Mini Reviews (January 2009)
Bride Wars, Beneath, The Spirit
Bride Wars (January 8/09)
Though one could certainly do far worse in terms of early January releases, Bride Wars nevertheless comes off as a hopelessly predictable comedy whose positive attributes are ultimately outweighed by its negatives. The storyline follows best friends Liv (Kate Hudson) and Emma (Anne Hathaway) as they viciously turn on one another after their respective weddings are scheduled for the same day at the Plaza, while Emma finds herself forced to confront the possibility that the man she's due to marry (Chris Pratt's Fletcher) might just be all wrong for her. It's a pretty tedious premise that's initially elevated by funny (yet entirely sitcom-like) bursts of comedy (ie Emma, well aware of Liv's penchant for nervously packing on the pounds, gifts her friend with a membership to the International Butter Club), with the central characters' increasingly mean-spirited antics effectively allaying the more overtly hackneyed elements within Greg DePaul, Casey Wilson, and June Diane Raphael's script. There inevitably does reach a point, however, at which the cruel pranks and one-liners (ie Liv to Emma: "Your wedding will be huge -- just like your ass at prom!") are forgotten in favor of melodramatic plot twists and confrontations, as the almost painfully sentimental third act panders to the viewer in a manner that's nothing short of shameless. Hudson and Hathaway's enthusiastic work is subsequently rendered moot, and Bride Wars cements its place as low-brow entertainment that's been geared exclusively towards indiscriminating chick-flick aficionados.
Beneath (January 24/09)
Though it kicks off with a relatively promising prologue, Beneath's few positive elements are ultimately rendered moot by an almost impossibly slow-moving narrative that's exacerbated by Nora Zehetner's woefully flat turn as the central character. The storyline follows Zehetner's Christy Wescot as she returns to her hometown six years after the horrific death of her older sister (Carly Pope's Vanessa), with the bulk of the movie devoted to Christy's investigation into Vanessa's mysterious demise. It's the fact-finding mission that Christy embarks on that inevitably spells Beneath's death knell, as screenwriters Kevin Burke and Dagen Merill have infused the majority of such sequences with a tedious, overly simplistic sensibility that becomes increasingly difficult to overlook. The attractive yet underwhelming cast effectively perpetuates the pseudo-WB vibe and ensures that the film's consistent efforts at transcending its low-budget, direct-to-video origins prove fruitless, with Burke and Merill's inability to transform Christy into a compelling figure certainly contributing heavily to Beneath's undeniable downfall (although it's impossible to discount the negative effect that Zehetner's astonishingly emotionless performance has on the proceedings). There's little doubt that the aforementioned opening stands as the one compelling interlude within an effort that's otherwise entirely lackluster, and it's finally impossible to envision even the target demographic of teenagers finding much worth embracing here.
The Spirit (January 29/09)
The Spirit, Frank Miller's solo attempt at replicating the success of Sin City, comes off as an unmitigated disaster virtually from its opening frames, as the movie's unpleasant visual sensibilities are exacerbated by Miller's relentless reliance on some of the hoariest cliches that the crime genre has to offer (ie there's even an angry captain, for crying out loud). The filmmaker's inability to engage the viewer on any level at any time proves instrumental in The Spirit's downfall, with the ceaseless tough-guy dialogue - as well as the mind-numbing, downright laughable narration (ie "My city, I cannot deny her. My city screams. She is my mother. She is my lover.") - lending the proceedings the feel of a third-rate film noir knockoff. The movie - which follows enigmatic superhero The Spirit (Gabriel Macht) as he battles a nefarious villain known as The Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson) - has been infused with paper-thin characters whose blandness is compounded by the almost uniformly ineffective performances, with the shamelessly over-the-top work of supporting actors Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, and Eva Mendes counterbalanced by Macht's flat, hopelessly uncharismatic turn as the mysterious title figure. There's little doubt, however, that The Spirit's most ostentatious failing lies in its garish visuals, as Miller's inability to tell an interesting story effectively heightens the inherently unappealing nature of the movie's look - thus proving that Robert Rodriguez surely deserves the bulk of kudos for Sin City's undeniable success (although, to be fair, Rodriguez himself would've been hard-pressed to breathe life into Miller's extraordinarily hackneyed screenplay). The end result is a cinematic experiment that's about as enthralling as a poorly-conceived student film, and it's subsequently impossible not to imagine (and wish) that it marks the end of Miller's directorial career.