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Mar 13 12

By Thomas Leupp

To those who believe that 2011's surprisingly solid Tower Heist heralded the return of funny Eddie Murphy - you know, the guy who had us in stitches for much of the '80s and '90s before the laughter abruptly ceased in the aughts - A Thousand Words, which Murphy actually shot before appearing in the Brett Ratner comedy, provides a fervent reminder of just how far moviedom's once-preeminent funnyman has fallen over the past decade.

A Thousand Words stars Murphy as Jack McCall, a selfish, manically verbose literary agent whose incessant type-A striving leaves little time for the consideration of others. He neglects his wife (Kerry Washington) and infant son, browbeats his overtaxed assistant (Clark Duke), and regularly bends the truth to suit his needs. In short, he's in desperate need of the kind of high-concept comic comeuppance that only the most trite and derivative script can provide. Thankfully, screenwriter Steve Koren is more than up to the task. (He's also responsible for Jack and Jill, Adam Sandler's most recent cinematic insult.)

Jack's karmic reprisal begins in earnest during a trip to a new age Ashram, where he attempts to recruit a popular non-denominational spiritual guru named Dr. Sinja (Cliff Curtis). While making his transparently smarmy pitch to handle Sinja's next book deal, he cuts his finger on a nearby Bodhi tree. The following day, the tree abruptly sprouts in Jack's backyard, bearing the seeds of a potential life lesson: For every word that Jack speaks, a leaf will fall from the tree. When all the leaves disappear, Sinja warns, so too will Jack.

Suddenly Jack, a man who prides himself on his ability to -talk anyone into anything,- is forced to rely entirely on physical gestures and facial expressions (writing words on paper makes the leaves fall as well) to get his message across.


Mar 13 12

By Matt Patches

Since Edgar Rice Burroughs' novel A Princess of Mars was published nearly 100 years ago, his otherworldly tale story has been subsequently been reworked and riffed on by nearly every sci-fi book or movie to follow. Star Wars, Dune, Avatar-sift through filmmaker interviews and it's easy to find threads tying their inspiration back to Burroughs. Which makes John Carter, the big screen adaptation of Princess of Mars, particularly surprising. The film's epic presentation of Martian races colliding in battle could feel stale, but instead blossoms with color, imagination and fun. Director Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, Wall-E) has a strong sense of what makes "adventure" adventurous, helping John Carter encapsulate everything about a great time at the movies.

ALTJohn Carter (Taylor Kitsch), a Civil War veteran with the entire Confederate army on his tail, finds himself mysteriously transported via a magic cave (or alien technology? If you get caught up in these details, John Carter may not be for you), to smack dab in the middle of a Martian desert. As Carter overcomes the planet's gravity, a physical difference that allows him to leap tall structures in a single bound (sound familiar?), he runs into one of Mars' many races: the eight-foot tall, four-armed green Tharks. As their prisoner/friend/specimen, John Carter takes a back seat to the unique world of the Thark world, full of clockwork architecture and airships, archaic customs and political strife. The Tharks are in the midst of a 1,000 year battle with the humanoids of Zodanga, led by the villainous Sab Than (Dominic West) who is, in turn, manipulated by the occasionally-invisible shapeshifter Matai Shang (Mark Strong). The Tharks have teamed up with the residents of Helium, including the stunning scientist warrior Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins), but doom is impending and quickly the Spartacus-esque Thark fighter Tars Tarkas turns to Carter for help.

Unlike Avatar, which introduced its fantastical world using the safety net of a simple, archetypical story, John Carter has no reservations bombarding its audience with plot and intrigue. At times, the specifics of the world's complex societies and strifes are complicated and confusing, but similarly to info-heavy scripts-think the recent Michael Clayton or Margin Call or, heck, Shakespeare-Stanton, Mark Andrew and Michael Chabon's screenplay feels assured of its own drama, confident that no matter your understanding, the theatrics will sway you. The human element of John Carter exists behind even the most CG-ified alien creature and that's what keeps us on board.

If there's any misstep, it's in the casting of Kitsch, a fully capable action hero, unconvincing as survivor of the Civil War. Kitsch feels pulled from present day, but John Carter needs to be a Confederate soldier in more than name. Kitsch is up to the task of ripping up white apes with giant steel blades or jumping over armies of raging Tharks, but in scenes of introspection or humorous back-and-forths, he loses footing. The real star is Collins as Dejah Thoris, who nails the epic qualities of reciting enjoyably ridiculous Martian-speak. She stands out, even in the blinding desert sun, and even when decked out in over-the-top boobage costuming, manages to deliver a compelling and rousing performance. Doesn't hurt that she knows her way around a swordfight or two.


Mar 06 12

By Matt Patches

Nick Flynn's memoir Another Bullshit Night in Suck City has all the tropes of a tried-and-true melodrama: drugs, poverty, homeless people, untimely deaths, an estranged father suffering from a crumbling mental state—but, thanks to the fact that the madness actually happened, the story plays out as poignant and heartfelt. Writer/director Paul Weitz's (American Pie, About a Boy) adaptation, Being Flynn, maintains the integrity thanks to a reserved execution and stellar cast that color Flynn's story with a spectrum of shades. For some, it might be too simple, too Hollywood, too quaint for its own good, but echoing the narrative's time period, the big screen version feels like a relic of the '90s, unafraid to tackle familiar themes with straight up honesty and a dash of feel-good convention.

Weitz sticks to the film's literary roots, employing a double dose of narration that effectively draws us into the lead characters' self-absorbed points-of-view. Nick (Paul Dano) is a twenty-something struggling writer who buys his time working at a homeless shelter…mostly to pursue Denise (Olivia Thirlby), the gal of his affections. Jonathan (Robert De Niro)—the father Nick hasn't seen since he was a kid—also happens to be a struggling writer, convinced he's on the brink of success, despite his impoverished lifestyle and unhinged tendencies. After being evicted from his apartment for attacking a noisy neighbor, Jonathan tracks down his son and reaches out for help. Nick gives him the cold shoulder, sending his manic dad into the cold winter. But the father/son duo's lives intertwine again when Jonathan shows up at the doorstep of the shelter, forcing Nick to confront both his past and present problems.

Dano and De Niro are both at the top of their games in Being Flynn, juggling the weight of the scenario with delicacy, even when Jonathan growls his way through homeless shelter protocol or Nick embraces drug culture for the first time. Moments of dramatic intensity never fly off the rails thanks to Weitz's subdued directing style and Badly Drawn Boy's mellow score (Weitz previously collaborated with BDB on About a Boy). Flashbacks to Nick's childhood keep the film on its toes, with Julianne Moore delivering a small, but intense role as Nick's mother. The memories of his youth haunt and inform Nick's decisions, further complicating the straightforward familial drama.

Thanks to Hollywood's business tactics, there's a certain type of budget, aesthetic and release date placement that serious adult dramas typically adhere to, making the emergence of Being Flynn in the beginning of blockbuster season surprising and welcome. The film is a passionate exploration of adult themes with a foundation of quality production values, the perfect vehicle for stellar actors to work magic on screen. De Niro's latest string of pictures haven't been on par with his award-worthy work of the '80s, but Being Flynn signals what could be a new turn for the actor. The role's a welcome departure, a chance to play a tender, vulnerable character against a hard-nosed youth (which feels like a flip from his early roles). That echoes all of the unexpected choices made in Being Flynn, filmmaking decisions that boil down to simply being truthful.


Mar 06 12

By Thomas Leupp

My dick is going to get so wet tonight,” declares Costa, the foul-mouthed ringleader of a trio of sex-starved teens, in the opening moments of Project X, the new “found-footage” comedy from director Nima Nourizadeh and producer Todd Phillips (The Hangover). Believe it or not, this qualifies as one of his more charming moments in the film. All of 17 but blessed with an obnoxiousness lesser men would take decades to cultivate, Costa (Oliver Cooper) is the perfect mascot for a film that makes no bones of its mostly prurient intentions, proffering what is essentially a succession of debaucherous montages, intermingled with uneven attempts at comedy and held together by the slimmest pretense of a plot.

Caustic as he is, Costa at least exhibits something of a recognizable personality; the same cannot be said of his two cohorts, the tubby dweeb J.B. (Jonathan Daniel Brown) and the earnest blank Thomas (Thomas Mann). None of them seem to enjoy much in the way of popularity at their high school, located in the fictional suburb of North Pasadena, but Costa has a plan to fix that. On the occasion of his 17th birthday, Thomas, whose parents have conveniently departed for the weekend, reluctantly agrees to host a party that Costa promises will be a “game-changer” for their lowly social status.

Hardly a game-changer is Project X's script, co-written by Matt Drake and Michael Bacall, which mostly treads a predictable teen-comedy path. At its outset, the party appears to be a bust. Soon, however, hordes of eager revelers descend upon Thomas' house, and the event swiftly devolves into a festival of wanton hedonism that would impress Charlie Sheen. The orgy of booze, drugs, and sex is captured by Nourizadeh in one impressively slick sequence after another, set to a vibrant soundtrack.

To maintain the guise of an actual movie – and to occupy us between shots of topless beauties downing tequila and frolicking in the pool – Project X tosses in a few familiar tropes to push its story along: an unstable drug-dealer bent on revenge, a buzzkilling neighbor seeking to end the night's festivities prematurely, a budding but hesitant attraction between Thomas and his childhood friend Kirby (Kirby Bliss Blanton). But the scenes are so hollow and contrived that you get the sense even the filmmakers don't buy them, and only added them to the film in a transparent ploy to forestall allegations of complete and utter vapidity. The efforts serve only to add a dash of the banal to the proceedings.


Feb 27 12

By Thomas Leupp

Actor-director-mogul Tyler Perry didn't come to preside over a vast media empire by paying much heed to the tastes of critics. His 10 feature-film releases to date – churned out over an eight-year span – have drawn mostly jeers from reviewers, with his Madea comedies, starring Perry in drag as a tough-talking southern matriarch, singled out for special scorn. His latest effort, the romantic drama Good Deeds, isn't likely to change many minds, but it's not for lack of effort from co-star Thandie Newton, whose performance a struggling single mother stands out amidst the film's otherwise crudely wrought melodrama.

Trading his Madea getup for the less-familiar guise of a leading man, Perry stars as Wesley Deeds, the scion of a wealthy family and whose lofty expectations have begun to wear on him. Beneath his sheen of polished affluence exists a man who draws little satisfaction from running Deeds Inc., the software giant his father built, and who tires of shouldering the demands of his overbearing mother (Phylicia Rashad), the burden of his bellicose and oft-intoxicated bother (Brian White), and the monotony of his loveless engagement to his similarly well-bred fiancé, Natalie (Gabrielle Union).

Trapped in a stultifying routine seemingly mapped out for him at birth, Wesley longs to escape his gilded prison and trek across Africa on a Harley, digging wells with his college buddies. Seriously, that's his dream: digging wells on a Harley.

Situated firmly on the opposite end of the socio-economic spectrum is Lindsey (Newton). Left alone to provide for her daughter after the death of her soldier husband in Iraq, she has little time for fanciful visions of Harley-riding and well-digging. She's too busy trying in vain to make ends meet as a janitor at … you guessed it: Deeds Inc. Despite her lowly status, Lindsey clings fiercely to her independence, which places her in stark contrast to Wesley.


Feb 27 12

By Matt Patches

Since his days directing sketches for comedy troupe The State and his seminal debut feature Wet Hot American Summer, David Wain has been expertly calculating ways to make his brand of absurdist humor work within the rigid, conventional world of Hollywood movies. His latest, Wanderlust, is the perfect example of a hollow rom-com template that Wain fills to the brim with bizarre jokes and perfectly timed physical humor. His soldier of fortune is Paul Rudd, who brings the golden ratio: looks of a leading man and a comedic gravitas that is unmatched. Rudd's at the top of his game, whether he's landing a one-liner, stretching his face to Jim Carrey-like proportions, or reacting to his maniac co-stars, the actor delivers—making Wanderlust charming, deranged and very funny.

ALTGeorge (Rudd) and Linda (Jennifer Aniston, better suited for this wacky comedy than you'd think) are a happily married couple living in New York, attempting to live the dream lifestyle without any of the reality to fall back on. It doesn't work—George loses his job, Linda fails to sell her documentary on penguin testicular cancer, and the two find themselves forced to sell their "micro-loft" in the West Village and move in with George's brother in Atlanta. During their epic car ride, George and Linda make a pit stop at a local Georgian B&B, only to discover it's a counterculture commune, home to an eclectic group determined to live on their own alternative terms. The inhabitants of "Elysium" range from nudists to tai chi experts to organic farmers, but they all have one goal: live free. Realizing they don't have too much else going on in their lives (their alternative is shacking up with George's materialistic, misogynistic businessman brother Rick, played by the amazing Ken Marino), George and Linda dive head first into the off-beat world of Elysium.

Wanderlust dishes out its fair share of oddities when exploring the world of Elysium, but isn't content in simply exploiting those quirks. Wain, who co-wrote the script with Marino, fleshes out the ensemble and makes keen choices so that no character is just a face in a crowd. Comedy pros like Justin Theroux, Alan Alda, Malin Akerman, Joe Lo Truglio, Kathryn Hahn, Kerri Kenney, Lauren Ambrose and more round out the cast and help color the world of Elysium, piling laughs on top of laughs with every scene. Theroux stands out as Seth, a spiritual leader for the group who begins to woo Linda away from George with his savvy guitar skills and potent herbal teas. Seth's slow and steady demeanor is a welcome change from the usual rapid-fire style seen in the modern comedy (the movie was produced by Judd Apatow, so it wouldn't have been a surprise to see the approach replicated in Wanderlust), making us laugh in a zen fashion.

Meanwhile, George just can't get anything right, from group "truth circle" exercises, to drinking coffee made of dirt, to Elysium's "free love pact," which gives both he and his wife the chance to sexually explore outside of their relationship. The couple quickly realizes the freedom of their new home divides them, and Wain's sensitivity to story and character evolve the relationship in a rather conventional, yet desirable fashion.


Feb 27 12

By Thomas Leupp

The odds are stacked against Amanda Seyfried in Gone, a suspense thriller in which the Mamma Mia! star plays an ex-kidnapping victim in search of her missing sister. As if an elusive serial killer, incredulous detectives, and a wobbly mental state weren't enough for her character to deal with, she must also battle the dual threat of a hackneyed script and a desperately unimaginative director. Under such circumstances, the poor girl hardly stands a chance. Neither do we.

Perhaps the only distinguishing feature of Gone is its setting: Portland, Oregon, an ostensibly pleasant city that, we soon learn, is host to all sorts of vaguely unsavory types. Into this strange milieu steps our doe-eyed heroine, Jill (Seyfried), a troubled young waitress whose sister (Emily Wickersham) appears to have disappeared – abducted, she believes, by the same man from whose clutches she narrowly escaped a year prior. Then again, Jill's mind hasn't exactly been right since her own abduction, so it's entirely possible that she's overreacting.

Whatever the case, Jill's theory regarding her sister's disappearance is met with skepticism by the local authorities, who tend to view her as a bit of a nutjob, leaving her little choice but to mount her own investigation. On the mean streets of the Rose City, she encounters one dubious character after another, any one of whom would seem to fit the bill of a would-be kidnapper/serial killer. The reclusive neighbor with the odd Scrubs fascination, the skeevy locksmith and his ex-con son, the drifter with the "rapey eyes," the creepy rookie detective (played by Wes Bentley, Elias Koteas-like in his ability to arouse instant suspicion) who "likes 'em crazy": Everyone's a suspect. Even her sister's boyfriend (Sebastian Stan), looks a bit dodgy – or maybe he's just tired. One can hardly blame him.

The folks at the Portland Tourism Commission needn't worry too much about Gone's portrayal of their fair city. At no point during Jill's meandering quest do we get the sense that she's in any real danger, despite the various obstacles that confront her. Brazilian director Heitor Dahlia, playing it determinedly safe in his English-language debut, does little to evoke much in the way of tension or menace in the film, serving up one half-hearted red herring after another. The prevailing atmosphere in Gone is one of encroaching boredom, manifesting shortly after the first act and slowly enveloping the film in its suffocating grasp.


Feb 21 12

By Matt Patches

Ghost RiderActor Nicolas Cage has a lot in common with his superhero counterpart Ghost Rider, featured once again on the big screen in the pseudo-sequel Spirit of Vengeance. Much like the daemon-infested crime fighter, Cage has the power to make anything he touches explode into a wild, blazing inferno, thanks to his unique performance techniques. Cage does not simply deliver a line, he detonates it; He does not simply react to his co-stars, he executes an interpretive dance; He does not simply throw a punch, he unleashes physical armageddon. Occasionally, the style provokes unintentional laugher, but in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, anything less would be unrealistic.

The new adventure finds Ghost Rider aka Johnny Blaze, a former stunt man cursed after begging the Devil to save his father's life, hiding out in Eastern Europe where he believes his soul-sucking alter-ego can remain silent. But Blaze's TLC session is cut short when Moreau (Idris Elba), an Algerian priest with connections to the Devil's latest diabolical plan, arrives. Seems Satan, who walks the Earth under the alias Roarke, is hellbent on inhabiting Danny, the young son of Nadya, who made her own deal with the Prince of Darkness. If he succeeds, Roarke will continue existing in the world of man—so, of course, it's up to Ghost Rider to put the kibosh on the end-of-the-world scenario.

If you didn't see the first Ghost Rider movie, don't fret; the sequel isn't confined by any established mythology, nor is it that concerned with the logic of its own story. Directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor employ a manic eye for action displayed in earlier films like Crank and Gamer, shooting motorcycle chases, shootouts and flaming skull transformations with adrenaline-infused camerawork that should leave anyone susceptible to motion sickness running to the bathroom. The 3-D transfer of the movie is a non-factor, the post-convereted stereoscopic effects rarely intrude on the zippy camerawork. Unlike the Crank films, Ghost Rider contends with its script, dragging when the movie tries to explain what the heck is going on and only picking up when the directing duo and Nic Cage are allowed to play.

A host of solid supporting actors breath traces of life into half-baked villain and characters—Ciaran Hinds stands out as Roarke, playing him like a forgotten Dick Tracy baddie—but at the end of the day, Spirit of Vengeance is all Cage's show. With the fire of hell burning inside, Blaze is in a constant fight against himself and Cage embodies the monstrous struggle with cockeyed rage and growling vocals. Neveldine and Taylor make the most of their larger-than-life lead, and Cage spends most of the film teetering on the edge ballistic fury. That's not to say the movie doesn't take its quiet moments–a scene between Cage and Elba where Blaze begs Moreau to remove the Ghost Rider curse is surprisingly dramatic—but the movie has goals: to rattle you at 100 miles per hour.


Feb 21 12

By Thomas Leupp

In This Means War – a stylish action/rom-com hybrid from director McG – Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises) and Chris Pine (Star Trek) star as CIA operatives whose close friendship is strained by the fires of romantic rivalry. Best pals FDR (Pine) and Tuck (Hardy) are equally accomplished at the spy game, but their fortunes diverge dramatically in the dating realm: FDR (so nicknamed for his obvious resemblance to our 32nd president) is a smooth-talking player with an endless string of conquests, while Tuck is a straight-laced introvert whose love life has stalled since his divorce. Enter Lauren (Reese Witherspoon), a pretty, plucky consumer-products evaluator who piques both their interests in separate, unrelated encounters. Tuck meets her via an online-dating site, FDR at a video-rental store. (That Lauren is tech-savvy enough to date online but still rents movies in video stores is either a testament to her fascinating mix of contradictions, or more likely an example of lazy screenwriting.)

When Tuck and FDR realize they're pursuing the same girl, it sparks their respective competitive natures, and they decide to make a friendly game of it. But what begins as a good-natured rivalry swiftly devolves into romantic bloodsport, with both men using the vast array of espionage tools at their disposal – from digital surveillance to poison darts – to gain an edge in the battle for Lauren's affections. If her constitutional rights happen to be violated repeatedly in the process, then so be it.

Lauren, for her part, remains oblivious to the clandestine machinations of her dueling suitors, and happily basks in the sudden attention from two gorgeous men. Herein we find the Reese Witherspoon Dilemma: While certainly desirable, Lauren is far from the irresistible Helen of Troy type that would inspire the likes of Tuck and FDR to risk their friendship, their careers, and potential incarceration for. At several points in This Means War, I found myself wondering if there were no other peppy blondes in Los Angeles (where the film is primarily set) for these men to pursue. Then again, this is a film that wishes us to believe that Tom Hardy would have trouble finding a date, so perhaps plausibility is not its strong point.

When Lauren needs advice, she looks to her boozy, foul-mouthed best friend, Trish (Chelsea Handler). Essentially an extension of Handler's talk-show persona – an acquired taste if there ever was one – Trish's dialogue consists almost exclusively of filthy one-liners, delivered in rapid-fire succession. Handler does have some choice lines – indeed, they're practically the centerpiece of This Means War's ad campaign – but the film derives the bulk of its humor from the outrageous lengths Tuck and FDR go to sabotage each others' efforts, a raucous game of spy-versus-spy that carries the film long after Handler's shtick has grown stale.


Feb 13 12

By Thomas Leupp

The romantic drama The Vow is not adapted from a Nicholas Sparks novel, though I doubt its producers would be offended if you'd assumed otherwise. In fact, I suspect they're banking on it. The film's stars, Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum, are both recognized veterans of the Sparks subgenre – she gave us the indelible (for better or worse) Notebook, while he starred in the somewhat less successful Dear John. Moreover, its premise, pitting love against the insidious after-effects of brain trauma, may be inspired by a true story, but its one-two punch of tragedy and sentiment is straight out of Sparks' tear-jerking playbook.

It's all there in The Vow's opening montage, which first introduces Leo (Tatum) and Paige (McAdams), two desperately smitten bohemian-artist types (she's a sculptor; he's a musician/studio owner), and then rudely separates them, all in one slick, heartbreaking sequence. There's the meet-cute at the DMV, the whirlwind courtship, the quirky marriage proposal, the kitschy guerrilla wedding (replete with vows scrawled on restaurant menus), and, finally, the brutal car accident, glimpsed in agonizing slow-motion, that leaves poor Paige in a coma.

When Paige awakens in the hospital, Leo is aghast to discover his wife doesn't recognize him. While her girl-next-door beauty emerged from the crash remarkably intact, it seems her brain did not fare so well, suffering injuries that effectively wiped out her memory of the preceding five years – a span comprising the entirety of her relationship with Leo. Her mind's clock rewound a half-decade, Paige assumes the identity of Paige from five years prior, like a rebooted computer whose owner neglected to backup the hard drive in a timely manner.

It soon becomes achingly apparent that the Paige from five years prior was markedly different from the Paige we met in the opening credits: a superficial sorority girl, on track for a law degree, averse to city-dwelling, partial to blueberry mojitos, cowed by her domineering father (Sam Neill), and engaged to a corporate douche (Scott Speedman). Upon emerging from her slumber, she finds the remnants from her old life all-too-eager to re-assimilate their lost lamb into the Bourgeois Borg, even if she does have one of those icky tattoos.


Feb 13 12

By Matt Patches

In the last seven years, Denzel Washington has paired with director Tony Scott on four hyperkinetic, ultra-saturated feature films: Man on Fire, Deja Vu, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 and Unstoppable. When he strays from the time-honored action collaboration, you'd think the man would take a break from the format. Not so—as Washington's new film Safe House clearly demonstrates.

ALTDaniel Espinosa, director of the acclaimed Swedish crime drama Snabba Cash, shoots his espionage thriller with Scott-ian flair, complete with rapid camera movement, a palette of eye-scorchingly bright colors and fragmented editing. If Safe House was emotionally compelling, the stylistic approach might make the narrative sizzle—but the script is as simple and familiar as they come: Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) is a CIA agent with a monotonous gig. He's a safe housekeeper, tasked with maintaining a stronghold in South Africa in case the feds need to stop by for some…interrogating. After a year of begging for field work and keeping the joint tidy, Weston finds himself embroiled in the investigation of Tobin Bell (Denzel Washington), an ex-CIA notorious for selling information on the black market. A group of agents bring Bell in to Weston's safe house for a routine waterboarding, but everything is thrown into chaos when the lockdown is infiltrated by machine-wielding baddies looking to put a bullet in Bell's head. To keep the captor alive, Weston goes on the run with Bell in hand…never knowing exactly why everyone wants the guy dead.

The setup for Safe House provides Washington and Reynolds, two fully capable action stars, to do their thing and to do it well. The two characters have their own defining characteristics that each actor bites off with ferocity: Reynolds' Weston is a man drowning in circumstance, built to kick ass, but still out of his league and just hoping to get back to his gal in one piece. Bell has years of experience boring into the heads of his opponents, and Washington plays him with the necessary charisma and confidence that make even his most despicable characters a treat to watch.

But the duo fight a losing battle in Safe House, contending with the script's meandering action and ambiguous stakes that turn the Bourne-esque thriller into a grueling experience. Much of the movie is an extended chase scene where the object of the bad guys' desire is never identified. It's a mystery!—but the lack of info comes off as confusing. Safe House cuts back and forth between the compelling relationship between Weston and Bell and a war room full of exceptional actors (Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson and Sam Shepherd) given nothing to do but spurt straightforward backstory and typical "there's no time, Mr. ______!" exclamatory statements. Caking it is Espinosa's direction, which lacks any sense of coherent geography. The action is never intense, because you have no idea who is going where and when and why.


Feb 13 12

By Daniel Hubschman

It's hard for me to judge a movie like Journey 2: The Mysterious Island too harshly because I am not representative of its intended audience. A pre-teen or fifth-grader may not be dissuaded as I was by the blindingly hurried pace, plot discrepancies or absence of any character development while watching Brad Peyton's (Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore) attempt at reliving the success of Eric Brevig's original Journey. And you know what? That's okay, because as a family film it adheres to a formula laid out by far superior fantasy adventures and runs its course quickly without ever leaving a moment to reflect on how ridiculous it is.

Essentially a series of set pieces tied together by a thinly drawn father-son story, Journey 2 picks up a few years after the first film and finds Sean Anderson (Josh Hutcherson) searching for the titular location, where he believes his long-absent grandfather has been stranded. Upon retrieving a coded message from a satellite tower just outside of town, he enlists the help of his new ex-Navy stepfather Hank (Dwayne Johnson) to get to the bottom of the mystery. Together, they travel to a tropical paradise and hitch a helicopter ride with Gabato (Luis Guzman) and Kailani (Vanessa Hudgens) before crash landing on the Mysterious Island, where an action-packed escapade awaits them.

The above description reads like a standard adventure template, and that's exactly what Journey 2 is. With a bare bones script from the writers of Bring it On Again, neither director nor actors had significant material to work with, but they run, jump, duck and dive through sets that resemble the jungle-gym from Legends of the Hidden Temple and various theme-park attractions as if they were cast in Peter Jackson's King Kong, giving every scene everything they've got. It's a good thing that the ensemble was so enthusiastic about the picture; though there isn't much chemistry between them, they collectively draw your attention from the gratuitous, gimmicky 3D, videogame-inspired digital environments and outdated creature design.

Every role has a designated responsibility in this by-the-numbers production: Hutcherson is the brains, spitting out expository literary facts to keep the story going throughout, while Johnson is clearly the brawn. Guzman, with his incessant infantile comedy, is the mouth, while Hudgens – quite frankly – is the eye candy. Only as a unit can they come close to making Journey 2 entertaining, but even when working in relative harmony it's hard to find much qualitative value in the film. As previously stated, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island wasn't made for all audiences. It will provide a few moments of underage humor and three-dimensional thrills for the kids, but everyone else will be wondering why they had to watch The Rock sing "What a Wonderful World" in an adaptation of a Jules Verne novel.


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