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Flaccid and Formulaic
Two scenes in this movie are worth watching, (1) a car chase early in the film, and (2) a pyrotechnic-filled montage towards the very end. Everything else in between has a phoned-in feel to it, from McAvoy's embarrassingly bad American accent to the vain attempt at creating plot complexity by adding more meaningless twists. The plot arc of the movie is clear early on, and all the added detail just serves to clutter up the story. Jolie, as much as she can be a joy to watch, has to suffer through ridiculously terrible writing (her childhood story is one of the worst-written scenes of the past five years). All the move has going for it, in the end, is those two action-packed scenes, and given how much of a chore it is to watch the rest of the film, they are not worth the price of a ticket.
Fast Food Nation (2006)
It's not just in the beef... it's in this movie.
Fast Food Nation was a great book, and as a piece of nonfiction, it is still one of the best pieces of long-form journalism of the decade. But Eric Schlosser and Richard Linklater's fictionalized take on the same topic isn't deserving of the original book's name.
First, the film tries far too hard to do far too much at once. Is it a cautionary tale about eating beef? Cattle farming? Illegal immigration? Paying workers too little? Crystal meth? Optimism? Any one of these (or even two) would have been enough fodder for a 2-hour film, but tackling them all in one movie is a blunder. A very Big One. No topic is explored enough, and in the process, they all suffer.
Second, the casting is hit-or-miss. Wilmer Valderrama is surprisingly good, as are Greg Kinnear and Ashely Johnson. As expected, Catalina Sandino Moreno runs away with the film, when she's on camera, which is not very much. But Avril Lavigne is laugh-out-loud terrible, as is the comically unscary Luis Guzman.
Third, the grossout factor. There are graphic and bloody scenes of animal death and dismemberment in the movie, but to what end? They're stuck in with no discussion or reflection on them, and because of this, they seem simply gratuitous, not moving or instructive. And really, that's the story of the entire film.
Limp, Shock-seeking Dreck. Worst Movie of the Decade So Far.
It's stunning how someone with Helen Mirren and Joseph Gordon-Levitt can crank out such an awful picture. Even more stunning, when you add in the presence of Macy Gray, Cuba Gooding Jr., and the occasionally brilliant Dorff. But somehow, Daniels manages to direct everyone right into a swirling vortex of overacting and ludicrously manipulative story lines.Nobody survives this perfect storm, except perhaps Mo'nique, whose turn as a crack-addicted nurse is the sole good performance in the film.
The film also features some of the worst, most predictably bad writing that I have ever witnessed. Plot points don't connect, characters change motivations in mid-performance, and not a single actor is given a role with any significant depth to it. Even the characters that are obviously intended to be complex (i.e. Mirren's and Gooding's) end up flat and caricatured. Why did any of these actors agree to star in such a horrifyingly awful film?
Quite simply, this movie is a mess. Not a hot mess, just a mess. Give it a miss.
Lila dit ça (2004)
Prurient waste of time
In its desperate attempt at sensuality, Doueiri's "Lila Says" fails to arouse and excite, and instead careens out of control in a churning, over-acted mess. Starting out as a coming-of-age tale about a young adult, Chimo, the movie shows some promise. That is, until Lila arrives, offering to show her 'chatte' to Chimo on the occasion of their first meeting. Lila is a poster child for childhood sexual abuse, angrily taunting her aunt with her genitals, weaving tales of fantastic encounters with devils, and doing her best to convince Chimo to join her homemade orgy/porn project-- all the while keeping actual sexual encounters at arm's (or in Chimo's case, hand's) length.
It's hard to see what Doueiri intends with Lila-- she never develops as a character, never becomes more compelling, and never inspires more than passing interest from the audience. Chimo's story is much more moving, but even that sputters out halfway through the film, around the time when we discover that he's been donating blood to keep himself in beer and cigarettes. So much for his plan to resist assimilation into French culture.
But really, it doesn't make any difference, because there's nothing and nobody to care about in this film. Even the tragedy that befalls Lila is disturbing and horrible, but never really heart-rending. There are at least a hundred kernels of ideas here that would make great movies: Marseille-as-hotbed of French-Arab tension, the struggles of a poor writer wannabe, the damage done by sexually predatory guardians, sons reliving their fathers' romantic mistakes, etc. It's just a shame that Douieri tried to tackle them all at once, and in the process, succeeded at almost nothing.