Sony Pictures' April '08 Releases
The Good Night (May 11/08)
Filmmaker Jake Paltrow's debut, The Good Night is a low-key yet consistently engaging effort that boasts several strong performances and an almost exhilaratingly innovative premise. Martin Freeman stars as Gary, a former pop star whose dull existence - he writes mindless jingles for commercials, his girlfriend (Gwyneth Paltrow's Dora) seems to hate him, etc - has forced him to take solace in his dreams (where he's fallen for Penelope Cruz's sultry Anna). Determined to make the most out of his time asleep, Gary begins investigating the concept of lucid dreaming and eventually enlists the help of a quirky expert within the field (Danny DeVito's Mel). There's little doubt that The Good Night's exceedingly laid-back, downright plotless structure does require a fair bit of patience from the viewer, though one ultimately can't help but be drawn into the film's admittedly off-the-wall sensibilities - as Paltrow effectively contrasts the exceedingly drab landscape of Gary's day-to-day life with a dreamworld that's almost Felliniesque in its look and feel. The authenticity with which Paltrow has infused the story's real-world elements surely plays a significant role in The Good Night's success, as it's virtually impossible not to sympathize with the central character's increasingly desperate need to escape from his drab reality (a vibe that's cemented by Freeman's believable and distinctly down-to-earth performance). And while there's no denying that the already-laid-back pace grows even slower as the movie enters its third act, The Good Night certainly benefits from an underlying emphasis on relatable themes like loneliness and alienation - with DeVito's Mel personifying the more self-reflective and melancholic elements within Paltrow's screenplay. The end result is an effort that marks the emergence of a genuinely talented new filmmaker, as the film's sporadically uneven tone ultimately proves easy enough to overlook.
Hero Wanted (May 12/08)
Though slightly better than the majority of its similarly-themed brethren, Hero Wanted inevitably comes off as yet another ineffective actioner that has direct-to-video written all over it. Director Brian Smrz - making his debut here - has infused the proceedings with a distinctly overblown sensibility that extends to virtually every aspect of the production, with the hopelessly ostentatious visual choices (ie rapid-fire editing, relentlessly swooping camerawork, etc) and eye-rollingly unconvincing dialogue surely standing out as the film's two most egregious failings. The time-shifting storyline - which follows Cuba Gooding Jr's Liam Case as he embarks on a campaign of revenge after a botched bank heist leaves a teller fighting for her life - admittedly does possess a fairly decent twist at around the one-hour mark, though it becomes increasingly difficult to embrace the movie's few positive attributes thanks to a pace that's almost oppressive in its deliberateness. There's ultimately little doubt that it's the rampantly silly vibe that cements Hero Wanted's downfall, however, and it certainly goes without saying that such talented performers as Gooding Jr, Ray Liotta, and Jean Smart are consequently left floundering.