Friday, March 28, 2008

Movies opening this week

21 (Jim Sturgess, Kate Bosworth, Kevin Spacey, dir. Robert Luketic)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
In Vegas, the anticipation for this movie is very high, and there have been tons of articles on it in the past week or so. But we can easily chalk it up to another movie that doesn't capture the spirit of the town, and isn't even much of an entertaining distraction like Ocean's Eleven. I haven't read the book this is based on, but by all accounts it's a fascinating piece of reporting, and the movie definitely doesn't capture that. I don't hold out much hope for a brilliant, insightful Vegas movie to show up any time soon, but they could have at least made this one a little less cliched. Wide release

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Anamaria Marinca, Laura Vasiliu, Vlad Ivanov, dir Cristian Mungiu)
It's a testament to the sort of insular, film-obsessed world I live in that for me this is one of the most hyped, highly anticipated films of the year, while the average person has never heard of it (as I learned from the blank stares of co-workers). It won the top prize at Cannes last year and was on a number of critics' top ten lists, despite not actually having been released in the U.S. in 2007. So I've been hearing rapturous praise for this movie for almost a year now, and my expectations were high. I don't know if they were met, exactly, but this is definitely a well-made movie, nearly on par with the other recent bleak Romanian drama, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu. Death was a little more engaging and more nuanced; at times this film feels like a bludgeon, especially given Mungiu's penchant for long, static takes, forcing the audience to focus on uncomfortable, painful situations. He seems to be reveling in taunting the audience a bit, especially in the oft-noted very long, almost tedious dinner-party scene, which makes its point early and then goes on and on, showing every little bit of horror on the face of Marinca's college student as she imagines what her friend is dealing with back in a hotel room, waiting for her abortion to take. Then there's the shot that lingers on the aborted fetus on the bathroom floor, which almost goes from unflinching to sadistic, and is the only time I felt the movie really faltered. Otherwise it is a depressing but fascinating character piece, and a stark portrait of life during the communist regime in Romania. Opened limited Jan. 25; in Las Vegas this week

Run Fatboy Run (Simon Pegg, Thandie Newton, Hank Azaria, dir. David Schwimmer)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I suppose this is a step up for romantic comedies, in that it's only forgettable rather than hateful. And Pegg and Newton are pleasant and likable enough. But, really, this is the rom-com equivalent of Ross Geller, the famous character played by its director: A meek, ingratiating presence that's acceptable mainly because all the other choices are even less appealing. Wide release

Stop-Loss (Ryan Phillippe, Abbie Cornish, Channing Tatum, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, dir. Kimberly Peirce)
In the spectrum of Iraq War dramas, this one falls near the top, although that isn't really saying much. It's less heavy-handed and pretentious than Lions for Lambs or Redacted, but it still has plenty of dramatic problems, and ultimately isn't much of a success as a story. It starts out well, with a serious and gripping depiction of soldiers being ambushed in Iraq, along with some nice, low-key portraits of their downtime. And then when the three main characters come home to their small Texas town, the film does a good job of depicting their difficulty in readjusting to civilian life. If she had stayed with that, Peirce might have had the kind of film she was hoping for, a sympathetic portrayal of soldiers and the toll that war takes on them, how hard it makes it for them to live normal lives. But then the plot kicks in, and Phillippe's dedicated soldier goes AWOL rather than being sent back to Iraq, and the movie turns into a road trip through a bunch of well-worn arguments against the war, rather than a depiction of people and their difficulties. Phillippe struggles with the material and his Texas accent, but he occasionally pulls off some affecting moments. The narrative is too unfocused to be as powerful a drama or as persuasive an argument as it hopes to be. Wide release

Friday, March 21, 2008

Movies opening this week

Drillbit Taylor (Owen Wilson, Nate Hartley, Troy Gentile, Leslie Mann, David Dorfman, dir. Steven Brill)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
If not for the involvement of Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen, the current gurus of screen comedy, this movie wouldn't be getting nearly as much attention. It's from one of Adam Sandler's pet directors, it's creaky and predictable and not very funny, it's another role for Wilson to coast through playing the exact same part. Ultimately, it's about on the same level as The Big Bounce. Wide release

The Hammer (Adam Carolla, Oswaldo Castillo, Heather Juergensen, Harold House Moore, dir. Charles Herman-Wurmfeld)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I have to admit, I kind of hate Adam Carolla. So I may have been a bit biased coming into this movie, but really Carolla is not that irritating in it. He muddles through well enough, playing a version of himself, and the slack writing and direction is as much at fault here as his half-assed acting. It all comes off as rather slapdash, like no one could be bothered to put that much effort into it. In that sense, it's a lot like all the other stuff Carolla has done. Limited release

Look (Hayes McArthur, Giuseppe Andrews, Miles Dougal, Spencer Redford, dir. Adam Rifkin)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I saw this almost a year ago at CineVegas, where it won the Grand Jury Prize for reasons that still escape me. It's crass and juvenile and sloppy, and coasts on a gimmick that's not nearly as clever as Rifkin wants you to think it is. It's gotten the widest release of any CineVegas winner to date, though, so I guess that's good for the festival. Opened limited Dec. 14; in Las Vegas this week

Shutter (Joshua Jackson, Rachael Taylor, Megumi Okina, dir. Masayuki Ochiai)
These Asian horror remakes continue to scrape the bottom of the barrel, with a direct-to-DVD cast and source material that's actually from Thailand, not Japan as is more common (although the director is a J-horror veteran). The PG-13 rating keeps things from getting too gory, and the scare moments are almost all cheap music cues and loud noises. The acting and plotting are a little better than, say, One Missed Call, and at least there is a marginally coherent ending. But overall it's a combination of J-horror tropes and generally obvious, lazy filmmaking with not a single spark of originality. Wide release

Under the Same Moon (Adrian Alonso, Kate del Castillo, Eugenio Derbez, dir. Patricia Riggen)
It may be dressed up in a foreign language and superficially address the issue of illegal immigration in the U.S., but really this isn't much different from one of those Disney movies about a dog traveling great distances to come back to its owner. Alonso carries much of the film with his charm as the 9-year-old boy who crosses the U.S.-Mexico border to reunite with his mom in Los Angeles, and there are a few understated scenes that effectively illustrate the daily lives of illegal aliens. But the contrivances are legion, and the sentimentality is eventually overbearing and obvious. Del Castillo, with her obvious fake breasts and movie-star demeanor (she's very famous in her native Mexico), makes for a rather unconvincing housekeeper. I might have liked it better if it were about a dog. Wide release

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Wire, season three

As the fifth and final season of The Wire has just wrapped up, the little cult show with the rabid following seemed to finally burst into the mainstream, and there has been an avalanche of articles declaring it the greatest show of all time. The more these declarations are made, the more intimidating the series seems for new viewers, and the more likely they are to give up on it if it doesn't immediately live up to their heightened expectations. I'm not going to call The Wire the greatest TV show of all time because I don't think it is the greatest TV show of all time, but also because engaging in hyperbole like that accomplishes nothing. It certainly doesn't get more people to watch.

All that aside, I'm still watching, and I've still got a long way to go before getting to the finale that seems to have gotten mixed reviews. And I admit I've become a little skeptical of the show's iconic status, even though I thought the third season was mostly very good. For me, the first season still achieved the best integration of the stories about cops and criminals, and although this season returned the focus to Avon Barksdale's crew after taking a detour to examine crime on the docks in season two, it still seemed a little unfocused and less powerful. Part of the problem for me is one of the central plot elements of this season, "Hamsterdam," the drug-selling free zone established by Bunny Colvin to move all of the crime away from the law-abiding citizens of his poverty-ridden district. While I agree with creator David Simon's stance on the pointlessness of the drug war, this whole storyline seemed like unrealistic wish-fulfillment for the writers. Would any major urban police commander really legalize drugs in certain controlled zones, even if it does reduce crime? Even though the whole plan fell apart at the end, showing the failings of the system, the fact that it even existed in the first place felt fake and forced to me.

But other things worked well, including the addition of a few local politicians as major characters, the increased focus on the romantic lives of some of the cops (it was great to see Amy Ryan as Beatrice Russell show up again at the end of the season) and the grand tragedy of Stringer Bell, who still isn't ever going to be my favorite character but did meet a suitably epic end. Although the second season is often considered the weakest, I liked the dock-worker characters and was disappointed to see almost no carry-over from their storyline (although I think some connections crop up in later seasons). Going back to focus on the drug dealers almost seemed like regressing, rather than exploring new areas of crime in Baltimore, as in season two. I realize the drug trade is the dominant criminal enterprise in the city, but a lot of what happened this season seemed like a retread.

What was more interesting than the plot, to me, was the character development of people like McNulty, Kima and Bunk, all of whom really felt the toll that being a cop took on their personal lives. And Carcetti, the city councilman, was a great addition, an excellent mix of amoral power player and genuine concerned citizen. Bunny Colvin's Hamsterdam may have bugged me, but the character of the cop about to retire who just wants to do one honestly good thing in his career was compelling and rang true. Among the criminals, I never really understood the purpose of Dennis "Cutty" Wise, who got out of prison, joined Barksdale's crew for a bit, gave up on a life of crime and then started a boxing gym. I guess he was meant to illustrate the possibility of redemption, but his storyline never connected with what else was going on.

Many of these seemingly unresolved character arcs and storylines come back in the next two seasons, or so I've heard, and I definitely plan to watch the show through to the end. But I eagerly jumped into season three after loving season two, and now I'm going to be taking a bit of break before checking out the rest.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Movies opening this week

The Band's Visit (Sasson Gabai, Ronit Elkabetz, Saleh Bakri, dir. Eran Kolirin)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
At this point this movie is probably best known for being disqualified from the Best Foreign Language Film category at the Oscars for having too much of its dialogue in English. That historical footnote aside, it's a lovely and touching little movie about the way that people of different backgrounds can forge connections. I'm as sick as anyone of movies about tensions in the Middle East, and The Band's Visit sidesteps all the heavy commentary while still acknowledging the reality that colors any interactions between Jews and Arabs. Kolirin has a weakness for cutesy shot composition, and bits of the story are relatively predictable. But neither of those elements is overplayed, and the missteps are forgivable given the quality of everything that surrounds them. Opened limited Dec. 7; in Las Vegas this week

Doomsday (Rhona Mitra, Adrian Lester, Malcolm McDowell, Bob Hoskins, dir. Neil Marshall)
Well, this is a serious disappointment. Marshall's 2005 film The Descent was an effective, methodical horror movie, and his 2002 debut Dog Soldiers was a little cheesy but also fairly impressive on a low budget. Maybe finally having some money spoiled him, or maybe he's just lost his way a bit, but this is a loud and incoherent action movie that borrows heavily and indiscriminately from other post-apocalypse films, with one very Mad Max-like biker gang, plus the society of people who've abandoned technology and reverted to medieval living. Into this comes Mitra as a pretty decent bad-ass, but she doesn't get much to do except smirk and punch stuff. The plot doesn't make much sense, although the idea of commandos having to enter a quarantined city to retrieve a cure for a deadly virus is interesting. But Marshall doesn't play out any of the logic of his scenario, instead just staging as many explosions as possible and throwing in tons of gratuitous gore (want to see a cute bunny explode? This movie is for you). His next project is set to be a horror-Western, and that sounds much more promising. Maybe he can redeem himself yet. Wide release

Funny Games (Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Michael Pitt, Brady Corbet, dir. Michael Haneke)
I haven't seen Haneke's 1997 original (it's in my Netflix queue but I didn't have time to get to it before the screening of the new version), but I'm sort of glad about that: By all accounts this is a shot-for-shot, word-for-word remake, and having seen essentially the exact same film a few days or a week beforehand probably would have diluted the experience of seeing the remake. I can see how people would view this version as unnecessary; Slant went so far as to reprint their review of the original almost verbatim (adding only a single clarification) as a review of this new version. But coming into it cold, with only a basic knowledge of the plot, I was blown away by this film's intensity and sadism. It's true that it's not exactly an enjoyable experience, and some might find it entirely too distasteful (the screening rep said after the movie that she felt like she might need to vomit). And I largely grant all the criticisms in the Slant review - the movie is often condescending, it's a bit hypocritical, it's completely guilty of all the things it's critiquing.

But it's so unbelievably effective that it doesn't matter. I can't remember the last time a movie has genuinely disturbed me and even scared me, and I watch plenty of horror movies. Haneke is a stellar craftsman, building unease and suspense with the most mundane events, as Pitt and Corbet's seemingly mild-mannered, preppy-looking psychopaths simply show up at a wealthy family's vacation home asking to borrow some eggs. Things escalate from there, of course, but the egg sequence is so unsettling that it's almost unbearable to imagine what might follow. By keeping the violence almost entirely offscreen, Haneke makes it even more disturbing, and although it's meant as a critique of audience bloodlust, it actually heightens and enhances that same feeling. Haneke's killers are as smugly moralistic as Jigsaw, but much more effective, and the movie too is much scarier than the Saw series because it's so banal, so matter-of-fact. I'm not surprised that critics are divided over this movie, or that many are openly hostile to it. Haneke certainly sets out to make you dislike him, and he does a very good job of it. But whatever his intentions are, even if his tone is sometimes snide, the movie will rattle you and get you thinking. The performances are amazing - Pitt is so purely hateful that he inspires an almost physical reaction, and Watts once again puts everything she has onscreen, especially in an amazing long-take sequence in which her bound and half-naked character attempts simply to get up and walk across the room. It's tough to watch and tougher to embrace, but as far as I'm concerned this is the best movie of the year so far. Limited release

The Living End (Mike Dytri, Craig Gilmore, Darcy Marta, dir. Gregg Araki)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
Unlike the last revival that CineVegas brought to town (Godard's Pierrot le Fou), this doesn't seem to be getting much of a release elsewhere around the country in advance of its forthcoming DVD reissue. It's a mildly interesting curiosity for Araki fans or people interested in gay cinema, but otherwise not really worth bothering with, and certainly not necessary to see on a big screen. In Las Vegas this week; on DVD April 29

Never Back Down (Sean Faris, Amber Heard, Cam Gigandet, Djimon Hounsou, dir. Jeff Wadlow)
And here's probably the worst movie of the year so far, a brain-dead, poorly acted, predictable, annoying teen drama that attempts to capitalize on the success of mixed martial arts in a way that no doubt offends serious fans of the sport (which doesn't include me, but still, they surely deserve better). As many, many reviews note, it just rips off the plot of The Karate Kid, only without any heart or positive message. Wadlow directs with millions of quick cuts and fills the soundtrack with awful, blaring hard rock and hip-hop (the only thing possibly worse than Soulja Boy's "Crank Dat" is ... the "Crank Dat" rock remix!). The dialogue is terrible, the acting is weak, and the message is repugnant (hooray for violence solving everything, uniting your family and getting you the girl). MMA fans would be better off watching real fighters, or at least waiting for David Mamet's take on the subject in Redbelt, coming soon. Wide release

TV premiering tonight: The Return of Jezebel James

I'm still making my way through Gilmore Girls, and although the point I'm at now (early in the fourth season) is not exactly the series' high point (it's pretty well degenerated into repeating itself and making the characters a bit cartoonish), I still have great admiration for creator Amy Sherman-Palladino's skill at writing dialogue and creating characters. So I want to give her the benefit of the doubt on this seriously questionable new show, which spotlights all of the worst qualities of her writing and almost none of the best. Part of the problem is the format: A half-hour laugh-tracked sitcom is not really the proper venue for ASP's jokes, which are wordy and come at a pace too rapid to allow for pauses to accommodate laughter. Sometimes the best thing about a joke on Gilmore Girls is that you won't even notice it until a minute or two later. The other big problem is the cast: Parker Posey and Lauren Ambrose as the main characters, a pair of estranged sisters, just can't pull off the mouthfuls of ASP dialogue like Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel were able to. It ends up sounding like they're reciting speeches, and like they're out of breath at the end of every line.

Posey also gives a pretty terrible performance, especially considering what a good actress she is generally. But she makes book editor Sarah into a shrill, high-strung bitch who's completely unsympathetic by the time she gets around to asking her slacker sister to be a surrogate mother for her. Ambrose doesn't fare much better, but her character is more low-key and has fewer wordy speeches, so her deficiencies are less noticeable. The show is premised on the two sisters teaming up to have a baby, so it's a got a built-in limited shelf-life anyway. There are times when ASP's talents shine through, and I think maybe given time the characters could develop into interesting people. Despite my reservations, I'll probably watch all seven episodes that were produced before the strike, but I'd rather see ASP move on to something that better suits her strengths. Fox, Fridays, 8:30 p.m.; premieres tonight at 8 p.m.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

TV premiering tonight: Lewis Black's Root of All Evil

I like Lewis Black best in small doses, like in the little rants on The Daily Show that first put him on the map. So for me the amount of time he's onscreen on his new show Root of All Evil is just about perfect, but it seems odd to build a show around the guy and his very popular persona, and then have him barely appear in it. The concept is also contrived and convoluted: Each episode features a showdown between two institutions or entities (in the first episode, Oprah and the Catholic Church) to "determine" which is worse for society. Really, this means that two D-level comedians that you probably recognize from any number of VH1 talking-head shows spend the entire show alternately riffing on their assigned concepts, Black makes the occasional snide remark, and an arbitrary and meaningless "verdict" is delivered at the end.

It's all dressed up with a set reminiscent of modern game shows like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and its descendants, and divided into segments with fancy names that all really serve the same purpose. It's not a good showcase for Black, who never has time to get up a head of steam on one of his signature rants, and the comedians who appear are mediocre at best and hampered by being required to come up with a whole show's worth of material on one topic. There are video segments that break up the monotony, but they're also rather forced (although I did like the Oprah segment, tearing down her critique of inner-city schoolchildren).

It comes off like the producers really overthought how to create a show for Black, when what they should have done was just turn a camera on him and let him complain about stuff for half an hour a week - that's what he's good at. (Side note: The screener I got had several unbleeped utterances of "fuck," which surprised me. I don't know if they're going to be taken out before the show airs, or if Comedy Central has just decided that anything goes when it comes to profanity, but it caught me off-guard.) Comedy Central, Wednesdays, 10:30 p.m.

Monday, March 10, 2008

TV premiering tonight: Canterbury's Law

Executive-produced by Rescue Me's Denis Leary and Jim Serpico, this show at times seems like it wants to be the legal version of RM, and Julianna Margulies' Elizabeth Canterbury definitely comes off as the female lawyer take on RM's Tommy Gavin. That's not a plus, though - while Rescue Me started out strongly, with an extreme but realistic tone, it has degenerated into silly melodrama over time. This show skips the realism and goes right for the extreme melodrama in the overwrought portrayal of Canterbury, who in the pilot gets punched out by a witness, coaches her client to lie on the stand, cheats on her husband, knocks back lots of liquor and agonizes over the case of her still-missing son. It's way too much, and a lot of it, especially the weepy back story, feels contrived. Margulies can be a very good actress, but here she seems to have decided to just chew the scenery.

The legal case is also entirely generic, and full of horribly implausible twists. If the character work were stronger, it might compensate, but outside of Canterbury herself it's almost nonexistent. Ben Shenkman gets a few nice moments as Canterbury's right-hand man, and given time he might grow into an interesting character; Canterbury, too, could be worth watching if they toned her down a bit. But with only five episodes produced for this season thanks to the strike, I doubt we'll get a chance to see anything valuable develop. Fox, Mondays, 8 p.m.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Movies opening this week

10,000 BC (Steven Strait, Camilla Belle, Cliff Curtis, dir. Roland Emmerich)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I've actually sort of liked some of Emmerich bombastic cheese-fests, including Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow, despite their being totally dumb. At least Will Smith punching an alien in the face is exciting. There's not much in 10,000 BC that's exciting, despite the loads of CGI on display. And none of the performers is one-tenth as appealing as Will Smith. Really, the whole time I just kept rooting for someone to get eaten by a saber-toothed tiger, and it never happened. I had one expectation for the movie, and it let me down. Wide release

The Bank Job (Jason Statham, Saffron Burrows, Daniel Mays, dir. Roger Donaldson)The first 20 or so minutes of this movie are a bit confusing, and it features so many different factions with different agendas that sometimes it's a little hard to follow who's plotting against whom, and who's being double-crossed. But mostly it all falls into place, and the movie ends up an exciting, well-paced heist thriller, with some dark turns in the second half that give the story a little weight. Statham proves a charismatic presence even when he isn't kicking someone's ass every other minute, and this solid genre picture hums along exactly as it should. Wide release

Teeth (Jess Weixler, John Hensley, Hale Appleman, dir. Mitchell Lichtenstein)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I was looking forward to this movie probably a little more than is healthy, but twisted, kinky horror movies are definitely one of my weak spots. There's pretty much no way the movie could live up to the anticipation generated by the concept, and Lichtenstein smartly takes the whole thing seriously, so that he makes a movie worth spending time with rather than just a series of gross-out gags. Not the greatest horror movie ever, but at least one that tries something new, and then remembers to rely on something more than sheer novelty. Opened limited Jan. 18; in Las Vegas this week

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Quiet City (Aaron Katz, 2007)

The whole mumblecore "movement" (if you want to call it that) has already gone through the entire buzz cycle of quietly being talked about, getting noticed by the hippest writers and blogs, making it big with articles in mainstream publications, and then hitting a harsh backlash from some of the same people who first championed it, all in record time. At this point at least one of the movement's most high-profile participants (Andrew Bujalski) has moved on to Hollywood work, and the furor has died down enough that people like Joe Swanberg and the Duplass brothers seem to be able to make movies that get judged on their own merits.

All the buzz and backlash has been annoying, but I've really enjoyed the mumblecore films that I've seen - yes, partially because they are made by and about people around my age with similar social backgrounds, but also because they are honest, unpretentious and insightful looks into a generation of people with lots of education and no idea what to do with it, who are so self-reflective that they're barely able to speak to other people or act on any of their desires. And as specific as these situations may be to a certain age and socioeconomic group, I think a lot about them is universal, and the mumblecore films I've seen will stand on their own, even as the moment they are depicting passes.

And Quiet City may just be the most likely to stand the test of time. It's an unassuming, simple story about romance that contains not a single kiss or declaration of love. Its main couple seem to have very little of substance to say to each other for most of the film, but their gestures and expressions and halting bursts of conversation carry so much weight that by the time there's even the smallest romantic overture, the emotional effect is almost overpowering. I described this movie to a friend of mine as the awkward Brooklyn hipster version of Before Sunrise, and as reductive as that sounds, it's fairly accurate. Like Before Sunrise, this is a movie about a pair of aimless 20-somethings who meet randomly in a big city and spend about 24 hours together, forming a surprisingly strong bond. But while Richard Linklater's main characters spend the entire movie talking to each other in a heady rush of intellectualism, Katz's never seem to know what to say, their connection clearly strong but at the same time somehow always in doubt.

In keeping with the mumblecore aesthetic, Quiet City is shot mostly in shaky, handheld digital video, in shabby locations that were probably the actors' actual living spaces. But it also has a powerful kind of visual beauty that's not really present in other mumblecore films; Katz inserts lovely, haunting views of the streets of New York City as between-scenes establishing shots, and there's a scene in which the two main characters stage an impromptu race in a park that's suffused with almost blinding sunlight, casually highlighting the everyday beauty of the city.

Leads Erin Fisher and Cris Lankenau give wonderfully understated performances (they're also credited as co-writers along with Katz), and convey the romantic and sexual tension between their characters without ever forcing it or idealizing it. The final succession of images is both immensely satisfying and heartbreaking, and renders all the buzz and backlash completely irrelevant.

TV premiering tonight: New Amsterdam

One of two new series announced for this season about immortal detectives, New Amsterdam finally limps onto the schedule after the lukewarm response to CBS' Moonlight (which somehow remains on the air), and I can't imagine it'll stay there for long. Fox is dumping all of these midseason holdovers onto the schedule seemingly just to burn them off; all have only a handful of episodes completed pre-strike and aren't in production for more. Amsterdam is a wan combination of police procedural and romantic fantasy, with a lead character who's been made immortal by a "gift" that's more like a curse. He lives forever until he finds his true love, at which point he gets to age normally.

Star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau thus spends most of his time moping about his fate, and his supposed true love doesn't seem particularly interesting or remarkable. The rest of the show involves standard cop-show stuff, with Coster-Waldau's John Amsterdam filling the role of the off-putting, quirky genius who conveniently spots clues that others miss (he's very similar to the main character of NBC's Life). It's mighty convenient that so many elements of the case in the pilot hinge on Amsterdam's knowledge of New York history (he was given eternal life in the city's colonial days), and hard to imagine that the creators can keep that up without it seeming terribly forced.

There's also a really cheesy portrayal of Native American mysticism in the pilot that just adds to the overall weak, basic-cable feel of the show. There's no sci-fi mythology to latch onto for fans of shows like that, and the crime-solving is entirely rote. The show thus manages to be completely undistinguished in multiple genres. Fox, Mondays, 9 p.m. (previews March 4, 9 p.m.; March 6, 9 p.m.)

Sunday, March 02, 2008

TV premiering tonight: Unhitched

Just in case you thought all the unspeakably awful sitcoms had already premiered this season, here comes Unhitched, which rivals The Big Bang Theory as the worst new show of this strike-damaged season. It's disgustingly crass, ugly and often misogynistic, sort of like a comedy version of ABC's worthless Big Shots (which fortunately looks to have gotten the ax). The Farrelly brothers, whose movie career has gone steadily downhill, executive-produce and direct the pilot, about four friends (three men, one woman) all coming out of long-term relationships and trying to get back into the dating world. It trots out every cliché you'd expect, and then amps them up with what I suppose are meant to be Farrelly-style gross-out moments, but just come off as sad desperation. The pilot's opening involves the main character getting sexually assaulted by a monkey. Hilarious, right?

Craig Bierko is good at playing smarmy, but he probably shouldn't be emphasizing that quality in the main character, with whom I guess we are supposed to sympathize. His Indian buddy mangles English in allegedly comedic fashion (and is a socially awkward doctor, of course), and his other buddy is a slacker who hits on anything that moves, a character type we have totally never seen on TV before. Rashida Jones seems to be the rational one as the guys' female friend, but even she ends up dating a guy who becomes the butt of lame short-people jokes. Although the six completed episodes will likely all air thanks to the strike-depleted programming slate, it doesn't look like any more are on the horizon, so I suppose there's at least small comfort in that. Fox, Sundays, 9:30 p.m.