Sony Pictures' August '11 Releases
Exporting Raymond (August 1/11)
Exporting Raymond is a tedious and overlong documentary revolving around Phil Rosenthal's ongoing efforts at bringing his hit American series Everybody Loves Raymond to Russia, with the movie, for the most part, following Rosenthal as he butts heads with the many, many Russian individuals tasked with creating the new show. It's clear almost immediately that Rosenthal's sitcom-heavy background plays an instrumental role in triggering (and cementing) Exporting Raymond's downfall, as the movie, which actually pauses for laughter after moments of comedy, boasts a pervasively lighthearted sensibility that eventually grows oppressive - with the underwhelming atmosphere exacerbated by Rosenthal's inability to transform himself into a wholeheartedly compelling and sympathetic figure. (For the most part, Rosenthal comes off as a schticky, obnoxious presence who seems to delight in annoying his Russian hosts.) And while the initial culture clash is admittedly kind of interesting, Rosenthal's decision to emphasize increasingly needless elements - eg his ongoing arguments with the new show's uppity costume designer - results in a padded-out vibe that grows more and more problematic as time progresses. The inclusion of a few compelling interludes - eg Rosenthal meets with the head of Russia's famed Moscow Art Theater - ultimately can't compensate for Rosenthal's one-note modus operandi, and it's finally impossible to view Exporting Raymond as anything more than a self-indulgent waste of time.
Jumping the Broom (August 4/11)
Though it gets off to an almost disastrous start, Jumping the Broom ultimately establishes itself as a perfectly watchable romantic comedy that benefits from the efforts of its eclectic cast and from the appreciatively (and increasingly) trashy turns in the narrative. The film details the turmoil that ensues after Sabrina (Paula Patton) agrees to marry Jason (Laz Alonso), with the subsequent wedding inevitably devolving into fights and squabbles as Sabrina's upper-crust family welcomes Jason's working-class brood to their home. Director Salim Akil certainly takes his time in luring the viewer into the proceedings, as the filmmaker has infused the early part of Jumping the Broom with a palpably deliberate pace that's exacerbated by a recurring emphasis on familiar and downright hackneyed elements. (And this is to say nothing of Loretta Devine's nails-on-a-chalkboard turn as Jason's passive-aggressive, unreasonably obnoxious mother.) Things improve slightly as scripters Elizabeth Hunter and Arlene Gibbs begin to stress plot developments of a decidedly soapy nature, with the salacious happenings - eg one character discovers that her aunt is actually her mom, another suspects her husband of having an affair, etc, etc - buoying the viewer's interest and ensuring that Jumping the Broom subsequently comes off as a passable (if consistently unspectacular) piece of work. (The requisite inclusion of needlessly dramatic bits of business within the third act leaves the film with a rather unpleasant aftertaste, however.)
Priest (August 6/11)
Based on a graphic novel and set within a dystopian future, Priest follows Paul Bettany's Church-sanctioned vampire killer as he embarks on a quest to rescue his brother's daughter (Lily Collins' Lucy) from a clutch of vicious bloodsuckers - with the character's perilous quest assisted by Lucy's gung-ho boyfriend (Cam Gigandet's Hicks) and a former associate (Maggie Q) with her own reasons for wanting to join the fight. Filmmaker Scott Charles Stewart has suffused Priest with a dark and dreary visual sensibility that is, for the most part, nothing short of oppressive, with the unpleasant, pervasively hackneyed atmosphere draining the film of its energy and rendering the reasonably compelling premise moot. Bettany's charmless performance certainly fits in well with Stewart's lifeless modus operandi, as the actor scowls and grunts his way through Cory Goodman's sluggish, momentum-free screenplay. The movie's problems are compounded by the inclusion of hopelessly uninvolving action sequences, with the majority of such moments ruined by the one-two punch of Stewart's shaky camerawork and creatures that couldn't possibly look more artificial. (Not helping matters is the film's ludicrous PG-13 rating, which ensures that nary a drop of blood is spilled in the many, many battles.) The final result is as dull and intolerable an actioner as one can easily recall, with the film's failure hopefully triggering the end of the Stewart/Bettany partnership (which also produced the similarly mediocre Legion).