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Wednesday, February 3,2010

Reviews in Short

by Cole Smithey
Crazy Heart. Jeff Bridges' dazzling career has led him to "Crazy Heart," a truly virtuosic tour de force performance as an old-fashioned cowboy singer. With some damn fine filmmaking courtesy of writer/director Steve Scott, Bridges plays Bad Blake, an aging, alcoholic, country music troubadour who gets a last chance at love and success. Rugged Bad leads a lonely lifestyle on the road, driving from motel to motel across the South playing gigs with pick-up bands in dive bars and bowling alleys. An interview with a local Santa Fe reporter, Jean Craddock (brilliantly played by Maggie Gyllenhaal), blossoms into a romance that prompts Bad to move in with Jean and her fouryear-old son Buddy. Bridges is a natural — singing and playing country songs with the sweat of authenticity and the spit of a tipsy factory worker. Based on Thomas Cobb's novel, "Crazy Heart" is a bookend to Robert Duvall's great 1983 cowboysinger movie "Tender Mercies." Duvall's presence as Wayne, a bartender and friend to Bad, is a hat tip to that film's influence. "Crazy Heart" is the best American film of the year. Jeff Bridges smokes — big-time. Rated R. 111 mins. (A )



When in Rome. Kristen Bell rings flat as Beth, the girl-next-door-Guggenheim-museum-art-currator who fulfills a curse when she takes five coins from Rome's fountain of love. During a 48-hour Italian visit for her sister's sudden wedding, Beth meets the accident prone Nick (Josh Duhamel), who happens to also live in New York. However, Beth's coins attract the ongoing romantic of the men whose coins she now possesses. Will Arnett, Jon Heder, Dax Shepard, and Danny Devito work to varying levels of success as the less-than-winning hopefuls at Beth's threshold. Devito fares best as a sausage company founder with genuine feelings for Beth. Duhamel carries his character's romantic duties with workmanlike effectiveness that helps mask an utter lack of chemistry with Bell, coming off like a shrew. The film has no interconnectedness. It's one slapstic gag to another pratfall. The dialogue isn't funny and the filmmakers know nothing about comic timing. Rated PG-13. 91 mins. (C-)




Extraordinary Measures. It's like corporate rock but worse. It's a Big Pharma propaganda piece committed with a bloated musical score that blows out the depressingly formulaic patchwork on hand. The true-life narrative is constructed around Oregonian family headed by John Crowley (Brendan Fraser) who, with his wife Aileen (Keri Russell); they have three children, two of whom are stricken with Pompe disease. The rare condition means the children will probably not live past 9 or 10 unless a treatment is found, developed, and made ready in the next year or so. John finds Dr. Robert Stonehill (Harrison Ford), a maverick scientist doing pioneering work on treating Pompe at the University of Nebraska. Brendan Fraser gives a technically mannered performance that stands up to scrutiny. But Harrison Ford plays Dr. Stonehill with an artificial anger that boarders on camp. Together, the not-quite-compatible Stonehill and John attract investors to start their own lab where Dr. Stonehill can work with a team of dedicated interns to test and perfect a drug capable of treating Pompe. Blaring orchestral chords pound over director Tom Vaughan's visually glossy and emotionally syrupy commercial for the drug industry.
The realism on display is about as far from naturalistic as you can get. There's something very ugly here. Rated PG. 115 mins. (C-)



Edge of Darkness. Acting in his first film since 2003, Mel Gibson is a bit rusty as retiring Boston homicide detective Thomas Craven in a part-corporate-thriller and part-old-school revenge fantasy that feels dated from the start. A gratuitously bloody murder sets up a gauntlet of corporate espionage Craven must navigate to investigate the murder of his political-activist daughter Emma (Bojana Novakovic). Danny Huston delivers some enjoyable scene-chewing as corporate baddie Jack Bennett, but Ray Winstone seems to have been cast in a role cut-and-pasted from a different film. Director Martin Campbell's filmmaking is competent. He creates better than average chase scenes, as well as the sudden deaths common in the revenge genre. Similar to last year's "State of Play," "Edge of Darkness" is based on a six-part, 1985 British miniseries. And like "State of Play," this attempt at condensing six hours of narrative into 100 minutes results in underdeveloped characters overstating their positions in scenes that beg more questions than they address. Despite its formulaic storyline, insincere subplots, and a wobbly performance from Gibson, quick pacing works to the film's advantage. But in nearly every scene there's a moment where you can see Gibson "acting." In the face of his damaged public persona and fading looks Gibson seems clearly nervous about his ability to win over an audience. He does a little look-back to the camera at the end of several scenes, and his expression is unmistakable as an actor seeking approval from some imaginary source. Rated R. 116 mins. (C-)





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