Film Capsules


Get Him to the Greek See feature in this issue.

The Killers Jen (Katherine Heigl) is on a trip to France with her parents (Tom Selleck and Catherine O’Hara) when she meets Spencer Aimes (Ashton Kutcher) on the hotel elevator. Shirtless and ripped, the guy isn’t ashamed to show off his fabulous abs, and Jen falls for him. Quickly. It’s not long before they’re having romantic picnics on the beach and taking long drives on coastal highways. Jen doesn’t know it, but Spencer is a hit man. He wants out of the game, however, and tells his boss he’s quitting so that he can lead a normal life with Jen. His boss doesn’t like it, but he acquiesces. Fast forward three years and Spencer and Jen are happily married, living the suburban dream in a quiet residential community. But when one of their houseguests unexpectedly turns on Spencer and tries to kill him, Spencer realizes there’s a bounty on his head. He goes back to his hit man ways, pulling his small arsenal of automatic weapons out from the attic as he and Jen begin to suspect even the most innocent of their neighbors. While the film’s premise isn’t a bad one, it takes far too long for it to get rolling. And Kutcher and Heigl just don’t click. Kutcher never seems like he’s truly in character (you keep expecting him to tell Jen she’s just been “punk’d”), and Heigl tries too hard to be glamorous (she changes her hairstyle countless times in the film). ** (Jeff Niesel)

Marmaduke The one-joke newspaper comic Marmaduke, about a willful Great Dane and his beleaguered family, has been lampooned many times in its 56-year history, most recently in the “Comics Curmudgeon” blog, which imagines Marmaduke as a bloodthirsty hellhound — a much funnier concept than the one employed by Tim Rasmussen and his co-screenwriters, who portray Marmaduke is an insecure teenager. The movie is a stale collection of bad puns (“I’ve got a new leash on life!”), dated slang (“Who let the dogs out?”) and doggy fart jokes, guided by a firm belief that dogs are more interesting when made, through digital manipulation, to speak like juvenile hipsters. The story has the Winslow family moving from Kansas to California, where dad Phil (Lee Pace), hires on with an organic pet-food company. Maladjusted Marmaduke finds himself competing for status among the denizens of the dog park, whose social strata are defined by bullies and pedigree-dominated cliques. The voice actors, including Owen Wilson as Marmaduke, George Lopez as his cat sidekick, Kiefer Sutherland as a thuggish “alpha dog” and Emma Stone as a lovelorn mutt, bring a certain charm, but the screenplay, even by kiddie-movie standards, is exceedingly witless, and the human actors, given very little to do, are trampled entirely by the dogs. * 1/2 (Pamela Zoslov)

Splice Splice’s two lead characters, Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley), are married genetic engineers who care more about their jobs than each other. They’re putting in long hours trying to splice different animals’ DNA to create new hybrids. At first, they make a couple of mutant animal creatures they hope will keep their business-oriented boss off their backs. But Clive and Elsa’s goals are much loftier than those of the pharmaceutical company they work for: They want to splice human DNA, which their peers consider unethical. After they create Dren (Delphine Chanéac) out of human and animal DNA, they must keep her away from their prying coworkers. At first they hide Dren in the basement, but after the four-fingered fiend begins to resemble a young girl, they relocate her to the farmhouse where Elsa grew up. Evoking Alien and other old school sci-fi and horror films (the main characters’ names reference Bride of Frankenstein’s stars), Splice is downright creepy. (The mutant creature looks so bizarre, you can understand why fright-flick auteur Guillermo Del Toro jumped on board as a producer.) And because the movie doesn’t rely too heavily on digital graphics, the monster really does look part human. *** (Niesel)

In Theaters

Babies Digitally shot over two years, this movie follows four families — from mother's late pregnancy through baby's first year. We're introduced to Ponijaio from Namibia, Bayar from Mongolia, Mari from Tokyo, and Hattie from San Francisco. The babies do the things universal to child development — nursing, crawling, laughing, harassing surprisingly tolerant pets — but in vastly different settings. The Mongolian baby watches with mild interest as a rooster hops onto its bed; the American child bobs with her mother in a hot tub. The attractive cinematography caresses the plains of Namibia, where Ponijaio's mother and sister, members of the Himba tribe in loincloths and elaborately braided hair, mind the children with laissez-faire tolerance while the men are away raising cattle. The movie captures tribal rituals, like the shaving of the baby's head with a sharp knife and washing him with a mixture of red-earth pigment and oil, without providing explanation. The film's basic idea is lovely, but unembellished baby footage is not reliably theatrical. Even over its short 79-minute running time, the movie becomes almost as wearisome as your neighbor's home videos. ** 1/2 (Pamela Zoslov)

The Back-up Plan For pet-shop owner Zoe (Jennifer Lopez), a "back-up plan" means having a baby even if she's not in a relationship. The Back-up Plan opens with Zoe in stirrups preparing to be artificially inseminated. Then she meets good-looking Stan (Alex O'Loughlin) on her way home from the doctor when they try to grab the same cab. And predictably the two fall in love. But when things get hot and heavy on a weekend getaway, Zoe has to tell Stan that she's pregnant with a mystery man's baby. Of course, Stan freaks out and the rest of this romantic comedy is about how they must learn to trust each other. Yawn. Looking particularly fit at 40, Lopez is as attractive as ever. And O'Loughlin has a shirtless sequence that suggests he's no slouch either. But the two have zero chemistry, and the film hits a real lull after they start dating. The movie features several subplots (Zoe joins the wacko group "Single Mothers and Proud") that don't go anywhere. This isn't the worst movie J. Lo has ever made, but it hardly qualifies as a comeback. ** (Niesel)

City Island This movie is named for a small nautical community located just beyond the Bronx, where Vince Rizzo (Andy Garcia), a prison guard and aspiring actor, lives with his family. Everyone is hiding a secret — ranging from the trivial (smoking) to the shocking (a secret love child). All secrets come to the surface after Vince brings home Tony (Steven Strait), a recently paroled car thief. Amusingly, Tony is the most innocent member of the motley family, which includes smart-mouthed teen Vince Jr. (Ezra Miller), who's privately obsessed with fat girls; daughter Vivian (Dominik Garcia-Lorido), secretly working as a stripper; and Vince, who hides the fact that he's taking an acting class, where he befriends Molly (adorable Emily Mortimer), leading his hard-edged wife Joyce (Julianna Marguiles) to suspect he's being unfaithful. It scarcely matters that not every story element is entirely believable (the handsome Garcia as a working-class schlub, for one), because writer and director Raymond De Felitta's screenplay is sensitive, sweet, and often poetic, and the performances are just about perfect. *** 1/2 (Zoslov)

Clash of the Titans Like a clunky old classic car, the analog 1981 Clash of the Titans is still more fun than this remake. The plot is the quest of fashionably glum hero Perseus (Sam Worthington) to hack his way through a bunch of Todd McFarlane-style monsters to find out how to defeat Lord of the Underworld Hades (Ralph Fiennes) and his gigantic ultimate-weapon creature, the Kraken. The twist is that the ancient Aegeans have evidently been reading evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, and the recurring theme is man's revolt and rejection of the capricious gods -- even more-or-less benevolent creator Zeus (Liam Neeson). Half-god son of the lusty Zeus, Perseus suppresses his Olympian superpowers most of the time. Even so, the likely audience for this is Gamepro subscribers, with CGI-frantic action scenes that look like cut-and-pastes from Pirates of the Caribbean. ** 1/2 (Charles Cassady Jr.)

Date Night Directed by Shawn Levy, this likable comedy has a lot of the right stuff: the ingenious pairing of Tina Fey and Steve Carell as a married couple from New Jersey; a fairly funny screenplay by Josh Klausner; and a delightful supporting cast featuring Mark Ruffalo, Kristen Wiig, James Franco, Mila Kunis, and Mark Wahlberg. The story centers on Phil and Claire Foster (Carell and Fey), a tax lawyer and his realtor wife who are bored with their workaday lives. Even their occasional "date night" has become routine, so they try to recapture some excitement with dinner at an overpriced Manhattan bistro. They steal another couple's reservation, which plunges them into a perilous misadventure involving rogue cops, blackmail, and a corrupt D.A. The fluid rapport between the leads (sexy-smart Fey and diffident semi-nerd Carell) is the movie's most appealing element. They're jokey, affectionate and irritable -- just like a real couple. There are as many misses as hits, and the action plot, climaxed by a high-decibel car chase, at times threatens to overwhelm the humor. But the movie offers a high quotient of laughs. Be sure to stay for the closing-credits outtakes. *** (Zoslov)

Death at a Funeral After his ill-fated Wicker Man revision, once cutting-edge filmmaker Neil LaBute remakes another British property, and the good news is that humor here is intentional. It's a so-so Americanization of 2007's Death at a Funeral, an ensemble farce of escalating disaster and humiliation at an upscale funeral held in a plush home, in which the wrong corpse delivered at the outset is the least that goes wrong. Following the Frank Oz original nearly scene for scene, this has a largely black cast — Chris Rock as an eldest son staging the affair, suffering sibling competition from his hotshot novelist brother (Martin Lawrence), as well as the blackmail demands of a gay dwarf (Peter Dinklage, repeating his 2007 role), secret lover of the deceased. There's also a loose-cannon container of designer drugs making folks hallucinate, nasty old Uncle Russell (Danny Glover), and bare-ass nudity and projectile-excrement gags (fortunately not at the same time). Rock and Lawrence play off each other well, though the movie paradoxically goes out of its way to be colorblind in its interaction of black and white characters. More acknowledgment of the race change might have lent some extra juice. ** 1/2 (Cassady)

Furry Vengeance Brendan Fraser plays Dan Sanders, a nature-loving executive for a supposedly "eco-friendly" development company. Dan has moved his reluctant family — schoolteacher wife Tammy (Brooke Shields) and sulky cyber-junkie teenage son Tyler (Matt Prokop) — from Chicago to the Oregon wilderness to live in a model home for a new subdivision. Headed by a raccoon, the animals learn of the company's plan to build on their forest, and they launch an all-out war against Dan. The creatures' assault garners less sympathy than it should because Dan is really a nice fellow who is goaded by his sleazy boss (Ken Jeong) into replacing the forest with a shopping mall. As the animals wreak escalating havoc on Dan, forcing him into embarrassing situations, his strange behavior alarms his family and co-workers. Fraser and Shields acquit themselves gracefully amid the movie's impossibly silly slapstick. ** (Zoslov)

How to Train Your Dragon At a time when 3-D/CGI 'toons are not only ubiquitous but virtually inescapable, How to Train Your Dragon, the latest release from DreamWorks' animation house is actually pretty decent Saturday matinee fare. Directed by Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois — the team responsible for Disney's underrated Lilo and Stitch — this boy-and-his-dragon charmer is great-looking and mercilessly bereft of the snarky attitude that makes so many "all-ages friendly" entertainments an endurance test for anyone over the age of 10. Inspired by Cressida Cowell's eight-volume kid-lit series, it tells a classically structured adventure story in expedient fashion and uses its 3-D imagery judiciously, minus the usual cheap carny tricks. Jay Baruchel (She's Out of My League) provides the voice for Hiccup, the nerdy Viking teenager who adopts an injured dragon named Toothless, becomes an accidental hero and earns his alpha-male father's respect in the process. The insufferable Gerard Butler — using his authentic Scottish burr instead of his fingernails-on-a-blackboard "American" accent — voices Hiccup's dad, and he is relatively easy to take for a change. Nobody's reinventing the wheel here, but you could do a lot worse. *** (Paurich)

Iron Man 2 The first Iron Man was the first big superhero movie powered entirely on pure, stupid joy. Unlike the same summer's The Dark Knight, Iron Man slapped a bam!-pow! aesthetic on top of a dumb-ass story and stumbled on a compromise between dim-witted and terrific. Iron Man 2 — made by the same director as the first, Jon Favreau, and once again starring Robert Downey Jr. as arms industrialist Tony Stark/Iron Man — is more of the same. A lot more. With so many subplots, it's hard to keep it all straight. There's finally peace on Earth (which Stark takes credit for), but the military wants the Iron Man suit so it can make weapons based on its revolutionary technology. On the other side of the world, enraged Russian Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke, in a typically batshit performance) also has his eyes on it. There are some knockout sequences — one at the Grand Prix is a stunning mix of action and malice — but so much of the movie tries to outdo its predecessor that it ends up bigger and dumber. Iron Man 2 is all about the big bang. If all of the commercials — pushing soda, candy bars, hamburgers, and cars — showing up on TV dozens of times per hour over the past few weeks hasn't beaten it into your head already, the movie is mostly concerned with blasting everything around you, including your senses and intelligence. ** 1/2 (Michael Gallucci)

Just Wright Physical therapist Leslie Wright (Queen Latifah) has a chance encounter with New Jersey Nets point guard Scott McKnight (Common), who invites her to his birthday party. She accepts, but figures she has no chance with the ballplayer. "I date regular guys," she tells her best friend Morgan (Paula Patton), who goes to the party with her. Soon, Scott and Morgan are dating, and it's not long before she's living in his midtown New York mansion. "We plan to start a family right away," Morgan tells Leslie, even though they've been going out for only three months. A notorious gold digger, Morgan admits she went after Scott "for all the wrong reasons" at first, but claims he won over her heart. After Scott blows out his knee during the All-Star Game, he has to start working with a physical therapist. Thinking that Scott's career is over, Morgan dumps him. Leslie takes over his therapy and promises to get him back on the court, even though sports analysts say his career is over. Of course, Scott and Leslie fall in love, but things get complicated when Morgan comes back into his life. Latifah is terrific as the good-natured Leslie, and rapper Common is a convincing ballplayer, but the two don't have much chemistry, and their romance takes way too long to develop. The film's constant string of montages doesn't help matters. Not cute enough for a chick flick, and too cute to be a bona fide sports drama, Just Wright quickly fouls out. ** (Niesel)

Kick-Ass You'd think by now someone would have been impressionable enough to attempt to emulate Superman in real life. What would happen if they did? Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) decides to find out by donning a green wetsuit and christening himself Kick-Ass. Unknown to Dave, he's not the only one playing dress-up. Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and his 11-year-old daughter, Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz), are playing for keeps too. They've got an arsenal that would make Rambo jealous, and they intend to use it to bring down crime boss Frank D'Amico (Mark Strong). Also getting in on the costume party is D'Amico's son Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), who goes by the name Red Mist. At times, Kick-Ass almost feels like a supporting player in his own movie, but that's fine because there's such a strong ensemble cast here. Moretz damn near steals the movie as Hit Girl, and in Big Daddy, Cage has found another role as perfectly suited to his occasional fearless acting style. This is a gleefully violent and offensive movie, filled with gore, profanity, and stuff that's just plain wrong. *** 1/2 (Ignizio)

The Last Song The Last Song is about rebellious New York teen Ronnie (Miley Cyrus), whose mom (Kelly Preston) sends her and her weepy little brother (Bobby Coleman) to spend the summer with Dad (Greg Kinnear) at his Windswept Beachfront House in Tybee Island, Georgia. Dad has little to do but tinker at making a stained-glass window for a church that burned down under suspicious circumstances. Under Dad's tutelage, Ronnie was a piano prodigy at age five, but since her parents' divorce, she hasn't played a note. Nonetheless, she has been accepted into Juilliard without even having to audition. Dressed in black and wearing combat boots on the beach, sullen Ronnie meets Will (Cyrus' real-life boyfriend Liam Hemsworth), a handsome, WASP-y volleyball player who takes an inexplicable shine to her, to the chagrin of his rich, uptight mom. Will volunteers at the aquarium, where he takes Ronnie swimming in the fish tanks. Through Will's transformative love, Ronnie opens her heart, rescues some baby sea turtles, plays some bad new-age piano music, wears a frilly dress to Will's sister's fancy wedding, and grows closer to her dad. The movie may raise lumps in the throat among those susceptible, but its appeal is probably limited to young Cyrus fans and diehard devotees of Nicholas Sparks. * 1/2 (Zoslov)

Letters to Juliet Vanessa Redgrave brings such dignity, warmth, grace, and elegance to Jose Rivera and Tim Sullivan's connect-the-dots screenplay, it's easy to pretend that director Gary Winick's (13 Going on 30, Charlotte's Web) hokey romantic comedy is more special than it really is. Although Redgrave plays second fiddle to Amanda Seyfried (Mamma Mia!, Dear John), her character arc is the important one. Everyone else onscreen, even the fetching Seyfried, just takes up space. Seyfried plays Sophie, a spunky New York career gal vacationing in Italy with her chef fiancé Victor (Gael Garcia Bernal). While visiting the Verona home of Shakespeare's most famous romantic heroine (the titular Juliet), Sophie discovers a love letter written in 1957. Impulsively — and a tad unrealistically — she makes it her mission to reunite the author with the object of her affection. When the elderly Claire (Redgrave) shows up, the two women embark upon a seemingly quixotic hunt to find long-lost swain Lorenzo Bartolini. The best moments in the film — the only ones that really matter — all involve Claire. Redgrave beautifully captures Claire's fond regard and growing affection for Sophie, and their scenes together are genuinely, unexpectedly moving. Truth be told, Redgrave does a lot more for the movie than it does for her. ** 1/2 (Paurich)

The Losers The Losers is more or less a variation on The A-Team, also due for a big-screen treatment this summer. A super bad-ass special-forces team consisting of Clay (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), Roque (Idris Elba), Jensen (Chris Evans), Cougar (Oscar Jaenada), and Pooch (Columbus Short) run afoul of rogue CIA agent Max (Jason Patric) when they refuse to carry out a mission that would have resulted in the deaths of several innocent children. Max tries to kill the team and has them smeared as bad guys for good measure, but they survive and go underground. Eventually, the sexy and mysterious Aisha (Zoe Saldana) shows up and offers them a chance to get revenge and their lives back. This is an enjoyable enough action flick with a few moments of inspired lunacy, and the cast is likable, especially Morgan and Elba. But director Sylvain White goes overboard with style and attitude, constantly reminding us how hip, cool, and edgy his movie is with its slow-motion visuals and unnecessary jump cuts. ** 1/2 (Ignizio)

MacGruber A parody of the '80s TV show MacGyver, MacGruber began as a short, recurring skit on Saturday Night Live with Will Forte. The skit has only one joke: While trying to deactivate some sort of timed deathtrap, MacGruber invariably fails and the bomb goes off. This was kind of funny the first few times on SNL, but it didn't take long for the concept to be run into the ground. Somehow, Forte and his team of writers have managed to come up with another handful of jokes for MacGruber's first (and hopefully last) feature-length adventure. Here, MacGruber has to find a nuclear warhead before villain Val Kilmer detonates it. None of the jokes are funny the first time, but that doesn't stop the movie from repeating them ad nauseam. Ultimately, MacGruber comes off as one of the stupidest and most unlikable characters in a major motion picture. * (Ignizio)

A Nightmare on Elm Street Jackie Earle Haley stalks the dreams of high-school students as razor-gloved killer Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street, a role made famous by Robert Englund in the original 1984 low-budget horror film and its many sequels. Haley's performance is excellent, bringing back a real sense of menace and sadism to a character that had grown increasingly silly over time. That's about it for the positives, though; everything else about this new Nightmare is mediocre. It has the usual tendency of horror films to sacrifice character development for action. Aside from Freddy, none of the characters is even remotely interesting. Rooney Mara's Nancy mumbles and stumbles her way through the movie, never becoming an engaging heroine. The rest of the cast is just as forgettable. Director Samuel Bayer is competent as a visual stylist, but he's got no feel for the rhythm of this kind of film, throwing one loud scare after another at the audience until they become annoying. As for the stuff nightmares are made of, you won't find it here. ** (Ignizio)

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time Movies based on video games have a history of overall suckiness. It doesn't matter how good or bad the game is; watching flesh-and-blood actors play out the pixilated adventures onscreen just isn't the same as sitting in your beanbag chair with a controller in your hands and a bag of Cheetos by your side. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, based on a hit (and occasionally terrific) video-game series that goes back to 1989, doesn't completely suck. But it isn't very good either. Jake Gyllenhaal — with bad hair and an even worse accent — plays Dastan, a poor orphan plucked from the slum's rough streets and adopted by a sympathetic king (who's seemingly impressed by his Persian parkour skills). Gyllenhaal gets to do a lot of stuff Dastan does in the games: scale walls, leap rooftops, and swing into palaces with style. There's some sibling rivalry, a feisty princess, and lots of intricately choreographed swordplay. And there's also a to-hell-with-logic plot about a magical, time-shifting dagger. It's a lot like Pirates of the Caribbean. But with sand. And without much of a story. Or awesome action sequences. Or Johnny Depp. You'll be longing for your beanbag chair and Cheetos after about 20 minutes. ** (Gallucci)

Robin Hood Ridley Scott's Robin Hood tries to give its legendary English hero-thief (played by frequent Scott collaborator Russell Crowe) a gritty update/reboot à la Batman Begins or Casino Royale. Scott is a capable filmmaker, and he certainly knows how to stage a visually stunning action sequence, but his talents — as well as those of the first-rate cast (including Cate Blanchett, William Hurt, and Max Von Sydow) — aren't enough to save Robin Hood. There's simply nothing fresh here. For that matter, there isn't much here that feels like a Robin Hood movie. Scott spends too much time on political intrigue and not enough on Robin's merry band. At least there's one scene where the rich get robbed and the spoils are given to the poor. But this is Robin Hood in name only; it's more like a second-rate Braveheart or a halfhearted attempt to recapture the success of Scott and Crowe's Gladiator. ** 1/2 (Ignizio)

Sex and the City 2 Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), Charlotte (Kristin Davis), and Samantha (Kim Cattrall) reunite for a scattershot follow-up to the 2008 blockbuster that even diehard SATC fans may find lacking. Except for a big, fat gay wedding sequence (replete with a delicious Liza Minnelli cameo), laughs are in perilously short supply. And writer-director Michael Patrick King's decision to ditch Manhattan for an extended sojourn in Abu Dhabi reeks of creative desperation. It's a jumping-the-shark-style time waster the movie never truly recovers from. Carrie's marital woes with Big (Chris Noth) never seem particularly compelling either, a problem that afflicts too much of the film. While it's fun seeing the gals strut their stuff on the big screen again, they're a bit like dear old friends you haven't seen in awhile who turn out to be kind of boring once you finally reconnect. King will have to do a lot better next time if he plans to make this into a viable movie franchise. Otherwise, maybe it's best to just pull the plug on Carrie & Co. once and for all. ** (Paurich)

Shrek Forever After Sometime over the course of three sequels, the Shrek franchise stopped being a parody of super-saccharine kids' movies and became one itself. What started as an occasionally hilarious and sharp satire of Walt Disney (the animated features, the corporation's front office, the trusted trademark) in the first Shrek from 2001 had become repetitive and critically unfunny by 2007's Shrek the Third. So it's probably a good thing the gang (Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Antonio Banderas — they're all back) is calling it quits after Shrek Forever After (in 3-D, of course). This time, Shrek thinks he's lost what it takes to be a big, bad ogre. So he makes a deal with Rumpelstiltskin that goes horribly wrong, ending up in an alternate Far Far Away (what is this, Lost?) where he's never met Fiona and ogres are hunted by villagers ruled by the evil Rumpelstiltskin. Thankfully, there aren't as many pop-culture references shoehorned into the script, and it's nice to see the familiar faces — Pinocchio, Gingy, the Three Pigs — doing something a bit different. There's more life in Shrek Forever After than there was last time, but the fairy tale ended a while ago for the series. At least it's going out with a little heart, a fighting spirit, and, best of all, having some fun. *** (Michael Gallucci)

Why Did I Get Married Too? Conspicuously absent from this tiresome sequel — in which the same four couples from Tyler Perry's 2007 gabfest spend a week in the Caribbean dissecting their marital woes ad nauseum — are originality, wit, pathos, nuance, and decent performances. Even old pros like Louis Gossett Jr. and Cicely Tyson look like rank amateurs under Perry's inept tutelage. After writing, directing, and starring in 10 films since 2005, Perry's cinematic oeuvre has become so formulaic, dull and yes, "minstrelly," that you might think they were mass-produced from an assembly line in his Atlanta studio. Until Perry hires a real director (and writer), maybe it's time to call for a moratorium on these self-indulgent ego trips masquerading as movies. An African-American Douglas Sirk he ain't. * 1/2 (Paurich)