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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Generally, Sci-Fi is supposed to fill us with awe with its visions of
other worlds and of the future. All After Earth managed to fill me with
is an overall sense of boredom. This is a lifeless adventure story
about a gruff military father and his son bonding when they are both
stranded on an abandoned planet Earth. The father and son dynamic,
which is supposed to be the main dramatic force which drives the story,
fails because we don't believe in the relationship, and the actors have
zero chemistry. This is odd, considering said actors are the real life
father and son, Will and Jaden Smith.
After Earth is the latest movie from director M. Night Shyamalan. Not that the studio would like you to know this. You might remember how just a few years ago, the studios heavily hyped each release from the director, plastering his name all over the poster and ad campaign. However, after a series of expensive flops, Shyamalan's name is no longer a selling point. And so, they literally have hidden his involvement with this stillborn movie that contains some of the shoddiest CG effects I've seen in a big budget summer movie. Just look at the CG baboons, lions and eagles that threaten our heroes during the course of the film. Compare it to the work done with the CG animals in Life of Pi, and the end result is almost comical.
The plot - We learn through endless, droning exposition that humans have been forced to flee Earth for another home planet. Considering the recent Tom Cruise Sci-Fi film, Oblivion, opened in a similar manner, it only made me wish I was watching that film instead. The humans have generally been living peacefully on their new world, except for some pesky encounters with some big, ugly aliens called Ursa who are blind, and can detect people only by smelling their fear. They're yet another hostile alien race who have mastered the art of the jump scare, but not intelligent conversation, since all they can do is roar, growl, and generally look and act like generic CG.
One of the main war heroes in the battle against the Ursa is General Cypher Kaige (Will Smith). Cypher is a tough, battle-hardened military man who seems to have a hard time differentiating his work life from his home life. His son is Kitai (Jaden Smith), a young boy who desperately wants his father's approval, and is trying for a position in the military, but fears he will never live up to dad's lofty expectations for him. Kitai is also haunted by the memory of seeing his older sister, Senshi (Zoe Kravitz), being killed by an Ursa right before his eyes. Cypher's wife suggests a father-son space voyage, so that they can bond. This doesn't go very well, as the ship is severely damaged in an asteroid belt, killing everyone on board except Cypher and Kitai, and sending the ship crashing on the abandoned planet Earth.
So, now they're trapped on Earth, and must rely on each other for survival. Cypher has broken both of his legs in the crash, so it is up to Kitai to get them home. The journey Kitai undertakes is supposed to make him into a man, while allowing his father to win respect for him. This could be effective, if it weren't portrayed in such a crashingly obvious way. Each adventure he undertakes is small in scope - He runs away from a pack of baboons, he fights off some lions, he is briefly poisoned by a parasitic creature...All of these encounters seem like annoyances, rather than grand adventures. There is no sense of scope here, no sense of awe or wonder.
But the real question here is, how could the performances by both Will and Jaden Smith be so wooden, unemotional, and unconvincing? I'm not exactly sure, but my best guess is that they took their character descriptions completely to heart. In the case of Will Smith, I imagine his character bio read something like this - "Cypher is an emotionally distant, gruff military man who has a hard time showing emotion, or being open with his son". And so, Will Smith interprets his character as if he is completely devoid of any emotion whatsoever. He reads all of his lines in a passive, monotone voice. It got to the point where I found myself wondering if I wasn't watching the wax statue figure of Will Smith from Madame Tussaud's museum instead.
The performance by young Jaden Smith is not much better. He often comes across as shrill and grating, his voice pitched at this high and whiny tone. It just made me want to peel him right off the screen and replace him with another actor every time he opened his mouth. Who is to blame for these awful turns by these actors who have been likable in the past? Was the director's heart just not in this project? That sounds reasonable. Say what you will about Shyamalan's recent body of work, but I've often found something to admire in the look of a lot of his films. Here, we get no interesting visuals. Even the fleeting glimpses we get of humanity's new planet home are disappointing, and look like they were shot on a studio soundstage.
After Earth is the kind of movie experience you want to forget as soon as possible. In a year that has already brought us Sci-Fi films like Oblivion and the flawed-but-enjoyable Star Trek Into Darkness, this movie feels all the more insignificant and lame.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Whenever an actor or actress currently up for an Oscar appears in a
horror film, it's usually a sure sign that said actor is "slumming it"
or "cashing a paycheck". This would appear to be doubly true if said
horror film is released in the usually dreary month of January. But in
the case of Jessica Chastain, she treats her role here with respect.
She's giving a real performance here, and it's a good one. It also
helps a lot that Mama is much better than the kind of horror we usually
get this time of year. It's genuinely creepy, kind of suspenseful, and
a hell of a lot of fun.
Mama grabs our attention right from the start with a great prologue, concerning a father and businessman (Nikolaj Coaster-Waldau) having a mental breakdown in the brink of a financial meltdown. He's murdered two of his co-workers, and as the film opens, has just arrived home to murder his estranged wife. With the job done, he grabs his two young daughters, Victoria (age 3) and Lilly (age 1), and drives off with them. He doesn't seem to have a plan as to where he's running off to with the girls, and in his haste, the car slides off the icy roads, landing in the middle of the woods below. Everyone manages to survive, and make their way to a seemingly-abandoned cabin in the middle of the woods. As is frequently the case with cabins in horror movies, it is inhabited by an evil and shadowy entity who immediately kills the father, but takes pity on the two young girls.
Flash forward five years later, and we're introduced to Lucas, the brother of the ill-fated man in the opening scenes, who is also played by Coaster-Waldau in a dual role. He's a struggling artist, living with his punk rocker girlfriend, Annabel (Jessica Chastain) in a small apartment. For the past five years, he's organized searching parties for the two missing girls. Word finally comes that the two girls have been found. They're still in the cabin where we left them, only now, they have grown feral, having lived mostly on their own in the wilderness all this time. Young Victoria is now played by Megan Charpentier, while her little sister Lilly is played by Isabelle Nelisse. The children are placed in a psych hospital under the care of the shady Dr. Dreyfus (Daniel Kash), who seems particularly fascinated in the story the girls tell of "mama", a shadowy figure who lived in the walls of the cabin, and took care of them during the years they were alone.
Eventually, Victoria and Lily are well enough to live with Lucas and Annabel. For Annabel, this is not the ideal situation, as she is not interested in being a mother in the first place. Shortly after the girls move into the new home that Lucas has provided for them, ominous things begin to happen. They are somewhat innocent at first. In one particularly memorable scene, we see little Lilly playing with someone (who remains off camera) in her bedroom, which should be impossible, since we see everyone else in the house outside the bedroom, going about their daily lives, oblivious to what's going on just around the corner. It's a scene that brings to mind the playfulness of Spielberg when he built suspense in films like Close Encounters or Poltergeist. Of course, we know that "mama" has followed the girls to their new home, and is not happy that they now have new parents looking after them.
Mama is a horror movie that's just as interested in having us grow attached to its characters, as much as it is in scaring us. The fact that it is successful on both fronts is no small feat. The movie takes its time, letting us get to know these characters and their situations, while all the while, we know that something is wrong. It's a skillful blend of human drama and a first-rate supernatural thriller that, yes, does borrow a lot of ideas from other films (there seem to be a lot of nods to Japanese horror), but does so in an effective way.
For most of its running time, "mama" chooses to stay mostly in the background. During the third act, she reveals herself through CG and a performance by Spanish actor Javier Botet. Quite frankly, she's scarier when she stays in the shadows. In fact, the last 15 minutes fall apart, because we see too much of her. Up until then, this had been a subtle, intelligent, and creepy thriller. Then, it all explodes in a rushed climax of special effects and half-baked plot developments. Before all that does happen, however, I loved every minute of this film. And even the ending, flawed as it is, isn't enough to drag down what works. The performances, the atmosphere, and the unusual amount of intelligence rarely seen in a Hollywood horror film all outweighs any negatives. Director and co-writer Andy Muschietti, his team of writers, and producer Guillermo del Toro have set out to create an effective and smart little ghost story, and have strongly succeeded.
Speaking of del Toro, the movie reminded me of another film he did a few years ago called The Orphanage. Both are classically-styled and atmospheric ghost stories surrounding troubled children. The Orphanage was widely looked over in the U.S., due to the fact it was a foreign film with subtitles. Given that Mama is a full-scale Hollywood production, it hopefully will be greeted much more warmly by audiences, as it deserves.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As romantic dramas go, The Lucky One is pretty thin stuff. It has a
workable premise and everything, but the movie can't think of anything
to do with itself, so it pads out its running time with one musical
montage after another. You know a director has run out of ideas when he
puts two different montages in about a span of two minutes apart from
each other. The film is based on a book by Nicholas Sparks, who has
done much better (and worse) than this. This falls somewhere in the
Our hero is Logan, a Marine fighting overseas as the film begins, and played with wooden indifference by Zac Efron. There's nothing particularly interesting about Logan to begin with. He's handsome, he's noble, he works hard, and that's about it when it comes to his personality. Despite this, Efron could have shown a bit more life in his performance. After a particularly intense battle, Logan spots a photo of a woman lying in the rubble of the battlefield. Lucky thing he found and walked over to that photo, as moments later, a bomb drops where he was standing just seconds ago, killing his comrades. Logan finishes his tour, but is obsessed with discovering who the woman in the picture is, and who it belongs (or belonged) to. He returns home briefly to Colorado to live with family for a while, but when he can't readjust to civilian life, he packs his bags and, with his faithful dog Zeus by his side, decides to walk cross country to search out who the mysterious woman in the photo is.
His travels take him all the way to North Carolina, which is quite an amazing feat to walk all that distance. What's even more amazing is how Logan managed not to get dirty, or even mess up or grow out his hair during those many long months of walking. He arrives at a farmhouse/dog kennel, where it just so happens that the woman in the photo lives and works there. She's Beth (Taylor Schilling), who works at the kennel, is a single mother to her seven-year-old son, Ben (Riley Thomas Stewart), and shares the home with her mother (Blythe Danner, who gives the most interesting performance in the film). Logan means to tell Beth about the photo he found that day, but he just can't bring himself to mention it. Part of this is because of Logan having issues with his own past as a soldier, and part of this is for plot convenience, so that the movie can drag out his secret as long as it can, until it is dramatically appropriate. He takes a job at the kennel, and becomes a natural taking care of the many dogs.
He also starts building a bond with both Beth and her young son. She starts sharing her private hopes and dreams with him, and little Ben starts taking him to the old tree house where he hangs out, which is accessible only by crossing a rickety old bridge over a raging river. As soon as I saw that broken down old bridge, I knew it would collapse at one point - most likely during the intense climax, and during a storm. Sure enough, as the climax approached, those storm clouds started rolling in, and all the central characters started heading for that bridge. Logan also gets to meet Beth's ex-husband, Keith (Jay R. Ferguson), who serves as the town Sheriff as well as the town bully. He's a one dimensional villain who exists solely to push Logan and Beth around, and threaten to take Ben away from them. As a villain, he couldn't be any less subtle if he was wearing a T-shirt at all times that had the words "HI! I'M A SLIMEBALL!" written on it.
The Lucky One is pretty standard stuff as these kind of films go - The central romance between Logan and Beth is nice and all, but the characters don't really have a lot of personality to go with their physical attractiveness. You get the feeling that these two don't have a lot to talk about when they're alone. The movie also has its share of corny romantic lines, such as when Logan tells her, "You deserve to be kissed every hour, every minute, every second of every day", or when he says, "Finding that picture of you on the battlefield was like finding an angel in Hell". Yes, the movie is gooey in its sentimentality, but it never offends. I also enjoyed Blythe Danner's performance. She seems to know what kind of a movie she's stuck in, and has a little fun with it, delivering some much needed sarcasm and wit in her performance. It's no wonder I found her the most interesting character, she's the only one who gets to act like a real person.
The movie was directed by Scott Hicks (No Reservations), who's done some films I've admired, but seems to be cashing a paycheck here. I don't blame him for wanting to take it easy once in a while, but I wish he had picked a more interesting script. I can't really picture The Lucky One being a very memorable romantic weepie, but hey, I said the same thing about The Vow, so what do I know?
Cameron Crowe's We Bought a Zoo is a harmless movie about some very
nice people who, yes, end up buying a zoo when they go looking for a
new place to live. Unfortunately, while the movie is harmless, it's
also not very interesting. Same goes for the people. They're nice and
all, but don't seem to have a lot on their minds. Even the zoo animals
seem kind of bored. This certainly isn't a bad movie, just a very
The film is based on the true story of Benjamin Mee (played here by Matt Damon), a single father who is coping with the recent passing of his wife, and having to raise his two children on his own. His teenage son, Dylan (Colin Ford) is your typical isolated young man, who expresses himself by getting in trouble at school, and drawing graphic pictures of death in class. His younger daughter, Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones), is one of those cloying little movie kids who always has something cute or clever to say on cue whenever the camera is pointed at her. He also has a supportive brother (Thomas Haden Church), who is mainly there for sarcastic comic relief. Benjamin decides the time has come for a change when Dylan is expelled from school, and he himself becomes fed up with his newspaper job, and walks off. He wants to start a new life for himself and his family.
He finds the perfect home somewhere in the Southern California countryside. Naturally, it's the one that the realtor seems the most nervous about, due to the fact that the house comes with its own struggling private zoo. In what has to be one of the biggest impulse buys in the history of cinema, Benjamin decides to buy the house when he sees how happy his little daughter is around the animals. I certainly hope there was more than that behind his decision to buy the property in real life. The family moves in, and they take charge of the zoo, which comes with its own staff of colorful stock characters. There's Kelly the zookeeper (Scarlett Johansson), who serves as somewhat of a love interest for Benjamin. The zoo's staff even has a teenage zookeeper (Elle Fanning) to act as a love interest for Dylan. There's an attempt at a subplot about Fanning's character trying to help Dylan come out of the emotional shell he's been in since his mother died. Too bad it never really works on an emotional level. Maybe if she had been written as an actual character, rather than someone whose main character trait is to smile a lot.
The rest of the staff is made up of eccentrics and oddballs that the movie can't think of anything to do with, so they're not worth mentioning. I understand what Crowe was going for here - He wanted to make a big-hearted movie about a family's emotional healing after a crisis, and how this family adventure of trying to run the zoo brought them closer together. You can literally see the screenplay co-written by Crowe trying its hardest to push our emotional buttons. You can also see him throwing just about every audience-pleasing trick in the book. A cute child, a shy teen romance, the struggle to save a sick tiger, a monkey who makes cute little reactions to what the characters say, a father trying to move on from his painful past, as well as connect with his emotionally distant son...It gets to be a bit much. I have not read the book that inspired this film, so I don't know if things actually happened this way. But, it felt awfully manipulative and contrived to me.
I was also put off by the severe tonal shifts that go on throughout the movie. The stuff concerning Damon and his son are actually pretty good, and there are some honest moments. But then, there are a lot of moments that are so overly sentimental or broad that they seem like they belong in a different movie. Thomas Haden Church is one of my favorite actors, but his role as the dry-witted brother is out of place. He's like a character on a sitcom, his every word a sarcastic quip. Equally out of place is John Michael Higgins, who plays the film's villain, a safety inspector who wants to close down the zoo, and does his best to find problems with it. Higgins plays the part too broad. As soon as he steps out of the car with that confident and smug smirk plastered on his face, you know what role he's supposed to play. And that smirk never leaves his face. It's like he's silently telling us at all times, "Yep, I'm a jerk. How can I be so terrible to these nice people? Don't you just hate me?"
We Bought a Zoo wants to wear its great big heart on its sleeve, and it does. But then, for some reason, it thinks we don't notice, so it keeps on hammering good, sunny feelings into each scene to the point that I started to feel assaulted by the film's manipulations. Like I said, I have not read the book that the film is based on, but I have a sneaking suspicion it's more honest and subtle than what's up on the screen. It has to be, because it's real life. This movie is an overly sunny, sitcom-level imitation of real life.
Is it me, or are Adam Sandler movies getting stupider with each passing
one? Oh sure, Sandler's sense of humor has been pretty dumb from the
beginning, sometimes in an enjoyable way. But lately, his movies seem
to be reaching for a lower form of humor than I even knew existed. I'm
guessing it won't take long until we get a movie comprised of nothing
but Sandler sitting on the toilet and belching for 90 minutes straight.
But, I'm here to talk about Jack and Jill, a stupefyingly dumb comedy that places Sandler in a dual role as both an uptight ad executive and family man, as well as his loud, obnoxious sister. The movie was a miscalculation from the start. Seeing Sandler dressed in drag and talking in a whiny voice probably would have been pushing it in a three minute sketch back in his Saturday Night Live days. In a 90 minute movie, the performance is excruciating. Was there no one around to stop him and tell him the performance, and the character in general, was just a bad idea? No one to say that it just wasn't funny? Seeing a movie like this makes you want to sit Sandler down, and make him watch his performances in Punch Drunk Love, Spanglish, Funny People, and Reign Over Me to remind him that he is so much better than this.
The plot (such as it is) concerns Jill (the sister) coming to visit her brother Jack and his family for Thanksgiving. She's only supposed to be there for a few days, but she extends her vacation time, and winds up staying almost to New Years. During that time, we get a lot of toilet humor (much more than a PG-rated comedy aimed at kids needs), a ton of product placements (How much did Dunkin' Donuts pay to get their brand worked into the plot of the movie? And would it have been better for business if they had just stayed out of the movie all together?), and a lot of celebrity cameos that include Sandler's friends, as well as some big names cashing a paycheck. The cameos in this film include David Spade (in drag, no less), Dana Carvey, Johnny Depp, Regis Philbin, John McEnroe, Shaquille O'Neal, Drew Carey, Christie Brinkley, and Bruce Jenner. Oh, and then there's Al Pacino.
Yes, I said Al Pacino. Only he's not making a cameo, he's a main supporting character. He plays a caricature of himself as a raving oddball who speaks gibberish in order to fool people he can speak other languages, and becomes inexplicably attracted to Jill when he happens to meet her at a basketball game. Jill has no interest in Pacino, but Jack's ad agency wants to hire the actor for a Dunkin' Donut campaign, so he tries to bring the two together. When Jill further resists, Jack is forced to dress up as his sister and be seduced by Pacino. But never mind. The important thing is Pacino gets the film's only laughs, because he tackles the material head-on and with full passion. He obviously knows this material is stupid, but he gives such an energetic performance, you sometimes find yourself laughing, even if what he says isn't that funny. Say what you will about his decision to appear in this movie, but he earns every cent of that paycheck when he appears in trash like this.
Outside of Pacino's off the wall performance, I can't say I laughed very much at Jack and Jill. The movie's just not that funny. Don't tell that to the guy who was sitting two rows behind me at my screening, though. Every tired pratfall, every loud fart that blasted on the soundtrack, and every knock to the head caused him to erupt in extremely loud fits of laughter, stomping of feet, and slapping his knees. I wanted to ask him what he found so funny about the movie. Most of all, I wanted to be enjoying myself as much as he was. That's obviously the intention of the movie. It wants to make us laugh and forget our problems for 90 minutes or so. That's admirable. But it fails on both counts. My guess as to the reaction of the man sitting behind me? He's been locked away somewhere for a very long time, and has never seen a movie in his life.
I won't go so far as to say that Jack and Jill is the worst comedy of the year, as there's much worse out there. But, it's certainly one of the most annoying. This is the kind of movie where the filmmakers started with the idea of Sandler playing brother and sister, and then stopped there, not developing the screenplay, characters, or the jokes. Considering that the initial idea wasn't that hot to start with, maybe they shouldn't have even gone as far as they did.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
How does a movie like Bucky Larson get made? Here is a movie that
appeals to no audience I can think of, and yet it is playing on
thousands of screens. The only logical explanation I can come to for
this movie's existence is that Mr. Sandler has some very incriminating
photos of someone at Columbia Pictures.
Our title hero, Bucky (played by comedian Nick Swardson), is a dweeb. Not a funny one, or a likable one, but a pathetic dweeb who seems to live in his own world. Bucky hails from a small Midwest farm town, where he works as a bag boy at a grocery store, until he's fired about two minutes after the opening movie credits. He goes to a friend's house, where they decide to cheer him up by showing him a classic porno film starring a pair of legendary porn stars named Rosie Bush and Jim Spraysium. Seconds into watching the film, Bucky recognizes the stars as being his parents. Rather than be horrified, he is entranced by the idea that his parents were once in movies. It's at that moment he decides that it's his destiny to be a star as well, and decides to head to California and make it in "nude movies".
Bucky arrives in Hollywood with big dreams, but seemingly little common sense, as when he auditions for a mac and cheese commercial, and immediately drops his pants and starts jerking off in front of the horrified director and casting crew. Fortunately, the director on the commercial shoot used to work in the porn business, and directs Bucky to someone who can help him. The first person Bucky meets is the porn star Dick Shadow (Stephen Dorff), who is currently the biggest thing in the movies (in more ways than one), and immediately shuns him. He's later introduced to Miles Deep (Don Johnson, looking particularly embarrassed here), a down on his luck porn director who is so desperate to make a movie, he's even willing to give Bucky a shot. The audition does not go well, as when Bucky drops his pants, his "manhood" is revealed to be literally microscopic. He also has a tendency to start screeching like a monkey whenever he sees a woman take her shirt off, and starts shooting off blasts of his "man juice" like a shotgun all over the room and ceiling.
Let me stop this plot synopsis, and ask a simple question - Does this sound like a movie you would want to see? Does it even sound like a movie to begin with? I find myself returning to my original question, how does a movie like Bucky Larson get made? It holds absolutely no laughs, its lead character is an unlikable schmuck with an overbite and not a shred of knowledge of how to behave in social situations, and there's literally no plot to speak of. Just one situation after another for Bucky to humiliate himself. As the movie dragged on for nearly 100 interminable minutes, I came to realize that the entire screenplay revolves around three basic jokes. 1:) Bucky has buck teeth and talks funny. 2:) Bucky has a small dick. 3:) Bucky orgasms instantly every time he sees a woman take her shirt off. The movie repeats these same jokes many times, as if it thinks if it repeats them enough, it will wear down our defenses, and we'll eventually start laughing.
Back to the plot - Bucky's disastrous audition winds up on the Internet, and becomes a sensation. This inspires Miles Deep to give the guy another chance, and come up with a new form of porn that is non-threatening to guys (because they know they're better than Bucky), and is reassuring to women, since they know they are sleeping with a better guy than Bucky. Somehow, this idea takes off, and Bucky becomes a major star in the porn industry. He even sweeps the porn film awards, which is hosted by Pauly Shore, who plays himself in a cameo. It also means that this is probably the worst movie Pauly Shore has ever appeared in. (And no, I'm not forgetting BioDome.) While all this is happening, Bucky also strikes up a relationship with a sweet young waitress named Kathy (Christina Ricci). Kathy seems like a bright young woman, and Ricci plays her with charm. So, why is she hanging around Bucky to begin with?
Looking back over my review, I see that I have left very little out. This literally is all there is to the movie. There's no real conflict, other than a very halfhearted falling out between Bucky and Kathy that exists solely because the movie was nearly 90 minutes old, and nothing had really happened so far. This is nothing more than a story of an insufferable schmuck who goes to Hollywood, gets a job in porn, and falls in love with a nice girl. That's all. There's a hint of a subplot concerning the jealous porn star, Dick Shadow, trying to ruin Bucky's career. But this is so unmemorable, it could be cut from the film without anyone noticing. Why did it take three people to write a movie where virtually nothing happens? A movie that's quite clearly dead.
Yes, Bucky Larson is a dead movie. It shows no signs of life or inspiration. It doesn't even have the decency to be a lively or memorable bad movie. It just sort of lies there, not doing anything, and then asks us to leave 100 minutes later. Those who know me know that I never wish ill will upon anyone, but I seriously think that a movie like this could end careers. I hope that doesn't happen. I'm sure Nick Swardson is a nice and funny guy in real life. I'm also sure he'll be apologizing for this one for a long time to come.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
To live in the world of Big Momma, it helps if you have the
intelligence of a box of instant potatoes. That way, Detective Malcolm
Turner (Martin Lawrence) and now his 17-year-old stepson Trey (Brandon
T. Jackson) can pass themselves off as women, despite both of them
looking like they escaped from a bad Saturday Night Live sketch, and
not arouse suspicion. That both of them are able to fool an entire
girl's college campus is one mental hurdle the movie asked of me that I
just could not accomplish.
Of course, given the attempts at humor on display in Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son, it probably wouldn't hurt if the audience shared the same IQ as the characters up on the screen. There's not a single laugh to be had. Believe me, I counted. But then, that's not surprising when the film's sole joke was explored to its fullest in 2000's Big Momma's House. That was the movie where Lawrence went undercover as a 300 pound Southern granny in order to crack a crime. Somehow, this idea struck a chord with enough people to see the movie gross over $100 million, which led to 2006's Big Momma's House 2. It was less successful at the box office, but here we are with the third film. Not only does the Big Momma disguise that Lawrence dons look a little more worn out than before, but Lawrence himself seems confused as to what he's doing back in the role. It's an encore performance that no one, not even the star, asked for.
Lawrence is back as Malcolm, although his love interest (played in the previous two films by Nia Long) is nowhere to be seen. I guess they couldn't pay her enough to come back, so they explain in dialogue that she's away at a retreat. This leaves Malcolm to deal with family problems on his own, such as stepson Trey wanting to ditch a college education at Duke University, so that he can become a rap artist. Trey is underage, and needs his dad's signature in order to sign a contract with a music producer. In what is probably not the brightest of ideas, Trey decides to follow Malcolm on a bust of some Russian gangsters, hoping he can corner him and convince him to sign the contract. (I told you these characters were dumb.) This leads to Trey witnessing a murder, and having the gangsters gunning after him. Malcolm decides that the best way for his stepson and him to remain inconspicuous is to dress in drag, a fat suit, and clothes that look like they were stolen from a circus clown's wardrobe.
They head for the Georgia All Girl's School for the Performing Arts, where incriminating evidence against the mobsters has been conveniently hidden, and even more conveniently, a position for housemother has opened up. No need for any real credentials or background checks, apparently. "Big Momma", with Trey posing as her granddaughter, show up and immediately get wrapped up in campus life, and the various emotional problems (boys, the stress to be popular and "perfect") that the students face. The movie can't think of a single funny thing to do with its premise. Every scene ends with either a tired physical gag (Big Momma poses nude for an art class!), or sometimes no laugh at all, just an awkward transition to the next scene. I guess we're supposed to get caught up in the subplot of how Trey falls for one of the girls at the school (Jessica Lucas), and is forced to keep his feelings and identity a secret. All I could think about is how does this girl not realize that Trey and his female disguise are one and the same person, especially since she spends ample personal time with both of his identities?
I don't think I'm spoiling much by revealing that Big Mommas ends with the gangsters getting what they deserve, and father and son bonding during their time in drag together. This is an unwanted and miscalculated comedy that is so lacking in energy and entertainment, it's mind boggling. Nobody up on the screen looks like they want to be there, and as the movie dragged on through its overlong 107 minutes, I felt a connection with them. At least I was feeling something.
In the small town of Ogden Marsh, Iowa, a farmer does his chores,
friendly neighbors greet each other, and American flags wave peacefully
outside just about every building. The town Sheriff, David Dutton
(Timothy Olyphant), is at the local baseball diamond to cheer on
wholesome, clean-cut high school baseball team. The serene mood is
interrupted when the town drunk suddenly comes walking onto the field
with a loaded shotgun in his hand. David tries to reason with the man,
but he is unresponsive to his words and raises his gun. David is able
to raise his gun first and fires, killing the man in front of everyone.
David feels remorse for his action, and doesn't know what to say when the man's grief-stricken wife and teenage son confront him. He assumed the incident was brought on by the man's alcohol problem, but the wife insists he had been sober for two years. These opening moments intrigued me, and made me think I had stumbled upon the rare, thoughtful and character-driven horror film, but the plot speeds right on ahead, and introduces us to the Sheriff's wife, Judy (Radha Mitchell), who is the town doctor. She too has a strange incident with a despondent and unresponsive man who is brought in for an examination by the man's concerned wife. She can't see anything physically wrong with him, despite his odd behavior, and sends him home to rest. That same night, the man ends up locking his wife and young child in the closet before he sets the house on fire with them inside it. It's a chilling scene to be sure, and it would have been even more so if the film had slowed down to actually let us feel for the people these things were happening to. Instead, the plot plows on ahead once more.
Are you noticing a pattern here? The Crazies keeps on setting up interesting and terrifying situations, then just moves right on along. It'd be one thing if the movie was hurrying along to something truly interesting, but director Breck Eisner eventually settles down into a predictable series of non-stop jump scares. After the early promise, we get a fairly typical plot for this sort of film. We find out that the town's water supply has become tainted, and is turning the people slowly into mindless and murderous creatures. The military quickly swoops in and seals off the town, killing anyone on sight who shows any sign of illness. The film is a remake of a 1973 horror film by George Romero, and it feels like a remake, because you constantly feel like you've seen it all before. David and Judy try to escape from the town and the military forces with the help of David's Deputy (Joe Anderson) and a young woman from Judy's office named Becca (Danielle Panabaker). All the while, they're constantly menaced by people who have succumbed to the disease ("the crazies" of the title), who all act exactly like every single generic monster villain that's ever walked, lurched, or slithered across the silver screen.
This really had the potential to be so much more. Aside from a scene where young Becca sees her boyfriend get gunned down and incinerated by the military, we never really get a sense of the tragedy of the situation. We don't know anything about the townspeople, or who they really were before the disease hit. The script by Scott Kosar and Ray Wright starts out smart, and offers some genuine thrills. But then the whole thing goes on autopilot in the second half, and I found myself losing interest little by little, until I just didn't care anymore. The movie stops being tense and scary as well at this point. I'm tired of horror movies that rely solely on things jumping out for their scares. They don't even provide a good jolt, since we pretty much can sense a set up for an attack from a mile away.
At least I can complement the movie on a technical level. It's very well made for a film of its kind. The vast cornfields and desolate streets do give a small sense of isolation that I wish the movie was smart enough to utilize more. The cast also manage to wring out as much personality as they can out of their thinly written characters. At least none of the heroes are annoying. In movies like this, there's usually one character that you hope will get chomped by the monsters or shot by the army, but no such feelings were stirred within me here.
I tried my hardest to hold onto the early feelings of intrigue and enjoyment I felt during the first 40 minutes or so watching The Crazies. I eventually found myself wishing that Woody Harrelson's character from Zombieland would show up and liven things. If ever there was a movie that needed a guy who still knew how to have fun when modern society is collapsing all around him, it's this one.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The original title for Aliens in the Attic was "They Came From
Upstairs" - a much better title, you must agree. Still, I can
understand the change. Everything else about the movie is generic,
bland, and unmemorable. The title was the last part of the movie to
have any ounce of inspiration sucked from it.
What we have here is a children's movie that should have been fun and mischievous, but is instead overly safe and tedious. It doesn't even bother to give us any real characters. The kids who act as the heroes are dull, the adult actors may as well not even be there, and exist mainly to pop up every now and then to say, "What are those kids up to now?", and the aliens are even more boring than the adults. Shame about the aliens. They kind of look like Yoda's angrier and shorter half-cousins, but they hold absolutely no personality. I remember they had names, but darned if I can remember what they were. The aliens themselves are a ragtag group that are pretty much interchangeable. There's a girl one (voice by Kari Wahlgren), one who turns out to be nice and helps out the kids (Josh Peck), and two whom the movie didn't even bother to give personalities or real dialogue to, so naturally they are played by the best actors in the cast (Thomas Hayden-Church and J.K. Simmons).
Why are the aliens here on Earth? From what little the movie tells us, it has something to do with an invasion campaign. The little creatures arrive at the vacation home of the Pearson family, who are having a sort of family reunion for the weekend. There's apparently a device the aliens want hidden under the basement of the house. The Pearson kids learn about their presence soon enough, but the adults remain completely oblivious throughout. The six kids who act as the heroes basically act as one giant unit, and have very little individual personalities. The leader of the kids (Carter Jenkins) is flunking school, much to the shame of his clueless parents (Kevin Nealon and Gillian Vigman), and his sister (Ashley Tisdale) is dating an older guy who's a jerk (Robert Hoffman). Speaking of the jerk boyfriend, he becomes the victim of the alien's mind control gun, which turns him into a zombie that can be controlled with a device. Fortunately, said device looks and works like a video game controller, so when the kids get their hands on it, they can control him easily enough. The kids' grandmother (Doris Roberts) also falls under alien control, leading to a scene where the boyfriend and the grandma have an elaborate kung-fu fight, with the kids controlling granny, and the aliens controlling the jerk. This scene should be fun, but it's really very boring.
So is the rest of the movie. Aliens in the Attic is cinematic junk food for kids that doesn't even have the decency to go down easy enough for accompanying adults. No one seems to be that involved, not even the kids themselves. They're going through the motions as much as the adult actors are, almost as if they're already planning to wipe this movie from their screen credits before they hit 17. It's bad enough seeing people like Andy Richter and Tim Meadows cashing paychecks in the worthless adult roles this movie gives them. I found myself wondering what was going through the minds of the filmmakers. Did director John Schultz think kids wouldn't care, as long as there were cute CG aliens added in later? Speaking of the CG, not even that impresses. Not only have they been given no personality by the credited writers, but they're boring to look at. They don't even get any real one-liners. I have to question if anyone even cared about this movie.
The premise for this movie calls out for a director like Joe Dante (Gremlins), someone who knows how to mix fun with creature terror. Instead, we've been given a toothless commercial product that will probably fade from theaters long before August ends, and sit forgotten in the back corners of video store shelves the world over. Kids deserve more and better.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
If there's a lesson to be learned from The Last House on the Left, it's
this - If you ever see a suspicious-looking and awkward teen lurking in
the dark corner of a supermarket, and he offers to take you to his
seedy motel room for some weed, don't go with him. Thanks, Hollywood.
I'll be sure to remember that next time I'm in such a situation.
It's too bad that teenage friends Mari (Sara Paxton) and Paige (Martha MacIssac) learn the lesson the movie wants to impart with us a little too late. They follow the teen named Justin (Spencer Treat Clark) back to his room, hoping for a party, only to learn that his family are a group of psychotic killers on the run from the law. We witness in the film's opening scene how Justin's father, Krug (Garret Dillahunt), Uncle Francis (Aaron Paul), and Krug's girlfriend Sadie (Riki Lindhome) murdered a couple of police detectives. (Just to let us know they're *really* evil, the movie makes us watch Krug strangle one of the detectives with a car seatbelt and forces him to bleed all over a family photo of the detective's children.) The murder has made front page news, and the family doesn't want any witnesses, so Krug and the others take the two girls out to the woods to have their way with them. Paige ends up dead, and Mari ends up getting raped and left for dead when she tries to escape and is hit by a stray bullet. With a storm bearing down on the local area, the killers decide to take refuge in the closest house nearby, which just happens to belong to Mari's parents, John (Tony Goldwyn) and Emma (Monica Potter).
John, Emma, and Mari have come to the house for a much-needed family vacation after dealing with the tragedy the past year of their eldest son, Ben, dying. When the killers arrive at the house, wounded and disheveled (Mari and Paige got a few hits in on them before they were overpowered), the parents initially have no idea, as they think their daughter is staying overnight with the friend. Then young Justin begins to feel racked with guilt when he realizes who the house belongs to, and begins to leave little signs for the parents to discover who they are and what they did. When Mari manages to drag herself to the front porch of the house and the parents discover her clinging to what little life she has left, they decide to take the law into their own hands by seeking bloody vengeance. This is obviously intended to be a thorny moral issue. Heck, the film's poster even asks us "If bad people hurt someone you loved, how far would you go to hurt them back"? Too bad it never has any intention of answering this question, as The Last House on the Left is an entirely exploitive and cheap enterprise designed solely as a gore show.
Yes, there is quite a lot of gore. The R-rating is put into effect as we get to see close up and graphic depictions of stabbings, rapes, attempted drownings, fingers being cut off in a kitchen garbage disposal, blood-splattered shootings, and to top it off, someone being paralyzed then stuck in a microwave until their head explodes. The problem is the movie stops at the shock value of these images. There's nothing behind them other than the filmmakers wanted to maybe raise a concerned eyebrow or two. The only way a story like The Last House on the Left could work is if we actually cared about or were interested in what was going on, or about the people these things are happening to. But we don't, because everyone who exists in this movie exists for a single narrow-minded purpose. The daughter exists solely to be raped, the daughter's friend to be murdered, the villains to do terrible things and then have terrible things happen to them...There are no real relationships on display, not even within the family. Mere moments after they arrive at the vacation home, the daughter runs off to be with her friend. It's like she knows what the audience is here for, and wants to give it to them as quickly as possible.
Not only does this cheapen the entire film, but it actually managed to lessen the impact of the film's harsher sequences with me. The characters are so single-minded in their motivation, I had a hard time seeing them as people instead of merely as manipulations of the screenplay. The movie asks us how far would we go to find vengeance, but the characters of John and Emma never do. As soon as they find their daughter and discover what's happened to her, they grab the nearest sharp or blunt object, and start going after the killers. There's no pause for questioning, asking if what they're doing is right, or even a moment's hesitation. Like everyone else, they know what they're here for. (The fact that the characters literally have nothing to do with anything in the movie until the final 40 minutes or so is proof of this.) This could have been a tense and terrifying dramatic thriller, but because the movie never strays from the expected path or gives us anything to think about, we're simply left to wait for the inevitable.
The film's sole saving grace is that the director Dennis Iliadis shows some talent here. I hope he can get attached to a real movie next time around. The Last House on the Left is for people who don't care what's going on up on the screen, as long as they get to see some severed limbs. When the film's poster asks smarter and tougher questions than anything brought up in the movie itself, you've got a problem.
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