Friday, August 22, 2008

Movies opening this week

Hear me chat about these movies with Roger Erik Tinch of CineVegas on this week's Josh Bell Hates Everything podcast.

Death Race (Jason Statham, Joan Allen, Tyrese Gibson, Ian McShane, dir. Paul W.S. Anderson)
I haven't seen the 1975 Roger Corman-produced B-movie of which this is a remake, but by all accounts there aren't very many similarities. Anderson is generally derided as a crass genre hack, but I do like at least one of his movies, the creepy and underrated sci-fi/horror hybrid Event Horizon. This one isn't in that league, certainly. It's a grim, ugly, repetitive action movie with the bare bones of a plot (which is not necessarily a problem) and a bunch of incoherent car chases that all look the same. The violence is relentless and uncreative, and even Statham, a great action hero under the right circumstances, can't make it fun. Allen looks like she's having a good time slumming, but there's not nearly enough camp here to make up for the vulgar carnage and total lack of compelling characters to root for. Wide release

Hamlet 2 (Steve Coogan, Joseph Julian Soria, Catherine Keener, Phoebe Strole, dir. Andrew Fleming)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I had hoped for more from this movie, which has a fun goofy premise, a South Park writer and the director of one of my favorite teen movies, The Craft, all going for it. But other than Coogan's go-for-broke performance and some inspired production numbers at the end, it doesn't quite work. They seem to have dropped the ball on coming up with an actual plot, and the jokes just aren't funny enough to make up for that. A real missed opportunity. Limited release

The House Bunny (Anna Faris, Emma Stone, Colin Hanks, Kat Dennings, dir. Fred Wolf)
I know this isn't exactly a good movie, but I enjoyed it nonetheless, and it has just enough going for it that it makes me sad it wasn't better. Like Steve Coogan in Hamlet 2, Faris totally carries this thing, giving a very funny performance as a Playboy Bunny kicked out of the mansion for being too old, who ends up as the house mother to a sorority of misfits. The plot is as predictable as can be (basically Revenge of the Nerds with hot chicks), and the messages are decidedly muddled. I would have loved to see a more clear female-empowerment tale from the writing team behind Legally Blonde and 10 Things I Hate About You, whose work I've always enjoyed following (although this much-discussed LA Times article makes me like them a little less), and Wolf's direction is pretty slapdash and unfocused. But I still laughed plenty at Faris' performance, and I do think she could become a female Adam Sandler or Jim Carrey (in a good way) if given the chance. Wide release

The Rocker (Rainn Wilson, Christina Applegate, Teddy Geiger, Josh Gad, Emma Stone, dir. Peter Cattaneo)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I was maybe harder on this movie than necessary; it's really just a forgettable late-summer filler comedy, but the total neutering of the rock n' roll storyline, the terrible music, the lazy plotting, and (once again) the missed opportunity to do something genuinely funny really bugged me. Wilson is perfectly likable and could have a career as a solid character actor, but he doesn't strike me as a stellar leading man. And Jason Sudeikis is great as a douchebag record exec, although he's sort of cast aside by the plot. But still, this could have been halfway decent, and instead it's just a lame, unfunny disaster. Wide release

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