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Mini Reviews (March 2010)

The Crazies, Falling Awake, Couples Retreat, She's Out of My League, Repo Men, Hot Tub Time Machine, Clash of the Titans

The Crazies (March 1/10)

Though an obvious improvement over George A. Romero's hopelessly unwatchable original, The Crazies nevertheless comes off as a pervasively tedious piece of work that does boast a few admittedly thrilling sequences - yet the effectiveness of such moments is invariably hindered by director Breck Eisner's aggravating reliance on shaky camerawork. The movie follows a quartet of protagonists (Timothy Olyphant's David, Radha Mitchell's Judy, Joe Anderson's Russell, and Danielle Panabaker's Becca) as they're forced to fend for their lives after a deadly toxin transforms their friends and neighbors into zombie-type monsters, with the bulk of the proceedings subsequently detailing the foursome's efforts at battling both the blood-thirsty creatures and the progressively destructive military force that's cordoned off the town. The Crazies' failure is especially disappointing given the uniformly impressive performances and the inclusion of several admittedly fantastic stand-alone sequences, with the frightening interlude that kicks off the proceedings - in which a shotgun-toting farmer wanders onto a baseball field during a baseball game - all but promising a fun, fast-paced horror-movie ride. Eisner's decision to punctuate virtually all of the film's action-oriented moments with entirely needless (and thoroughly distracting) camera tricks ultimately proves disastrous, however, as the aggressively jittery atmosphere effectively prevents the viewer from working up any real enthusiasm or interest in the heroes' increasingly perilous plight. This is despite the fact that the movie does improve substantially as it goes along, with the impressively bleak third act almost compensating for the less-than-enthralling nature of that which preceded it (almost, but not quite). The final result is a curiously uninvolving misfire that undoubtedly would've been better served with a more talented filmmaker behind the camera, as the relatively tedious storyline could've easily been forgiven had the visuals not been so consistently unappealing.

out of

Falling Awake (March 3/10)

Though it's been saddled with a decidedly hackneyed storyline, Falling Awake nevertheless establishes itself as an affable (yet thoroughly uneven) piece of work that benefits substantially from Andrew Cisneros' tremendously appealing turn as the film's protagonist. The movie follows aspiring musician Jay (Cisneros) as he attempts to overcome his wrong-side-of-the-tracks existence after meeting (and falling for) a beautiful career woman (Jenna Dewan's Alessandra), with problems ensuing as Jay is reluctantly dragged into an escalating turf war by his less-then-reputable buddies. Director Agustin - working from a script cowritten with Doug Klozzner and Michael Baez - does a nice job of establishing the gritty Brooklyn neighborhood within which the central character resides, and it subsequently goes without saying that the relative authenticity of Jay's encounters with his friends and family members proves instrumental in initially capturing the viewer's interest. There's little doubt, however, that Falling Awake's most enthralling attribute is the sweet romance that inevitably crops up between Jay and Alessandra, with Cisneros and Dewan's palpable chemistry together ensuring that the film is at its best when focused on their (admittedly idealized) exploits. It's only as the movie passes the one-hour mark that one's interest begins to wane, as Agustin lamentably starts throwing in a whole host of almost unreasonably melodramatic and overwrought narrative developments that serve no real purpose other than to pad out the running time - with the rather tedious subplot involving Jay's PTSD-afflicted brother (Nicholas Gonzalez's Eddie) certainly the most obvious example of this. The ineffectiveness of Falling Awake's latter half can't quite diminish the easy-going charm of that which preceded it, with the end result a well-intentioned endeavor that could've used a few more passes in the editing room.

out of

Couples Retreat (March 14/10)

Peter Billingsley's directorial debut, Couples Retreat follows four couples (Vince Vaughn's Dave and Malin Akerman's Ronnie, Jon Favreau's Joey and Kristin Davis' Lucy, Jason Bateman's Jason and Kristen Bell's Cynthia, and Faizon Love's Shane and Kali Hawk's Trudy) as they embark on a week-long vacation at an exclusive tropical resort called Eden - with trouble ensuing as the eight characters are forced to participate in a series of mandatory therapy sessions. It's a relatively promising premise that's employed to consistently underwhelming effect, as Billingsley places an ongoing emphasis on aggressively unfunny comedic set-pieces that effectively wreak havoc on the film's momentum. The pervasive lack of laughs within such moments (ie Dave freaks out while a harmless shark circles his raft, the gang engages in a sexually-suggestive yoga session, etc) ensures that Couples Retreat's few overtly positive attributes are rendered moot, with the affable performances the most obvious victim of the movie's thoroughly misguided sensibilities (which is a shame, really, given that most of the actors are as likable and charismatic here as one might've anticipated). This is to say nothing of the eye-rollingly predictable nature of the individual storylines, as screenwriters Favreau, Vaughn, and Dana Fox trot out a host of almost unreasonably cliched elements that would be unwelcome on even the hackiest of sitcoms. The sluggish pace and hopelessly overlong running time cement Couples Retreat's place as an utterly incompetent comedic affair, and it goes without saying that the movie pales in comparison to Vaughn and Favreau's earlier collaborations.

out of

She's Out of My League (March 21/10)

Good-natured yet forgettable, She's Out of My League follows average guy Kirk Kettner (Jay Baruchel) as he attempts to cope with the realization that a beautiful woman (Alice Eve's Molly) is genuinely interested in him - with his efforts at pursuing an actual relationship with her inevitably complicated by a series of outside factors (as well by his own crushing self-doubt). Director Jim Field Smith - working from Sean Anders and John Morris' screenplay - effectively draws the viewer into the proceedings right from the get-go by stresses the exploits of Kirk and his expectedly off-the-wall friends, with their easy-going banter effectively establishing a lighthearted vibe that proves impossible to resist. It's equally clear that the palpable chemistry between Baruchel and Eve goes a long way towards perpetuating the movie's immensely affable atmosphere, while the eclectic collection of periphery performers, which includes Nate Torrence, Kyle Bornheimer, and Krysten Ritter, provide solid, frequently hilarious support - although, admittedly, their collectively charismatic work is periodically diminished by Anders and Morris' reliance on needlessly puerile jokes and gags (ie Torrence's character helpfully offers to trim Kirk's pubic region). It's only as Anders and Morris place an increasingly prominent emphasis on various romcom conventions that one's interest begins to dwindle, as the scripters have peppered the final half hour with a number of undeniably eye-rolling elements - including two (!) fake break-ups and a race to the airport (yet, to be fair, the latter is handled quite well and ultimately injects the movie with a much-needed jolt of energy). Despite such concerns, however, She's Out of My League has been suffused with an irresistibly amiable feel that basically compensates for its myriad of deficiencies.

out of

Repo Man (March 28/10)

Set within an undetermined future, Repo Men follows a body-part repossession agent (Jude Law's Remy) as he's forced to go on the run after he finds himself unable to pay for his own artificial organ - with the bulk of the proceedings detailing Remy's efforts at dodging pursuer (and former partner) Jake (Forest Whitaker). It's a relatively intriguing premise that's employed to almost aggressively underwhelming effect in the film's opening half hour, as scripters Eric Garcia and Garrett Lerner place a pervasive emphasis on elements of a decidedly hackneyed nature - with the rather tedious trajectory of Remy's character arc proving instrumental at initially holding the viewer at arm's length (and was the bitchy ex-wife really necessary?) There's little doubt, however, that the movie does improve substantially once Remy and his scrappy love interest (Alice Braga's Beth) are forced to go on the run, with the inclusion of several admittedly enthralling suspense-oriented sequences effectively resuscitating one's dwindling interest (ie a surprisingly tense interlude in which Remy and Beth attempt to make their way through airport security). By the time the unapologetically over-the-top (and thoroughly entertaining) third act rolls around - with a gloriously violent, Oldboy-inspired segment, wherein Remy takes on a hallway full of goons armed with a multitude of low-tech weapons (including, of course, a hammer), effectively justifying the film's entire existence - Repo Men has cemented its place as a frustratingly uneven yet sporadically electrifying sci-fi thriller (and this is to say nothing of the impressively out-there twist ending).

out of

Hot Tub Time Machine (March 29/10)

A serious disappointment, Hot Tub Time Machine is ultimately (and consistently) unable to live up to its irresistibly irreverent premise - with the end result a tedious comedy that seriously overstays its welcome. The movie follows four friends (John Cusack's Adam, Clark Duke's Jacob, Craig Robinson's Nick, and Rob Corddry's Lou) as they inadvertently travel back in time to 1986 after stepping into the titular contraption, with their initial efforts at maintaining the original timeline's continuity eventually trumped by their desire to take advantage of their circumstances. There's little doubt that Hot Tub Time Machine's failure is due primarily to its frustrating lack of laughs, as screenwriters Josh Heald, Sean Anders, and John Morris place an ongoing emphasis on jokes and comedic interludes of a hopelessly unfunny and downright desperate nature - with the only real exception to this an amusing running gag involving a one-armed bellboy (Crispin Glover's Phil). The film's problems are exacerbated by the scripters' refusal (or inability) to effectively exploit the time-travel-centric premise, and it subsequently becomes increasingly difficult to work up any enthusiasm for the central characters' continuing exploits (ie there's nothing here we haven't seen countless times before in the post-Apatow male bonding comedies that have been cropping up all-too-frequently as of late). And although the affable cast tries their hardest to infuse the proceedings with much-needed jolts of energy, Hot Tub Time Machine primarily comes off as a flat, hopelessly tired romp that's unlikely to pass muster with even the most easy-going of moviegoers.

out of

Clash of the Titans (March 30/10)

Though it's not terribly difficult to see why Clash of the Titans has become something of a cult item over the years (one word: Bubo), there's little doubt that the film suffers from a pervasively uneven vibe that ultimately wreaks havoc on its momentum. The movie casts Harry Hamlin as Perseus, a demigod who embarks on a perilous quest to prevent his betrothed (Judi Bowker's Andromeda) from being sacrificed to a mystical (and deadly) sea creature known as the Kraken. It's worth noting that Perseus doesn't actually head out to defeat the Krakan until around the halfway mark, with the utter failure of everything leading up to that point resulting in an as unwatchable an opening half hour as one could envision. The stiff, overly theatrical performances are exacerbated by the film's chintzy sets, low-rent special effects, and laughably on-the-nose instances of dialogue, and one could easily be forgiven for initially labeling Clash of the Titans a disaster of Ed Woodian proportions. It's not until the focus shifts to to Perseus' episodic adventures - ie he battles several overgrown scorpions, he attempts to chop off Medusa's head, etc - that the movie improves to a fairly demonstrable degree, yet the pervasively low-rent atmosphere ultimately ensures that even this portion of the proceedings is unable to make an overtly positive impact on the viewer - thus cementing Clash of the Titans' place as a camp-infused fantasy flick that will probably work best among younger viewers and those with fond memories of its original theatrical release.

out of

© David Nusair