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Friday
Jan222010

Tooth Fairy

Dwayne Johnson is a bucket full of unrealized potential. The man made a name for himself with his WWE persona, "The Rock," marking himself as a bad ass and paving the way for a huge action movie career. So what, pray tell, is he doing in these fluffy family friendly kids movies? Did he learn nothing from The Game Plan, Race to Witch Mountain or his recent voice work in the atrocious computer animated picture Planet 51? Evidently not, because he seemed more than willing to make a fool of himself in his latest monstrosity, Tooth Fairy. Outside of the inherent comedic value of seeing The Rock flutter around in a pink tutu, this movie has little to offer.

Johnson plays Derek, a minor league hockey player who was sent there from the NHL after hurting his shoulder. He's known on the ice as "The Tooth Fairy" because he has a knack for knocking out his opponent's teeth. He's nothing more than a sideshow on his team, having not taken a shot on goal for nearly ten years. He is dating a pretty woman named Carly, played by Ashley Judd, who has two children, Tess, played by Destiny Whitlock, and Randy, played by Chase Ellison. One night, Tess loses a tooth and places it under her pillow hoping the Tooth Fairy will come and give her money. Derek is babysitting and agrees to humor her, but instead uses the money he has to gamble with his buddies. When she wakes up, freaking out from the lack of cash, Derek decides to tell her the Tooth Fairy isn't real, though he is quickly interrupted by Carly who gets angry with him. That night back at home, he wakes up to find a summon under his pillow. He has been accused of killing dreams and is forced to live as a real live Tooth Fairy for two weeks.

I like Dwayne Johnson. He's charming. He's good looking. He's even pretty funny when he is provided quality material, as evidenced by his role in the hilarious Get Smart. And I must stress, there is nothing funnier than seeing him wear a tutu and looking like an idiot. Laughter is the desired intention in Tooth Fairy, but the problem here is that we're not laughing with it. We're laughing at it. This is merely another in a recent string of awful kids movies with no imagination, intelligence, or bite. Much like the notion of an actual Tooth Fairy, this movie is complete nonsense and as soon as it's out of your head, the better.

However, I can see a good children's movie in here somewhere, but it's saddled down too much by writing that meanders all over the place until it has nowhere to go. Like the posters that promote it, the film is loaded with plays on words like "You can't handle the tooth" and "The tooth, the whole tooth and nothing but the tooth," all of which are as grating as you'd expect them to be.

The film also lacks a decent sense of direction, probably due to the fact that director Michael Lembeck's most prized titles on his resume are the last two Santa Clause movies, which God knows is nothing to write home about. The only shining light in this otherwise abysmal experience are a handful of decent jokes, mostly coming from the talented Billy Crystal, who plays a role similar to his fantasy turn in The Princess Bride. He is delightful and manages to drag a few guffaws out of the inanity.

Everybody knows that January is dump month, but this year seems to be extra dumpy. Limited releases aside, the only film I would recommend from it is Daybreakers. Since that film, I've sat through dreck like Leap Year, The Lovely Bones, The Spy Next Door, and now this one (with the inevitable stinker When in Rome rounding it out next week).

Still, kids may enjoy this, specifically the ones that still believe in the Tooth Fairy, and it was nice to hear the word "fairy" get thrown around without some derogatory connotation attached to it, but for those above the age of belief, Tooth Fairy is not worth your time.

Tooth Fairy receives 1/5

Friday
Jan222010

Extraordinary Measures

Before the first shot of a bouquet of balloons proclaiming "It's a girl!" shows up in the new Brendan Fraser/Harrison Ford drama Extraordinary Measures, a logo pops up, one I had never seen before: CBS Films. I questioned, when did CBS start their own film production company? Pretty recently one assumes because this is their first big screen attempt and, appropriately, looks and feels like a TV movie. From scene to scene, each passing shot, every line of dialogue, all of it screamed television. Had it appeared on the small screen, it would have been a damn fine adaptation, but theatrical films are held to a higher standard and this amateurish production does little to convince that it belongs where it is.

The story of Extraordinary Measures follows John Crowley (Brendan Fraser), a father of three kids. The youngest two, at ages six and eight, suffer from Pompe, a disease similar to muscular dystrophy where the muscles weaken due to excessive build-up of glycogen. Their life expectancies range around age 9, a number fast approaching his two children. After a scare where his daughter almost dies, he decides he must do all he can to try to find a cure. He had been studying up on the disease and reading theories proposed by Dr. Robert Stonehill (Harrison Ford), a Nebraska scientist who had been working on a solution to saving the lives of Pompe sufferers. Crowley convinces Stonehill to join him, partly through his determination and partly through the huge check he bestows to him. So will they find a cure before it's too late? Well, it's based on a book by Geeta Anand called "The Cure," which flashes onscreen right at the beginning of the movie, so I'd say it's a safe bet.

When I first saw the trailer for this movie, I honestly thought it was a commercial for a TV movie, and as I mentioned earlier, it follows the exact formula a film appearing on, say, Lifetime would, all the way down to the low angle "person-slides-their-back-down-against-a-wall-in-sadness" shot. The look of the film is simplistic, the dialogue is perfectly suitable for the medium (sans a few FCC deemed dirty words), and it tugs at the heartstrings, as most of these things do.

Besides, who doesn't feel sadness when children are deathly ill and happiness when that one in a million shot to save their lives pulls through? But that's the problem. I've seen this movie played out on television countless times, each one more manipulative than the last. Sick kids are an easy target because even the most hardened of souls wouldn't wish harm on a helpless child. Yes, I cared about the children and I hoped they would pull through, but that was more due to the fact that I'm not a soulless bastard more than it was because the film was of good quality.

Granted, it's not as bad as I expected it to be. The first hour is painful to watch, with transitions from scene to scene where commercials could have easily been placed, but it picks up and the performances are good enough. Harrison Ford, though not quite as youthful and spirited as he used to be, does a fine job in his role as the contemptuous doctor who sometimes lets his anger get the best of him, and Brendan Fraser finally gets to flex his dramatic muscles after three nonsense loony films (Journey to the Center of the Earth, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, and Inkheart). I like him that side of him and it's the most sincere I've seen him since 2004's excellent Crash.

But that pesky television look and heavy-handed narrative just keep getting in the way. It's funny really because it's a great made for TV movie, but it's not even a good theatrical one. I felt the attempt and I appreciated the uplifting story, but you've got to do better than this to justify your big screen existence. Extraordinary Measures is admirable and has nothing to object to, but nevertheless, you can wait for it to reach cable, where it should have been all along.

Extraordinary Measures receives 2/5

Monday
Jan182010

The Spy Next Door

Remember when Jackie Chan was still cool? I do. I remember watching him as I grew up. I loved how agile he seemed to be, effortlessly flying through the air performing some of the most amazing acrobatic martial arts I had ever seen. I loved his charm and his sense of humor about things. He was a guy I wanted to hang out with. Sure, his most recent American films have suffered from poor scripts and unfunny one-liners, most notably Shanghai Knights, The Tuxedo and the third Rush Hour, but I still find myself rooting for the guy. His 2008 outing, The Forbidden Kingdom, proved that he was still more than capable of delivering the trademark action and humor he is known for. But then he follows it up with this year's wretched The Spy Next Door, a kid's comedy with one genuine laugh and about 50 irritated groans.

The Spy Next Door follows a fairly routine plot used in a number of other movies about a secret spy who is forced to babysit a handful of little brats that hate him. You'll forgive me if I haven't seen any of them. When I sit down for a Vin Diesel movie, my first inkling isn't to reach for The Pacifier. Anyway, this film plays off that formula, this time starring Jackie Chan as Bob Ho, a Chinese operative on loan to the CIA. He is dating his next door neighbor, Gillian, played by Amber Valletta, but her kids loathe him. He's too "uncool." They think he is a pen importer, but they aren't aware of his secret. After capturing his arch-nemesis early in the movie, he retires so he can spend more time with Gillian and warm up to her kids. Well, Gillian's father is in the hospital and she has to leave town for a few days. Bob thinks this is the perfect opportunity and volunteers to watch over the children, to which she reluctantly agrees. Unfortunately, his nemesis has escaped and is on his way to find Bob.

As you can imagine, the following scenes consist of tired slapstick, constant back talk from the snotty children, and Jackie Chan trying to act hip, doing things that would be embarrassing for even the lowliest of actors, much less a martial artist of his stature. If the mostly silent child audience I watched this with is any indication, this film is a complete failure.

This is due to many reasons, but one is the utter lack of laughs thanks to a piss poor script and Chan's inability to break the language barrier, stumbling over his English like a first time speaker teaching phonetics. You could readily tell a few of his lines were re-recorded in post-production, probably due to this problem.

In romance movies, one tends to talk about chemistry between the two lead actors, but it seems a bit frivolous here as that really isn't the main draw of the movie. Still, each scene between Chan and Valletta was awkward to the point where I felt bad for the actors onscreen. Watching them try to act together and seeing Chan plant his mid-fifty year old lips on a pretty woman 20 years younger than him gave me an unsettling chill down my spine that cannot easily be explained.

The one thing I took a mild liking to was the cheeky James Bond-ish vibe, complete with an enemy with a scar under his eye and his seductive Russian sidekick. The only problem is that they merely exist. There isn't much of a parody here other than that, so the only minor enjoyment this film has going for it becomes moot by the 30 minute mark.

I haven't spent too much time focusing on putting my thoughts together in an articulate way because I don't feel it's necessary to grant this film more effort than it took to put the thing together. No care was put into any of this, aiming only to cheaply exploit the emotions of easily amused children. It's only fair that I care as little. This isn't as bad as the horrific Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, but "bad" takes on many levels. The Spy Next Door is still unwatchable.

The Spy Next Door receives 1/5

Friday
Jan152010

The Book of Eli

The end of the world seems to be all the rage these days. Everywhere you turn, some nonsense theory pops up. If it's not the Mayan calendar proclaiming Armageddon, it's cries of the Antichrist finally coming in the form of Barack Obama. Both have zero validity, but that doesn't stop Hollywood from capitalizing on them (though we're still yet to see that Obama movie). In recent years, post-apocalyptic movies have flooded our screens. Just in the last few months we've seen director Roland Emmerich blow stuff up real good in 2012, the Oscar worthy picture The Road, and the vampire and zombie apocalypses in Daybreakers and Zombieland. Chalk another one onto the ever growing list with The Book of Eli, a moderately entertaining film that will appeal to the following interests. If you want to see three decapitations in about that same amount of time, you'll like The Book of Eli. If you want to see a guy get an arrow through his crotch, you'll like The Book of Eli. However, if you want to see a post-apocalyptic tale with heart and meaning, you may want to look elsewhere. It's basically The Road meets Mad Max, but it's only about half as good as either of those films.

The movie opens with Eli (Denzel Washington) as he embarks on a trip to the west (as opposed to the trip down south the characters take in The Road—totally different). The world has been destroyed by a war and something they call "the flash," assumably referring to a nuclear war, which blinded many of the remaining survivors. It's been thirty years and a new generation has now grown up not knowing about the times before where, as Eli puts it, "people threw away what they kill each other for now." On his trip, Eli stumbles into a broken down town where he is violently confronted. He asks for no trouble, but is forced to kill a whole bar full of people. Carnegie (Gary Oldman) takes notice. He's the leader of the town and has a slew of henchmen he uses to track down an old book, one he claims will be able to control the lives of those he reads it to, thus giving him power. Little does he know Eli has that book.

What transpires is nothing more than a battle between the two factions for possession of the book. But what is the book? Well, if you have half a brain, you should be able to figure it out fairly quickly, though some still deem a reveal a spoiler, so I suppose I should offer up a warning. I will discuss what the book is and how this affects the overall picture, so if you want to go into the movie in the dark, stop reading.

Now, with that out of the way, the book is the Bible. Again, that shouldn't be too hard to figure out. A quick glance at the poster should be enough to give it away. "Deliver us" isn't exactly the most subtle of taglines (nor is the more succinct Gary Oldman one-sheet, "Religion is Power"). Then again, there's also a giant freaking cross on the cover of the book, which you see very early on in the movie. But why did I feel the need to bring this up? Because it is necessary to discuss the message, one that is admittedly fresh in a business that seems to continuously be at odds with it.

The recent comedy, The Invention of Lying, made it a point to deem religion a falsity. In fact, that was the whole basis of the film. The documentary, Religulous, does exactly the same (given the snarky title). But The Book of Eli is decidedly different. Its message here, without giving away the ending, is that there most certainly is a God and he (excuse me, He) uses people for a greater purpose. There's no doubt about it. He exists and works in all of our lives in ways we cannot possibly imagine. It's refreshing regardless of your religious beliefs.

Unfortunately, I've always been one to lean on the side of thought and interpretation rather than the straight forwardness of The Book of Eli. The Invention of Lying may have been anti-religion, but it posed questions. Would the world be better without it? Would there be war? Would it even exist in a world where nobody could lie? The argument it makes is that religion is merely a temporary solution to life's problems and that speculation about the afterlife is time wasted when we could be doing so many other positive things right now. Religulous, in it's own sarcastic way, does the same. These films make us question our beliefs and the beliefs of those around us, which is fascinating. The Book of Eli doesn't.

Sadder still is that it sets itself up to do just that, but never does. As noted before, Carnegie is searching for the book, knowing full well that it is the only Bible left in existence. He wants to use it to control people, insinuating its power and how it can be, and most certainly is, used for evil. At one point, Eli mentions that some people even think that it was the cause of the war that destroyed their planet. Well, religion is used to justify wars. Why not explore those themes?

Regardless of its missed opportunities, it was nice to see a pro-religion film. It just would have been nicer for it to pose questions rather than state facts, something too many religious people do already. But there's more to this thing than just its religious message and, unfortunately, not much of it is particularly impressive. It may be supporting Christianity, but boy does it get bloody. This is an action movie after all. Though the action is stylish and fun, it usually comes about arbitrarily. One scene that ends with multiple bodies strewn across the floor is initiated by Eli shoo-ing a cat away from his things. The cat's owner is none too happy and attacks Eli. Too many action scenes felt randomly placed in the movie rather than working out of necessity of the story.

The Book of Eli is a moderately successful, sporadically entertaining post-apocalyptic film that borrows from other, better movies ranging from a shot taken directly from The Road to a scene that mimicked The Devil's Rejects. Outside of the admittedly clever twist, which nevertheless is never completely satisfactory, The Book of Eli doesn't offer much other than an unexplored message stated matter-of-factly. This might work for some, but for those who like to think about religion and discuss it rather than have it shoved down their throats, The Book of Eli is a bust.

The Book of Eli receives 2.5/5

Friday
Jan152010

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

If you're a film lover, you were immediately saddened about the untimely passing of Heath Ledger. If you didn't care at first, you almost certainly did after watching The Dark Knight, if for no other reason than for the future of that franchise. He created one of the most terrifying villains to ever grace the screen with the Joker and it really is a shame to know that the next Batman movie will lack his presence. Worse still is that he would have undoubtedly dazzled us with many more movies for years to come. Hollywood is hurting without him. Although most will always think of him as the Joker, he was in the process of filming one more movie when he died, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, a quirky little fantasy tale about love and immortality that, unfortunately, never fully comes together.

Christopher Plummer plays Dr. Parnassus, an old man who travels the country performing a stage show with his vertically challenged friend Percy, played by Verne Troyer, his daughter Valentina, played by Lily Cole, and a boy in love with her named Anton, played by Andrew Garfield. The 16th birthday of Valentina is fast approaching and Dr. Parnassus finds himself troubled because in a deal he made a thousand years ago with the Devil, he agreed to give up any newborn once they turned 16. In exchange, he earned immortality and the ability to guide the imaginations of others as they walk through the centerpiece of his show, a mystical mirror. Eventually, the Devil makes another offer to Dr. Parnassus. If he can capture five souls in two days, before Valentina's birthday, he can keep her. To do this, he must attract people into the mirror and he finds help in Tony, played mostly by Heath Ledger, a mysterious man with amnesia, who uses his allure to whisk people into the imagination world.

You may be wondering what I meant when I wrote that Tony was played mostly by Heath Ledger. You see, when Ledger passed away, he had already filmed all of the scenes that took place outside of the mirror in the real world. Filming in the fantasy world was yet to begin, so according to many interviews, including this one from Comic-Con, Terry Gilliam, the writer and director, rewrote an early scene to explain that when somebody ventures into the mirror, that person's face can change figure. Stepping in to complete the movie are notable actors Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell, who nobly donated all the money they made on the film to Ledger's daughter. Although it is saddening to see the switch in persons, knowing full well Ledger is not with us anymore, one can't help but admire the imagination it must have taken to overcome this difficulty, being able to finish the movie while still allowing it to make sense narratively.

However, as much as I hate to say it, that's about as imaginative as the film gets. I was more impressed by the way they solved this problem than with the actual product itself. For a movie about a fantasy world where imaginations come to life, Dr. Parnassus is strangely unimaginative. I found myself bored by the visuals which did little to represent the imaginations of the people in the mirror.

Being a fantasy film, that's a big deal. It's not so much about what happens outside of the mirror, but rather what happens inside of it. Even if it were flipped around, however, you could still color me unimpressed. The story was simply uninteresting. I never sensed a genuine threat from the Devil, I felt that the third act personality twist of a certain character was pulled out of thin air, and the whole thing seems muddled, rarely explaining certain aspects of the film that needed explanation.

Now, the performances are good and the actors do what they can to sustain the movie, but when your run time is over two hours long, you need a better script and better visuals. As it stands, Dr. Parnassus has neither. I can feel my stomach turning as I write this because Ledger's life should be honored and his final performance demands to be seen. It's a close call, one that sickens me to no end, but I'm going to have to recommend you skip The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus.

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus receives 2.5/5