Mini Reviews (January 2008)
One Missed Call, In the Name of the King, Mad Money, 27 Dresses, Cloverfield, Over Her Dead Body
One Missed Call (January 4/08)
Though based on a book by Yasushi Akimoto, One Missed Call has clearly derived a significant amount of inspiration from the 2003 Japanese horror flick of the same name - as the movie generally feels like a watered-down carbon copy of its predecessor. It's worth noting, however, that this version of One Missed Call is actually no worse than the original; both films suffer from lackluster kill sequences, a dearth of interesting characters, and a central mystery that couldn't possibly be less interesting. Shannyn Sossamon stars as Beth, a plucky college student whose friends start dropping like flies after an evil spirit works its way into their cell phones (Ed Burns co-stars as the inquisitive cop who offers his help in solving the case). Director Eric Valette has infused One Missed Call with precisely the sort of slick sensibility that one generally associates with contemporary horror movies, and there's little doubt that the film's conspicuous lack of gore only exacerbates its various problems. The convoluted storyline has been peppered with a number of downright absurd touches, including Beth's ridiculous and flat-out laughable fear of peepholes (this is a hold-over from the original, to be fair). Sossamon's personable performance is just about the film's only saving grace, although - admittedly - Ray Wise does turn in a fairly amusing cameo as a sleazy television producer. But really, this is nothing less than bottom-of-the-barrel junk; the CGI-heavy (and consequently incoherent) finale and excessively familiar atmosphere (this is essentially The Ring with cell phones) will undoubtedly turn the stomach of even the staunchest horror fiend.
In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale (January 10/08)
Uwe Boll's relentless campaign to adapt every single videogame ever made for the silver screen continues with In the Name of the King, a big-budget fantasy epic that - while more competent on a technical level than his previous efforts - is as silly and needless as anything he's done before. Starring Jason Statham as a farmer named Farmer (??), the movie revolves around the all-out war that ensues between villainous creatures known as the Krugs and the inhabitants of an expansive kingdom ruled by King Konreid (Burt Reynolds). Though initially reluctant to join the fray, Farmer finds himself forced to do battle after the sneering Gallian (Ray Liotta) kills his son and kidnaps his wife. Admittedly, In the Name of the King is surprisingly fun for a little while; with its over-the-top battle sequences and almost uniformly campy performances (Liotta's hilariously broad performance is nothing short of remarkable), the flick is initially the kind of guilty pleasure that one craves following awards season. Boll's efforts at infusing the movie with an epic sensibility inevitably leads to its downfall, however, as the filmmaker - working from Doug Taylor's overwrought screenplay - bogs the proceedings down with oppressive amounts of expository dialogue and a whole host of needless supporting characters (the eclectic supporting cast includes, among others, Matthew Lillard, Kristanna Loken, and Ron Perlman). The interminable finale - which has been augmented with copious amounts of shoddy computer-generated imagery - only exacerbates the film's many problems, and while it does seem entirely likely that prepubescent boys will dig the heck out of this, In the Name of the King ultimately comes off as a pale carbon-copy of the Lord of the Rings series.
Mad Money (January 17/08)
Mad Money is an inoffensive, sporadically entertaining, yet ultimately underwhelming effort revolving around three Federal Reserve employees who concoct a plan to steal thousands of dollars from the joint, with Diane Keaton, Queen Latifah, and Katie Holmes ably stepping into the shoes of the film's broadly-drawn central characters. Director Callie Khouri - who actually won an Oscar back in '91 for writing Thelma and Louise - has infused Mad Money with all the style and grace of a garden-variety sitcom, and there's little doubt that the bland vibe is reflected in virtually every aspect of the proceedings. And while the supporting cast has been peppered with a number of familiar faces - including Ted Danson, Christopher McDonald, and Roger Cross - Stephen Root quickly establishes himself as the movie's most entertaining attribute thanks to his deliciously smarmy performance as the Reserve's stodgy manager. The chemistry between Keaton and her cohorts undoubtedly goes a long way towards keeping things initially interesting, though there does reach a point at which the whole thing starts to run out of steam (a problem that's exacerbated by the almost unreasonably predictable nature of the screenplay). The eye-rollingly upbeat conclusion cements Mad Money's status as a wish-fulfillment fantasy aimed at the lowest-common-denominator, although - admittedly - one could certainly do worse as far as recent Diane Keaton comedies go (ie 2007's abhorrent Because I Said So).
27 Dresses (January 17/08)
Though completely predictable from start to finish and saddled with a premise that's almost absurd in its obviousness - she loves weddings and he hates them! - 27 Dresses is nevertheless a genial, consistently watchable effort that undoubtedly benefits substantially from the uniformly compelling performances. Katherine Heigl stars as Jane, a successful corporate assistant who seems to spend all of her free time planning (and attending) other people's weddings. Though she harbors a secret crush on her boss (Ed Burns' George), Jane finds herself forced to look elsewhere for companionship after her gorgeous, supermodel sister (Malin Akerman's Tess) shows an interest in George. Such problems are exacerbated by the arrival of intrepid reporter Kevin (James Marsden) on the scene, as it eventually becomes clear that he's writing a story on Jane's bizarre wedding fixation to further his career. There's little doubt that Heigl's effortlessly charming performance goes a long way towards smoothing over many of 27 Dresses' overtly rough edges, though it's just as clear that the movie's lamentably melodramatic and downright manipulative third act effectively sucks all the energy right out of the proceedings (worse still, one can't shake the feeling that screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna is pandering to female viewers lacking in self-esteem). The awfully romantic finale admittedly ensures that the movie concludes on a high note and it's hard not to derive some enjoyment out of the quirky supporting cast (which includes, among others, Judy Greer playing the umpteenth sarcastic, man-hungry best friend of her career), yet there's just no denying that 27 Dresses is far from the intelligent and innovative romcom one might've expected from the scripter of The Devil Wears Prada.
Cloverfield (January 17/08)
With its distinctly queasy visual sensibilities and a cast comprised primarily of unknowns (the one notable exception being genre staple Chris Mulkey, who makes a brief appearance as a gruff military man), Cloverfield is a sporadically effective yet undeniably uneven piece of work that clearly would've benefited from a little less excitement surrounding its release (ie the film ultimately can't quite live up to the hype). Set over the course of one very long night, Cloverfield follows a group of friends (including Michael Stahl-David's Rob, Odette Yustman's Beth, and Lizzy Caplan's Marlena) as they attempt to avoid a monstrous creature rampaging through New York City. The film's central gimmick - it's been shot entirely from the point of view of the characters - certainly lends the proceedings a palpable you-are-there quality, yet the almost unreasonably shaky camerawork becomes tedious almost immediately and (worse still) ensures that it's often difficult to discern exactly what's going on (the fate of at least one character remains a mystery because of it, for example). And while it's impossible to deny the effectiveness of several monster-centric sequences, there's little doubt that the movie fares exceedingly poorly in terms of developing its human characters (this is particularly problematic during quieter moments, as the film essentially morphs into a second-rate young-adult melodrama that'd be more at home on the CW). By the time everything's said and done, Cloverfield simply isn't able to overcome its low-rent visuals - as one generally can't help but wish the film had been shot in a more straight-forward, flat-out traditional manner (it might've been nice to get a decent look at the monster, for one thing).
Over Her Dead Body (January 29/08)
Over Her Dead Body casts Eva Longoria as Kate, a bitchy would-be bride who dies in a freak ice-sculpture accident on the day of her wedding to Henry (Paul Rudd). A year later, Henry finds himself falling for a klutzy psychic (Lake Bell's Ashley) that can actually communicate with Kate - though it quickly becomes clear that Kate is going to do whatever it takes to keep Ashley away from her man. It's a silly premise that doesn't make much sense, as writer/director Jeff Lowell proves unable to offer up a convincing explanation for Kate's increasingly obnoxious behavior (ie why wouldn't she want her former fiancé to be happy?). This probably wouldn't be quite so problematic had Lowell not bogged the proceedings down with a relentless series of distinctly unfunny gags and set-pieces, and there's ultimately little doubt that Over Her Dead Body generally possesses the feel of a second-rate sitcom. Having said that, it's just as obvious that Rudd - whose mere presence here is nothing short of inexplicable - does periodically elevate the proceedings with his expectedly engaging performance (notwithstanding the appearance of a comically overweight pooch, Rudd's sporadic - and seemingly improvised - off-the-cuff remarks provide the film with its few laughs). Longoria and Bell are competent yet unspectacular (the former essentially offers up a shrill riff on her Desperate Housewives character), and although things do pick up slightly towards the end (particularly as Kate starts to communicate with Henry using a parrot), Over Her Dead Body generally remains a tired, utterly forgettable effort that boasts little in the way of positive attributes.