While I wasn’t tickled by the tepid teen comedy stylings of 2004’s “Mean Girls,” I do respect the fact that the film was an influential hit while providing writer Tina Fey with a deserved shot at Hollywood stardom. “Mean Girls 2” isn’t a sequel, but a remake of the original picture, once again pitting the unpopular against the popular in an eternal struggle for high school hallway supremacy. Whatever problems I had with the 2004 feature aren’t even an issue here, as the new film offers a decidedly more pedestrian take on the clique warfare concept, trading Fey’s sly ambition for cruel DTV routine.
Pain flows like a river in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s “Biutiful.” Actually, a river is too shallow and narrow to accurately convey the level of misery on display here, which plunges to abyssal depths at certain intervals of the film. Why so sad? “Biutiful” doesn’t retain much meaning beside expected explorations of spiritual and personal consequence. Instead, it’s an intermittently striking film with a few immensely effecting moments of catharsis, stretched out over an unnecessarily long running time desperate to hammer home every last twitch of agony.
“The Mechanic” is a remake of a largely forgotten 1972 thriller starring Charles Bronson. The update brings in Jason Statham to growl lines and brandish weapons, which, to be fair, is a pretty solid match of thespian intensity. Sadly, Statham can’t fully spread his wings under the command of tepid director Simon West, who corrals a satisfying action chaos to the piece, but loses the sheer escapist pleasure by micromanaging every single scene. It’s loud and packs plenty of boom, but “The Mechanic” doesn’t live up to its mouthbreathing potential.
“The Rite” declares at the onset that it’s “Inspired by true events.” I’m inclined to believe the claim, as the film keeps true to the slow trickle of existence, taking grand pauses between moments of exorcism intensity. It’s a plodding, toothless crack at devilish doings, leaving much of its charisma to star Anthony Hopkins, who does just about whatever the hell he wants while the rest of the picture waits around for something meaningful to occur. Eternal damnation and flesh-tearing possession never felt more tedious and unprepared.
While the premise wiggles with promise of sinful delights, one has to be reminded while watching “The Client List” that this is a Lifetime Movie, therefore more interested in the mommy blues than the beast with two backs. A story of hooking, drug abuse, and harsh Texas judgment, the film elects for a soft route of melodrama, using pleasant actors to communicate desperation, refusing salacious details to play right to the target demographic of sympathetic mothers and wives.
It’s a little unsettling to approach a third entry in the unexpected “Open Season” franchise and find that, once again, most of the primary voices have been recast. It seems the title can’t keep a good star around. To combat this predicament, the producers have decided to do away with stunt casting all together. The result is a fresher, funnier sequel that executes slapstick comedy with more creative freedom, using its tiny budget and DTV status to find its own personal path of irreverence with these goofy forest creatures.
To answer the obvious question right away: No, “Repo Chick” is not a sequel to the 1984 cult hit “Repo Man,” despite the reunion of writer/director Alex Cox to the realm of “Repo” titles. Instead of a return to past glory, Cox attempts something wild with his small budget and newfound taste for greenscreen, erecting a subversive satire/romp that stretches roughly 15 minutes of marvelous cinematic ideas over 90 punishing minutes of screentime. I’ve never missed Emilio Estevez more.
“Secretariat” has a challenging journey ahead of it, released relatively soon after the 2003 racehorse picture, “Seabiscuit.” Without much in the way of controversial elements or a suspenseful conclusion, “Secretariat” feels like a nonstarter, though it’s handsomely mounted by director Randall Wallace. It’s simply a slice of cinematic apple pie, handed a firm inspirational Disney scrubbing and sent out void of a personality. I can’t fault a film for comfort food aspirations, but this tale of horseracing’s greatest champion doesn’t breathe enough fire to make a lasting impression.
When I think of “Dances with Wolves,” my mind reels back to December of 1990, a time where I first encountered word of the picture’s release from a local pennysaver film critic (for you Minneapolis movie folk, the man was Barry ZeVan). Already entrenched in moviegoing habits, I was well aware of Kevin Costner and his upcoming western, hypnotized by the film’s unusual teaser marketing campaign. However, on this frigid weekend morning, sitting down at a local strip mall with a soda, I began to grasp the film in more than just simple movie attendance terms, reading about the picture’s awe-inspiring scope and thematic novelty. It’s a sweet memory of growing anticipation, especially for an underdog film nobody was expecting much from. It was perhaps the last time “Dances with Wolves” enjoyed the element of surprise.
It’s unsettling to think the man responsible for “Meatballs,” “Stripes,” “Ghostbusters,” and “Kindergarten Cop” has spent the last decade churning out misfires such as “Evolution” and “My Super Ex-Girlfriend.” Ivan Reitman’s comedy mojo is evidently gone. Further confirmation of career death comes in the form of “No Strings Attached,” a sloppy, insipid chick/dick flick intended to blur the line between raunchy and romance. At 64 years of age, I’m not sure what Reitman’s doing fixating on the genital action of twentysomethings, but if there was ever a reason to root against the upcoming (maybe) “Ghostbusters 3,” this movie proves the filmmaker is out of creative gas.
Don Roos, the writer/director of such films as “The Opposite of Sex” and “Happy Endings,” takes an unnervingly melodramatic leap with “The Other Woman.” Removing his sarcastic wit to play crying games with star Natalie Portman, Roos loses control of his film early on and never manages to recover. It’s a sluggish, shrill picture that deals with significant issues of loss and betrayal in the clumsiest manner imaginable.
It’s been quite some time since an anthology film graced the cinema landscape, making Christopher B. Landon’s “Burning Palms” a welcome novelty, though one that sprays tremendous disease, leaving the feature reserved only for viewers in the mood for a series of sick and twisted tales from Southern California. There’s little sensitivity here, but the film’s obsession with grim deeds and sinister turns of fate lends the five stories a welcome kick of ugliness, which is a fascinating screen sensation.
World-famous rapper, relentless huckster, video game brand name, actor of no discernable skill, and now motion picture screenwriter? Yes, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson tries his hand at cinema mythmaking with the urban crime saga, “Gun.” Regurgitating the “Scarface” formula to such a degree that Brian De Palma should consider hiring some lawyers, Jackson looks to shape a new iconic crook for the masses, rolling moldy streetwise clichés and John Larroquette (of course) up into a limp thriller from the director of “Soul Plane.”
The strange, sad trail of Val Kilmer’s once thriving career leads to “The Traveler,” a no-budget Canadian shocker looking to supply some leftover goopy gore for the “Saw” crowds. It’s a completely idiotic, glacial, and poorly acted feature, but one doesn’t rent a Val Kilmer picture these days to watch the supporting cast flail about. One watches for Kilmer and his complete inability to disguise his boredom with acting now that he’s firmly ensconced in the DTV era of his filmography.
“Jack Goes Boating” is a very peculiar film that reaches out for an emotional intensity I’m not convinced it ever achieves. The movie marks the directing debut of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who strains to lend the picture a certain level of indie film authority, mixing crooked whimsy with exaggerated idiosyncrasy. The feature has few tender moments of joy and pain, but nothing gels in an insightful manner that invites the viewer into the experience.
“Death Race 2” isn’t actually a sequel, but a prequel detailing the creation of the unstoppable, iron-masked driving force known as Frankenstein, portrayed in the original 1975 film by the late David Carradine. The picture doesn’t exactly answer all the burning questions left behind by the dreadful Paul W.S. Anderson motion picture from 2008, but it’s a start. And not a half-bad one either, effortlessly surpassing its forefather with a scrappier take on head-bashing, car-smashing matters of a dystopian future.