer blockbuster. A group of enterprising kids (led by newcomers Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning) are shooting a homemade monster movie when they witness a train crash and inadvertently capture on film an actual monster escaping the wreckage. The creature terrorizes their town, and only the young filmmakers— with the help of our young hero’s emotionally closed-off dad (the always-excellent Kyle Chandler)— can solve the monster-mystery and stop the Army from destroying their homes. As much an ode to youthful imagination and moviemaking as an effects-driven blockbuster, Abrams’s latest is one of the most deeply satisfying popcorn flicks in a long time.
X-Men: First Class (PG-13, ***): The faltering X-Men franchise is semi-revived with this prequel set in the early sixties in which a young, swinging Xavier (James McAvoy), still to earn his "professor" title, begins his quest to locate fellow mutants, one of whom is master of magnetism Erik (Michael Fassbender). The two unite to help stave off a secret mutant plot (led by a villainous Kevin Bacon, no less) to start World War III, but their efforts will lead to the schism that will define their lives. Bryan Singer's return as cowriter and producer elevates the film above the series' last couple of efforts— this is a real movie with an arc and character development to match the effects and spectacle. And it's decent, but not great, with a weak ensemble of mutants surrounding the two leads. Bacon is good fun as the bad guy, but with his 1960s suit and mutton chops, he's less world-domination evil and more bang-your-mom-at-a-key-party evil. Also featuring Rose Byrne and Jennifer Lawrence.
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
< 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)
< Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer (PG): Frenetic, candy-colored kiddie flick based on the popular book series about the eponymous pre-teen heroine (played by Jordana Beatty) and her calamitous attempts to have the most exciting summer ever. Featuring Heather Graham.
> Larry Crowne (PG-13): Recession-centric dramedy about an optimistic but down-on-his-luck businessman (Tom Hanks, who also cowrites and directs) who returns to college and romances a thorny teacher (Julia Roberts). Featuring Bryan Cranston and Pam Grier.
> Midnight in Paris (PG-13): Woody Allen’s latest romantic comedy, in which Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams star as an engaged couple who travel to France along with her parents. Also starring Kathy Bates and Carla Bruni.
Mister Popper's Penguins (PG): Kid-friendly comedy about a businessman (Jim Carrey) whose life gives way to eccentricity when he inherits a group of penguins. Warning: Computer-generated penguin dancing sequences are involved.
> Monte Carlo (PG): Disney-branded poppet Selena Gomez stars in this tween fantasy about three friends who go on a totally bogus European vacation that turns awesome when one of them is mistaken for an heiress. Featuring Katie Cassidy and Leighton Meester.
< Ready (PG-13): A Bollywood romantic comedy by director Anees Bazmee about a rich bachelor who falls in love with a woman whose greedy uncles have designs on her inheritance.
> Transformers: Dark of the Moon (PG-13): Unsurprisingly, the Decepticons return for another robot fight with Optimus Prime and his human buddies, played by Shia LeBeouf, Josh Duhamel, John Turturro, and Tyrese Gibson. Rosie Huntington-Whiteley fills in for the absent Megan Fox.