Mini Reviews (June 2010)
She's out of Control, Just Wright, Marmaduke, Jonah Hex, Seventh Moon
She's out of Control (June 4/10)
As dated as an '80s music video, She's out of Control follows radio-station executive Doug Simpson (Tony Danza) as he attempts to cope with his dorky daughter's (Ami Dolenz's Katie) overnight transformation from a studious bookworm into a gorgeous young woman. She's out of Control has been hard-wired with a sitcom-like feel that's reflected in virtually all of its attributes, as director Stan Dragoti - working from Seth Winston and Michael J. Nathanson's script - places an ongoing emphasis on the various characters' episodic exploits (ie Doug and Katie head out to the beach, Doug and Katie's boyfriend participate in a drag race, etc). This wouldn't be quite so problematic were any of this even remotely funny, yet despite the efforts of an exceedingly affable cast, there are few genuine laughs to be had within the film's progressively sluggish running time. It's also worth noting that She's out of Control suffers from a decidedly oddball premise that only grows more perverse as the storyline unfolds, with the movie ultimately revolving around Doug's increasingly dogged efforts at guarding his daughter's virginity (!) Still, She's out of Control is basically watchable from start to finish and it's impossible not to get a kick out of Matthew Perry's brief but memorable turn as a would-be rapist.
Just Wright (June 6/10)
Just Wright casts Queen Latifah as Leslie Wright, an outgoing physical therapist who is forced to watch helplessly as the man of her dreams (Common's Scott McKnight) falls for her beautiful cousin (Paula Patton's Morgan) - though Leslie is eventually afforded the opportunity to get closer to Scott after he injures his knee and enlists her help during his recovery process. It's the sort of premise that should have by all rights resulted in a typically underwhelming romcom, yet director Sanaa Hamri and screenwriter Michael Elliot confound the viewer's expectations on an impressively consistent basis. The film's better-than-average atmosphere is established early on, as Leslie and Scott initially encounter one another in what is undoubtedly the best "meet cute" to come around in quite some time. Hamri's lighthearted sensibilities are heightened by the uniformly engaging efforts of the movie's cast, with Latifah's remarkably likeable performance ensuring that her character becomes a seriously sympathetic figure - which certainly plays an instrumental role in cementing the appealing nature of Leslie's friendship-turned-coupling with Common's Scott. Having said that, Just Wright does suffer from a melodramatic third act that ultimately diminishes its overall effectiveness - as there reaches a point at which the movie could naturally conclude and yet Elliot needlessly keeps things going by emphasizing the very romcom cliches he had previously eschewed (ie the fake break-up, the race to a loved one, etc). It's nevertheless impossible to label Just Wright as anything other than a superior romantic comedy, with the incredibly satisfying conclusion basically compensating for the redundant stretch that precedes it.
Marmaduke (June 18/10)
Based on the long-running comic strip, Marmaduke follows the destructive exploits of the title character (voiced by Owen Wilson), an enormous Great Dane, as he moves with his family from Kansas to Los Angeles. It's ultimately difficult to recall a mainstream film that has been so shamelessly (and lazily) geared solely towards very small children, as the movie - which seems to have emerged directly from a template for innocuous family fare - suffers from an overflow of hackneyed plot twists and characterizations that are exacerbated the decidedly underwhelming nature of Tom Dey's directorial choices (ie a record scratch? Really?) There's never a point at which Dey (along with screenwriters Tim Rasmussen and Vince Di Meglio) is able to even partially capture the interest or attention of older viewers, with the pervasive atmosphere of silliness ensuring that Marmaduke wears out its welcome virtually before the opening credits have finished unspooling. This is despite the presence of several genuinely talented performers within the film's live-action cast, as folks like Lee Pace, Judy Greer, and William H. Macy (!) are saddled with hopelessly one-dimensional characters and asked to do little aside from react in horror to Marmaduke's ongoing shenanigans. And although the movie has been peppered with a few reasonably clever bits here and there - ie an amusing Almost Famous reference - Marmaduke primarily comes off as a bottom-of-the-barrel family film that's as devoid of positive attributes as one might've anticipated.
Jonah Hex (June 19/10)
Based on the cult DC comics character, Jonah Hex follows the titular protagonist (Josh Brolin), a Civil War-era soldier turned disfigured bounty hunter, as he embarks upon a campaign of revenge against the man (John Malkovich's Quentin Turnbull) responsible for the deaths of his wife and son. There's little doubt that Jonah Hex fares best in its opening half hour, as director Jimmy Hayword's tongue-in-cheek visual sensibilities prove an effective complement to Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor's gleefully off-the-wall screenplay (ie Hex dispatches several armed antagonists with a pair of machine-gun turrets strapped to his horse). Brolin's entertainingly grizzled work as the central character certainly perpetuates the movie's hard-bitten atmosphere, with the actor's consistently compelling performance matched by an impressively star-studded supporting cast (ie Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Will Arnett, Wes Bentley, etc). It's only as Jonah Hex enters its increasingly convoluted midsection that the viewer's interest begins to falter, as Neveldine and Taylor bog the proceedings down with a whole host of oddball periphery elements that essentially wreak havoc on the movie's momentum (ie the film's setup seems to promise a revenge-fueled thriller, yet this aspect of the narrative falls by the wayside as the emphasis is instead placed on an assortment of steampunk-oriented elements). The decidedly underwhelming finale ensures that the movie ends on as anticlimactic a note as one could've envisioned, and it's ultimately impossible to label Jonah Hex as anything more than a seriously uneven missed opportunity (and this is to say nothing of the aggressively obnoxious rock-infused score).
Seventh Moon (June 25/10)
Seventh Moon details the chaos that ensues after honeymooning couple Yul (Tim Chiou) and Melissa (Amy Smart) are attacked by blood-thirsty demons in the Chinese countryside, with the bulk of the film subsequently following the bickering pair as they attempt to make their way to safety. There's little doubt that Seventh Moon is at its best in its opening half hour, as filmmaker Eduardo Sanchez cultivates an atmosphere of palpable (and mounting) dread that's initially perpetuated by the documentary-like visuals. It's only as the movie progresses into its increasingly uneventful midsection - which seems to consist primarily of Yul and Melissa's efforts at either hiding or running away from their pursuers - that the viewer's interest level drops significantly, with the rather tedious vibe compounded by Sanchez's infuriating reliance on jittery camerawork. The shaky-cam aesthetic, coupled with the film's pervasive darkness, ensures that most action-oriented moments are rendered hopelessly unintelligible, with the most obvious example of this a sequence in which the protagonists come under attack while inside their car (ie it's an incoherent mess of screams and close-ups). And although there are a few admittedly spooky interludes sprinkled here and there - ie Melissa enters the demons' underground lair armed with only the light from her cell phone - Seventh Moon ultimately comes off as a missed opportunity that squanders the relatively promising nature of its setup.