Archive for February, 2010

Smith’s comic ‘Cop Out’ aims criminally low

Sunday, February 28th, 2010
Tracy Morgan, Seann William Scott and Bruce Willis in "Cop Out" Paul (Tracy Morgan), left, gets heckled by a burglar (Seann William Scott) as Jimmy (Bruce Willis) drives in “Cop Out.”


Kevin Smith apparently grew tired of people always identifying his 1995 comedy “Mall Rats” as the worst movie he ever directed.

Now, he has a new low.

It’s called “Cop Out,” and it’s far worse than his previous worst.

In fact, the only thing more disappointing than Smith’s anemic direction of this shallow and strained Hollywood action comedy is the screechy, juvenile screenplay riddled with dialogue clichés (“That’s what I’m talkin’ about!” “This is crazy!”) and visual clichés (introducing characters by showing close-ups of their shoes) we’ve seen and heard many times before.

Smith can probably take comfort in the fact that unlike his earlier movies (among them “Clerks,” “Dogma,” “Chasing Amy” and “Zack and Miri Make a Porno”), he didn’t write this one.

TV writers Mark Cullen and Robb Cullen did.

If they were smart, they’d enroll in Hollywood’s Witless Protection Program and drop out of sight for a few years.

Bruce Willis, who used to be an actor before he put himself on action-star autopilot, plays Jimmy, a veteran New York police detective clocking nine years as the partner of an irritating, emo cop named Paul (Tracy Morgan, shamelessly mugging while apparently high on overacting steroids).

“Cop Out” instantly announces itself as a clueless cop comedy the moment Paul demands to interrogate a suspect by reciting tough-guy dialogue from crime films as Jimmy keeps a running tab on the movies he plagiarizes.

(Memo to the two Cullens: Never explain an in-movie reference to your viewers. It ruins the joke for the people who get it, and doesn’t help the people who don’t.) (Read more…)

‘Crazies’ respray an old-school screamer

Sunday, February 28th, 2010
Radha Mitchell in "The Crazies" Judy (Radha Mitchell) shares a hair-raising (and hair-pulling) experience in a remake of George Romero’s “The Crazies.”


Unlike Martin Scorsese’s psychological thriller “Shutter Island” that only looks like a horror movie, “The Crazies” is the real deal, an old-fashioned fright fest of paranoid persecution with blood and pitchforks and screaming and knives and contagious viruses and flamethrowers and military cover-ups and people fleeing for their lives.

The story – a taut remake of 1973’s “Crazies” directed by legendary zombie guru George Romero – takes place in the idyllic rural community of Ogden Marsh, Iowa, where the only really good-looking townspeople are local sheriff David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant) and his hot doctor wife Judy (Radha Mitchell).

Coincidence?

Of course not. They are two of the survivors of a mysterious virus that sweeps through town, turning regular American citizens into yechy-looking crazies who bleed from their noses and want to kill everyone around them.

The Duttons are joined by Deputy Sheriff Russ Klank (Joe Anderson) and a cute local teenager named Becca (Danielle Panabaker) as they try to stay alive by dodging not only the crazies, but American troops would rather shoot everybody in town than take the time to sort the diseased from the uninfected.

“The Crazies” isn’t a great movie by any stretch, but neither was Romero’s original. We learn just enough about the characters to give them an identity, then it’s on to the chase sequences and suspense setups. (Read more…)

Scare-sese’s ‘Shutter Island’ fueled by death, dread and deception

Saturday, February 20th, 2010
Leonardo DiCaprio and Ben Kingsley in "Shutter Island" U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio), left, interrogates Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley) in “Shutter Island.”


The scariest parts of Martin Scorsese’s surrealistically creepy thriller “Shutter Island” aren’t the sudden shocks, or the terrifying visions, or the bizarre revelations, or even the vanishing bodies.

As you watch “Shutter Island,” a palpable sense of paranoia slowly tightens around your throat like an invisible wire noose.

Tighter.

Tighter.

Tighter. Until you feel just as trapped, as frightened, as confused and as helpless as the U.S. marshal at the center of Scorsese’s waking nightmare.

I am sure other critics will make this obvious connection, but “Shutter Island” is to Scorsese what “The Shining” is to the late Stanley Kubrick: a stylish, artful study in the power of escalating dread.

The comparisons between “Shutter Island” and “The Shining” are appropriate, and not necessarily all positive.

Both films are beleaguered by cold, unfathomable main characters we can’t quite access or truly get to know.

But that’s all right, because these movies aren’t about relating to the main characters. They’re all about two master moviemakers slumming in a “lesser” genre who know just how to ratchet up the tension by plying their knowledge of film and storytelling to create a dark and disorienting experience that will leave us exhausted.

“Shutter Island,” faithfully adapted by Laeta Kalogridis from a 2003 Dennis Lehane best-seller, brings U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels (Scorsese favorite Leonardo DiCaprio) to an island outside of Boston on what appears to be a missing persons case in 1954. (Read more…)

Cupid misses bigtime on ‘Valentine’s Day’

Thursday, February 11th, 2010
Jennifer Garner and Ashton Kutcher in "Valentine's Day" Julia (Jennifer Garner) whispers sweet nothings to Reed (Ashton Kutcher) in the romantic comedy “Valentine’s Day.”


“Valentine’s Day” – strategically released just before the title’s namesake holiday – presents 20 main characters or so in a constant, high-speed rotation on the silver screen.

All scramble to find romance, flowers, food and chocolates on Cupid’s busiest day of the year.

It’s just like a Quentin Tarantino movie, but without the time-shifted sequences, interesting characters, riveting dialogue and well-wrought action scenes.

Five things tell us that sitcom guru and Northwestern University grad Garry Marshall directed this film.

1. A camera lingers on a man’s sweatshirt bearing a “Northwestern” logo.

2. Hector Elizondo, whom Marshall considers his “good luck” charm, co-stars.

3. Floral explosions erupt on the screen (although none tops the one in Marshall’s 1991 “Frankie and Johnny”).

4. Marshall makes a Hitchcockian cameo as one of three string musicians.

5. “Valentine’s Day” is a mishmash of cutesy poo-ness, boring Hollywood clichés, semi-warm fuzzies, ham-handed song choices and a lot of squandered talent.

Sure, a few of the intertwined subplots are a hoot.

Singer Taylor Swift is the biggest surprise as a shallow, valley high school girl in love with a biceps-obsessed jock. (Read more…)

Dull script, bland characters curse ‘The Wolfman’

Thursday, February 11th, 2010
Benicio Del Toro in "The Wolfman" Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) discovers that even a man who’s pure of heart can transform into “The Wolfman.”


Here’s a supposedly scary movie that thinks ripped body parts, spraying blood, video-game-quality CGI werewolves, false scares and Anthony Hopkins are frightening enough to compensate for dull and dreary characters wandering around dull and dreary British estates uttering dull and dreary dialogue.

Not even close.

“The Wolfman,” a remake of Universal Pictures’ 1941 classic, is an unrelentingly color-dead, humorless and passionless piece of horror with occasional bloody disembowelments and beheadings tossed in to stave off boredom.

This exercise in tempered tension begins with a disappointing, telling scene in 1891 England. A man named Ben hunts for someone in the woods when he’s scared by birds suddenly taking flight.

Yes. Birds.

Then a werewolf rips him to pieces. Yikes!

So, here’s a werewolf movie that thinks animals popping out of nowhere are shocking (later, a dog does the honors) and instantly kills off any suspense about what the mystery creature looks like. (Read more…)

Stupidity strikes down ‘Lightning Thief’

Thursday, February 11th, 2010
Uma Thurman and Logan Lerman in "Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief" Percy (Logan Lerman) shows Medusa (Uma Thurman) how to get ahead in “Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief.”


Somebody stole Zeus’ lightning bolt, and if the king of the gods doesn’t get it back in 10 days, he’ll destroy the world.

What? Over a stupid lightning bolt? Who stole it? Why?

Suspicion falls on Percy Jackson, the son of Poseidon (the king of the seas, by the way). Percy lives in a dinky New York apartment with his mom and her abusive partner and doesn’t even know who his godly father is.

The story of how Percy discovers his real identity and makes a cross-country trek to find the stolen lightning bolt probably made an entertaining read in Rick Riordan’s five Percy Jackson novels.

But as a film directed by Chris Columbus, it’s the dumbest, silliest, big-budget fantasy film I can remember right now.

This isn’t to suggest “Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief” (that fits nicely on theater marquees, doesn’t it?) is boring. Each scene unfolds with such escalating, jaw-dropping badness, it can’t possibly bore anyone.

The acting is awful. The direction is terrible. The dialogue is laughable. The situations are preposterous. And I’ve seen more realistic combat choreography on community theater stages. (Read more…)

‘Dear John’ deals romance a dose of reality

Friday, February 5th, 2010
Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried in "Dear John" John Tyree (Channing Tatum) finds the love of his life, Savannah (Amanda Seyfried), in two weeks in “Dear John.”


Romance movies like Lasse Hallstrom’s “Dear John” will either make you swoon with affection for its war-crossed lovers, or break out in hives as it knocks down testosterone cells to dangerously low levels.

Viewers are cautioned to consider which reaction they will likely experience.

“Dear John” is the fifth movie to be based on a Nicholas Sparks novel. They include “Message in a Bottle,” “A Walk to Remember,” “The Notebook” and “Nights in Rodanthe.”

Unlike many romance stories (such as “The Notebook”) that revel in the schmaltzy notion of a “one true love” for everybody, “Dear John” gives the destined-lovers formula a bleak tweak, a dose of hard-nosed reality that threatens to destroy Hollywood’s time-honored concept of happily ever after.

It begins with two romantic archetypes, the virgin and the bad boy.

The latter is a loner named John Tyree (Channing Tatum), a Special Forces soldier on a two-week leave in his hometown in South Carolina in 2000. There, he meets a local college student, Savannah Curtis (Amanda Seyfried), after valiantly diving into the ocean to recover her purse.

It’s like-a-lot at first sight. (Read more…)

Dann pegs ‘Avatar,’ ‘Hurt Locker’ as best bets for the final Oscar cut

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010
Neytiri from "Avatar" Will “Avatar” go head-to-head against “The Hurt Locker” come Oscar night? Dann thinks so.


If things go down as I suspect they will at the 82nd annual Oscar nominations announcement Tuesday morning, it’ll be a battle of the ex-spouses as James Cameron’s science-fiction thriller “Avatar” goes head-to-head for best picture with Kathryn Bigelow’s Iraq war drama “The Hurt Locker.”

Those are the two guaranteed leading contenders for the big enchilada.

What will win? “Avatar,” the highest-grossing movie in the history of Earth? Or “Hurt Locker,” the most acclaimed drama by major film critics organizations, such as Chicago’s?

We’ll see when ABC broadcasts the Oscars ceremony live on March 7.

Meanwhile, here are my predictions for the contenders for golden statutes in the top categories.

Best Picture: The can’t-miss nominees will be “Avatar,” “The Hurt Locker,” “Inglourious Basterds,” “Precious” and “Up in the Air.”

As Oscar fans know, Academy bosses have mandated that 10 movies shall be nominated for best picture this year, in an attempt to pump interest in the static ceremony. This is hardly something new.

Ten best picture nominees were common during the ’30s and ’40s. The first Oscars only had three movies in contention for best picture. In 1935, there were 12 films nominated.

So, what will fill the remaining five slots Tuesday?

My guess: “A Serious Man,” “An Education,” “Invictus,” “Star Trek” and “Up,” the guaranteed winner in the animated feature category.

(Note: If Oscar voters see the wisdom in confining “Up” to the animation category, its slot will be filled by “A Single Man” or “District 9.”)

And if the popular over-the-top comedy “The Hangover” actually gets a nod, all bets are off at awards time. (Read more…)