Opening This Week
2 Days in Paris (R) Reviewed here.
The Game Plan (PG) Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson takes a break from action fare —some good (The Rundown), some bad (Walking Tall), and some fugly (The Scorpion King) — and goes all family friendly with The Game Plan, about a superstar QB who discovers that he fathered a child with a long-forgotten fling.
The Kingdom (R) Reviewed here.
3:10 to Yuma (R) If James Mangold’s 3:10 to Yuma can’t generate life into that most moribund of genres, the western film, then it’s probably time to consign the idea of westerns to Boot Hill and be done with it. The film is a remake of a more or less assembly-line 1957 film of the same title — and one of the rare occasions where the remake is much better than the original. Deeper and darker than the 1957 original, Mangold’s film still follows the basic outline of a poor rancher (Christian Bale) who agrees to help escort a local badman (a charismatic Russell Crowe) to the titular train that will take him to prison. The problem is that the prisoner’s gang has a different idea. Perhaps the film’s greatest achievement is that it’s a revisionist western that manages to feel traditional — up until the ending. Tense, thought-provoking, well-acted, and exciting. —Ken Hanke
Becoming Jane (PG) Even though Becoming Jane is almost entirely invented, it captures both the aching romanticism and the cold, hard practicalities of Austen’s fiction. And in a way, it even does Austen one better: it’s laden with all of the angst and heartbreak and tears we’ve come to expect from a Sense & Sensibility or a Pride & Prejudice, but because it is adhering to the spirit of Austen’s life — she never married, never enjoyed any kind of long-term romantic entanglements that posterity is aware of — it doesn’t indulge in a happy ending. How can it? Spoiler alert! Anne Hathaway’s charming and independent Jane does not end up happily ever after with James McAvoy’s handsome and roguish lawyer Tom Lefroy. The movie works far better as a “fictional biography” — an enrapturing, spirited one with the foreknowledge of her bittersweet yet independent, unmarried life — than it does as a silly sitcom that hangs on the fulfillment of romantic dreams. —Maryann Johanson
The Brave One (R) The always interesting Neil Jordan brings us this dark, complex, deeply disturbing film starring Jodie Foster as an NPR radio host who turns vigilante when her fiance (Naveen Andrews) is killed by a gang of thugs in Central Park. The story is more than a little like Michael Winner’s Death Wish with Foster in the old Charles Bronson role, but the film itself is closer in spirit to Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs — and just as uncomfortable. This is no pro-vigilante screed, but a sober, somber look at the darkness of the soul of an otherwise decent person who gives in to vengeance and violence — and in so doing makes us look at ourselves. It’s powerful stuff, but not exactly pleasant. —Ken Hanke
The Bourne Ultimatum (PG-13) Bourne is back for a third and (supposedly) final adventure and nothing has changed in terms of quality, but nothing else is the same. Once again Greengrass and Damon deliver on a movie packed with more “holy shit!” moments than you can shake an Uzi at. Greengrass hasn’t just topped the previous Bourne movies in every way, he’s raised the bar for the spy and action genres for years to come, and he’s done it in a movie with surprisingly little dialogue. If you’re like me, your nails will be firmly buried in the arm of your chair throughout the film’s 111 minutes. —Joshua Tyler
Dragon Wars (PG-13) The Korean-made story of a giant, evil serpent that attacks L.A. in order to eat a woman so that he will be able to evolve into an all-powerful dragon, Dragon Wars is not a good movie by any means, but it is an entertainingly preposterous one. An unmitigated, completely un-ironic cheese-a-thon, the film is a perfect storm of Ed Wood “suspension of disbelief” peculiarity and Michael Bay “I never met an inanimate object I didn’t want to see explode” bombast. It is silly and absurd — and best of all — fun, in a “who thought this was a good idea?” kind of way. What other movie has such edge-of-your-seat action as a car chase involving a giant snake and a Geo Metro? —Justin Souther
Eastern Promises (R) Movies about gangsters: You expect a lot of noise. Shouting and screaming. Barrages of gunfire. Not here. Here we have somber reflection, the lurking gray peril of an urban underbelly, shifting shifty glances and unspoken threats. Eastern Promises is almost silent — even its title sounds like a shush. Terror swells inexorably and unavoidably, like the ebb and flow of the Thames River along the banks of which much of this story, with its tidal unease, takes place. And the slow creeping gloom of it lingers like a chill you can’t shake. Viggo Mortensen’s second pairing with director David Cronenberg is even more powerfully, magnificently disturbing than their first joint effort, 2005’s A History of Violence. His performance and the gradations of uncertainty that he gives to Nikolai are part of what makes this one of the best movies ever about life in the mafia. —MaryAnn Johanson
Good Luck Chuck (R) Vile is too kind a word to describe this utterly loathesome “comedy” starring Dane Cook (as obnoxious as ever) as a man with a peculiar problem. Seems some goth girl hexed him when he was 10 and now every girl he has sex with dumps him and marries the next guy she meets. This makes him very popular with marriage-minded ladies (according to the script, that’s every woman on earth), but poses a big stumbling block when he falls in love with Jessica Alba. By turns misogynistic, leering, smarmy, and just plain unfunny, it’s a hateful exercise in softcore porn and witless slapstick. Anyone who wants gags involving Dan Fogler having marital relations with a grapefruit, however, should make a bee-line to the theater. —Ken Hanke
Mr. Bean’s Holiday (G) Let’s face it, Rowan Atkinson’s Mr. Bean character is an acquired taste, and if it’s a taste you’ve acquired, you’re very likely going to love Mr. Bean’s Holiday. The plot such as it is follows Mr. Bean and the havoc he causes as he makes his way to a vacation in Cannes. Some of it works, some of it doesn’t, but there’s no denying the gags are cleverly constructed. —Ken Hanke
Mr. Woodcock (R) Mr. Woodcock is a film in which the laughs never stop only because they never started in the first place. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I laughed so little. Aimed squarely at viewers likely to emit a Beavis and Butthead chortle upon reading the title, this pits nasty gym teacher Billy Bob Thornton against a former terrorized student (Seann William Scott), who reasonably objects to Billy Bob marrying his mother (Susan Sarandon). The concept is that much humor can be mined from watching a grown man humiliate, browbeat, belittle, and even physically abuse the adolescents under his care. If the prospect of an asthmatic kid being made to run laps as punishment for wheezing strikes you as comedy at its finest, you’ll adore this movie. —Ken Hanke
The Nanny Diaries (PG13) No, it’s not in the same league as Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini’s last film, American Splendor, but it seems unlikely this pleasant, but largely unremarkable, romantic comedy ever had such lofty goals. The story of Annie Braddock (Scarlett Johansson) taking a job as a nanny for a snobbish Upper East Side Couple, Mr. and Mrs. X (Laura Linney and Paul Giamatti), isn’t a lot more than a light-weight variant on The Devil Wears Prada. Directorially, it’s a little more stylish, but it’s also a good deal less funny. It’s never more than a fairly pleasant entertainment, but neither is it ever anything less. —Ken Hanke
No End in Sight (Not rated) With the calm, measured approach of a legal document, director Charles Ferguson makes his case for the war’s mishandling. A comprehensive group of elite talking heads, including former members of the State and Defense departments, recount the unforgivably bad decisions made on the road to war. Included in the film, which won a Special Jury Prize at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, are not only people such as Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance Director Jay Garner, but journalists and soldiers on the ground who saw the trickle-down of bad judgment at the highest levels. Despite that orderly procession of talking heads, Ferguson’s documentary is a frightening picture of how an American administration allowed startling mismanagement, poor planning, and inexperience to bungle the war and rebuilding efforts from the start. —Felicia Feaster
Resident Evil: Extinction (R) OK, so no one expects much out of these flicks. Adapted from a series of video games, they’re pretty much just a series of gory action set-pieces involving a scantily-clad woman named Alice (Milla Jovovich) battling hordes of zombies that came into being when something called the T Virus got loose in some subterranean research facility owned by an evil outfit called the Umbrella Corporation. The appeal lies entirely in watching Jovovich kick zombie ass for an hour and a half, while fans live in hope that she will display her private parts as she did in the original Resident Evil. (For the record, she does not.) The big additions this time are zombie crows and a post-apocalyptic Las Vegas setting. Neither are especially impressive. —Ken Hanke
Sydney White (PG-13) A modern retelling of Snow White, starring Amanda Bynes and set in college, Sydney White is a generic, fairly inoffensive comedy that’s simply too long and too run-of-the-mill. Every reference and allusion to the Snow White story is handled in such a heavy-handed manner (instead of the Seven Dwarves you get the Seven Dorks, and instead of a poison apple, you get a poisoned Apple computer) that it soon becomes groan worthy. Not just that, but the humor is a mixed bag of lame sitcom-style wackiness and overwrought “nerds are weird” humor. —Justin Souther
Shoot ‘Em Up (R) In Shoot ’em Up, a dour gentleman named Mr. Smith (Clive Owen) sits on a bench eating a carrot when a pregnant woman being chased by a man flashes past. When Smith sees her pursuer take out a gun, he grudgingly decides to take a hand. Very soon he has disposed of the would-be killer, ended up in a full-scale gun battle, delivered the baby, and attempted to get mother and son to safety. He fails as far as the mother is concerned and finds himself saddled with a hungry infant and a clearly psychotic hitman (Paul Giamatti) and his seemingly endless supply of henchmen in pursuit. This is the first five minutes — and writer-diector Michael Davis manages to keep things at that speed for most of the movie. It’s preposterous, violent, bloody, and it recognizes the existence of no societal taboo. It is perhaps the most refreshingly creative explosion of pure bad taste to come our way in far too long. —Ken Hanke
The Simpsons Movie (PG-13) Judging by its first weekend box office take, it was worth the 20 years it took The Simpsons Movie to make it to the big screen, and if you’re a fan of the show, you’ll probably agree. If you’re not, this film version isn’t likely to convert you. It’s essentially little more than a 30-minute episode extended to 90 minutes, a concept that both sells it to the fans and undermines itself. The first third is good, moving at lightning speed and not afraid to be random while setting up the plot about Homer accidentally turning Springfield into a toxic waste blight. Unfortunately, the film’s remainder becomes mired in the mechanics of that plot at the expense of the gags. For die-hard Simpsons addicts only. —Ken Hanke
Superbad (R) There is a thin line between smart juvenilia and stuff that’s just plain silly — and Superbad keeps weaving back and forth across that line like Lindsay Lohan at a traffic stop. Produced by Judd Apatow (of 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up fame), it marks the first script by Seth Rogen (Knocked Up star) and Evan Goldberg (Rogen’s childhood friend from Vancouver). So it’s not hard to see a bit of autobiography — or at least wish-fulfillment — in the story of high school seniors Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Arrested Development‘s Michael Cera). Soon to be attending separate colleges, the two best friends are looking for one last hurrah by supplying alcohol to an end-of-year party hosted by one of their school’s cool girls. Thus begins an odyssey that plays like a cross-breeding of all-night travelogue, end-of-school reminiscence, and cherry-popping quest. —Scott Renshaw
War (R) Following an FBI agent (Jason Statham) who’s attempting to take revenge on the mysterious assassin (Jet Li) who killed his partner, War is a convoluted action flick that suffers by taking itself way too seriously. Instead of realizing the shortcomings of its utterly ridiculous storyline or focusing on the action, the filmmakers take the exact opposite approach and skimp on the action, while overloading the movie with tons of silly plot. By the time you’ve slogged your way to the film’s jaw-droppingly unbelievable conclusion, the best you can do is wonder how anyone past the age of eight thought this would work. War is just plain dull, the action is sparse, and when it does occur, uninspired. —Justin Souther