Friday, April 25, 2008

Movies opening this week

Baby Mama (Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Greg Kinnear, Dax Shepard, dir. Michael McCullers)
I love Fey's work on 30 Rock and I liked Mean Girls, so I would have loved to see her write and star in a clever mainstream comedy that showcased her talents. But instead there's this, a hit-and-miss comedy written and directed by another SNL veteran. It has its funny moments, but overall is very tame and weak, and entirely forgettable. What really bugged me more than the mediocre jokes, though, was the way that the movie completely chickened out on its premise. (Spoilers follow.) McCullers had a chance to actually make a movie that addressed a relatively new phenomenon (surrogate motherhood) that's becoming more and more popular, and say something interesting about it. Instead the movie is a total cop-out; Poehler's character doesn't get impregnated with Fey's baby, but pretends that she did. Then she actually does getspregnant - by her boyfriend. And the movie ends with Fey getting pregnant the old-fashioned way despite the allegedly huge odds against her. So a movie potentially about an entirely cutting-edge and modern way of forming a family instead ends up reinforcing the most traditional values of all. Plus, it's not even very funny. What a wasted opportunity. Wide release

Deal (Bret Harrison, Burt Reynolds, Shannon Elizabeth, dir. Gil Cates Jr.)
This is one of those movies that is inexplicably released to theaters when there is no reason it shouldn't have gone straight to DVD. It currently has the dubious honor of a zero percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and that's entirely deserved. It's been dumped in only a handful of theaters, but that includes several locations in Vegas thanks to the gambling connection and the fact that much of it is set here (although it was filmed elsewhere, and the establishing shots are all obvious stock footage). Reynolds totally snoozes through his performance, Harrison is an unappealing lead, there is no drama or suspense to speak of, the poker play is deadly boring, and Elizabeth's subplot is a bizarre dead end that completely unjustifiably creates a rift between the main characters. It makes 21 look like total genius in comparison. Limited release

Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay (John Cho, Kal Penn, Rob Corddry, Neil Patrick Harris, dir. Jon Hurwitz & Hayden Schlossberg)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
Okay, so this movie is kind of dumb and certainly very vulgar, but I have an affection for stoner comedies like this (even though I don't, uh, share the characters' hobby), and I liked this almost as much as Harold and Kumar's first adventure. And even if its social commentary is sloppy and broad, it's still there. Any movie that can take on the war on terror while also making lots of pot jokes and showcasing a bunch of hot girls at a "bottomless party" is okay with me. Wide release

The Rape of Europa (documentary, dir. Richard Berge, Bonni Cohen and Nicole Newnham)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
This well-meaning but entirely dull movie probably doesn't need a theatrical release, and will be much more at home on PBS or the History Channel. I do wonder who even pays $10 to see this on a big screen - and I am an advocate of seeing almost anything on the big screen if possible. There were a few times during this movie when the filmmakers touched the surface of something that seemed really interesting and then just moved on; there are at least five or six threads that could have been their own documentaries, any of which would probably have had more life and personality than this informative but cursory overview. Opened limited Sept. 14; in Las Vegas this week

Snow Angels (Kate Beckinsale, Sam Rockwell, Michael Angarano, Olivia Thirlby, dir. David Gordon Green)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I haven't seen any of Green's other, highly acclaimed films, but I was looking forward to this one based on positive reviews and his general reputation as an excellent director of indie dramas. But the longer this film went on, the less I liked it. I actually have an affinity for bleak, depressing dramas, but this doesn't establish convincing characters or environments, and its desaturated seriousness only makes all the melodrama that much more laughable. For the first half or so I thought it was an unremarkable but passable small-scale drama, but (spoiler alert yet again!) once the four-year-old drowned and everyone spent all their time wailing about it, I just about gave up. And that was before the Jesus-inspired murder-suicide. I mean, really. Opened limited March 7; in Las Vegas this week

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