Three Comedies from Alliance
Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (September 22/09)
As superficial and melodramatic as one might've expected, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past stars Matthew McConaughey as Connor Mead - a high-powered fashion photographer who has long-since established a reputation for himself as an unapologetic ladykiller. His skirt-chasing ways are threatened after he's provided an up-close-and-personal look at the meaningless nature of his existence by three ghosts, which inevitably forces him to reconsider his relationship with longtime friend Jenny Perotti (Jennifer Garner). Ghosts of Girlfriends Past has been infused with precisely the sort of predictable and downright familiar sensibilities that one has come to associate with most modern romantic comedies, and it's certainly not surprising to note that McConaughey's mere presence ultimately winds up exacerbating the film's various problems - as the actor delivers a variation on the smarmy work that he offers up at least twice a year in other films of this ilk. It's clear that McConaughey actually fares more poorly than he usually does, however, as he's inexplicably playing even the most low-key of moments at a level of energy that seems incongruous to the material (although, to be fair, the actor does a nice job with a heartfelt third-act speech). And while the supporting cast has been peppered with a number of familiar faces - including Breckin Meyer, Lacey Chabert, and Robert Forster - Michael Douglas' turn as Connor's sleazy uncle inevitably establishes itself as a highlight within the proceedings (which, given a proliferation of lines like "dames, they're like horses - they spook easy," certainly doesn't come as much of a surprise). The end result is an almost aggressively mediocre romcom that's unlikely to hold much appeal for most viewers, and it's impossible not to wonder just how many more of these things McConaughey has in him (ie it's becoming increasingly difficult to remember that the guy once possessed a whole lot of promise).
Nothing Like the Holidays (November 8/09)
A warm, unabashedly sentimental drama, Nothing Like the Holidays follows the extended Rodriguez clan as they assemble at the home of Edy (Alfred Molina) and Anna (Elizabeth Pena) to celebrate Christmas - with the bulk of the proceedings subsequently detailing the easy-going banter and arguments that inevitably ensue. Director Alfredo De Villa - working from a script by Alison Swan and Rick Najera - has infused the movie with an atmosphere of authenticity that proves impossible to resist, as the palpable chemistry between the various characters is consistently reflected in the ease with which they converse with one another (and there's little doubt that this emphasis on the Rodriguez's good-natured ribbing effectively perpetuates the familial vibe that's established early on). It's also worth noting that the film never quite succumbs to the eye-rolling histrionics one might've anticipated, which is certainly no small feat given the inclusion of a few admittedly melodramatic surprises and revelations (ie a certain person isn't quite as healthy as they appear to be). Molina and Pena's expectedly stellar work is matched by a uniformly impressive supporting cast that includes John Leguizamo, Luis Guzman, and Vanessa Ferlito, with Freddy Rodriguez's poignant turn as Edy and Anna's just-home-from-Iraq son a particular standout and a catalyst for some of the movie's most heartfelt sequences. There's ultimately little within Nothing Like the Holidays that viewers haven't seen countless times before, yet the film's air of pervasive congeniality generally makes it easy enough to overlook its reliance on overly familiar elements.
Visioneers (December 6/09)
Though armed with an impressive cast that includes Zach Galifianakis, Judy Greer, and James LeGros, Visioneers suffers from a pervasively meaningless vibe that effectively (and instantly) transforms it into a seriously oppressive and downright unwatchable piece of work. The eye-rollingly surreal storyline follows Galifianakis' George Washington Winsterhammerman, a level three "tunt" at the monolithic Jeffers Corporation, as he becomes increasingly concerned for his safety after people start spontaneously exploding, with the film subsequently detailing George's ongoing efforts at breaking out of his corporate rut and wooing a fetching former coworker (Mia Maestro's Charisma). It's not surprisingly to note that Visioneers effectively alienates the viewer right from the get-go, as director Jared Drake offers up an aggressively off-the-wall landscape that's exacerbated by the aimless, frustratingly vague bent of Brandon Drake's screenplay. The Drakes have infused the proceedings with a heavy-handed sensibility that results in an atmosphere of preachiness that's nothing short of intolerable, with the siblings' ongoing attempts at satirizing various corporate elements falling woefully flat and ensuring that the movie boasts the feel of a two-minute short that's been ungainly expanded to feature length. It accordingly goes without saying that the vibe of jaw-dropping incompetence extends even to the actors, with talented folks like Galifianakis and Greer left floundering in their unconscionably underwritten roles (ie one would, based on their flat work here, never guess that these performers had ever possessed even an ounce of charisma). The proliferation of hopelessly juvenile bits of comedy (ie characters greet one another by flipping the bird) cements Visioneers' place as an epically misguided piece of work, and it's ultimately difficult to envision any rational viewer finding much of anything within the proceedings worth embracing.
no stars out of