Daily Archives: November 8, 2008

Speed Racer (2008)

I was wary of this film from the first frame. I think the original Speed Racer cartoon is dopey and insipid. I didn’t really want to pay to have my retinas destroyed by the candy-coated color scheme of the big-budget movie. But I must say, I didn’t hate this movie and that’s a major accomplishment. That’s not to say Speed Racer is a good movie; its script is cheesy, the dialogue is silly, the comedy is dead on arrival, and many of the races end up becoming incoherent flashes of color and noise. But God help me, the Wachowskis have produced a unique movie experience that will likely induce epileptic seizures. Speed Racer has way too much plot going on for a cartoon about a kid who races a fast car. The movie reminds me in a lot of ways of the Wacky Races cartoon where the various teams have theme-driven cars. This provides for plenty of outlandish action sequences that manage to tickle the senses, that is, when the images are somewhat stable. The movie aspires to be a “family film” and with that comes the half-hearted moral message (corporations are evil) and a reminder that family is important. Did I mention there’s also a monkey that gets treated like a member of the family? The movie sometimes feels like the cinematic equivalent of an ice cream headache, but you’re unlikely to see anything like it again in the near future. That may be both a good and a bad thing.

Nate’s Grade: C+

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Drillbit Taylor (2008)

This is a case where a movie feels stuck between two different aims. The premise of a group of geeks hiring a bodyguard to protect them from high school bullies feels dramatically dated, like an idea that John Hughes could have cranked out over a weekend in the 1980s. Owen Wilson stars as a homeless Army vet that agrees to be the bodyguard but he intends to fleece the kids of their money. Eventually the film culminates in the geek trio violently fighting the bully, which is kind of a weird climax to a mainstream teen-centered film. The main bully is actually psychotically dangerous and the movie exists in a realm where every adult character is a cretin or a moron. Don’t even think about security in the school. The jokes aren’t as lively or clever as the movie would like to think, but special credit must be awarded for collecting a group of teen actors that look authentically geeky. Drillbit Taylor is a safe vehicle for Wilson because he’s played a variation of this zen-cool character in many movies. I’m honestly surprised that Seth Rogen is a co-writer and that Judd Apatow produced this flick. This is noticeable below their standards. This movie isn’t anything special and it’s tonally all over the place, but then it does have some funny situations, some amusing character interplay, and some dependable slapstick. Think of it as a sanitized PG version of Superbad combined with an 80s movie.

Nate’s Grade: C+

Deception (2008)

Is there a more tired and pathetic genre of filmmaking than that of the erotic thriller? Deception is just about as lazy and bland as its title. The casting director got every role wrong. Ewan McGregor is an accounting nerd that befriends a swanky playboy (Hugh Jackman) and they accidentally switch phones. Of course this leads to people mistaking an accounting nerd for a swanky playboy, and McGregor is introduced to an underground web of anonymous sex (hasn’t anyone heard about Craig’s list?). I suppose the rich would rather take a chance on a stranger than have their handlers recruit some tail. Michelle Williams is completely wrong as the femme fatale who OF COURSE is in on the scheme. Deception plays out exactly as you could predict, and it even bears a somewhat strong resemblance to 2005’s Derailed, another mediocre thriller of little thrills. The chilly cinematography by Dante Spinotti is way too good for this kind of film. It seems that erotic thrillers have graduated from soft focus close-ups of copulating couples set to saxophone music to soft focus close-ups of copulating couples set to electronica beats. I suppose that’s progress for a genre defined by ridiculous plots, unrealistic characters acting like idiots, and, oh yeah, boobs.

Nate’s Grade: C

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 (2008)

The ladies that inhabit The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 are not the same group of gals that charmed the pants off of me in the 2005 original film. This time the foursome is feeling some strain because they’ve all graduated and moved onto insanely ludicrous positions. Tibby (Amber Tamblyn) is making movies at NYU; Lena (Alexis Bledel) is studying art at the Rhode Island School of Design; Bridget (Blake Lively) is assisting with an archeological dig in Turkey; and Carmen (America Ferrera) is at the Brown theater department where she gets the lead in a summer production. Let’s face it, these are not the down-to-earth girls that were presented before. Was it too much to ask that one of the girls have a modestly plausible scenario? The drama is again split into two camps, the petty and comedic (Lena must choose between boyfriends, Carmen has to practice her lines) and the melodramatic (Bridget still has to deal with her mom’s suicide, Tibby has a pregnancy scare). The movie doesn’t work this go-round because every beat of the plot is wholly predictable (of course the guy Lena flirts with in art class will end up being the nude model), and much of the conflict is just inane. The characters act in stupid and contrived ways because the plot demands it. Sure the condom broke but can’t Tibby get the morning after pill at least? Sisterhood 2 also packs a baby birth, reunion between granddaughter and the grandmother she never knew existed, and a climactic trip to Greece for some serious girl power. It’s drama overload and lacks the notable sincerity of the first film.

Nate’s Grade: C

Role Models (2008)

Is there an actor alive more charming than Paul Rudd? The always-affable actor has a terrific sarcastic yet lovable presence that never dips into being glib. Role Models is a great showcase for his sly comedic talents. The plot of irresponsible adults (Rudd, Sean William Scott) learning to be responsible by being big brothers to problem kids (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Bobb’e J. Thompson) is mostly conventional, but it’s the character camaraderie that makes the movie special. Watching the cast interact is a great pleasure, and they constantly add sustained laughs that seem organic to the plot and the characters. I found myself laughing out loud steadily, and although the ending is a bit formulaic I was amused that film didn’t break character once. It goes for gusto when it comes to embracing the geekery and cheesiness of a climactic medieval battle. There are witty running gags, rewarding payoffs, and the film even packs some heart, though it never gets sentimental. Combine a wicked comedic turn by the daffy Jane Lynch and some added Elizabeth Banks sparkle, and it all adds up into what might be the most satisfying mainstream comedy in a non-Judd Apatow-directed year.

Nate’s Grade: B+

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