Opening This Week

Chéri (R) Michelle Pfeiffer stars in this one about a Belle Époque-era cougar on the prowl for young man-meat.

G-Force (PG-13) Did we really need a story about walking, talking, super-spy gadget-toting guinea pigs? Apparently, yes. God help us all.

Orphan (PG-13) We liked this late summer horror entry better when it was called The Omen. Or The Bad Seed. Or something like that.

The Ugly Truth (R) This rom-com featuring Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler looks to be a bit different from the standard Sandra Bullock and Matthew McConaughey fare thanks to an atypical R-rating.

Critical Capsules

Away We Go (R) Directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty) from a script by literary hotshot Dave Eggers (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius) and wife Vendela Vida, Away We Go taps into a bittersweet dimension to contemporary life: the ability to forge your own path in an America where family is not necessarily required, and the essential loneliness of that proposition. Away We Go is to be applauded on many fronts: from its exceptionally ordinary-looking leads (Maya Rudolph, John Krasinski) who counteract the usual glamorous take on slackerdom, to the integrity of its introspective script centered on a Juno-esque consideration of family, enduring love, and the responsibilities of parenting. The film’s downfall, however, is the kind of forced cuteness of such indie endeavors: the comical glimpse of a very pregnant Verona moving at ant-speed toward the camera on a moving airport sidewalk or the fact that she has stapled their travel itinerary inside Burt’s jacket. On many, many occasions, Away We Go could have gone for much more subtle, carefully observed comedy. But the writers and director prefer broad, bellowing caricature in order to more clearly enunciate Verona and Bruce’s us-against-them mission. —Felicia Feaster

Brüno (R) Yes, Baron Cohen’s Brüno — ostensibly an Austrian fashion guru and TV personality — is an outrageous stereotype of homosexuality, but it’s equally apparent that the purpose of Bruno is not meant to mock gays but to tweak the nose of narrow-minded bigots. The fake working title of this movie, after all, was Brüno: Delicious Journeys Through America for the Purpose of Making Heterosexual Males Visibly Uncomfortable in the Presence of a Gay Foreigner in a Mesh T-Shirt. Baron Cohen’s daring and fearlessness as a cultural critic is in grand form here. Like Borat, this exercise in shining the light on bigotry is directed by Larry Charles, a Seinfeld vet. In this one, Brüno travels to Los Angeles after having been summarily dismissed from European fashion circles in search of fame and fortune in the New World. Once in the States, the model finds the natives as status-obsessed and shallow as he is. (Anal-bleaching? Really? People do that to themselves? Sadly — and disgustingly — yes.) Perhaps the overarching theme of Brüno is this: Americans are a gullible lot who will believe almost anything — the more extreme the better, like say the desire of a flamboyantly gay Austrian supermodel to up his celebrity status by purchasing a small African child, and then once the deed is done, giving him a traditional African name — O.J. Yikes. While so many public figures are deliberately shocking and offensive because they want us to join them in being small and mean and petty and tribal — I’m thinking of the likes of Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, and Glenn Beck — Baron Cohen does the same thing but for the very opposite reasons. And that is a good thing, and a thing very much worth celebrating. Oh, and it’s also outrageously funny to watch, too. —MaryAnn Johanson

Chéri (R) Based on a 1920 novel by Colette, Chéri centers on a distinct subculture of Belle Époque society. Léa (Michelle Pfeiffer) has spent her life using her beauty and sex appeal to separate wealthy men from their money. In modern terms, she’d be called a gold digger or a tramp, but in French society of the 1900s, she is simply a woman who is good at what she does. In between conquests, Léa becomes captivated by a beautiful young man, Chéri (Rupert Friend), a brooding, dark-haired hunk of unrealized potential. Léa and Chéri soon become lovers. But reality comes crashing in when Chéri’s mother arranges for him to marry the daughter of another courtesan with a significant dowry. Chéri and Léa part ways, but their lives apart become consumed with thoughts of the other, and the love that got away. Despite its turn-of-the-20th-century setting, Chéri is a remarkably contemporary story. Its heroine is a Samantha Jones cougar for the Belle Époque. Léa buys her own jewelry, runs her own business, supports herself in a lavish manner, and in the ultimate expression of her sexual liberation, is content to support a spoiled, but beautiful younger man because of the satisfaction he brings her. However, the film strives for a level of romantic intensity in depicting the star-crossed love affair of Chéri and Léa that fizzles more often that it flames. Though it paints a fascinating picture of a historical time and place where people lived according to their own rules, Chéri is about the proverbial fixation of melodrama: the ability of love to destroy us. —Felicia Feaster

The Hangover (R) The Hangover is a mystery tale about three guys following up on the few clues they have about a night of debauchery in Las Vegas. Phil (Bradley Cooper), the suave, handsome one, is wearing a hospital bracelet. Stu (Ed Helms), the dorky dentist, is missing a tooth. Alan (Zach Galifianakis), the borderline-retarded one, is missing his pants. There’s a tiger in the bathroom and a baby in the closet. How they retrace their doings of the night before is intriguing in a narrative sense. But this is a comedy — or it’s meant to be — and as much as I would have loved for the sense of the sinister inherent in this concept to turn into something deeply, blackly funny. Lucas and Moore and director Todd Phillips go for the easy, cheap laughs, things that will shock a juvenile mind-set — a mother breastfeeding, a fat old man — instead of the things that would have unsettled a more mature one. Some are just plain disturbing without being funny: there are multiple intimations, for some reason that’s never clear, that Alan is a pedophile. Why would a doctor examine a patient while three total strangers are in the room? Why is a taser to the testicles “funny”? As if it knows, somewhere deep down, that it’s cheating, the movie has Stu insist, “You can’t just tase people because you think it’s funny,” but the movie does it anyway. —MaryAnn Johanson

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (PG) When franchises start winding down and a film series starts to run out of fresh ideas, the makers often turn to gimmicks. This can be seen in cheesy horror flicks, where every franchise seems destined to end up in outer space. However, since the latest entrant in the animated Ice Age series, Dawn of the Dinosaurs, centers around prehistoric mammals, it’d be too much trouble to shoot them into the deepest, darkest recesses of space. Instead, the whopping five writers behind this movie have taken a page from Art Bell and decided on an Ed Wood-level of suspension of disbelief by creating a land of dinosaurs tucked away inside the Earth. All the characters — and voice actors — are back for the third film. There’s Manny the mammoth (Ray Romano) and his now pregnant wife Ellie (Queen Latifah), Diego the saber-tooth tiger (Dennis Leary), and Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo). And of course, there’s Scrat, the half-squirrel, half-rat that shows up throughout the film. As writing, it’s lazy, while the dialogue, jokes (consisting mostly of Romano cracking wise and demonstrating yet again why his film career never took off) and requisite pop-culture references are no better. The only bright spot — aside from being an admittedly handsome-looking film — is Simon Pegg as a crazed survivalist weasel. —Justin Souther

I Love You, Beth Cooper (PG-13) Way back in 1987, Chris Columbus made a surprisingly good teen comedy, Adventures in Babysitting. He graduated from this to bigger, but rarely better work. With I Love You, Beth Cooper, Columbus returns to his roots, and the results are depressing. The cast members are lacking in charisma. And the only surprise you’re likely to find is the disheartening one of being shocked that the film isn’t over yet at several points. What you have is a movie with a fairly amusing starting point — nerdy Denis Cooverman (Paul Rust) blurts out that he loves Beth Cooper (Hayden Panettiere) in his class valedictorian speech — that spends the rest of its time in search of laughs and perceptions that almost never materialize. Place a lot of the blame on the stars. Though I’m unfamiliar with Hayden Panettiere’s work in the TV series Heroes, I’ve seen her on several previous occasions — none of which I found memorable enough to remember her. I doubt this movie is going to change that. Paul Rust, on the other hand, I have never seen before. It seems improbable that I could have forgotten this Ichabod Crane incarnate had I encountered him on the screen. Apart from the fact that he’s way too old to be believable as a high-school senior, he’s simply not appealing — neither is this completely negligible film. —Ken Hanke

My Sister’s Keeper (PG-13) I’m as big a sucker as anyone for multiple-handkerchief weepers when they’re done right. At the same time, I tackled Nick Cassevetes’ My Sister’s Keeper with no little trepidation, based in part on how much I had disliked his film of The Notebook — another assault on the tear ducts. And then there was the premise — a little girl (Abigail Breslin) genetically engineered to be the perfect biological match for her leukemia-stricken older sister (Sofia Vassileva), who sues her parents (Cameron Diaz and Jason Patric) for the rights to her own body. In one sense, this is powerful stuff — the moral dilemma of breeding a child for use as a sort of human parts car — but in another, it’s a stacked deck set-up for melodrama of the treacly kind. Those things — and the Hallmark Card trailer — made me wary. The image of Cameron Diaz shaving her head to show her solidarity with her ailing daughter was just too much. And the movie itself is just too much — while simultaneously not being enough. What might have been a pretty heady work quickly gives way to shameless manipulation and a screenplay that’s both sloppy and contrived. Instead of being a thoughtful look at a complicated issue, the movie turns into mush and melodrama of the Lifetime Network “Disease of the Week” variety. —Ken Hanke

The Proposal (PG-13) The first thing I noticed about The Proposal was that it wasn’t nearly as funny as Sandra Bullock’s last film, the thriller Premonition. The next thing I noticed was that the set-up for the movie — a movie which by definition is already predictable — was the quintessence of tedium. This occurred to me when I saw that less than an hour had passed when I reached the “Surely, this must be nearly over” mark and checked my phone for the time. Fortunately, about the same point that maximum tedium had been reached the combination of Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds actually started to work for me. I can’t say the movie actually got better in any significant way. It was still plodding and predictable, utterly by-the-numbers and lacking in anything even marginally resembling style. But as soon as Bullock’s and Reynolds’ characters started thawing toward each other, both they and the film transformed from being painful and false to being pleasantly human. The high-concept premise — nasty book editor Bullock blackmails assistant Reynolds into marrying her so she doesn’t get deported to her native Canada — is OK, but the development leaves something to be desired — like laughs. The saving grace comes down to Bullock and Reynolds. Do they make it worthwhile? No, not really. What they make it is tolerable. At least that means the film probably won’t do you a permanent injury should you come into contact with it. —Ken Hanke

Public Enemies (R) I’m wildly intrigued by Public Enemies even though I readily concede that character development is all but nonexistent, and that it leaves me wanting to know who notorious bank robber John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) was more so than I did before I went into the film. Backstory? Forget it. Motivations? Never mind. This is a movie that exists completely in its own moment — not in the past, not in the future. (And maybe that says the most important thing there is to say about Dillinger.) Very much like Michael Mann’s previous film, 2006’s Miami Vice, Public Enemies drops us right into the middle of one of the key moments of American law and disorder … and it leaves us to float, if we can, without anything to hang on to except for the flotsam and jetsam we find around us. I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. But it is an intellectual thing, which means it’s not the kind of thing that American audiences tend to want from a movie. This isn’t a “let’s go have a good time at the multiplex and forget our woes” kind of movie. It’s a “I really want to think about what I’m watching” kind of movie. Which probably means it’s doomed, from a box-office perspective. Public Enemies is intimate in an animal sense, getting us on top of Depp’s Dillinger and Bale’s proto FBI agent Melvin Purvis without letting us get to know them. It’s like having sex with a total stranger: it’s thrilling and scary and maybe not something you’d actually do in real life. But as an experience … whoa. —MaryAnn Johanson

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