Mini Reviews (February 2013)
Movie 43, Broken City, Snitch
Movie 43 (February 1/13)
Sporadically funny yet terminally stupid, Movie 43 collects several short comedy sketches starring A-listers like Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet, Richard Gere, Emma Stone, and Terrence Howard - with the movie's wraparound story following a demented screenwriter (Dennis Quaid's Charlie) as he pitches his ideas at gunpoint to an off-kilter executive (Greg Kinnear's Griffin). It's ultimately clear that Movie 43 fares best in its first half, as the film's opening half hour boasts a number of irresistibly amusing shorts - including a fantastic bit of silliness featuring Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber as parents who take the home-schooling concept to impressively dark places. And although some of these sketches just don't work - eg Jackman plays a man with testicles dangling from his chin - the film boasts a pervasively affable vibe that does, for a little while, compensate for the less-than-compelling stretches contained within. It's just as clear, however, that the law of diminishing returns comes into effect somewhere around the midway point, as Movie 43 is, to an increasingly distressing degree, suffused with sketches of an irredeemably pointless and, far more problematic, hopelessly unfunny nature - including a seemingly endless effort in which Batman (Jason Sudeikis) wreaks havoc on Robin's (Justin Long) dating endeavors. The film is subsequently rife with skits that are either disastrously overlong (eg a promising first-date scenario between Halle Berry and Stephen Merchant devolves into gross-out humor) or flat-out misguided (eg Richard Gere plays an executive faced with an unusual marketing issue), and although the late-in-the-game inclusion of James Gunn's amusing short about a cartoon cat temporarily elevates the proceedings, Movie 43 has long-since established itself as a painfully erratic endeavor that does, generally speaking, fare worse than a garden-variety episode of Saturday Night Live.
Broken City (February 2/13)
Directed by Allen Hughes, Broken City follows cop-turned-private-investigator Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) as he uncovers a conspiracy of far-reaching proportions involving no less than the Mayor of New York City (Russell Crowe's Nicholas Hostetler). Before it gets bogged down in the convoluted machinations of Brian Tucker's screenplay, Broken City comes off as a surprisingly engrossing drama centered around Wahlberg's character's sleuthing exploits - with the early emphasis on Taggart's efforts at catching the Mayor's wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones' Cathleen) in a compromising position perpetuating the irresistibly watchable vibe. It's clear, however, that Broken City slowly-but-surely loses its hold on the viewer as it progresses into its increasingly muddled midsection, with the movie's transformation into a generic political-corruption thriller - the entire plot hinges on a sketchy housing deal, for crying out loud - especially disappointing given the strength of both the first act and the various performances. (In terms of the latter, Hughes has assembled an agreeably impressive roster of supporting players - including Barry Pepper, Kyle Chandler, and Jeffrey Wright.) The movie never quite sinks to the level of all-out mediocrity, admittedly, with the refreshingly adult, old-school atmosphere going a long way towards smoothing over the narrative's myriad of flaws - although, in the final analysis, it's impossible to label Broken City as anything more than a perfunctory and distressingly forgettable piece of work.
Snitch (February 21/13)
Snitch casts Dwayne Johnson as John Matthews, a mild-mannered (!) businessman who takes matters into his own hands after his teenage son (Rafi Gavron's Jason) is arrested for drug trafficking. With the backing of a tough-minded prosecutor (Susan Sarandon's Joanne Keeghan) and a grizzled cop (Barry Pepper's Cooper), John sets out to bring several notorious drug figures to justice (including Michael K. Williams' Malik and Benjamin Bratt's El Topo) - with the idea being that the arrest of these nefarious criminals will encourage Sarandon's character to free John's son. It's an absurd yet effective setup that is, at the outset, employed to watchable effect by Ric Roman Waugh, with the movie initially receiving plenty of mileage out of Johnson's expectedly charismatic turn as the central character. (This is despite the fact that the actor is badly miscast, as Johnson is never completely convincing as a salt-of-the-earth everyman.) It's clear, however, that Waugh's excessively deliberate sensibilities grow more and more problematic as time progresses, as the viewer is, to an increasingly demonstrative degree, held at arm's length by the movie's unreasonably (and incongruously, given the premise) slow pace - with the less-than-engrossing atmosphere compounded by Waugh's inept handling of the film's few action sequences (ie there's an overuse of shaky camerawork here that's nothing short of disastrous). And although Waugh has sprinkled the proceedings with a handful of compelling sequences - eg Cooper spells out exactly what could happen to John's family as a result of his exploits - Snitch ultimately comes off as a bargain-basement "thriller" that is, in the end, undone by its laughably sedate execution.