Mini Reviews (May 2010)
Coasting, Taken in Broad Daylight, MacGruber, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Letters to Juliet
Coasting (May 5/10)
Coasting follows two strangers (Jonathan C. Legat's Wes and Stephanie Wyatt's Lauren) as they meet in a bar and strike up an easy conversation, with the obvious attraction between the pair coming to naught as they inevitably return to their lives (and their respective partners). A year later, Wes and Lauren, both unhappy in their careers and relationships, happen to meet again in the same bar and immediately take their encounter to his hotel room - yet the surreptitious couple's happiness is eventually threatened by a rather unexpected revelation. Shot on a shoestring, Coasting boasts an amiable atmosphere that's perpetuated on a relatively frequent basis by Legat and Wyatt's strong work as the protagonists - with the actors' palpable chemistry with one another ensuring that the viewer can't help but root for their characters to ultimately wind up together. By that same token, however, there's little doubt that the movie demonstrably suffers when the focus is taken off Wes and Lauren's rocky romance - as director and cowriter Michael P. Noens proves unable to infuse the remainder of the proceedings with elements of a similarly compelling nature (and it certainly doesn't help that both Wes and Lauren's significant others are almost comically wrong for them). It's consequently not surprising to note that the film's third act, which is devoted primarily to the expected fake break-up, fares especially poorly, as the viewer can't help but grow impatient for the central characters to realize what we already know (ie that they're perfect for one another). Still, Coasting is, by and large, a satisfying romantic drama that benefits substantially from the charismatic work of its two stars - with Wyatt's captivating turn undoubtedly standing as a consistent highlight within the proceedings (ie the actress delivers an impassioned speech at about the midway point that virtually justifies the movie's entire existence).
Taken in Broad Daylight (May 17/10)
Based on true events, Taken in Broad Daylight follows chipper teen Anne Sluti (Sara Canning) as she's abducted by a mean-spirited survivalist (James Van Der Beek's Tony Zappa) and essentially forced to become his wife - with the film also detailing the ongoing attempts of several law enforcement officials to bring Anne home safely. Director Gary Yates has infused Taken in Broad Daylight with a persistently low-rent vibe that's exacerbated by Charlene Blaine and Kim Delgado's simplistic screenplay, with the movie's black-and-white sensibilities effectively holding the viewer at arm's length virtually from the get-go (ie Anne shares a laughably convivial relationship with her parents and brother). This aspect of the proceedings pales in comparison to Blaine and Delgado's head-scratching refusal to have Anne ask Tony why she's been kidnapped, as the two characters dance around the question for an absurdly prolonged period of time - which, in turn, ensures that the viewer can't help but dwell on this issue for much of the movie's opening hour (Tony's inevitable response, which finally comes around the 60-minute mark, is hopelessly anticlimactic). It subsequently goes without saying that the rape that comes late in the proceedings stands out like a sore thumb, as the rather unpleasant sequence stands in sharp contrast to an atmosphere that's otherwise consistently superficial and eye-rollingly amateurish (ie the movie hasn't earned the right to offer up such a nasty interlude). By the time the film arrives at its standoff finale, Taken in Broad Daylight has certainly established itself as a thoroughly wrong-headed endeavor that boasts little in the way of positive attributes - with the last-ditch effort at transforming Tony into a sympathetic figure emblematic of everything that's wrong with the movie.
MacGruber (May 19/10)
Based on the Saturday Night Live sketches, MacGruber follows the throat-ripping title character (Will Forte) as he and two associates (Kristen Wiig's Vicki St. Elmo and Ryan Phillippe's Dixon Piper) attempt to prevent a diabolical madman (Val Kilmer's Dieter Von Cunth) from using a pilfered nuke against Washington. There's little doubt that MacGruber fares best in its early stages, as screenwriters John Solomon, Jorma Taccone, and Forte offer up a knowing, occasionally hilarious send-up of action movies that's heightened by a consistent emphasis on the genre's most overused cliches - with director Taccone's decision to play things straight ensuring that the film initially comes off as a seriously successful parody. It's only as things get progressively sillier that MacGruber starts to become an unexpectedly tedious piece of work, with Forte's unreasonably over-the-top performance growing more and more difficult to stomach as the hopelessly thin storyline unfolds (ie what worked in 30 second doses just feels excessive at 88 minutes). The increased emphasis on eye-rollingly broad jokes and gags - ie the celery bit - ensures that MacGruber ultimately succeeds neither as an action flick nor as a balls-to-the-wall comedy, which is certainly a shame given the promising nature of the film's opening half hour.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (May 23/10)
An expectedly worthless horror-movie remake from Michael Bay's production company, A Nightmare on Elm Street follows several teenagers as they're stalked and killed in their dreams by a mysterious figure named Freddy (Jackie Earle Haley). It's clear almost immediately that A Nightmare on Elm Street, which boasts the same glossy sheen that accompanies all of Platinum Dunes' releases, possesses few attributes designed to win over either fans of the original or newcomers to the franchise, with the film's pervasively unpleasant vibe compounded by an emphasis on hackneyed and flat-out stale elements. And although there's certainly plenty to choose from in terms of the movie's less-than-enthralling attributes, it's the myriad of underdeveloped characters that stand as the most frustratingly incompetent aspect of the proceedings - as screenwriters Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer offer up a selection of protagonists that couldn't possibly be less interesting and somehow manage to transform one of the most iconic villains in screen history into a bland, hopelessly by-the-numbers boogeyman (ie Freddy, with his generic burn-ward makeup, primarily comes off as a garden-variety psycho with a penchant for spouting laughably repetitive chunks of dialogue). The atmosphere of tedium extends even to the movie's dream sequences, as filmmaker Samuel Bayer has infused the majority of such moments with a grimy and off-putting visual sensibility that's exacerbated by an astonishing lack of creativity (ie a dingy boiler room seems to be the primary locale for the various characters' nightmares). The end result is a thoroughly wrong-headed endeavor that manages to disappoint despite Platinum Dunes' abysmal track record, because it really takes a special kind of incompetence to mess up something as obvious and foolproof as Freddy Krueger.
Letters to Juliet (May 24/10)
A pleasant and consistently engaging romance, Letters to Juliet follows a New York-based fact checker (Amanda Seyfried's Sophie) as she and her betrothed (Gael Garcia Bernal's Victor) embark on a pre-honeymoon trip to Italy - where Sophie eventually encounters an older woman (Vanessa Redgrave's Claire) who is attempting to track down the man that she loved more than 50 years ago. The ensuing road trip to find said man effectively forces Sophie to re-examine her own relationship, with the presence of Claire's skeptical yet charming grandson (Christopher Egan's Charlie) undoubtedly complicating the issue. It's a rather familiar premise that's employed to consistently entertaining effect by director Gary Winick, although, admittedly, the viewer is prevented from wholeheartedly embracing the narrative at the outset as a result of Jose Rivera and Tim Sullivan's almost excessively free-wheeling screenplay. The pervasively affable atmosphere, propelled by the undeniably breathtaking scenery, does ensure that the film holds one's interest even through its less-than-enthralling stretches, however, with the introduction of Redgrave's character playing an instrumental role in Letters to Juliet's transformation from passable time-waster to surprisingly engrossing drama. Of course, it doesn't hurt that Seyfried offers up a typically personable turn as the central character - with her marvelously charismatic work heightened by the palpable chemistry she shares with co-star Egan (which, in turn, ensures that the thoroughly heartwarming finale packs quite an emotional punch). And although Winick sort of prolongs the inevitable in terms of Sophie and Charlie's expected coupling, Letters to Juliet finally establishes itself as an above average romance that stands head and shoulders above many contemporary romcoms.