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Sony's October '11 Releases

Arena (October 13/11)

An absolutely, astonishingly incompetent piece of work, Arena follows fire fighter David Lord (Kellan Lutz) as he's kidnapped and forced to fight in a gladiatorial arena by a megalomaniacal businessman named Logan (Samuel L. Jackson) - with the ensuing battles broadcast over the internet for the amusement of, among others, dimwitted frat boys and Office Space-quoting Japanese businessmen. There's little doubt that Arena establishes its pervasive ineptitude right from the get-go, as the movie opens with a laughably low-rent fight scene that's rife with terrible special effects and needlessly ostentatious instances of style. (In terms of the former, though, the movie's nadir is unquestionably a pivotal car crash that boasts some of the chintziest effects outside of a Roger Corman production.) From there, Arena becomes more and more unwatchable as it progresses - with the film's stale premise utilized to hopelessly hackneyed effect by scripter Tony Giglio and director Jonah Loop. And as anticlimactic and unexciting as the movie's action sequences are, it's the frustratingly illogical behavior of the various characters that cements the film's place as an utterly interminable endeavor. (The most obvious example of this is Jackson's Logan, as the character is painted as a wildly flamboyant figure with absolutely no basis in reality - which, not surprisingly, severely diminishes his impact as an antagonist.) It's ultimately difficult to recall a more objectionable straight-to-video actioner, with the movie's complete and total lack of positive attributes sure to leave even the most open-minded of viewers shaking with irritation.

no stars out of

Zookeeper (October 14/11)

The latest in an increasingly long line of misbegotten Kevin James comedies, Zookeeper casts the portly actor as Griffin Keyes - an affable zoo employee who discovers that he can talk to the animals under his care (including Sylvester Stallone's Joe the Lion, Nick Nolte's Bernie the Gorilla, and Adam Sandler's Donald the Monkey). It's clear right from the get-go that filmmaker Frank Coraci isn't looking to mess with James' hackneyed formula for success, as the movie, for the most part, allows the actor to do exactly what his fans have come to expect (ie Griffin is a well-meaning schlub who falls down a lot). There is, as a result, never a point at which Coraci is able to win over the average viewer, with James' polarizing persona exacerbated by an ongoing emphasis on eye-rollingly broad instances of comedy (eg Griffin receives tips on how to act tough from a couple of sassy bears). And although the rapport between the animals is often quite amusing, Zookeeper has primarily been infused with bottom-of-the-barrel comedic set-pieces that come off as desperate and hopelessly unfunny (eg Griffin struggles to squeeze himself into an expensive car). The final insult comes with a melodramatic third act that's astonishingly heavy-handed in its execution, with this final stretch containing virtually every stock cliché that one could possibly have envisioned (eg James' character learns that money isn't everything and that his true love was right under his nose the whole time) - which ultimately confirms Zookeeper's place as a pandering, lowest-common-denominator cash-grab.

out of

About the DVDs: Both films arrive on DVD with sharp transfers, and though Arena is completely lacking bonus features, Zookeeper comes armed with a number of supplemental materials.
© David Nusair