The Archer (2017)


(2017) Action (MarVista) Bailey Noble, Jeanine Mason, Michael Grant Terry, Bill Sage, Dendrie Taylor, Kyanna Simone, Alexis Rosinski, Timothy Granaderos, Kurt Fuller, Grace Victoria Cox, Anastasia Markova, JoAnna Rhambo, Kalista Dwyer, Kathi Anderson, India’yolanda Collins. Directed by Valerie Weiss

As the war on drugs (and the accompanying war on crime) has created more and more convicts, prison systems throughout the country have been overwhelmed. Most states have turned to corporate prisons rather than building new ones. Keeping those prisons filled has become a priority – by any means necessary.

Lauren Pierce (Noble) is a champion archer with Olympic aspirations. Being raised by a single mom (Taylor), she pals around with Nina (Markova) who is her best friend. Lauren doesn’t approve of her douchebag boyfriend (Granaderos) who is abusive but Nina, like a lot of young girls, makes excuses for the transgressions of her boo. Lauren has ulterior motives; she’s attracted towards Nina as well. However, when she’s finally getting somewhere with Nina, big bad boyfriend shows up at the door and begins roughing up Nina when he doesn’t get what he wants. Lauren tries to intervene and the idiot boyfriend tries the same tactics on her. That wasn’t a particularly good idea; Lauren beats the living snot out of him.

However, beating the living snot out of someone can get you arrested and Lauren is sentenced to a youth camp for an indefinite amount of time. There she’s taken under the wing of the warden, Bob Patrice (Sage) who is a bow-hunter himself and is eager to take Lauren’s training to the next level. However, Lauren soon discovers that the good warden isn’t quite so good after all and that the male guards are all out to get themselves a little bit of young tail, particularly Bob’s son Michael (Terry) who with his bowl haircut you just know is going to be a pervert.

Lauren is befriended by Rebecca (Mason), a kind of Goth girl who has a history of trying to escape but has essentially given up. After Michael tries to attack Rebecca and Lauren once again comes to the rescue, the two women realize they have a real shot of making it out of prison – especially since Lauren has discovered her indefinite stay has just been extended. She and Rebecca find their way to the Warden’s residence where they make a discovery that will blow the whole sordid corrupt situation with the camp completely out of the water – if they can avoid the bullets of the deputies and the arrows of the warden, that is.

If this sounds like a women’s prison movie from the 70s, that’s because it essentially is. Oh, there’s a veneer of social injustice ripped from the headlines (more on that later) but trust me, this is all B-movie exploitation. Why else would you have two beautiful young women, on the run from nutcases and in a situation where time is of the essence, decide to take a long steamy shower – together? I do like Weiss’ instincts when it comes to empowering Lauren but showing Lauren’s hormones taking a superior position to her intellect doesn’t help the cause. Then again, I wonder if I would say the same thing if a male hero stopped to have a sex scene during a pursuit. I would like to hope I would.

Noble does a good job In an action role and I could see her getting more of those sorts of roles in the future. The cast is largely unknown and they at least nobody disgraces themselves; for the most part the performances here are satisfactory or better. They could have used some dialogue that didn’t make them sound like they were being paid by Roger Corman.

I will say that every single male in this picture is either corrupt, perverted, evil or all three. There isn’t a single male role that has a redeeming quality. Given the heavy lesbian overtones of the film (most of the women in the movie are either lesbians or victims) some conservative sorts might connect the dots which again doesn’t do the message that the movie is trying to send any favors. Not all men are evil and not all women are victims. One can be a good person without finding the same sex attractive or having testicles.

There is some beautiful cinematography here and that’s to be commended, but the movie falls apart when you examine the plot too closely. For example, there is an African-American character who appears to have some importance early on in the film but just disappears completely as Lauren makes friends with Rebecca. For another, as the girls are fleeing, they have the opportunity to take a truck and make it to civilization much faster; instead they choose to go on foot. We know they both are able to drive and they’re both intelligent; the only reason they go on foot is so that the pursuit can be more personal. It’s a situation where the plot ditches logic to serve an agenda which in this case is to finish with a face-to-face confrontation. There are a lot of ways that could have occurred without sacrificing common sense.

At times this felt like a Lifetime Movie and not in a good way. While there have been some pretty good Lifetime Movies, for the most part they’ve been cheap parbroilers that appeal to the visceral (much like SyFy original movies in that sense). The issue that the film is dealing with is a real one and an important one, but by coating it in a B-movie exploitation batter and deep frying the lot the message gets lost in all the grease. I suspect that Weiss has more to offer than this kind of stuff. I’m not above enjoying a good exploitation film from time to time – not every movie has to stimulate the cortex but it’s hard to take seriously a movie that wants to be a message movie at the same time taking up the flag for exploitation. You have to choose a side.

REASONS TO GO: There are some beautiful vistas of the mountains of Southern California. Kind of a women’s prison movie with an indie lesbian bent.
REASONS TO STAY: Also a bit of a Lifetime Movie to be honest. Way too many plot holes to overlook.
FAMILY VALUES: There are plenty of scenes of sexuality as well as some disturbing images and a bit of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film was inspired by actual events in Pennsylvania.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/28/17: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Caged Heat
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Honky Tonk Heaven: Legend of the Broken Spoke

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The Last Word (2017)


Even in the movies selfies must be taken.

(2017) Dramedy (Bleecker Street) Shirley MacLaine, Amanda Seyfried, Ann’Jewel Lee, Philip Baker Hall, Thomas Sadoski, Gedde Watanabe, Anne Heche, Tom Everett Scott, Todd Louiso, Joel Murray, Yvette Freeman, Valerie Ross, Steven Culp, Adina Porter, Chloe Wepper, John Billingsley, Sarah Baker, Nicki McCauley, Marshall Bell, Marcy Jarreau, Brooke Trantor. Directed by Mark Pellington

 

As we get older we begin reflecting on our lives; the accomplishments we’ve made, the opportunities we’ve squandered. It’s a natural part of the process. For some, however, that’s simply not enough.

For Harriet Lauler (MacLaine) life is all about control. She’s a smart, tough woman who built an ad agency in a small California town into one of the biggest and best, a great accomplishment for anyone but particularly for a woman in the era she was doing the building. In the process, she alienated just about everyone; her husband (Hall) from whom she has been divorced for decades, her daughter (Heche) with whom she hasn’t spoken in five years but the separation between the two had been going on for far longer and eventually her colleagues who couldn’t stand her domineering and belittling. Even her gynecologist and priest can’t stand the sight of her.

As she reads the obituaries of contemporaries, she knows that when she goes her obituary will read like a greeting card and say nothing about what she’s accomplished. To prevent that from happening, she goes to the local newspaper which her company kept afloat for years and commandeered their obituary, perky young Anne (Seyfried) to write her obituary while she’s still alive so that Harriet can make sure it’s up to snuff.

As Anne gets into this daunting task, the frustration grows with both the job and with Harriet whom, in one angry moment, Anne exclaims “She put the bitch in obituary!” This being one of those movies, the two women begin to find common ground and help each other grow. Harriet, hoping to get a “she unexpectedly touched the life of…” lines in her obit also commandeers Brenda (Lee), a cute as a button street-smart urchin, the “at-risk” youth as the kids today call it.

There isn’t anything in this movie you haven’t already seen in dozens of other movies like it. The script is like it came out of a beginning screenwriting class by someone who’s seen a lot of movies but has no ideas of their own. What the movie has going for it is MacLaine. Ever since Terms of Endearment she has owned the curmudgeon role and has perfected it in dozens of movies since. This is more of the same and I frankly can’t see what attracted her to this part; she’s done dozens like it and this character isn’t really written as well as the others. Still, MacLaine is a force of nature, a national treasure who at 82 is still going strong but one should take any opportunity to see her perform, even in a movie like this.

Seyfried is getting a bit long-in-the-tooth for doing waif-ish ingénue roles. She still has those big doe eyes and pouty lips that give her the physical attributes but she is much smarter than parts like this allow her to get. She does get a few good zingers off but her character has so little backbone – and it is sooo inevitable she’s going to grow one by the end credits – you expect her to be blown to kingdom come by Harriet, but that never really happens and it is to Seyfried’s credit she holds her own with MacLaine.

There really is no reason for the movie to have the street-smart urchin in it. Lee in particular is cute enough but she suffers from the curse of child actors – she doesn’t act so much as pretend. The difference is noticeable and you never believe the character for a moment but then again Brenda doesn’t really add anything to the movie that couldn’t have been delivered there by an adult. I suppose they wanted her in there so that she could appeal to the grandchild instincts of the target audience.

I can’t say this was a disappointment because the trailer was pretty unappealing but for the most part this is disposable as it gets. You won’t waste your time seeing this exactly but then again you won’t make the most of it either which, ironically, is the message Harriet is trying to deliver to Anne. Definitely the filmmakers got an “A” in Irony 101.

REASONS TO GO: MacLaine is one of the last of the old-time movie stars and any chance to see her is worth taking.
REASONS TO STAY: Unnecessary child actor alert.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film’s world premiere was actually here in the U.S. at the AFI Latin American Film Festival last September.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/17/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 35% positive reviews. Metacritic: 41/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Bucket List
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: The Comedian

Life After Beth


Dane DeHaan explains to a hungry Aubrey Plaza that he is contractually entitled to first crack at the craft services table.

Dane DeHaan explains to a hungry Aubrey Plaza that he is contractually entitled to first crack at the craft services table.

(2014) Horror Comedy (A24) Dane DeHaan, Aubrey Plaza, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Matthew Gray Gubler, Cheryl Hines, Paul Reiser, Anna Kendrick, Eva La Dare, Alia Shawkat, Thomas McDonell, Allan McLeod, Paul Weitz, Michelle Azar, Jim O’Heir, Rob Delaney, Adam Pally, Elizabeth Jayne, Jenna Nye, Garry Marshall, Bechir Sylvain, Bonnie Burroughs. Directed by Jeff Baena

“Til death do us part” is an intense statement. The vow signifies that we will remain with that other person until one of us is called to the Choir Invisible. What happens though, if death doesn’t part us exactly?

Zach Orfman (DeHaan) is mourning the unexpected death of his girlfriend. Both are in high school although summer vacation was in full flower. She’d gone hiking in the Southern California hills by herself and had been bitten by a snake. The poison did her in.

A young romance tragically curtailed is hard enough to endure but Zach had the extra added bonus that the two of them had been having problems. Zach was the kind of guy who didn’t do things he didn’t want to do particularly and while Beth (Plaza) – the said late girlfriend – wanted to go hiking with him, and learn how to dance the flamenco, Zach wasn’t interested in either, or a thousand other things the young and vivacious brunette wanted to try out. So she had brought up the concept of splitting up, which Zach definitely didn’t want to do. While they were in this state of flux, she had decided to go hiking by herself since nobody would go with her and…well, you know the rest.

So Zach was dealing not only with the death of his beautiful young girlfriend but also with his own inadequacies as a boyfriend and it was proving very difficult for him to accept. His parents (Reiser, Hines) weren’t particularly helpful, being a little bit too distracted with whatever it was successful L.A. types are distracted with to give a thought to their brooding son. His older brother Kyle (Gubler) had plenty of time to devote to Zach, considering that he had the high exalted position of security guard for the gated community Beth’s parents Maury (Reilly) and Geenie (Shannon) lived in. Kyle seized the opportunity to make life miserable for his younger brother – after all, what else are older brothers for?

So Zach had taken to spending more time with Maury and Geenie, the three of them united by their numbing, overwhelming grief. They all understood what the others were going through and Zach found it somewhat therapeutic to go through Beth’s things, wearing a ski scarf of hers even though, as I mentioned, it was the dead of summer.

Then one day he goes over and rings the doorbell but there’s no answer. It’s weird because he can hear people inside. He checks the window – and sees a fleeting glimpse of Beth walking around the house. He pounds on the door and tries to get in but just in time his brother turns up and escorts him out of the development. There’s another thing older brothers are for.

Of course, nobody believes what he saw but Zach knows what he saw. He’s so sure that he breaks into their house and comes upon Beth, big as life and still breathing. At first he’s furious, convinced that Maury and Geenie were pulling a fast one, but no, they’re just as mystified as he. She had just shown up at the door and had no clue that she’d died. And Maury, quite frankly, wants it to stay that way.

Zach is determined to do all the things with Beth he’d never done – including sex, which is at the top of the list and Beth is quite frankly horny as all get out. She has no memory of the break-up – as far as she’s concerned everything has always been hunky dory. Except something’s not quite right. She’s prone to these rages and tantrums that were completely unlike her. And then again, she’s stronger than you’d expect for a slip of a girl. And gets sunburned really easily. Zach is sure she’s a zombie – Maury doesn’t want to entertain the concept. But yeah, she is and Zach is totally cool with it. At first.

Equal parts zombie apocalypse and romantic comedy, Life After Beth could be accurately deemed a Zom-com (catchy, no?) and given the popularity of the living dead these days I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a whole lot of them shuffling down the pike, arms outstretched and grunting.

There are a lot of things to like. DeHaan and Plaza make an odd couple but just the sort you’d find in your local high school, the sort who get drawn together in history class and make it official in drama club. DeHaan gives the character equal doses of gravitas, confusion and hormonal overwrought drama. If some teenage boy from your neighborhood had the same circumstances in his life, my guess is he’d act pretty much the same way as Zach does. As for DeHaan, his career has been taking off in the last few years, may not be available to do these smaller films much longer.

The same goes for Plaza. She’s been attracting a lot of notice in Parks and Recreation over the past few years and has quietly done some really strong work in roles large and small in offbeat films. I wouldn’t be surprised if she became the next big comedic actress a la Tina Fey and Kirsten Wiig, but I would be even less surprised if she became far more versatile than that. She captures Beth’s somewhat demanding nature and is able to convey fear, tenderness, sexuality and rage often turning on a dime to do so. She gives an assertive and assured performance, the kind that commands attention. It’s a safe bet that her work here is going to get her noticed for higher profiled roles.

The humor here is scattershot as it is for most comedies and occasionally swings and misses. There are some nice quirky touches – the only thing that calms Beth down is smooth jazz, a type of music that in her first life she used to despise. It becomes kind of a running joke throughout.

While the supporting cast is good, the last half hour of the movie turns into a kind of kitschy episode of The Walking Dead or more to the point, George Romero on an acid trip. Fun and funky is one thing but it doesn’t mesh as nicely the comedy and horror aspects do in the first hour. Still, this is some fine entertainment and Chris Hardwick and his Talking Dead nation are going to enjoy this one as much as I did.

REASONS TO GO: Will crack you up in places. Captures teen angst perfectly.
REASONS TO STAY: The comedy and horror aspects stop working together well in the last third of the movie.
FAMILY VALUES: Lots of foul language and some gore and comedic violence, some nudity and sexuality as well – and a scene of drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is Dane DeHaan’s first comedic role.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/22/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 41% positive reviews. Metacritic: 50/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Fido
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: The Drop

The Lie (2011)


Your sins will find you out.

Your sins will find you out.

(2011) Drama (Screen Media) Joshua Leonard, Jess Wexler, Mark Webber, Alia Shawkat, Kelli Garner, James Ransone, Jane Adams, Kirk Baltz, Gerry Bednob, Matthew Newton, Holly Woodlawn, Tipper Newton, Kandice Melonakos, Germaine Mozel Sims, Michael McColl, Gwyn Fawcett. Directed by Joshua Leonard

I was once told as a young man by a mentor that being young was easy; everything is simple – black or white, right or wrong, bad or good. There is no middle ground in youth, he told me, no grey areas. Accountability and responsibility are notions that don’t apply to the young. Sooner or later however, we all have to grow up whether we want to or not.

Lonnie (Leonard) is reaching a crossroads in his life. He and his wife Clover (Wexler) have just had a baby and their life of activism and living by their own rules has been turned on its ear as their idealism collides with the realities of raising a baby – particularly in regards to the expense. Clover is considering a job at a pharmaceutical company that as far as Lonnie is concerned is the anti-Christ but whose benefits will make the job of raising their new addition feasible.

But Lonnie, stuck in a job he hates, isn’t on board with this. He’s a hippie in an age of consumerism and in a different age would have found a commune to hang out in with his family. Lonnie is in a crisis and he needs a day off to clear his head, so he just tells his overbearing boss (Bednob) that his baby is sick. Lonnie, now free of any responsibility, gets hammered with his best friend Tank (Webber), smokes a lot of weed and records some really bad rock and roll in Tank’s trailer.

It turns out so well that Lonnie takes another day and another day and another – until he can’t use that fib anymore so in a fit of panic he blurts out that the baby died. Suddenly the little white lie isn’t so white and isn’t so little anymore. This is one he can’t walk away from and one that sooner or later he’ll have to face the consequences for.

Based on a short story by T.C. Boyle, the movie ostensibly debates the question of whether it is okay to compromise one’s principles in order to survive, although that really isn’t it at all. It’s a question of whether one’s responsibility to family outweighs a lifestyle choice.

Leonard, whom most will remember from The Blair Witch Project, is generally a fairly charming onscreen personality and there are elements of that here too, but one wonders about the underlying story going on with the character. Lonnie talks a good game about discovering who he is, but from his actions he appears to be a stoner and a slacker who just wants to get wasted and do whatever makes him feel good. In other words, a selfish prick.

Wexler, who was so delightful in Free Samples, is the polar opposite. She has a baby to consider and the realities of life in Southern California staring her in the face. She realizes that it is time to grow up and make sacrifices, which is why she considers a job at the Big Pharma company. Her moments to shine come towards the end of the movie when the truth inevitably comes out, but sadly, her character (who may go down in cinematic history as the most understanding woman ever) reacts in a way that is counterintuitive to who she seems to be all along.

Webber, as the stoner best friend, provides a lot of the comic relief but also a lot of the film’s center strangely enough. “Dude,” he tells Lonnie in a kind of ironic coda, “You’ve got to stop running away from shit.” Which is, of course, precisely what Lonnie does and the filmmakers seem to embrace that as a viable alternative to, you know, life.

I was once the age that Lonnie is and I will grant him that things are different now than they were then but FFS you’re a dad, you’ve got to man up and grow a pair. One of the things that disturbs me about what I see in the current generation is that there seems to be an unwillingness to sacrifice for the greater good – that self-gratification is the be all and end all of existence. Now I am willing to concede that much of that is simply the flaw of youth and that it’s possible that experience and wisdom will counteract it but I don’t recall ever seeing this self-centeredness to this degree in any generation before. Wow, I sound like my own Dad, don’t I?

The point is that the movie seems to take the point of view that it is more important to be true to one’s own needs whether they are selfish or not than to be responsible for the life that one brings into this world and I simply can’t agree with that point of view – which is why I hate the ending so much because it hints that is precisely what the filmmakers think. Perhaps it is old-fashioned of me but I can’t recommend a movie that condones self-interest over responsibility. If you’re comfortable with that, you are more than welcome to seek this movie out and draw your own conclusions.

WHY RENT THIS: Examines the age old question of freedom vs. responsibility. Wexler and Webber are magnificent.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Can’t get behind a film that preaches accountability and celebrates that its lead character has none. The ending is absolutely mind-numbing.

FAMILY VALUES: A fair amount of foul language and some drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film’s official website gives visitors an opportunity to confess about a lie they’ve told which has been taken up by a number of people including at least one cast member.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $3,000 on an unreported production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Be Good

FINAL RATING: 4/10

NEXT: The Good Heart

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones


Smile...you're on catastrophe camera!

Smile…you’re on catastrophe camera!

(2014) Found Footage Horror (Paramount) Andrew Jacobs, Jorge Diaz, Gabrielle Walsh, Renee Victor, Noemi Gonzalez, David Saucedo, Gloria Sandoval, Richard Cabral, Carlos Pratt, Juan Vasquez, Alonso Alvarez, Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat, Wallis Barton, Lucy Chambers, Jessica Tyler Brown, Diana Danger, Gigi Feshold, Molly Ephraim, Maralyn Facey. Directed by Christopher Landon

If you believed the movies, supernatural terror only takes place in creaky old Victorians or lily-white suburbs. I don’t think it has occurred to Hollywood to put many of their horror movies in urban settings which is senseless; urban audiences make up some of the largest segments of the horror film audience.

However, the honchos of the Paranormal Activity franchise aren’t fools. They’ve set this film within the continuity of their franchise but with a completely different setting and cast. Here, we are brought to Oxnard, a racially diverse town 35 miles west of Los Angeles in Ventura County. While there are some lily-white suburban sorts in Oxnard, there is also a pretty sizable Latino population (about 73.5% of the overall population).

In a working class apartment complex lives Jesse (Jacobs) who has just graduated high school along with his best friend Hector (Diaz). He lives there with his grandma (Victor) who speaks little English and apparently his dad (Saucedo who appears very little in the film). He gets a compact video camera for his birthday and of course boys being boys has to record everything including the stupid stuff boys in their late teens do.

However, as all neighborhoods do, there is someone creepy in this case Anna (Sandoval) whom it is whispered is a bruja, a witch. Strange noises are often heard coming from her apartment whose windows have been taped over with newspaper so there’s no seeing inside. However when the boys rig up a spy cam to look down into the apartment, they are shocked – and delighted – to see a gorgeous naked woman…until a naked Anna comes in and starts painting strange symbols on her belly. The creepy neighbors where I lived never had gorgeous naked women in their house – at least as far as I know.

Anyway shortly after that Anna turns up dead and the class valedictorian, Oscar (Pratt) is the unlikely suspect. You would think it would be his gang-banging brother Arturo (Cabral) but no. And not long after that, Jesse finds a strange bite mark on his wrist. Strange how the word “strange” keeps popping up in the text.

Things start going sideways after that. Jesse develops super strength and a hair-trigger temper, not a good combination. People in the neighborhood start turning up missing…or dead. Jesse begins acting more distant, almost like he doesn’t recognize the people he’s closest too. Hector is very concerned as is the pretty and sweet Marisol (Walsh), Jesse’s cousin. They begin looking into what went on in that downstairs apartment and before too long Jesse’s camera begins to capture some pretty strange things. There, I’ve done it again.

The fifth movie in the franchise is a bit of a departure from the other four. It is set apart from the main films in the franchise although some of the characters from previous films – Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat and Molly Ephraim – all put in cameos. Think of it as an off-shoot (there is a Paranormal Activity 5 planned for this October) that follows a different path but has the same basics (it is still a found footage movie) and actually helps build up the mythology around the franchise nicely, which leaves future directors some latitude to play in.

You don’t go to see a movie like this for the acting, but there is some good chemistry among the leads, particularly between Jacobs and Diaz who banter as naturally as two guys who have grown up together and know all of the skeletons in each other’s closets. Walsh also is game although I have to admit that Cabral actually shows some promise. Hopefully he won’t be limited to tattooed gang banger roles.

However, you do go to a movie like this to get some scares and while there are a few they’re mostly of the misdirection variety (“oh look, it’s just a cat”) and while there isn’t a ton of gore here there are some relatively disturbing images. This is far from a game-changer for the horror genre sports fans. There is an acceptable number of scares but just barely.

There were some things I liked about this entry into the franchise but there were some I didn’t. It’s one of those movies that will not make new fans of the franchise nor should it send too many off the reservation either. Mainly, it’s kind of a continuation of things, a placeholder until the next big event PA film comes out which hopefully is the one in the pipeline for Halloween. The franchise could sure use one.

REASONS TO GO: Cool idea. Rounds out the franchise mythology considerably. Good chemistry between the leads.

REASONS TO STAY: Not very scary and generally not well-acted.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s a crapload of foul language, some graphic nudity, some mighty disturbing images, some drug use and a fair amount of violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Jacobs actually has several tattoos in real life in among other places his arms, hands and neck. While these were covered up for the film, while he is kneeling at the vending machine one of his tats can be seen just above the right knee.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/16/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 38% positive reviews. Metacritic: 42/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Possession

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Vertical Limit

Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat


Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat

The Cat and Things One and Two scurry off into the sunset.

(2003) Family Comedy (Universal) Mike Myers, A,ec Baldwin, Kelly Preston, Dakota Fanning, Spencer Breslin, Sean Hayes, Amy Hill, Danielle Ryan Chuchran, Taylor Rice, Brittany Oaks, Talia Prairie, Dan Castellaneta, Victor Brandt (voice), Clint Howard, Paris Hilton. Directed by Bo Welch

After the success of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas it made sense for producer Brian Grazer to try for a repeat. Take a beloved Dr. Seuss classic, stick an A-list comedian in the title role, and watch the bucks roll in. The trouble with Dr. Seuss’ Cat in the Hat is that instead of Ron Howard directing, it is Bo Welch making his big-screen directorial debut. And while this Cat looks slick (Welch is a production designer), it lacks the heart that made the Grinch film so charming.

Conrad (Breslin) and Sally (Fanning) are polar opposites. Conrad is constantly doing his own thing, breaking rules and finding new and unique pathways to trouble. Sally is a bossy, tightly wound control freak who is the perfect little angel to the adults around her, but a nightmare to her friends.

Their mom, Joan (Preston), works at a real estate agency whose hypochondriac boss (Hayes) has a phobia about germs, but insists his agents meet and greet clients at special monthly parties. It’s Joan’s turn to play the hostess, and the house must be absolutely immaculate or else, as the boss puts it, she’s “FIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII-UR-DUH.”

When her babysitter conks out, Joan rushes home, where her next-door neighbor and would-be paramour Quinn (Baldwin) hopes to marry the attractive single mom and ship off the troublesome Conrad to military school. With an admonishment to her children to keep the house spotless, Joan leaves them in the care of a new sitter (Hill) who turns out to be narcoleptic. And for the two bored siblings, the rain truly begins to fall outside … which brings in a 6-foot tall Cat (Myers). The Cat is all about having fun, and after some initial moments of “scream and run,” he befriends the two kids in an attempt to bring them into balance.

Despite the protestations of a CGI fish (voiced by Hayes), the Cat wreaks havoc on the house, especially after the appearance of Thing 1 and Thing 2 (played by a phalanx of gymnasts). With the Things is a crate which — the Cat warns Conrad — must be left closed and locked, else the world from which the Cat in the Hat comes will encroach on this one. Naturally the rule-breaking Conrad opens the crate and gets the crab-like lock stuck on the family pooch’s collar. Said pooch promptly runs away, leading to a merry chase through town in which the suspicious Quinn follows, trying to get possession of the dog to finally bust Conrad permanently and give his mom a reason to ship the boy away.

If you’ve read the classic children’s book, you basically know the story and how it ends. There is a great deal more back story here, and a ton of gags, some of which are a bit more adult than Theodore Geisel might have used.

Myers plays the cat as a demented cross between SNL character Linda “Kawfee Tawk” Richman and the Cowardly Lion; he has moments where he is charming, but sometimes goes a bit more over-the-top than works. The kids are cute enough, but Conrad is such a jerk early on you kind of hope that he does get sent to military school — it might just do him some good.

The star here is the production design — no surprise, since that’s how Welch has mostly made his living. The town of Anyville is a melding of the kitschy suburbia of Edward Scissorhands and the curved-line chaos of Whoville, with a bit of theme park architecture. Everything is in bright primary colors, not unlike the books. And while Myers is more of a Cheshire cat than the thin, angular drawing of the Seuss books, the vision is still very Seussian.

But this Cat simply didn’t have as much heart as it needed. These days, kid movies really need to play to adults as well, but The Cat in the Hat goes a bit overboard in that direction. Some of the jokes are inappropriate for younger children. Myers’ Cat is more of a smarmy game show host than the force of nature depicted in the book, and there is almost no charm to him. Jim Carrey brought charm to the Grinch, which helped that film work.

This is a close call. It is a visually attractive movie, and there are some moments — particularly near the end — which are quite magical; just not enough to sustain an entire movie. Given what the character has meant to children for fifty years – even the grown-up ones – that’s a shame. The kids in this movie probably could have used a good spanking – although they probably would get a time out in this day and age. The filmmakers should have gotten one as well.

WHY RENT THIS: Terrific production design. A theme park come to life.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Tries too hard to appeal to all audiences. Myers doesn’t capture the essence of the character. A major disappointment.

FAMILY MATTERS: There is a little bit of crude humor, as well as a few jokes that might raise the eyebrows of parents as being inappropriate.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: As a result of this film, Audrey Geisel, widow of Theodore “Dr. Seuss” Geisel, refused to consider any more live action versions of her late husband’s work, giving as her reason that this movie veered too much from her husband’s family-friendly work.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: There is a brief – very brief – featurette on Dr. Seuss, and also a feature on choosing which image to use on a U.S. Post Office Cat in the Hat stamp. For kids, there’s a dance along feature.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $134.0M on a $109M production budget; the feature lost money during it’s theatrical run.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Cedar Rapids