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Mini Reviews (May 2009)

Balls Out: Gary the Tennis Coach, Love to Kill, The Uninvited, Shutter, Outlander

Balls Out: Gary the Tennis Coach (May 2/09)

Armed with Seann William Scott's gloriously over-the-top turn as the title character, Balls Out: Gary the Tennis Coach almost manages to overcome its tedious storyline and hopelessly erratic pace to become a minor comedic masterpiece - yet there eventually does reach a point at which Scott's performance, ingratiating as it is, simply proves unable to compensate for the film's myriad of deficiencies. And while the almost Napoleon Dynamite-esque sensibilities of Andy Stock and Rick Stempson's screenplay might be enough to sustain the interest of certain viewers, it's ultimately impossible not to view the movie as anything more than a disappointment (albeit one that boasts a central performance that needs to be seen to be believed). Scott stars as Gary Houseman, a tennis pro turned high school janitor who reluctantly agrees to help coach his school's ragtag tennis team - with the bulk of the proceedings devoted to his efforts at whipping his pathetically incompetent players into champions. It's a familiar premise that's generally employed to underwhelming effect by the film's scripters, with the pair's decision to emphasize the relentlessly quirky comings and goings of the various supporting characters ultimately exacerbating the plot's aggressively low-key nature. The creeping realization that there's virtually nothing pushing the story forward inevitably results in several lulls within the narrative, with the movie's eye-rollingly hackneyed final half hour finally proving a test to one's patience - which is a shame, certainly, given the number of genuine belly laughs elicited by Scott's go-for-broke performance (with the highlight being a sequence in which Gary fruitlessly attempts to teach a foreign student to say "I love Coach Houseman!")

out of

Love to Kill (May 4/09)

Though competently made and surprisingly well acted, Love to Kill ultimately comes off as a tedious, almost egregiously familiar direct-to-video thriller that generally feels like the cinematic equivalent of background music (ie it's watchable yet rarely engaging). The movie stars Blanchard Ryan as Frances Sweete, a money-hungry sociopath who has evidently made a pretty good living marrying wealthy older men and knocking them off a few months later. Frances' latest target, a fledgling politician named Nicholas Landon (Rick Ravanello), falls hook, line, and sinker for the black widow's well-honed act, though Nicholas' loyal assistant (Sonja Bennett's Theresa) eventually comes to suspect something's not quite right with her boss' new beau. The utterly routine nature of Love to Kill's premise ensures that there are few surprises throughout its mercifully brisk running time, with the strong performances generally standing as the one bright spot within the proceedings. Ravanello's undeniably bland performance is offset by both Ryan and Bennett's ingratiating work, as the actresses - particularly the former - prove fairly adept at freeing their respective characters from the constraints of their two-dimensional origins. And while the film does improve slightly once Nicholas starts to investigate Frances' sordid past, Love to Kill is precisely the sort of run-of-the-mill small-screen endeavor one expects to see on Lifetime in the middle of the afternoon.

out of

The Uninvited (May 11/09)

A mild improvement over its nigh unwatchable predecessor, 2003's A Tale of Two Sisters, The Uninvited nevertheless comes off as a typically chaste, hopelessly dull contemporary horror effort that seems to have been designed to appeal solely to bubbleheaded teenagers. The movie follows troubled youth Anna (Emily Browning) as she returns home to her sister (Arielle Kebbel's Alex) and father (David Strathairn's Steven) after a stint at a mental hospital, though it's not long before both Anna and Alex begin to suspect that something's not quite right with their dad's new flame (Elizabeth Banks' Rachel). There's little doubt that The Uninvited primarily plays out like a movie-of-the-week mystery, as screenwriters Craig Rosenberg, Doug Miro, and Carlo Bernard place a relentless emphasis on the siblings' ongoing investigation into the mysterious death of their bedridden mother (Maya Massar) - yet the viewer is left at arm's length from Anna and Alex's efforts right from the get-go, as the two characters are left undeveloped beyond their most superficial attributes. It's equally clear, however, that the rampant lack of subtlety within the script plays a substantial role in the movie's downfall, with the inclusion of several laughable plot developments and twists sure to leave even the most laid-back viewer furiously rolling their eyes in derision (ie Rachel doesn't even seem to be trying to hide her maliciousness from Anna). And while the admittedly out-of-left-field twist ending is impressive in its audacity (even if its doesn't make a whole lot of sense), The Uninvited ultimately fits comfortably aside its myriad of underwhelming Asian-horror-remake brethren (ie One Missed Call, Pulse, etc, etc).

out of

Shutter (May 25/09)

Based on the 2004 shocker of the same name, Shutter follows newlyweds Ben (Joshua Jackson) and Jane (Rachael Taylor) as they move to Japan after Ben is offered a lucrative position as a fashion photographer. Their jubilation is ultimately short lived, as the pair inevitably find themselves caught up in a mystery involving a creepy long-haired girl who died under suspicious circumstances. It's thanks primarily to Jackson's expectedly charismatic work that Shutter fares marginally better than its nigh unwatchable predecessor, as the movie has been otherwise outfitted with a myriad of less-than-enthralling elements that cement its downfall. The excessive familiarity of the film's storyline is exacerbated by the almost unreasonably plodding pace, with the hopelessly inert midsection - in which Ben and Jane investigate their demon's tragic past - certainly proving a test to the viewer's ongoing patience. And while there are admittedly a few nifty twists within the third act - all of which, naturally, were present within the original film - Shutter's place as an absolutely redundant piece of work is undeniable virtually from start to finish (which is a shame, really, given how infrequently Jackson is afforded the opportunity to take on leading man roles within theatrical releases).

out of

Outlander (May 25/09)

Though saddled with a disastrously overlong running time and an opening half hour that's almost unbearably slow going, Outlander ultimately establishes itself as a fun little endeavor that boasts as irresistible a premise as one could possibly imagine. The movie, set in 8th-century Norway, follows alien warrior Kainan (Jim Caviezel) as he crash lands on Earth along with a fearsome creature known as the Moorwen, with the bulk of the storyline detailing Kainan's efforts at insinuating himself within a local Viking tribe and leading their subsequent charge against the aforementioned creature. It's the sort of set-up that would seem to lend itself naturally to a briskly-paced, unapologetically violent B movie, and while there are certainly a number of enthralling sequences peppered throughout, Outlander's oppressively bloated sensibilities play an instrumental role in diminishing its overall impact (ie the film should've topped out at 80 minutes, max). The ineffective first act inevitably gives way to a surprisingly involving midsection that benefits substantially from the supporting cast's collective efforts, with actors such as John Hurt, Sophia Myles, and Ron Perlman effortlessly breathing life into the otherwise stagnant proceedings - thus ensuring that the viewer is slowly-but-surely drawn into the increasingly compelling fish-out-of-water tale. Caviezel's expectedly strong work goes a long way towards keeping things tolerable even through Outlander's less-than-enthralling stretches, while the fantastic battle sequence that transpires at about the one-hour mark virtually justifies the movie's entire existence. The anti-climactic third act that ensues undoubtedly stands as further proof of the film's lamentable overlength, with the end result an almost terminally uneven piece of work that's nevertheless worth a look if only for the you've-gotta-see-it-to-believe-it nature of its premise.

out of

© David Nusair