From the Editor
Thank you for checking out my movie review archive. I'm in the process of transitioning to something else, so I will no longer post new reviews to this blog. In the meantime, I will keep these reviews archived; these are from the fall of 2008 to April 2011. Please watch this blog for more info and keep in touch (you can still find me on Facebook and Twitter). Here's to more great movies!
North Texas Film Critics Association
Sunday, August 23, 2009
Rated R for strong violent/gruesome accidents, language and a scene of sexuality, 82 minutes
Rated R for strong brutal bloody violence throughout, terror, disturbing graphic images, language, and some crude sexual content and nudity, 101 minutes
Please, no more - two bloody terrible horror films open today, and neither is worth it
I generally don't review films together but given that there are two horror films opening today that weren't screened in advance for critics, I thought I'd make an exception. Both are popular horror film franchises with a storied pedigree and like the horror film genre in general, have a built-in audience waiting for their release. One of these, "The Final Destination," is also being released in 3-D, a clear gimmick in this case to draw people in to a bad movie. If you've seen the other installments of "Final Destination" or "Halloween" you know what to expect: loads and loads of gratuitous violence, buckets of blood and bad acting.
Let's begin with "The Final Destination." If you're not familiar with this franchise, this is about how a group of young people cheat death after one has a premonition that they'll all die in some highly improbable, horrific accident. This time, it's some dude named Nick (Bobby Campo), who has the dream while at NASCAR-like event, and a freak accident occurs. He and his pals escape, cheating death, but death eventually catches up to them all. This thing was mildly entertaining about 10 years ago when it first came out, but each one gets more lame and laughable with each installment, as the producers and writers look for inventive (and highly unrealistic) ways to die. They say there are a million ways to die but this is ridiculous. A hair salon, at a mall, at a car wash and many more. The only recognizable name is Mykelti Williamson, otherwise known as "Bubba" from "Forrest Gump," who obviously needs the cash in trash like this. Don't waste your time, even the 3-D isn't worth it. Let's hope this truly is the FINAL destination, no more please.
Next is the Rob Zombie "Halloween II" remake. A couple of years ago, noted horror film director Zombie did his bizarre take on the 30-year old franchise, updating it with a few unusual twists and of course loads of blood. I wasn't a huge fan of his first remake, and this second installment is more of the same: excessive, dirty and very graphic violence, with more of his bizarre touches and view on the whole Michael Myers persona. Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) struggles to come to terms with her brother Michael's (played by professional wrestler Tyler Mane) deadly return to Haddonfield, Illinois; meanwhile, Michael prepares for another reunion with his sister.
If you saw Zombie's first installment (or really any of his other horror films), or any of the "Halloween" films, you've already seen this one too. The strange thing is that Zombie manages to assemble a decent cast - Malcolm McDowell (who I thought was killed in the first one but go figure), Brad Dourif - even long lost Margot Kidder (Lois Lane from the original "Superman" movies) gets in the act here. None of that matters, or really makes a difference, because most folks will go out for the blood and the new ways that Zombie will find to kill people. He tries to add some very bizarre Myers backstory, but it's even more ridiculous than it was the first time around. Zombie's sledgehammer approach to directing and writing isn't much better, either. Definitely don't bother with this one unless you really enjoy this type of thing; the ending (unsurprisingly) leaves it open more for more of these, which there probably will be.
The summer will go out with a bang this weekend, just don't expect quality, but an excessive amount of violence and gore.
Enjoyable, fun "Taking Woodstock" leaves out the music
Ang Lee's "Taking Woodstock" is about the legendary music festival that shaped a generation was organized. It's a blast to the past, an enjoyable and energetic movie evoking many of the moods and feelings of the 1960's, though it's devoid of the most important thing about Woodstock: the music. Still, Oscar-winning director Lee has assembled a great cast and some memorable moments about the hippie-music fest that changed music forever.
"Taking Woodstock" is a fact-based movie based on the memoir of the same name from Elliot Tiber (played by Comedy Central's Demetri Martin in the film), who was supposedly instrumental in landing the August, 1969 festival in White Lake, New York after a nearby town canceled. His elderly parents, Jake and Sonia Teichberg (Henry Goodman and Imelda Staunton), operate a run-down motel that becomes the headquarters for the festival's organizers led by young concert promoter Mike Lang (Jonathan Groff), who have the festival on a nearby dairy farm owned by Max Yasgur (Eugene Levy). They're unaware that a half-million people will eventually descend into the area for the festival and shaping a whole generation of music.
"Taking Woodstock" arrives in theatres in time to celebrate the 40th anniversary of one of the most pivotal moments in rock music history, and the lively, memorable dramedy will likely arouse many memories for those that experienced it first-hand. Tiber's account of the events has been disputed by some, particularly Lang, for giving himself a seemingly greater role in Woodstock's development than what really happened (Tiber, for example, didn't introduce Lang to farmer Yasgur as shown in the film) and much of it seems hastily summarized for screen purposes. Still, it's fun seeing all the hippies descend on upstate New York celebrating life and music and creating a miles-long, now legendary traffic jam to the concert.
It also helps that Lee has assembled a large but talented cast who make a good impression. Stand-up comedian Martin grounds the film well as Elliot, though Oscar nominee Staunton steals scenes as his amusing but hard-working mother; Levy has a couple of fun moments in a small role as the fast-talking Yasgur, a dairy farmer looking for a good deal. Some of the others are composite or fictional characters, including Liev Schreiber as a tough guy with some identity issues and Emilie Hirsch as a vet with some clear psychological issues. Watch for others in small roles or cameos: Mamie Gummer (Meryl Streep's daughter), "Grey's Anatomy's" Jeffrey Dean Morgan, "Little Miss Sunshine's" Paul Dano and Richard "John Boy" Thomas.
"Taking Woodstock" is an interesting, often vibrant (and likely condensed) account of how the music festival was organized, though its chief flaw is the fact that it's completely devoid of any of the actual festival music. As fascinating as it was to get it off the ground, it would've helped to have even some brief flashes of Joplin, Hendrix, CCR or Crosby, Stills and Nash, though considering the film's low budget that seems impossible. Still, the producers of "Taking Woodstock" should've paid the sums required to have at least a couple of tunes to really take audiences back to the moment.
"Taking Woodstock" is just one memorable aspect of the Woodstock festival, but given the its 40th anniversary, it may be worth checking out the vivid 1970 Oscar-winning documentary, aptly titled "Woodstock," to get a genuine taste of the real musical experience.
Monday, August 17, 2009
Pleasant, predictable "Post Grad" feels very familiar
If you just graduated from college and job hunting in this recessionary job market, then the predictable, unimaginative new comedy "Post Grad" may not be for you. This agreeable, paint-by-numbers movie has a "been there done that" feeling to it, which isn't surprising given that it stars Alexis Bledel from "Gilmore Girls" and plays out like an episode from that popular, long-running series. In spite of a noteworthy supporting cast that steals the best scenes in the movie, "Post Grad" is a pleasant but unrevealing cream puff of a movie that doesn’t offer anything really new.
Ryden Malby (Bledel) had a plan. Do well in high school, go on to college and land her dream job at the city's best publishing house. But when her perfect job is taken from right under her nose, Ryden is forced to move back home. Stuck with her eccentric family - a stubborn do-it-yourself dad (Michael Keaton), an overly thrifty mom (Jane Lynch), a politically incorrect grandma (Carol Burnett), a very odd little brother (Bobby Coleman) - and a growing stack of job rejections, Ryden feels like she's on a road to dead end.
The only good thing she has is her handsome best friend, Adam (Zach Gilford) who has feelings for her and is faced with his own future ambitions, not to mention a hot older Brazilian neighbor (Rodrigo Santoro) whose own future is a bit uncertain, all of which force Ryden to make some crucial decisions that will affect her future.
"Post Grad" is an affable but bland comedy with a few decent comedic moments but otherwise lacks focus and clear inspiration. It's unfortunate the director is Vicky Jenson, who successfully helmed the animated films "Shrek" and "Shark Tale," yet ironically "Post Grad" lacks few genuine animated moments, given its banal story and stock, cardboard characters. Bledel is pretty but lacks the sharp wit and intelligence she possessed on "Gilmore Girls," who’s romantic interest is the handsome but underused Gilford from TV's "Friday Night Lights,” but then Ryden isn’t a well-written character (and her romance with the older Brazilian neighbor is a woeful, badly executed contrivance).
“Post Grad” isn’t a complete waste, though. The funnier moments come from a stellar, comical supporting cast who steal scenes with their mere presence. It's always nice having veteran comedienne Burnett around, who gets in a few zingers in pancake makeup and wig as the unconventional grandma. One fun exchange: "...I told you not to marry Walter Malby" she tells her own daughter-in-law. "But he's your own son," she replies. “I’m afraid my son is…weird,” says a droll Lynch of her strange son who likes to lick people. Burnett and Lynch (who also stole last fall's "Role Models") make for a more entertaining team than the two handsome leads, with Bledel blandly sitting in the background, doing nothing. I say forget Ryden completely and develop a TV series around the grandma and daughter-in-law characters.
Rory, uh, I mean Ryden, must make some important life decisions by the end of "Post Grad." Take the job she's always wanted or follow her best friend now boyfriend across country so he can attend law school. Ho hum. What do you think will happen? If you've ever tuned into an episode of "Gilmore Girls," the ending will be none too surprising. Too bad the sardonic Lorelai isn’t around to comment on the proceedings.
"Post Grad" isn't a terrible film, just curiously distant, vacuous one with too few laughs and too many calculated plot twists. If life is this bland after college, you may be better off staying in school.
Overlong & talky, Tarantino has some moments of glory with "Inglourious Basterds"
The summer of 2009 is now complete. Quentin Tarantino’s showy, lengthy but vastly entertaining epic war film “Inglourious Basterds” finally hits theaters this weekend. Tarantino is one of the most unpredictable, entertaining and self-absorbed directors in films today, and likewise, “Inglourious Basterds” is unpredictable, entertaining and self-absorbed. Tarantino has taken the World War II epic war film and violently reimagined it as part spaghetti western, part French new wave and part 1970’s blaxploitation film as spoken in German. In other words, “Inglourious Basterds” can only be seen to be believed; there are moments of unbridled, bloody glory that only Tarantino can do, even if it’s far too long and far too talky.
In Nazi-occupied France during World War II, a group of Jewish-American soldiers known as "The Basterds" are chosen specifically to spread fear throughout the Third Reich by scalping and brutally killing Nazis. The Basterds, led by Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) and a vicious solder named “The Bear Jew” (horror film director Eli Roth) eventually cross paths with a French-Jewish teenage girl (Melanie Laurent) who runs a movie theater in Paris which is targeted by the soldiers. Hitler (Martin Wuttke) and his men, including Goebbles (Sylvester Groth) along with the “Jew Hunter,” the sinister Col. Hans Lander (Christophe Waltz) to try to destroy the Basterds in their tracks.
“Inglourious Basterds” is an entertaining but altogether violent, funky and funny World War II epic. The best moments of the film are the Basterds’ Nazi hunt and kill sections, but it's also filled with large chunks of redundant exposition. As with many Tarantino films, he enjoys telling the story in chapters, a largely unnecessary (and heavy-handed) movie device that doesn't work as well here . One of the most gifted of directors and writers, Tarantino is obviously in love with his own style and words, and he fills "Basterds" with too much unnecessary blather that doesn’t amount to much, which is the film’s chief flaw, along with an excessive, bloated running time.
What isn’t excessive about the film is its entertainment value, which Tarantino provides in regal amounts, with cool retro touches that only he could get away with (who else would use a David Bowie song in a movie about the war) not to mention lots of blood. Pitt is good and anchors the film well in George Bush-esque Southern accent (“Naasi’s” and “samich” are just two memorable words). Even better is director Roth as the “Bear Jew” who kills the Nazi’s with a baseball bat, but the clear standout of “Inglourious Basterds'” large cast is Austrian actor Waltz as the evil Col. Lander, crafting a heinous villain rivaling Henry Fonda in “Once Upon a Time in the West,” a film that Tarantino clearly plays homage to here.
French actress Laurent is convincing and sympathetic as a French Jewish woman who is central to the plot; watch for Mike Myers in a straight-laced cameo as a British Colonel and listen for voice cameos from Tarantino alumni Samuel L. Jackson and Harvey Keitel. “Inglourious Basterds” alternates between serious and fun, with the not-so-serious parts the more enjoyable, along with the stylistic but still bloody violence that's far more memorable than all that heavy dialogue.The extended climax is far too-drawn out, even anti-climactic, but it’s fun getting there, and one thing is for sure, “Inglourious Basterds” is still entertaining cinema (though the intense, graphic violence isn't for everyone). Tarantino is a filmmaker clearly in love with himself, but he’s also a filmmaker you won’t turn away from.
Rodriguez's "Shorts" inventive, energetic fun
's colorful , enjoyable new children's fantasy film "Shorts" affirms his versatility as a filmmaker. The Texas-bred director and writer has done everything from action adventure ("Desperado," "Sin City") to horror ("The Faculty," "") to children's films (""), most of which is filmed right here in the Lone Star State (thank you, Mr. Rodriguez for bringing Texas the work). "Shorts" is unconventionally imaginative with the usual odd Rodriguez touches (a giant, evil booger steals the movie) that make for hardly smooth storytelling, but is still lively, suitable fun for the whole family.
"Shorts" takes place in the fictional Texas suburb of Black Falls, where all the houses are identical and everyone works for Black Box Industries, run by Carbon Black (), whose Black Box is the ultimate communication and do-it-all gadget that's sweeping the nation. The lonely 11-year-old Toe Thompson's ("Orphan's" Jimmy Bennett) parents (Leslie Mann and Jon Cryer) work for Mr. Black and his life is seemingly going nowhere until a mysterious rainbow-colored rock falls from the sky, hits him in the head and changes everything.
The Rainbow Rock does something fantastical: it grants wishes to anyone who holds it. Before long, wishes-gone-wrong has left the neighborhood swarming with tiny spaceships, crocodile armies, giant boogers...and outrageous magical mayhem around every corner. Toe and his newfound friends must join forces to save Black Falls from itself, discovering along the way that what you wish for is not always what you want.
In "Shorts," Rodriguez has created a nonsensical, magical and energetic romp through another of his fantasy lands where kids rule and adults make the most mistakes. While that usually is the case even in the real world, his most relevant message - be careful what you wish for - should ring true for kids who wish they had different parents, families or homes. Cute and well-cast, the writing is flawed with a fast-paced climax resolved in new agey fashion (holding hands and chanting to a rainbow) but one thing “Shorts” is not is dull.
This lack of dullness reflects Rodriguez's strengths as a director: efficient pacing and those wildly inventive (but often bizarre), colorful visuals that provide “Shorts’” more enjoyable moments (a running joke has two siblings in a “stare off”). From the croc army to the giant booger (a favorite) and sprawling insects, robots and little flying saucers, among many other things, enough energy flows to make up for his uneven storytelling. To Rodriguez’s credit – he knows his young audience and plays specifically to them - and “Shorts” non-linear, disproportionate plot (told in episodic “shorts” ala the film’s premise) will keep kids’ interest, but it often leaves the film busy and all over the place (most young ones will still enjoy it) with so much happening at once.
Along with the energetic visuals the director has assembled a cute cast of youngsters. Bennett grounds the film well as the semi-hero of the film, but when you have film characters named Helvetica (played by lovely newcomer Jolie Vanier), Nose, Laser and Lug (the latter played by one of Rodriguez's own real-life sons), there’ll be some lively moments. , William H. Macy, Spader, Cryer and Mann are all game as the cast of adults who cause more problems than the kids (Macy is especially a treat as a germa-phobe scientist whose germy son unwittingly creates the oversize booger).
"Shorts" is as good as any of the "Spy Kids" films and miles ahead of the Rodriguez dreck "Sharkboy and Lava Girl" (even if Sharkboy was played by "Twilight” hunk Taylor Lautner). "Shorts" is sprightly, vivacious fun for the whole family and solid late summer entertainment, and anytime you get a giant booger in the mix, there's bound to be more laughs than you can get on the end of your finger. Though you should always watch what you wish for, more importantly watch where you wipe that booger, otherwise it’s snot a pretty sight.
Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity and language, 97 minutes
“Spread” like butter: smooth, flavorless
“Spread” is essentially an unmemorable, dull redo of the 1980 Richard Gere film “American Gigolo,” a flawed film that was far from perfect but still had style. “Spread” is a smooth but empty attempt to show what happens when a young, attractive hustler (Ashton Kutcher) meets his female match and then develops feelings for her. Yawn.
High-end lothario, Nikki (Ashton Kutcher) has slept his way into a life of privilege in the Los Angeles area. He hosts parties and beds scores of women, all while living it up at the Hollywood Hills home of a middle-aged female attorney, Samantha (Anne Heche). Everything is going swimmingly until Nikki meets a gorgeous waitress named Heather (Margarita Levieva), who, unbeknownst to him, is playing the same game that he is. As the truth of their life unravels, they find themselves sexually charged by a game of one-upsmanship that has them dining at fine restaurants and crashing posh parties, until they are forced to choose between love and money.
Directed by David Mackenzie (Hallam Foe, Young Adam), “Spread” is banal, vapid profile of sex, money, and access that Hollywood offers to the beautiful people. The real message – karma can be a female canine – comes as no big surprise to the low-budget, often explicit film that is largely unrevealing when it comes to opening up about relationships. The first half of the film is the better part as it details Nikki’s exploits through Hollywood and how he lives off the rich and gets to have sex too (homeless one minute, driving a Mercedes the next). The second half deals with the feelings that Nikki gets when he starts falling for someone who is essentially the female version of himself.
Russian actress Levieva (of TV’s “Vanished”) is the more memorable and gives a nice turn as someone who can play the game better than her male counterparts. The handsome Kutcher, with model looks, seems an inspired casting choice given his real-life relationship with Demi Moore, but he lacks the depth to carry off “Spread’s” trickier second act. Heche is also memorable as the older, prettier Demi Moore-like lawyer who can’t seem to throw Nikki to the wind because the sex with him is just that good.
“Spread” tries to channel the aforementioned “American Gigolo,” not to mention Warren Beatty’s “Shampoo” but Kutcher doesn’t quite yet have the necessary skills to make it as memorable. He’s a great, charming personality, but it takes more than looks to pull it off.
“Spread’s” isn’t a terrible film and it’s intriguing premise will draw some to it, but the effort is a mediocre one compared to what’s come before it.
Monday, August 10, 2009
Visually stunning, exciting "District 9" makes sci-fi more appealing
"District 9" is the sleeper hit of the summer, maybe even of the year, but there's no sleeping here. This unconventional sci-fi thriller boasts some of the most astonishing special effects seen this year, a relevant story and some terrific action set pieces. "District 9" is all the more special because it was produced for a modest budget ($30 million), not to mention its director and actors are unknown in the United States. Then why should you pay attention? Two words: Peter Jackson, "Lord of the Rings" master, helps produce the film, that's why. That alone should bring in more audiences outside the comic-con set.
Aliens landed on Earth about 30 years ago, but they didn't land in Manhattan, Paris or Tokyo. Instead, their mothership landed over Johannesburg, South Africa, and the world watched with eager anticipation, awaiting a hostile attack or advances in technology. Neither happened, and the aliens, a reptilian bug-like creature with their own language, came as refugees and settled in South Africa's District 9 until the rest of the world decided what to do with them.
Now, patience over the alien situation has run out. Control over the aliens has been given to Multi-National United (MNU), a private South African company uninterested in the aliens' welfare and only in the weapons they bring and the millions they stand to make from obtaining them. Since activation of the weaponry requires alien DNA, MNU has failed in this and tension between the aliens and the humans reaches a boiling point when an MNU field operative, Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley), contracts a mysterious virus that begins altering his DNA. Wikus quickly becomes the most hunted man in the world, as well as the most valuable - he is the key to unlocking the secrets of alien technology. Ostracized and friendless, there is only one place left for him to hide: District 9.
"District 9" is a strikingly original, vastly entertaining and visually stunning sci-fi thriller with a no-name director/writer and cast. Filmed last year in South Africa, the film started picking up advance buzz after being shown in comic-con conventions and trailers started generating interest. South African director and visual effects producer Neil Blomkamp helmed a 2005 short film called "Alive in Joburg" that is the basis of "District 9," and that film caught the attention of "Lord of the Rings" director Jackson, who was impressed enough by Blomkamp to give him the money to make this film.
The visual effects, make up and other special effects are the clear highlight of "District 9," unsurprising given Blomkamp's visual effects experience. From the mothership to those aliens to the unique language that Blomkamp gives them, the effects enliven the film at every turn. As impressive as Blomkamp is with visual effects, not everything about "District 9" is perfect. The story, an obvious political metaphor for apartheid and racial discrimination, is relevant but uneven, with the first half a little too expository and talky until is picks up considerable steam in its action-packed second half, with one breathless action set piece with the central character's violent romp and stomp through District 9 in a huge (and totally cool) alien metal suit that will leave audiences talking.
"District 9" also provides what will surely be the breakout performance of 2009 from South African actor Charlto Copley, an unknown actor with little experience (he appeared in Blomkamp's short film, but this is his big-screen debut) but who commands the screen from his opening moments as the nerdy Wikus to his gradual transformation to alien. He single-handedly carries the film and reminds of a younger, more intense Ralph Fiennes.
Sci-fi doesn't always have mass appeal, but "District 9" has enough going for it to be a big hit: memorable visual effects, loads of action, a great story, and of course Peter Jackson, whose presence is felt here. Please note that those who don't typically go out for sci-fi - some of this is intense stuff and there is some graphic violence - but it all suits the story just fine (and in the last act quite entertaining). All in all, the throughly enjoyable, energetic "District 9," whose climax leaves it open for more installments, is an auspicious debut that opens the door for more mainstream sci-fi.
“The Goods” delivers some quick one-liners, little else
“The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard” delivers some witty, fast-paced one-liners, probably some of the funniest of the year, not to mention a deliciously amusing Will Ferrell cameo and a stellar supporting cast that nearly make up for the film’s many shortcomings. But as we know full well, one-liners and Will Ferrell don’t make a great movie (“Land of the Lost,” anyone?). “The Goods” is a lively, goofy and extremely low-brow comedy that'll offend some and produce laughter in others.
Jeremy Piven is Don Ready, a professional salesman who’s hired to help save struggling businesses. This time, he and his crew – Brent (David Koechner), Babs (Kathryn Hahn) and Jibby (Ving Rhames) are hired to save a Temecula, California used car dealership, Selleck Motors, from bankruptcy. Don and his crew must clear all 211 cars from the Selleck dealership over the July 4th weekend or Selleck motors goes under for good. The family dealership is run by Ben Selleck (James Brolin) and his pretty daughter Ivy (Jordana Spiro), who’s engaged to the Paxton (Ed Helms), the obnoxious son of a competing local dealer and aspiring boy band singer, and who stands in the way of Don saving the dealership. But Don and his team have considerable experience in delivering the goods at all costs, and they’ll do it here too.
No doubt about it, “The Goods” is energetic, entertaining and offensive nonsense, throwing out one-liners (most of which cannot be mentioned here) at such a quick pace it’s hard for the audience to keep up. Unememorably directed by Neal Brennan (“Half-Baked”) and produced by the “Talladega Nights” team, including Ferrell, Adam McKay and Kevin J. Messick, the story, characters and plot are thrown to the wind in favor of the crowd-pleasing laughs that come at a fast and furious pace. Piven goes through his usual paces playing a used-car salesman version of his “Entourage” character Ari except with bad hair, bad clothes and even worse singing.
But “The Goods” supporting cast steals the movie, especially hilarious character actress Kathryn Hahn as Babs (ironically named so, since Brolin is married to Barbara Striesand), who has a thing for Selleck’s mentally challenged, man-boy son and who’ll use her whole body for a sale. Watch for Ken Jeong (the faux-king from “Role Models”) in a few amusing moments as a car salesman who’s terribly and offensively abused. “The Office’s” Helms, seen in the earlier low-brow hit “The Hangover,” camps it up as the loathsome fiancé with spiky hair.
When in doubt, you can always rely on Ferrell for a buoyant cameo along with a couple of foul-mouthed but hilarious female African-American angels chirping at his side. Sacrilegious for sure, but it’s the one truly memorable scene from a movie chock full of one-liners. There’s never any doubt that Piven and company can deliver “The Goods,” which they do with assistance from one of the Bandit cars from “Smokey and the Bandit.”
“The Goods” is essentially a reworked version of the 1980 film called “Used Cars,” also not a great film but directed by Robert Zemeckis way before “Forest Gump.” As for story, plot and characters? Nah, not needed here. All you’ll remember from “The Goods” are a few lines and that Ferrell cameo. Not a great movie, but a crowd-pleasing, entertaining diversion for 90 minutes.
"The Time Travelers Wife" a serviceable but bland, passionless drama
Being married is difficult enough without one in the couple being a time traveler (though some may in fact wish they had that ability). That issue and more are explored in the new romantic drama "The Time Traveler’s Wife," based on Audrey Niffenegger's best-selling 2003 novel. In spite of two handsome actors and a unique premise, this girl flick is a disappointingly flavorless adaptation of the book, lacking two essential ingredients: passion and empathy.
Chicago research librarian Henry (Eric Bana) has a rare genetic disorder that sends him hurtling through time under extreme duress. In the process of his travels, he meets and falls in love with artist and heiress Clare (Rachel McAdams) and the two forge a unique bond through courtship, marriage and having a family. Despite the fact that Henry vanishes at inordinately frequent and lengthy intervals, he and Clare try to build a future together, even with the considerable challenges that lay ahead.
"The Time Traveler’s Wife" a serviceable but dull, passionless drama, its biggest flaw being an imbalanced script that lacks the fervor to pull off an unusual story like this. The unconventional love story is appealing, not to mention it has two of the prettiest actors on the planet in McAdams and Bana, but the themes of the book didn't carry over to the movie as well, and it ends up focusing heavily on the jumpy, frequent time travels than the central love story itself. The disjointedness of the plot doesn’t allow for a tremendous amount of accessibility, making it difficult to connect with Henry and Clare's inimitable journey.
German director Richard Schwentke ("Flightplan") and screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin ("Deep Impact") can't get a good grasp on the story, though they're (along with the rest of us) fully aware of how much the camera loves both McAdams and Bana, who give competent performances in underwritten roles. McAdams (“The Notebook”) in particular gives a revealing turn in what is the trickier role - of the wife frustratingly left behind to experience life alone - she has the ability to communicate with her face by saying few words, a quality that few actors possess. Bana shows a nice sensitive side, showing restraint from his intense turn in "Star Trek" and his humorous side in the recent "Funny People." It's just unfortunate that these characters lack depth to make them genuinely empathetic to the audience.
The whole combination of romance and time travel is an appealing (but often baffling and illogical) one, but not a balanced one in "The Time Traveler’s Wife." Unlike the novel, there's too many episodes where he appears and reappears (and completely naked no less but still PG-13), without much exploration of the couple's romantic side. We know they have deep affection for each other through all of this, but why? Then the whole time travel aspect opens up new but often puzzling issues. If someone goes back in time to visit you, what’s the point? Didn’t you already know they were there? As it is, there are a handful of amusing scenes in its initial episodes (which version of Henry is she making love to?), but as the story progresses you know that there's a ring of tragedy and sadness in the air.
A pair of solid character actors is noteworthy in small roles. Familiar face Arliss Howard (most recently seen in TV's "Medium") has a couple of brief scenes as Henry's unkempt father, and Dallas-site Stephen Toblowsky expresses the right notes of confusion as Henry's confounded doctor.
"The Time Traveler’s Wife" is an adequate but bland romantic drama that would've been far better had it stayed in one place for more than a few moments. Overall, “The Time Traveler’s Wife” falls short of the smoldering tale it could’ve been and without the lovely McAdams and the ruggedly handsome Bana providing some nice eye candy, it would’ve been far worse.