Deception clearly deserves a 3-star rating. To clarify, that’s the other Deception, the 1946 melodrama that’s included in a recent Bette Davis DVD box set. This Deception (no relation) doesn’t merit even half that rating. It’s hard to believe a movie starring Hugh Jackman and Ewan McGregor, two impossibly charismatic actors, could be so dull, but the evidence is right here. McGregor stars as Jonathan McQuarry, a meek accountant who has no fun until a lawyer named Wyatt Bose (Jackman) swoops down like a slumming deus ex machina and introduces his new pal to the pleasures of pot, nightclubs and mixed doubles tennis matches. Just before Wyatt leaves town for a lengthy business trip, he “accidentally” switches cell phones with Jonathan; soon, the virginal numbers cruncher is receiving phone calls during which sexy female voices merely whisper, “Are you free tonight?” Passing himself off as Wyatt, Jonathan soon discovers an anonymous sex club in which the members all turn out to be Wall Street movers and shakers. Jonathan enjoys the loveless huffing and puffing until he meets and falls for a mysterious member known only as S (Michelle Williams). Before long, the hapless Jonathan discovers that he’s the victim of a major -- wait, let me check the title again -- deception. Since this is a costly studio project subject to MPAA approval (and we know what those prudes think about s-e-x), viewers looking for some steamy stimulation will soon discover they’re not getting Shortbus as much as they’re getting the short end of the stick. Ultimately, the movie packs less erotic heat than Horton Hears a Who!. This wouldn’t matter if the mystery was in any way compelling, but there are no surprises to be found anywhere along the way to its laughable finale.
With Will Ferrell, Adam Sandler and other comedians routinely hoarding the screens in our nation’s multiplexes, here come Tina Fey and Amy Poehler to remind audiences that, like their male counterparts, girls just want to have fun.
Indeed, the Cyndi Lauper hit of that name is granted its own karaoke-set scene in Baby Mama, and its inclusion is fitting in a movie that’s similarly pointed, joyous, and light on its feet. Even funnier than the current Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Baby Mama stars Fey as Kate Holbrook, a successful businesswoman who finds out she only has a one-in-a-million chance of getting pregnant. Wanting a child more than a man, she turns to an agency to provide her with a surrogate mom. She ends up getting Angie Ostrowiski (Poehler), who resides several rungs down the social ladder. After Angie becomes pregnant, circumstances force her to move in with Kate, and it’s not long before Angie’s slovenly lifestyle clashes with Kate’s obsessive-compulsive behavior, and vice versa. The plot complications arrive with clockwork precision, and it’s this rigid formula that prevents a fine movie from being even better. Yet judging it strictly on its comic merits, Baby Mama delivers (pun not intended, I assure you). Scripter Michael McCullers (who also directed) serves up several killer quips guaranteed to remain among the year’s freshest, and the two perfectly cast leading ladies are backed by an engaging mix of emerging talents and seasoned veterans.
Back in 2004, I gave Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle 2-1/2 stars, and I’d be a hypocrite if I elected to stick with that rating. That’s because I’ve since been compelled to see the movie twice more, and what originally struck me as a fairly even mix between sharp satire and sophomore humor has proven itself to clearly be a clever comedy in which even the bawdy gags display a certain degree of ingenuity in their conception and execution. It’s pretty much guaranteed that Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay won’t be enjoying a similar critical ascension in the years to come. Aside from a crack involving Osama bin Laden’s beard, the gross-out gags aren’t particularly fresh, and because the satire is less subversive and more overt than before, what you see is basically what you get. As the brash and impulsive Indian-American Kumar and the more sensible and sensitive Korean-American Harold, Kal Penn and John Cho again deserve the lion’s share of the credit for making these pictures work. They’re an engaging team, and here, the plot requires their characters to get mistaken for terrorists while on an international flight; soon, they’re being interrogated by a moronic Homeland Security honcho (Rob Corddry) who decides to send them to Guantanamo Bay to enjoy a steady diet of “cock-meat sandwiches.” But before long, the boys escape and find themselves on a cross-country odyssey that involves inbred Southerners, a “bottomless” party, dimwitted Klansmen and even George W. Bush himself. Kumar’s pursuit of a former college flame provides the film with more plot than its predecessor, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. And bringing back Harris was wise, but did we really need a replay of Kumar’s fantasy sequence involving an anthropomorphic bag of pot?
88 Minutes actually runs 108 minutes, a cruel trick to play on moviegoers who check their watches at the 80-minute mark and erroneously believe they’re on the verge of being set free. A film so moldy that it was released on DVD in some foreign territories as far back as February 2007, this tarnished star vehicle is finally being dumped into U.S. theaters. As laughable as any thriller that’s come down the pike in a while, 88 Minutes stars Al Pacino (mercifully keeping the “Hoo-ah!” showboating to a minimum) as Dr. Jack Gramm, a college professor and forensic psychiatrist whose expertise has repeatedly helped the FBI in nailing down serial killers. Kicking off in 1997, the film finds Gramm providing the invaluable testimony which convinces a jury that Jon Forster (Neal McDonough) is the “Seattle Slayer” responsible for the grisly killings taking place around the city. Cut to nine years later, and we find that Forster is finally scheduled to be executed. But a new rash of similarly styled bloodbaths has Seattle’s finest perplexed. Are these murders the work of a copycat killer? Is Forster really innocent, and the real killer has never been caught? Is Forster masterminding the proceedings from his front-row seat on Death Row, with an accomplice on the outside doing his dirty deeds? Or is it possible that the real killer is -- gasp! -- Gramm himself? Although some of the other characters suspect that Gramm might really be the sicko, the movie never allows that suspicion to take root in our minds; after all, the title comes from the fact that a menacing voice over his cell phone informs him that he only has 88 minutes to live. “Tick tock, doc,” the caller repeats during every phone conversation, a pithy catchphrase that’s annoying upon its very first use and becomes the verbal equivalent of Chinese water torture during its subsequent utterances. By removing Gramm from the list of suspects, that leaves us only, oh, 126 other characters from which to sniff out the actual villain. That’s because Jon Avnet’s clumsy direction dictates that practically every actor who walks in front of the camera lens, right down to bit players, try to act as suspicious and menacing as possible. It’s usually fun when a murder-mystery offers several suspects, but this goes beyond serving up a few red herrings; here, we get trout, tilapia and mahi mahi as well.
Those afraid that the dismal Drillbit Taylor marked the beginning of the end for Hollywood wunderkind Judd Apatow can relax: Forgetting Sarah Marshall (on which he serves as producer) nearly matches the laugh output of Knocked Up and actually surpasses that of Superbad. (None can touch The 40-Year-Old Virgin, though.)Jason Segel (who also scripted) plays Peter Bretter, a nondescript guy who writes the music for the TV crime series starring his celebrity girlfriend, Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell). After five years together, Sarah dumps Peter for self-centered and none-too-bright musician Aldous Snow (Russell Brand), a rejection that sends Peter spiraling into self-pity. He flees to Hawaii to escape from it all, only to end up at the same hotel as Sarah and Aldous; it's only through the efforts of Rachel (Mila Kunis), the resort's desk clerk, that Peter's able to occasionally follow through on the title action. Apatow's films are hailed for successfully mixing raunchy moments with heartfelt ones, but their greatest strength might actually be the depth of their benches. Even the most minor characters are a joy to be around, and that's the case here as well, whether it's the brain-fried surf instructor (a very funny Paul Rudd) or the fawning waiter (Jonah Hill) or the newlywed (Jack McBrayer) who's freaked out by his wife's bedroom prowess (his indignation over the "playground" and the "sewer system" being placed so close together is priceless). As for the leads, Segel is an affable underdog, Bell displays some choice reaction shots, Kunis is talented enough to turn her role into more than just a Male Fantasy, and Brand -- the MVP among strong competition -- is spot-on as the British rocker who manages to turn vanity into an endearing character trait.
Like last year's Bridge to Terabithia, this views a child's imagination as a tangible playground, and this angle is sharply delineated by the colorful flourishes of directors Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin. Jodie Foster, the most prominent child actress of the 1970s, here hands the torch to Abigail Breslin, with the latter playing Nim, a precocious girl who lives on a remote island with her scientist father (Gerard Butler). When she's not frolicking with her animal friends, Nim enjoys reading adventure novels featuring the Indiana Jones-like Alex Rover, so when her dad goes missing and strangers invade the island, she naturally e-mails Alex Rover to help her. What her young mind doesn't grasp is that her hero doesn't actually exist; instead, the books are written by Alexandra Rover (Foster), an eccentric agoraphobe who carries on conversations with her fictional creation (also played by Butler) and who reluctantly sets out to help Nim in her hour of need. Nim's Island is occasionally silly (as befits a movie aimed at youngsters), but the sumptuous visuals as well as the presence of Foster insure that discerning adults will also find it worthwhile.