For traditionalists, old-fashioned love stories can still be found in period pieces (Cold Mountain) or movies set in distant lands (Beyond Borders). But as titles like How to Lose a Guy In 10 Days, Deliver Us From Eva and Little Black Book demonstrate, when it comes to love connections in present-day U.S., mind games must be played and/or dollars must be doled out before anyone can even think about living happily ever after.
At least Hitch locates the romantic spark behind all those account-emptying checks being passed back and forth. A warm and witty comedy that unfortunately runs itself into the ground during its final act, the picture benefits immeasurably from the presence of Will Smith, who may or may not be a great actor but who is most assuredly a great movie star. He's at turns sly, suave and sexy as Alex "Hitch" Hitchens, who bills himself as the Date Doctor because of his ability to make a living by advising other men how to land the woman of their dreams. An honorable man in a dubious profession -- he refuses clients who are simply out to get laid -- he finds his biggest challenge in the form of Albert (Kevin James), a clumsy, overweight accountant who's hopelessly under the spell of beautiful super-model Allegra Cole (Amber Valletta). But Hitch unexpectedly finds his own romantic inclinations rising to the surface once he meets Sara Melas (Eva Mendes). Mendes, who's always come across as a Jennifer Lopez who can't act -- no, wait, that would still make her Jennifer Lopez
never mind -- initially has trouble keeping pace with a leading man prettier than she is, but she ends up holding her own and even sneaking off with a couple of scenes.
THE WEDDING DATE P
To say that the script for The Wedding Date is bottom-of-the-barrel would be too kind; this one was already decomposing under a mountain of mulch before Will & Grace's Debra Messing unwisely fished it out. Messing stars as Kat Ellis, a 30-something woman whose neurotic impulses are obviously meant to be endearing but who instead comes off as something of a pill. Required to fly to England to attend the wedding of her loathsome sister (Amy Adams), Kat can't stand the thought of arriving without a boyfriend -- especially since her ex-lover (Jeremy Sheffield) will be there as the best man. So Kat does what any normal woman would do: She drains her savings account of $6,000 in order to hire a male prostitute to pretend to be her boyfriend. Her stud of choice is Nick Mercer (Dermot Mulroney), who's somehow become a legendary man-whore -- articles are even written about him in glossy magazines! -- even though his musings on sex, love and relationships travel far beyond banal. Although the plot bears more than a passing resemblance to the tepid Jennifer Aniston vehicle Picture Perfect, this was clearly inspired by the success of such Brit-flavored confections as Four Weddings and a Funeral and Bridget Jones' Diary. It's hard to gauge Messing's big-screen potential because her contradictory character is an impossible one to play. But Mulroney, who has a rakish charm that's been used well in other films (Lovely & Amazing, for instance), is simply terrible here: His slurred line readings, errant comic timing and glazed expression can't help but suggest that the actor got stoned before each and every take. And who could blame him?
HIDE AND SEEK P1/2
Its becoming increasingly rote to review junky, generic thrillers like Hide and Seek: Critics would do well to simply cut-and-paste their slams of last years Secret Window (this films doppelganger) and leave it at that. But lets not stop with that Johnny Depp dud: If Hide and Seek were a math equation, it would read something like Secret Window plus The Shining plus What Lies Beneath plus Cape Fear plus The Sixth Sense plus May plus The Bad Seed plus Happiness multiplied by a high level of improbability and divided by a lack of any genuine scares. Robert De Niro, in full paycheck-gorging mode, is miscast as David Callaway, a New York psychologist who, after his wife (Amy Irving) commits suicide, moves upstate with their traumatized 9-year-old daughter Emily (Dakota Fanning). Still struggling to cope with the tragedy, Emily invents an imaginary friend named Charlie, and a subsequent string of disasters leads David to wonder whether Emily suffers from a split personality, whether another person is manipulating his daughter, or whether theres a supernatural presence in their new home. Hide and Seek contains the usual visual scares always found in this sort of nonsense, such as the cat that suddenly springs out of a closed closet (which begs the question: How did a cat get in a closed closet in the first place?). Equally daft is the dialogue credited to first-timer Ari Schlossberg, with the defining moment of unintentional hilarity arriving when, after it appears that Emily has mutilated all her dolls and drowned the family cat in the bathtub, David lays out his reason for not wanting to take her back to the city: Im afraid it might make her condition worse.
ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 PP
A favorite of critics and cultists alike, 1976s Assault On Precinct 13 was a nifty little B flick that John Carpenter helmed before hitting the big time with Halloween. The film concerns itself with the members of an LA street gang who descend upon a nearly abandoned police station with the sole purpose of wiping out everyone inside. That the protagonists never learn the reason for the siege (though we do) adds to their sense of discombobulation, and the brutal death of a little girl in the early going remains one of the most disturbing acts of homicide ever committed on screen. In this flashy update, theres no little girl, no bloodthirsty street gang, and certainly no kick-ass Carpenter score. Instead, we get a competent but entirely generic action opus in which its a group of rogue cops who attack the precinct in order to kill a captured crime lord whose testimony would put them behind bars. Laurence Fishburne plays the cool-under-fire kingpin, who reluctantly teams up with an honest officer (Ethan Hawke) to ensure his own survival.
Talk about a house of flying daggers: The multiplex is filled with them once Marvels blade-wielding superheroine springs into action in this spin-off of 1993s Daredevil (in which she appeared in a supporting role as the sightless superheros romantic interest). But while this lady in red often kicks it into high gear, the movie surrounding her rarely moves beyond a stroll. Its a blown opportunity, because Jennifer Garner has proven (through 13 Going On 30 and TVs Alias) that shes an ace at layering her physical prowess with emotional resonance. Yet here shes basically required to walk around sporting a scowl, and attempts to explain what led to this dour disposition result in poorly conceived flashback sequences that further deaden an already lifeless film. Apparently taking place after the events of Daredevil, this film finds the assassin-for-hire balking when her latest assignment requires her to kill a single dad (Goran Visnjic) and his precocious teenage daughter (Kirsten Prout, whose annoying performance does the film no favors). Elektra elects to protect them instead, which in turn pits her against the members of an evil organization known as The Hand. Inexplicably, no one ever deadpans, Talk to The Hand, but then again, a sense of humor is noticeably missing throughout. There are several intriguing villains (Typhoid, Kinkou, Tattoo) tossed into the mix, but they arent defeated by Elektra as much as by the efforts of director Rob Bowman (the underrated Reign of Fire) and his three scripters.
COACH CARTER PP1/2
First, The Incredibles comes along and pushes the message that its OK even advantageous to be exceptional in America instead of conforming by dumbing down. And now heres Coach Carter to nudge a similar theme about the importance of a solid education over all else, even (gasp!) sports. Coach Carter works the usual underdog cliches fairly well as it tells the true story of Ken Carter (Samuel L. Jackson), a high school basketball coach in California who manages to turn a team that won only four games during its previous season into a statewide powerhouse. But at the height of their success, with an unbroken string of victories, Coach Carter elects to bench the entire team once he discovers that most of his players are performing poorly in their classes. All pertinent points are made after a full two hours, yet the picture drags on for another 20 minutes simply so viewers can be treated to a climactic Big Game. Ultimately, Coach Carters sincerity gets trumped by its savvy at milking the sports formula for all its worth.
THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU PPP
For all its apparent insincerity, Writer-director Wes Andersons movie keeps us watching. Bill Murray is Steve Zissou, a Jacques Cousteau-style oceanographer whos having, shall we say, a run of bad luck. His nautical documentaries have fallen out of fashion; his ships equipment is so antiquated that he stoops to stealing supplies from a well-equipped rival (Jeff Goldblum) and his marriage to a brainy aristocrat (Anjelica Huston) is showing signs of strain.
THE AVIATOR PPP1/2
Rather than trying to cram an overstuffed life into one motion picture, Director Martin Scorsese and writer John Logan instead have chosen to focus on Howard Hughes anecdote-rich period from the late 20s through the late 40s. This time frame allows Scorsese ample opportunity to bask in the glow of his movie memories, as this was the period when the billionaire industrialist (played by Leonardo DiCaprio, whose emotional intensity makes up for his less-than-commanding physical presence) decided to try his hand at making movies.
ANDREW LLOYD WEBBERS THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA PP1/2
This adaptation of the Broadway smash draws its strength from the performances of the three principal actresses: the classically trained Emmy Rossum is affecting as Christine, the Phantoms obsession; Minnie Driver hams it up beautifully as obnoxious opera star La Carlotta; and Miranda Richardson adds authority as Madame Giry, the only person who knows the Phantoms secrets.
BEYOND THE SEA P1/2
Kevin Spacey serves as actor, co-writer, director and producer and probably caterer, key grip and best boy, if we search the closing credits hard enough on this misguided vanity project.
LEMONY SNICKETS A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS PP 1/2
As Count Olof, a villainous actor who seeks to inherit a fortune by knocking off three intelligent orphans, Jim Carrey delivers a disappointing performance, the sort of calculated turn we had come to expect from Robin Williams until his recent dramatic awakening. Luckily, other elements come to the rescue. Jude Law provides the voice-over narration as writer Lemony Snicket, and his moody musings make up the bulk of the best lines in Robert Gordons screenplay.
Viewers not interested in shifting through the rubble of the four main characters immorality in an effort to locate common truths will have no use for this picture, surely the most divisive film about modern relations since Eyes Wide Shut. Others willing to dig deeper will be rewarded with some choice dialogue and a quartet of finely etched portrayals. Set in London, the movie centers on two British males and two American females all strangers when the story opens. Dan (Jude Law) is a caddish obituary writer who falls for sweet-natured stripper Alice (Natalie Portman); Anna (Julia Roberts) is a moody photographer who ends up attached to dermatologist Larry (Clive Owen, nailing the films most complex role).
MEET THE FOCKERS PPP
The drop in quality between a hit movie and its sequel is usually so steep that just thinking about it could lead to a broken neck. Happily, no such falloff exists between Meet the Parents and Meet the Fockers. w