movie reviews February 2014

that awkward moment • the invisible womanthe monuments menendless loveGloriawinter's taleThe pastRobocopAbout last night24 ExposuresNon-Stop

Ratings range from "0" (watch TV instead) to "5" (a must-see).

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Reviewed by Bruce Rodgers

Thinking about taking that trans-Atlantic flight to Europe this summer? Non Stop, from Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra (Unknown), might give a traveler pause enough to consider an ocean cruise. This taunt, effective thriller raises the anxiety level of flying — as if that’s needed — by keeping the audience guessing as to who the bad guy(s) is along with the main character, air marshal Bill Marks, played by Liam Neeson.

Dogged by memories of his daughter’s death and taking to the bottle for comfort, Marks also has to contend with fear of flying. The effect of this unexpected element from director Collet-Serra fades quickly however as Marks receives a threat on his “secured” phone about a bomb threat and death of a passenger every 20 minutes unless $150 million is deposited into a Swiss bank account.

As one passenger after another falls victim — the first being fellow air marshal Agent Manenick (Shea Whigham) — suspicion grows that Marks himself is the terrorist having hijacked the flight. Collet-Serra keeps a steady directorial hand on the passengers’ shifting alliance from first following the lawman’s direction to scheming to take him down and reclaim the plane. Leading the charge is New York cop Austin Reilly (Corey Stoll) who manages to be more annoying than the two bad guys.

Marks’ only consistent supporter in this cat and mouse affair is passenger Jen Summers, played by Julianne Moore. Where Neeson has the tortured soul look down pat, Moore can play being coy in her sleep. She announces that she flies a lot to a nervous Marks early in the film but we never find out why. The answer apparently a victim of the film’s editing.

Once the bad guys are reveal — one kind of expected, the other a surprise — the story dives toward special effects as co-pilot Kyle Rice (Jason Butler Harner) struggles to bring the plane down safely, doing a very good job of portraying a professional pushed to the his limits to save himself and others. Wasted in the film is Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o (Patsey in 12 Years A Slave) as one of the stewardess while stewardess Nancy, played by Michelle Dockery, alternates between being an ally and an enemy of Marks, all the while keeping her British temperament on display. 

Non-Stop is Hollywood entertainment pure and simple done well. It’s only after the audience has landed that some of the holes in the storyline crack through the fuselage of relief. (PG-13) Rating: 2.5 (Posted on 03/06/14

24 Exposures
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

Director Roger Corman has defined horror, particularly in his Edgar Alan Poe adaptations, as an exploration of the unconscious. Horror movies can bring to light the thoughts and images that disturb us but that we can’t bring ourselves to speak of. Joe Swanberg seems to think that movies can be scary if you show lots of mammaries.

Because his movies are built around improvised sequences, it’s easy to wonder if the writer-director got distracted by all the lovely female flesh in front of him and forgot what sort of story he was trying to tell. His last effort behind the camera, Drinking Buddies, was a dull, meandering comedy that made viewers wonder if the cast and crew had been imbibing a little too heavily between takes.

That film had talented thespians like Olivia Wilde and Kansas City’s own Jason Sudeikis, so a few of the improvs worked. Here nothing involving fully clothed people leaves much of an impression.

Adam Wingard stars as Billy, a photographer who makes his living by taking pictures of young women in various stages of undress and posing them as if they have come to grisly ends. How exactly Billy manages to pay the bills with his lurid photos isn’t explained, but it does afford him and his girlfriend Alex (Caroline White) a chance to get involved with threesomes.

While women are disrobing and pretending to be bloodied up for Billy, a burned out cop named Michael Bamfeaux (Simon Barrett) investigates a series of murders that look a lot like Billy's photos.

This simple setup might have made for either an engaging thriller or a chilling look at how the line between reality and fiction can become blurred. Sadly, this sort of conceit is too complicated for Swanberg and gets in the way of breasts waiting to be exposed. Actors rush in and out of their scenes without leaving much of an impression. After a while even nudity just sort of blends into the background.

The actors look as if they've been fed the scenario just before the cameras rolled and are, like Swanberg, waiting for more stripping to start. As a result, it becomes impossible to care if any characters live, die or get naked.

Corman wound up exposing a lot of flesh during his long career, but even he knows a movie isn't scary or even mildly interesting if the story is wanting. (N/R) Rating: 1.5 (Posted on 02/18/14)

24 Exposures

According to Joe
Swanberg, nudity fixes
almost everything.

About Last Night
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

In a week where three movies have been retooled for audiences too young to remember the earlier incarnation, this reworking of the 1986 hit About Last Night with Rob Lowe and Demi Moore is curiously fresh and engaging, even if the original is almost as old as most of the current viewers' parents.

Both films and the David Mamet film that loosely inspired them (Sexual Perversity in Chicago) explore a question that hasn't dimmed in the three decades that have passed. Has our world gotten to a point where lasting monogamous relationships are not only rarer but might possibly unnatural or immoral?

The new film moves the setting to Los Angeles and has a predominantly black cast, but the spirit of the previous movie remains intact. Danny (Michael Ealy) may enjoy hearing his pal Bernie (Kevin Hart) recount wild, but not necessarily exaggerated stories of the sexual adventures he's had. Apparently, the City of Angels has plenty of women who share his kinky desires.

Danny might giggle at his co-worker's gleeful accounts of debauchery, but no amount of voyeurism can stop him from brooding about his ex, Alison (Paula Patton).

Perhaps not surprisingly, neither Danny nor Bernie is going to stay single long. Bernie seems to be spending more and more time living out his erotic fantasies with the feisty Joan (Regina Hall), while Danny finds a lot to like in her more reserved roommate Debbie (Joy Bryant).

From the poster, it's obvious where things are headed, but screenwriter Leslye Headland readily acknowledges that meaningful relationships that last longer than a few days require a lot of work and compromises. As a result, most unions collapse when the struggle appears intolerably difficult.

Danny and Debbie's hang-ups with each other seem credible, especially because they involve money. She makes a lot more than he does. Bernie and Joan's squabbles are more overtly comic (who knew chicken masks could be sexy?), but Headland and director Steve Pink have finally created a scenario where the manic Hart doesn't get annoying. It doesn't hurt that Hall has the same energy he does and can match him outburst for outburst. She also adds a poignancy to the film that prevents it from being a silly caricature. Joan inspires viewer sympathy in a way Bernie can't.

It probably helps that most of the film rests on Bryant and Ealy's shoulders. The two provide a quiet complement to Joan and Bernie's romps. Two hours with the latter couple would have gotten old quickly. Headland and Pink throw in a few shout outs to the previous film and to Mamet's play. These are misjudgments because the current incarnation is going fine on its own. Showing a clip from the previous movie or repeating its dialogue does little more than distract.

Nonetheless what's remarkable is how little of the tale has aged. Perhaps people who long for the age when relationships were easy are searching for a time that never existed. (R) Rating: 4 (Posted on 02/18/13)

About Last Night (2014)

"Perversity" in
Chicago or LA is
really similar.

Reviewed by Mike Ireland

The original 1987 RoboCop was America’s sucker-punch introduction to Dutch director Paul Verhoeven's signature mix of sci-fi, cultural satire, and outrageous gore. Faced with the daunting task of a remake, Brazilian director José Padilha (Bus 174, Elite Squad) and screenwriter Joshua Zetumer have attempted to update and humanize the original, but the result remains essentially lifeless.

As the new RoboCop opens, an O’Reilly Factor-style cable show called “The Novak Element” streams live feed from a near-future Tehran where order is now ensured by robots and drone aircraft. In the studio, bombastic right-wing host Pat Novak (a predictably over-the-top Samuel L. Jackson) calls for their deployment on U.S. streets, railing against congressional “robophobia.”

For Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton), oily CEO of robotics manufacturer OmniCorp, Americans’ reluctance to trade freedom for security is merely a marketing challenge. Put a human face (literally) on a robot, his marketing director suggests, and Americans will warm right up to it.

Sellars finds the perfect candidate in Detroit beat cop Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman), who has survived a retaliatory mob hit, albeit with several missing limbs and 3rd-degree burns over most of what‘s left. His face, however, is intact, and that’s really all they need. Duping Murphy’s wife into signing off on what is essentially a public relations campaign, OmniCorp researcher Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) proceeds to create the armored man-machine.

The original RoboCop was a journey of self-discovery as the suppressed human inside the exoskeleton slowly discovers and comes to terms with his past. Simply identifying himself as Murphy at the end of the film represents a triumph.

This new cyborg, however, knows from the beginning exactly who and what he is. And when Dr. Norton reveals just how little of him remains inside his high-tech shell — a head, a hand, and Lucite-encased trachea and lungs — he is horrified at what he has become.

As James Whale did with Frankenstein’s monster, Padilha presents Murphy largely as an object of pity, at the mercy of forces beyond his control. To this end, more of Murphy’s personal life is shared, particularly his relationship with his wife and son, although it rarely rises above maudlin clichés. Even a retractable visor, an innovation this time around allowing viewers to better share Murphy’s emotions, doesn’t help much. Swedish actor Joel Kinnaman — superb in the AMC series The Killing — displays a fairly static sense of melancholy throughout which keeps the audience at arm’s length.

Consequently, he is routinely upstaged by the excellent supporting cast, particularly Gary Oldman as Dr. Norton. Not a character in the original film, Norton is the only truly complex character on screen. Poised between the heartless Sellars and straight-arrow Murphy, Oldman’s doctor is fascinating to watch as he is torn between his principles and his ambition, between empathy and scientific curiosity — sometimes in the same glance, and with significantly less face time than Kinnaman.

Strangely, despite all the CG effects at his disposal, Padilha fails to generate much excitement with the inevitable gunfights. This is partly because the scenes are overused. We see the digital targeting system take out scores of opponents early on in a test run. By the time he uses it on the street, we’re fairly inured to the effect. The desire for a PG-13 rating also limits Padilha to incongruously bloodless conflicts. To compensate, Padilha adds lots of frantic shaky-cam, even resorting to murky night-vision for the finale.

By the time Novak reappears near the end to deliver an expletive-ridden rant, satire and wit have been abandoned in favor of a routine action flick. (PG-13) Rating: 3 (Posted on 02/18/14)

The Past
Reviewed by Beck Ireland

What appears to be a simple love triangle eventually reveals itself as a complicated investigation into conflicting stories in Asghar Farhadi’s latest release. The writer/directorof the 2012 Oscar winner for best foreign film, A Separation, Farhadi once again focuses on domestic drama without confining it to mere soap opera; subtly, he reveals how the personal is burdened by wider world issues.

For the first time in four years, Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) returns to the life he reluctantly left in France to go back to his homeland in Iran. Marie (Bérénice Bejo), still his wife, wants a legal divorce so she can marry Samir (Tahar Rahim). She also wants Ahmad to use his influence with 16-year-old, Lucie (Pauline Burlet), who has been staying away from home. Ahmad is amiable but wary of Marie. He’s probably still a little in love with her too, which keeps him ensnared in her tangled life. He even stays with her in the house they used to share, now a shambles from Samir’s sporadic DIY renovations.

Farhadi’s style is anti-expository. In his tightly edited script, events slowly unfold not in any chronological way; but in the order of discovery. He leaves breadcrumbs for his audience to follow. This is a captivating approach that requires diligence more familiar to consumers of detective stories or crime dramas; not emotional drama.

That Marie already had two children when she met Ahmad is just one of the many details Farhadi reveals in dribs and drabs. As a result, the situations, though very dramatic and intense, ring true. As Ahmad delves deeper into the circumstances of these people to whom he is now only tenuously connected, he encounters conflicting stories and incompatible motives.

The most pressing problem to sort out is the cause of the suicide attempt by Samir’s wife in front of their son Fouad (Elyes Aguis), which has left him a troubled boy prone to tantrums and the others in a limbo that can only be resolved by the wife’s awakening or death. And with the revelations surrounding that incident, Farhadi also nullifies the importance of Ahmad’s presence on the scene as well. Marie may be free to marry again; Samir is not. She has beckoned him back to France for more than a legal proceeding.

Farhadi is a skilled architect of creating claustrophobic scenes. He clutters the spaces with renovation and painting supplies, cramped bunk beds. Marie works at a pharmacy, and its fluorescent lights and boxy counters can barely contain her anxious movements. But some of his choices here are too pedestrian. A glass wall at the airport separates Ahmad and Marie, yet they continue to try to speak to each other. Still, Farhadi has a gift for storytelling. He creates whole, deep characters affected by the gravity of the real world without overemphasizing or simplifying their issues. (PG-13) Rating: 4.5 (Posted on 02/18/14)

Winter's Tale
Reviewed by Beck Ireland

Oscar-winning screenwriter Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind) makes his feature directorial debut with this adaptation of Mark Helprin's 800-page bestseller from 1983. Under ordinary circumstances, film adaptations are risky; the abundance of material in Helprin's novel should have made this one impossible. Still, Goldsman forged ahead, whether through hubris or optimism, and the result is as sweeping and ridiculous as anticipated.

An attempt to summarize the plot is liable to seem like a put-on: You'd be hard-pressed to make up something to top it. Sporting a haircut that couldn't be considered fashionable in any era, Colin Farrell plays Peter Lake, a thief who spends a century waiting to perform a miracle while being chased by his demon mob boss Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe), whose mumbly brogue and campy performance make him seem like a villain from 1990's Dick Tracy flop. Suffice it to say, by the time Will Smith, not even bothering with costuming, makes an appearance as Lucifer, what little suspension of disbelief remains is gone.

To make the material more manageable Goldsman breaks it up into different pieces. The first half skips between Lake's Moses-like arrival in New York as an infant in 1895 and the present day. But the biggest chunk takes place in 1916, during his time with the family of Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown-Findlay), the consumptive daughter of a publishing tycoon (William Hurt). This switching among periods does no favors to the timeline or the film's pacing, especially after the revelation that Lake, without aging, continues into present-day New York on unfinished business with the sick daughter of a journalist (Jennifer Connolly). Viewers must contend with being forced to sit through more of the movie and also an unlikely coincidence. The journalist works at the same newspaper still run by the youngest Penn (Eva Marie Saint), now a very, very old woman.

The problem with creating a film in which everything has a magical component means that nothing in it stands out or means very much, especially when so much of the supernatural relies on CGI effects. By the time Lake gets around to performing his actual miracle, there's no question that it will work, and there's nothing less miraculous than a predictable certainty. Fortunately, Lake avoids being forced to age through makeup, but he does spend an entire century in a sort of forgetful fog. That's fitting, though, because it also describes the experience of this movie. (PG-13) Rating: 0 (Posted on 02/18/14)

Reviewed by Beck Ireland

The Gloria of the title is a 58-year-old divorcée (Paulina Garcia) who when we first meet seems like a loser. Unfashionable, overly friendly, sad. We see her tipsily trip on her way home to her empty apartment where her sleep is held hostage by the ranting of an angry upstairs neighbor. But soon, a different picture of Gloria emerges: adventurous, compassionate, fun.

A lesser movie would set up an artificial bottom for Gloria; make her into a kicked dog finally biting back. But director Sebastián Lelio, who co-wrote the screenplay with Gonzalo Maza, exposes Gloria’s strengths gradually, creating a beautiful and moving portrait.

Gloria is an empty nester, but she encourages independence in her son (Diego Fontecilla) and daughter (Fabiola Zamora). She has a cordial relationship with her ex-husband, and is on even friendlier terms with his girlfriend. Most nights she goes out dancing. She has, as they say, a certain joie de vivre, which, considering the rarity of seeing an older woman portrayed with nuance and care is quite the thing to witness on-screen.

Still, Gloria is lonely. And this leads her to Rodolfo (Sergio Hernández), a girdle-wearing former naval officer (he’s recently shed around 100 pounds through gastric bypass surgery) looking to transform his life to match his new physique. He’s attracted to Gloria’s upbeat disposition. In these dating sequences Lelio and Garcia, a veteran of Chilean TV, work together in artistic harmony. Lelio provides an intimate, steady view of Gloria’s appetite, which Garcia makes joyfully infectious. The camera cues in on her laughing face and reaching arms as she bungee jumps at Rodolfo’s amusement park — his retirement undertaking. Their sex scenes, too, are filmed the same way, with Gloria, amused but passionate, ripping open the hook-and-loop closure on Rodolfo’s girdle.

All the same, the strength of the movie lies in its mix of emotions. The story takes place in Santiago, Chile, and it uses the mood and context of its history and geography well. In one scene, Gloria silently lowers her head to her purse on a table in a coffee shop while student protesters chant outside. And the country’s recent past subtly affects its characters. Gloria hints at an experience with mental breakdowns when she tracks down the number of the upstairs neighbor’s mother to tell her she’s worried about her son.

As Gloria explains to Rodolfo when they first meet, she’s not always so happy. And when it becomes clear that Rodolfo isn’t able to fully separate from his ex-wife and his daughters, Gloria is truly tested. (R) Rating: 5 (Posted on 02/18/14)

Endless Love
Reviewed by Beck Ireland

The story is as old as storytelling: their families for whatever reason keep Young lovers apart. But Scott Spencer's 1979 novel added an obstruction not rooted in class, race or family feud. His male lead posed an actual danger to his partner. But in 1981 Franco Zeffirelli offered a watered-down adaptation that more people remember for its title song duet between Diana Ross and Lionel Richie. And now writer/director Shana Fest (Country Strong) dilutes it further.

Despite an undertone of expectant violence, Feste's version is scrubbed clean of actual menace. After obsessing over poor little rich girl Jade (Gabriella Wilde) for years, working class David (Alex Pettyfer) finally makes contact and starts dating her. Jade's family, particularly her father (Bruce Greenwood), is still mourning the death of her older brother. This has kept Jade isolated and naive, controlled by her father in the way of the indie cult Dogtooth. With her wide eyes and long limbs, she's more baby giraffe than girl approaching womanhood. That doesn't stop Feste from infantilizing and fetishizing Jade's sexuality. She's dressed in babydoll nighties and flashes underwear that stops just short of having the day of the week embroidered on them. (By contrast, David's townie ex-girlfriend (Emma Rigby) is busty and therefore experienced.)

David is ill equipped to handle Jade and her family's dynamics. He's Say Anything's Lloyd Dobbler visiting a strange land, which requires him to learn and perform elaborate choreography. Except that there are numerous mentions of his having a violent past, and even losing his temper in scenes on-screen. His speech about wanting to find true love comes off as creepy, and his voice-over describing his fascination with the rich girl comes off like stalking. And there's an unresolved sub-plot that reveals a disturbing incident. Still, Jade's mom (Joely Richardson) and brother (Rhys Wakefield) are won over by some non-existent charisma.

Yet, when provoked by Jade's dad, David's behavior remains relatively tame. The harm that comes to Jade is accidental. In the end, David and Jade's dad come to the aid of each other. Still, there's no rooting for the two of them to get together. That Jade turns down an important internship to spend more time with him isn't a way to begin their love story. The summer scenes are golden and pretty, but there's something rotten here that never gets realized or resolved. (PG-13) Rating: 0 (Posted on 02/18/14)

The Monuments Men
Reviewed by Beck Ireland

George Clooney stars and directs in this The Dirty Dozen-inspired tale that he co-wrote with Grant Heslov. Except instead of a motley group of 12 felons on a top-secret suicide mission, his six troops — seven including Clooney — are artists, conservators, architects and curators tasked with preserving the West’s cultural artifacts from bombing by their own army and allies as well as Nazi hoarding during WWII. This treasure hunt, based on the true story of a much more ambitious mission by a much larger platoon and written about by Robert M. Edsel with Bret Witter, could make a really good movie full of suspense and triumphant moments driven by expert, esoteric knowledge. This is not that movie.

For starters, Clooney himself doesn’t seem to believe in the mission, or, even worse, have confidence that his audience can go along with it, as exhibited in the many speeches he gives his character to deliver. Each one attempts to justify the mission in a simplistic, sermonizing way, even long after it’s begun and put his recruits in harm’s way. Instead of creating swelling, inspiring emotional moments, it comes off as a desperate defense for not just the assignment within the movie, but the reasons he wanted to bring the film to the big screen in the first place. It’s a pitch or a question a professor might pose in an intro to art class. not a screenplay.

Alongside Clooney, the film stars Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban and Hugh Bonneville. The latter three are the only ones who actually offer any sort of performance beyond their own iconic personalities.

In contrast to Balaban’s character, Murray seems to be merely acting as a typical on-screen Murray personality. But this lack of performance is a deeper problem than a smug actor being lazy; the blame lies with the screenplay that substitutes props for character development. We only know that Goodman is a sculptor because we saw him working on a sculpture, and so on. The only competence we see on-screen comes from Cate Blanchett’s immaculate work as registrar and a German-born enlisted man, the source of all their breaks in the case.

The biggest fault lies in the very premise of the movie. Clooney longs to lead a ragtag band of underdogs on an impossible mission. The paradox is that in order to be successful, his draftees must be experienced, credentialed professional art men. But the script doesn’t contain any actual knowledge of art or conservation and glosses over the difficulties these men have in convincing regular army of the need to keep these important pieces intact. Instead, Clooney focuses on small, unimportant moments that give the overall movie an uneven tone that no long speech can justify. (PG-13) Rating: 2 (Posted on 02/12/14)

The Invisible Woman
Reviewed by Beck Ireland

These are the facts: The year is 1857, and 18-year-old actress Ellen “Nelly” Ternan (Felicity Jones), cast in a bit part in a new play by Wilkie Collins (Tom Hollander), catches the fancy of the play’s producer and lead actor Charles Dickens (Ralph Fiennes). But the popular novelist’s attentions, which he claims are inspired by Nelly’s intellectual spark and not her wide-eyed admiration — put Nelly in a bind.

As the least talented of a threadbare trio of acting sisters, led by their widowed mother (Kristin Scott Thomas), Nelly has few prospects, and Dickens, 27 years Nelly’s senior, is irrevocably married with 10 children. Still, Dickens unceremoniously separates from his wife (Joanna Scanlan) by taking out an advert in a newspaper, and he and Nelly live together under an assumed name until his death 13 years later.

Based on the 1990 biography by Claire Tomalin, Abi Morgan’s screenplay offers two conflicting interpretations. In one, Nelly and Dickens share an exclusive close rapport, and she is a willing partner in their unsanctioned conjugality. The other interpretation trades this common-law affability for a more sinister, one-sided grooming.

A case can be made for either, and certainly the two could co-exist, but choppy direction from Fiennes, his second feature film after 2011’s Coriolanus, and a detached performance from Jones make it difficult to draw a bead Nelly’s point of view. In one scene, she’s appalled at being brought to the house Collins keeps with his mistress. In the next, she’s bathed in golden light, sharing a bed with Dickens. There’s no imagining of the arguments or conditions that moved her from one point to the next. Complicating matters, Rob Hardy’s picturesque cinematography, which sometimes resembles beautiful still photography, wants nothing to do with Dickens’ emotional extortion.

Without Nelly’s standpoint, there is no center. In a dreaded frame story, there’s a weak attempt to display her inner life, long after her time with Dickens, by shooting her on long walks on a windy beach and giving her a moment of confession to a local clergy. But for the most part, any supposition of her motives and thoughts is left out.

The film is called The Invisible Woman, but this is taking too literal an interpretation of the title.

There is plenty of Dickens in the film; but Fiennes’ performance affords the character too much sympathy. With 2011’s The Iron Lady, the Margaret Thatcher biopic, screenwriter Morgan humanized a much-hated public figure. Here, she misses the opportunity to transform a beloved literary figure into a complicated personality, and in the process also loses the lead. (R) Rating: 2 (Posted 02/11/14)

That Awkward Moment
Reviewed by Beck Ireland

A mean-spirited, sloppy debut from writer/director Tom Gormican overestimates its dexterity in upending the romantic comedy by casting male actors in lead roles. With this version of “bromantic comedy,” Gormican puts himself in a bind: He’s following the genre’s conventions, and even making references to specific scenes in iconic movies, while being cruelly snide about them. The result is a brazenly misogynistic one-upmanship, as if saying “anything you can do, we can do better.”

Three college friends (Zac Efron, Miles Teller and Michael B. Jordan) make a pact to play the field and not get seriously involved with any one woman; the problem is that they each have designs on someone in particular (Imogen Poots, Mackenzie Davis and Jessica Lucas). Each guy has to pretend nonchalance in front of his friends while reassuring his paramour he’s well-intentioned. This leads to improbable awkward situations and the inevitable heartache that can only be fixed by the clichéd grand gesture.

Gormican seems well-versed in romcom, but his allusions are merely cursory and spiteful. In Bridget Jones’s Diary, Renée Zellweger in the title role is humiliated by a miscommunication about a fancy dress party. Efron experiences the same miscommunication, but after brief embarrassment emerges triumphant as the life of the party. Even limp and fake, phallus beats cotton tail every time, revealing this change-up in gender as little more than a trick.

Even in choice of occupation for his characters, Gormican takes jabs at media marketed to women. Efron plays a designer of “chick lit” book covers, and cites research in support of the ubiquitous shoe cover. It’s a well-deserved dig, but not in this context, coming as it does from outside the demographic.

For a movie that depends so much on its male leads, and that includes indie-credentialed, awards-caliber actors Teller (The Spectacular Now) and Jordan (The Wire, Fruitvale Station), they’re shallowly written and given very little to do. Teller’s character works with Efron’s, but the extent of his duties seems to be sitting on the coffee station adjacent to Efron’s desk. Jordan plays a doctor in that made-up doctor way of television medical dramas.

Surprisingly, the women fare a little better, despite the film’s inherent dismissal of them. Poots performs well as the typical manic pixie dream girl, but Davis’s piano player, the wing to Teller’s player, is elegantly sardonic, and it’s a pleasure to watch the two of them finally come together. Although Gormican can’t resist eventually making a mockery of her romantic decision, too, leaving the audience to wonder why a woman like her would date any of these losers.  (R) Rating: 1 (Posted 02/11/14)

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