New Releases for the Week of February 9, 2018


50 SHADES FREED

(Focus) Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Luke Grimes, Arielle Kebbel, Jennifer Ehle, Victor Rasuk, Max Martini, Marcia Gay Harden, Bruce Altman, Callum Keith Rennie. Directed by James Foley

This poorly-written BDSM bodice-ripper trilogy comes to a merciful end. There’s a story I think here somewhere but I’m not interested enough to figure it out.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, Dolby Atmos, GDX, IMAX, RPX, XD
Genre: Romance (loosely)
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for strong sexual content, nudity, and language)

The 15:17 to Paris

(Warner Brothers) Alex Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler, Spencer Stone, Jenna Fischer. Three young American military man are vacationing in Europe, taking a train to Paris when they uncover a terrorist plot. Their actions would make them heroes around the globe. Clint Eastwood directs this using the actual young men playing themselves.

See the trailer and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for bloody images,, violence, some suggestive material, drug references and language)

Becks

(Blue Fox) Lena Hall, Christine Lahti, Dan Fogler, Mena Suvari. A Brooklyn musician, reeling from the break-up with her girlfriend, moves back in with her ultra-Catholic mom back in the Midwest. Struggling to re-connect with her past and move on in her present, she begins performing in a local tavern where she meets the wife of an old nemesis. This is loosely based on the life of singer Alyssa Robbins.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Universal Cineplex

Rating: NR

The Insult

(Cohen Media Group) Adel Karam, Kamel El Basha, Camille Salameh, Diamand Bou Abboud.  This is the Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Film from Lebanon and one of the five finalists. In it, a Palestinian refugee and a Lebanese Christian end up in court over a verbal confrontation that gets blown terribly out of proportion. With the eyes of the entire country on the legal proceedings, the fragile balance between religions in Lebanon could be a victim of the court case if things continue to spiral out of control.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: NR  

La Boda de Valentina

(Pantelion) Kate Vernon, Ryan Carnes, Omar Chaparro, Marimar Vega. Valentina is the daughter of a politically connected family in Mexico. She has moved to America to make her own way out of their shadow. When her American boyfriend proposes, she is thrown for a loop; her family isn’t the easiest to get along with and she’s uncertain what they will think about an American husband. Throw into the mix a handsome ex-boyfriend and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Regal the Loop

Rating: R (for language)

Pad Man

(Sony International) Akshay Kumar, Amitabh Bachchan, Radhika Apte, Sonam Kapoor. This is a fictional biography of the real life Padmashri Arunachalam Muruganatham, a man who was shocked that his wife used unsanitary cloth to clean herself during her period. He spearheaded a movement to create low-cost sanitary pads for women throughout rural India, even though the subject of menstruation is very much taboo in that country…and it isn’t exactly a topic of polite conversation here either.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks, Touchstar Southchase

Rating: NR

Peter Rabbit

(Columbia) James Corden (voice), Margot Robbie (voice), Domhnall Gleeson, Rose Byrne. The beloved tales of Beatrix Potter come to live action combined with CGI life. A rebellious rabbit leads his friends in an attempt to access a farmer’s vegetable garden but the farmer has other ideas.

See the trailer and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Family
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for some rude humor and action)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Aadhi
Colao
Gayatri
In the Fade
Intelligent
Toliprema

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

A Fantastic Woman
Basmati Blues
Colao
Demons 2
Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool
Gayatri
Intelligent
Toliprema

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Aadhi
Colao
Gayatri
Humble Politician Nograj
Intelligent
Toliprema

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Gayatri
Intelligent
Toliprema

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

The 15:17 to Paris
A Fantastic Woman
Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool
Peter Rabbit

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Jigsaw


Hannah Emily Anderson observes her motivation.

(2017) Horror (Lionsgate) Matt Passmore, Tobin Bell, Callum Keith Rennie, Hannah Emily Anderson, Clé Bennett, Laura Vandervoort, Paul Braunstein, Mandela Van Peebles, Brittany Allen, Josiah Black, Edward Ruttle, Michael Boisvert, Sam Koules, Troy Feldman, Shaquan Lewis, Esther Thibault, Lauren Beatty, Nadine Roden, Adam Waxman, Arabella Oz. Directed by Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig

 

It doesn’t seem all that long ago (but in reality has been a decade) when every Halloween like clockwork a new Saw film would come out. The original film was gruesome and cruel but had a clever side to it and appealed not only to gorehounds but also to mainstream horror fans as well. Not everyone was fond of the series; after all, it did kick off the “torture porn” genre that made a lot of critics as well as sensitive sorts uncomfortable. After a seven year run, the franchise was shut down by Lionsgate who quite frankly became a fairly major player thanks to Jigsaw and his fiendish traps.

Now seven years since the final entry in the series Lionsgate has seen fit to resurrect the franchise. Will it begin a new  and profitable run, or will it be destined to be a one and done?

Five people have been unwillingly gathered in a barn-like structure which is quite the house of horrors. In each room, the five are given a choice mainly to confess their crimes or make a blood sacrifice. In each room, the number of the survivors is reduced by one as those who are unable to confess or sacrifice something are offed in gruesome and inventive (sort of) ways.

In the meantime a pair of cops (Rennie, Bennett) is chasing down a number of bodies that have begun turning up that would seem to be the work of John Kramer (Bell) – who died more than a decade earlier. Aided by two coroners – one an Iraqi war veteran who was at one time captured and tortured (Passmore), the other a comely Goth punk-esque vixen (Anderson) who has a somewhat suspicious obsession with the killer known as Jigsaw – the cops chase down what could only be a copycat killer…or a ghost.

Jigsaw doesn’t show a whole lot of originality or imagination either for that matter. Some of the traps are taken from previous films in the franchise which doesn’t feel so much as an homage as it does a rip-off. Even the plot feels like it has been recycled from previous films, although I have to admit the end twist was pretty gnarly.

It’s not exactly a spoiler that Bell appears in the film as Jigsaw who died of cancer following Saw III. However, that hasn’t stopped him from appearing in all the succeeding films in the franchise including this one which is a good thing because he has been the best part of the series all along. He is one of the great horror villains of all time and yet he rarely does the “dirty work” himself; he simply captures people he feels need to prove themselves worthy of continued life and puts them in situations where their survival depends on their own strength of will and willingness to take responsibility for their actions and yes, the actions that the five in the barn have committed are pretty heinous indeed.

The gore is pretty intense here but veteran horror fans should have no problem with it. Those who are more dilettantes might be a little more squeamish in that regard. The traps are fairly Rube Goldberg-like although a couple were kind of lame. Those who have at least a passing familiarity with the basics of the film series should have no difficulties following the action but those coming in fresh without ever having seen any of the first seven films are going to be scratching their heads an awful lot.

The big problem here is that the movie feels rushed; the only time that the directors seem to take their time on anything is when the barn denizens are on the edge of getting mangled. Otherwise it feels like they’re impatient to get to the next gruesome murder. Maybe their core audience is too. The rest of us though may wish for a bit more exposition. Even given that, the movie doesn’t have a lot of energy; I did see it at a matinee screening that was mostly empty and maybe I would have felt differently in a crowd of horror fans enjoying the hell out of themselves. That’s probably the best way to see this.

In any case, this isn’t the worst film in the series nor is it the best. It falls pretty much solidly in the middle. I doubt that the hardcore fans of the series will be satisfied with this effort; and I don’t think that there’s a reason to continue the series from this point forward. Judging from the less than thrilling domestic box office, it appears that most American filmgoers agree. However, the global box office was enough that we might continue to see these showing up at Halloween (although at present there are no concrete plans to do so). If so, I hope they make some changes; I can’t see the next one being any better than this.

REASONS TO GO: The usage of Bell as John Kramer is a nice touch. There is some spectacular gore for those who like that kind of thing.
REASONS TO STAY: The movie felt oddly lifeless and rushed. Watching this movie really requires at least a basic knowledge of the Saw mythology in order to understand it.
FAMILY VALUES: There is violence that is both bloody and gruesome, scenes of torture and plenty of profanity which you’d expect if you were being tortured.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Tobin Bell as John Kramer is the only actor and character to appear in all eight Saw films.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, Fandango Now, Frontier, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/13/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 34% positive reviews. Metacritic: 39/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Hostel
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
The 101-Year-Old Man Who Skipped Out on His Bill and Disappeared

New Releases for the Week of October 27, 2017


JIGSAW

(Lionsgate) Matt Passmore, Tobin Bell, Callum Keith Rennie, Hannah Emily Anderson, Clé Bennett, Laura Vandervoort, Paul Braunstein, Josiah Black. Directed by Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig

The police are baffled when a series of murders have all the earmarks of the Jigsaw Killer, who has been dead for almost a decade. As the cops chase a dead man, the corpses begin to pile up. Is this a copycat killer hell bent on continuing the mission of John Kramer, or does he have some darker agenda in mind?

See the trailer, interviews, a clip and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, IMAX, DBOX
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for sequences of grisly bloody violence and torture, and for language)

A Silent Voice

(Eleven Arts) Starring the voices of Michael Sinterniklaas, Melissa Hope, Kira Buckland, Amber Lee Connors. After bullying a deaf girl so badly that she moves away, a young boy ends up being ostracized by his schoolmates. Years later, bothered by his own behavior and wanting to make amends, he sets out to find the girl hopefully to find a way to redeem himself for his cruel actions as a boy.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: AMC Universal Cineplex

Rating: NR

All I See is You

(Open Road) Blake Lively, Jason Clarke, Ahna O’Reilly, Yvonne Strahovski. A woman blinded since childhood after a horrific car crash relies on her husband to help her “see” the world through his descriptions. When a new type of surgery restores her sight, she finds that the world isn’t as she imagined it was – and neither was her husband.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal Oviedo Mall, Regal Pointe Orlando

Rating: R (for strong sexual content/nudity, and language)

Crash Pad

(Vertical) Nina Dobrev, Domhnall Gleeson, Christina Applegate, Thomas Haden Church. A young man whose hopeless romanticism has stopped previous relationships dead in their tracks thinks he’s finally found The One; a beautiful older woman. However, he learns that she’s married and is using their affair as a means of getting back at her neglectful husband.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Universal Cineplex

Rating: R (for strong crude sexual content, language. some nudity, drug use and alcohol abuse)

Goodbye Christopher Robin

(Fox Searchlight) Domhnall Gleeson, Margot Robbie, Will Tilston, Alex Lawther. Alan, a British author, learns to appreciate the imagination of his son Christopher and is inspired to write stories about his son and his beloved stuffed bear Pooh. This is the story of A.A. Milne and how he came to invent the 100 Acre Wood and Winnie the Pooh.

See the trailer and clips here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, AMC Universal Cineplex, Regal Winter Park Village, Rialto Spanish Springs

Rating: PG (for thematic elements, some bullying, war images and brief language)

Suburbicon

(Paramount) Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, Oscar Isaac, Jack Conley. A quiet suburb in the 1950s is shaken when a home is invaded and a housewife murdered. Shocking as that was, the more details about the crime that come out, the more twisted it becomes. From the warped minds of the Coen Brothers and director George Clooney comes this much-anticipated gem.

See the trailer and interviews here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Black Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for violence, language and some sexuality)

Thank You for Your Service

(New Line) Miles Teller, Haley Bennett, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Kate Lyn Shell. Back from a tour in Iraq, a group of soldiers try to reintegrate themselves back into civilian life. For one heroic soldier, that task is much more difficult than going to war was.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a featurette and B-roll video here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: War Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for strong violent content, language throughout, some sexuality, drug material and brief nudity)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Let There Be Light
Lucky
Seven Sundays
Vunnadi Okate Zindaagi

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI:

Aida’s Secrets
California Typewriter
Calle 54
Chavela
El Amparo
Let There Be Light
The Queen of Spain
Ramaleela
Seven Sundays
Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton
Vunnadi Okate Zindaagi

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA:

The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards
Let There Be Light
Njandukalude Nattil Oridavela
Ramaleela
Vunnadi Okate Zindaagi

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE:

Let There Be Light
Seven Sundays
Vunnadi Okate Zindaagi

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Goodbye Christopher Robin
Jigsaw
Lucky
Suburbicon
Thank You For Your Service

Warcraft


Some of the dazzling visuals we refer to.

Some of the dazzling visuals we refer to.

(2016) Fantasy (Universal/Legendary) Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper, Toby Kebbell, Ben Schnetzer, Robert Kazinsky, Clancy Brown, Daniel Wu, Ruth Negga, Anna Galvin, Callum Keith Rennie, Burkely Duffield, Ryan Robbins, Dean Redman, Glenn Ennis, Terry Notary, Elena Wurlitzer, Michael Adamthwaite, Anna Van Hooft. Directed by Duncan Jones

 

As videogames go, Warcraft is a classic. It led to the massively popular MMORPG Worlds of Warcraft which is one of the most dynamic and rabid communities on the Internet. The filmed version of Warcraft was announced in 2006 when Blizzard Games signed a deal with Legendary Pictures, one of the top production companies in Hollywood. However, the road to the screen was a bumpy one as the project went through a plethora of directors and stars. Now, hot young director Duncan Jones (Moon) has at last shepherded the property to reality.

Durotan (Kebbell) is a chieftain of the Frost Wolves clan of Orcs. He is loved by his people but particularly by Draka (Galvin), his wife who is heavy with child. They, like all the other Orc clans, have gathered on a huge plain at the order of Orgrim (Kazinsky), a powerful wizard who is opening a portal to another world. The world of the Orcs is dying and they need a new place to live, and they have chosen a world called Azeroth.

There a young ambitious wizard named Khadgar (Schnetzer) discovers the presence of the Orcs and takes it to the knight Lothar (Fimmel), the brother-in-law to King Llane (Cooper) who rules a land that has been at peace for generations. They agree to call in the Guardian – the most powerful wizard on Azeroth – for his advice. Medivh (Foster) is one of Lothar’s closest friends and his wisdom and power is well-respected throughout the Kingdom. He agrees the situation is dire, particularly since the Orcs are using the Fel, a type of magic that steals life from everything it touches and warps the user into something evil.

In a skirmish, Lothar’s knights capture Garona (Patton), a half-orc, half-human who at first is fiercely pro-orc. However, convinced by the King (and the Queen (Negga) who happens to be Lothar’s sister) that she would be protected by the humans, she agrees to tell them what Orgrim’s plans are. In the meantime, Durotan has also figured out that Orgrim is up to no good and that all his posturing about glory for the Orcs is only going to end up in disaster for his people. He decides to reach out to the humans and propose a dangerous plan. However, what neither Lothar nor Durotan know is that there is a traitor in the ranks of the humans who might just mean an end to both races.

One of the litmus tests for any movie based on something from a different medium be it comic books, television shows or videogames is whether or not people unfamiliar with the source material can follow what’s going on in the movie. In other words, does the movie stand on its own merits or do you require intimate knowledge of the source material in order to enjoy the movie? The answer here is that the movie does not stand on its own. Being a fan of the game is certainly going to give viewers an advantage over those who are unfamiliar with it.

In fact, the story is so jam-packed with references to the game and background that there’s almost information overload going on. Couple that with some lavish visuals (and I admit that the CGI effects are absolutely stunning) and your senses might be stunned into submission. This is certainly a feast for the eyes and the CGI is detailed and inspiring.

Still, the plot is also dense with a lot of subplots going on. Jones was attempting to show the roots of the conflict that are at the heart of the game and he wanted to show that conflict from both sides so we are constantly switching back between the human and Orcish points of view. I think it was a noble idea that proved to be better in conception than in execution. Too many characters to follow, too many plots. Most moviegoers tend to like things simple.

To be fair, critics have been ripping this film a new one, to the point that they buried Jones’ career even before the movie was released. It is doing spectacular business in China and despite fairly anemic box office in the States it is still already turning a profit. There’s a good possibility that a sequel will eventually be greenlit. I’ll probably see it. Hopefully, they’ll learn from their mistakes and concentrate on telling a story rather than trying to be all things to all fans.

REASONS TO GO: Spectacular visuals. Fans of the game likely to love this.
REASONS TO STAY: Bloated and overindulgent. Terribly confusing to non-fans of the game.
FAMILY VALUES: A whole lot of fantasy warfare and violence, including some orc gore.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Dominic Cooper and Ruth Negga play husband and wife here; they are also playing a couple in the upcoming Preacher series on AMC.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/21/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 29% positive reviews. Metacritic: 32/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT: Twisted Justice

New Releases for the Week of February 13, 2015


Fifty Shades of GreyFIFTY SHADES OF GREY

(Focus) Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Marcia Gay Harden, Luke Grimes, Callum Keith Rennie, Jennifer Ehle, Eloise Mumford, Victor Rasuk. Directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson

A journalist for a college newspaper interviews a 27-year-old billionaire who institutes a sexual relationship that defies convention. Based on the controversial best-selling novel that began life as fan fiction for the Twilight series.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a promo and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie here is the website.
Release Formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Softcore Erotic Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for strong sexual content including dialogue, some unusual behavior and graphic nudity, and for language)

Kingsman: The Secret Service

(20th Century Fox) Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Caine, Taron Egerton. An English street kid of promising intellect but aimless direction is recruited by a super-secret spy agency that exists to wipe out global threats without anyone being the wiser. He joins at a most precipitous time; they are about to face the biggest threat in the organization’s history.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, promos, a featurette and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Spy Action
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R  (for sequences of strong violence, language and some sexual content)

Mr. Turner

(Sony Classics) Timothy Spall, Paul Jesson, Dorothy Atkinson, Lesley Manville. One of the most fascinating and unusual figures in the history of England’s arts is painter J.M.W. Turner. Deeply affected by the death of his father, he changes his style radically and grows to be one of the most admired – and most reviled – artists of his day.This beautiful film won much acclaim for Spall in the title role and is the latest triumph from director Mike Leigh whom noted film critic Richard von Busack suggests deserves a Best Director nomination more than Selma director Ava DuVernay whose snub ignited much controversy.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Enzian Theater
Rating: R (for some sexual content)

Case 39


Bradley Cooper bids Renee Zellweger a fond adieu.

Bradley Cooper bids Renee Zellweger a fond adieu.

(2009) Horror (Paramount Vantage) Renee Zellweger, Jodelle Ferland, Ian McShane, Bradley Cooper, Callum Keith Rennie, Adrian Lester, Kerry O’Malley, Cynthia Stevenson, Alexander Conti, Philip Cabrita, Vanessa Tomasino, Mary Black, Domenico D’Ambrosio, Benita Ha, John Carroll, Michael Bean, Lesley Ewen, David Patrick Green, Alisen Down, Jane Braithwaite. Directed by Christian Alvart

We are brought up to protect our children. They are precious and obviously important to our future as a species. There aren’t many parents who aren’t willing to give up their own lives for their children. What if, however, those children are evil?

Vancouver social worker Emily Jenkins (Zellweger) is given a heart-wrenching case of Lilith (Ferland), a little girl whose parents have been abusing her. The worst case scenario occurs when her parents attempt to murder the little girl. She is saved by Emily and Detective Mike Barron (McShane) who arrive just in the nick of time. Lilith is originally going to be placed in a group home but she begs Emily to look after her and with the blessing of the board Emily is allowed to take the traumatized child home temporarily until suitable foster parents can be found.

Heart-wrenching turns to heart-warming and then to heart-chilling as another child whose case Emily is working murders his parent. Barron tells her that the child had received a phone call from Emily’s home number the night prior to the crime. With Lilith suspected to be involved, an investigation is underway run by Emily’s friend and colleague Doug (Cooper). It doesn’t end well.

Although Barron is at first skeptical (and thinks Emily is in need of psychiatric help herself) but eventually comes on board, but by that time it’s too late. Lilith is revealed to be something terrifyingly evil in a child’s body. Emily is terrified but knows that if she doesn’t kill the entity, Emily will end up dead – and the carnage will start all over again with a different set of foster parents.

This is one of those movies that looked promising on paper, then generated some buzz with the casting of Zellweger and McShane (Cooper was cast pre-Hangover), then disappeared on the studio shelf where it languished for three years and several postponed release dates. Very generally movies that go through that kind of cycle tend to come to bad ends. Either a surfeit of studio interference turned a promising film into a miasma of differing visions and overly-thought out changes, or the movie was just plain awful to begin with.

I was therefore pleasantly surprised with this one which while not the kind of movie that makes year-end lists, was at least entertaining and even a little thought-provoking. Sure, the movie borrows liberally from other better films but let’s face it, most horror movies are guilty of that particular sin these days.

Children are often a taboo subject when it comes to American filmmakers – although we are dealing with a European filmmaker here. Sure, there are exceptions – but putting them either in anything more than minor peril or worse, portraying them as the cause of peril is generally considered off limits. For the most part, kids are portrayed as precocious little angels who get into trouble quite by accident. Rarely are they portrayed as malicious or evil other than to other children – and even then they’re mostly victims of circumstance. Case 39 takes a demonic child and makes her gleeful at the carnage she causes. This plays on something of a hidden fear for many – a perversion of innocence. That’s a powerful, powerful image.

However, the movie isn’t entirely successful. Zellweger’s performance isn’t among her best; in fact, she seems curiously lacking in energy. Some have characterized it as just going through the motions and while I can’t begin to pretend I know what her state of mind was filming this, it’s certainly a subpar performance for her. One can’t blame all of the movie’s shortcomings on her however – the movie often makes its points with a sledgehammer instead of a rapier, and sometimes the story is a bit confusing, giving me the impression that some important plot points were left on the editing room floor.

This isn’t as bad as I thought it would be nor as bad as the criticism of the film made it out to be. I suspect that some critics were reviewing the delay in release as much as the actual film itself, having made up their minds that a movie shelved the way this one was couldn’t possibly be any good. It’s not great by any stretch of the imagination but it deserved better, both from the critics and the studio.

WHY RENT THIS: A nice exploration at our deeper feelings towards children,
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Heavy-handed and confused. Zellweger seems oddly listless.
FAMILY VALUES: There are disturbing images, particularly concerning violence by and against a child as well as supernatural terror.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While filming a fire scene on a studio set, the flames got out of control and burned not only the set down but the studio stage as well. While nobody was hurt and production resumed the next day, equipment was flown in from all over the world to replace that which was lost in the fire.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a featurette on the arduous process of special effects make-up for a burn victim, as well as showing the digital effects creating a swarm of hornets as well as one on the pyrotechnics team.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $28.2M on a $26M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD/Blu-Ray rental only), Amazon (rent/buy), Vudu (rent/buy),  iTunes (rent/buy), Flixster (purchase only), Target Ticket (purchase only)
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Omen
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Nightcrawler

Code Name: The Cleaner


Neither Nicolette Sheridan nor Cedric the Entertainment can believe their agents signed them up for this movie.

Neither Nicolette Sheridan nor Cedric the Entertainment can believe their agents signed them up for this movie.

(2007) Action Comedy (New Line) Cedric the Entertainer, Lucy Liu, Nicolette Sheridan, Mark Dacascos, Will Patton, Callum Keith Rennie, Niecy Nash, DeRay Davis, Kevin McNulty, Robert Clarke, Bart Anderson, Tom Butler, Beau Davis, Rick Tae, Kurt Max Runte, David Lewis, Gina Holden, Doug Chapman, Jacquie Steuart, Joanne Pesusich. Directed by Les Mayfield

I like a good spy movie as much as the next guy, maybe even more. Sometimes, you want something that isn’t James Bond, but the truth of the matter is that few spy films that are action-oriented can live up to the Bond series. Does this one?

Jake (Cedric the Entertainer) wakes up in a plush hotel room and from that moment nothing seems right. It’s a nice hotel room and all and there’s a briefcase stuffed full of cash in the room but things are off. For one thing, he can’t remember how he got there. In fact, he can’t even remember his own name. To make matters worse, he can’t remember what that dead body is doing next to him in the bed. He needs time to think, so he runs out, taking the briefcase full of money out with him. Unfortunately, he is seen leaving the scene of a homicide, and as if things weren’t bad enough, the dead body is in fact an FBI agent.

As he scurries out of the hotel lobby, he is intercepted by a beautiful blonde calling herself Diane (Sheridan) who claims she is his wife. She smuggles Jake out of the hotel one step ahead of the police and drives him to a gorgeous estate, which she tells him he owns. He is met there by an obsequious butler (Clarke) and a sinister doctor (McNulty). Jake, not quite believing any of this, overhears a conversation between the doctor and his “wife” explaining the need for the truth and that a high dose of sodium pentothal should do the trick. Unfortunately, it might also give Jake cardiac arrest. While Diane is fine with this, Jake is not and he escapes out the window.

Some of Jake’s memories are beginning to return, and he seems to be in the military. He believes himself to be a spy, and he disguises himself as a Dutch folk dancer (don’t ask) to sneak back into the hotel and retrieve an item he’d left in their property check room, which turns out to be an electronic pass into a high tech corporation called Digital Arts. Jake goes to a diner across the street from their headquarters and meets Gina (Liu), a waitress who tells him she’s his girlfriend.

She takes him to her place to see if it’ll jog any memories, but the memories that are coming back are disturbing. Something is definitely smelling bad at Digital Arts and it isn’t the game developers after a marathon code writing session. This could only be a job for The Cleaner.

Cedric the Entertainer can be considered a poor man’s Martin Lawrence, but that’s not accurate since these days, Martin Lawrence is a poor man’s Martin Lawrence. He’s full of shtick but for whatever reason he has enough charm to pull it off. I’ve always liked Lucy Liu, but she just has the most atrocious taste in scripts. For every Kill Bill that she does, there are far more Charlie’s Angels. Mark Dacascos, a terrific martial artist who was so good in Brotherhood of the Wolf is wasted here, getting to use his considerable skills in only one badly choreographed scene. I’d love to see him get some of the stuff that is offered to Jason Statham.

There is a little bit of charm here in what is ultimately highly disposable entertainment. The movie gets by on the charm of Cedric and Liu, and having Nicolette Sheridan strip down to her bra and panties doesn’t hurt either.

The story is very cliché – the plot is lifted whole cloth essentially from Total Recall  – and the action sequences are pretty pedestrian. The budget wasn’t high enough to permit spectacular visuals, so the filmmakers had to get by on a few fight scenes. The Dutch Riverdance sequence is excruciatingly painful, but most of the jokes merely fall flat.

This is a comedy that isn’t funny and an action movie without any real exciting action sequences, so you do the math. I caught this on late night cable and it made nice insomniac viewing, but for the most part this is disposable entertainment that is more disposable than entertainment.

WHY RENT THIS: Cedric and Liu are charming. Sheridan is beautiful in her lingerie.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Lacks laughs and the action sequences are dull. Story is predictable and payoff doesn’t pay.
FAMILY MATTERS: There is a good deal of sexual innuendo. There’s some violence but not enough to satisfy the more extreme crowd.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $10.3M on a $20M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix DVD, Amazon (rent/buy), iTunes, Vudu
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Ecks vs. Sever
FINAL RATING: 4/10
NEXT: Stop/Loss