Mini Reviews (July 2006)
North Country, Old Men in New Cars, The Last Kiss, The Truth About Love, The Inheritance, Failure to Launch, Election, Dawg, The Third Wheel, 100 Mile Rule, The Perfect Score
North Country (July 2/06)
Based on a true story, North Country casts Charlize Theron as Josey Aimes - a working class woman who is faced with sexual harassment (and worse) after starting a job at a mine that's largely dominated by men. She consequently decides to sue the company, much to the chagrin of virtually everyone around her - including her son and father. While it's certainly possible that every single thing that transpires within North Country actually happened, there's simply no getting around the fact that Michael Seitzman's screenplay possesses all the complexity of a Lifetime movie-of-the-week. As such, the film is teeming with broad characterizations and sequences of a distinctly less-than-subtle nature - with the most egregious example of the latter no less than a variation on the infamous slow clap. As far as the characters go, the majority of the men in the picture are portrayed as such incredible scumbags - including her own father (!) - that one can't help but periodically roll their eyes at the man-hating bent of Seitzman's script (although, admittedly, it's entirely possible that everything happened exactly like this). Nevertheless, North Country generally remains surprisingly compelling - something that's due almost entirely to the uniformly superb performances. Theron's subtle yet powerful work is mirrored by her many costars, including Frances McDormand, Sean Bean, and Woody Harrelson, and there's little doubt that the movie would not come off even remotely as well as it ultimately does were it not for the effectiveness of the cast.
Old Men in New Cars (July 7/06)
From prolific Danish filmmaker Anders Thomas Jensen comes Old Men in New Cars, an entertaining and thoroughly bizarre dark comedy that's been infused with sporadic bursts of high-octane action. The story revolves around Harald (Kim Bodnia), a low-level thug who - along with bumbling underlings Martin (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) and Peter (Tomas Villum Jensen) - orchestrates an elaborate plot to free his mentor's son from prison following the revelation that said mentor is on his deathbed. Director Lasse Spang Olsen does an effective job of juggling the admittedly disparate elements within Jensen's screenplay, blending over-the-top action sequences with off-kilter instances of black humor. And as engaging and genuinely funny as some of this stuff is, the distinctly uneven tone ultimately prevents the film from becoming anything more than an art-house curiosity. That being said, the movie is often elevated by the superb performances (Jensen regular Kaas is particularly effective) and overall vibe of eccentricity.
The Last Kiss (July 8/06)
With its emphasis on several 20-something characters and their struggles to cope with their adult lives, The Last Kiss essentially comes off as a better acted, less trashy variation on a nighttime soap (think Melrose Place without the sleaziness). But writer/director Gabriele Muccino's decision to exclusively populate the film with truly unlikable figures ultimately makes it difficult to actually care about any of this. The surfeit of characters - including Carlo (Stafano Accorsi), a young man who begins to question his long-term relationship after meeting a high school student at a wedding - spend the entirety of the film's running time complaining and scheming, and because Muccino never spends more than a few minutes at a time on their individual stories, the viewer is unable to forge any kind of an emotional connection to these people. Muccino's distinctly over-the-top directorial choices provides momentary relief from the incessant griping, though there's just no getting around the fact that the majority of The Last Kiss is simply interminable.
The Truth About Love (July 9/06)
The Truth About Love is a predictable, thoroughly cliched romantic comedy that remains strangely uninvolving throughout its running time, despite the presence of personable actors such as Jennifer Love Hewitt and Dougray Scott. Hewitt stars as Alice Holbrook, a British career woman who believes that she's happily married to a lawyer named Sam (Jimi Mistry). But when her sister comes up with a plan to test Sam's fidelity, Alice is shocked to discover that her husband is far more prone to straying than she would have ever suspected. There's also a subplot revolving around Archie Gray (Scott), a close friend of the couple who's evidently been in love with Alice since he first met her. It becomes clear early on that Alice is destined to wind up with Archie, a vibe that's cemented by the revelation that Sam's essentially a scumbag (we learn that he's been carrying on with another woman for quite some time). And because Alice learns the truth about Sam at around the midway point, the majority of the film's latter half can't help but feel like padding (ie we're just waiting for Alice to realize that Archie is her soul mate). The inclusion of an admittedly romantic denouement kind of offsets the mediocrity of everything that's come prior, but there's simply no getting around the fact that there's absolutely nothing here we haven't seen countless time before.
The Inheritance (July 10/06)
Featuring a brilliant performance from star Ulrich Thomsen, The Inheritance is nevertheless the sort of film that one admires more than enjoys. Thomsen stars as Christoffer, a successful restaurateur who is essentially forced to abandon his comfortable lifestyle and return home after his father commits suicide. After assuming control of the family business, Christoffer attempts to carry on with his day-to-day routine as if nothing's happened - though it's not long before he comes to the realization that this is impossible. Director Per Fly infuses The Inheritance with a jittery, fly-on-the-wall (no pun intended) sensibility that perfectly matches the relentlessly downbeat material, and effectively allows the filmmaker to elicit some unusually strong performances from his actors. But despite a surfeit of positive attributes, the movie simply never becomes as compelling as one imagines it's meant to be - something that's due primarily to the egregiously deliberate pace Fly's hard-wired into the proceedings. There's a fair amount of obviousness within the screenplay - ie we just know that things are going to keep getting worse for this guy - which makes it difficult to maintain a keen level of interest throughout the movie's overlong running time. Yet there's absolutely no denying the effectiveness of Thomsen's heartbreaking performance; he deftly transforms this increasingly weak man into a figure worth pitying, particularly as the film inches closer and closer to its inevitable conclusion.
Failure to Launch (July 16/06)
Failure to Launch is yet another romantic comedy that's ultimately felled by the dreaded fake break-up, and although the device is used slightly better here than in other movies of this ilk (ie Wedding Crashers), one can't help but wish that Hollywood would just place a moratorium on this thing already. Matthew McConaughey stars as Tripp, a 35-year-old boat salesman who still lives at home with his mom (Kathy Bates) and dad (Terry Bradshaw). Paula (Sarah Jessica Parker) is a professional motivator who's hired by Tripp's parents to get him out of the house, though it doesn't take a genius to figure out that Paula is eventually going to fall for Tripp. As cute and engaging as McConaughey and Parker are, Failure to Launch is generally kept afloat thanks to the efforts of periphery players Bradley Cooper, Justin Bartha, and especially Zooey Deschanel. Director Tom Dey infuses the proceedings with an appropriately light touch, and although there are virtually no surprises to be had within Tom Astle and Matt Ember's screenplay, the whole thing generally remains an amiable and entertaining (albeit entirely forgettable) piece of work.
Election (July 17/06)
Election, based on the book by Tom Perrotta, casts Matthew Broderick as Jim McAllister, a high school teacher who finds himself at the center of a nationwide scandal after rigging an election in favor of a likeable jock (Chris Klein) over a relentless overachiever (Reese Witherspoon). Though it adopts a distinctly smug tone early on, Election eventually becomes a surprisingly compelling piece of work - something that's due in no small part to filmmaker Alexander Payne's confident, appropriately stylish directorial choices. Payne manages to maintain a vibe of authenticity despite the inclusion of some seriously absurd elements, a feeling that's cemented by the unnaturally effective performances (Broderick is especially good here). It's consequently not difficult to see why Election is now considered a classic high school comedy, although the presence of several decidedly adult themes (ie lesbianism, adultery, etc) ensures that viewers over a certain age will probably get a whole lot more out of the film than teens.
Dawg (July 24/06)
Dawg casts Denis Leary as Doug "Dawg" Munford, a lifelong womanizer who learns that his late grandmother has bequeathed to him a million dollars - with the sole proviso that he convince a handful of his conquests to forgive him. Said grandmother's attorney, an obsessive-compulsive sort named Anna Lockheart (Elizabeth Hurley), has been assigned the thankless task of ensuring that Doug doesn't cheat, and together the two learn valuable life lessons (ie Doug discovers that his callous behavior has had a distinctly negative effect on most of his would-be girlfriends). As expected, Doug's journey brings him face-to-face with a whole host of quirky characters - including a lady with over two dozen cats and the recent recipient of a sex change operation (the latter of whom is played by an actress who inexplicably isn't even pretending to be a man) - and there's no denying that, for a while, the movie coasts on the inherent charm of its two leads. But doldrums set in as Ken Hastings' script becomes more and more melodramatic as the film progresses, culminating in exceedingly heavy-handed tactics to ensure that Doug (and, by association, the viewer) truly understands the consequences of his actions. The inclusion of a thoroughly ludicrous twist ending doesn't help matters, and it's certainly not difficult to see why Dawg premiered on home video.
The Third Wheel (July 25/06)
It seems highly unlikely that The Third Wheel would even exist were it not for the considerable clout of Ben Affleck and Matt Damon (both of whom appear in and produced the film), as the movie generally comes off as an egregiously slight and thoroughly underwhelming piece of work. Luke Wilson stars as Stanley, a well-meaning office drone who finds himself completely obsessed with the new girl (Denise Richards). More than a year of lusting after her goes by until he finally gets the courage to ask her out, and the two schedule their date for that evening. But when Stanley accidentally hits a homeless guy (Jay Lacopo) with his car, the would-be couple must spend the rest of the night avoiding his increasingly bizarre advances. The Third Wheel benefits from Wilson and Richards' charming performances, though they're certainly not given a whole lot to work with; Lacopo's screenplay generally emphasizes silly bits of comedy and individual sequences that go absolutely nowhere (ie there's an entire subplot revolving around an office pool surrounding Stanley's date). And while it's never boring exactly, The Third Wheel often feels more like a second-rate sitcom than an actual movie.
100 Mile Rule (July 29/06)
100 Mile Rule casts Jake Weber as Bobby Davis, a well-meaning family man who finds himself caught up in a blackmail scheme after sleeping with a beautiful waitress (Maria Bello) while on a business trip. Along with his two colleagues (David Thornton and Michael McKean), Bobby tries to find a way out of the mess without resorting to violence - although, as expected, it's not long before things begin to spiral out of control. It's the sort of premise that's been employed in countless films throughout cinematic history, and yet screenwriter Drew Pillsbury manages to keep things interesting with various plot twists and an unexpected emphasis on comedy (dark bits of comedy, at that). And as effective as both Weber and Bello are, it's McKean that delivers the film's most engaging performance; the actor deftly sheds his wacky persona to become Bobby's jaded, thoroughly sleazy boss, a man who seems to have a solution for every problem. 100 Mile Rule's similarities to other films of this ilk is actually addressed in the script, as one of the characters attempts to find a way out of the situation by referring to like-themed movies (ie Very Bad Things). Though nobody will ever accuse 100 Mile Rule of reinventing the film noir genre, it's hard to really dislike a flick in which a beating is administered with a sack full of oranges.
The Perfect Score (July 31/06)
Squarely aimed at teens with little regard for anyone else, The Perfect Score follows a group of high school students as they devise and execute a plan to break into a secure facility to steal the SAT's master answer sheet. The makeshift cabal consists of archetypal, distinctly John Hugheseque stereotypes, including the pothead (Leonardo Nam), the overachiever (Erika Christensen), and the rebel (Scarlett Johansson). Directed by Brian Robbins, The Perfect Score is just as forgettable and lightweight as one might've imagined - a vibe that's compounded by the simplistic and overly obvious character arcs. The performances have a perfunctory feel to them, and one can't help but wonder what genuinely talented folks like Chris Evans and Johansson are doing here (real-life basketball star Darius Miles, on the other hand, is flat-out awful). The conclusion comes off as self-righteous and preachy, and only emphasizes The Perfect Score's emptiness.