Opening this Week
Funny People (R) Judd Apatow returns with the regular crew in tow (Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Leslie Mann), but adds Adam Sandler and a terminal illness to the mix. Um. Yeah. We’re iffy too.
Food Inc. (PG) See review here.
The Hurt Locker (R) Point Break helmer Kathryn Bigelow directs this buzz-worthy war flick about members of a military bomb squad in Iraq.
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 Brüno 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 — much as it was in Borat, his last adventure in courting physical assault and civil lawsuits in the name of lampooning dearly held American virtues such as ignorance and superficiality. 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. —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 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 an 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
G-Force (PG) From Francis the Talking Mule to the recently deceased Taco Bell dog, America loves its talking animals. Disney’s G-Force is the latest entry in this long tradition. The days of hooking fishing line to Mr. Ed’s mouth to make him talk are long gone. Here we get a bevy of CGI guinea pigs out to save the world. It’s obviously a reaction to — and an attempt at cashing in on — the unfortunately rampant popularity of 2007’s Alvin and the Chipmunks. That G-Force is better than Alvin is no surprise (the mere fact that “The Chipmunk Song” is nowhere to be heard in this movie automatically makes it better), but what is surprising is how well G-Force works as a popcorn flick for the elementary-school set. This movie is disposable entertainment, pure and simple. But seeing as how it’s aimed squarely at youngsters, with its undemanding plotting and short (88 minutes) running time, it meets its modest ambitions. G-Force is just one of those movies I’m sure my 8-year-old self would’ve loved, simply because it never attempts to be anything more than the enjoyable kiddie flick it sets out to be. —Justin Souther
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
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (PG) Eight years and six films into the Harry Potter series, it’s undeniable that a lot of the pleasure in the latest installment is a result of the experience of watching children become young men and women before our eyes. J. K. Rowling’s books created a witty, magnificent mythology, but at their core they were always fundamentally about growing up. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince shows the films continuing to mature just as its protagonists are, with all the humor, awkwardness, and heartbreak that such a journey entails. Half-Blood Prince is far less dense with magical action than its predecessors, and perhaps that makes it feel mostly like a stage-setter for the finale that will be Deathly Hallows. Yet it’s so rich with characterization that it scarcely matters. Hardcore Potter-ites know, of course, that Half-Blood Prince concludes with a spoileriffic plot development, and in fairness to those few who remain unaware, it’s best not to name it. But even the way the film builds to that moment shows how keenly screenwriter Steve Kloves and director David Yates are aware that it fits into Harry’s maturation into manhood. That said, this is a dark and foreboding tale, filled with plenty of disturbing images — including the hexing of a young student that plays like a demonic possession and an attack by a swarm of creatures a bit too reminiscent of Lord of the Rings’ Gollum — that make the switch back from Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix‘s PG-13 to PG seem as arbitrary as it is befuddling. Harry Potter’s story at this point isn’t one for children — nor is it a story about children. Not anymore. —Scott Renshaw
Orphan (R) The laugh-out-loud solution to the events of Jaume Collet-Serra’s insanely overlong Orphan, the latest in a long line of movies about creepy, evil children, is quite the most entertaining thing about it. Ah, well, as the poster says, “There’s something wrong with Esther.” There certainly is. The poor orphan is trapped in this terminally dull and dim-witted movie. If you’ve seen the trailer, you already know this is one of those stories that works on the basis that adoption is a risky business. In this case, the film throws in a little xenophobia by giving the adopted Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) a foreign background complete with a Natasha Badinov accent. The message is clear: Self-possessed Eastern European orphans with a penchant for singing Billy Hill’s “Glory of Love” are not to be trusted. This could be valuable knowledge, though I doubt its practical application for most people. I will concede that the climactic section of the movie manages to be silly, tasteless and utterly predictable all at the same time. That may be viewed as some kind of accomplishment, if one is in a charitable frame of mind. —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
The Ugly Truth (R) Robert Luketic’s The Ugly Truth may not be pretty, but it is certainly predictable. Here’s the pitch: Abby (Katherine Heigl) produces a lackluster news show. Mike (Gerard Butler) has a public-access TV show, The Ugly Truth, where he basically paints men as terminally horny pigs that can only be bamboozled into relationships by nonthreatening women who let the none-too-bright male think he’s in charge. Abby runs afoul of Mike when her cat (insert feline euphemism joke here) steps on the remote control and hits his show. She’s so appalled that she calls his phone line — only to have him get the better of her. The next morning she learns that her perpetually beleaguered station manager (is there any other kind?), Stuart (Nick Searcy), has hired Mike and added his program to her lineup. Of course, they hate each other. With tension in the air, Mike makes a bet with Abby. If she’ll follow his advice, he’ll help her snag her dream-man neighbor, Colin (TV actor Eric Winter). If it doesn’t work, Mike will resign. Naturally enough, it works exactly as planned. There’s this thing the studio publicists insist on calling “an unexpected result.” It’s the sort of unexpected result that happens when Christmas falls on December 25. It’s also the sort of thing that a witty script, spritely direction, and/or chemistry between the leads can make work. The Ugly Truth lacks all three. —Ken Hanke