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Mini Reviews (April 2010)

The Brutal Truth, Everybody's Fine, Captain Abu Raed, Diverted, The Bounty Hunter, The Losers, The Last Song

The Brutal Truth (April 9/10)

Devoid of positive attributes, The Brutal Truth follows several former schoolmates (including Moon Unit Zappa's Alex, Justin Lazard's T.J., and Molly Ringwald's Penelope) as they reunite at a secluded cabin after receiving a mysterious invitation from one of their own (Christina Applegate's Emily). Director Cameron Thor's incompetence is clear virtually from the word go, as the filmmaker offers up a selection of uniformly unlikable and underdeveloped characters and effectively thrusts them into a situation that couldn't possibly be less interesting. There's subsequently never a point at which the viewer is able to work up any enthusiasm for the protagonists' ongoing exploits, with screenwriter Tim Puntillo's reliance on laughably inauthentic dialogue only exacerbating the movie's pervasive atmosphere of pointlessness. And although the various performers try their best to inject the hopelessly flaccid material with jolts of energy, The Brutal Truth's relentlessly wrongheaded sensibilities ensure that their collective efforts are all for naught (which isn't terribly surprising, really, given that this is, after all, a film that features a sequence in which a blind man's dog is accidentally murdered after being kidnapped for the ransom money). The big revelation that arrives at the end of the movie that's presumably been designed to tie everything together is especially infuriating, as it comes off as downright nonsensical and ultimately seems as though it belongs in an entirely different film. The end result is a consistently (and aggressively) worthless piece of work that wastes a relatively talented cast, with the all-too-brief Breakfast Club reunion between Molly Ringwald and costar Paul Gleason representing the movie's only compelling element.

no stars out of

Everybody's Fine (April 10/10)

Based on the 1990 film by Giuseppe Tornatore, Everybody's Fine follows recent widower Frank Goode (Robert De Niro) as he embarks on a spontaneous trip to visit his children (Drew Barrymore's Rosie, Kate Beckinsale's Amy, and Sam Rockwell's Robert) - with the journey inevitably forcing Frank to confront a series of unpleasant truths. Filmmaker Kirk Jones has infused Everybody's Fine with a gentle, decidedly laid-back sensibility that certainly proves an effective complement to his far-from-eventful screenplay, and there's little doubt that the viewer's interest is subsequently (and primarily) sustained by the efforts of a uniformly impressive roster of actors - with De Niro's strong yet far-from-magnetic work often overshadowed by the supporting cast (Rockwell is especially good here). The absence of drama within the film's opening hour - it's essentially just Frank traveling around, talking to people - essentially prevents the viewer from wholeheartedly connecting with the material, which, in turn, ensures that certain revelations towards the conclusion aren't quite able to pack the emotional punch that Jones is clearly striving for (although, to be fair, the film's penultimate interlude is awfully affecting). The end result is an unapologetically sentimental drama that is, admittedly, almost TV movie-ish in its execution, with the pervasively affable atmosphere ultimately compensating for the sporadically less-than-enthralling nature of the film's narrative.

out of

Captain Abu Raed (April 14/10)

Jordan's first feature in over 50 years, Captain Abu Raed follows a kind-hearted airport janitor (Nadim Sawalha's Abu Raed) as he stumbles upon a pilot's discarded hat one day and subsequently tricks all the neighborhood kids into believing that he is, in fact, an airline captain - with this aspect of the proceedings eventually used as a springboard for an episodic look at the downtrodden existence of Abu Raed's children and the degree to which he inevitably changes their lives for the better. Filmmaker Amin Matalga does a nice job of eliciting impressive performances from a cast comprised primarily of unknowns and it's also worth noting that the movie boasts an unexpectedly cinematic sensibility that belies its low budget, yet despite his best intentions, Matalga is simply unable to transform this simple story into a wholeheartedly compelling piece of work. Exacerbating matters is the writer/director's decision to infuse the proceedings with a pace that's almost oppressively slow, which - in addition to holding the viewer at arm's length from start to finish - results in a progressively tedious atmosphere that effectively renders the film's positive attributes moot. The relentlessly earnest vibe - coupled with a finale that's admittedly quite touching - ultimately prevents Captain Abu Raed from becoming the all-out bore one might've anticipated, although, given its place an all-too-rare Jordanian production, the movie finally can't help but come off as a disappointing missed opportunity.

out of

Diverted (April 14/10)

Diverted details the chaos that ensues after 38 planes heading to New York City on September 11, 2001 are rerouted to Gander, Newfoundland, with the film primarily detailing the ongoing exploits of several British passengers and a handful of the city's residents. There's little doubt that Diverted, despite the inherently compelling nature of its premise, never quite becomes anything more than a mildly watchable movie-of-the-week, as the film has been infused with a decidedly pedestrian sensibility that's reflected in virtually all of its attributes - with the simplistic portrayal of the various protagonists undoubtedly ranking high on the movie's list of less-than-enthralling elements. It's subsequently not surprising to note that the talented cast is simply unable to breathe any real life into these uniformly underwritten characters, which ensures that personable performers like Joanne Whalley, David Suchet, and Shawn Ashmore find themselves forced to participate in a series of almost eye-rollingly hackneyed situations and scenarios. (This is especially true of Ashmore's Mike Stiven, as the character's romance with a passenger would seem over-the-top in even the silliest of romcoms.) The decision to bog down what could have been a pleasant slice-of-life comedy with needless instances of melodrama effectively cements Diverted's place as a passable misfire, and it ultimately does seem as though the material - and the actors - deserved a lot better than this.

out of

The Bounty Hunter (April 21/10)

It's becoming increasingly clear that Gerard Butler should probably stay as far away from the romcom genre as possible, as the actor has thus far shown a lamentable penchant for selecting material of an exceedingly (and disappointingly) run-of-the-mill nature. The Bounty Hunter casts Butler as Milo Boyd, a cop-turned-bounty-hunter who happily agrees to retrieve his feisty ex-wife (Jennifer Aniston's Nicole Hurley) after she skips out on a bail hearing - with his ongoing efforts at bringing her in safely inevitably complicated by a host of progressively violent outside forces. The well-worn nature of the movie's plot is generally not as problematic as its sitcom-like execution, as director Andy Tennant - working from a script by Sarah Thorp - has infused the proceedings with a fast-paced yet thoroughly pedestrian sensibility that inevitably grows tiresome. The central characters' relentless bickering - as well as their lack of chemistry together - ensures that the viewer has no real interest in seeing Milo and Nicole reconcile their differences, while the progressively tedious storyline, which boasts dirty cops, dangerous mobsters, and comically inept henchmen, proves instrumental in cementing the film's transformation from an affable timewaster to an interminable waste of time. It subsequently goes without saying that some judicious trimming could only have helped matters, as there's little doubt that The Bounty Hunter ultimately comes off as a perfectly watchable 80-minute romantic comedy trapped within the confines of a bloated two-hour mess - which is a shame, really, given the strength of Butler's expectedly charismatic work here (and this is to say nothing of Jason Sudeikis' scene-stealing turn as Nicole's tenacious coworker).

out of

The Losers (April 23/10)

A hopelessly bland actioner, The Losers follows a ragtag team of former special-ops soldiers (Jeffrey Dean Morgan's Clay, Idris Elba's Roque, Chris Evans' Jensen, Columbus Short's Pooch, and Oscar Jaenada's Cougar) as they embark on a campaign of revenge against the sinister mastermind (Jason Patric's Max) who left them for dead. Director Sylvain White has infused The Losers with an uninspired and downright incompetent visual sensibility that immediately establishes itself as the movie's most problematic attribute, as the filmmaker's reliance on eye-rollingly hackneyed stylistic elements - ie random instances of slow motion, shaky camerawork during fight scenes, etc - ultimately heightens the consistently generic nature of Peter Berg and James Vanderbilt's screenplay. The ensuing atmosphere of by-the-numbers tedium effectively prevents the viewer from working up the slightest bit of interest in the title gang's ongoing efforts, with the surprisingly talented cast primarily left floundering as they attempt to breathe life into their one-dimensional, sketchily-conceived characters (ie let's get a moratorium going on wisecracking computer geeks, okay?) The absence of genuine thrills ensures that the action-packed climax is about as exciting as game of Trivial Pusuit, and it's finally impossible to label The Losers as anything more than an aggressively middle-of-the-road revenge thriller (ie this is essentially the action equivalent of a Kate Hudson romcom).

out of

The Last Song (April 24/10)

Based on the book by Nicholas Sparks, The Last Song follows moody teenager Ronnie Miller (Miley Cyrus) as she and her young brother (Bobby Coleman's Jonah) arrive at their father's (Greg Kinner's Steve) beachfront home for the summer - with Ronnie's disgust for her temporary digs evaporating after she meets (and falls for) a hunky local named Will (Liam Hemsworth). There's little doubt that The Last Song primarily comes off as a fairly typical Nicholas Sparks adaptation, as the movie boasts virtually all of the attributes that one has come to expect from the popular writer's works - including an idealized romance between unlikely protagonists and a tragedy that inevitably shakes up the various characters' lives. And although Cyrus' less-than-competent work does take some getting used to - she is, unfortunately, more Madonna than Jennifer Lopez in terms of her acting abilities - The Last Song ultimately proves to be a far more engaging piece of work than the viewer might've initially suspected. The ongoing emphasis on needless subplots and asides is rather unfortunate, admittedly, and one can't help but wonder why a simple summertime romance story has been bogged down with so many extraneous elements. It's worth noting that such concerns become moot once The Last Song morphs into a full-fledged tearjerker, as the film boasts a poignant final half hour that basically compensates for the unevenness of that which preceded it - with Kinnear's expectedly masterful performance effectively perpetuating the third act's surprisingly affecting atmosphere. The final result is a consistently watchable endeavor that's right in line with other adaptations of Sparks' books, with Cyrus' pervasively lackluster performance ultimately standing as the movie's one overtly underwhelming attribute (although, to be fair, the actress' palpable chemistry with Hemsworth goes a long way towards offsetting her lack of talent).

out of

© David Nusair