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Mini Reviews (February 2014)

Devil's Due, That Awkward Moment, Lucky Bastard, Need for Speed

Devil's Due (February 11/14)

A better-than-average found-footage thriller, Devil's Due follows newly-married couple Samantha (Allison Miller) and Zach (Zach Gilford) as they begin to realize that all is not right with Samantha's pregnancy. It's clear immediately that Devil's Due benefits substantially from the likeable, affable work of its two leads, as Miller and Gilford manage to transform their admittedly one-dimensional characters into compelling protagonists worthy of the viewer's sympathy and interest. The film's expectedly deliberate pace is, as a result, not as oppressive as it could (and perhaps should) have been, with the sporadic inclusion of chilling moments - eg a man stands motionless outside Samantha and Zach's home, Samantha eats raw meat in a supermarket, etc - going a long way towards perpetuating the completely watchable atmosphere. And although scripter Lindsay Devlin offers few surprises within the narrative - ie for the most part, the movie goes exactly where one might've anticipated - Devil's Due doesn't entirely begin to lose its grip on the viewer until it progresses into its comparatively underwhelming final stretch. Filmmakers Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett eschew the low-key atmosphere of the movie's opening hour in favor of something far more generic and familiar, with the directors' newfound emphasis on shaky camerawork, coupled with a curious absence of gore, paving the way for less-than-thrilling climax that seriously disappoints - which is a shame, really, given the relative success of the film's first half.

out of

That Awkward Moment (February 17/14)

That Awkward Moment follows friends Jason (Zac Efron), Mike (Michael B. Jordan), and Daniel (Miles Teller) as they agree to temporarily give up on romantic relationships, with problems ensuing as each of the three men, perhaps inevitably, finds love shortly after. Filmmaker Tom Gormican has infused That Awkward Moment with an unapologetically sitcom-like sensibility that's reflected in the movie's various attributes, with, especially, the snappy patter and proliferation of predictable story developments perpetuating the less-than-subtle atmosphere. The irresistibly charismatic performances, then, play a key role in sustaining the film's watchable vibe, as the three stars manage to infuse their familiar characters with a congeniality that proves impossible to resist. (It doesn't hurt, either, that the supporting cast fares just as well, with folks like Imogen Poots, Mackenzie Davis, and Josh Pais delivering standout work.) The absence of surprises within the narrative does, however, grow more and more problematic as time progresses, as the viewer's anticipation of certain plot twists ensures that the movie begins to palpably fizzle out as it passes the one-hour mark. It's the inclusion of a grand romantic gesture within the film's closing minutes that both resuscitates one's interest and cements That Awkward Moment's place as a passable yet thoroughly erratic romcom, with the film ultimately receiving plenty of mileage from the persistently affable work of its various actors.

out of

Lucky Bastard (February 21/14)

An especially underwhelming found-footage thriller, Lucky Bastard follows porn star Ashley Saint (Betsy Rue) as she reluctantly agrees to have sex with a fan (Jay Paulson's Dave) on camera - with problems ensuing as it becomes increasingly clear that Dave isn't quite as normal/sane as initially assumed. Lucky Bastard, for the most part, comes off as a thoroughly tedious drama focused on the behind-the-scenes conditions at an internet porn studio, as filmmaker Robert Nathan, working from a script cowritten with Lukas Kendall, devotes much of the opening hour to the preparations for Dave's arrival and eventual shoot. The movie has, as such, been suffused with long, drawn-out sequences detailing the characters' far-from-engrossing exploits, with Nathan's admittedly authentic sensibilities rendered moot by a preponderance of uninvolving and nigh pointless sequences (eg the crew heads to the train station to pick Dave up). And although the film is generally better acted than one might've expected - Rue is stronger than the material deserves, to be sure - Lucky Bastard's pervasively dull atmosphere ensures that the violent third act is simply unable to make any kind of positive impact. (It doesn't help, either, that Nathan offers up a generic hostage-type situation and expects the viewer to care about its outcome.) The end result is a terminally misguided endeavor that just can't justify its feature-length running time (ie this might've worked as an entry within the V/H/S anthology series), and there's generally a reason that the found-footage gimmick is rarely employed outside the horror genre.

out of

Need for Speed (February 28/14)

A strong contender for the worst video game adaptation of all time, Need for Speed follows Aaron Paul's Tobey Marshall as he emerges from prison determined to win a lucrative (and very illegal) cross-country auto race - with the movie detailing Tobey's relationships with his crew, his love interest (Imogen Poots' Julia), and his nemesis (Dominic Cooper's Dino). The simplicity of the premise stands in sharp contrast to its overblown execution, ultimately, as filmmaker Scott Waugh, along with scripter George Gatins, has infused the proceedings with an incongruously epic feel that proves disastrous. Ranking high on the film's list of problems is Waugh's decision to employ as deliberate a pace as one could possibly envision, with the laid-back atmosphere dulling the impact of the movie's various action sequences and resulting in a pervasive absence of thrills - which, of course, ensures that Need for Speed finds itself hard-pressed to justify its very existence. The astonishingly overlong, padded-out running time - 130 minutes! - paves the way for a series of absolutely pointless sequences that are nothing short of infuriating in their irrelevance, including, for example, an extraordinarily tedious interlude wherein one of Tobey's crew members (Rami Malek's Finn) quits his day job to participate in the aforementioned race. Gatins' inability to create any real stakes for the characters - these people seem to be racing just because they can - ensures that it becomes impossible to work up any interest in or enthusiasm for the climactic competition, with the almost astonishing lack of momentum compounded by an ongoing emphasis on silly and lighthearted asides and diversions (eg characters mess with pursuing cops, Tobey uses high-tech equipment to avoid bad traffic, etc). (The Fast & Furious movies, which are comparative masterstrokes in cinematic achievement, are at least about something.) It's finally impossible not to wonder just what Waugh and Company were hoping to achieve with this dull and thoroughly inconsequential endeavor, with the film's massive, massive failure all-the-more disappointing given its impressive roster of performers and refreshing use of non-computer-enhanced racing sequences.

out of

© David Nusair