movie reviews August 2011

The Devil's DoubleTerriOur Idiot BrotherBusking the System Don't be Afraid of the Dark TabloidSarah's KeyOne DayFright Night (2011)Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called QuestFinal Destination 5Another Earth30 Minutes or LessLife in a Day The Help Rise of the planet of the apesSnow flower and the secret fanThe change-up

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

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The Devil’s Double
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

The Devil’s Double is an adequate movie that showcases two terrific performances by British actor Dominic Cooper. The new film offers him the chance to play both the title character and the devil himself.

It’s hard to think of a more despicable person than the late Uday Hussein (Cooper). He was such an obnoxious, self-centered, destructive cad that he even made his father, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein (Philip Quast), look almost sympathetic.

The old man has decided that Uday’s younger brother Qusay (Jamie Harding) is better successor because he isn’t an alcoholic, coke snorting, lecherous bully. As a result, Uday’s behavior may be even worse because he can do anything he wants without having the responsibility of statecraft to slow down his amorous pursuits. While it’s not mentioned in the film, it should also be noted that he, like Mussolini before him, engaged in that most evil of activities, running a newspaper.

We’ve learned a lot about Uday because, like his father, he had to give the impression he was in several places at once. Both Saddam and Uday recruited doubles to give public appearances so that they could be seen two places at once. In the aftermath of the Iran-Iraq war, Uday takes a decorated veteran that he’s known since childhood to be his lookalike.

Latif Yahia (Cooper) doesn’t want the job, but Uday is deaf to the world “no.” While Uday lives in luxury, he’s not fun to accompany, and the only severance package his employees get is death. What’s worse is that Uday doesn’t have the resolve to do the dirty work himself. He’ll casually ask someone like Latif pull the trigger for him.

In addition, Uday’s favorite mistress Sarrab (French actress Ludivine Sagnier) takes a liking to Latif because he’s one of the few lackeys in Uday’s circle who isn’t a sycophant or fellow psychotic. Latif likes her well enough but knows that she could end up earning him Uday’s wrath.

Cooper’s performance as Uday is the showier of the two roles, and he clearly relishes playing such a cad. He’ll humiliate anyone around him or even rape a newlywed on her marriage day and still expects people to like him. Many psychotics can be charming, but Uday doesn’t have that problem. He’s fascinating because he’s almost free of redeeming traits. It’s mesmerizing to see how low he can sink.

Cooper infuses Uday with a despair that belies his privilege. For all of his partying, Uday is a completely miserable guy. Of course, since he’s also spoiled and abusive, he won’t have to worry about earning anyone’s sympathy.

Cooper also gives Latif some intriguing shadings that keep him from being a one-note hero. From watching Latif’s eyes closely, you can see him constantly trying to figure out how to stay a few steps ahead of his malicious, unpredictable boss.

The Devil’s Double is an international production, and it can get a bit distracting because some of the performers do a better job of passing as Iraqis than others. Sagnier is still quite Gallic, but at least it’s easy to believe she’s both someone under Uday’s thumb and able to lead Latif in the wrong direction.

New Zealand-born director Lee handles the doubling scenes with the proper subtlety and finesse. The effects are used matter of fact so the story can move forward without the distraction of reveling in the technical feat.

The script by Michael Thomas creates a pair of fascinating characters, but the story feels a little monochromatic. Because Latif’s tale is true, the monotony may be simply due to the fact that real life sometimes has trouble fitting into a three-act structure. That said, it would be challenging for a fiction writer to come up with a villain as mesmerizingly detestable as Uday Hussein. (R) Rating: 3.5 (Posted on 08/26/11)

Terri
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

When it comes naturally, quirkiness can be charming. In the case of Azazel Jacobs’ Terri, however, wallows in its off-center sensibility to the point where it becomes annoying. Just because a film’s characters are odd doesn’t mean they’re likable.

The former trait certainly applies to the title character (Jacob Wysocki). Terri is a tall, corpulent 15-year-old lad who rarely speaks and is constantly late to class. If his size and sullen demeanor weren’t enough to make him stand out awkwardly toward his peers, his taste in clothing leads to endless snickering from his peers. When he does make it to class, he’s still in his jammies. At least he wears different PJs for different days. For a funeral, for example, he even wears black pajamas. Perhaps his size makes it hard for him to get decent clothing for school.

Expectedly, most of his Terri’s peers hold him up for ridicule, and his home life isn’t rewarding, either. His parents have been gone for years (they’re only mentioned once in the film), and he has to help take care of his uncle James (Creed Bratton), who is apparently suffering from some kind of degenerative mental condition.

At this point, Terri starts obsessively helping James set traps for mice in the attic and goes a little far. In the real world, he might get carted away to an institution, but there’s about an hour and 20 minutes to go in the film, so he has to go on his gloomy way.

Terri’s principal Mr. Fitzgerald (John C. Reilly) takes an interest in the lad and has private counseling sessions each Monday to try to keep him out of trouble. There, Terri meets another outcast, albeit, one so unnerving, it would be hard to call the guy a friend.

Chad (Bridger Zadina) has bald patches on his scalp from constantly grabbing his hair. Unlike Terri, he’s also got a mean streak, so it’s not tempting to look past his creepy mannerisms.

A bright spot in Terri’s life emerges when he defends the troubled but pretty Heather (Olivia Crocicchia). Despite having committed a public sexual indiscretion, Terri helps her out, and she appreciates the favor.

Terri’s acts of kindness are moving and make up for a long series of gags that aren’t amusing or credible. It’s as if Jacobs and screenwriter Patrick Dewitt had binged on Wes Anderson movies and failed to appreciate that goofiness isn’t inherently funny or involving.

They’re also not very believable. Even most public schools have dress codes, so Terri’s fashion statements wouldn’t last long in the real world.

Reilly’s long-suffering Mr. Fitzgerald is the most intriguing character, and that’s probably because he’s the one who most resembles a real person. If his dull, frustrating career weren’t enough of a soul crusher, he’s also having long phone arguments with his discontented wife. In some cases talking to his at-risk students gives him some emotional sustenance he’s clearly not getting at home.

Terri is at its best when it focuses on the odd relationship between Terri and Mr. Fitzgerald. All too frequently, a promising storyline is snuffed out because it doesn’t fit into Jacobs’ goofy mood scheme. It’s one thing if a movie is quirky on its way to being funny or touching. In the case of Terri, however, emotional gratification takes a back seat to groan inducing food gags. (R) Rating 2.5 (Posted on 08/26/11)

Our Idiot Brother
Reviewed by Beck Ireland

A shaggy-dog story in the most pejorative sense of the term, Our Idiot Brother drones on with seemingly endless scenes of hipster preoccupation only to end with a facile joke. One of the founders of The Lemonheads and music video director Jesse Peretz directsfrom a script penned by his sister Evgenia Peretz and her husband David Schisgall. Despite its laudable cast, the film should have stayed in the family.

Released on early parole for selling marijuana to a uniformed police officer, gullible man-child Ned Rochlin (Paul Rudd) is unwelcome on the hippie farm in upstate New York where he'd been living with his girlfriend, Janet (Kathryn Hahn), and dog named Willie Nelson for the last three years. Now homeless, Ned returns to Long Island to stay with his wine-tippling mom (Shirley Knight). However, after an off-hand remark by his sister Liz (Emily Mortimer) at a family dinner, Ned, a modern-day Amelia Bedelia who takes polite comments literally and lacks many important social skills, moves in with Liz and her detached husband Dylan (Steve Coogan) and agrees to act as nanny to their two children as well as assistant and man Friday on one of Dylan's documentary projects.

Ned's younger sisters, Miranda (Elizabeth Banks), an ambitious career woman who writes for Vanity Fair, and Natalie (Zooey Deschanel), an aspiring stand-up comic and trendy bisexual, also put Ned to work on job and personal assignments when he would prefer just to move back to the farm and take back his dog. Not surprisingly, Ned's developmental disability, disguised as good nature and a moral compass, makes him seem to bungle these tasks, and all three sisters accuse him of ruining their lives when really all he does is expose their infidelity, hypocrisy and other shortcomings.

Too many of the scenes in Our Idiot Brother, including a self-help seminar that results in a sweat lodge, a clichéd school entrance interview and a forced game of charades, are as rudderless as Ned's life. They also last too long. Despite all this screen time, the characters come off as one-dimensional (selfish, narcissistic sisters and simple-minded Ned) and their story lines stall, hampered by a constant stridency. Plot development is left to the minor characters, such as Natalie's girlfriend Cindy (Rashida Jones), who encourages Ned to recover his dog, or even cheating husband Dylan. With these characters as much is done with wardrobe as reaction to the main players. As practical ex-girlfriend Janet, Kathryn Hahn steals all her scenes and exhibits a natural inclination for sympathy, surrounded as she is by idiot men, including Ned's replacement Billy (T.J. Miller).

Through his many blunders, as innocent as they are, it's undeniable Ned is exercising his right to the male privilege of not needing to be able to do much of anything except be the central male in the picture. Although his sisters have been literally and figuratively bailing him out for most of his adult life, he maintains a sense of superiority that only his parole officer (Sterling Brown) sees through. His life is too easy and unearned, not unlike the ending to the film. (R) Rating: 2 (Posted 08/26-11)

Busking the System
Reviewed by Brandon Whitehead

With the advent of ever cheaper yet high-quality video equipment, whole new generations of filmmakers have begun to churn out a bewildering number of documentaries on virtually any subject they stumble upon. Some are simply fantastic (Best Worst Movie, Winnebago Man and The Parking Lot Movie all come to mind), some are just okay … and some just leave me scratching my head in confusion and, yes, boredom.

Such is the case with Busking the System, a little indie film about three musicians who travel to New York to “Busk”, or in other words to play music in the subways for money. Indeed, the idea sounds pretty good … until you actually have to watch the film.

It’s not that the film is really all that bad: Director Justin Michael Morales clearly loves the subject, and the musicians involved (one is from Kansas City, MO) are all talented. But this is just so bland, so average in execution and editing that it feels far more like an amateur first-year film student’s project than something ready for the public’s consumption.

Basically, we meet our three musicians, see them get to New York, watch them play a few songs in the subway, and finally decide to give up and go back home. That’s pretty much it.

While the music is good, most of the sound quality is rather poor (it probably doesn’t help that they are playing in a subway), and the editing is a mess. I feel like I’m watching all the bits that one would cut OUT of a film. Where’s the humor, the wacky antics, the goofy looks, the New York attitude?

The only attitude I got from this movie was a sort of off-camera sneering at these “wanna-bes” who dared to think they were good enough for the Big Apple. Shouldn’t there be at least a little bit of success, some kind of payoff for at least one of these guys?

The DVD copy does have some nice extras, including some complete songs with good sound quality, but since I doubt you get to see that in a movie theater, I have to say this is one to just walk on by. (No Rating Listed) Rating: 1.5 (Posted 08/26/11)

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark
Reviewed by Beck Ireland

Co-written by Guillermo del Toro and Matthew Robbins, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark pays proper homage to the 1973 made-for-TV movie on which it's based. The film, directed by newcomer Troy Nixey, makes great use of the mood and tropes of classic 1970’s horror. However, the updates to the film fall short of capturing a contemporary zeitgeist, rendering the remake less psychologically invasive and, as a result, much less terrifying.

Overmedicated and supposedly troubled Sally Hurst (Bailee Madison) is sent packing by her mother to go live with her father, dejected architect Alex Hurst (Guy Pearce), and his new girlfriend, interior designer Kim (Katie Holmes), in the New England Gothic mansion they're restoring together in hopes of pulling off a major real estate flip. Bored and lonely, Sally wanders off to investigate the labyrinthine grounds and finds a skylight to a hidden basement. Against the warnings of the groundskeeper (Jack Thompson), Alex and Kim open the door to the basement to discover previously unknown works of the house's former artist owner. However, they also bring Sally closer to the voices that are calling her name from the ash pit.

Longing for acceptance and possible playmates, Sally returns to the basement and opens the grate to the ash pit. Soon, its inhabitants begin terrorizing the girl and sabotaging what little trust her father, who refuses to believe her story, has in her. Yet, Kim, who hints at her own troubled childhood, begins to believe Sally and makes plans to take her away from the danger. But selling the restored house depends on an important dinner, and Alex is determined to go through with his evening plans.

Sadly, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is burdened with high expectations from both fans of the work of del Toro as well as those who remember being frightened by the original television production. Despite solid work by Nixey, the film doesn't live up to either. Although mostly presented tongue-in-cheek, the dated horror idioms work only as nods to those in the know and not as catalysts to the action. For a modern audience accustomed to the genre, they leave too many questions unanswered.

As for the creatures, they are initially creepy as they scuttle in the shadows of the mansion and really scary as they make surprise appearances under bedding, but prolonged exposure weakens the effect. At one point, Sally begins to fight back, but that measure is soon forgotten. It's as if the filmmakers couldn't decide if they were going to go along with the original storyline or turn it on its head. Additionally, in one shot during the action's climax, they seem too cartoonish and CGI to worry about anymore.

Finally, the updates to the story aren't hit as hard as they should be. Alex, preoccupied with regaining his reputation, isn't up for any awards for father of the year, but he's not exactly mean either. In addition, Sally doesn't seem troubled at all. Madison portrays her as sympathetic and likeable, and certainly not deserving of being medicated or doubted. Kim, too, doesn't rate the hostility she first receives from Sally, even though it's their growing relationship that's at the core of the film. (R) Rating: 3 (Posted 08/26/11)

Tabloid
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

The great fun of tabloid news stories is that they are lurid, entertaining and hard to verify. These are also the great strengths of Oscar-winner Errol Morris’ new documentary. You’ll feel guilty for enjoying it, and you’ll have to figure out for yourself what is true about the bizarre 1977 incident chronicled in the film.

Tabloid focuses primarily on former Miss Wyoming Joyce McKinney, who fell in love with a young man about to serve as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Kirk Anderson returned her affections, but her family didn’t approve of her being involved with a woman who wasn’t a fellow Mormon.

When Anderson moved to the United Kingdom to start his missionary work, McKinney became convinced that his family was brainwashing him and hired a detective to find him. She then recruited a pilot, a male friend and a pair of thugs to rescue Anderson. She then took Anderson with her to a rural cottage where she reportedly chained him to a bed and spent days making love to him in the hope their intimacy could break the hold the Church had over him.

From here, Tabloid gets weird. Morris focuses primarily on McKinney and her recollections of the incident, but he also includes testimony from the pilot McKinney recruited for her “rescue” of Anderson and two British tabloid journalists who covered the story.

McKinney’s story practically begged for the kind of treatment only Fleet Street reporters and headlines could give it. “Manacled Mormon” was one of many juicy phrases that graced papers during McKinney’s reign as tabloid queen.

Even before Morris includes the other witnesses, it doesn’t take long to discover that McKinney is an engaging but unreliable witness. Even though she’s no longer in her 20s as she was in 1977, she gushes about Anderson as if she were a little girl recalling a fairy tale. Her description of her time with him resembles no real relationship. Her acrimony towards Mormons also indicates that she might not have the clearest perspective on what happened.

The journalists themselves gleefully recall the skullduggery they committed to get the story. One paper paid McKinney nearly £40,000 for her story while its rival agreed to fly in a disgruntled ex-boyfriend so he could share his observations during her upcoming trial. In the process, they discovered information that confirmed doubts about McKinney’s account. One wonders what these folks would have accomplished if they had pursued a story of a more substantial nature.

Morris’ previous movies like A Brief History of Time and The Fog of War have explored such weighty topics as the origin of the universe and the ominous shadow of nuclear war. Tabloid initially seems to be dwelling on a tawdry sex story, but Morris winds up creating a mental exercise that counterbalances the sleazy fun.

Two of the key participants have died, and Anderson, who has been married to someone else for decades, simply won’t discuss the incident. He neither confirms that he went willingly with McKinney nor accuses her of abducting him. Because McKinney and the reporters have their own take on the incident, it’s fun to guess why Anderson has kept his silence.

Morris includes recollections from another former missionary who recalls how Anderson’s situation would have been traumatizing for a devout Mormon (or anybody else for that matter).

He also reaches a conclusion that seems a bit out of place for the filmmaker who freed a falsely accused death row inmate and found the real killer in the process. With Tabloid, Morris seems to be saying that looking for the truth is a lot more engaging that finding it. (R) Rating: 4.5 (Posted on 08/19/11)

Sarah’s Key
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

Despite dealing with a heartbreaking and gloomy subject, Sarah’s Key is consistently intriguing because French director Gilles Paquet-Brenner knows how to deliver bad news with the right blend of sincerity and sensitivity. He doesn’t sugarcoat his tale, nor does he revel in the sorrow or disgust.

Working from the popular novel by Tatiana De Rosnay, Sarah’s Key actually merges two distinct tales into one. In the first, a girl named Sarah (Mélusine Mayance) lives in Nazi-occupied France. When the Parisian authorities come to arrest her and her Jewish family, Sarah locks her younger brother into a closet so that he won’t be sent to a camp.

If her behavior seems rash, her fears are not unwarranted.

In their eagerness to please the conquerors, some of the French went out of their way to persecute Jews by rounding them up and shipping them off to camps in Eastern Europe. Sarah’s family winds up stuck in a large stadium without bathroom facilities and limited medical staff. Some people die there simply from neglect or sorrow. Even though she’s only ten, Sarah is determined to escape and save her little brother. While she has a tenacity that wears down any adult she encounters, it might not be enough to save the lad.

Sixty years later, an American journalist named Julia Jarmond (Kristin Scott Thomas) is investigating the incident where Sarah’s family was arrested. While thousands of people were deported or killed, there is little record of the atrocity. The Nazis documented every vile act they committed, whereas the French who complied with them seem to have hoped the incident would be forgotten.

As she starts digging, Julia uncovers Sarah’s harrowing story and learns that her own family is now living in the house where Sarah did before the arrest. Her husband’s family has been occupying the place ever since. If that isn’t enough to disturb Juila, she discovers she’s pregnant and that her beau Bertrand (Frédéric Pierrot) doesn’t want the kid.

Mayance and Scott Thomas are compelling leads, and Paquet-Brenner paces the film briskly enough to make its difficult material more palatable. He also avoids demonizing Bertrand’s family, demonstrating that even decent people make catastrophic or even evil mistakes. It also doesn’t hurt that even seemingly minor characters are well-drawn. Aidan Quinn is terrific as Sarah’s conflicted son, even though he’s on screen for a few minutes.

The script by Paquet-Brenner and Serge Joncour fills Sarah’s Key with just enough suspense to keep viewers waiting for the conclusion even if it might be unpleasant. The split narrative is actually a clever way to keep what might have been static narratives moving. It also enables viewers to admire Sarah and Julia without pitting them.

Sarah’s Key isn’t much of a mystery because a careful viewer with some knowledge of history can figure out where the story will go. Nonetheless, Paquet-Brenner can make getting to that point a thrilling and moving experience. (PG-13) Rating: 4 (Posted on 08/19/11)

One Day
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

One of the things I adore about Danish director Lone Scherfig is that her films might be about love, but they don’t neatly fit into any category. In Italian for Beginners, several deaths happen in the first few minutes, but the movie is side splittingly funny. An Education deals with a teen girl falling for an older man, but she gradually learns that she’s actually smarter and more upright than the fellow she used to look up to. And yet the film ends happily.

Because she’s willing to go in directions that most filmmakers won’t her films are often refreshing. With One Day, however, she takes on a story that might have benefitted from a more conventional approach. In individual moments, the film retains some of Scherfig’s delightful quirks, but the film works well as a series of YouTube-able clips than as a 108-minute movie.

Based on David Nicholls’ novel, the on-again, off-again romance between two Brits named Emma (Anne Hathaway) and Dexter (Jim Sturgess) takes place from the early 1990s to the present. Just about every incident depicted in One Day, occurs during the same day of the year in question.

The incidents are presented out of chronological order, which makes the tale occasionally tricky to follow and keeps Emma and Dexter at arm’s length from both each other and from viewers. By the time a new year arrives, the momentum it took to get there seems spent.

Scherfig doesn’t feel the need to spoon feed viewers on how Emma and Dexter change internally over the course of the film, and that ends up being a problem because while Emma’s career frustrations are sympathetic, Dexter comes from a privileged family and spends his youth hosting vapid gaming and pop music shows. As a result, it’s hard to tell what Emma sees in him other than a hot bod and hair that grays gradually over the course of the film.

Or course, it might be that many of the other potential mates in the film seem less desirable. Emma spends several years with Ian (Rafe Spall), a fellow whose ambition to make it as a standup comic is belied by his lack of ability. Emma hopes her writing will take her to the top, but since she has the talent Ian lacks, she wishes he’d find a more practical aspiration. Most of Dex’s girlfriends either wind up being flings or upper-class women who use him.

In short doses, however, One Day has several engaging moments. Nicholls wrote the script as well and comes up with lots of snappy dialogue and some memorably quirky scenes. Finding that jobs for people with degrees in writing and literature come like chicken’s teeth, Emma makes her living waiting tables at a Mexican restaurant. While Mexican dishes are a staple here in the US, in the UK, they’re exotic, so Emma has to explain each offering in minute detail to her diners. Imagine explaining a burrito to a neophyte.

If the attraction between Emma and Dexter seems murky, at least Hathaway and Sturgess each manage to do fine on their own. They also get some terrific support from Patricia Clarkson as Dexter’s concerned mother and Ken Stott as his gruff dad.

When One Day eventually heads in unexpected directions, I’m inclined to give Scherfig and Nicholls the benefit of the doubt because they are trying to find a fresh perspective on something that is mundane and challenging. Falling in love happens all the time, but finding happiness from it can be a lifelong struggle. (PG-13) Rating: 3.5 (Posted on 08/19/11)

Fright Night (2011)
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

Tom Holland’s 1985 horror comedy Fright Night is a modest but highly entertaining film that wasn’t begging to be remade. If you could get past, the hairstyles and the clothes, the story still works nicely, so it seems pointless to rehash it.

On the other hand, because the storyline is still potent, director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl) and screenwriter Marti Noxon manage to retain the old jolts and wit and add several clever touches of their own. While they can’t erase the memory of Roddy McDowall’s turn as a B-movie horror actor called upon to help a teen kill the vampire next door, they at least come up with enough new material to make the current offering worthwhile.

In both films, a teen named Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) is annoyed because his nerdy former best friend Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) is constantly begging him to help find out if there is a vampire lurking in their Las Vegas neighborhood. Even though Charley would rather spend time with his new, cooler pals and his girlfriend Amy (Imogen Poots), he follows the seemingly immature Ed and discovers that the lad is on to something.

Because they live in Vegas, where people work nights and come and go unexpectedly, it’s a perfect vampire feeding ground. Unless you pay close attention, you probably won’t notice that missing residents haven’t returned in days or months. This is the first of several things that Gillespie and Noxon get right. In Vegas, the bloodsuckers have all the advantages.

It takes surprisingly little effort to find the vampire. He’s the muscular construction worker next door named Jerry (Colin Farrell). Jerry practically advertises the fact that he’s undead because he’s managed to stay alive for 400 years and isn’t intimidated at all by Charley. Jerry obviously enjoys taunting Charley because he keeps dropping hints that he’s going to dine on Amy or Charley’s mom (Toni Collette).

In the original film Chris Sarandon (who has a great cameo in this version) played Jerry as a suave, urbane fellow who was much too slick for any potential opponents to defeat. Farrell, however, plays him as a blue-collar (when he is wearing a shirt) bully. He doesn’t need much charm because he can clobber anyone who crosses him or doesn’t feel like becoming dinner. Farrell projects a confident glee that makes him seem even more imposing. He loves toying with the living.

To defeat Jerry, Charley tries to recruit a Criss Angel-like magician named Peter Vincent (David Tennant, Doctor Who). While Peter knows a thing or two about getting rid of vampires, he’s too preoccupied with emptying booze bottles and bedding his female assistants to be of much use.

McDowall’s Peter Vincent was a principal character whereas Tennant’s seems more like a distraction. Tennant spends much of the film aping Russell Brand’s way of performing dissipation, so he really isn’t as entertaining as he should be.
The 3D is gimmicky. You get to see a paint can crash through a window, and Collette finding a unique use for a real estate sign. For the most part, Fright Night works without the glasses.

That said, it’s a pleasant surprise that the new film works at all. The flaws seem pretty minor considering that remakes of this kind (A Nightmare on Elm Street) usually make viewers forget why the previous movie was any good in the first place. (R) Rating: 3.5 (Posted on 08/19/11)

Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest
Reviewed by Bruce Rodgers

Michael Rapaport, director of the documentary Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest, has been described as the quintessential New Yorker. Though he left NYC for LA to pursue stand-up and acting, appearing in a series of 1990’s films including Zebrahead, Higher Learning and True Romance, the DNA of his hometown never weakened nor his love for certain artists from that city.

In interviews, Rapaport explained that he embarked on filming a documentary about the hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest because he wanted to know if the group would ever make another album after their breakup in 1998. Simple enough but essentially unanswerable, and it remains so even as the group has periodically re-united for tours since their initial parting.

Artistically, ATCQ was a pioneering force, fiercely creative and inclusive both in reaching across musical genres, intellectual boundaries and racial obstacles yet resolute in reflecting the African-American experience unique to this country. MC Nas has described the group as “hip-hop’s version of The Beatles,” ATCQ’s second album, The Low End Theory, released in 1991, has been called the best hip-hop LP of all time, named #194 on Rolling Stone’s Best 500 Albums of All Time.

Rapaport doesn’t attempt to explain the group’s artistic mastery. He just points the camera and lets the four members of ATCQ talk while including comments from other artists and fans. Into the mix he adds some nifty animation, clips from some of group’s videos and an ass-moving soundtrack with snippets from such ATCQ hits as “Can I Kick It?” “Bonita Applebum,” and “I Left My Wallet in El Segundo.” A jiggy canvas emerges depicting the creation and destruction of art as practiced by its principal protagonists — a very human story, though maybe incomplete and, not unexpectedly, unresolved.

The film follows a loose linear flow from the group’s beginnings in Brooklyn in the mid-1980s through ATCQ’s rise to recognition and acclaim to its descent and discord in the late 1990s. The journey to fame tested the relationship of four friends who knew the same streets, alleys and schools of New York — Kammal Ibn John Fareed, better known as Q-Tip, Malik Taylor a k a Phife Dawag, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Jarobi White (who left after the group’s first album but returned in 2006 to tour).

In the first half of Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest, the members and fellow artists explain the uniqueness of ATCQ’s work and process of sorts in how they seek what to sample and bend around their creative vision. Much of that explanation is left to Q-Tip who is considered by many as the creative center of the group, a recognition that troubles Phife.

With that, the film shifts its focus from artistic adoration to the growing conflict between Q-Tip and Phife. Explaining the rift and acting as belated mediators are Jarobi and to a lesser extend, Muhammad. Problems grow as Phife battles diabetes, moves to Atlanta and Q-Tip seeks an artistic place outside ATCQ. The dialogue caught by Rapaport between the four, and especially Phife’s recollections, is at times both fascinating and repetitive. Phife relates his hurt and confusion concerning someone he obviously loves and admires, and Q-Tip calmly projects a sort of bewilderment as to why Phife would question his motives and personal goals as an artist. Left unanswered is if the group will ever record again.

Even if one has never heard of A Tribe Called Quest, Rapaport’s film is worth the admission price, and for white people caught in a predisposed opinion about hip-hop being only about bling, bitches and wanting boatloads of money, exploring the uniquely different samples and loops of ATCQ is an essential learning experience. For more knowledgeable fans, the film won’t fill in that many gaps but it reaffirms the reason why they joined the quest in embracing these artists. (R) Rated: 3.5 (Posted 08/12/11)

Final Destination 5
Reviewed by Brandon Whitehead

The premise of the Final Destination series has always been simple: a group of young, nubile idiots survive a disaster, only to discover that death still seeks them in ever ludicrous and convoluted “accidents” that they cannot escape. Survivors stumble around dying in bizarre ways until they discover that there are rules to this game (there are not), and that if they play it right they can survive (no, they can’t).

I’ve only seen a couple in the series, and like most series the first is probably the best … but ol’ number 5 here is apparently back to a few of the actual thrills the first film contained.

Make no mistake; this is not a smart film. In fact, none of these films are even slightly intelligent. Some people die in some pretty preposterous ways, which I’m not going into as I try not to do spoilers. All I’ll say is that, like the first film, what you see in the previews is NOT the whole story — there’s just enough twists and turns to make you squirm in your seat despite how unlikely each scenario ends.

The first twenty minutes or so involves the terrifying collapse of a suspension bridge that, despite having big holes being cut in it, is open to heavy traffic. It’s a great beginning, establishing all our two-dimensional victim’s petty motivations. But after that then, yeah, it’s a Final Destination movie. A handful of survivors from a busload of office workers on the bridge happily go back to being jerks until they start dropping off. Soon, just the guy and girl are left; apparently safe unless you know how these films always end. However, if you are a fan of the series, I will say that the scene at this one’s end is surprisingly clever.

Like the others, the movie plows to a complete stop during the scenes in-between super-crazy deaths. These actors are so bad I’m not even going to mention them. The only ones worth it are horror icon Tony Todd and David Koechner as the asshole boss. The problem here is that since all the previous characters are dead, the new ones waste time re-learning what the audience already knows, meaning a lot of screen time of bad acting. Really, suddenly this movie’s interested in logic? Can’t they just have another vision that tells them what’s going on?

The best thing to do here is find a jam-packed theater in 3D (Yes, this is the one and ONLY time I have to recommend the 3D version.) because no matter how stupid you think this film is, you WILL flinch at some of the most creative and yet old-school uses of the technology. That includes having things shoot off the screen at your face, which sounds stupid but still had everybody jumping in their seats — which, after all, is what a good old fashioned B-grade horror movies on a hot summer are all about. (R) Rating 2.5 (Posted 08/12/11)

Another Earth
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

Midway through Another Earth, I began to wish that the film took place in an alternate world where something happened.

Freshman feature director Mike Cahill isn’t aiming for explosive bellowing or dazzling visuals. Instead, he’s trying to examine how real people behave in a manner that may not work in a conventional drama. Just as you’re unlikely to see rockets zooming off the screen, you won’t see actors testing how much punishment microphones can take.

Something is indeed happening here, but you have to pay attention to catch it.

The film begins with a seemingly mundane sequence with a father named John Burroughs (William Mapother) talking with his wife and his son in the car. The conversation ends with a horrific car wreck that kills everyone in the vehicle but him.

The accident was caused by a teen named Rhoda Williams (Brit Marling), who made the tragic mistake of mixing alcohol and driving. After spending a few years in the slammer, she tries to rebuild what’s left of her life but is as torn up inside as John.

She gets a job cleaning at an elementary school and locates John, who makes his living as a musician when he’s not brooding in the trailer where he’s been living. Afraid to face John and apologize for her past mistake, she shows up at his door offering maid service. Being a slob as well as a recluse, he needs little encouragement to accept her proposal.

While you don’t have to travel through a black hole to make their odd situation credible, the film’s central motif is that an Earth 2 has been discovered while Rhoda was in the big house. The second planet, which is a mirror image of our own, is now clearly visible during the daylight, and travel to the other world is starting.

Rhoda has entered a contest to go there because she believes a trip to the other world might give meaning to her current situation, and she might meet another version of herself who lacks the shame that she’s experienced.

Despite the scientifically impossible set up (and Back to the Future is a work of realism?), the situation in Another Earth feels more like the planet we live on than most Hollywood or independent films. Marling, who co-wrote the script with Cahill, and Mapother are attractive, but they look like real people with goose bumps on their skin and complexions that look as if they’ve spent most of their time indoors.

Mapother is probably tired of being reminded that Tom Cruise is his cousin, but he’s a formidable performer in his own right. Having played a long series of heavies, it’s refreshing to see him play a tormented but sympathetic character. Losing one’s family in an instant doesn’t result in a lot of rational behavior.

Cahill’s tone is consistently somber, which sometimes makes the film seem colder than it should. In his defense, a series of histrionic outbursts would have turned the film into a sci-fi soap opera. When the film does pay off, it’s because the characters reach closure in ways that are unexpected and not because the background music has swelled to a crescendo.

Perhaps Cahill didn’t need to crank of the volume because these moments speak for themselves. (PG-13) Rating 3.5 (Posted 08/12/11)

30 Minutes or Less
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger (in roughly the same time)

30 Minutes or Less is a fitfully amusing film that’s based on a shaky premise. It’s hard to root for anyone in the movie when all of characters seem to be morons. Admittedly, when the plot involves bombs, bullets car chases and murder, even Albert Einstein might make some boneheaded moves.

Jesse Eisenberg stars as Nick, a lead-footed pizza delivery driver who still manages to miss his deadlines. Considering that all of his pals, including his buddy Chet (Aziz Ansari), have college degrees and careers that are moving forward, it’s no wonder he’s indifferent about whether customers get their meals on time or not. Even his girlfriend Kate (Dilshad Vadsaria) is leaving their lowly Michigan city for better things.

Nick’s malaise comes to an abrupt halt when a couple of hoods named Dwayne (Danny McBride) and Travis (Nick Swardson) give Nick a deadline he can’t ignore. The two are tired of waiting for Dwayne’s obnoxious father (Fred Ward) to die so that his son can inherit what’s left of the old man’s lottery winnings. Dwayne and Travis figure that the old man is going through the cash at alarming speed so they need to hasten his demise.

Neither has the courage or initiative to carry out the diabolical task, and because neither has a job of any sort, Dwayne and Nick simply spent their time blabbing about their plot to a cynical local stripper named Juicy (Bianca Kajlich). She suggests they hire a menacing killer named Chango (Michael Peña) and puts in the word before the two have the $100,000 he demands for the job.

Dwayne and Travis figure the best way to get the cash is to rob a bank, but, again, the two aren’t going to risk their own necks. They kidnap Nick and strap a powerful bomb to his chest. If Nick doesn’t procure the money in 10 hours, the bomb will go off.

On second thought, wouldn’t the movie be funnier and more exciting if he had the same 30-minute constraint. Director Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland) has a good eye for car chases and action scenes, so a tighter set of completion rules would have played to his strengths.

McBride and Swardson have made careers out of passing for morons. The former also projects a dangerous mean streak that makes his characters more intriguing than the average dolt. With Eisenberg’s Nick, the situation is a little different. When he grasps the dire nature of his situation, he immediately rushes into Chet’s school and drags him out of class. It’s hard not to agree with Chet that Nick has made a colossal mistake.

But Nick keeps making them. He rushes to make a face-to-face confession to Kate and keeps running into high population areas when keeping away from other people might be a smarter move. It’s not like he’s a suicide bomber for crying out loud.

Because of the loose deadline, the film’s weaknesses have more time to emerge. Screenwriter Michael Diliberti loads the movie with lots of gross-out gags and occasionally interesting outbursts of profanity. Many of these seem like shortcuts for genuine wit. Let’s face it: Car chases are more fun if the people in them seem as interesting as the vehicles themselves. (R) Rating 2.5 (Posted on 08/12/11)

Life in a Day
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

It might seem like folly to buy a ticket to watch watching hundreds, if not thousands, of YouTube videos pasted together into a feature documentary. But to be fair, much of what I’ve caught on YouTube is better than what I’ve seen from allegedly professional filmmakers.

Such is the case with the videos collected in Life in a Day. Oscar-winning director Kevin Macdonald (One Day in September, The Last King of Scotland) and editor Joe Walker have assembled the feature from nearly 80,000 videos submitted from 190 countries. All of the nearly 4,500 hours of footage was shot and submitted on July 24, 2011.

Somehow Walker and Macdonald have taken of this stuff and have assembled a coherent, engaging and occasionally powerful final film. It doesn’t hurt that many of the individual clips are fascinating.

Some of the clips are merely amateurs goofing around with the camera. That said, these folks manage to be entertaining. One ingenious fellow tapes himself riding a motorcycle into and out of a parking garage elevator.

Thankfully, that’s not the only kind of footage. An Asian father attempts to get his son to go to the bathroom, and we gradually learn that the frustrated dad and his tot are dealing with the loss of the boy’s mother. In another sequence, an ailing mom begs her son to go upstairs as a doctor visits their home because of the invasive procedure she’s about to endure.

The clips range from intimate (a mother gently nursing her baby) to grand and weighty in scale. An Afghan photojournalist takes viewers through the market in Kabul and beams with pride for the future of his country after showing girls taking a martial arts class, complete with white robes instead of burqas. It’s hard not to share his hope.

Another inspiring moment is when a young man nervously tells his grandmother that he and the man she’s seen him with are gay and that she accepts them for what they are.

Macdonald and Walker loosely structure Life in a Day around the time the footage they received was shot and some questions the filmmakers submitted to the people who provided the footage. Some of the answers are banal, and others are downright disturbing. One African man bluntly declares his fear of homosexuals. Considering the legal battle going on in Uganda right now, his remarks are especially chilling.

That’s not the only shocker included. You’ll discover how a burger got to your table and see a brief but graphic death of a goat. There’s also the unique sight of a giraffe being born.

The score by Harry Gregson-Williams and Matthew Herbert sets an appropriate mood without getting in the way of the footage itself. In one of the film’s most beautiful sequences, a group of African women are singing as they are crushing grain. Their haunting voices are then heard during clips that were shot continents away.

In the end, Life in a Day is more than a hodgepodge of junk that narcissistic amateurs uploaded. It’s a fascinating way to see the world without leaving your chair. (PG-13) Rating: 4 (Posted 08/12/11)

The Help
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

Even though it’s set a half a century in the past, The Help obtains most of its emotional force for the way it makes the civil rights struggle feel as urgent as it did in the early 1960s.

A terrific cast and writer-director Tate Taylor’s feeling for the region and the era prevents the film from becoming a quaint time capsule. Taylor hails from Jackson, MS where Kathryn Stockett’s novel is set, so the film is consistently believable.
The Jackson of that time period isn’t something to feel nostalgic about unless you’re rich, white and myopically egotistical. After honing her skills as a writer at Ole Miss, Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan (Emma Stone) returns to Jackson to discover that her hometown isn’t what she imagined.

Even though she’s quickly landed a job at the local newspaper, her family and her friends are zealous to get her married off and breeding. The idea of Skeeter making a living solely off her pen seems absurd to these folks.

What seems to bother Skeeter the most, however, is how whites in Jackson treat the people who clean their houses and raise their children. In several cases, the black maids do much of the real parenting because the children’s biological mothers are too preoccupied with Junior League meetings and lobbying to make sure that household servants are mandated to have separate bathrooms. If a child who hasn’t mastered using the toilet soils themselves, the maids can take care of that in the morning.

Skeeter also notices that many of her old friends aren’t very good people.
Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard) is leading the campaign for separate commodes based on dubious science and ill intent. Being Jackson’s Alpha Female, Hilly also has ostracized an innocent if boorishly unsophisticated woman named Celia (Jessica Chastain) because she falsely believes she had an affair with one of Hilly’s past beaus. The fact that he (Mike Vogel) and Hilly are now married to others doesn’t end the feud.

Hilly, Elizabeth (Ahna O'Reilly) and Skeeter’s mom Charlotte (Allison Janney) freely exchange gossip around the maids as if they were all deaf mutes, even dropping racial slurs in front of their faces. These folks casually discuss White Citizens Councils as if they are good things. With this soft obtuseness and insensitivity, it’s surprising the civil rights era didn’t come even sooner.

Having learned a lot of useful advice for her newspaper columns from the maids who work for her friends and relatives, Skeeter secretly recruits two domestics named Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) and Minnie Jackson (Octavia Spencer) to talk about their lives candidly, so that she can collect their stories in an anonymously published book. Mississippi laws are so ludicrously draconian that Skeeter and her partners risk imprisonment simply for discussing how immoral and untenable life under segregation has become.

Stone may be rail thin, but she gives Skeeter a convincing resolve. When Skeeter faces down a proponent of the status quo, it’s not pretty for her opposition. Stone could easily coast on her luminous green eyes, but thankfully makes Skeeter seem down-to-earth enough to make her heroics convincing.

Similarly, Davis and Spencer give appropriately nuanced performances that make the risks that Aibileen and Minne take seem tangible. You can see the justified rage building up in their faces even though they have to keep it to themselves in order to stay employed. They also project a strength that implies they’ll easily get past the turbulent period.

While Howard is fine as Hilly, the character is so heinous that she’d probably twirl a moustache if she could grow one. Perhaps ego is enough of a motivator for such consistently appalling behavior, but as Charlotte’s plight illustrates, even the oppressors can sometimes pay a price for their tyranny.

Taylor, who as an actor appeared in Winter’s Bone, may be a relative newcomer to directing, but his touch is just about right. It’s refreshing to see a film that justly condemns the sins of segregation while not coming off as the work of a smug Yankee (We had racism up here, too.). The two and one-half hour running time is just about right because it takes time to get into the setting and for the characters to grow and change. Because the cast is uniformly solid, the tale passes quickly.
The release of The Help comes just days after the real life murder of African-American James Craig Anderson in Jackson by a gang of white teenagers who killed him simply because he was black. Perhaps, The Help is relevant because the discredited and unjust mindsets the film lampoons remain. (PG-13) Rating: 4 (Posted on 08/10/11)

Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Reviewed by Brandon Whitehead

While vaguely presented as a “prequel” to the rather awful recent Planet of the Apes remake, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is far more in the spirit of the original ’60-70s’ movies, although the two remakes do have one thing quite in common … but I’ll get to that later.

Will Rodman (James Franco) is a research scientist and while looking for a cure for Alzheimer’s, accidentally discovers a drug that is increasing the intelligence of one of his simian test subjects. Unfortunately, right before the big sales meeting to show off his new and expensive creation, the super-smart test primate goes “ape”-shit, trashes the place and gets shot by guards. Will finds a newborn ape-baby hidden in the ape’s cage, which he takes home and hides in his attic. Years roll by as “Caesar” grows bigger and smarter, while Will sneaks samples of the drug out of his lab to give to his father (John Lithgow), who has Alzheimer’s.

After an incident with a neighbor, Caesar gets taken to an “animal haven” run by John Landon (a very bored-looking Brian Cox) and his sadistic animal-hating son Dodge (Tom Felton, the Draco Malfoy jerk from the Harry Potter films), which is a just the right person to put in charge of giant animals that can rip people’s faces off.

After being coddled for years Caesar is clueless as to how to behave amongst his own kind in such a brutal ape-prison, but a bully quickly sharpens his superior mind, and before long Caesar is pretty much running the place at night, letting the others out to play, and dolling out plenty of cookies.

Meanwhile, Will has convinced his boss to make a new, stronger version of his drug/virus (his father has started to reject the old one), which he tests on a new chimp in a laughably slipshod experiment. The virus then infects some moron who promptly goes outside and starts spreading the virus. Meanwhile, Caesar escapes, steals some of the virus gas, and exposes all his friends to the mind-expanding stuff, and starts to plan their big escape.

Now what does this film and the first remake have in common? Casting for one. While I happen to think Mark Wahlburg is pretty good at what his does, making him an astronaut seemed a bit of a stretch, but James Franco’s attempt at a scientist-dude is just awful. At one point Rodman mentions in a voice-over that his new virus is possibly lethal and spreading. He conveys the message with all the horror of someone who has just broken his favorite bong.

However, if you can sit through the human-centric scenes, this movie really shines when it comes to Caesar and his friends. Motion-captured by the incomparable Andy Serkis and CGI’d into life by the same people behind The Lord of the Rings and King Kong, the apes look fantastic, and when they finally go into action against their human oppressors the action becomes stunning (don’t expect the guns — it’s Caesar’s superior mind and tactics that carry the day). This isn’t a “monkey rebellion,” it’s the simian version of the Shawshank Redemption, a story of betrayal, defiance and, well, redemption, and a damn fun one to watch. Sure, the standard Hollywood writing style means all the humans here are complete morons don’t know that water and electricity don’t mix, but whatever.

There’s also several little Easter-egg homage’s to the other films, which is cool and c’mon man, it’s got apes running loose. Apes running loose, fighting cops on a bridge … with spears. (PG 13) Rating: 3.5 (Posted 08/05/11)

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

Despite all she’s accomplished, Wendi Murdoch is currently best known for slugging a man who tried throwing a shaving cream pie into her husband Rupert’s face during a Parliamentary hearing. After seeing her first work as a film producer with Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, perhaps it is best that more people have seen her right hook than her movie.

Director Wayne Wang (Dim Sum, The Joy Luck Club) is working with a novel by American writer Lisa See, and there are some really intriguing ideas running throughout the material. Thanks to a shoddy script by Oscar-winner Ronald Bass (Rain Man), Angela Workman and Michael K. Ray, none of those concepts ever develop. Instead, the two-part interlocking story is loaded with confusing flashbacks and sketchy characters. Not only is it hard to tell characters apart, it’s just about impossible to care if anything happens to them.

For better or worse, little does occur both in the present and the past. In the contemporary story, a Shanghai banker named Nina (Bingbing Li) discovers that her teenage pal Sophia (South Korean actress Gianna Jun) has been injured in a bicycle accident and is slowly recuperating. The two haven’t seen each other in ages, and Nina regrets the bad blood that came between them before the accident.

While she’s trying to figure out how Sophia wound up biking through the frantic traffic of a Shanghai evening, Nina discovers the story of her 19th century ancestors. The upper class Lily (Li) and the more blue-collar Snow Flower (Jun) become best friends in an arrangement that’s as sacred as marriage.

Because ties between men and women during the period were often simply transactional (to maintain land holdings and produce heirs), these arrangements between women offered emotional support that women simply didn’t receive from their spouses. Considering how lousy the situation for women during the era was (they had their feet bound for appearance and to prevent wives from leaving crummy husbands), the bonds were often deeper. The women would even speak an exclusive language to each other and would sneak messages on fans, so that others couldn’t read them.

Despite a torrent of flashbacks, the contemporary portions of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan are tricky to follow and make little sense. The 19th century sequences fare somewhat better because the period settings are pleasant to look at (unless you count the appropriately grizzly foot binding scenes). Characters are introduced haphazardly in both sections, so it becomes arduous to tell who’s who. As I watched the film, I felt like the ball on a roulette table, trying to make sense of my surroundings.

It doesn’t help that the acting in the film is almost universally bungled. The performances range from moments where: the. actors. sound. like. they’re. reading. off. cue. cards.

In other moments, the performers switch to vein-popping hysteria for scenes that simply don’t merit the outburst. The film alternates between English and Mandarin Chinese, and the actors seem uncomfortable when using the former language. The production appears to have been shot hurriedly because few of the thespians seem to have a clear sense of their characters.

Hugh Jackman has a mystifying cameo as Sophia’s straying boyfriend. While it’s nice to hear him sing, his presence in the film is distracting. On second thought, that’s good. It provides a break from the tedium.

Civil wars, domestic abuse and other potentially worthy themes get buried as if Wang were trying to fit in as many plot points as he could in the film’s two-hour running time. As a result, none of them registers more than a yawn.

If you’re really interested in stories about Chinese culture, I’d recommend catching Farewell My Concubine, Life on a String, Kung Fu Panda or just about any movie by Zhang Yimou. Despite being made with international resources, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan demonstrates that the Chinese are often more capable of telling their own stories than outsiders are. (PG-13) Rating: 1.5 (Posted on 08/05/11)

The Change-Up
Reviewed by Beck Ireland

 In The Change-Up, director David Dobkin gives free rein to low humor at the expense of any craft in creating Hollywood's latest body-switch movie. Instead of a focus on the actual switcheroo, the film centers on the worst kind of male immaturity.

After an unspoken estrangement, old friends Dave (Jason Bateman), straight-laced family man and lawyer, and Mitch (Ryan Reynolds), aspiring actor and womanizer, meet at a bar to watch a game and catch up. At the end of the night, they choose a fountain in a park (instead of all those convenient trees) to use as a restroom and inadvertently conjure magic that causes them to wake up in the morning as each other. After the predictable period of astonishment, the two decide they should live each other's lives until they can locate the fountain, which they found was relocated the next morning.

As Dave, Mitch fumbles through Dave's legal proceedings, practically ruining an important merger and losing his friend a partnership. Mitch is also turned off by Dave's home life, particularly Dave's wife (Leslie Mann) and her bathroom habits, as well as having to care for Dave's tween daughter and infant twins. In Mitch's body, Dave fares somewhat better. After the shock of having to perform in a Cinemax “light porn” movie, he settles into the bachelor life, even setting up dates with his legal assistant (Olivia Wilde). It's actually quite disturbing how quickly Dave acclimates to bachelor life and doesn't seem to miss his family or his job. For such an overachiever, it seems to be quite out of character.

The issue of character is the movie's biggest problem. Both men begin acting differently once their bodies switch. However, they don't act like the person they should be, or even the person they were before the switch. Instead, it's a big messy free-for-all where both men are afflicted with incurable potty mouth and act in ways their previous iteration would not have acted.

The joy of a body switch movie is in seeing an actor take on other mannerisms. Jamie Lee Curtis did this to great effect in the remake of Freaky Friday. She was a delight to watch acting like a teenager. Bateman and Reynolds don't take on each other's mannerisms, nor do they keep the ones they had in the beginning. At times, it's hard to tell who's in whose body. In particular, I was hoping to see Jason Bateman take on the fast-talking neurotic delivery of Reynolds. It never happened.

Writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore do a huge disservice to the script, too, by rejecting the influence of Dave's wife. In the part, Leslie Mann is extremely likable. She has great comedic timing and soulful puppy-dog eyes. Yet, after the switch, both men reject her. Perhaps it's because she has actual needs and emotions in a film where no one else has any real motivation other than to act infantile. Even knowing how rejected she feels after she spills her feelings to him in the guise of his friend, her own husband decides he'd rather go rollerblading and sleep with his assistant. How could that not have broken his heart and changed him right there? Instead, the script keeps it for the big gesture (and chase) at the end, totally undeserved and unbelievable. (R) Rating: 0 (Posted 08-05-11)

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Dan Lybarger can be contacted at Lybarger@eFilmcritic.com.
Beck Ireland can be contacted at beck.ireland@gmail.com
Brandon Whitehead can be contacted at kinginyellow@juno.com.


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