Shrink


The party's over...

The party’s over…

(2009) Dramedy (Roadside Attractions) Kevin Spacey, Saffron Burrows, Jack Huston, Griffin Dunne, Robin Williams, Pell James, Robert Loggia, Keke Palmer, Gore Vidal, Dallas Roberts, Mark Webber, Jesse Plemmons, Laura Ramsey, Ashley Greene, Joel Gretsch, Mina Olivera. Directed by Jonas Pate

We look to our mental health professionals to help us see us through our problems, help us overcome our addictions and in general feel better about ourselves and our lives. Like any physician, they are also human beings, subject to issues and pain of their own.

Dr. Henry Carter (Spacey) is a bestselling author and psychiatrist to the stars. He has a gorgeous home in the hills, a clientele that reads like the “A” list and the respect of his peers. But that home is an empty one – his wife committed suicide in it. He can’t bring himself to go in his bedroom any more. He numbs himself out on alcohol and pot. In fact it can be said that Dr. Henry Carter is a stoner of epic proportions.

That’s not to say he isn’t functioning. He still manages to see patients and doles out advice that at least sounds good. His patients include a hard-charging talent manager (Roberts) who gives no quarter in business and has no regard for anyone, a fading comic actor (Williams) who is a raging alcoholic but refuses to acknowledge his problem – he attends his sessions to be treated for a sex addiction that he does acknowledge. There’s also an actress (Burrows) whose career is handled by the talent manager that is slowly spinning into oblivion as he believes her age is an obstacle. She is married to a philandering rock star (Gretsch).

Into this mix comes Jemma (Palmer), a teen whose mother recently committed suicide. She is seemingly losing interest in everything except the movies; Dr. Carter’s father (Loggia) – also a well-respected shrink – urged him to take her on as a pro bono case. At the same time, Dr. Carter’s “step-godbrother” Jeremy (Webber), a struggling screenwriter, becomes friendly with Jemma and realizes her story is the one he was born to tell.

Yes, this is one of those ensemble pieces where all the stories of all these different people are entwined. It’s just not done as well as those other movies like Babel or Crash. The writers rely far too much on coincidence. It’s lazy storytelling and it happens way often here.

Fortunately the movie has some strong performances to fall back on. Nobody in the business does cynical as well as Spacey does and he delivers once again here, despite material that really could have easily been rendered into a 2D caricature. To the actor’s credit, he gives the character nuances and layers that give him a fully realized personality that allows us to really get involved in his story.

He is well-supported, particularly by the manic Williams who has had problems with alcohol in his career and clearly channels those awful years in is performance; Palmer is sweet and cute and adorable and is a breath of fresh air in the movie and James who plays Roberts’ personal assistant who is the love interest for Jeremy.

The opening shot, a panoramic take of the City of Angels from behind the Hollywood sign, shows a great deal of promise but then it falls into cliché-ridden seen-it-all-before-ness that not only doesn’t add any real insight to addiction or life in L.A. but doesn’t really add anything to the genre either. The only thing it really has going for it is Spacey and you can certainly see him in plenty of much better films.

WHY RENT THIS: Spacey is always interesting. Supporting cast is first-rate.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A little bit formulaic. Some lazy writing – too many coincidences.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a good deal of alcohol and drug abuse in the film, and a whole lot of bad language. There’s some sexual content as well.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Michael Caine’s grandfather had a similar job to Hobbs.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a music video for the Jackson Browne song “Here” from the film’s soundtrack.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $303,431 on an unreported production budget; chances are this wasn’t profitable during its theatrical run.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Crash

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Gangster Squad

Push


Push

Neil Jackson shows Djimon Hounsou that he's a rising star.

(Summit) Chris Evans, Dakota Fanning, Camilla Belle, Djimon Hounsou, Cliff Curtis, Ming Na, Joel Gretsch, Maggie Siff, Neil Jackson, Scott Michael Campbell, Corey Stoll, Colin Ford, Xiao Lu Li, Paul Car. Directed by Paul McGuigan.

It is said there is no limit to the potential of the human mind. It is also true that there is no limit to the human desire to control and exploit anything with the potential of limitless power, and no limits to how far some would go to gain that power.

There have always been humans with special abilities. Telekinetics, called Movers. Precognitives, called Watchers. People who can exert control over others, called Pushers. People who can sense the location of others, called Sniffers. These are controlled by a sinister government agency known only as Division. One of the most fearsome agents of Division is a pusher named Carver (Hounsou).

A mover named Nick Gant (Evans) has been eking out a miserable existence in Hong Kong, far away from Division. He’d watched his father (Gretsch) murdered by Carver ten years earlier. His powers have never really developed properly. His disastrous attempts to influence dice games have landed him deep in debt to the sorts of people who aren’t about installment plans. On the positive side, Division hasn’t really felt a need to go after him seriously.

However, two Division sniffers (Stoll, Campbell) are waiting for him in his apartment after a run-in with some dice players. They’re looking for Kira (Belle), a pusher who escaped from Division’s medical labs with a syringe filled with a formula meant to increase the abilities of the psychically endowed, but usually winds up killing them. In fact, Kira is the only one who has survived the shot and could be the key to Division’s plans of assembling an army of enhanced psy-soldiers.

After the sniffers leave, Nick is visited by a precocious little watcher named Cassie (Fanning) whose mother remains captive in a Division facility, drugged into a stupor. She informs him that the syringe is the means of bringing down Division and to freeing Cassie’s mom. Oh, and the two of them are doomed to die. However, the good news is that the future is constantly changing and Cassie isn’t always accurate. The bad news is that a Chinese gang led by a much better developed watcher (Lu Li) is also aware of the syringe and what it could mean, and they’re gunning to find Kira and her precious cargo. Carver and Victor (Jackson), a mover far more advanced than Nick, have arrived in Hong Kong to personally supervise the operation.

Nick assembles a team of friends and rogue psychics to try and help save himself, Cassie and Kira from what is increasingly looking like a fatal ending. The odds are overwhelming, but the stakes are high…and time is ticking inexorably towards a conclusion.

This is a nice looking movie, which takes advantage of its Hong Kong milieu nicely. There are kinetic action sequences with plenty of CGI lighting effects and wire work. There is also Fanning, who tends to elevate every movie she’s in.

The problem here is that the script is overly complex and hard to follow. I consider myself a fairly savvy moviegoer and I had problems keeping up with who is able to do what and where they stand. The movie is based on a Wildstorm comic series, for which this material is better suited. The world created by McGuigan and the other filmmakers is over-the-top and convoluted, which works in a four-color medium but not so much on the big screen.

Evans, best known as Johnny Storm in the Fantastic Four movies (he must have a thing about comic books), is an attractive enough lead but Nick Gant is essentially Johnny Storm without the libido – or the flames, for that matter. While his powers progress nicely through the course of the film, his character changes wildly without a whole lot of explanation. Either far too much was left on the cutting room floor, or the script was not as well-written as it should have been.

The rest of the cast – many of them veterans of the Hong Kong action movies – range from competent to forgettable. The most surprising of them is Hounsou. He plays the movie’s main heavy with an odd lack of energy or fire. I think he’s going for menacing in a quiet way, sort of like a cobra ready to strike. However, he comes off merely wooden and bored and not nearly an object of fear that he should be.

I tend to be far more forgiving of comic book movies than most because I do love comic books, and I do love movies that are made from them. After 2008 gave us Iron Man, Wanted and The Dark Knight, I was looking for comic book movies to become more of a serious art form. This isn’t the movie that’s going to accomplish that. What McGuigan has crafted, however, is an unnecessarily convoluted but good looking movie that I can recommend with reservations, but looks to fall below the radar of the vast majority of the movie-going audience, and it doesn’t take a watcher to see that coming.

WHY RENT THIS: Exciting action sequences reminiscent of some of the better Hong Kong-made action films. Dakota Fanning is a solid actress who delivers a performance better than this movie deserves. Scenes filmed in and around Hong Kong are fascinating.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Convoluted plot that’s hard to follow. Script occasionally ignores it’s own internal logic. Hounsou isn’t nearly menacing enough as a villain and comes off as surprisingly wooden.

FAMILY VALUES: Somewhat violent, although no worse than most comic book movies. There is also some teen drinking here. Otherwise, suitable for most teens and above.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: In order to deal with the bustle of the Hong Kong locations, director McGuigan decided to film guerilla style, out of peepholes and in the back of vans. In fact, during a scene where Kira is kidnapped at gunpoint with no crew members visibly in sight and no prior advertisement that there would be filming there that day, passers-by didn’t react or move to help.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Slumdog Millionaire