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Entries in Reese Witherspoon (3)

Friday
Feb172012

This Means War

Originally set to be released on Valentine’s Day, This Means War was pushed back to the Friday after to avoid competing with the demographically well received Nicholas Sparks-esque romance, The Vow. It’s probably a smart move—I imagine most people would want to see a straight up love film than a silly screwball comedy like this on Valentine’s Day—but if we’re lucky, nobody will want to see it at all and we can stop future movies like this from coming out. This Means War is hopelessly derivative, unfunny and far more boring than an espionage comedy should be.

This film stars Chris Pine and Tom Hardy as FDR and Tuck, two best friends and secret agents at the CIA. FDR is a playboy, seemingly more interested in picking up women than he is in completing his missions, and Tuck is a romantic. He has a kid and an ex-wife, but he rarely sees them and he’s lonely. He wants to fall in love. After seeing an ad on television for an online dating service, Tuck posts his profile and gets a hit from Lauren, played by Reese Witherspoon, who was forced into it by her best friend, Trish, played by Chelsea Handler. After they have a nice meeting, Tuck finds himself smitten, but immediately after, Lauren runs into FDR who woos her as well, unaware that it’s the girl Tuck had just seen. When they find out they’re both after the same girl, the competition is on and they’ll do anything to win, utilizing every spy technique in the book to sabotage each other.

This Means War has a great cast. Aside from the over-the-top and grating Chelsea Handler, the three main stars are all charming, good looking and talented. The poster alone should sell this movie. However, not all talent is created equally. Witherspoon is still as lovely as ever and Chris Pine, who showcased some great comedic talent amidst all the sci-fi shenanigans in 2009’s Star Trek, is as funny as he can possibly be with what he’s given here, but Tom Hardy is miscast. Although he has proven himself as a wonderful dramatic actor in films like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and the criminally overlooked Warrior, he is simply not funny. He isn’t a comedian and doesn’t know how to deliver comedic lines. When working with mediocre material such as this, his inexperience comes through even more noticeably.

Most films can overcome such a flaw, however, if their characters are fun to be around—jokes don’t always need to land when we’re spending time with people we like—but This Means War’s two main characters, the two battling it out for Lauren’s affection, are daft, selfish, shallow and manipulative. They spy on Lauren using advanced government technology (which would lead to all kinds of offensive invasions of privacy if this were anything other than a vacuous romantic comedy caper) and they use it to gain the upper hand. When they learn what Lauren doesn’t like about them, for instance, they change those aspects of themselves to fool her into thinking they’re someone they’re not. Their dishonesty is off-putting and by the end, you’ll hope she picks neither of them and moves on with her life.

You’d think that’s exactly what she’d do too after discovering that her feelings were the center of a crude and infantile competition, but she doesn’t and makes her choice. While I certainly wouldn’t go so far as to spoil who she picks, her decision is boneheaded for a number of reasons and doesn’t feel authentic. It feels like the choice was made only because, through an early contrived set-up, it allowed for a gushy happy ending for all the characters, even the one she toys with, doesn't choose and leaves heartbroken.

The pretentiously named McG, whose best movie is probably the first Charlie’s Angels (which certainly isn’t saying much), directed This Means War and it feels exactly like one of his films: stylish, but overblown; sometimes serious, but obnoxiously childish; fast paced, yet still amazingly boring. He has so many things to improve on, it’s hard to know where to begin in listing them. Even when compared to his previous failures, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle and Terminator Salvation, This Means War fares only slightly better, if only because it’s shorter and a bit breezier, but for every one thing it does okay, it botches five.

This Means War receives 1.5/5

Friday
Apr222011

Water for Elephants

Water for Elephants begins like so many romances do. An old timer (this time a man) recounts his younger days when he met and fell in love with the love of his life. He tells his story to an overly eager personality who hangs on every word he says and is kind enough to spare a few hours of his life to listen. It’s not a bad beginning (despite unnecessary expositional dialogue that essentially spoils the ending, leaving no question as to whether it will end in happiness or tragedy), but it is starting to feel overused. All it does is remind us that we’ve seen this all before in other superior films (like Titanic, for instance). Water for Elephants is not great, but few movies are. At least this one is still worth seeing (barely).

The old timer in question is named Jacob (Hal Holbrook), who has more or less run away from his nursing home and is looking for a position at a circus that is traveling through his town. When he gets there, he spots a picture of the girl he fell in love with, Marlena (Reese Witherspoon), and begins to reminisce about his days as a young chap (younger version played by Robert Pattinson). He was a Cornell student and on the verge of graduating when his parents were suddenly killed in a car crash. Because of certain circumstances, he lost everything and before he knew it, he was walking the lonely railroad tracks. After some time, a train passed and he jumped aboard, quickly realizing he just jumped on the traveling Benzini Bros. Circus train. Thanks to his studies in veterinary sciences, he was hired by the owner, August (Christoph Waltz), as the animal doctor. It was on this journey that he met and became smitten with Marlena, the owner’s wife.

And the owner is not the friendly type. I guess. August is made to be the obligatory bad guy, but it feels forced. He’s the type of guy who threatens punishment if Jacob doesn’t follow his orders, but then approves of the contradictory choices Jacob makes. He certainly has a mean side to him, but he’s actually kind of charming at times. His character flips personalities so much you don’t know how to receive him: as the hardnosed, no nonsense, my-way-or-the-highway boss man or a generally pleasant guy with an anger issue. By the end, the answer is clear, but it’s a poor juggling act up to that point and it made me care little about what was happening one way or the other.

This lack of caring carries over to the romance, which is incredibly underdeveloped, to the point of wondering what the point was of making the movie. To go into why the romance is left only half finished would constitute spoilers, so I’ll refrain, but what happens near the end doesn’t feel wholly earned. Part of this, however, may be due to the two leads, who simply do not look good together. The 10+ year age difference between the two  is distracting and makes it feel like Witherspoon and Pattinson were put together because of their names rather than because of their chemistry (which is non-existent).

Considering the ridiculous ending that works the absurdity on a number of levels, I find myself questioning why I’m recommending Water for Elephants. The answer is easy: the art direction and performances are fantastic. This is a great movie to watch, even though the story is not a great one to experience. As easy as it is to dismiss Robert Pattinson based on his poor choice of roles in movies like Twilight and Remember Me, it would be doing a disservice to his abilities as an actor. He and Witherspoon may have failed to create a romantic spark, but that’s more a problem of the casting director and is not indicative of how good they can be when separated. Similarly, Christoph Waltz delivers a knock-out performance in spite of his character’s poor narrative evolution, proving that his Oscar winning performance in Inglourious Basterds was not a fluke.

The more I think about it, the more I want to say Water for Elephants is not a good movie, but it is, just less so than I originally thought (much less so). It doesn’t work as a romance, but it works in other ways. So even though you aren’t getting the moving love story you hoped for, you’re still seeing a visually spectacular treat. It’s probably going to work more for nerds (like me) who care about that sort of thing. Those who don’t will likely find themselves staring at their watches wondering when this overlong bore will end. To those people, I say skip it. You know who you are.

Water for Elephants receives 2.5/5

Friday
Dec172010

How Do You Know

The requirements a romantic comedy must meet to be considered a quality product are flimsy. If there’s one genre of film that manages to suck more than any other, it’s that one, so when I see one I know I’m going to recommend, I inevitably wonder if it’s because it’s actually good or if I’m just lowering my standards in response to the cavalcade of garbage I’ve sat through. In the case of How Do You Know, I think it may be the latter. Despite having James L. Brooks, director of As Good as It Gets and the underappreciated Spanglish, at the helm, How Do You Know is a mixed bag of delight and dismay.

Reese Witherspoon plays Lisa, a gold medalist softball player who is about to find out she has been cut from the team. Her new boyfriend, Matty, played by Owen Wilson, is the star pitcher on the Washington Nationals, whose team seems to make spectacular plays in front packed stadiums (which solidifies that this is indeed a work of fiction). But when one of Lisa’s friends gives George, played by Paul Rudd, her number, she finds herself in a love triangle. Like herself, George needs some comfort because he has just been subpoenaed and is under investigation for securities fraud, though he honestly doesn’t know why. He has done nothing wrong. So Lisa finds herself torn and tries to juggle both relationships, though one is clearly working more than the other.

Also thrown in the mix is Jack Nicholson playing George’s father. The cast Brooks wrangled up for How Do You Know is impressive. All are great talents and provide different attributes to the film. Wilson is the funny one, Witherspoon is the sweet one, Nicholson is the mean and selfish one and Rudd is the all around pleasant one, making it easy to understand why Witherspoon could fall for him even though he may see jail time. They’re all wonderful in their roles; they’re just not given much to do.

The characters all seem to be walking a loop, especially Lisa who leaves Matty, then comes back, then leaves again, then thinks better of it and so on. The story aside from the immediate love story is inconsequential, including the entire subplot about the investigation where we find George’s father may have played a part in his downfall. How Do You Know runs nearly two hours long and I could have pointed out a good thirty minutes that could have been cut without losing the overall effect. One long winded scene, for instance, has George handling a video recorder while a minor character gives a sappy speech. But whoops! He forgot to turn it on, so the characters repetitively play through it all again so they can capture it on tape.

How Do You Know is one of the most uneven films of the year, boring you to sleep one moment and charming the pants off you the next. Undeterred by the cumbersome screenplay, the natural charisma of the talent shines through and by the end, I was surprised how much I had come to care about the characters, despite the irksome Lisa, who is essentially a walking proverb, always spouting off some stupid phrase. It’s not particularly funny and its contrivances almost pull it under, as is the case with most rom-coms, but the final moments of the film seal the deal. The last shot in particular, which will remain unspoiled, is utterly beautiful. Without it, my score may have dipped and How Do You Know would have missed a recommendation. That shot is the perfect ending to an imperfect film.

How Do You Know receives 2.5/5