Forget The Alamo again. John Waynes 1960 take on the historic battle of 1836, the one detailing the valiant if futile efforts of 200 Texans to defend their fort against thousands of Mexican soldiers, was fairly useless as history and barely involving as entertainment, but it at least had the benefit of a sterling cast (Wayne, Richard Widmark, Laurence Harvey) and a marvelous Dimitri Tiomkin score. This new version cant even match those modest achievements. The movies attempts to whip up a patriotic fervor seem at odds with the gloomy approach of the entire production, as if the filmmakers viewed their jingoism as medicine that should be taken simply because its good for you (at least Waynes version was sincere in its nationalist zeal). Even with his charisma largely kept in check by director John Lee Hancock (The Rookie), Billy Bob Thornton still fares best as Davy Crockett, the frontiersman-cum-politician trying to maintain the proper balance between Crockett the man and Crockett the legend. The other top-billed performers Dennis Quaid as Sam Houston, Patrick Wilson as William Travis and especially Jason Patric as Jim Bowie resemble waxworks at a history museum.
CONNIE AND CARLA **1/2
It still remains to be seen whether writer-actress Nia Vardalos mega-smash My Big Fat Greek Wedding will have served as the launching pad for a prosperous career or merely fall under the 15 Minutes of Fame designation, but with Connie and Carla, the spunky moviemaker demonstrates that shes not content to take her millions and run. Although it cribs shamelessly from both Victor/Victoria and Some Like It Hot, this new comedy at least finds Vardalos breaking away from her established bread-and-butter on the heels of Wedding and the short-lived TV series My Big Fat Greek Life, I was dreading My Big Fat Greek Divorce, My Big Fat Greek Funeral, etc. Instead, this new piece finds Vardalos working opposite Toni Collette (The Sixth Sense), with the pair cast as struggling airport lounge singers who take it on the lam after they witness a murder. Hoofing it to LA, they hide out by pretending to be drag performers at a local bar in short, theyre girls pretending to be guys pretending to be girls. As writer, Vardalos couldnt be less interested in the movies plot the crime escapades wouldnt even have been approved for an episode of Hawaii Five-O but she has great affection for all her characters, and the on-stage routines of Connie and Carla are fun to watch.
The opening scene of this scrappy Irish import finds Colin Farrells small-time crook going from sweet to shocking in an eye blink and the film that follows closely mirrors this unpredictable action. Conceived by two figures from Irish theater director John Crowley and playwright Mark ORowe Intermission is an example of the slice-of-life film, the type of sprawling, multi-vignette movie whose success is almost always defined by how interesting we find its characters. Here, there isnt a single person who wears out his or her welcome, and its a sign of a well-written movie when all of the individual episodes carry equal weight. Beyond Farrells casually cruel thug, other central players include a young woman (Topsy-Turvys always-terrific Shirley Henderson) so destroyed by a previous relationship that she doesnt even bother to shave off her tiny mustache or doll herself up in any way; her lovely sister (Kelly Macdonald), who has just entered into a relationship with a doltish older man (Michael McElhatton); the sisters ex-boyfriend (Cillian Murphy), so desperate to win back his true love that he agrees to take part in an ill-advised kidnapping; and a hard-nosed cop (dependable Colm Meaney) who feels he deserves his own reality TV series.
THE WHOLE TEN YARDS *
A sequel to a so-so film that barely anyone remembers (The Whole Nine Yards), this again finds gruff hit man Bruce Willis and nerdy dentist Matthew Perry mixing it up with gangsters. A sampling of its inanities: Willis wearing an apron and a pair of bunny slippers not funny. Perry taking a pratfall or running into a door 250 times not funny. Kevin Pollak as a foreign mobster who mangles the English language, calling a piece of pie a piece of pee not funny. An elderly woman whose only purpose is to break wind whenever she enters a room definitely not funny. Willis and Perry waking up naked in bed after a night of drinking, and Perry muttering, Why does my ass hurt? oy.
The beginning of Hellboy looks like the ending of Raiders of the Lost Ark, and thats a good thing. But the rest of the movie brings to mind last years adaptation of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and thats not a comparison anyone would clamor to receive. Thats a shame, because I had high hopes for this adaptation of the popular Dark Horse Comics series. This movie isnt original enough, exciting enough, or humorous enough to sustain interest, let alone spawn the expected sequel or two. Ron Perlman is aptly cast as Hellboy, but his awful wisecracks become harder to endure as the picture progresses.
ELLA ENCHANTED **1/2
Freely adapted from the book by Gail Carson Levine but completely owing its body and soul to Shrek, this is yet another fractured fairy tale designed for kids living in a postmodern age. Anne Hathaway, the wide-eyed star of The Princess Diaries, plays Ella, a young woman who, thanks to a spell placed on her by an inept fairy godmother (Vivica A. Fox), is forced to obey every command directly aimed at her. Tired of being a human puppet, she sets out to locate the fairy to reverse the spell; the resultant journey lands her a handsome young prince (Hugh Dancy) as a suitor, but it also places her in the middle of a murderous scheme hatched by the princes deceitful uncle (Cary Elwes). Plot points are brought up and then abandoned, and characters appear for no pressing reason other than the story requires their presence at that moment but the movies still entertaining, thanks to its able cast as well as its own infectious commitment to Happily Ever After principles.
THE GIRL NEXT DOOR **
Rising actor Emile Hirsch (The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys) stars as Matthew Kidman, a studious 18-year-old set to graduate from high school without any memorable experiences to call his own. But thats before he meets his beautiful new neighbor Danielle (Elisha Cuthbert of TVs 24), a former porn star trying to begin a new life. This clearly had the potential to succeed as a love story; instead, the focus is inexplicably drawn away from Danielle and placed on the slapstick antics of Matthew and his buddies.
WALKING TALL **
1973s sleeper hit Walking Tall appeared during a period in which vigilante pictures were all the rage (Billy Jack, Death Wish, etc.). This new version is merely a watered-down version of the story (PG-13, whereas the 73 version was rated R). The Rock has natural screen charisma, but his hulking presence doesnt exactly make him a natural fit for the role of a regular guy tackling formidable odds.
THE LADYKILLERS ***
The Coen Brothers remake of a beloved 1955 British comedy may not quite match its predecessor, but it works in its own eccentric way. The action has moved from England to the Deep South, where a churchgoing widow (Irma P. Hall) agrees to lease a room to Professor Goldthwait Higginson Dorr (Tom Hanks), little suspecting that hes a criminal mastermind who plans to use her cellar as his base of operations for a planned casino heist. Passing themselves off as musicians, Dorr and his cut-rate crew work quickly to carry out their plot, but once the senior citizen gets wind of their scheme, they decide that bumping her off might be the best course of action.
SCOOBY-DOO 2: MONSTERS UNLEASHED **
While not entirely lacking in charm, Scooby-Doo 2 isnt as sure-footed as its predecessor, even though the same director (Raja Gosnell) and writer (James Gunn) are involved. Instead, the worst elements of the first film the characters tedious soul-searching, their obsession with the media spotlight, all those flatulence gags have been placed front and center, resulting in an exhausting effort that feels twice as long as its 90-minute running time.
ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND ***1/2
Scripter Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation) has come up with another mindbender of a movie. When we first meet them, anally retentive Joel (Jim Carrey) and free-spirited Clementine (Kate Winslet) are drawn to each other on a beach, not realizing that they were once lovers. It turns out that Clementine, bored with their relationship, opted to take part in a breakthrough procedure that allowed all traces of their romance to be zapped from her memory. Angry and hurt, Joel elected to receive the same treatment; only he had second thoughts and then did everything he could to save the more precious of his moments with Clementine.
STARSKY & HUTCH **1/2
Having now appeared together in several films, it might be time to regard Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson as Hollywoods latest certified comedy team, a tradition that has included such twofers as Laurel and Hardy, Hope and Crosby, and Lemmon and Matthau.
THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST **
An honest depiction probably needs to showcase degrees of brutality up close and personal. But whats sorely missing from the movie is any meaningful context. Martin Scorseses superb 1988 offering The Last Temptation of Christ -- still the best and most affecting religious flick ever made -- worked because it presented us with a Christ who was both fully God and fully man, not an untouchable icon but rather an immediate figure working through the pleasures and perils of life itself. By contrast, Gibsons focus is so narrow that his film never gives us a sense of Jesus the Man -- all we get is Jesus the Martyr, whos forced to spend a tedious two hours incessantly beaten by spittle-spraying Roman soldiers.
Viggo Mortensen is adequate as a sensitive soul who, shaken up by the genocide of Native Americans, turns to the bottle and performs in a Wild West show before accepting an offer to journey to a foreign land. The character and his trusty horse Hidalgo are invited to take part in a grueling 3,000 mile race across the Arabian Desert. What follows is a rousing adventure yarn that includes breathtaking vistas, comic relief, occasionally terrible CGI effects, and plenty of exciting derring-do in the grand tradition of Indiana Jones.
Twisted stars Ashley Judd as a detective who becomes a leading suspect in her own investigation when the victims all turn out to be her former lovers. But given all these disposable titles and plotlines, how can I be sure? Because this one stands out through the sheer fact that its the worst one yet, a preposterous yarn in which not only is it easy to deduce the identity of the killer (with at least an hour to go) but also to figure out how the climactic scene will go down.
THE RETURN OF THE KING ***1/2
Pulling off a successful threepeat, director Peter Jackson wraps up J.R.R. Tolkiens fantasy saga with a dazzling chapter guaranteed to please true believers.