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Entries in Ashton Kutcher (4)

Wednesday
Aug222012

Hit & Run

Dax Shepard has never been the most appealing actor in the world. He’s supposed to be a funnyman, but his antics never amount to more than the occasional chuckle—his most popular performances coming from Ashton Kutcher’s MTV show “Punk’d”—but he’s never quite unlikable either. He exists within that middle ground where he doesn’t do much to impress, but there’s something about him you enjoy anyway. The same can essentially be said for his fiancé Kristen Bell. Despite love from many adoring fans, she rarely stars in something worth watching. Combine the two in one movie and you have, predictably, something that is neither horrible nor very good. Similar to the stars themselves, Hit & Run fails in many regards, but somehow still retains a decent amount of charm, despite a weak script and amateurish direction from Shepard that falls into redundancy quickly.

The film stars Shepard and Bell as Charlie and Annie, a couple living somewhere in the Midwest United States who are happy with their own little existence. They love each other dearly and treat each other with respect, but one day, Annie is offered a job at a prestigious college in Los Angeles as the head of a new department, Non-violent Conflict Resolution. Unfortunately, heading to LA means putting Charlie’s life on the line—Charlie is in the Witness Protection Program and has been ever since he testified in court to put away Alex Dimitri (Bradley Cooper)—but this job is Annie’s dream job and Charlie loves her too much to keep her from achieving it. Reluctantly, he sets off to LA with her, but Alex is quickly alerted to their presence thanks to Annie’s jealous ex-lover Gil (Michael Rosenbaum), who for some reason thinks he’ll keep Annie safe by allowing the psychotic Alex to track down Charlie (besides, Charlie could be in the Witness Protection Program because he was an accomplice to any manner of evil deed).

The set-up to Hit & Run is as contrived as one could possibly get. Before they head out to LA, Annie needs her teaching license for the interview, which just so happens to be at Gil’s house and has been for the past year. This sparks Gil to contact Alex (through Facebook of all places) and tail Charlie as he innocently accompanies her to LA. If Annie simply had grabbed that teaching license when she moved out of Gil’s place, which any hopeful professor would do, this whole situation could have been avoided. But it’s not just the set-up that falls too comfortably into place. The numerous amount of coincidences in this cat and mouse tale become too much to handle. Somehow, Gil and/or Alex knows precisely where to find Charlie and Annie at seemingly all times. Even when Charlie manages to outmaneuver them, it’s only a matter of time before they stumble upon each other again. Constantly, the film asks you to go with moments like this, but it’s nigh impossible to do so.

When the characters do come into contact with each other, it inevitably leads to a car chase. Because of this, Hit & Run too often feels like a showcase for stunt driving rather than a movie with a story to tell, but none of these scenes offer up too much excitement. While it may be needless to say, this is not a Fast and the Furious movie. Those films may be light on story, but they inarguably had some incredible high velocity car chases. This movie has neither an interesting story nor fun chases. The little bit of excitement it does manage to gather dissipates with repetition. Car chase after car chase ensues in Hit & Run (to the point where I’m pretty sure if I looked at the script, whole pages would simply read in big bold font “CAR CHASE”) and it gets stale quickly.

Hit & Run has jokes that go nowhere, action scenes lacking in thrills, multiple stereotypes and characters whose actions and motivations are clumsy at best, including Randy (Tom Arnold in a horribly overacted performance), a United States Marshal who insists on protecting Charlie against his will and who only serves to complicate the situation, but the film never reaches flat out awfulness. There is a hint of sweetness to it, including the opening and closing lines of dialogue, the latter recalling the former, but the problem is that not enough time is spent building these characters and their relationship with one another for us to care. Instead, the film relies far too heavily on uninspired and overdone chase sequences and it just doesn’t work. Hit & Run isn’t the worst movie you’ll see this year, but it’s certainly one of the blandest.

Hit & Run receives 1.5/5

Friday
Dec092011

New Year's Eve

There are lots of different aspects of a movie that can make or break it. One of the most important is focus. When a movie meanders too much or introduces too many characters or tries to juggle multiple stories in its short runtime, it almost never works. The exception to that rule is 2003’s Love Actually, a delightful, though still certainly flawed romance that now ranks among many people’s must watch love stories. Last year’s Valentine’s Day attempted to recreate that movie’s charm and scraped by on the skin of its teeth. Now that film’s director is attempting to recreate his own recreation with New Year’s Eve, an unwise decision. The small amount of luck he had with Valentine’s Day is all but gone and most of the joy that comes from watching it is due to how bad it gets as it draws nearer to its conclusion. New Year’s Eve takes cheese to an entirely new level.

The film is told through a number of vignettes featuring characters on December 31st, 2011 as they prepare for what the new year will bring. There’s Claire (Hilary Swank), the person in charge of the New York City ball drop, Ingrid (Michelle Pfeiffer), an unhappy record company employee who has just quit her job, Paul (Zac Efron), the young delivery boy Ingrid buys for the day to help her meet a list of goals before midnight, Stan (Robert De Niro), an old man dying in the hospital, Aimee (Halle Berry), his nurse, Tess (Jessica Biel), who is close to giving birth but is trying to hold out with her husband Griffin (Seth Meyers) until midnight because the first family to give birth in the new year gets a large cash prize, and Grace (Sarah Paulson) and James Schwab (Til Schweiger), the competing pregnant couple across the hall.

Believe it or not, I haven’t even come close to naming off all the film’s characters. Not mentioned in the above synopsis are Cary Elwes, Alyssa Milano, Common, Carla Gugino, Katherine Heigl, Jon Bon Jovi, Sofia Vergara, Ashton Kutcher, Lea Michele, James Belushi, Sarah Jessica Parker, Abigail Breslin, Josh Duhamel, Ludacris and more. The film leaves no celebrity unturned, even going so far as to give Yeardley Smith, the voice of Lisa Simpson on The Simpsons, a supporting role. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy playing “spot the celebrity,” but it doesn’t make for the most structured movie. Rather than introducing them organically through the needs of the story, they are introduced just as they are, as celebrities. It becomes distracting.

But in a movie with so little going for it, that hardly matters. As expected with a film that crams so much in a small amount of time, none of the individual stories are given room to breathe. Most are sped through so as not to make the movie five hours long, which gives little time for characterization. The two or three interesting stories are either overshadowed by a dozen other lousy ones or undermined by poor writing, where conflicts are thrown in arbitrarily in a desperate attempt to build emotion by the end, like the scene where Paul stands alone in a room with Ingrid and talks to his pal on the phone about how pathetic she is, as if she can’t hear him while she’s standing a few yards away. Moments like these derail New Year’s Eve from what is already a pretty wobbly track.

But hating the film is not easy. It’s cheery and optimistic, even if that optimism borders on annoyance. It knows its audience and it panders to them. The simplicity of its story is exactly what the people who go to see this will want, so in a strange way, you could almost call it a success. Luckily, however, its simplicity doesn’t carry all the way to its end. There are a few legitimate surprises in store for its viewers, a twist or two that actually manage to create some intrigue as the clock strikes midnight for the characters, even though the film’s window for emotion is long gone by then. Still, getting to those clever twists is a chore. New Year’s Eve is only two hours long, but its gooey amounts of cheese and hilariously awful song numbers will make it feel like you’re watching the whole stupid day unfold.

New Year’s Eve receives 1.5/5

Friday
Jan212011

No Strings Attached

When Natalie Portman stars in a movie, it’s an immediate attention grabber. Aside from being an extremely talented actress, she’s also one of the most adorable people on the planet. Considering she just gave her best performance in Black Swan, which has already snatched up multiple awards from the likes of the Golden Globes and film critic organizations everywhere, it’s a shame to see her star in No Strings Attached opposite Ashton Kutcher. She is so good, so radiant, so warm and so funny that you can’t help but wish she had a stronger and more charismatic co-star, one that would make her shine in ways other than in comparison.

It’s not so much that Kutcher is bad; he just doesn’t have the acting chops to convincingly stand alongside Portman. Despite emitting charm in last year’s underrated Valentine’s Day, he is stiff here, perhaps because his character isn’t written as overly likable like in that holiday themed movie. That person was perhaps too optimistic for his own good, but it was that optimism about love that managed to touch me. In No Strings Attached, his character is written to be more three dimensional, but the problem is Kutcher couldn’t be flatter if you drove over him with a steamroller.

His character in question is named Adam. Ever since meeting Emma at Camp Weehawken when he was a teenager, he hasn’t forgotten her. After running into her in the present day, they hit it off and end up sleeping with each other. However, Emma considers herself too busy to have a relationship and suggests being friends who have sex with “no strings attached.” Adam agrees, but quickly finds himself falling for her. Emma believes that “people aren’t meant to be together forever,” but she may find herself changing her tune as she spends more time with Adam.

And if you’ve ever seen a romantic comedy (spoilers!), you know she does. No Strings Attached is, expectedly, predictable. So often is that the case these days that critics have to redefine the way they watch rom-coms. If we were to write one off simply because it followed formula, we’d hate everything released. What matters in most cases is how authentic the chemistry is and how much laughter it produces. To go into why the chemistry is off would be redundant considering how I’ve already expressed my dislike in Kutcher, so what’s left is how often the laughs work.

When it comes to its comedy, No Strings Attached is a rare breed. It doesn’t do anything unique, mind you; it’s just insanely inconsistent. Sometimes the jokes land with a bang and other times the film misses comedic beats by a mile. To blame those failures on individual aspects like delivery, editing or writing would be fruitless because they all contribute at various times in their own special ways. Outdated and unfunny references to things like High School Musical and Beverly Hills, 90210 only help in making this movie feel even lazier.

As per usual, the dilemmas all arise from misunderstandings and contrived happenstances. In one scene midway through the movie, a soon-to-be doctor who had barely said a word up to that point and whose personality had not been established, suddenly lashes out at Adam and becomes his romantic villain, only to eventually be forgotten. It’s things like this that helped tip the movie over and force it to tumble. As it neared its end, No Strings Attached was hanging by a thread and my interest was long gone, but it wasn't until Kutcher and Portman spoke their ham-fisted final words to each other that the thread was cut and the movie finally lived up to its title.

No Strings Attached receives 2/5

Friday
Jun042010

Killers

We’re nearly halfway through 2010 and when this time rolls around I like to reminisce back on my time at the movies and pick out what I think are some of the best and worst so far. If this first half of the year is characteristic of the second, romantic comedies will adorn most of my worst of the year list. The Back-Up Plan, The Bounty Hunter, Leap Year, all deserve a spot on that not-so-coveted list. Now you can add Killers to it, a movie so bad it manages to screw up three different genres in one fell swoop. Part romance, part action and part comedy, this thing is neither romantic, exciting nor funny. Killers fails on every conceivable level.

Katherine Heigl plays Jen, a recently single woman who is on vacation with her parents to Nice, France. There she meets a muscular, handsome fellow named Spencer, played by Ashton Kutcher. Little does she know, he’s actually a killer spy on a mission. However, he falls in love with her so hard he pulls himself out of the game and marries her. Three years later they live in a neighborhood where cops evidently don’t exist and everybody is a contract killer. You see, a 20 million dollar bounty has just been put on his head and his neighbors are coming out of the woodworks packing heat. Who is friend and who is foe? Revealing all of his secrets to Jen, he must figure out what is going on and who is behind it all.

Let’s just put this out on the table. Ashton Kutcher is one of the least convincing killer spies in the history of cinema. He couldn’t pull this role off if he had taken acting lessons from Humphrey Bogart. Taking cues from the Bond films, he tries to play the suave, sexy type, but his looks are too boyish to work. Instead of coming off as charming and sophisticated, it feels more like he should be lining the pages of Calvin Klein underwear magazine ads.

The fact of the matter is that Kutcher is an offensively bland actor. Outside of the recent Valentine’s Day where he, surprisingly enough, charmed me, he seems out of his element unless acting out lunacy. He belongs in things like Dude, Where’s My Car? and the tough guy technique he tries to put on in this thing is laughable.

Which is more than you can say for the rest of the movie, which elicits a grand total of one laugh, and even then you can argue the validity of it. Was it actually funny or was I so desperate for a chuckle by the end that I couldn’t help but crack up? It’s tough to say.

Then you have the embarrassing action scenes that utilize that damned shaky cam technique to make everything look more hectic than it really is, most likely due to the inability of the cast to simulate an actual fight.

I suppose the one saving grace of Killers is that the characters aren’t deplorable. Compared to their roles in movies like What Happens in Vegas and The Ugly Truth, Kutcher and Heigl play relatively likable people who want to live normal lives, but are forced into a mysterious game of life and death, though likable may not be the best adjective. Tolerable, maybe. Whatever you want to call them, they’re nevertheless wrapped in an inane plot and forced to spit out some of the lamest, most harebrained jokes this side of Did You Hear About the Morgans?

Lots of people wanted to kill Kutcher in this film and you’ll see plenty of bullets fly at the screen. Don’t be surprised if you start to wish one of those bullets would break through and put you out of your misery.

Killers receives 0.5/5