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Wednesday, April 15,2009

Reviews in Short

by Cole Smithey

 



 


State of Play. Based on a politically charged BBC mini-series, director Kevin Macdonald ("The Last King of Scotland") moves the action from the House of Parliament to Washington, where the suspicious death of a congressman’s coworker mistress underlines the desperate state of newspaper journalism in America. Russell Crowe plays Cal McAffrey, a veteran Washington Poststyled reporter with close ties to Congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck) and Collins’ romantically fickle wife, Anne (Robin Wright Penn). Cal uncovers a corporate espionage plan to privatize Homeland Security that seems related to the death of Collins’ mistress. Cal gets tossed in with neophyte newspaper blogger Della Frye (Rachel McAdams) to cover this story with scandalous elements that threaten to eclipse greater crimes at hand. Laced with telegraphed character development, ghost-in-the-machine plot points, and preachy commentary, "State of Play" is a pedantic thriller caught in its own obvious clockwork. Nothing is organic and no situation believable in a movie that plays like a collection of isolated sub plots. (Universal) Rated PG-13, 118 mins. (C)




Observe and Report. Writer/director Jody Hill makes a quantum leap from his low-budget 2006 debut feature "The Foot Fist Way" with a hilarious, subversive black comedy about America’s post-911 culture of authority-abusing misfits commonly referred to as security guards. Seth Rogen plays Ronnie Barnhardt, a racist, sociopath security guard who is far more Travis Bickle than Paul Blart. Ronnie is the bipolar head of security at the Forest Ridge Mall, where a trench coat-wearing flasher accosts the object of Ronnie’s wrongheaded affection, a vapid makeup counter clerk named Brandi (brilliantly played by Anna Farris). The arrival of local, no-nonsense police detective Harrison (Ray Liotta) threatens Ronnie’s ego to the point that he decides to apply to become a police officer after Harrison drops Ronnie off in a deadly ghetto to fend for himself. The film’s title spells out in no uncertain terms the limits of authority for security guards obsessed with checking your bag and wanding your body at public entryways. The film is a take-no-prisoners satire that rises to the level of Martin Scorsese’s 1982 milestone "The King of Comedy." The audience is continuously kept off balance by Hill’s unconventional use of slapstick humor offset by straight-to-the-heart dialogue and over-the-top plotting. Rogan’s performance is beyond perfect, and supporting efforts by Liotta, Celia Weston and Michael Pena are spot-on. "Observe and Report" is a diabolical send up of authoritarian culture. (Warner Brothers) Rated R. 106 mins. (A )




Fast & Furious. Chris Morgan (screenwriter of "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift”) is to blame for a script that runs more like a ’70s Ford Pinto than the hopped up muscle cars burning rubber onscreen. Original cast members Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, and Michelle Rodriquez are reunited with Crayon exposition about romantic and ethical mistakes they’ve made, as well as sticking plot points culled from the same coloring book. Badass undercover cop Brian O’Conner (Walker) is hot on the trail of an anonymous Mexican drug cartel leader who has also attracted the heat-seeking revenge of the more badass ex-con Dominic Toretto (Diesel). O’Conner and Toretto reluctantly team up to trap the elusive kingpin known only as Braga. The plot holes are as big as the mountain tunnel that contains two of the film’s less-than-satisfying car chase scenes. For such a simple action/adventure template, the filmmakers fall down on the job at every turn. There’s no sustained suspense and only a few moments of truly exciting car racing to be had in a movie with a narrative flat line that substitutes for a dramatic arc. (Universal) Rated PG-13. 107 mins. (C-)




Adventureland. Nostalgia for a time that never was drives writer/director Greg Mottola’s ("Superbad") unassuming ’80s era coming-of-age romantic comedy. Jesse Eisenberg plays James Brennan, a virginal college graduate who foregoes a summer vacation to Europe because of his parents’ financial woes to work at Pittsburgh’s Adventureland amusement park. The only good thing about James’ game-booth job is the presence of his alluring co-worker Em (Kristen Stewart) with whom James makes his first tentative steps toward developing a romantic relationship. James doesn’t know about Em’s sexually active bond with the park’s roving electrician (Ryan Reynolds) that serves as a narrative time bomb. Eisenberg and Stewart make movie magic happen, but the miscasting of Reynolds as an adulterous playboy puts a severe damper on the film. Like the confused social period of the Reagan era that the story inhabits, "Adventureland" is an awkward comedy that makes you wish it were a lot better. (Miramax) Rated R. 107 mins. (B-)




Duplicity. Writer/director Tony Gilroy (director of "Michael Clayton" and "The Bourne Ultimatum") runs his ship aground with a smarty-pants crime romance set amid the world of corporate espionage. Uber spies Ray (Clive Owen) and Claire (Julia Roberts) get themselves in deep when they decide to leverage their mutual distrust for one another as a foundation for a romantic relationship. The wrongheaded decision makes Ray, an ex- MI6 double-spy, and Claire, a former CIA agent, a double-double spy when it comes to stealing the formula for a mystery cream (or is it a lotion?) from a mega-corporation run by blow-hard megalomaniac Howard Tully (Tom Wilkinson). Paul Giamatti plays Howard’s rival corporate raider, Dick Garsik, whose primary goal in life is to hear the sound of Howard’s cojones hitting the floor. With flashbacks, flash-forwards, and few flashes of inspiration, the movie flips around like a dying fish on a balsa wood boat dock. Sure Owen, Roberts, Giamatti and Wilkinson are all great to look at on the big screen, but that hardly makes "Duplicity" anything more than a barely watchable crime thriller where the biggest thrill is getting up from your seat when it’s finally over. (Universal) Rated PG-13. 118 mins. (C-)


For more reviews visit www.colesmithey.com

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