To Rome With LoveThis year's annual Woody Allen movie sorta picks up where 2011's Midnight in Paris, his best movie in years, left off. It's once again set in a romantic European city overstuffed with history and camera-ready, on-location sets. It's populated by an ensemble of Woody-rhythmic actors, including Ellen Page, Jesse Eisenberg, and Alec Baldwin. And in its own way it's kind of a fantasy. But To Rome With Love tells four different stories, as Allen (who also stars) pans around the city in search of a theme. The stories don't always work: The one with Baldwin as an architect giving love advice to Eisenberg is mildly bittersweet; the one with Penélope Cruz as a hooker caught in a case of mistaken identity is sorta amusing. But the segment with Allen's retired opera director reignited by a guy who sings opera fabulously in the shower and the story starring Roberto Benigni as an ordinary Italian trapped in a faux-celebrity hell drag on. Part of To Rome With Love's problem is focus: Juggling four tales leaves Allen scattered. The other problem is that it's not very funny. Allen's movies always offer a few good scenes. This one has fewer options than usual. (R)(Michael Gallucci)
Magic Mike (R) — Director Steven Soderbergh doesn't make Magic Mike just about painfully sexy men. He also stuffs a plot, along with dollar bills of course, into the cast's G-strings. Mike (Channing Tatum) and "The Kid" (Alex Pettyfer), all chiseled abs and asses, star in an all-male revue in Tampa. Mike supports his newbie pal from that first trip to the thong shop to his mounting drug problems, while trying to reach his own dream of starting a handmade-furniture business. He even places his tips under a book to flatten them so he doesn't have to apply for loans with crinkled cash. The movie's raunchy but honest comedy offers a refreshing, role-reversed look at selling sex. (Tatum actually supported himself as a male stripper before turning to acting). Themes like coming of age and financial freedom manage to sneak into the strip club, but the movie never takes itself too seriously: The stage shows pair cheeky tunes like "It's Raining Men" with phallic props. Next step: Make this gem in 3D. (Christina Sterbenz)
People Like Us (PG-13) — In his directorial debut, Alex Kurtzman (who co-wrote Star Trek and Cowboys & Aliens) dials it down with a fairly conventional dysfunctional-family tale. But People Like Us is shot and edited with such jittery energy that it feels like a court-ordered sci-fi detox. Sam (Chris Pine) is a slick salesman whose buzz gets harshed by his father's death. When he learns his father left him $150K and instructions to deliver it to his heretofore-unknown half-sister Frankie (Elizabeth Banks), Sam begins stalking her and her troubled son in vaguely creepy, yet miraculously character-specific ways. Because Sam, for reasons unexplained, refuses to reveal his mission to Frankie, she interprets his interest in her as romantic. The movie looks great and feels lived-in, especially by Pine and Banks, who are so charismatic and innately intelligent that they can make almost any plot mechanism seem organic. Sam has a long road to haul if he wants respectability, and Pine makes him earn it. (Justin Strout)
Ted (R) — Ted is just one bong hit removed from last year's Paul, the movie about a foul-mouthed, pot-smoking alien who makes life hell for a pair of hapless fanboys. This time it's a foul-mouthed, pot-smoking teddy bear who makes life hell for his lifelong pal John (played by Mark Wahlberg, who really isn't cut out for comedy). The first feature directed and co-written by Seth MacFarlane (who also voices Ted) has a lot in common with MacFarlane's TV show Family Guy, especially when it comes to stretching jokes to their breaking points. It's also often hilarious. Years ago, young and friendless John makes a Christmas wish: He wants his new teddy bear to be real. And through some holiday magic, the toy comes to life, becomes a temporary celebrity, and, 25 years later, hangs around John's apartment all day watching bad movies and getting high ... until John's girlfriend (a very game Mila Kunis) thinks it's time for Ted to live on his own. Funny, offensive, stupid, and sentimental, Ted bears all of MacFarlane's hallmarks, complete with gay jokes, racist jokes, dick jokes, and fart jokes. You know what you're getting with this one. (Gallucci)
Safety Not Guaranteed (R) — Fresh out of story ideas for their next issue, a Seattle magazine decides to investigate a mysterious classified ad seeking a partner for time travel. Jumping at the chance to escape the bitch-work of her internship, Darius (Aubrey Plaza) joins her man-child boss and another intern to a beachfront town to track down the weirdo who placed the ad. Their search leads to Kenneth (Mark Duplass), a socially awkward grocery clerk who not only believes that he can time travel, but also that he's being followed by government spooks. The movie's plot isn't always as strong as the characters, especially Plaza's Darius, who makes giant steps for angry girlkind by showing that cynical bitches have hearts too. A refreshing change of pace from summer's usual overcooked blockbusters, the decidedly more quiet Safety Not Guaranteed is odd, funny, and kinda sweet. (Julia Eberle)
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