Friday, June 27, 2003

28 Days Later / **** (2003)

"28 Days Later" begins with three animal rights activists breaking in to the Cambridge primate research facility, their purpose as clear as crystal when a series of cages scattered across the room reveal apes being confined for some kind of scientific experimentation. With another strapped to a table at the opposite end while background television sets drop in and out of activity with various local news stories, their game plan is quick and specific, even though the animals themselves begin to exhibit ballistic behavior at the mere sight of outside activity. For them, the behavior is just a sudden reaction from their presence, but for a scientist who accidentally wanders into the lab while they're preparing the release of the creatures, it signifies something much more dangerous. "You can't release them!", he demands fearfully. "They're infected!" With what, exactly? When one intruder asks that question, the man's eyes merely stares back with a harrowed gaze, his shaky voice replying, rather enigmatically: "...Rage..."

Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle / 1/2* (2003)

The three beauties behind the action-pumped guises of Charlie's Angels are victims of the oldest crime against women in film: becoming dimwitted sex objects without ever seeming to care. They flaunt themselves around on screen in a sly yet alluring manner, outwitting jealous rivals and dangerous enemies through physical moves that would make characters from "The Matrix" feel jealous, and then stop briefly to fix their hair and check their makeup before moving on to a different task. This might have been tolerable if the camera actually cared about anything other than cleavage, but alas is does not. Every time one of these girls bends over or flexes a muscle, the lens is up close and personal to capture as much bare skin as it can, sometimes even using the slow motion technique in order to stretch the length of time in which their seductive poses last. Whatever motivates the filmmakers or the audience to endure 106 minutes of this stuff, it is far below the potential of actresses like Lucy Liu, Cameron Diaz and Drew Barrymore, women who have made a lasting impression on celluloid without having to be brainless sex kittens in the process.

Dumb and Dumberer / * (2003)

Ever get the feeling that you will probably dislike a movie only after a couple of minutes of seeing it play out on screen? This is exactly the kind of emotion that manifests during the rather painful introduction of "Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd," the prequel to the very successful idiot comedy from a few years back. A series of character introductions pass onto the celluloid with a quirky thrust, but instead of chuckling or even smiling at what material is thrown at us, we stare off without so much as cracking a smile. The scenes are not funny. The scenes that follow are not funny. The scenes that follow still are still not funny. The movie is so laughless that only four notes needed to be recorded on my notepad during the entire screening: after the first 20 minutes, I scribbled down "not very funny"; 20 minutes later, "still not very funny"; 20 minutes more later, "not funny at all"; and finally, after witnessing the conclusion, "painfully unfunny in every way." This is the kind of comedy that doesn't even deserve to be associated with its own genre.

Hulk / *** (2003)

Ang Lee's "Hulk" is the most character-driven of the recent comic book screen treatments, an ambitious special effects movie in which every crucial plot movement is dictated more by physical and psychological impulse rather than the flashy imagery or camerawork. That doesn't necessarily mean it is a better picture than its near cousins, but it is probably a more thought-provoking one; unlike the recent "X2," or even the overlooked "Daredevil" from earlier in the year, this is the type of work that not only works as a visual showpiece, but an in-depth personality inspection as well, strictly utilizing the latter element to drive the narrative beyond the standard plot convictions expected of a super-hero film. It probably helps matters, furthermore, that the movie's own "hero" is decidedly more challenged than most other beings of his arena have been. No, he isn't one of those many gifted creatures who devotes his life to fighting crime or making the world a livable place simply because he is able to; he is a cursed individual with endless internal conflict, a person who periodically caves in to the pressure of emotional pain to reveal a side of himself that could as easily harm him as much as it could benefit him against an enemy.

Friday, June 6, 2003

Bruce Almighty / ** (2003)

It takes a distinctive kind of screen talent to come across on celluloid as vividly as Jim Carrey does, but when one is dealing with a movie like "Bruce Almighty," not even the most zealous demeanor is safe from being subjected to mediocrity. Here is a premise that literally screams the actor's widely-known name, its quirky narrative devices and offbeat comic ploys echoing the essential ingredient behind every one of his past hits almost instinctively. Unfortunately, that's where the movie makes its most fatal error, too; by assuming that viewers are still thirsty for "Ace Ventura"-like pranks and bodily fluid humor, among other less-than-inspired things, it unwittingly runs out of steam barely before the first hour is even over. At least such ploys in the past in Carrey films have resulted in some sort of enthusiastic response, be it greatly negative or positive. This time, however, we simply don't care enough to even warrant a tired groan.

Finding Nemo / ***1/2 (2003)

The warm and inviting visuals that catapult us into the world of "Finding Nemo" instantly evoke one of the oldest of childhood pleasures: that of watching curious little water-based creatures swim strategically through decorated aquariums like adventurers seeking buried treasure. The amusing pastime, at least on an surveying level, is as innocent a thing to a kid as playing with friends or having ice cream on a summer day, but for those of us who grew up to accept the time-consuming challenges of fish-keeping, the cycle of life for our little undersea pets is anything but a straightforward journey, plagued by nearly all the universal laws of nature that have been established for virtually every living being on this planet. Just imagine, though, how all those poor little fish must feel amongst our own frustration, not knowing where to turn or what to do in the established parameters of their ever-changing homes. In this new Disney film, a colorful canvas alive even at the farthest edges helps pitch these important realizations to the younger viewer, who accept that little fish can be "cute" but don't quite understand the level of dangerous intricacy that surrounds them behind glass and in the sea. Surviving, it seems, is their real adventure.

The In-Laws / *1/2 (2003)

"The In-Laws" opens with a scene that misleads the very source material it is introducing, by enlisting the Michael Douglas character, Steve Tobias, in a confrontation with spies and double agents wielding rapid fire guns as he tries to pull off some sort of elaborate heist before making a quick and painless getaway. The James Bond-style opening is, we later realize, just an innocent distraction before the core story gets underway, but it nevertheless paves the road with a surface that the whole movie, alas, is only too eager to follow. This isn't a comedy about colorful families and their dysfunction, as it probably should be, but a spy caper wrapped around two middle-aged men, neither of them very interesting, who predictably don't get along until they are thrown into a maddening climax that requires them to work together. This might have been potent stuff if the material were dedicated to the premise, but the narrative is indecisive, and in the process the film forgets to be funny.

My Little Eye / 1/2* (2003)

Being conventional is never a direct goal for anyone who sets out to conceive a notable cinematic product, but "My Little Eye" may very well be the first film I have seen in ages that intentionally exercises all the big horror movie clich├ęs in order to process its plot. What's even scarier, perhaps more than any frame of it that materializes on screen, is that the movie doesn't even know why it is going this route: if it's trying to give twisted new spins to old ideas or is simply too dimwitted to manufacture new ones. Even the film's technique is a ponderous approach, purposely styled after the "Blair Witch" phenomenon to, I guess, add a touch of visual realism to the concept. But there is almost nothing authentic or even captivating about the end result itself; during its tiresome 95-minute screen run, we never feel involved, we're never fascinated, and we're not interested in what happens to anyone or why it happens to them in the first place.