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The Waterboy (July 10/10)

An agreeable yet forgettable comedy, The Waterboy follows the dimwitted title character (Adam Sandler's Bobby Boucher) as he becomes a star football player by using his pent-up anger as a motivating tool - with complications ensuing as Bobby's overprotective mother (Kathy Bates) inevitably forbids him from participating in the violent sport. Director Frank Coraci - working from a screenplay by Tim Herlihy and Sandler - has infused The Waterboy with a pervasively affable vibe that effectively compensates for its curious lack of laughs, with Sandler's expectedly charming performance ensuring that the viewer can't help but root for his character's success both on and off the football field. The rather familiar trajectory of the movie's storyline is consequently not quite as problematic as one might've anticipated, although it's worth noting that the climactic match goes on far longer than necessary and is sure to leave football neophytes scratching their collective heads in confusion (ie the sequence is baffling even by the notoriously convoluted standards of the sport). Still, The Waterboy stands as a marked improvement over the majority of Sandler's more recent endeavors - ie Click, You Don't Mess with the Zohan, I Now Pronounced You Chuck and Larry, etc, etc - and there's little doubt that the film is often far more entertaining than it really has any right to be (ie the combination of Sandler's oddball vocal work and the football-heavy storyline should've, by all rights, resulted in a seriously interminable piece of work).

out of

Live! (July 11/10)

A surprisingly plausible mockumentary, Live! follows an ambitious (and callous) television executive (Eva Mendes' Katy) as she attempts to put a new reality show into production that would see six strangers play a game of Russian Roulette live on the air - with her colleagues' initial horror eventually giving way to acceptance as the rather lucrative nature of the program becomes clear. (As one of Katy's underlings notes, "the potential to see people die is an unbelievable draw.") It's an intriguing setup that's initially employed to captivating effect by filmmaker Bill Guttentag, as the writer/director does a nice job of luring the viewer into the proceedings by establishing an atmosphere of authenticity that proves impossible to resist (ie it's not difficult to envision actual TV execs greenlighting such a program). The engaging vibe persists for about a half hour or so, after which point the thin premise is slowly but surely stretched beyond its breaking point - with the ongoing emphasis on Katy's bureaucratic battles draining one's interest and ensuring that the film's midsection comes off as an almost hopelessly repetitive slog. There's little doubt, however, that things pick up once the controversial show starts, as the inherently engrossing and suspenseful nature of the program is heightened by the efforts of a surprisingly talented roster of performers - with Jeffrey Dean Morgan's hypnotically charismatic turn as a down-on-his-luck contestant certainly standing as a highlight within the proceedings. It's a compelling stretch that almost compensates for the unevenness of all that precedes it (as well as the tacky and eye-rollingly sententious bent of the finale), which effectively cements Live!'s place as a watchable (yet disappointing) piece of work.

out of

Predators (July 12/10)

An obvious improvement over the two Alien vs. Predator movies, Predators follows a group of grizzled strangers (including Adrien Brody's Royce, Topher Grace's Edwin, and Alice Braga's Isabelle) as they're forced to put aside their differences and work together after they find themselves hunted by the titular creatures. There's little doubt that Predators establishes itself as a superior follow-up virtually from the word go, as the inherently compelling premise is heightened by both Nimrod Antal's appreciatively restrained directorial choices and by the efforts of a uniformly engaging cast. It's just as obvious, however, that the movie is at its best in its opening half hour, with the mystery surrounding the protagonists' perilous situation far more engrossing than the series of fight sequences that come to dominate the film's latter half. Predators' shift from captivating sequel to passable actioner is triggered by a disastrous stretch detailing the survivors' encounter with a slightly insane veteran of the human-predator war (Laurence Fishburne's Noland), as the talky, rather pointless nature of the character's appearance effectively brings the proceedings to a dead stop. The film basically recovers for its propulsive final act - this is despite the inclusion of an utterly needless last-minute turnabout for one of the surviving humans - yet it's more than clear that Predators would've benefited from a few additional rounds through the editing process.

out of

Beautiful Dreamer (July 13/10)

Set during the Second World War, Beautiful Dreamer stars Brooke Langton as Claire - an affable young woman whose childhood friendship with Joe (Colin Egglesfield) has blossomed into love and marriage. Trouble ensues as Joe goes off to fight and is subsequently feared dead after his plane is shot down, although, months later, the man surfaces a few towns over working as a mechanic under an entirely different name. It becomes clear that Joe is suffering from a type of amnesia brought on by a blow to the head, and - on the advice of her doctor (James Denton's Dr. Kessler) - Claire attempts to get close to Joe without letting on that she's actually his wife. It's an unabashedly sentimental premise that's generally employed to positive effect by director Terri Farley-Teruel, as the filmmaker does a nice job of initially drawing the viewer into the deliberately-paced narrative by emphasizing the admittedly idealized relationship between Claire and Joe. The movie's obvious lack of budget is, as a result, never quite as problematic as one might've feared, with Langton's charismatic, thoroughly compelling performance elevating the proceedings on an impressively frequent basis. And although scripter Terry Chase Chenowith has peppered the film with a few decidedly questionable elements - ie what's with the weird subplot involving a waitress whose husband died in the war? - Beautiful Dreamer, anchored by an undercurrent of palpable romance, establishes itself as an old-fashioned melodrama that's ultimately impossible to resist.

out of

Sorority Row (July 14/10)

Far from the fun, fast-paced slasher one might've anticipated, Sorority Row details the chaos that ensues after a handful of sorority sisters (Briana Evigan's Cassidy, Leah Pipes' Jessica, Rumer Willis' Ellie, Jamie Chung's Claire, and Margo Harshman's Chugs) find themselves pursued by a cloaked figure following the death of one of their own. It's a workable premise that's squandered virtually from the word go by filmmaker Stewart Hendler, as the director's decision to aggressively emphasize needless instances of cinematic trickery - ie shaky camerawork, greenish tinting, grainy film stocks, etc, etc - slowly but surely transforms the movie into a seriously oppressive piece of work. The remarkably unpleasant visuals are exacerbated by a narrative that grows more and more dull as time progresses, with the latter half of the proceedings devoted almost entirely to interludes in which uniformly underdeveloped characters skulk and hide in the dark. It's a shame, really, given that the movie does boast a rather impressive assortment of kill sequences, as the mysterious murderer targets not only the five protagonists but also a number of completely innocent bystanders (ie he/she basically offs anyone who gets in his/her way). This is, ultimately and unfortunately, not quite enough to compensate for the relentlessly annoying nature of Hendler's directorial choices, with the end result a sporadically watchable yet thoroughly disappointing horror effort that's underwhelming even by the standards of the genre.

out of

Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins (July 15/10)

Based on the long-running Destroyer series of novels, Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins follows mustachioed New York City cop Samuel Macon (Fred Ward) as he's abducted by a shadowy government agency and forced to do their bidding under the name Remo Williams - with the bulk of the proceedings subsequently detailing Remo's rigorous training regimen and his first mission in the field. Though clearly designed as a fun, fast-paced thriller, Remo Williams: The Adventures Begins suffers from a seriously overlong running time that inevitably prevents it from becoming anything more than a sporadically watchable (yet surprisingly dull) piece of work. The decidedly uneven nature of the narrative ensures that the movie is generally compelling only in fits and starts, with the initial emphasis on Remo's training undoubtedly standing as the film's most overtly underwhelming stretch. (It doesn't help that Joel Grey has been cast as the elderly Korean (!) that whips Remo into shape, as the actor's elaborate makeup and exaggerated accent are certainly as distracting as one might've anticipated.) There are, admittedly, a few surprisingly compelling interludes sprinkled throughout the film - ie Remo's exciting confrontation with a trio of goofy (yet murderous) construction workers atop the Statue of Liberty - but such moments are all-too-rare within Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins' otherwise lackluster atmosphere and it's ultimately difficult to envision viewers outside of the movie's target demographic of young boys finding much to embrace here.

out of

Jack & Sarah (July 16/10)

Written and directed by Tim Sullivan, Jack & Sarah casts Richard E. Grant as Jack - an easy-going executive who receives a dose of cold reality after his wife (Imogen Stubbs' Sarah) dies during childbirth. Though his initial impulse is to drink his troubles away, Jack eventually comes to realize that his new baby, named Sarah, is counting on him to snap out of it - which effectively forces the single parent to hire a nanny (Samantha Mathis' Amy). Filmmaker Sullivan has infused Jack & Sarah with a leisurely-paced sensibility that proves an appropriate complement to his thoroughly low-key screenplay, and there's little doubt that the film's various characters, including periphery figures such as Ian McKellen's William and Judi Dench's Margaret, become uniformly well-rounded and intriguing as a result. It's just as clear, however, that the narrative's uneventful, almost episodic bent ensures that the movie is wholeheartedly compelling only in fits and starts, with the decidedly uneven atmosphere generally smoothed over by the spellbindingly charismatic work of the two leads - as both Grant and Mathis slip into the skin of their respective characters with an ease that's nothing short of remarkable (and it certainly doesn't hurt that the two performers share a palpable chemistry together). The inclusion of a rather needless fake break-up towards the film's conclusion ultimately stands as Jack & Sarah's one overtly negative attribute, with the end result a pleasant piece of work that's never quite as engrossing as one might've hoped.

out of

The New Daughter (July 17/10)

Frustratingly uneven, The New Daughter follows Kevin Costner's John James as he and his two children (Ivana Baquero's Louisa and Gattlin Griffith's Sam) move into a remote house in South Carolina - with trouble ensuing as Louisa begins behaving strangely after discovering an old Indian burial mound near the property. Director Luis Berdejo, working from John Travis' script, effectively exploits the inherently compelling nature of the film's subject matter by establishing a palpable atmosphere of unease, as the creepiness of the storyline's central locale is heightened by Berdejo's use of unsettling sounds and images (ie what's that shape crawling along the roof?) The exceedingly deliberate pace is, as a result, initially not as problematic as one might've feared, with the taut vibe persisting right up until the movie hits its progressively underwhelming midsection - which seems to be devoted primarily to Louisa's perplexing change and John's investigation into that burial mound. And although Berdejo has sprinkled the proceedings with a few appreciatively sinister interludes - ie the plight of the hapless babysitter - the increasingly familiar trajectory of The New Daughter's narrative ensures that the film runs out of steam in a lamentably demonstrable manner (and it certainly doesn't help that the movie reaches and passes the point where one can buy that John and his kids would stay in the house). The film admittedly does pick up as the pieces start to fall into place and John takes a more proactive stance against the malevolent creatures, yet the irritatingly ambiguous conclusion - which leaves far too many unanswered questions on the table - ultimately cements The New Daughter's place as a well-intentioned misfire.

out of

I Do & I Don't (July 18/10)

A complete misfire from start to finish, I Do & I Don't follows engaged lovebirds Bob (Bryan Callen) and Cheryl (Alexie Gilmore) as they agree to participate in pre-marital counseling in the weeks leading up to their wedding - with complications ensuing as the pair find themselves assigned to a dysfunctional couple (Matt Servitto's Dick and Jane Lynch's Nora) on the verge of divorce. It's a pervasively stupid premise that's employed to consistently underwhelming effect, as filmmaker Steve Blair places an ongoing emphasis on jokes and gags of a desperate and entirely unfunny nature (ie Dick randomly blurts out that his doctor "milks" his prostate once a week). Blair's relentlessly lame screenplay is exacerbated by his reliance on cheap, aggressively bland visuals, while the admittedly talented cast seems to be working overtime in their efforts at wringing laughs from the sub-sitcom-level material. (Even the normally reliable Jane Lynch is left floundering by Blair's astonishing ineptness, although, to be fair, the actress is responsible for the film's sole authentic laugh as she punctuates a shocking revelation with a well-placed "hi-yo!") The atmosphere of artificiality ensures that the expectedly melodramatic bent of the movie's third act fares especially poorly, and there's little doubt that I Do & I Don't has, by the time the end credits mercifully roll, effectively established itself as a hopelessly redundant piece of work that's best left forgotten.

out of

© David Nusair