The bleakness of Palmdale (openly alluded to) is by far the scariest thing in this movie, whose generic, who-cares-what-we-call-it title is perhaps the best clue to what a hollow nothing it is. Glacial, boring and badly acted, it seems like twice its 82-minute running time, maybe because almost all of it features only two ill-equipped actors: Sebastian Stan, a low-rent Chris Pine, and Ashley Greene, best known previously as one of TWILIGHT’s vampiric Cullens. There’s nothing between them that sparks, nor do we give a damn that they are imperiled. And no wonder: the peril itself is so generic, undefined and shadowy (it’s an apparition, see?) you just want to urge it to get on with its work and hasten the credit roll. Late in the game, Tom Felton shows up, merely leaving you to wonder why he doesn’t change agents. Send this one back to Hell. — Jeff Schultz
If I could take back two reviews posted on Critexts since its inception, they would be AVATAR (too positive) and THE HANGOVER (way too negative). For some reason, I was blind to Zach Galafianakis’ talent until DUE DATE, after which I’ve become a huge fan. So when I describe THE CAMPAIGN as both a misfire and a disappointment, with laughs, I credit Zach with most of those laughs. His slightly fey, southern accent-inflected blend of sweet and steely is a thing in itself, un-dependent on plot or situation, neither of which amounts to much in this weak political satire. Will Ferrell is a difficult actor to eclipse, but you get the feeling he’s treading water; a little Ron Burgundy here, a little Ricky Bobby there. But Zach sashays through the material with abandon: watch him walk his dog, or try to open a door, or attempt to stay calm in the face of his kids’ confessions. This B-comedy would have earned a passing grade were it not for a god-awful lurch into sentimentalism at the end, a wrap-up as unmerited as it is unsatisfying. — Jeff Schultz
As a diehard fan of Family Guy, I was psyched about Ted. That being said, I laughed a lot at the potty mouthed talking toy, but not as much as I’d hoped. I felt like for the number of scenes they did something hilarious (Sam Jones and Marky Mark recreating scene from Flash Gordon), there were just as many scenes that took the material way too seriously. It was a good but not great comedy that should have surrounded its imaginative concept with a story that was just as original.
One of the side pleasures of moviegoing is watching an actor literally grow up, especially when he keeps playing the same role. Zachary Gordon has a third go-round as perpetually aggrieved, bewildered, adorable dork Greg Heffley, and two years after the first installment of this most likable of the current franchises, Zach looks older and has if anything gotten even more natural. Not a hint of precocity in him. And while the part is broader, Robert Capron as best friend Rowley continues to light up the room (even if the “room” is a blindingly sunny outdoor scene) with his sheer good feelings. In fact, the movie is perfectly cast, its legion of returning characters all welcome. There’s an Afterschool Special-ish sub-plot involving Greg’s relationship with his dad that might be annoying if Steve Zahn weren’t playing Dad. (Doesn’t this fine actor get better offers?) But mostly, KID is as carefree as the summer vacation that frames it. — Jeff Schultz
The scene that anyone who sees this will remember for the rest of their lives is so nasty, so dirty, so pornographic, so obscene, so funny and so shocking that it almost blots out one’s memory of the other hour and a half. But in fact, director William Friedkin (at 77 showing the same late-in-life energy as John Huston and Sidney Lumet) has turned a talky play into a noir thriller that feels created for the screen. Some of the longer dialog passages sound rooted in the original, but the creation itself is so funny and unsettling, the characters so in-your-face, you can’t get enough. Did I say in-your-face? An extreme close-up of Gina Gershon’s pubic bush fills the screen at the beginning. It nicely bookends the blood-soaked denouement — preceded by that scene, which does for fried chicken what LAST TANGO IN PARIS did for butter. Matthew McConaughey finds a whole new definition of mean in a way that fully justifies Juno Temple’s complaint to him, “Your eyes hurt”. Gershon disappears into her part, with an Amy Winehouse look and a character that pinballs from go-fuck-yourself to bloody pulp. Emile Hirsch and the astonishing Thomas Haden Church are two types of losers (not to mention father and son). You know all of them are going to end up badly from the get-go. But you have no idea just how badly. This movie is killer. — Jeff Schultz
If there were an award called the “Shamie” — for laziness, laughable plotting, amateurish acting, and offensively impossible happy endings — the STEP UP series would now have earned four. So why do I love them so much? For the dancing and the musical productions — even here, even with a decided drop in inventiveness from the last installment, STEP UP 3D. This time we get a flash mob with hydraulically-jazzed cars in Miami’s South Beach, a trippy art gallery punking, and a big finale at the pier — not to mention a lovely pas de deux on the beach between the two leads. Ryan Guzman isn’t Channing Tatum, but he wisely keeps the acting part low key, and his looks and dancing talent take care of the rest. (Kathryn McCormick, however, struggles to get through her lines.) What’s most interesting about REVOLUTION is its “politics” to the extent that it raises the possibility of art being put in the service of progressive change. Yes, it plays out as a ridiculous fairy tale — but sometimes even mawkishness feels better than cynicism — Jeff Schultz
Lemme see if I can recall something about this. It’s not just forgettable, its look is stale too: here’s the densely packed, Asian-populated, rain drenched cityscape from BLADE RUNNER; up there are the dizzying, multi-level, horizontal and vertical modes of urban transportation from MINORITY REPORT; not to mention the serried ranks of robocop “synthetics” guarding the forces of evil from STAR WARS. And it’s got a trio of deadweights for stars, although Kate Beckinsale tries to liven up the joint. She’s in perpetual seethe; you can almost hear the heavy breathing, and it’s kind of silly. For her part, Jessica Biel is just a blank. Is she on Colin Farrell’s side? Is she against him? Who cares! As for Farrell, well, he looks great in pajama bottoms at the beginning, then spends the next hour and a half being chased, jumping off buildings, crashing through awnings, getting the crap beaten out of him and beating the crap out of everybody else. All that activity, yet he still seems asleep. There’s a hilariously bad, finger-to-the audience cheat when a man speaking on a futuristic picture-phone is about to reveal the key to the entire movie and is told to go audio only, at which point Beckinsale (now just listening on the phone) shouts, “ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?!” That may just have been the most enjoyable moment. — Jeff Schultz
When last we saw Jason Bourne he was diving off a pier (or a building, I can’t recall exactly) into the East River. If you’re expecting to see him (or Matt Damon for that matter), you’ll be disappointed. He appears only in photos and as a legend (“I think I saw him hiding Easter eggs or delivering my kids Christmas presents”). That doesn’t mean there is nothing to see here. There’s plenty here for Bourne fans. Plenty of action and CIA intrigue. The set pieces work every time. But unlike the last two movies directed by Paul Greengrass, this movie takes time out for talking. Tony Gilroy tries to explain what’s happening or about to happen, rather than simply launching to action sequences that give the viewer disorienting motion sickness. Greengrass’ style worked great. Gilroy’s is no less effective. In place of Damon we have Jeremy Renner as Aaron Cross, a Bourne-style operative on steroids (almost literally), Joan Allen’s character’s testimony has forced the hand of a private spy-military company headed by Stacy Keach and Edward Norton (both bureaucratically menacing). They must shut down the program Renner is a part of and by shut down they mean wipe out everyone involved. Rachel Weisz is a scientist who helped come up with the stuff that makes Renner “enhanced”. The movie races from Alaska to DC to Maryland to Manila. You know Renner and Weisz will make it out, the question is how. And how that plays out is what makes this a thriller. One small spoiler, wait for the motorcycle chase scene.. it’s awesome! The Legacy of the other Bourne movies appears safe in these capable hands. — Alan Yudman
Amazing is not the word I would use to describe this Spider Man reboot. Boring. Lame. Needless. Those are more accurate. I went in with low expectations and wanted to enjoy it…I did not. By trying to “Dark Knight” it up but still bring in the teens, Marc Webb blows it. The story is simplistic and not that exciting, the acting…purely for a paycheck…the action not that impressive…the stakes in the movie not that high. Eye rolling lines and situations that made this moviegoer feel like a fly trapped in a web. Examples: Denis Leary says “she’s only 17!” referring to the far from teenage actress playing his daughter. Crane operators rallying to help Spider Man swing to a building near the movie’s end…why not use buildings to swing like other Spider Men have done? 100-roughly the number of times Andrew Garfield takes off his mask for no apparent reason other than to remind us Tobey’s not in this one. And half the city should know who Spider Man is because he keeps TELLING THEM! Zero chemistry between the leads, sluggish pacing, and no heart along with a “cool” Peter Parker make this one of the worst comic book movies I have seen since Superman fought Nuclear Man in Superman IV: The Quest For Peace. Don’t drink the Kool Aid, in fact break out the Raid and be done with it.
Reboot. blah blah. Too soon. blah blah. Why? blah blah. Here’s the deal, while the original trilogy of Spider-Man movies made tons of money, they got progressively worse with each version. They were good, not classics. So, why not remake them? Especially if you can do it better. And I think Mark Webb has done just that. His wonderful 500 DAYS OF SUMMER proved he knows how to tell a story. And that’s the thing about this new version. The story is a lot better. It’s a similar origin tale about how Peter Parker becomes THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. But it’s far less campy and punny than Sam Raimi’s version. On the Superhero Continuum think of this as being closer to Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, just not nearly that good. It’s darker and focuses more on the characters and their arcs than on whiz-bang special effects. The effects are there, and they are really good (though the 3D didn’t seem to add much). The scenes where you are web-slinging along with Spidey feel lifted from a really good video game. That’s not a bad thing. What also makes this work are good performances from Andrew Garfield (Peter Parker), Emma Stone (Gwen Stacy), Rhys Ifans (Dr. Curt Connors), Martin Sheen and Sally Field (Ben and May Parker) and Dennis Leary (Capt. Stacy). The banter between Leary and everyone provides a lot of the light moments that keep this from being a total downer. Garfield brings a darker more serious tone to Parker and Emma Stone is just great no matter what she does. Looking forward to the next installment! — Alan Yudman