Four Comedies from Fox
Dylan Dog: Dead of Night (July 22/11)
Dylan Dog: Dead of Night follows Brandon Routh's title character, a one-time supernatural investigator, as he's reluctantly drawn back into the world of zombies, vampires, and werewolves, with the film's storyline kicked into gear after Dog is visited by a mysterious client (Anita Briem's Elizabeth) and his best friend (Sam Huntington's Marcus) is transformed into a zombie. It's an unabashedly outrageous premise that is, for the most part, employed to lackluster effect by director Kevin Munroe, as the filmmaker offers up a slow-moving narrative that effectively (and pervasively) prevents the viewer from connecting to the promising material - with the movie's hands-off atmosphere compounded by Routh's competent yet far-from-convincing performance (ie try as he might, the actor simply isn't able to pull off Dog's world-weary, grizzled demeanor). The presence of a decidedly lackluster protagonist proves to be the least of Dylan Dog: Dead of Night's problems, however, as scripters Thomas Dean Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer have placed at the film's core a case that simply isn't interesting or compelling in the slightest - which does ensure that the whole thing demonstrably runs out of steam long before it reaches its anticlimactic finale. And although there are a few clever moments sprinkled here and there - eg Dog heads to a "body shop" to procure an arm for his zombie sidekick - Dylan Dog: Dead of Night primarily comes off as a disappointingly lifeless adaptation that seems unlikely to satisfy even die-hard fans of the long-running comic series.
Based on a book by Jules Bass, Monte Carlo follows Selena Gomez's Grace as she and two friends (Katie Cassidy's Emma and Leighton Meester's Meg) embark on a whirlwind Parisian vacation to celebrate her high school graduation - with the trio's trip taking on an unexpectedly opulent dimension after Grace is mistaken for a spoiled British heiress named Cordelia Winthrop Scott. There's little doubt that Monte Carlo benefits substantially from the three leads' uniformly charismatic work, as filmmaker Thomas Bezucha otherwise proves unable to wholeheartedly draw the viewer into the surprisingly lifeless proceedings - with the movie's hands-off atmosphere compounded by an incongruously deliberate pace that only grows more and more oppressive as time goes on. Far more problematic, however, is Bezucha's reluctance (or unwillingness) to fully embrace the narrative's inherently comedic setup, as the film is disappointingly lacking in the sort of over-the-top, wish-fulfillment-type interludes that one might have anticipated. Instead, Bezucha and co-screenwriters April Blair and Maria Maggenti emphasize the protagonists' individual exploits and the respective life lessons that they inevitably learn (eg Meg discovers the importance of cutting loose, Emma comes to appreciate what she already has, etc, etc) - which ultimately ensures that Monte Carlo is rarely as much fun (or as entertaining) as its premise might've led one to expect.
Ramona and Beezus (July 18/11)
Ramona and Beezus is an affable yet forgettable little comedy revolving around the exploits of nine-year-old Ramona Quimby (Joey King), with the emphasis also placed on the comings and goings of the various figures in her life - including Ramona's older sister, Beezus (Selena Gomez), and their easygoing parents (John Corbett's Robert and Bridget Moynahan's Dorothy). Filmmaker Elizabeth Allen, working from a script by Laurie Craig and Nick Pustay, has infused Ramona and Beezus with a low-key sensibility that's perpetuated by the decidedly relaxed pace, and it is, as a result, not surprising to note that the movie is rarely as compelling or engrossing as one might've hoped. The film's kid-friendly atmosphere is heightened by Allen's decision to stress Ramona's fun-loving antics, and while some of this stuff is admittedly amusing, there's little doubt that the movie is at its best when focused on the adults in the story - with the cute, engaging romantic subplot between Ramona's aunt (Ginnifer Goodwin's Bea) and a neighbor (Josh Duhamel's Hobart) undoubtedly standing as a highlight within the proceedings. It's also worth noting that the movie benefits substantially from the inclusion of a few heartfelt moments towards the end (eg Ramona and Beezus bond over the death of a recently-departed pet), with the final result a passable family-friendly effort that will surely fare best among younger viewers and fans of Beverly Cleary's novels.
Take Me Home Tonight (July 24/11)
An affable comedy, Take Me Home Tonight details the comings and goings of several '80s-era twentysomethings over the course of one very long night - with the emphasis placed on the continuing exploits of amiable slacker Matt Franklin (Topher Grace) and the various figures in his life (including Dan Fogler's Barry Nathan and Teresa Palmer's Tori Frederking). There's little doubt that Take Me Home Tonight benefits substantially from filmmaker Michael Dowse's fast-moving sensibilities, as the movie has been saddled with a pervasively familiar narrative that boasts exceedingly little in the way of surprises - with the uniformly charming performances going a long way towards heightening the film's pervasively watchable atmosphere. Grace's expectedly engaging turn is matched by an impressively eclectic supporting cast that includes, among others, Chris Pratt, Michael Biehn, and Michelle Trachtenberg, although it's clear that Demetri Martin's scene-stealing work as Matt's wheelchair-bound former classmate stands as a (short-lived) highlight within the proceedings. The easygoing vibe compensates for the inevitable appearance of certain melodramatic plot developments within the final half hour (eg the dreaded fake break-up), while the surprisingly involving climax, which is triggered by Matt's impassioned speech on the state of his meandering existence, ensures that Take Me Home Tonight concludes on a decidedly positive note (and, at the same time, cements the movie's place as a better-than-expected bit of '80s nostalgia).