Mini Reviews (May 2014)
Stage Fright, The Railway Man, Moms' Night Out, Locke, Blended, The Birder
Stage Fright (May 5/14)
Written and directed by Jerome Sable, Stage Fright follows a group of performing-arts campers as their fun-loving summertime shenanigans are thwarted by the repeated advances of a crazed, masked maniac. There's little doubt that Stage Fright opens with a fair degree of promise, as Sable kicks things off with a Scream-esque prologue in which Minnie Driver's Kylie Swanson is murdered in front of her two children. After that, however, the film takes a slow-but-steady nosedive into irrelevence as Sable emphasizes forgettable musical numbers and a mystery that's beyond obvious - with the narrative's tedious let's-put-on-a-show structure exacerbating the movie's various problems. (It doesn't help, either, that Sable proves unable to transform any of the characters into wholeheartedly compelling figures, with the various actors trapped in the confines of familiar, one-dimensional archetypes.) The progressively tiresome atmosphere reaches its breaking point with the seemingly endless third act, which, as expected, follows the surviving protagonists as they run, scream, and hide from the knife-wielding psychopath - with the hopelessly anticlimactic revelations that close the proceedings, in the end, confirming Stage Fright's place as a pointless and often interminable mess.
The Railway Man
Based on true events, The Railway Man follows WWII veteran Eric Lomax (Colin Firth) as he sets out to confront the man (Hiroyuki Sanada's Takeshi Nagase) responsible for his torture during the war. The film, in its early stages, is concerned primarily with Eric's tentative relationship with Nicole Kidman's Patti, however, as the narrative initially details the pair's meet-cute aboard a train and subsequent courtship - with the chemistry between Firth and Kidman ensuring that these scenes fare much better than one might've anticipated. It's only as The Railway Man segues into its actual storyline, involving Eric's WWI-era experiences, that the viewer's interest begins to flag, as filmmaker Jonathan Teplitzky employs an almost excessively deliberate pace that dulls the emotional impact of several key sequences. (It's clear, too, that Teplitzky's lackadaisical sensibilities heighten the familiar nature of Frank Cottrell Boyce and Andy Paterson's screenplay.) Once it inevitably progresses into Eric's confrontation of his wartime oppressor, The Railway Man has long-since passed the point of no return and established itself as a well-intentioned prestige picture that's rarely as engrossing as its electrifying logline - which is too bad, to be certain, given the strength of its performances and early scenes.
Moms' Night Out
Moms' Night Out follows harried mother of three Allyson (Sarah Drew) as she reluctantly agrees to an evening of fun alongside two friends (Patricia Heaton's Sondra and Andrea Logan White's Izzy), with chaos ensuing as the women experience a myriad of problems and complications at virtually every turn (eg Allyson's sister-in-law loses her baby, Izzy's husband struggles to care for their children, etc, etc). Filmmakers Andrew and Jon Erwin have infused Moms' Night Out with an ultra-generic feel that's reflected in its various attributes, with the movie's sitcom-like atmosphere preventing the viewer from working up any authentic interest in or enthusiasm for the characters' exploits (ie everything here just feels so artificial and by-the-numbers). It's clear, too, that Drew's larger-than life performance compounds the film's less-than-engrossing vibe, as the actress' broad, screeching turn makes it difficult to sympathize with Allyson's (awfully superficial) plight - with the supporting cast ranging from mildly effective to equally unimpressive. (Trace Adkins, playing a tattooed biker with a heart of gold, is surprisingly decent here and ultimately establishes himself as the film's most potent weapon.) The Erwin siblings' ongoing efforts at cultivating a frenetic, Adventures in Babysitting- like feel generally fall flat, although it's worth noting that the movie does boast a very small handful of unexpectedly entertaining sequences (eg a mid-film car chase). And while the film's faith-based origins result in the less-than-subtle inclusion of a few moralizing moments, Moms' Night Out generally fares better than most of the heavy-handed endeavors that tend to populate this increasingly profitable subgenre - which finally does ensure that the film, though utterly forgettable, never quite becomes the unwatchable mess that one might've anticipated.
An intriguing yet not-altogether-successful experiment, Locke follows Tom Hardy's Ivan Locke as he embarks on a lengthy car ride during an exceedingly tumultuous period in both his personal and professional lives. Writer and director Steven Knight offers up a claustrophobic drama that transpires almost entirely within the confines of Locke's SUV, which does ensure that the film, at the outset, comes off as a strange and downright baffling experience devoid of context - as the protagonist takes a series of phone calls that prove entirely underwhelming (and a little confusing). As time progresses, however, it does become more and more clear just what Hardy's character is attempting to accomplish, with the movie's transition from head-scratching to compelling triggered by an impressively engrossing phone call between Ivan and his wife (Ruth Wilson's Katrina). From there, Locke settles into a rhythm of passable entertainment that's buoyed primarily by Hardy's consistently (and expectedly) enthralling turn as the title figure - as the actor delivers an electrifying performance that ensures the movie, at the very least, remains watchable even through it's less-than-captivating stretches. This is especially true of the continuing emphasis on the central character's work-related problems, as Knight does, from time to time, paint a far too specific portrait of the minutia of Locke's high-pressure job. The lack of emotional resonance ultimately confirms Locke's place as an awfully minor endeavor, with the Hardy's persistently top-notch work here ensuring that the actor's-showcase vibe is, generally speaking, less problematic than one might've anticipated.
Adam Sandler's astonishing run of bottom-of-the-barrel comedies continues with Blended, which follows Jim (Sandler) and Lauren (Drew Barrymore) as they fall for one another during an expensive African vacation with their respective families. Filmmaker Frank Coraci has infused Blended with a bland and almost astonishingly lazy feel that's evident right from the get-go, with the movie's one-dimensional characters forced into a storyline that couldn't possibly be more uninvolving or pedestrian. It doesn't help, either, that scripters Ivan Menchell and Clare Sera have packed the proceedings with one eye-rollingly misguided element after another, with, for example, the film's treatment of Jim's eldest daughter (Bella Thorne's Hilary) nothing short of abominable (ie there's a recurring, very unfunny gag revolving around various characters mistaking her for a young boy). The episodic structure ensures that Blended suffers from a terminal lack of momentum that grows more and more problematic as time slowly passes, as the viewer is subjected to one misguided, desperately unfunny set piece after another (eg Jim rides an ostrich, Lauren goes parasailing, etc). Sandler and Barrymore's charm and chemistry is, it goes without saying, rendered completely moot, and it's ultimately clear that only Terry Crews, cast as an absurdly enthusiastic guide/host, is able to make anything resembling a positive impact. The end result is a typically worthless Sandler vehicle that wears out its welcome almost immediately, and it's now difficult to recall a time when Sandler wasn't appearing in objectionable, entirely horrible movies.
Oddball to the point of annoyance, The Birder follows Tom Cavanagh's mild-mannered Ron Spencer as he's forced to reevaluate his life after losing a promotion to a younger, slicker competitor (Jamie Spilchuk's Floyd). Filmmaker Ted Bezaire establishes a tone of off-kilter quirk that sets the viewer on edge right from the outset, with Bezaire and Michael Stasko forcing the movie's various characters into situations of an almost oppressively tedious nature (ie there's an entire subplot revolving around Ron's efforts at sabotaging Floyd's big presentation to the community). It doesn't help, either, that the narrative has been suffused with insufferably off-the-wall supporting figures, with the ongoing presence of Ron's loopy friend Ben (Mark Rendall, delivering a performance that vacillates wildly from irritating to endearing) certainly standing as the most obvious example of this. The few heartfelt, authentic moments are subsequently rendered moot by the pervasively eccentric atmosphere, and it naturally becomes more and more difficult to work up any interest in or enthusiasm for the protagonist's continuing struggles (ie it's impossible to wholeheartedly care how this all turns out in the end). The Birder straddles a line of consistent mediocrity to such a degree that it basically remains watchable from start to finish, and yet it's difficult not to wish that Bezaire and company had endeavored to create something just a little more ambitious and original.