Mini Reviews (March 2008)
Revamped, Funny Games, Good Luck Chuck, Sleepwalking, Shutter, 21, Kid Power, "High" Roller: The Bob Perry Story
Revamped (March 10/08)
While there's certainly no mistaking Revamped for anything other than a terrible, downright amateurish mess, the film - astoundingly enough - never entirely sinks down to the level of flat-out tedium and generally holds the viewer's interest for the duration of its mercifully short running time. This is primarily due to the misguided yet hilariously campy efforts of filmmaker Jeff Rector, with the would-be Ed Wood infusing the proceedings with an unapologetically broad vibe that sporadically proves impossible to resist. Rector stars as Richard, a businessman-turned-vampire who finds himself forced to combat an underground cabal of vicious bloodsuckers (led by Billy Drago's Vladimus). In addition to the laughable special effects and epically horrendous dialogue, Rector himself proves to be a less-than-stellar performer whose only saving grace is the straight-faced earnestness with which he tackles his sketchily-drawn character. In the movie's favor, however, is a supporting cast that effectively revives one's dwindling attention every 10 minutes or so, as Rector offers up a veritable cavalcade of familiar (albeit z-list) celebrities - including Martin Kove (The Karate Kid's evil sensei), Vernon Wells (Commando's Bennett), Carel Struycken (The Addams Family's Lurch), and Dennis Haskins (Saved by the Bell's Mr. Belding). The end result is an openly ridiculous piece of work that's just begging for the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment; on that admittedly absurd level, there's little doubt that Revamped succeeds.
Funny Games (March 11/08)
Funny Games marks the English-language debut of German provocateur Michael Haneke, and it's ultimately impossible not to wonder why the controversial auteur has settled on a remake of one of his weakest efforts (1997's sporadically chilling yet wholly ineffective film of the same name). This iteration of the slow-moving story features many of the same beats and shocks as its predecessor, which - of course - ensures that the movie also suffers from precisely the sort of overwhelming problems that plagued the original. Tim Roth and Naomi Watts star as George and Ann, a married couple who - along with their young son, Georgie (Devon Gearhart) - arrive at their vacation home only to encounter a pair of sadistic sociopaths (Michael Pitt's Paul and Brady Corbet's Peter). Admittedly, Haneke does a superb job of infusing the early part of the proceedings with an ominous and downright suspenseful vibe - as the filmmaker, in keeping with his masochistic tendencies, clearly takes delight in making the viewer feel trapped and uncomfortable. It's only with the inclusion of several needlessly ostentatious elements that the film begins its downward spiral, with Paul's repeated asides directly to the viewer (as well as his ability to shift the outcome of a pivotal sequence) undoubtedly playing a key role in Funny Games' shift from a better-than-average thriller to a flat-out interminable art-house experiment. It's a shame, really, as the movie does boast several excellent performances - Watts, in particular, is especially good here - and Haneke's steady directorial hand ensures that the whole thing is almost always intriguing on a purely visual level. Yet the filmmaker's increasingly heavy-handed modus operandi eventually becomes too insurmountable an obstacle for the production to overcome, with the end result a wildly uneven effort that's periodically nothing short of infuriating.
Good Luck Chuck (March 12/08)
Though marginally better than the repulsive Employee of the Month, Good Luck Chuck nevertheless comes off as the latest misfire from erstwhile comedian Dane Cook - as the actor has been yet again shoehorned into an eye-rollingly desperate storyline that's almost entirely devoid of real laughs. This time around Cook plays Charlie Logan, an affable dentist who discovers that he has the power to help the opposite sex discover their true love - with the catch being that he has to sleep with them before it can happen. Charlie, naturally, takes advantage of this gift by bedding a bevy of beauties, although - after falling for a klutzy penguin specialist (Jessica Alba's Cam) - he finds himself forced to practice abstinence for fear of losing his own soul mate. There's little doubt that Josh Stolberg's bone-headed script plays a significant role in Good Luck Chuck's ultimate failure, as the screenwriter has peppered the proceedings with an inept and uncomfortably broad sensibility that proves disastrous. The complete lack of authenticity that's been hard-wired into the film's various characters is nothing short of astounding; with few exceptions, none of these people behave in a manner that's even close to believable (ie Charlie, desperate not to lose Cam, bafflingly decides to smother her with attention). It's subsequently impossible to care about the amorous subplot between Charlie and Cam, which effective ensures that the big finale - there's a race to the airport and everything! - comes off as forced and artificial (ie the movie hasn't earned the right to employ such hoary romcom conventions). Cook is fairly charming and Alba is certainly no worse than she's been in the past, but really, Good Luck Chuck is simply a waste of time that might appeal to indiscriminating teens but few others.
Low-key to an almost absurd degree, Sleepwalking is a well-meaning yet wholly ineffective indie that's ultimately undone by Zac Stanford's increasingly aimless screenplay. The film primarily revolves around the strained relationship between the dim-witted James (Nick Stahl) and his rebellious niece (AnnaSophia Robb's Tara), as the two are essentially forced together after James' sister (and Tara's mother) Joleen (Charlize Theron) hits the road in search of a better life. It's in its early sequences that Sleepwalking fares best, as the movie boasts a fairly intriguing premise and a number of expectedly effective performances (Robb and Stahl are both very good, though the latter is admittedly mining awfully familiar territory here). The inherently uneventful nature of Stanford's script becomes more and more problematic as the film progresses, and there does reach a point at which the viewer essentially starts to crave anything even resembling a substantive plot development (ie one can only indulge the filmmakers so far). By the time James and Tara wind up on a farm with an almost comically irate Dennis Hopper, it's not difficult to imagine most viewers throwing up their arms in frustration - as one simply can't help but wonder just what the point of all this is supposed to be.
Shutter (March 24/08)
Though it's been received rather favorably in horror circles, Shutter ultimately comes off as yet another hopelessly derivative and downright interminable Asian creeper that owes its entire existence to such forebearers as Ringu and Dark Water. Filmmakers Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom have infused the proceedings with precisely the sort of elements one has come to expect from a movie of this ilk, and there's consequently little doubt that Shutter is almost entirely lacking in surprises or genuine scares (ie is there anybody who still finds the image of a long-haired apparition even remotely frightening?) The familiar storyline follows Thai couple Tun (Ananda Everingham) and Jane (Natthaweeranuch Thongmee) as they find themselves pursued by the spirit of a vengeful ghost, with the bulk of the film devoted to their efforts at solving the dead girl's mystery before it's too late. With its stunningly bland heroes and egregiously deliberate pace, Shutter is almost entirely devoid of positive attributes - with the film's sole bright spot a surprisingly effective, entirely dialogue-free sequence detailing Tun's ill-fated relationship with his relentless pursuer. But - bottom line - there's virtually nothing within Shutter that horror fans haven't seen countless times before (and done with much more subtlety and skill, admittedly).
21 (March 25/08)
Based on Ben Mezrich's predictable yet comparatively masterful book Bringing Down the House, 21 follows brilliant MIT math student Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess) as he's invited to join an underground card-counting operation and subsequently experiences the highs (and inevitable lows) of high-stakes gambling. It's an exceedingly familiar storyline that could've been used as a springboard for something fresh and interesting; in the hands of director Robert Luketic and screenwriters Peter Steinfeld and Allan Loeb, however, the film quickly devolves into an interminable mess of hoary cliches and stale conventions (a trying-on-clothes montage? Really?) The perfunctory performances ensure that the energy level remains virtually non-existent from start to finish, while Luketic's complete and utter lack of style only exacerbates the movie's various problems (this is to say nothing of his woefully misguided decision to eschew film and shoot digitally, which ultimately lends the proceedings a low-rent and downright unpleasant visual sensibility). The end result is an egregiously slick effort that's about as complex as an episode of Las Vegas, with the key difference being that 21 lumbers along for an almost excruciating 123 minutes (seriously, the film just refuses to end).
Kid Power (March 25/08)
Though saddled with a seemingly foolproof premise - several exasperated moms and dads decide to get revenge on their bratty kids - Kid Power ultimately comes off as a laugh-free, disastrously over-the-top comedy that possesses little in the way of positive attributes. Director and co-writer Eric Civanyan emphasizes jokes and gags that are beyond stale, and there's little doubt that the movie's downfall is a result of his decision to place the story's so-called bits of hilarity within the context of an egregiously melodramatic framework. The incredibly repetitive vibe certainly doesn't help matters, as Civanyan pummels the viewer with sequence after sequence of the flaccid parents pranking their spoiled offspring (ie a father shows up at his daughter's school and proceeds to embarrass her until she starts to cry). It's consequently worth noting that despite the efforts of such talented performers as Sandrine Bonnaire, Pascal Legitimus, and Anne Parillaud, Kid Power remains an almost interminable effort for the majority of its mercifully brisk running time.
"High" Roller: The Bob Perry Story (March 31/08)
Though infused with precisely the sort of elements one expects from a rags-to-riches documentary, "High" Roller: The Bob Perry Story is nevertheless unable to effectively justify its existence - with the pervading vibe of amateurishness proving instrumental in the film's ultimate downfall. There's consequently little doubt that what should have been a riveting true-life story is instead only sporadically interesting, although this is certainly through no fault of the movie's admittedly fascinating subject. Bob Perry was once ranked as one of the most promising bowlers within the sport, yet his downfall came swiftly following a series of mishaps and unfortunate incidents (including a debilitating car accident, a struggle with alcoholism and drug abuse, a seven-month prison stint, etc, etc). His tale of woe seems to have been tailor-made for the documentary film treatment, and yet directors Tom Malloy and Ross Marroso are inevitably unable to transform the man into a figure worth following for the duration of the movie's 62 minutes. Worse still, the filmmakers' utterly misguided decision to employ a number of low-rent stylistic choices - ie black-and-white reenactments of certain events from Perry's life - instills an air of ineptness within the proceedings that proves insurmountable. The appropriately uplifting finale notwithstanding, "High" Roller: The Bob Perry Story possesses too few positive attributes to warrant a hearty recommendation - though it does seem likely that bowling aficionados might find more here to embrace than neophytes.