Wednesday, June 30, 2010

"Killer Inside Me" well-made but detached



The Killer Inside Me (2010) 
109 min., rated R.
Grade: C

Adapted from Jim Thompson's pulp noir, "The Killer Inside Me" never lets us in past its grim, pulpy cover. Casey Affleck, with his high-pitched, gravelly monotone and boyish veneer, plays Lou Ford, the polite deputy sheriff of a West Texas oil town in 1952 who is holding something inside: he's a sociopath. When he's forced to run a prostitute (Jessica Alba) out of town, he falls into a spank-and-screw affair with her. To make matters worse, Lou commits a double homicide, threatening the bride-to-be (Kate Hudson). 

Director Michael Winterbottom's second take on Thompson's source material is very well-made, enveloped in a moody but sunbaked atmosphere with a sure sense of time and place. Although, Winterbottom's ironic use of a light-minded rockabilly score feels misjudged and pacing is sometimes plodding when it should be taut as the skin on your face. 

Affleck manages a fine job of making Lou an unassuming and gracious gentleman with a twisted lunatic behind his eyes. Alba and Hudson finally go out of their comfort zones here, but Alba still has no weight as a performer. The brutal scenes of women being beaten to a pulp are awfully hard to take and will arouse incredulous gasps (you feel every punch). All that's missing is the reason to what makes Lou tick, leaving us detached. 

Perhaps that's the point, but it's still at the fault of adapter John Curran's script and Lou's slippery characterization. Sure, sordid backstory of Lou's incestuous, sadomasochistic relationship with his mother to child experimentation is revealed, but Patrick Bateman and Tom Ripley were more developed than Lou Ford. 

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Sandler and Co. aren't "Grown Ups" yet but it's better than you'd expect


Grown Ups (2010) 
102 min., rated PG-13.

By now, we would expect Adam Sandler to be making grown-up movies, judging by the title of his new vehicle, "Grown Ups." But who are we kidding—men will be boys. Directed by “kick-in-the-groin” king of comedy Dennis Dugan, Sandler now gets to hang out with his crew of comedian pals, as if there were making a reality show. This is their "The Big Chill"/"Indian Summer"/"The Great Outdoors," and it's not as bad as you've heard, at least by the standards of a Happy Madison production. 

Five schmoes in their early 40s reunite at a lake house after the funeral of their beloved elementary-school basketball coach. Sandler plays Lenny (as if character names mattered), the Hollywood agent with a high-maintenance wife (Salma Hayek) and three spoiled, technology-reliant kiddos. Kevin James is the jolly big guy, Eric, with a wife (Maria Bello) who still breast-feeds their 4-year-old son. Chris Rock is Kurt, a house-husband with a pregnant wife (Maya Rudolph) and a ball-busting mother-in-law. David Spade is a drunken, uncommitted single dude named Marcus. And, finally, Rob Schneider is, well, Rob, who's married to a vegan hippie old enough to be his mom with three daughters, two gorgeous model-types in shorty shorts and the third as dumpy as daddy. 

A silly, sloppy comedy wouldn't be right without some silliness and sloppiness: "Grown Ups" has more painful, juvenile slapstick than it needs, the token lowest-common-denominator gross-outs (bunions, farting, face-diving in poop, arrow through the foot, and peeing in the pool), and clunky lessons-learned sentiment complete with The Big Game Versus Childhood Rivals. Also, if you like summer movie vacations (after the trip to Abu Dhabi in "Sex and the City 2"), this movie takes us to a water park! And what's with all the distracting product placement (Dasani! Dunkin' Donuts! Coke!)? But hey, no one's perfect. 

These buds are funnier and more relaxed together than in some of their dumber, spottier individual projects, and no wonder since they're all real-life friends. Sandler (loosely) co-wrote the script with Fred Wolf, but there must've been quite a bit of improv going on because they even laugh on camera as if Dugan just kept the cameras rolling. Of the thankless spouse roles, Rudolph shows the most comic timing and is a real sport when she gets a squirt of milk in the face from Bello's teet. And there are cameos from Tim Meadows, Norm MacDonald, and Steve Buscemi, his being the best. 

Hardly an endorsement, this Happy Meal of a movie is surprisingly more enjoyable than not and moves fast from joke to joke (it's mostly a threadbare plot of start-stop comic set pieces anyway, right?). Clever? Not for a second, but it's casual and amiable rather than offensive or too mean-spirited. "Grown Ups" gives fans of these funny guys' fans what they want, and that just might be enough.

Grade: C +

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Cruise and Diaz make for a fun summer "Day" at the movies



Knight and Day (2010) 
110 min., rated PG-13.
Grade: B

"Action-Romantic Comedies" have become something of a hot commodity in recent years. Jenny Aniston and Gerard Butler took out the trash in "The Bounty Hunter," Katie Heigl and Ashton Kutcher had some mild gunplay in "Killers," and Tina Fey and Steve Carell's "Date Night" was the winner. But now it's the turns of old-school movie stars Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz to engage in risky business, reteaming after 2001's "Vanilla Sky," in the eye-candy entertainment "Knight and Day." 

Cruise has us at hello, looking as if he drank from the Fountain of Youth and playing with nutty, manic energy in the form of CIA agent Roy Miller who's gone rogue and he may just be a nut. At the Wichita, Kansas airport, he has a calculated run-in with regular gal June (Diaz), who works a regular job, ya know, restoring classic hot rods. He uses her (and her luggage) to smuggle a powerful top-secret battery through airport security. There's plot involving Roy's chase from the feds and an arms dealer, and protecting the battery's maker (Paul Dano's young scientist), which is just full of plot holes, so forget about it or you'll miss the point of taking the ride. 

High-profile director James Mangold and first-time film writer Patrick O'Neill brand a good team to make "Knight and Day" more than just an action blockbuster, with some fresh comedy added to the "Die Hard"-esque car chases and explosions: June is drugged for some of the shoot-ups so being in her point-of-view we get some trippy visual surprises. Sure, it couldn't be more ludicrous even had Ludacris co-starred, the globetrobbing action is playfully exciting and well-executed, especially a chase through the bull-running streets of Spain (minus some obvious green-screen work) and a shootout aboard a jetliner, and the movie moves fast like a runaway train. 

Cruise and Diaz aren't a shabby team either; in fact, Cruise still has all the right moves and charisma, and Diaz is no ninny or damsel in distress, working her mega-watt-smile charm and comic skills. They have wonderfully funny and sexy chemistry together, and aren't too bad on the eyes either. It's summer, so there's nothing wrong with enjoying light, breezy, engaging fun on the scale of a Michael Bay picture like "Knight and Day" in an air-conditioned theater with a bucket of buttery popcorn. 

Friday, June 18, 2010

"Toy Story 3" a gushing treasure



Toy Story 3 (2010) 
103 min., rated G.
Grade: A

For a second sequel eleven years after the first and fifteen since the original, "Toy Story 3" really works...to infinity and beyond! As you could imagine, it's a wonderfully funny, touching, and gorgeously animated blend of comedy, action, and drama. When the Disney and Pixar credits come up on the cloud wallpaper, there's an undeniable sense of childhood nostalgia that should resonate with audiences. 

Cowboy Woody (Tom Hanks), astronaut Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), and friends are toys in crisis: their now-17-year-old owner Andy is packing for college. He's outgrown his playthings, and plans to put his box of toys in the attic. Instead, they wind up in trash bags and kicked to the curb for the garbage truck. But wait! The toys make it to the Sunnyside Day Care Center, where they meet new toys and get terrorized by hyperactive, aggressive toddlers. The daycare, although thought to be a new home with “no owners and no heartbreak,” is more of a prison for toys with a plush teddy bear named Lotso (Ned Beatty) in charge. He may look cuddly but he has ulterior motives and he's the villain of the piece like Sid, Big Al, and Stinky Pete from the previous movies. So they must devise a prison break to get back where they belong. 

Our old favorite toys return like a reunion with friends, including cowgirl Jessie (Joan Cusack) and horse Bullseye, Hamm the piggy-bank pig (John Ratzenberger), Rex the dino (Wallace Shawn), Barbie (Jodi Benson), Slinky Dog (Blake Clark taking over for Jim Varney), and the bickering Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head (Don Rickles, Estelle Harris). Of course, there are new funny toy characters too: a creepy Big Baby, ditzy triceratops Trixie (Kristen Schaal), a porcupine (Jeff Garlin) and fashion-loving Ken (Michael Keaton) who wants to add Barbie to his 'Dream House.' 

Lee Unkrich does a high-achieving solo job as John Lasseter's co-director on "Toy Story 2," with the voice performances winning as ever. Randy Newman's poignant score is perfect as usual for the devastating themes of abandonment and inevitability of growing up. Obviously this third film (written by Michael Arndt) is less of a discovery than the first two, but in-jokes to "The Great Escape" and "Mission: Impossible" still seem fresh and inventive in the hands of the Pixar team, like when a Fisher-Price Chatter Telephone gives Woody advice in the voice of a film-noir witness. A truly exciting action sequence that has the toys nearing an incinerator may be intense and scary for the kiddos, but you really feel the danger of this life-or-death situation, and it's always picked up by more gushing fun (Buzz's reset button gets pushed and he starts speaking Spanish). 

As a goodbye for Andy (and us), the conclusion reaches an emotional depth: it's meant to be. Be prepared to cry like a big baby; adults, yeah you, will be invested in the toys' final destination, too. "Toy Story 3" is a triumph over live-action movies with great slapstick, beloved characters, and honest emotion, now making for a complete trilogy that's a treasure and more satisfying than "The Godfather: Part III."

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Jarringly strange "Happy Tears" gels into disaster



Happy Tears (2010) 
95 min., rated R.
Grade: D -

Writer-director Mitchell Lichtenstein was at least trying something fresh with his uneven feature debut, "Teeth" (a woman's vagina on a killing spree), but nothing in "Happy Tears" gels in the way it's ineptly assembled. 

Parker Posey and Demi Moore play Jayne and Laura, adult sisters who couldn't be more opposite, the former a selfish, neurotic art socialite and the latter a lower-class hippie, but return home to relieve their cantankerous father, Joe (Rip Torn), whose dementia is worsening. Ellen Barkin, with yellow teeth and crusty finger nails, decides to show up for no apparent reason as Joe's crack-whore girlfriend, a “nurse” because she wears a stethoscope around her neck. Family secrets are unveiled, differences are consoled, and Rip Torn gets to defecate in his pants. And there's buried treasure in the backyard? 

A jarringly strange, narratively unfocused mess of family drama, quirky comedy, and hallucinogenic daydreams, "Happy Tears" uses every pot and pan in the indie-film kitchen to awkward effect. Now, long-time-actress Demi Moore brings a sense of calm and almost grounds this mess. And Posey is always endearing even when playing up her twitchy tics, but her performance here is grating and she doesn't seem to ever get a grip on her “off” character and neither do we. The visual effects team seems to have constructed some stunningly weird, surreal “stoned” sequences (Posey naked, floating atop a jellyfish), but they don't belong. Lichtenstein's tone is erratic and the family doesn't feel like a real family; everything's inauthentic and just so self-consciously offbeat. 

It will pain you to tears, not happy ones, to call "Happy Tears," despite an interesting director and a talented cast, a complete disaster. 

Saturday, June 12, 2010

"A-Team" gets a B minus for effort



The A-Team (2010)

117 min., rated PG-13


Grade: B -


For better or for worse, TV shows need to be made into movies so here's The A-Team, a leathery, machismo-fueled big-screen blow-up of the '80s TV series, with a little M*A*S*H, Mission: Impossible, and The Dirty Dozen

The rogue, ragtag team of special forces that is the A-team connect in Mexico: there's cigar-chomping Colonel Hannibal (calming-voiced Liam Neeson), womanizing Face (cocky-grinning Bradley Cooper), mohawked giant B.A. Baracus (UFC fighter Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, a spitting image of Mr. T), and mad-man pilot Murdoch (the engagingly clownish Sharlto Copley). Then they are falsely accused of stealing U.S. Treasury engraving plates from the Iraq War and then convicted and imprisoned; naturally, they bust out and go after the culprits that set the team up. 

Jessica Biel is there purely for eye-candy babe purposes as an Army officer and Face's old flame. When her character reports that the A-Team specializes in the ridiculous, she wasn't kidding. 

The plot is an excuse for a bunch of noisy, bombastic action stunts, which are a great load of fun when they're being so cheerfully stupid. Other times, the shoot-outs are so cluttered and chaotically framed, but such is the stuff of summer action blockbusters. 

Director and co-writer Joe Carnahan, after his Smokin' Aces, keeps things whizzing by like a wind-up toy and man-ups the ridiculousness with a sequence involving a tank attached to a parachute. There's also a funny bit involving 3-D glasses and the intro of the TV show.

So for some videogame-action playfulness, The A-Team works: the muscular cast gets an 'A' for effort and there's some real cheeky jokiness in the macho banter. “Overkill is underrated,” one character says, which is very befitting for a yahoo movie all about overkill.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Mumblecore alert: "Baghead" an original, "Humpday" hit-and-miss, and "Cyrus" a funny surprise


Baghead (2008) 
84 min., rated R.
Grade: B

"Baghead," a spare, subtle micro-budget indie film written and directed by the Duplass Brothers, Jay and Mark, of 2005's "The Puffy Chair" and filmed on a handhand camera, is a small pleasure. Four struggling second-tier actors, Matt (Ross Patridge), Chad (Steve Zissis), Michelle (Greta Gerwig), and Catherine (Elise Muller), decide to jumpstart their careers, heading off to the Big Bear woods, east of Los Angeles, with the idea of writing a screenplay and filming it in two days. After somone with a bag over his or her head appears outside Michelle's bedroom window, they get the idea to use the baghead as their movie. Now, is it one of the three friends, or is there a fifth in the woods? 

No matter, this isn't really slasher movie, but more of a skilled mixture of a relationship drama, a comedy, in-the-woods horror, and an offering of the “mumblecore” genre (unscripted, cinéma vérité-style low-budgets with a lot of talky talk). The first hour has a chatty, conversational quality that's fascinating but may be slow and boring to some, the performances are naturalistic, and the tone has an interesting variance. 

It can be funny and sometimes scary (a shadowy figure in a dark room and the baghead's nightly confrontation both heighten the tension), but there's a story revelation near the end that's a bit predictable. "Baghead" might underwhelm casual moviegoers, but there's nothing else like it out there.


Humpday (2009) 
94 min., rated R. 
Grade: C +

Oh, look what the “mumblecore” revolution drug in—it's called "Humpday." Here's a high-concept idea if you've ever seen one and it's not about Wednesday: two old straight friends get wasted at a party and come up with the idea of making a gay porn video for an amateur art festival. Ben (Mark Duplass, mainstay of the mumblecore movement with films like "The Puffy Chair" and "Baghead") is a married Seattle homeowner; Andrew ("The Blair Witch Project's" 'disappeared student' Joshua Leonard) is a shaggy vagabond artist. These two doughy hetero guys want to do it to show they are comfortable with their sexuality and as a form of art, but will they go through with it? 

Alycia Delmore's Anna, Ben's patient-to-a-point wife, is the audience POV and we can relate to her. The cringe factor gets “erected” with some awkwardly real conversations between Ben and Anna leading up to telling her his plan with Andrew, followed by Anna and Andrew's getting-to-know-you chitchat over scotch where the truth slips out. 

In "Humpday," writer-director Lynn Shelton (who has a small role as Andrew's lesbian sometime-girlfriend) takes a very unique route on the “bromance,” questioning the contradictory mind of the man and the normalcy of bi-curiosity in a homophobic culture. What went into making the film—besides a pre-planned central idea, it's all improvisation without any scripted dialogue—is a little more interesting than the film itself, as claustrophobic framing and close-ups tend to irritate, but not without a wry sense of humor and provocative insights. 

The premise is believable within the boundaries of sexuality and so is the conclusion, even if it's more art than follow-through on its own premise. The acting is naturalistic, Duplass and Leonard feeling like real old pals, and they find humor and charm in the caj vibe of the dialogue and situation. Casual moviegoers might not be up to speed on the whole “mumblecore” school of filmmaking, just seeing it as sloppy camera work and forced naturalism, and in a way it does sometimes feel more like a self-conscious experimental home-video. Technical pretensions aside, "Humpday" has more to say and it's more endearing than the majority of comedies that Hollywood churns out.


Cyrus (2010) 
92 min., rated R.
Grade: A -

"Cyrus" is bound to catch mainstream audiences off guard—and surprise them in a good way; it's more of an indie drama with comic undertones. Writer-director brothers Jay and Mark Duplass (2008's "Baghead") take a warped, broad-comedy premise and do wonders with it. 

John C. Reilly is impeccably cast as John, look at that, a divorced, self-described Shrek/freelance film editor who after 7 years of still being single suffers loneliness and lack of self-worth. Luckily, he meets Molly (Marisa Tomei), who's actually attracted to his honesty. They share a great night, but she never stays until morning. Why? To John's surprise, he finds out she's living with her 21-year-old son, Cyrus (Jonah Hill). He becomes clear almost right away that Molly and Cyrus have a creepily close relationship: son uses the bathroom even while mother's in the shower. Bates family, is that you? While John tries his best to create a family with Molly, Cyrus will not cooperate as he's too protective of Mommy. 

"Cyrus," a witty, spiky, satisfying relationship comedy of Oedipal proportions about letting go, easily could've turned into a farcical showdown (much like Reilly's "Step Brothers"), but goes in a different direction. Not that there aren't a few pranks between Cyrus and John, but it has more of the telling details rarely seen in contemporary comedies. Jonah Hill goes to new places, using his facial expressions and body language; he's creepy and then tender in the unpredictability and insecurity he gives to Cyrus. Tomei is wonderful as Molly, as is Catherine Keener in a supporting role as John's still-supportive if still-long-suffering ex-wife. 

The filmmakers still show signs of the “mumblecore” movement they spearheaded from "The Puffy Chair" and "Baghead" in their first independent picture with mainstream actors, as it's hard to tell what has been improvised and scripted in the dialogue. The Duplass' handhand, close-up camera work initially zooms in and out and sometimes goes out of focus for no reason, but then the shaggy, rambly style works, getting us into the characters' faces, where we too can feel their emotions and discomfort. 

With spot-on performances that show personal awareness and character arcs, "Cyrus" hits all the right notes trading in juvenilia for a low-key, off-kilter sense of humor and uncomfortable truth. 

"I Love You, Man" enjoyably sweet and funny



I Love You, Man (2009) 
105 min., rated R.
Grade: B +

“Bromance” is the freshly minted term for "I Love You, Man," a crude but enjoyable and surprisingly sweet buddy comedy, which has just the right ingredients to make any Judd Apatow concoction a success—minus his name not appearing anywhere on the credits. 

Paul Rudd has never been harder to dislike or better at playing the socially awkward dweeb than here as Peter Klaven, a strait-laced, too-sincere Los Angeles real estate agent. About to get married to his lovely live-in fiancée Zooey (a pleasantly genuine Rashida Jones), Peter realizes he has no male friends or a best friend for that matter when it's time to choose a best man. He'd rather stay in, watching "Chocolat" with Zooey or making root beer floats for her and her girlfriends on ladies' night, when everyone else around him knows he should be chillaxing with the dudes playing some Texas Hold 'Em over a few brewskies. After a few failed “man dates,” enter investor Sydney Fife (Jason Segel), who's both a tell-it-like-it-is-and-not-leave-anything-out kind of guy and Venice Beach slacker, showing up at Peter's open house in Lou “The Incredible Hulk” Ferrigno's mansion. Within days, these guys are hanging out, eating the “the world's best fish tacos” at a beach bar, jamming out to Rush and playing electric guitar, and sharing masturbation stories ... man, love is in the air! But when Zooey feels like she's losing Peter and that he's sharing too many intimate details with Sydney about their relationship, the male BFFs' friendship and the lovebirds' engagement goes into jeopardy. 

Director-writer John Hamburg doesn't try as hard like he did with "Along Came Polly," but lets the crass, raunchy stuff and “bromance” flow from the smart, hilariously played work of its cast. Larry Levin and Hamburg's script naturally has a predictable story complication, but a vomit sight gag and jokes about oral sex and flatulence that come up in dialogue have funny, honest setups and payoffs. 

Rudd and Segel ad-lib a lot of their lines and share effortless chemistry, looking like best buds in real life. When an actor such as Rudd makes us cringe uncomfortably and feel embarrassed for him, as when he tries being manly and sounds like a Leprechaunesque jackass, he's that good at playing a painfully awkward Everyman we can root for. Segel's Sydney, as goofy and doughy as schlubs go, is the straight man to Rudd's Peter, giving his chum ridiculous nicknames like “Pistol Pete.” The leads are supported by a solid cast: J.K. Simmons and Jane Curtain are underutilized but have moments as Peter's parents; Andy Samberg is unusually restrained—a polar opposite of his SNL rap skit of “Jizz in My Pants”—as Peter's gay athletic trainer-brother; Jaime Pressly and Jon Favreau haven't been this funny in a while as Zooey's best friend and her bickering, disdainful husband; and Thomas Lennon is amusingly creepy as a man date, who kisses Peter at the end of their dinner. 

While not as near-perfect as most of Apatow's films, this isn't Apatow, but it walks and talks like one, and oh, here it goes ... you'll love "I Love You, Man," totes magotes. 

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Charmless "My Best Friend's Girl" not anyone's best



My Best Friend's Girl (2008) 
101 min., rated R.

A misogynistic, unappealing marriage of frat-boy smut and romantic-comedy clichés, "My Best Friend's Girl" ought to have been left in whatever hole it was found in. Still in stand-up comic mode, Dane Cook embodies vulgar smarm more than ever playing Tank Turner, a boorish, self-described “professional asshole” who gets paid by recently dumped men to take out their ex-girlfriends and treat them like last week's trash so they'll come running back to the formers. What a highbrow plan! (Gentlemen hoping to be assholes, take note.) His latest client is his roommate and best friend, sentimental, smothering non-ladies' man Dustin (Jason Biggs), who's in love with an ambitious co-worker, Alexis (Kate Hudson, who needs to find a new agent), he's been semi-dating for five weeks. No doubt, Alexis falls for Tank because the script tells her to. 

First-time screenwriter Jordan Cahan and director Howard Deutch forget to add likable characters, funny humor, or anything resembling romance to this charmless, witless rom-com bomb. Hudson's light charm goes out the window here; Cook is a smug, disgusting, and obnoxious pig; and Biggs comes off as a creepy, pathetic puppy dog: why should we like or give a flying hoot about these annoying, pitiful people? Alec Baldwin has some sleazy moments as Tank's horndog father, and if anything, Lizzy Caplan (as Hudson's unemployed, chain-smoking roommate) is the funniest spot in the movie, spouting off snarky barbs. Hudson singing 2 Live Crew's “Pop That Pussy,” an eye-brow shaving mishap, and a date at a sacrilegious pizza joint called Cheesus Crust are momentarily amusing, but it's sad when the biggest laugh doesn't come until the end credits. "My Best Friend's Girl" gives the otherwise appealing '70s tune of the same name by The Cars (which is played throughout ad nauseam) a bad name. 

Grade: D +

Saturday, June 5, 2010

"Killers" takes a bullet but it's not "The Bounty Hunter"



Killers (2010)
100 min., rated PG-13.
Grade: C +

Not screened in advance for critics usually spells stink bomb. But before you judge and say “another rom-com bites the dust,” and while not being the greatest thing since sliced bread (or "True Lies" or "Mr. and Mrs. Smith"), you could do a whole lot worse than "Killers," innocent of more watchability than the last crappy product of the Hollywood machine. 

Katherine Heigl plays another Type-A female lead (what are the odds?), her gorgeous self but uptight and single, now named Jen, who tags along with her parents on a vacation to France. First, there's the meet-cute between Jen and Spencer (Ashton Kutcher), sexy, charming, and without a shirt (is this “Dude, Where's My Shirt?”) who's really a hit-man on assignment. Then they get married and happily settle into suburban life. Three years later and Jen's domestic bliss gets a reality check: “Oh my gosh, my husband has a license to kill!” and there's a $20 million bounty to kill Spencer. 

This generally entertaining rom-com-with-guns shoots blanks at first with some lame banter and overplayed comic situations, but Killers gets more amusing and fun as it runs along. The murder-for-hire plot is pretty hazy and director Robert Luketic's lively action sometimes too violent even for a lighthearted action-romantic-comedy hybrid. Do you hear a 'but' coming? But it gets by on the mere presence and sheer likability of Heigl and Kutcher, who got the comic chemistry down as a couple. Tom Selleck and Catherine O'Hara are funny (and more than welcome) as Jen's parents, Selleck with his mustache and O'Hara sneaking alcholic drinks for the camera every chance she gets. 

Although "Killers" makes for an amiable timekiller, Heigl really needs to relieve herself from this rut, after "Knocked Up," of playing hysterically neurotic/ditzy/rule-making ninnies before it kills her potential. Her next picture should be “How Miss Heigl Got Her Groove Back.” 

Friday, June 4, 2010

Hill and Brand get laughs in "Greek"



Get Him to the Greek (2010)
109 min., rated PG-13
Grade: B

The “him” in Get Him to the Greek is Aldous Snow, Russell Brand's hedonistic, narcissistic Brit-pop singer from 2008's Forgetting Sarah Marshall, reprising the role in this spin-off. (With the exception of Kristen Bell's Sarah Marshall cameo, Snow is the only returnee.)

Jonah Hill, a weight-reverse from Seth Rogen in Funny People, essays a different character than his small role in Marshall. He's Aaron, a record company intern, who by the orders of his boss, Sergio Roma (Sean “P. Diddy” Combs), has 72 hours to get the hard-partying Aldous from London to New York, to appear on “Today,” and then on to Los Angeles, where he's scheduled to do a comeback concert at the Greek Theater.

Hill and Brand are engaging personalities and make Get Him to the Greek, from producer Judd Apatow's factory, a lot of fun to watch, and writer-director Nicholas Stoller knows how to deliver the funny with the raunch. Hill varies his adolescent motormouth and underplays a bit, and Brand does his preening shtick and Cockey singsong again but he's hilarious and human. And Rose Byrne and Elizabeth Moss do a balanced, non-shrilly job of playing Aaron and Aldous's loves, a prickly nurse and a sobering-up performer, Jackie Q.

The opening satirical exposes on Aldous, including his critically lambasted video for his latest album bomb, “African Child,” are a scream, and some of the good jokes rely on your knowledge of pop culture (including Harry Potter cast members).

There's one frantically raucous, hilarious sequence involving a loaded joint called “Jeffrey,” adrenaline, and the stroking of soft fur. Some of the substance-abuse partying and throwing up gets repetitive, and Aldous's guilt complex and issues gets into dark, heartfelt human drama but serve the story well because not only do we get a kick out of the antics, we actually give a damn.

While not perfect (Stoller could've gotten a little more trim-happy), Get Him to the Greek is one of the funnier commercial comedies so far.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

"Splice" works as icky Frankenstein hokum



Splice (2010)
104 min., rated R.
Grade: B +

Make a baby? Sure, why not. Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley, who respectively expose their member-shaped nose and gummy smile to mad-scientist effect, are committed to playing Clive and Elsa (both allusions to "Bride of Frankenstein"), romantically linked rock-star biochemists. They make a proposal to their money-strapped pharmaceutical company to work human DNA into their experiment, but are denied. Of course they still follow through on their experiment and keep it a secret, resulting in their mutant creation: a half-human, half-thing baby they name Dren (that's “Nerd” spelled backwards, also the acronym of the splice lab). Elsa, who has doom-and-gloom mommy issues, seems gratified to be a mother of sorts, while Clive thinks they made a mistake. 

Director Vincenzo Natali's nifty, gooey "Splice" is a crossbreed of "Aliens," "The Fly," "Species," and "Frankenstein" (that's Fronkensteen!), and altogether it's certifiably nuts and breaks the safe zone. With Antoinette Terry Bryant, Doug Taylor, and co-writer Natali's smart, intriguing script of the “scientists-tampering-with-nature” premise, the movie is thoughtful, cheeky, and creepy, then mutates into something over-the-top and well aware of its own insanity. One giddy, splattery moment gets a laugh when the front row of suits at a convention turns into a splash zone by the blobby organisms' massacre. And that really is French model-actress Delphine Chaneac, playing the young adult version of Dren, who does a great job with body language and head tilts. The creature effects by Howard Berger are first-rate and seamlessly convincing; you can barely tell the difference between the actress's real body and the CGI chicken-dinosaur-kangaroo legs and stinger tail. 

"Splice" gets crazier and crazier, and really goes there (especially in one disturbingly icky sequence you hope is a dream but isn't), splitting off from scientific ethics into the psychosexual with some daringly twisted, provocative ideas about creation, family, and maternal instincts. It's like Sigmund Freud and David Cronenberg's royally messed-up, Oedipal baby. The "Jeepers Creepers"-esque horror climax is more conventional than the rest, but has a snowy, cool atmosphere in the woods by Elsa's old family farmhouse, and the "Rosemary's Baby" conclusion sets up for a “Spwice” (?). Will casual moviegoers be ready for "Splice's" shocking schlockiness? Probably not. It's so wildly loopy, weird, and queasy by design that the picture itself has a mad-scientist quality, but take it as a totally cracked advancement in mad movie science.