Friday, March 31, 2006

Movies opening this week

Basic Instinct 2 (Sharon Stone, David Morrissey, Charlotte Rampling, David Thewlis, dir. Michael Caton-Jones)
I'm on vacation this week, which means I was under absolutely no obligation to go to this screening, and yet I went anyway out of some perverse desire to see what kind of awesome trainwreck it would be. Sadly, it was not awesome, just sort of tedious and boring, with not nearly enough sex and nudity to offset the inane plotting, clunky expository dialogue and bad acting. Even those elements could add up to campy fun, but aside from a few of Stone's lines, there wasn't even much to laugh at. Part of the problem is that while Stone is hamming it up like crazy, Morrissey is incredibly wooden and soporific, and she really needs someone as vibrant and slightly off-kilter as Michael Douglas to play against or all her vamping is worthless. Also, far be it from me to impugn the beauty of older women, but in her efforts to look "sexy" at 48, Stone just comes off as nasty. Her clearly doctored breasts look disturbingly unnatural, her face is excessively taut, and her eyebrows are so arched that they threaten to come off the top of her head. Poor Charlotte Rampling, who should fire whoever convinced her to appear in this movie, is a good decade older than Stone and looked ten times better (and more natural) in her nude scenes in Swimming Pool a few years ago.

There are actually a few sparks of intrigue in the film that hint that, in the hands of a more capable director (maybe the original's Paul Verhoeven or David Cronenberg, who was once attached to the sequel), it could have been something with a certain trashy, sexy charm, or even with something to say. But Caton-Jones is nothing more than a competent journeyman with an unimpressive resume, and he does nothing creative or remarkable with the material. The opening sequence, featuring Stone pleasuring herself with a half-comatose soccer hunk while driving 100 miles an hour on the streets of London, is perversely entertaining, and the subsequent interrogation, with David Thewlis sputtering like a madman, has at least half of the movie's best lines. But all of that occurs before Morrissey shows up on screen or the laborious plot kicks in, and those are probably the movie's two weakest elements. Wide release

Slither (Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks, Michael Rooker, dir. James Gunn)
I think that studios have gotten the idea that critics hate all horror movies, and thus have decided to put a near-universal ban on screening any of them in advance. Some critics do hate horror movies, but I think the vast majority know a good one when they see it, as evidenced most recently by the mostly positive reviews for this film. It's too bad that, a week after something like Stay Alive, Slither may end up tarred with the same brush as such brain-dead, cash-in cheapies, since it's a great deal more clever, fun and even genuinely scary at times. Gunn, who wrote the surprisingly good 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake, goes for as much humor as horror here, in tribute to the style of the legendary Troma Studios (whose founder, Lloyd Kaufman, has a cameo), and it works very well. Fillion and Banks are nimble and funny as the leads, and Gunn borrows from all the right people in his grab-bag horror fanboy aesthetic. He's got a George Romero sense for zombies and a David Cronenberg sense for sexualized horror, and of course a Troma sense for the good old-fashioned gross-out. Slither isn't as intelligent or unnerving as something like Wolf Creek, but it's undoubtedly a good time at the movies. Wide release

Tsotsi (Presley Chweneyagae, Terry Pheto, Mothusi Magano, dir. Gavin Hood)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
Here's another one of those pious, annoying prestige movies that get Oscars (in this case for Best Foreign Language Film) for making people feel good about themselves and yet are cloying, condescending and false. Actually, this isn't a horrible movie, but what it represents and the way that people praise it unthinkingly kind of annoy me. Opened limited Feb. 24; in Las Vegas this week

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