Mini Reviews (March 2011)
Beastly, Quicksand: No Escape, The Adjustment Bureau, Crackerjack
Beastly (March 1/11)
Based on Alex Flinn's novel, Beastly follows arrogant teen Kyle Kingsbury (Alex Pettyfer) as he raises the ire of an honest-to-goodness witch (Mary-Kate Olsen's Kendra) and is subsequently transformed into a hideous freak - with the film detailing Kyle's initial efforts at locking himself away from the world and, eventually, his attempts at winning the love of a compassionate fellow student (Vanessa Hudgens' Lindy). Filmmaker Daniel Barnz has infused Beastly with a surprisingly languid sense of pacing that does, at the outset, prevent the viewer from wholeheartedly embracing the characters or the (admittedly familiar) storyline, with the strength of the various performances proving instrumental in keeping things interesting through the movie's stagier sequences (ie a good chunk of the proceedings transpire within Kyle's expansive yet hidden country home). Pettyfer's charismatic turn as the protagonist is heightened by his obvious chemistry with Hudgens, though there's little doubt that Neil Patrick Harris, cast as Kyle's blind tutor, steals every one of his scenes and walks away with the title of MVP. And while the sluggish nature of the movie's midsection is exacerbated by the questionable inclusion of certain elements from the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale - ie the circumstances surrounding Lindy's reluctant decision to move into Kyle's mansion - Beastly benefits substantially from an uplifting, thoroughly satisfying conclusion that's arrived at without the assistance of a fake break-up (with the dreaded cliché's absence alone justifying an extra half star for the film). It does, as a result, go without saying that Beastly stands as a cut above other efforts of this type, which effectively ensures that the movie holds as much appeal for non-teenagers as it does for its target demographic.
Quicksand: No Escape
Quicksand: No Escape casts Tim Matheson as Scott Reinhardt, a struggling architect who learns that his partner (Timothy Carhart's Charlie Groves) has paid off a high ranking public official to land a pivotal contract - with Scott's afternoon going from bad to worse as he encounters a crooked police officer who knows about the bribe and demands $5000 to keep his mouth shut. A struggle ensues and the cop dies; the following morning, Scott is set to turn himself in when he learns that the victim was found with a bullet in his head (which Scott obviously didn't put there). It's not long before Scott meets a shady, sleazy man (Donald Sutherland's Murdoch) who demands a cash payoff to keep quiet about Scott's (fake) involvement in the premeditated murder, with the movie subsequently detailing Scott's efforts at coming up with the money and, eventually, his exploits as he performs a series of favors in lieu of paying Murdoch the cash. It's a familiar premise that's employed to pervasively middling effect, as the movie moves at a surprisingly deliberate pace and generally unfolds exactly as one might've anticipated - with the less-than-engrossing atmosphere compounded by Matheson's competent yet bland turn as the increasingly harried protagonist. And while Sutherland delivers an entertainingly smarmy performance that stands as an obvious highlight within the proceedings, Quicksand: No Escape is simply (and ultimately) unable to wholeheartedly justify its existence or add anything new to the genre (although, to be fair, the film does conclude on a rather unexpected note).
The Adjustment Bureau
Based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, The Adjustment Bureau casts Matt Damon as David Norris - an up-and-coming politician whose efforts at wooing a spunky ballerina (Emily Blunt's Elise) are consistently thwarted by a group of mysterious, fedora-wearing men. It's clear right from the outset that The Adjustment Bureau benefits substantially from Damon's almost remarkably charismatic performance, as the actor's striking and thoroughly engaging turn proves instrumental in initially capturing the viewer's interest - with the palpable chemistry between his and Blunt's character quickly confirming the film's place as a pervasively watchable romantic drama. (It certainly doesn't hurt that the pair's first encounter is unquestionably one of the most engrossing and flat-out adorable meet cutes to come around in quite some time.) The compelling atmosphere is heightened by the inclusion of several absolutely electrifying sequences - David attempts to meet Elise despite ongoing interference from the title figures - and there's little doubt that first-time filmmaker George Nolfi does a superb job of sustaining the movie's off-kilter atmosphere virtually from start to finish. And although the narrative does falter somewhat as it enters its inevitable fake break-up phase, The Adjustment Bureau bounces back with an exciting, surprisingly moving climax - which ultimately does ensure that the film lingers in one's mind long after the credits have rolled.
As blatant a Die Hard clone as one could envision, Crackerjack follows police officer Jack Wild (Thomas Ian Griffith) as he arrives at a remote mountain resort for some rest and relaxation - with the loose cannon cop's vacation cut short after a group of armed terrorists, led by Christopher Plummer's Ivan Getz, storm the isolated building and immediately take the various revelers hostage. It's an inherently entertaining setup that's employed to pervasively underwhelming effect by director Michael Mazo, as the filmmaker, working from a script by Michael Bafaro and Jonas Quastel, has infused the movie with an almost relentlessly low-rent feel that's exacerbated by a variety of elements - including the amateurish performances, artificial-sounding dialogue, and laughable special effects work. The inept atmosphere ensures that one is simply never able to able to work up any interest in the protagonist's ongoing efforts, with Griffith's energetic yet far-from-charismatic performance standing in sharp contrast to Plummer's impressively smarmy turn as the film's megalomaniacal villain. And although the movie does boast a couple of admittedly decent hand-to-hand fights, Crackerjack is, by and large, devoid of precisely the sort of engaging action sequences that would've made it far easier to overlook its myriad of deficiencies - which ultimately ensures that the film is unable to become the guilty pleasure Mazo has clearly intended.