Capsule Thoughts: Contraband, The Lorax, Lockout, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, The Divide
Director: Baltasar Kormákur
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Kate Beckinsale, Giovanni Ribisi, Caleb Landry Jones, J.K. Simmons, Ben Foster
A remake of 2008's Reykjavik-Rotterdam, Contraband stars Mark Wahlberg as Chris Farraday, an ex-smuggler who goes on “one final mission” to smuggle in a vast quantity of counterfeit $100 bills from Panama after his idiot brother in law (Caleb Landry Jones) lands in hot water with a volatile drug king pin (Giovanni Ribisi's Tim Briggs). Meanwhile, while Chris is in Panama, his wife Kate (Kate Beckinsale) and two sons are constantly being threatened and harassed by Briggs. You know the drill. The actors work overtime to sell the otherwise thin material, but it's all for naught. The screenplay by Aaron Guzikowski is so by-the-numbers that there is never a moment in the film that is even remotely engaging. Chris' relationship with Kate is never developed, but hey, we know they love each other because they keep telling each other they do over and over again. Director Baltasar Kormákur doesn't help matters any by giving the film such a jittery, head-ache inducing visual polish that completely wears you out less than a third into the film's 108-minute running time. The movie climaxes with a succession of implausible contrivances, as Chris schemes a trap for the bad guys that could not possibly work and tries to save his wife from a fate so heartless and cruel that it borders on the distasteful side. Contraband is pretty much the sort of trashy, poorly made movie we'd expect to see in the month of January. That it's a trashy, poorly made movie with such an impressive cast makes it all the more depressing to watch.
Final Grade: * 1/2 (out of ****)
Director: Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda Voices: Danny DeVito, Taylor Swift, Zac Efron, Ed Helms, Betty White
Based on a book by Dr. Suess, The Lorax takes place in a land called Thneedville, a place completely bereft of vegetation, where everything is plastic, and fresh air is manufactured by an evil conglomerate named Mr. O'Hare (Rob Riggle). The hero of the story is named Ted (Zac Efron), a 12 year old boy who wants to get a real tree to impress his lady love Audrey (Taylor Swift), and so ventures outside of Thneedville to see the mysterious Once-ler (Ed Helms), the one person who can possibly help him find a real tree. The Lorax creature (Danny DeVito), a little orange ball of fluff with a bushy mustache, is actually the guardian of the forest who is summoned when the Once-ler chopped down a tree during his youth. The movie is visually bright and colorful and always a joy to look at, and there are a couple of amusing bits sprinkled throughout the film (I got a hearty chuckle at the air advertisement which played out like a beer commercial). Yet it's difficult to care about anything that happens in the film, and that's largely due to the fact that the characters are kind of bland. There is nothing about the main character Ted that is charming, charismatic, interesting, or even likable. You're not given a reason to feel anything about this kid, which makes it difficult to care whether or not he gets the girl in the end. The same thing can be said about the Lorax. He's a fantasy creature who isn't magical, winsome, or even cute. He's kind of boring, as a matter of fact. The story here has potential, but it gets so aggressively heavy handed in the final third that it actually got me cringing and squirming in my seat. The Lorax has enough energy and pretty visuals to entertain the kids, although their parents might find it disposable and instantly forgettable.
Final Grade: ** 1/2 (out of ****)
Director: Stephen Saint Leger and James Mather
Cast: Guy Pearce, Maggie Grace, Vincent Regan, Joseph Gilgun, Peter Stormare, Tim Plester
Lockout wants nothing more than to be an illogical, formulaic time passer, and in that regard, it's not...all bad. The story takes place in the year 2079. Guy Pearce stars as rouge agent and one man army Snow (I wouldn't dream of telling you his first name), who reluctantly takes on a mission to rescue the president's daughter (Maggie Grace's Emilie) from a maximum security prison in outer space. It seems she was on a goodwill mission when one of the prisoners escapes and lets loose all the other 500 harden criminals who have been cryogenically frozen there (goodness, security must be lax). The movie gets off to an abysmal start with an incomprehensibly staged action scene set inside a hotel room, and it continues with a freeway chase so jaw droppingly awful that it almost has to be seen to be believed. Things can only pick up from there, and while the action scenes aren't necessarily exciting, they're diverting and entertaining enough to pass the time. The real reason to see Lockout, however, is the performance by Guy Pearce. His agent Snow is not the first misanthropic smart aleck with a heart of gold we've seen in a movie like this (nothing in this movie is technically original), but Pearce brings a lot of charisma to the role, and can deliver the endless string of one-liners like nobody's business. Maggie Grace also manages to bring some spunk to her character, and the hate-hate chemistry she shares with Pearce is good for a few chuckles. The special-effects and action scenes are deliberately cheesy, and that's just how it should be. Lockout makes no pretensions about being anything other than what it is: A loud, goofy, stupid B-movie action film. It's well made enough to work as a guilty pleasure for those in the right frame of mind.
Final Grade:*** (out of ****)
Journey 2: The Mysterious Island
Director: Brad Peyton
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Michael Caine, Josh Hutcherson, Vanessa Hudgens, Luis Guzman, Kristin Davisa
Little kids might like it. After all, how often do they get to see an adventure spectacle where the heroes ride up a mountain while mounted on the back of giant bees? Adults in the right frame of mind might enjoy it; it's light and frothy, and features an entertaining sequence where the heroes try to escape the titular island by using Captain Nemo's submarine the Nautilus, and have to use a giant electric eel to try and power it up. But Journey 2: The Mysterious Island is hampered by dialogue so painful to listen to that it drained the fun out of much of the film (for me, at least). A sequel to 2008's Journey to the Center of the Earth,the movie reprises Josh Hutcherson as Sean, who along with his step dad Hank (Dwayne Johnson) journeys to the mysterious island of the title because he believes his grandfather (Michael Caine) is stranded there. Accompanied by an insufferable helicopter pilot (Luis Guzman, at his all time worst) and his bodacious daughter (Vanessa Hudgens), the group manages to find the island, but only after their helicopter is ripped to shreds via an electrical storm. They run into all sorts of trouble once there. They anger a giant lizard after accidentally stumbling across its nest; they are chased by a giant colorful bird with a taste of the bees they're riding; and of course, there's the electric eel. They eventually find Sean's grandpa holed up in an elaborate tree house, and he has in his possession a radio which he made partially out of spoons, if I heard him correctly. I'm all for goofy, check-your-brain-at-the-door family entertainments like this, but listening to these bland characters talk for 90 minutes is akin to having fingernail run across a chalk board. The puppy love interplay between Hutcherson and Hudgens is almost unbearably flat; the bickering between Johnson and Caine wildly unfunny (Johnson calls Caine “grandma” at one point; ho-ho); and anytime Guzman opened his mouth, I wanted to shoot myself. Because the dialogue is as painful to listen to as it is, the movie itself became a little painful to watch. That's a shame, too, because this could've been a really enjoyable family adventure film.
Final Grade: ** (out of ****)
Director: Xavier Gens
Cast: Lauren German, Michael Biehn, Milo Ventimiglia, Courtney B. Vance, Ashton Holmes, Rosanna Arquette, Iván González, Michael Eklund
Holy cow, what a nasty movie this is. When two bombs level New York City, a handful of strangers manage to survive by hiding out in the basement of an apartment building. It's never explained who dropped the bombs, although it's hinted at one point that the perpetrators may have been American. Conflicts immediately arise within the group, and then things turn almost surrealistically ugly as one woman is turned into a sex slave, another woman is raped, bodies are hacked up and dumped down a septic tank, one man is tied down to a chair and has his fingers hacked off, another man sets himself on fire, and the lone child in the group is kidnapped by machine gun totting men in hazmat suits (why she was kidnapped, and the nature of her fate, is never made clear). A compelling story could have been told with this synopsis, but nothing makes any sense at all, and the characters are so flat and one-dimensional that we lose interest in the proceedings almost immediately. Visually, the movie has a few pluses: The cinematography is noteworthy (especially in the closing scene, which shows us the ash covered remains of New York), and the musical score has an almost melodious piano theme that is quite effective. Yet it's all at the service of a movie so ugly and distasteful that it easily qualifies as one of the most unpleasant film experiences of my life. The Divide is one of the very worst movies of the year.
Final Grade: 1/2* (out of ****)