Mini Reviews (September 2009)
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Messages Deleted, My Best Friend's Girl
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (September 24/09)
A typically frenetic actioner from Stephen Sommers, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra follows an elite group of commandoes - including Channing Tatum's Duke, Marlon Wayans' Ripcord, and Rachel Nichols' Scarlett - as they attempt to stop a nefarious arms dealer (Christopher Eccleston's Destro) from leveling several global cities. As expected, Sommers has infused G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra with a blistering pace that initially makes it easy enough to overlook the film's various deficiencies, as scripters Stuart Beattie, David Elliot, and Paul Lovett have infused the proceedings with a slick, downright superficial sensibility that's reflected in everything from the dialogue to the characters to the twists within the plot. The atmosphere of unapologetic cartoonishness is exacerbated by the almost eye-rolling overuse of computer-generated special effects, with the pervasive lack of reality ensuring that, more often than not, the experience of watching the movie is akin to the experience of watching somebody play a video game. And although Tatum delivers as hopelessly bland a performance as one might've anticipated, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra does boast impressive work from talented actors such as Dennis Quaid, Sienna Miller, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (with the latter's unabashedly over-the-top turn as a mad scientist ranking as one of the movie's most entertaining attributes). There inevitably reaches a point, however, at which Sommers' relentlessly broad modus operandi simply becomes too much to take, and the film slowly-but-surely morphs from an inoffensive time-waster to an interminable assault on the senses. The inclusion of a few better-than-expected action sequences - ie an impressive chase through the streets of Paris - ultimately ensures that G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra never entirely sinks to the level of Transformers-like incompetence, yet it's clear that movies of this ilk simply have no business running this long (ie 80 minutes at the max would be ideal).
Messages Deleted (September 25/09)
The third installment in Larry Cohen's telephone trilogy (following Phone Booth and Cellular), Messages Deleted follows struggling screenwriter Joel Brandt (Matthew Lillard) as he attempts to clear his name after he's implicated in a series of murders - with the various similarities to the deaths in one of his own scripts eventually convincing Joel that he's been targeted for revenge by someone with a serious axe to grind. It's a relatively promise premise that's consistently squandered by Cohen's surprisingly underwhelming screenplay, as the scripter's efforts at transforming the central character into a Hitchcockian everyman fall flat virtually from start to finish - as Joel's consistently suspicious behavior seems dictated by the increasingly difficult-to-swallow storyline (ie after noticing the parallels in his script, Joel doesn't immediately go to the police). Cohen's overuse of self-referential instances of dialogue, though initially kind of intriguing, eventually comes to wear out its welcome, and there does reach a point at which Messages Deleted effectively becomes just a little too slick and calculating for its own good. This is despite an unexpectedly strong turn from star Lillard and the inclusion of a few genuinely suspenseful sequences (ie Joel is forced to watch helplessly as a loved one is murdered), with the all-too-brief glimpses into what could have been only confirming the film's place as a disappointing missed opportunity.
My Best Friend's Girl (September 27/09)
Though it's probably the most entertaining of Dane Cook's star vehicles - which, given the presence of Employee of the Month and Good Luck Chuck within his filmography, isn't really saying much - My Best Friend's Girl ultimately falls prey to the melodramatic silliness that one has come to expect from the romantic comedy genre. There's little doubt, however, that the inevitable shift from big laughs to silly sentiment is far more jarring than usual, as screenwriter Jordan Cahan has packed the early part of the proceedings with an unapologetically raunchy sensibility that translates into a sporadically hilarious atmosphere. The movie - which casts Cook as a man whose job (he takes woman out on horrible dates so that they'll go rushing back to their ex-boyfriends) is threatened after he finds himself falling for a buddy's (Jason Biggs' Dustin) would-be girlfriend (Kate Hudson's Alexis) - consequently can't help but feel like a short that's been awkwardly expanded to feature length, with the fake break-up between Tank and Dustin (which comes at about the midway point) triggering the aforementioned switch from comedy to drama. With the exception of one admittedly funny interlude wherein Tank attempts to derail a wedding, My Best Friend's Girl's latter half primarily boasts the feel of a synthetic and dumbed-down movie-of-the-week that's been unapologetically geared towards the Harlequin crowd - with the emphasis on increasingly eye-rolling elements (ie a montage set to John Hiatt's "Have a Little Faith in Me") cementing the movie's place as a promising yet entirely misguided piece of work.