Mini Reviews (June 2007)
Lies & Alibis, It's a Boy Girl Thing, Your Mommy Kills Animals!, Epic Movie, Nancy Drew, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Gracie
Lies & Alibis (June 4/07)
Though Lies & Alibis manages to coast along on the strength of its colorful cast and inventive visuals for a while, there comes a point at which Noah Hawley's screenplay just becomes too complex for its own good - with the film's final half hour a chaotic mess of double-crosses and plot twists. It's too bad, really, as the movie is initially an entertainingly lightweight comedy that benefits substantially from Coogan's enormously engaging turn as Ray Elliot - a slick businessman who's made a career out of cooking up alibis for unfaithful men and women. Coogan's sarcastic persona is put to particularly effective use here - ie after being roughed up by goons and told he's in the middle of his worst nightmare, Ray responds, "my worst nightmare has rats in it" - while the exceedingly quirky supporting cast (which includes, among others, James Brolin, Selma Blair, and Henry Rollins) certainly plays a substantial role in the film's early success. But the third act - which finds most of the characters converging on a swanky hotel - comes off as egregiously frenetic and flat-out incomprehensible, and leaves the film with one heck of a bad aftertaste.
It's a Boy Girl Thing (June 7/07)
Directed by Nick Hurran and written by Geoff Deane, It's a Boy Girl Thing follows two characters - Samaire Armstrong's goody-goody Nell and Kevin Zegers' rebellious Woody - as they switch bodies following an argument in front of an ancient Aztec statue. As expected, It's a Boy Girl Thing possesses many of the touchstones that have come to be associated with movies of this ilk - with much of the opening half devoted to sequences in which Nell and Woody mess with each other's lives (ie Woody-as-Nell starts dressing her in skanky clothes, while Nell-as-Woody breaks up with his cheerleader girlfriend). Such shenanigans eventually grow tiresome, however, and there's simply no denying the ineffectiveness of the film's second act - which is almost disastrously saggy and uneventful. It's not until Deane - having essentially dropped the comedic elements - places the emphasis on the more dramatic elements within the story that things start to improve, with the film ultimately adopting the feel of a genuinely affecting romance (the inclusion of a surprisingly touching moment between Nell and her father doesn't hurt, either). Armstrong and Zegers are cute and charming in their respective roles, while the supporting cast has been populated with a whole host of familiar Canadian faces (Maury Chaykin, Robert Joy, and Emily Hampshire, to name a few). Though nobody will ever mistake It's a Boy Girl Thing for a classic example of the genre - even the recent Freaky Friday update had more to offer than this - the film does possess enough heart and laughs to warrant a mild recommendation.
Your Mommy Kills Animals! (June 11/07)
Your Mommy Kills Animals! admittedly takes an awfully long time to get going, as director Curt Johnson initially focuses on the exploits of an animal liberation group called SHAC 7 (with a particular emphasis on founding members Kevin Kjonaas and Josh Harper). Johnson's decision to employ a talking-head format lends the proceedings a static feel that often feels overwhelming, as the viewer is essentially inundated with facts and tidbits that aren't terribly interesting. Fortunately, there comes a point at which Johnson moves onto other things - ie PETA's questionable modus operandi - and the film improves immeasurably; with the focus taken off Kjonaas and Harper, Your Mommy Kills Animals! ultimately becomes a fascinating, all-encompassing look at virtually every facet of the movement and it's consequently difficult not to inject one's own feelings into the ongoing debate. The filmmaker's questionable use of shock tactics aside - were those clips of various animals being tortured and killed really necessary? - Your Mommy Kills Animals! is a flawed yet remarkably even-handed look at an extraordinarily contentious issue.
Epic Movie (June 13/07)
The ongoing efforts of filmmakers Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer
to destroy the spoof genre continue with Epic Movie, as the film is just as ineffective as any of the pair's previous works (including the Scary Movie series and Date Movie). As they've proven time and time again, Friedberg and Seltzer possess a combined sense of humor that's juvenile at best and flat-out lame at worst; rather than actually satirize or lampoon elements within contemporary blockbusters, the two instead offer up brain-dead and eye-rollingly obvious "parodies" that even the most inept viewer can spot coming miles away (ie isn't Pirates of the Caribbean's Captain Jack already a ridiculously over-the-top figure?) The egregious emphasis on gross-out gags and toilet humor certainly doesn't help matters, although - admittedly - such shenanigans do contribute to the film's one solid laugh (Kal Penn's Edward enthusiastically mistakes Willy Wonka's sewage line for a river of chocolate). Epic Movie is undoubtedly (and ultimately) a more tolerable piece of work than Date Movie, but that's honestly not saying much.
Nancy Drew (June 14/07)
While there's little doubt that Nancy Drew has been geared primarily towards adolescent girls, the film never quite becomes the interminable piece of work that one might've expected - something that's due primarily to Andrew Fleming's bubbly (if styleless) directorial choices and Emma Roberts' star-making performance. The story follows ace teen detective Nancy Drew (Roberts) as she leaves her hometown of River Heights for sunny Los Angeles, where - as expected - she stumbles into a decades-old murder mystery. Screenwriters Fleming and Tiffany Paulsen effectively update Carolyn Keene's Nancy Drew character for an entirely new generation, with their only real misstep the ongoing references to Nancy's ill-received efforts to blend into contemporary society (including a curious subplot in which Nancy is shunned by her high school peers because of her meticulous personality). The relatively brisk pace - coupled with the inclusion of several genuinely surprising twists - ensures that the film never entirely overstays its welcome, and it's certainly difficult not to be won over by a supporting cast that includes (among others) Tate Donovan, Rachael Leigh Cook, and a surprise appearance by a major Hollywood star. And while Nancy Drew will never be mistaken for anything other than fluffy escapism, one could surely do much worse as far as movies of this ilk go.
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (June 14/07)
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer is sure to infuriate those who disliked its predecessor, as the film essentially offers up more of the same; more bad jokes, more predictable plot twists, and more ill-conceived action sequences. Director Tim Story - working from a screenplay by Don Payne and Mark Frost - has infused the proceedings with an egregiously light-hearted and thoroughly bland sensibility that will frustrate even the most die-hard fan of the original, and it's clear almost immediately that the film has been designed to appeal to as wide an audience as possible (with small children clearly the target demographic). The storyline - which finds the titular heroes (Ioan Gruffudd's Mr. Fantastic, Jessica Alba's Invisible Girl, Chris Evans' Johnny Storm, and Michael Chiklis' Thing) forced to battle a mysterious entity known as The Silver Surfer - doesn't have a whole lot to offer in terms of thrills or creativity, while the performances are unimpressive at best and flat-out unconvincing at worst (Alba continues to personify the latter). And while the movie never quite morphs into the all-out bore it often threatens to become - something that's due primarily to the mere presence of The Silver Surfer, an intriguing character that certainly deserves better than this - one can't help but lament the overall and pervading vibe of silliness that's been hard-wired into virtually every aspect of the production.
Gracie (June 19/07)
Though predictable at virtually every turn and almost relentlessly sentimental, Gracie ultimately establishes itself as a surprisingly moving and compelling story - with Carly Schroeder's star-making performance playing a key role in the film's success. Schroeder plays the title character, a spunky teenager who decides to take up soccer after her brawny (and revered) brother dies in a car accident. The film's central arc, which follows Gracie's efforts at convincing her father (Dermot Mulroney's Bryan) of her athletic abilities, is laid out by screenwriters Lisa Marie Petersen and Karen Janszen almost immediately, and Gracie consequently unfolds in a manner that holds few surprises (ie Gracie's rebellious streak lasts just long enough for Bryan to have a change of heart). There comes a point at which the movie's earnestness becomes impossible to resist, however, and the various problems are essentially rendered moot by the pervadingly sincere vibe (that the story is based on the true-life exploits of the Shue family certainly contributes to this feeling). And although the inclusion of an absurdly villainous character is nothing short of disastrous, Gracie does manage to carve out a place for itself among other underdog sports stories (the feel-good conclusion is particularly satisfying, while - if nothing else - it's hard not to get a kick out of seeing Andrew Shue onscreen again).