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Mini Reviews (June 2008)

Kung Fu Panda, The Eye, The Incredible Hulk, The Comebacks, I Do (But I Don't), Sweet Nothing in My Ear

Kung Fu Panda (June 5/08)

A slight cut above such recent computer-animated films as Madagascar and Ice Age: The Meltdown, Kung Fu Panda follows the title character (Jack Black's Po) through the various misadventures that ensue after he's selected as his small village's "Dragon Warrior." This leaves the exceedingly able Furious Five (Angelina Jolie's Tigress, Seth Rogen's Mantis, Lucy Liu's Viper, Jackie Chan's Monkey, and David Cross' Crane) and their stern master (Dustin Hoffman's Shifu) with little choice but to transform Po into a competent combatant before the arrival of the villainous Tai Lung (Ian McShane), though their efforts are continually hampered by Po's apparent inability to become a true kung-fu master. Directors Mark Osborne and John Stevenson - working from Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger's screenplay - have infused Kung Fu Panda with a bright and vibrant visual sensibility that's certainly reflected in the uniformly energetic performances, as Black and his myriad of costars effectively (and convincingly) bring their unapologetically broad characters to life (and as good as Black is here, it's ultimately Hoffman who stands out as the film's MVP). It's only as the repetitive nature of the movie's structure reveals itself that one begins to grows antsy, with the surprisingly uneventful midsection devoted almost entirely to an increasingly tedious series of training scenes and fight sequences. By the time the unexpectedly thrilling finale rolls around, however, Kung Fu Panda has undoubtedly established itself as an amiable piece of work whose positives generally outweigh its negatives (if nothing else, the filmmakers should be commended for their refusal to pepper the proceedings with crass jokes and pop-culture references).

out of

The Eye (June 9/08)

Hot on the heels of such underwhelming asian-horror remakes as Pulse and One Missed Call comes The Eye, which - though saddled with a glacial pace and a thoroughly uneven structure - ultimately establishes itself as the most effective endeavor of its kind since 2005's Dark Water. The film, based on the Pang brothers' 2002 eponymous effort, stars Jessica Alba as Sydney Wells, a blind violinist whose decision to undergo an eye transplant leaves her with the ability to see into the supernatural world (which is, not surprisingly, rife with ominous sights and creepy figures). Despite the sporadic inclusion of admittedly horrific elements, The Eye is, at first, more intriguing as a drama revolving around the entirely plausible consequences stemming from Sydney's surgery - with the initial lack of context for the overtly scary moments essentially stripping such scenes of any real suspense or fright value. It's not until Sydney starts putting the pieces together to learn why this is happening to her that one is slowly-but-surely drawn into the story, although - to be fair - there's little doubt that The Eye is, unlike its myriad of PG-13 horror brethren, consistently entertaining and rarely boring (something that's due primarily to David Moreau and Xavier Palud's exceedingly atmospheric directorial choices and Alba's surprisingly affecting performance). The epic finale - in which Sydney essentially morphs into a superhero - leaves the proceedings on a high note that's almost exhilarating in its unexpectedness, and it's subsequently easy enough to overlook the few flaws within the film's opening half hour.

out of

The Incredible Hulk (June 10/08)

An obvious improvement over Ang Lee's egregiously cerebral Hulk, The Incredible Hulk essentially picks up where its inferior predecessor left off - with Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) now living a life of quiet solitude within a small South American village. Trouble ensues as Banner is forced to go on the run after tenacious foe General Ross (William Hurt) tracks him down, with the remainder of the film following Banner's efforts at dodging his dogged pursuers and devising a cure for his peculiar ailment. Director Louis Leterrier has infused The Incredible Hulk with an almost light-hearted sensibility that's certainly reflected in Zak Penn's thoroughly irreverent screenplay, as the movie's early scenes have been peppered with an almost comical emphasis on the rigors of Banner's day-to-day life (ie in an effort to stave off the monster within, Banner practices yoga and watches Sesame Street). And while the film's action sequences are just as cartoonish and gravity-defying as one might've expected, Leterrier does a nice job in ensuring that such moments remain atypically coherent and easy to follow (ie Transformers this isn't). There's little doubt, however, that the film suffers from an erratic structure that's exacerbated by an overlong running time, and it undeniably becomes increasingly difficult to look past the needless inclusion of certain sequences and subplots (ie the whole thing just isn't as streamlined as it could/should be). Still, The Incredible Hulk is, generally speaking, a consistently entertaining and sporadically thrilling piece of work - with Norton's expectedly strong performance going a long way towards transforming Banner into a surprisingly relatable figure.

out of

The Comebacks (June 13/08)

There's little doubt that The Comebacks has been infused with an increasingly desperate sensibility that's reflected in the film's almost total lack of genuine laughs, as screenwriters Ed Yeager and Joey Gutierrez consistently place the emphasis on obvious, eye-rollingly lame jokes and gags (ie a tough character collects My Little Pony toys and accessories). The storyline - which follows down-on-his-luck coach Lambeau Fields (David Koechner) as he attempts to whip a ragtag football team into shape - has clearly been patterned after a myriad of inspirational sports tales (ie Rudy, Remember the Titans, Invincible, etc ), as evidenced by the filmmakers' penchant for artlessly integrating references to such efforts throughout the movie's almost interminable running time. Yeager and Gutierrez's assumption that merely including a nod to an previously-established character or situation will provoke gales of laughter among viewers secures The Comebacks' place as yet another incompetent contemporary spoof movie, although - admittedly - Koechner's go-for-broke performance does sporadically elevate the proceedings to something that's almost watchable (almost but not quite).

out of

I Do (But I Don't) (June 14/08)

Affable yet forgettable, I Do (But I Don't) is a harmless romantic comedy revolving around the exploits of Denise Richards' Lauren Crandell - an assistant wedding planner whose attraction to the groom-to-be (Dean Cain's Nick Corina) of a client results in a whole series of wacky high jinks and melodramatic misunderstandings. Director Kelly Makin - working from Eric Charmelo and Nicole Snyder's screenplay - has infused I Do (But I Don't) with an appropriately light-hearted touch, although there's never a point at which one is entirely able to overlook the film's made-for-television origins. The low-rent and almost egregiously breezy atmosphere doesn't become as oppressive as one might've feared, however, with Richards and Cain's energetically charismatic work certainly playing a key role in the movie's extremely mild success. This is despite the inclusion of a fake break-up that - in addition to being telegraphed ridiculously early - could have been averted with a simple explanation, as well as a third act that goes on well past the point where things should logically wrap up. Still, it's hard to deny the effectiveness of movie's unabashedly romantic finale - which ultimately does secure I Do (But I Don't)'s place as a passable romcom.

out of

Sweet Nothing in My Ear (June 17/08)

Though Sweet Nothing in My Ear initially does come off as just another far-from-subtle movie-of-the-week, there's little doubt that screenwriter Stephen Sachs - working from his eponymous play - slowly but surely manages to infuse the proceedings with a surprisingly even-handed sensibility. The film casts Jeff Daniels and Marlee Matlin as Dan and Laura, a happily-married couple whose relationship is tested after Dan decides to look into fitting their deaf son with a cochlear implant. Laura, deaf since birth, is convinced that the procedure will prove detrimental to their boy's happiness - as he'll subsequently find himself shunned by the tight-knit deaf community. Initially, Sweet Nothing in My Ear's positive attributes are virtually rendered moot by some of Joseph Sargent's baffling directorial choices - with his decision to dub in voices for the various signing characters (instead of employing subtitles) clearly the most obvious example of this. The strength of Sachs' script inevitably does make it relatively easy to overlook such deficiencies, however, and the film primarily comes off as an eye-opening look at the undeniable rift between the hearing and deaf communities - something that's exemplified by the latter's prejudice towards the former (which seems to stem primarily from the latter's ludicrous assertion that deafness isn't a disability). And while the inconclusive ending feels like a cop-out, Sweet Nothing in My Ear is ultimately a slight degree better than its made-for-television brethren - with Daniels' expectedly masterful performance alone assuring the film's mild success.

out of

© David Nusair