Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Colombiana

Directed by Olivier Megaton.
2011. Not Rated, 108 minutes.
Cast:
Zoe Saldana
Jordi Mollà
Lenni James
Cliff Curtis
Amandla Stenberg
Michael Vartan
Beto Benites
Jesse Borrego
Graham McTavish

Does anything good ever come of a scene which starts with a bunch of henchmen hanging out by the pool holding assault rifles? That’s precisely where we start Colombiana. The rest of the scene consists of two Colombian druglords saying extremely nice things to one another. Of course, one of them will die shortly. In this case, it’s the visitor. He know there’s trouble afoot. He goes straight home, tells his wife and very young daughter “we have ten minutes” and hastily starts packing. Before the family can get out the door, here come the pool flunkies plus a few more of their co-workers. The gangster and his wife are shot dead right in front of their child. With more speed and athleticism than I’ve ever seen in a girl her age, about 10, she manages to escape the goon squad. Using the last minute instructions her dad gave her, she makes it all the way to Chicago to live with her uncle, another bad guy. However, she doesn’t care about the family business. She just wants revenge. Fast forward to the present and Cataleya (Saldana) is actively trying to make her dream come true.

Given what we see her accomplish as a pre-teen, we have to expect she’s going to do the impossible as an adult. Yup, she does. The first execution we see her perform includes escaping a jail cell, travelling ventilation ducts, getting outside the precinct walls, back inside to her cell, framing a guard for the crime and a couple outfit changes. And you thought you had a busy day. Such feats of stealth and violence are commonplace for our heroine. If she’s not directly on the screen, she’s lurking just off it – ready to pounce.

That Cataleya will get her revenge is an inevitable outcome from the moment her parents are slain just a few feet from her. This movie lacks the ambition to try anything else. That makes it somewhat pointless to judge this on the basis of plot and character development or any other nuances people like me who waste a lot of words on movies like to pontificate about. The only criteria really is how well we enjoy her kicking butt and making stuff go boom. It’s no masterpiece, but it does its job. The action is fairly steady and fun to watch. The straight forward story-telling works well enough that we’re not totally bored when nothing is exploding or no one is being pounded. Star Zoe Saldana is athletic and sexy enough to keep the boys in the target audience engaged. It helps that they loved her in Avatar, Star Trek, and possibly even in The Losers. Colombiana is a fun, if forgettable, ride that manages to end before it wears out its welcome. At the very least, it’s a better revenge flick than Conan the Barbarian.

MY SCORE: 5/10

Monday, February 27, 2012

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work

Directed by Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg.
2011. Rated R, 84 minutes.
Cast:
Joan Rivers
Jocelyn Pickett
Billy Sammeth
Melissa Rivers
Kathy Griffin
Don Rickles

Hip-hop icon Jay-Z once rapped “I’d rather die enormous than live dormant.” This is the mantra Joan Rivers seems to live by. She loves riding in limousines, wearing expensive things, living in a glamorous home and having people for whatever she needs. She works extremely hard to afford this lifestyle. She remarks several times how she could retire and live more modestly, but refuses to do so. This is the surface of Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work. Her tireless efforts to maintain and grow her brand make up our action scenes. These are made all the more amazing by the fact we’re watching a 75 year old woman with more energy and drive that most people who’ve never known a world in which she was not a celebrity.

The dramatic scenes are made up of finding out where that drive comes from. Like the aforementioned Jay-Z, there is much bravado to Ms. Rivers. She fully maxes out the tough, old biddy persona. Publicly, there is nothing that can’t be handled with a sharp, expletive laced tirade. Away from the stage and glare of TV lights, we get to see the cracks in her armor. It turns out, Joan is hopelessly insecure. This insecurity propels her far more than her love of excess, though the two traits complement each other quite well. For our purposes, these unguarded moments make for compelling drama. They fill in the blanks created by the caricature she’s presented to us for decades.

Along the way, we meet many different facets of the legendary comedienne. After all, the cameras followed her around for a year. We see her as a mother, grandmother, humanitarian, playwright, actress, and of course, businesswoman. We get bits and pieces of many performances, as well. She works everything from a rinky-dink, hole in the wall club in Queens to 4,000 seat theaters in Vegas with the same passion.


We also get plenty of clips from the past. All of it is envelope pushing stuff. We hear her say some things that she acknowledges would be tame today, but were downright racy at the time. We see how these things paved the way for today’s comediennes, including herself and her own evolving act in which she talks freely about why she likes anal sex. Uptight, she is not.

There are some things glossed over. Most noticeable is the issue of her multiple plastic surgeries. She speaks briefly about them, acknowledging she went from being the poster-child of the nip/tuck industry to the butt of the jokes about it. She laments facing the jokes head-on when she agrees to be the guest of honor on a Comedy Central roast. However, she never really opens up about the whens and whys of her going under the knife. Just from reading this review we can get an inkling of her reasons. Still, it would’ve been nice to hear her articulate them.

Even without a great revelation about what she’s done to her face, “A Piece of Work” is a fascinating watch. We learn things about her we may not have know. We also get a glimpse inside the life of a really hard working woman. Best of all, this is accomplished without the heavy-handed slant toward creating conflict that hers and most reality TV shows suffers from. In the end, it’s probably not enough to turn Joan haters into Joan fans. However, it should give us newfound appreciation for all the things she’s gone through and accomplished.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Conan the Barbarian

Directed by Marcus Nispel.
2011. Rated R, 113 minutes.
Cast:
Jason Momoa
Rachel Nichols
Stephen Lang
Rose McGowan
Saïd Taghmaoui
Leo Howard
Ron Perlman
Bob Sapp

The people involved in making the 2011 version of Conan the Barbarian would like you to know that it has absolutely nothing to do with the 1982 movie which helped Arnold Schwarzenegger become a star. With that in mind, I’ll not mention “The Governator” or that film again. This movie is based more directly on the works of Robert E. Howard who created the character about 80 years ago. If ever there were a movie strictly about swords and sorcery, this is it. Both are responsible for all manner of death and/or dismemberment.

Well, there is a plot cobbled together. It actually starts with the bad guy, Khalar Zym (Lang). His wife had been killed some time ago, I think I heard a thousand years. Hmph. Now, with the help of his sorceress daughter Marique, played by a barely recognizable Rose McGowan, he’s trying to find the one woman of pure Archerion blood so he can use her body to resurrect his bride. Together, they will rule the world! Muwahahahahaahaha! Ahem, sorry. Anyhoo, this twisted father and daughter team don’t just look for the pure blooded girl, they go from village to village killing or enslaving everyon that isn’t who they’re looking for. As fate would have it, they come upon little Conan’s village (the character is played by Howard as a child). They make the tiny warrior watch his father die (Perlman handles the dying, here), then they burn the place to the ground killing the rest of our hero’s people. Fast forward about a decade. The evil dad and his evil-er female spawn are still searching for that special someone and Conan is out for revenge.



Like any other flick, Conan has its strengths and weaknesses. It’s strength is obviously the non-stop bloody violence. Body parts are hacked off or literally beaten to a pulp with great regularity. They fly all over the place, too. After it was over, I had to sweep up some severed heads, arms and legs, several each. I’m having new carpet put in this week, the blood soaked right through.

On the weak side is everything else. For starters, there is no character development. Even as simplistic as the plot is, the story-telling is muddled. The dialogue is a cheesy form of Olde English and almost all of the acting is over the top. Despite a love scene that says otherwise, there is little chemistry between Conan and “it girl” Tamara (Nichols). Finally, for some reason they wasted money and runtime by having none other than Morgan Freeman narrate. Don’t get me wrong, if you need a narrator for your movie, Freeman is an outstanding choice. Just having him read the labels on cereal boxes will probably sound good. The problem is after he gives a long spiel explaining something, we’re given a scene that shows us the exact same thing. Pick one.

With regards to picking, that’s what you will have to do before seeing this. You have to decide, if you don’t know already, what floats your boat. Long review short: Conan is one long gory action scene with a pause for topless wenches (that’s in the credits), another pause for sex and a few brief pauses for talking…er…yelling and grunting. The story is told in a way that makes me believe my 12 year old nephew worked closely with the director. Is it fun to sit through? If you’re looking for wall-to-wall action, then the answer is yes. Is there anything at all here that will leave a lasting impression? No.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Monte Carlo

Directed by Thomas Bezucha.
2011. Rated PG, 108 minutes.
Cast:
Selena Gomez
Leighton Meester
Katie Cassidy
Juliette Dumouchel
Pierre Boulanger
Cory Monteith
Andie MacDowell
Luke Bracey
Catherine Tate

Recently, a waitress bearing a strong resemblance to Oprah Winfrey became a trending topic on the internet. Why? It’s simple. We’re intrigued by the ideat that somewhere out there is a person who looks exactly like us. What would happen if we ever met that person, or were to be so mistaken for them that others actually thrust us into that person’s station in life. These fascinations have been the impetus for countless movies across a number of genres. 2011 gave us two such movies: the kinda, sorta historical The Devil’s Double for action fans and Monte Carlo, a romantic comedy for the Disney crowd.

Speaking of Disney, our protagonist comes straight from the company’s assembly line of young starlets. Her name is Grace and she is played by Selena Gomez, star of the network’s The Wizards of Waverly Place. She just graduated from high school and on her way to Paris, where she’s dreamed of going ever since she can remember. Her best friend Emma (Cassidy) will gladfully accompany her. Not thinking either of them to be too responsible, Grace’s mom and stepdad have forced stepsister Meg (Meester) to go with them, even though the two don’t get along. Once there, the trio manages to get separated from the world’s worst tour guide. Suddenly, it’s discovered that Grace looks exactly like Cordelia Winthrop Scott a spoiled, ungrateful heiress also played by Gomez (duh). One thing leads to another and the girls soon find themselves living it up in Monte Carlo.

Oh, there’s boys. Each girl meets a handsome, charming guy. One of our young ladies already has a beau back home in Texas that she sorta broke up with. Make no mistake, he will suddenly pop up in Paris, and eventually in Monte Carlo, to reclaim his gal. It’s exactly that kind of movie. By that, I mean it wants nothing more that to be cute and grandly romantic despite not always making sense. It shamelessly panders to its target audience which will like it well enough. However, with that in mind there is nothing here to suggest it had to be released to multiplexes around the globe. This would’ve been right at home and likely more widely seen as a Sunday night TV movie on Disney Channel. Disney didn’t actually make this movie but they definitely could’ve. After all, not only is it just another totally bland rom-com, it never once comes close to threatening the boundaries of its PG rating.

MY SCORE: 4.5/10

Monday, February 20, 2012

Doctor Detroit

Directed by Michael Pressman.
1983. Rated R, 91 minutes.
Cast:
Dan Aykroyd
Howard Hesseman
Fran Drescher
Lynn Whitfield
Donna Dixon
T. K. Carter
Lydia Lei
Kate Murtagh
George Furth
Nan Martin
James Brown

In the immortal words of The Geto Boys, my mind’s playing tricks on me. Google it if you must, youngsters. The trick performed was indeed a dastardly deception. I really thought the woman had been sawn in half. You see friends, I found myself in my favorite used book store wandering through aisles and aisles of DVDs someone else no longer wanted. Eventually, I meandered over to the bargain bin. That’s where they keep the movies they really didn’t want to take in and hope some sucker will snatch them up at a buck or two. Knowing there’s an off chance I might find a real gem, I dig in. Shortly, I get my hand on a copy of Doctor Detroit. I immediately recognize as a movie from Dan Akroyd’s heyday, that time between the opening skit of the first episode of Saturday Night Live and the closing credits of Spies Like Us.

Folks, this where the lies begin. I told myself that everything Akroyd did during this period was pure gold. After all, this stretch includes The Blues Brothers, Trading Places and Ghostbusters. I remember seeing hilarious ads for Doctor Detroit. This was one of those iconic movies from my youth that I somehow missed out on. I vividly recall it was a smash hit either shortly before or after Trading Places. Well, as it turns out DD did come out about a month prior to Trading Places However, as evidenced by the fact that it was gone from theaters before that month ran out, it was not a hit in any way. There is a good reason.

It should go without saying that Akroyd plays the title role. He’s by far the biggest name in the cast at the time. His character’s real name is Clifford, and he’s a college professor for a school mired in financial problems. Doctor Detroit is his pimp alter-ego. Let me explain. Doctor Detroit is actually an alter-ego created by someone else for Clifford. Smooth Walker, played by the eternally cool Howard Hesseman, is a real pimp who’s deep in debt to Mom (Murtagh), who runs the local crime world. As a way out, he tells Mom that a big time bad guy named Doctor Detroit has muscled in on his territory and Smooth’s getting out of town for fear of his life. Naturally, Mom and her goons go looking for the Doctor and find only Clifford. Of course, the only thing for the professor to do is don a blonde-wig, yellow jacket, lime green pants, a pair of Elton John shades, a false metal hand, speak like a constipated Edward G. Robinson and pretend to be a big time crimelord from Michigan.



Don’t fret, Smooth left behind some help, sorta. This is where the cast gets interesting. As mentioned, Akroyd has the biggest name but the rest of the troupe is certainly not without merit. Hesseman, of course, is best known as radio DJ Johnny Fever from the legendary sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati. You already know he leaves town. So, to facilitate our hero’s transformation into Doctor Detroit there are five other key players: Smooth’s limo driver and the four girls in his stable. The driver is Daivolo, played by none other than T. K. Carter. If you’ve either forgotten or are too young to remember, Carter made a career out of playing the token jive-talkin’, bug-eyed black guy in movies with predominantly white casts. This is just one of a number of such roles for him. In true 80s fashion, our hookers are a purposefully diverse bunch: an all-American blue eyed blonde, a brunette with a thick New York accent, a sassy black girl and an Asian girl with the classic “me love you long time” accent. The blonde is played by Donna Dixon. At this time, she was suppose to be the next “it” girl. She hung around and did a number of movies, but it never quite worked out for her the way some thought it would. Lydia Lei plays the Asian girl and only has a handful of credits. The brunette and the black girl have the most notable careers. Fran Drescher plays the brunette, Lynn Whitfield, obviously, the black girl. Drescher went on to star in The Nanny a huge sitcom. Whitfield, would go on to critical acclaim in the title role of The Josephine Baker Story. Both have continued to pop up in television and movie roles to this day.

The cast isn’t the problem, here. True, there are no award-worthy performances but the acting was solid. The issue is the lazy and unfunny script. It follows all the machinations of tons of other flicks without much flavor of its own. Aside from Clifford pretending to be a pimp there’s also some academic big-wig trying to make his way to the university with a school-saving donation check. Yes, Clifford is supposed to make sure he gets there. Tired hijinks and shenanigans ensue.

Before you think that I’m jaded by the hundreds of other comedies I’ve watch in the nearly thirty years since this came out, remember this: no one liked it in 1983, either. It managed to make barely more than its budget, but that was likely due to a number of people going to see it simply because of Akroyd. He manages to get a few laughs, but it takes a Herculean effort. Much of his zaniness is in vain. Thank goodness Trading Places came out when it did. This ensures we’d have no time to dwell on how bad this is. However, it’s not totally void of value. It did confirm a lesson many have tried to teach me over the years: even your own memory can’t be trusted.

MY SCORE: 3/10

Friday, February 17, 2012

Mean Johnny Barrows

Directed by Fred Williamson.
1976. Rated R, 86 minutes.
Cast:
Fred Williamson
Roddy McDowall
Jenny Sherman
Stuart Whitman

Blaxploitation legend and former NFL player Fred “The Hammer” Williamson directs and stars in this entry into the genre. He plays Johnny Barrows, a Vietnam vet who gets a dishonorable discharge after striking an officer. The officer totally deserved it, by the way. After the discharge, he finds himself on the streets with no money, no place to go and his rep as a war-hero and former college football star preceding him. He’s being actively recruited by the local mobsters to do some dirty work for them but resists. The question becomes how long can he do so and what will push him over the edge.

As far as Blaxploitation goes, this one’s little tame because Johnny spends much of the movie looking for an honest job and then trying to keep it. While admirable and probably riveting drama if handled correctly, it’s pretty boring the way it’s done here. When it finally cranks up we get the tough-talkin’ and cheesy kung-fu fightin’ we’ve been waiting for but it takes a long time to get there and has been repetitive along the way. What’s also strange about this from a Blaxploitation standpoint is that Williamson is the only Black person in the cast. At least, he’s the only one with a speaking part. Anyway, it’s not one of the those movies from the genre that’s so unbelievably bad you love it (there’s lots of those) nor is it one of the genre’s better movies. It’s just kind of “meh.”

MY SCORE: 4/10

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Real Steel

Directed by Shawn Levy.
2011. Rated PG-13, 127 minutes.
Cast:
Hugh Jackman
Dakota Goyo
Evangeline Lilly
Anthony Mackie
Kevin Durand
Hope Davis
James Rebhorn
Karl Yune
Olga Fonda

Charlie (Jackman) is a former prize-fighter who now makes his living in the world of robot boxing. Making a living is overstating things. Generally, he ducks the people he owes money to after whatever robot he’s picked off the scrap heap gets destroyed in a match. Along comes news that an ex-girlfriend, and mother of his child has passed away, leaving behind Max (Goyo), the son he’s abandoned. The kid’s wealthy aunt Debra (Davis) wants custody but needs Charlie to sign over his parental rights. Never one to miss an opportunity, Charlie brokers a deal with Deb’s husband Marvin (Rebhorn) to sell them his rights for a load of cash. One strange caveat to the deal: in order to keep Debra in the dark about the exchange of money, Charlie has to keep Max for a few weeks while his rich soon-to-be guardians are out of the country.

Once Max actually appears we know precisely how it will play out between him and his deadbeat dad. Ditto for Charlie and Bailey (Lilly) and their very PG love affair. The only possible surprise isn’t one if you’ve seen the trailer. It involves Atom, a seemingly inferior fighting robot with a very unique feature. Suffice it to say this part of the story is yet another re-working of Rocky. It comes complete with a physically superior champion and his villainous handlers.


If it isn’t obvious, there is pretty much no effort put into the plot. It’s completely perfunctory, taking no risks, holding no surprises nor posing any challenges. In a brief moment or two of artistic integrity, the filmmakers threaten to throw one wrinkle into things. We get a couple hints that there is more to Atom than meets the eye. Yes, the reference is intended. Anyhoo, they totally drop the ball on that idea to remain in the safety zone, give us more of the cheese borrowed from other cheesy flicks. In short, they want you to like this movie even though you’ve likely seen it quite a few times before.

Predictability be damned, there is only one real question to be answered: is Real Steel fun to watch. The answer is yes, in its own corny way. It moves at a brisk pace despite an unnecessarily bloated runtime of over two hours. It plays cute with the father/son angle and the final act contains lots more of the ‘bot fighting people likely come for. Jackman gives us Wolverine-lite, a less surly than the mutant and sans cigar. It’s a character we know and either somewhat like or somewhat dislike. The same can be said of Max and every other character in the film. By the way, Max is more of an adult than any of the other characters, too. Even my nine year old picked up on that. Max’s maturity aside, all of these people are just bland caricatures. They’re here to fill in the portions between fights not be too much of a distraction from them. The end result is an overwhelmingly OK movie that young boys will love watching with their dads. Boys of my age will wonder how it is possible that this isn’t called Rock’em Sock’em Robots.

MY SCORE: 5/10

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Contagion

Directed by Steven Soderbergh.
2011. Rated PG-13, 106 minutes.
Cast:
Laurence Fishburne
Kate Winslet
Matt Damon
Jude Law
Gwyneth Paltrow
Marion Cotillard
Sanaa Lathan
Anna Jacoby-Heron
John Hawkes
Stef Tovar
Grace Rex

Bryan Cranston

Elizabeth (Paltrow) returns home from a business trip to China feeling a bit under the weather. She gets worse over the next few days until she has an apparent seizure and dies. By the way, she infects her six year old son with the same mysterious ailment and he suffers the same fate. Miraculously, her husband Mitch (Damon) deosn’t get sick. Yes, this is explained. Very quickly we find out Elizabeth is one of many such cases occurring around the globe at a rapidly increasing rate. The Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization spring into action in hopes of creating a vaccine before much to the world’s population is wiped out.

A large part of the movie’s magic is derived from the combination of writing and acting. The dialogue is often clinical, filled with enough medical jargon to make your eyes glaze over. However, the cast still manages to convey both passion and compassion. This comes through most in the performance of Kate Winslet as Dr. Mears. Her character isn’t someone most of us want to hang out with. She’s pragmatic, aloof and occasionally blunt. On the other hand, we can tell that her caring runs deep. Though she may be the uncompromising face of some far away medical group to the other characters, we never see her that way. There’s also an angst-ridden portrayal by Matt Damon and a conflicted turn by Laurence Fishburne. All handle their roles quite well.


The dire tone and unsettling score add mightily to the proceedings. Along with most of the characters, the world itself seems to dread what the next day may bring. This aspect is enhanced by the trusty counter that pops up every now and again to tell us how many days we’re into this situation. By the way, we start on “Day 2,” which happens right before Thanksgiving. Talk about ruining the holidays.

Many so-called horror movies delight and/or disturb us with various methods of mutilating the human body. Others try to scare us with ghosts, goblins and other things that go bump in the night. Contagion does neither. In fact, it will never be found if you click the link to horror movies the next time you’re on Net Flix. However, that’s precisely what it is. And a darned good one. The secret to the frights it gives is we can envision it really happening. At various points in the not-so-distant past many thought the events depicted here were already happening. This is a movie that plays into our collective germophobia, using it to draw us to the edge of our seats.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Paul

Directed by Greg Mottola.
2011. Rated R, 104 minutes.
Cast:
Simon Pegg
Nick Frost
Seth Rogen
Kristen Wiig
Jeffrey Tambor
Jane Lynch
Jason Bateman
Sigourney Weaver
Bill Hader
Blythe Danner
John Carroll Lynch

The writer Graeme Willy (Frost) and his trusty cohort Clive Gollings (Pegg) are a couple of sci-fi geeks from the UK, in the United States to attend Comic-Con, an annual convention for the comic book industry. Afterwards, they tour some of the locations where famous UFO landings have allegedly taken place, like Area 51 and Roswell, New Mexico. Along the way, as luck would have it, they meet Paul (Rogen). Paul is the classic little green man with an enormous head alien. He enlists our less than dynamic duo to help him get home. All the while, the trio is being chased by man in black, Agent Zoil (Bateman). Zoil maintains almost constant contact with “The Big Guy”, whom we find out right away is actually a woman. What she actually looks like isn’t revealed until the end, so I won’t spoil it.

Eventually, the plot becomes reminiscent of E. T. This is fitting given that Pegg and Frost wrote the screenplay. Like their movies Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead before it, we’re treated to a steady stream of references to other movies. They’re done far more skillfully than in any of the “____ movies.” You know the ones: Scary, Date, etc. These references are weaved seamlessly into the tapestry of a story that stands on its own. We can actually enjoy the story we’re watching and enjoy the allusions. By the way, there are enough of them that you’ll probably miss a few, here and there.



References to other movies aren’t the only things that make us laugh. The way relationships are established and carried out are both funny and sweet. Most notably, the contentious nature of things between Graeme and Paul gets the most giggles. As stated by Paul, the two are characters that should be best friends but seem to be missing a connection. Even more of an edge is added when you factor in the lingering question of Graeme’s sexuality. Because of that question, the way he behaves in regards to others give us cause to pause.

In the title role, Seth Rogen acquits himself very well. True, Paul behaves much like most of Rogen’s characters but he’s easier to take when personifying another species. However, there could’ve been more to him. How did he get to be the foul-mouthed, cigarette smoking wise guy we know him to be?

Paul is a fun ride, overall. There are some stretches where it drags a bit. Occasionally, it gets too busy referencing other movies that it doesn’t quite work. Aside from the aforementioned stars, Jason Bateman was also very good as the agent tracking them down. Things are fairly predictable, but we’re not here for mystery. It wants you to laugh and possibly geek out with them on all the allusions you recognize. It does that.

MY SCORE: 7/10

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Smurfs

Directed by Raja Gosnell.
2011. Rated PG, 103 minutes.
Cast:
Hank Azaria
Neil Patrick Harris
Jonathan Winters
George Lopez
Katy Perry
Jayma Mays
Sofia Vergara
Fred Armisen
Anton Yelchin
Kenan Thompson
Jeff Foxworthy
Tim Gunn

There was a time when “The Smurfs” were a part of my Saturday morning routine. This not only included the show, but also Smurfberry Crunch cereal whenever I could get it. Watching Papa Smurf, Smurfette and the other 99 smurfs foil the evil Gargamel week after week was wholesome cheesy 80s fun. If, back then, a movie based on that show and including real-live people were to come out I would’ve been smurfed to see it. I would’ve saved up the twenty bucks to get me and my siblings each a ticket. Wow, $20 for four of us. Remember those days? Anyhoo, we would’ve been first in the smurfing line the day it opened. Now, better than a quarter century later and having seen numerous craptacular movies based on old TV shows, I’m not so smurfed. Regardless, here I am losing to curiosity and fatherhood once again. Of course my daughter wanted to see this. What? I can’t take all the smurfing blame.

As usual, Papa Smurf (Winters) and his clan of little blue people take on the smurf obsessed Gargamel (Azaria). What’s different is the setting. On the show, nearly every episode took place entirely in the area just big enough to include both Smurf Village and Gargamel’s castle. The movie starts us there but very quickly a half-dozen smurfs, Gargamel and his equally evil cat Azriel wind up in New York City through a bit of hocus pocus. Our heroes spend the rest of the movie trying to find whatever magic is necessary to get back home and avoid Gargamel.


While in the Big Apple, Papa and crew wind up crashing at the apartment of a young married couple, Patrick (Harris) and his pregnant wife Grace (Mays). He’s a career driven ad exec smurfing for his relentless boss Odile (Vergara). She seems to mostly stay at home, talking to the baby in her belly. They have two purposes for being in the movie. First, they provide the smurfs with a place to stay and play “Guitar Hero.” More importantly, they will learn an important lesson when our adventure is over.

The Smurfs is one of those movies that doesn’t do anything smurfily bad nor anything esmurfily good, either. It just drones on pretty blandly. Clumsy Smurf does something clumsy and puts the others in danger. They try to rescue him, narrowly escaping Gargamel who then has an aside with the cat and concocts his next plan. Rinse, repeat. In that respect it’s not much different than the old cartoon. That’s probably as good as we can hope for.


If there is one thing that rises above the level of mediocre, it’s the performance of Hank Azaria as Gargamel. He is absolutely smurfect. Not only does he present us with exactly what we thought a live-action version of the villain would be but he’s clearly having a blast at the same time. On the flipside, I was disappointed with George Lopez’s Grouchy Smurf. It’s not necessarily his fault, but the character feels the least true to what they were on the show. That Grouchy didn’t say much and started almost all of his very short sentences with “I hate…” This version talks constantly and is somewhat a grouch, but in a way much more reminiscent of the actor’s character from his own sitcom.

I have to admit, The Smurfs is far better than I thought it would be. Thankfully, it doesn’t induce a pain similar to being repeatedly kicked in the groin like Yogi Bear. It’s still not really a “good” movie. It’s merely a pleasant, if unremarkable time-passer that manages to maintain nostalgia and cuteness. This will likely not be the case going forward. For proof, see the Alvin and the Chipmunks and Transformers franchises. Therefore I hope, probably in vain, that the powers that be don’t shove a smurfing sequel down our smurfing throats. This one is watchable, but I get the feeling I’m all smurfed out.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Zookeeper

Directed by Frank Coraci.
2011. Rated PG, 102 minutes.
Cast:
Kevin James
Rosario Dawson
Leslie Bibb
Ken Jeong
Donnie Wahlberg
Joe Rogan
Sylvester Stallone
Nick Nolte
Adam Sandler
Cher
Judd Apatow
Jon Favreau
Maya Rudolph
Faizon Love

Five years after being dumped by Stephanie (Bibb), the girl he planned on marrying, Griffin (James) still pines for her. When she pops up at his brother’s engagement party, he completely freaks out and desperately tries thinking up ways to get her back. Just so you understand what’s going on here, let’s explain a bit more. Stephanie left Griffin largely due t o the fact that he is indeed just a zookeeper, hence the title. She’s quite high maintenance and is looking for someone to finance the life she wants to lead. He also has an attractive co-worker named Kate (Dawson) whom he’s never thought of in “that way.” Kate’s obviously a more genuine person than Stephanie. So far we’re in pretty familiar rom-com territory and you can probably already figure out how this will end. Trust me, there are no surprises at all.

If you’ve seen any other romantic comedies then you know that our would be Romeo has friends that give him bad advice on how to win Stephanie’s heart. If you’ve seen the trailer then you’ve already guessed the only thing that makes this different from most movies of its kind. The friends are actually the animals at the zoo. Yes, they talk.



All comedies with talking animals can’t be terrible, can they? Let’s give this one a chance. After all, it can’t be that bad if George Clooney decided to lend his voice to it. Oh wait, that’s not Clooney. That’s Sly Stallone as Joe the Lion. That monkey is obviously Adam Sandler. Well, no need in watching the rest of this. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy for me. My youngest daughter has wanted to see this for months. I contemplate jumping up and kicking hole in the screen, then explaining that I saw a bug. That’s too costly. Hey, I think I just heard Cher…and Faizon Love…and Nick Nolte? Yup, that’s Nolte. My daughter chuckles. I’m screwed.

Resigned to my fate, I wade through the muck. Like I said, everything that happens plot-wise is telegraphed from the last thirty rom-coms you watched. There is the occasional laugh. The scene involving Griffin, Bernie the gorilla (Nolte) and a trip to T. G. I. Friday’s is the most amusing scene. Even that’s only worth a few snickers. At least Rosario Dawson is always nice to look at. Still, ogling her whenever she’s on the screen isn’t nearly enough to save this dreck. Skip it if you can. If not, you have my condolences.

MY SCORE: 2.5/10