All reviews by Loey Lockerby
You have to admire a hugely successful adventure film that encourages an interest in American history. You have to be awestruck by TWO of them. Yet that’s what Disney and director Jon Turteltaub have accomplished with National Treasure and its recent, inevitable sequel.
Nicolas Cage returns as geeky action hero/scholar Benjamin Franklin Gates, who reunites with his girlfriend (Diane Kruger), his father (Jon Voight) and their long-suffering sidekick (Justin Bartha) to investigate claims that a Gates ancestor was involved in the Lincoln assassination. Ben’s interest this time isn’t just treasure hunting — it’s defending his family’s honor, and he's willing to break all kinds of laws to prove his case. This includes sneaking into restricted areas of Buckingham Palace and the Library of Congress, as well as kidnapping the President (Bruce Greenwood).
National Treasure 2 is fast-paced, exciting and absolutely ludicrous, only slightly more plausible than the “Indiana Jones” movies, if not quite as much pure fun. The historical trivia is blended with some truly wacky conspiracy theories, as well as a few flagrant inaccuracies (read up on the Olmec civilization). Still, it’s a good example of how to make a hit movie that assumes its audience’s intelligence instead of insulting it.
Extras: A commentary track from Turteltaub and Voight on Disc One; on Disc Two, in-depth making of features and a couple of brief historical ones, plus deleted scenes and bloopers. (PG). Rating: 3.
Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey are very attractive people, and they look good frolicking around the Caribbean in very little clothing. As a soon-to-be-divorced couple searching for sunken treasure in this breezy caper, they have classic movie star chemistry but not much else to work with.
McConaughey does his overgrown frat boy routine, having fun and getting into trouble, while Hudson fumes as the levelheaded woman who can’t take any more. Naturally, they end up in the exact same place as he seeks the help of her wealthy new boss (Donald Sutherland) in financing the gold-hunting expedition. A lot of slapstick humor ensues with the requisite romantic and sexual tension simmering below the (very shallow) surface.
There are laughs in Fool's Gold but they are due solely to the cast's charm and professionalism. Since the script never has any real focus, the actors just do their respective things, often seeming to be in different movies. McConaughey is starring in an easygoing adventure film, Hudson is in a romantic comedy, Sutherland is in a droll British farce, and so on. Individually, they're all fine, but together....just forget it and enjoy the pretty scenery.
Extras: Just two short items, a gag reel and a behind-the-scenes feature, running less than 10 minutes total. (PG-13). Rating: 2.
Thanks to the Earth-swallowing success of the Harry Potter books, fantasy literature for kids has become a seriously booming business. The movie versions of these titles have been of varying quality, not to mention box office appeal. This adaptation of the multi-volume series by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black falls somewhere in the middle range on both counts.
Freddie Highmore plays twin brothers Simon and Jared, who have moved with their mom (Mary-Louise Parker) and sister (Sarah Bolger) to an old house after their parents' divorce. As the family tries to regain its financial and emotional footing, Jared discovers a secret attic room belonging to the home's former owner, Arthur Spiderwick (David Strathairn). Arthur vanished without a trace 80 years earlier, leaving behind a book containing his research on magical creatures. He also left behind a daughter, now the town's elderly "crazy lady" (Joan Plowright), who insists her father was taken away by faeries.
There are bad guys after the book, too, led by a Nick Nolte-voiced ogre with an especially dastardly agenda. Director Mark Waters keeps the tension high as the supernatural danger turns violent, giving Spiderwick an edge that few films of its kind possess. his is, after all, a movie that appears at first glance to be aimed at children, with plenty of dumb, cartoonish humor. The more intense material feels a bit out of place, making it difficult to figure out just who the target audience is supposed to be.
At least the film doesn't talk down to any age group, insisting instead that all viewers — including young ones — can handle something with a little weight to it. The blend of storybook fantasy and dark themes may not always work, but it's nice to see a movie that gives it a solid, entertaining try.
Extras: Features on the book and its invented world on Disc One (with Waters popping up to insist that it's all true); profiles of the cast, deleted scenes and docs on the film's technical aspects on Disc Two. (PG). Rating: 3.
Imagine Ferris Bueller with a prescription pad, and you'll have an idea of what the makers of Charlie Bartlett are going for. They don't entirely succeed, but this entry in the rebellious-teen sub genre has its witty, relevant moments.
Anton Yelchin plays the title character, a rich kid with a habit of getting kicked out of various boarding schools. He finally lands in public school, where he gains acceptance by acting as a sort of peer psychiatrist. Using the doctors his flaky mother (Hope Davis) keeps on call, Charlie procures a wide range of medications, and dispenses them to his fellow students, along with a friendly ear and useful advice. Eventually, he runs afoul of the school principal (Robert Downey, Jr.), whose daughter (Kat Dennings) he has started dating. In the process, Charlie finds himself becoming a hero to his classmates.
When it sticks to its satirical guns, Charlie Bartlett has real bite, savaging the lazy hypocrisy of adults who leave kids to raise themselves, then wonder why they're all so messed up. Writer Gustin Nash and director Jon Poll also take aim at parents who tell their children to stay away from drugs, while they pop pills and pour another Scotch.
Sadly, the sting is diluted by unnecessary moralism as Charlie learns an Important lesson and everyone comes away enlightened. What starts out smart and observant turns into a finger-wagging PSA, the last thing anyone watching this will need or want to hear.
The cast is terrific, which is no surprise. Downey and Davis are incapable of bad performances, and Yelchin (Hearts in Atlantis) has matured into a charming, subtle actor. They may not be able to save the film entirely, but they take what Poll and Nash have given them and done as well as anyone possibly could.
Extras: Two commentaries by Poll (one with Nash, one with Yelchin and Dennings); a gag reel of the actors goofing around in Charlie's "restroom confessional"; a music video by the band Spinal Beach. (R).Rating: 3.
Loey Lockerby can be contacted at email@example.com.
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