From the Editor

Movie Review Archive

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!

Wes Singleton

North Texas Film Critics Association

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Edge of Darkness - C

Rated R for strong bloody violence and language, 117 minutes

Gibson's messy "Darkness" seems familiar

Mel Gibson hasn't played a lead in a movie since 2002 in the thriller "Signs," but he returns to the screen in another thriller that treads the same ground as his other revenge flicks, "Ransom," "Payback" and even the "Lethal Weapon" films. It's nice seeing Gibson again in front of the camera though the tale is well-worn and the "Mad Max" star himself is looking, well, a little old. It starts off well then takes some very predictable turns in the stale, bloody and very implausible second act.

The set up is simple. Gibson is a veteran Boston cop named Craven. His twentysomething daughter Emma (Bojana Novakovic) comes home for a visit and is gunned down in front of his house. Craven initially thinks he was the target until he begins his own investigation and finds out the company his daughter was working for is involved in making nuclear weapons and is trying to cover it up. The silmy head of the corporation (Danny Huston), a U.S. Senator (Damian Young), a hitman (Ray Winstone) and one of Craven's own colleagues (Jay O. Sanders) may be at the center of it all, something that Craven is determined to uncover, even if it costs him his own life in the process.

"Edge of Darkness" is a by-the-numbers, somewhat enjoyable but sloppy revenge flick based on an award-winning 1980's British TV miniseries of the same name that allows Gibson to return to acting in style, directed by "Casino Royale" director Martin Campbell and co-written by "The Departed" Oscar-winner William Monahan. But it's Campbell's unoriginal direction and Monahan's hokey, contrived script that hamper the proceedings, in spite of a likable performance by Gibson, who's really too old for the whole revenge formula, even if he is playing the good guy again.

"Edge of Darkness" is filled with too many non-essential characters that confuse the plot, and the initial chapters are modestly involving until about 40 minutes in, when Gibson's character could've been killed on the spot but isn't. A few nice car crashes and chases add some energy and Huston (of the famous Huston movie clan including Walter, John and Anjelica) is a genuine slimeball though his demise can be easily predicted from the moment he walks on screen (and in another huge contrivance - Craven could've easily killed him midway through the film - but doesn't).

Above all, Gibson has done this film before and none of it really comes as a big surprise. It nearly falls apart under a mess of blood and bullets near the end not to mention a really sappy ending that is surprising coming from a gifted writer like Monahan but unsurprising given what a ham Gibson can be as an actor.

"Edge of Darkness" is entertaining enough to make some money in its first couple of weeks and then will be easily forgotten; it'll also be remembered as one of Gibson's weaker films and could underscore the fact that as of late, he's a better director than actor.

When in Rome - C-

Rated PG-13 for some suggestive content, 90 minutes

Forgettable rom com “When in Rome” lacks spark

“When in Rome” wants you to believe in the magic of love, though it lacks spark, spunk and believability to make it really work. The unmemorable film isn’t without energy and a handsome, game cast, but a weak script gives way to an uneven, unfunny and overly predictable romantic comedy.

Beth (“Heroes” Kristen Bell) is a young, ambitious New York City professional who’s been very unlucky in love. She goes to Rome for her younger sister’s (Alexa Dziena) wedding and runs into the dashing Nick (Josh Duhamel) and the two find some connection. However, just as Beth thinks there might be a spark between them, she is led to believe otherwise, gets drunk and steals some coins from a famous fountain known for its abilities to bring people together. Her new coins cast a spell over a few men (Dax Shepard, Danny DeVito, Jon Heder and Will Arnett) who along with Nick now aggressively seek out her companionship forcing her to make some difficult decisions about her newfound suitors.

“When in Rome” is an inept, flat romantic comedy that has an intriguing premise turns out not to be as funny as the trailers make it seem to be. There are a few fun, energetic moments and Bell and Duhamel make for a very attractive couple, but the candy coating gives way to a disappointing center that doesn’t really add up to much. The contrivances are huge for one – even for a romantic comedy – a genre that pushes the believability envelope; it’s really a stretch that all of these characters would end up on one side of the globe and back together again on the other.

Second, the film is busily filled with too many characters, most of whom aren’t likable to begin with (I didn’t find anything appealing about any of Beth’s potential suitors who seem more like stalkers and it wasted some talented actors in the process). Third, for a film with Rome in the title, it spends all of about 10 minutes of the movie there, which is unfortunate since Rome is one of the most romantic cities in the world. Throw in Anjelica Huston, Don Johnson (yes, that Don Johnson) and “Pushing Daisies’” Lee Pace in a cameo for good measure, and you have a bit of a mess that none of those talented actors can make better.

The uneventful direction from “Ghost Rider’s” Mark Steven Johnson and a messy script from “Old Dogs” writing team of David Diamond and David Weissman don’t exactly inspire any amorous feelings, and a stagey climax at the Guggenheim Museum feels way too forced. At any turn, this is something you’d expect Matthew McConaughey or Kate Hudson to turn up in (thankfully they don’t), which wouldn’t have helped much anyway.

I like Bell and Mr. Fergie himself Duhamel, but as cute a couple as they may be, they can’t save this forgettable, unfunny rom com, so they get up and dance over the credits with the rest of the cast. This may appeal to those desperately seeking a romantic comedy to warm up the cold winter nights. Too bad this won’t do the trick.

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus - C+

Rated PG-13 for violent images, some sensuality, language and smoking, 123 minutes

Gilliam's uneven "Dr. Parnassus" a visual feast

"The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus" will always be remembered as Heath Ledger's last film, the one he was making at the time of his untimely death two years ago. Though it has an eclectic cast and is filled with some striking, unusual visuals, director and writer Terry Gilliam's vision is at best colorful and indulgent and at worst depressing and incoherent. It's worth a look for Ledger and for the energy the visuals provide, though you likely won't remember much else.

In London current day, Dr. Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) leads a traveling theater troupe that includes his dwarf confidant Percy (Verne Troyer), his daughter Valentina (Lily Cole) and card expert Anton (Andrew Garfield). Parnassus had traded Valentina's soul to the devil, known as Mr. Nick (Tom Waits) and he's come to collect on his prize. He's agreed to forget the wager if Parnassus can collect five souls for him. In the meantime, Parnassus saves a drifter named Tony (initially Heath Ledger, and Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law in various forms) from death and Tony agrees to help collect the souls if he can marry Valentina, with whom he's fallen in love with.

"The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus" is a bizarre, florid and unbalanced take on a fantasy world and an interesting view of the battle between good and evil, as imagined as only Gilliam can imagaine it. His visuals are by far the best thing about the film when it goes into the dreamlike imaginarium world behind mirrors and doors. It wears its unconventional notions on its sleeve in a big way, which is both good and bad. It gives way to some of the most striking visuals seen in sometime, including some huge high-heel shoes underwater and a walk with some very high stilts.

Ledger has the most talked about role, a small supporting one seen during the film's first act, and it's a wistful, beautiful performance that won't rank as his best. Once he leaves the film, it's up to the film's magical visuals to take over, and Gilliam amps them up considerably at every turn. Deep, Law and Farrell play a different variation of Ledger's character, an intriguing but really unnecessary idea given that none of the actors are on-screen for more than a few minutes (Depp is particularly a disappointment). Even better is a tart Plummer as Parnassus, who's role seems truncated, and especially rock star Tom Waits as an energetic incarnation of the Devil (he slims around as a snake in one memorable scene).

Gilliam seems to have lost his vision after Ledger's death, and this apparent in the wildly disjointed, sad and often baffling second act that proves what an incoherent writer that director Gilliam can often be. "The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus" is a noble, intriguing, mildly entertaining but uneven effort that unfortunately lost much of its energy after the death of its star and is really for diehard Gilliam and Ledger fans.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Tooth Fairy - D+

Rated PG for mild language, some rude humor and sports action, 105 minutes

Ever had a toothache? "The Tooth Fairy" is about as much fun

The new comedy "The Tooth Fairy" starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is much like a trip to the dentist. Nothing personal against the dentist, but it's usually unpleasant, unfunny and you want it to be over as soon as possible. Nothing against The Rock, who's proven to be an agile, likable movie star, but his new movie is a painfully unfunny, near-dreadful experience that's an example of factory movie-making for the masses. Without the engaging, smiley former wrestler to periodically enliven the proceedings, "The Tooth Fairy" would be a total waste.

Johnson is Derek, a semi-pro hockey player relegated to the minors after an injury and who's nickname is The Tooth Fairy for his ability knock the teeth out of his opponents. After being a bad role model for some young children, he's sentenced to a week's duty (longer if he misses an assignment) of hard work as a real "tooth fairy." He frequently clashes with his fairy trainer Tracy (Stephen Merchant) and the head fairy godmother (Julie Andrews, cash paycheck please) but learns some valuable lessons along the way that will hopefully help him score points with his girlfriend (Ashley Judd, pudgy).

"The Tooth Fairy" is a largely laugh-free, flat experience with a sketch-like premise that's truly funny for a few minutes - seeing The Rock in a tutu is initially humorous - then goes down hill very quickly with each fairy episode. You can predict what will happen from the onset (and from the film's ubiquitous trailers), but you have to sit through the rest of the film to get to the best part - the end. At least some of the fairy gadgets are fun ("Cat Away," shrinking paste and amnesia dust are just a few), if not overused throughout the film.

Merchant, from the U.K. version of "The Office" and "Extras," is the most memorable cast member as The Rock sidekick, stealing moments from the likes of Julie Andrews, in a take-the-money-and-run-performance if there ever was one. Judd is totally wasted, as is Billy Crystal in an awful cameo that's supposed to remind us of "The Princess Bride" but really a reminder of how overrated he can be. One good moment: watch for a delicious cameo from "Family Guy" creator and voice Seth MacFarlane, who tries to sell The Rock some black market fairy gadgets.

The hockey scenes are energetic and Johnson is game and seemingly happy, but that doesn't make "The Tooth Fairy" any better experience than an actual dentist visit. At least you get a free toothbrush and a lollipop at the end of your visit. "The Tooth Fairy" is only good from the fact it's not an Adam Sander comedy, but if we have more comedies like this, it will be a long year at the movies.

Extraordinary Measures - C+

Rated PG for thematic material, language and a mild suggestive moment, 105 minutes

"Extraordinary Measures" is an overly ordinary, earnest film

There are some stories worth being made into a film, and the story of "Extraordinary Measures" is one of them: a man goes into a risky venture with a scientist, raising millions of dollars just in order to help find a cure for his own children, who have a rare genetic disease. In this case, the real story is more fascinating than the mediocre movie: a conventional, very sentimental and overly earnest drama that's barely a notch above a made-for-TV disease-of-the-week movie.

Brendan Fraser is John Crowley, a young executive with a pharmaceutical company. He and his wife Aileen (Keri Russell) have three children, of whom the younger two, Megan (Meredith Droeger) and Patrick (Diego Velasquez) have Pompe, a rare genetic disorder in which the patient has a lack of some key enzymes that affect muscle tissue. Crowley finds a crusty scientist named Dr. Robert Stonehill (Harrison Ford), who's a leader in research in the disease. The two men eventually form their own research company, which they sell to a drug manufacturer so they can get funding for more research. With Stonehill's knowledge of the disease and Crowley's business acumen, they form a unique partnership to find a cure for the disease.

"Extraordinary Measures" is an example in which the story itself is the main reason to see the film. For legal reasons, some details have been changed (Stonehill's real name is William Canfield, in Oklahoma, not Nebraska as depicted in the film) though the Crowley family details remains intact. Based on Geeta Anand's novel "The Cure," the film needlessly spend too time with medical mumbo jumbo relating to this enzyme and that enzyme and less time than building a strong emotional core, which this film lacks.

The film would've benefited from a less sentimental, more focused script and a stronger actor than Fraser playing the lead. He's overly (but a little forced) earnest, very likable and can turn on the tears quicker than Jimmy Stewart in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," but he lacks a natural emotional verve to connect the audience with the story (plus Fraser, in my book, has always been a bit dorky). Veteran "Indiana Jones" actor Ford (who also co-produced the movie) underplays his role considerably, with less footage than Fraser but whose familiar iconic presence prevents this film from being a total cheese ball.

"Felicity" star Russell has so little to do she barely registers, and you should watch for a couple of baffling blink-and-you-miss-them cameos from a pair of '80s stars - Dee Wallace Stone (yes, the "E.T." mama) and Alan Ruck (otherwise known as Cameron from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off"). Character actor Courtney B. Vance has a couple of the film's stronger moments as a frustrated parent of a fellow Pompe child.

"Extraordinary Measures" is decent, heart-warming but unmemorable entertainment that will be forgotten after you leave the theater. You'll need a few tissues here and there, but it still doesn't set itself apart enough from the standard Lifetime film (where this will likely and very easily play after it's released on DVD). In other words, "Extraordinary Measures" is far too ordinary to be a truly extraordinary film, lifted only by the warm presence of Ford.

Legion - C-

Rated R for strong bloody violence, and language, 100 minutes

Ridiculous apocalyptic thriller "Legion" an entertaining mess

The end is near, and it's only January, according to the confusing new apocalyptic thriller "Legion." An eclectic cast, a unique premise and some fun visuals are wasted beneath a very disjointed, lackluster script and awful dialogue. The film all but throws caution (not to mention the Bible) to the wind, particularly in its over-the-top finale, leaving the film a mess, but at least it's an enjoyable, entertaining mess.

God loses faith in humanity and begins to execute Armageddon quite differently than expected, using his angels to exterminate mankind. Archangel Michael (Paul Bettany) refuses to go along with God's plan and is thrown out of heaven. Michael goes to an out-of-the-way diner in Arizona and finds himself trapped along with a few remaining humans to protect a young, pregnant waitress (Adrianne Palicki) whose baby is the key to saving the world. The owner of the diner (Dennis Quaid), his estranged son (Lucas Black), their one-armed cook (Charles S. Dutton) and a few stranded travelers (Tyrese Gibson, Kate Walsh, Jon Tenney and Willa Holland) are the strangers brought together for a single cause: to save mankind.

"Legion" is a chaotic, preposterous but energetic mess, fun but confusing to watch. The film starts out well, introducing a few engaging characters and setting up a few decent action set pieces, in spite of the terrible dialogue given the proflic cast ("It's the end of the world, but you still have to eat," says Quaid's character). The film's most memorably fun scene occurs in "Legion's" first act and involves an elderly, demonic lady who causes considerable havoc in the diner.

"Legion's" premise, as interesting as it is, isn't quite fleshed out, and the details of God's plan and the plan for the baby are extremely fuzzy at times, never quite explaining why God woke up and decided to exterminate humankind with some possessed angels.

The real demon here is the hack editing job in addition to the disjointed script and direction from "Legion's" newbie director Scott Stewart, leaving the audience with some confusing details: why do the angels drive cars - aren't they angels - can't they just fly?, what's up with all the pesky flies, and what's Kate Walsh, from TV's "Private Practice," even doing in this movie in the first place? Utterly wasted, her character's motivations are obviously left on the cutting room floor (in one scene she's drinking a beer, the next she's tied to a chair), along with the much of the plot. As a matter of fact, all of the characters, especially those played by established actors (particularly Quaid and Dutton) seem expendable at some point.

What we do know about "Legion" is that it sets up a cool (but needless) fight scene between the athletic Michael (Bettany, in great shape, making Michael a smooth operator) and a hulking Gabriel ("Lost's" Kevin Durand) in the film's final section, and its baffling, heavy-handed ending may or may not leave it open to more of these. What's more, a comic book series is set to follow the release of the film that is designed to be a prequel to "Legion," which may hopefully explain its confounding backstory.

A handful of nice action scenes and some decent visuals near the end are about the only thing worth mentioning about the badly edited, messy but mildly entertaining "Legion," but one thing it doesn't do is exactly instill faith in the quality of movies released in January. Have fun, ask for forgiveness later.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Book of Eli - B

Rated R for some brutal violence and language, 118 minutes

Vigorous, violent and highly entertaining "The Book of Eli"

The futuristic thriller "The Book of Eli" is one of Denzel Washington's best films in years, not to mention one of the new year's better films. Energetic, graphically violent but tremendously enjoyable, the dark apoclyptic film also carries with it an unusual spiritual tone that some might find surprising for a big Hollywood film. "Eli" is a flawed film but most of it works well enough that it'll likely be another hit for the prolific Oscar-winning actor.

Set in a stark post-apocalyptic 2043, a lone man named Eli (Washington) is traveling to the Western U.S. with a prized possession - what he believes is the last known Bible. Eli guards it with considerable care, and is a skilled, very capable fighter, guarding it with his life. He happens upon a small, desolate town in the desert looking for water, whose leader is Carnegie (Gary Oldman), a very literate, intelligent man desperately looking for the Bible that Eli has. They both believe the book holds valuable information that could redeem a dark society and relieve them of their pain.

Washington is perfectly cast as the badass with the Good Book, and his subtle, minimalist turn is one of his better performances of late, though the real highlight of "The Book of Eli" is the remarkable fighting skills that he posseses. The Hughes Brothers ("From Hell"), helm the fight scenes with precision, and film some of them under shadows that give you a perfect outline of what's happening. The first crowd-pleasing fight scene, just minutes into the film, is breathlessly handled that you'll be in clear awe of Washington's fighting skills.

These spirited fight scenes (and yes, just know they are extremely violent), along with Washington's nuanced performance and some nice, stark visuals (watch for the Golden Gate Bridge near the end), make "The Book of Eli" one of the new year's most enjoyable flicks. The story becomes too cliched and problematic when Washington becomes paired with Mila Kunis (of "The 70's Show'), doing her tough-chick Milla Jovovich turn here as a pretty young illiterate who becomes Eli's sidekick, which dampens an otherwise involving story that at times requires you to pay attention to the details.

The last act of "The Book of Eli" becomes too simplistic and heavy-handed, but then Washington is perfectly cast along side the truly nasty Oldman, who can play these parts in his sleep. It's also nice seeing Jennifer Beals ("Flashdance" anyone?) in a small but affecting turn as Oldman's blind lover. British character actors Michael Gambon and Frances de la Tour (both visible in some of the "Harry Potter" films) are memorable as a crusty couple named George and Martha, who have ulterior motives behind their kindness.

"The Book of Eli" is tremendously entertaining and until the end, free of any heavy-handed messages, though it's subtle spiritual undercurrent is one you don't find much in action movies such as this. The thoughtful ending is likely to stir some talk, and it won't be given away here, but I'll let you decide for yourself if what you think is really true or not.

Stirring, vigorously handled action scenes, a memorable Washington performance, and some stark visuals make for an enjoyable time at the movies. "The Book of Eli" is the year's first must-see film.

The Spy Next Door - C-

Rated PG for sequences of action violence and some mild rude humor, 92 minutes

Chan's still fun in the forced "The Spy Next Door"

"The Spy Next Door" opens with the classic Johnny Rivers song "Secret Agent Man," which is ironic, as there's hardly any secrets about the new Jackie Chan comedy. You get some of the same comedic highkicks and fun use of props that Chan's known for, while the rest of the sloppy film feels forced and largely unfunny.

Chan is Bob Ho, a Chinese secret agent doing some work for the CIA in the states. He lives next door to Gillian (Amber Valletta) and her three kids (Madeline Carroll, Will Shadley and Alina Foley), posing as a stodgy pen salesman. Bob and Gillian have been dating a few months, though her precocious kids don't care for him. Bob is attempting to retire from spy work to settle down and have a family, though he must assist his colleagues (Billy Ray Cyrus and George Lopez) in tracking down a dangerous Russian (Magnus Schving) terrorist.

"The Spy Next Door" is a sloppy, slipshod comedy built squarely around Chan's martial arts talents, which provide the film's best moments, but then even Chan himself is a little long-in-tooth (i.e. too old) for something like this. Chan is a fun performer though he essentially does some of the same moves in every one of his films - using a variety of different props - everything from bicycles to pots and pans. There's enough action and fun to keep most interested, though it's not hard to see how shoddy the rest of the film is.

The film relies too heavily on the always likable Chan to carry it, which is a bit of a mistake since he isn't a strong comedian without his props. In particular, the film has a weak supporting cast that lends little to no support to make it really funny, which is disappointing given that name performers Cyrus and comedian are so bad. Cyrus at least attempts a few funny lines (sorry, Billy Ray, this isn't Hanna Montana), but Lopez gives a take-the-money-and-run type of performance that shows in the fact he can't even hold a prop gun the correct way.

Of the kids, the most adorable is the youngest, TV actress Foley, who becomes the target of some of Chan's best gags. Chan himself isn't really a true martial arts fighter, but more of a master propsman, and he has even more fun spy gadgets that are nearly as fun as Chan himself. The lazy direction, acting and writing are never more apparent than here, and it's painfully obvious when the gag reel over the credits is funnier than the movie itself.

"The Spy Next Door" is strictly for Chan fans only, but just know this isn't one of his better films, and comedies don't get a good start for the new year.

Friday, January 1, 2010

The Lovely Bones - C+

Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material involving disturbing violent content and images, and some language, 135 minutes

"The Lovely Bones": Uneven but well-acted

"The Lovely Bones" is a compelling but uneven, empty drama with some afterlife thrown in. Based on the best-selling Alice Sebold novel, it’s a handsome production that’s uniformly well-acted, but the mixture of real-world murder case and heavenly musings don’t mesh entirely well. Jackson does a serviceable job of translating Sebold’s complex novel, though the end result is more shopworn than necessary.

In December 1973, Susie Salmon (“Atonement’s” Saiorse Ronan) is murdered by a neighbor, George Harvey (Stanley Tucci) a serial killer of young girls and women. She finds herself in 'the in-between' a Heaven-like place, observing her parents Jack (Mark Wahlberg) and Abigail (Rachel Weisz) and her sister Lindsey (Rose McIver) grieve and piece together the circumstances behind her death. She also watches her killer who, having covered his tracks successfully, is preparing to murder again. Susie struggles to balance her desire for vengeance on Harvey and her desire to have her family recover from their loss.

“The Lovely Bones “ is a convincing drama on level ground, though its statements on purgatory and afterlife are over sentimental and aren’t integrated well into the storyline. It doesn’t help that Sebold’s unconventional novel is a difficult one to translate to screen, with a handful of important details in the novel changed by Jackson and his usual writing partners, his wife Fran Walsh and Phillippa Boyens, who helped him pen the “The Lord of the Rings” films. The mixture of Susie wandering around the “in between” (interestingly, the word purgatory is never used) has been expounded from the novel and while the pretty production is design, as usual, is impressive, doesn’t really add to the film.

The film’s best moments are when Jackson grounds the film and Susie is forced to watch the proceedings from the afterlife. Ronan, an excellent young actress who reminds of a young Cate Blanchett, gives another sublime performance as the main protagonist Susie, and she ably carries the film on her back. Her facial expressions are a wonder and she has the unique ability to subtly convey emotion with her face, a trait that many skilled actresses today have difficulty with.

Wahlberg contributes a strong turn as the confounded, pensive father, while Tucci is especially slimy as the creepy neighbor who’s truly a creep and Australian actress McIver is also strong as the older sister who begins to figure things out before the adults do (and has the film’s best scene inside the killer’s home). Disappointing in the large cast is “The Soprano’s” Michael Imperioli in a one-note detective role, and Weisz has little to do in a truncated role. Susan Sarandon gives the film some colorful heft as the grandmother who sweeps in to take care of the family during their grief, a blowsy alcoholic grandma type that Shelley Winters would’ve played back in the day, and the type of role that’s often nominated for awards.

Jackson skims the surface in “The Lovely Bones” especially in the purgatory state. These scenes are lovely to look at but don’t provide any genuine emotional connection. In the novel, the family has more of a sense of moving on, in the film they have a difficult time of doing that. It would’ve been nice to see the film progress a little more than it does, and while a handful of scenes and quotes are lifted from the book, it’s not exactly a faithful adaptation of Sebold’s best-seller.

“The Lovely Bones” is a lovely film to look at, though it lacks a powerful resonance that a drama like this should have. The film’s memorable special effects, music and production design, along with the excellent performances from Ronan, Tucci and Sarandon will likely garner some notice, but otherwise it’s a vacuous effort from the Oscar-winning director from “The Lord of the Rings.”

Leap Year - B-

Rated PG for sensuality and language, 97 minutes

Amy Adams the real reason to see the predictable but pleasant "Leap Year"

Romantic comedies seem to come a dime a dozen, as we have a brand new one exactly a week into the new year. On top of that, given that January isn't a strong month for films coming off the holiday rush, it doesn't bode well for the sweet new rom com "Leap Year." However, the lush Irish scenery and the lovely Amy Adams make up for the predictable contrivances of the story and all-too-easy set up. You know what will happen nearly from the first frame, but our engaging, red-headed star makes the "Leap Year" a pleasant post-holiday trip.

Adams is an upscale, uptight Bostonian professional who's been seeing her handsome doctor boyfriend Jeremy (Adam Scott) for a few years now. Tired of waiting on him to make the move, she plans an elaborate scheme and follows Jeremy to Dublin, Ireland to propose to him on February 29 in an old romantic Irish tradition. However, she has a little trouble getting to Dublin in a slight weather-imposed detour. Along the way she meets the young owner of an Irish pub named Declan (Matthew Goode), who promises to get her to Dublin to her man, though luck seems to have other plans for both of them by the end of the trip.

"Leap Year" is an enjoyable trip that's only worth going on only because of the charming, vastly appealing Adams, who carries the movie on her shoulders. Not much of it's believable or that interesting, and the whole set up - a leisurely road trip to Dublin - only gives way to developing the relationship between Declan and Anna. The handsome, somewhat ruggedly lithe Goode have decent chemistry that director Anand Tucker ("Shopgirl") doesn't explore near enough.

Tucker is wise enough to use the lush, green Irish scenery in "Leap Year," which is far more beautiful than the well-worn, tired script from the "Made of Honor" team Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont. Character actor Scott barely makes an impression as Anna's snobby boyfriend, while John Lithgow receives near top-billing for what is a very brief cameo as Anna's unreliable father, whose scenes were likely left on the cutting room floor.

Adams steps in cow dung. Stumbles here and there. Falls down a mountain, rolls in some mud. Throws up on Goode. All in a day's work. You've seen this before a million times before and while the studio may not have much faith in the movie itself by opening it in January (which unfortunately happened to Renee Zellweger a year ago), it should have faith in the pretty Adams, who with such striking features could make this a modest hit on her looks alone. "Leap Year's" premise doesn't even come to fruition, really, but then it's still a happy ending that will please rom com purists (is there such a thing?) clamoring for a some happy tears.

Guys, she did duty with "Avatar" over the holidays. It's a new year, now back to the usual movie schedule. Let her pick the entertaining "Leap Year" and you might enjoy yourself more than you think, and that Amy Adams chick is worth checking out too.

Youth in Revolt - C+

Rated R for sexual content, language and drug use, 90 minutes

Cera's the highlight of the mediocre "Youth in Revolt"

"Superbad," "Juno" and "Arrested Development" help make Michael Cera a familiar-faced celebrity. He's talented for sure, and his engaging everyday qualities are the main reason to see the unconventional but mediocre teen coming-of-age story "Youth in Revolt," about a dysfunctional teen boy who uses an alternate ego in hopes of losing his virginity. Some of it is darkly funny, though it's meandering script falls flat in places; it plays like a 1980's John Hughes teen comedy on acid, sort of a psychotic version of Ferris Bueller.

Cera is Nick Twisp, a lonely but intelligent teen boy who has a sharper grasp of things than what people think. His mother Estelle (Jean Smart, hilarious) and his father George (Steve Buscemi) are divorced. Estelle goes through many boyfriends, including trucker Jerry (Zach Galifianakis) and the stern cop Lance (Ray Liotta), while his unemployed father has his own young bimbo, Lacey (Ari Graynor).

Trying to evade a bad situation, Estelle and Jerry take a short vacation and in a trailer park Nick meets a pretty and equally intelligent teenage girl Sheeni (Portia Doubleday) and the two hit it off. To impress Sheeni in hopes of losing his virginity, he turns into his alter ego, Francois Dillinger, but ends up causing more trouble than its worth.

In spite of a humorous Cera performance, "Youth in Revolt" is an atypical teen comedy that misfires, in large part due to misdirection and a rambling script that spends too much time making a point about the pointless. The premise is a good one, and is based on an early 1990's novel "Youth in Revolt: The Journals of Nick Twisp," though the movie bears scant resemblance to its source; it uses the characters and basic outline but makes considerable changes to the story. It keeps some of the story's pecularity and dark humor but loses its fresh appeal by making it a sex comedy, and not a very good one at that.

Miguel Arteta, who directed "The Good Girl," doesn't seem the right fit for the material, and the script by Gustin Nash ("Charlie Bartlett") could've used more polish. Still, there are a few good moments, especially when Cera turns into his alter ego, causing all kinds of mayhem and destruction (car crashes, explosions) for the sake of a girl. Cera and newcomer Doubleday have some chemistry, though their relationship seems inconsistent at best, and the weaker moments of the film focus on her unusual family life.

"Youth in Revolt" also has too many characters, and excising some the characters from the novel would've been helpful, as in movie form many are nonessential to the plot. "The Hangover's" Galifianakis's role is little more than a cameo; Fred Willard, Justin Long, Mary Kay Place and M. Emmet Walsh are all fine actors who have little impact in smallish roles. The lovely Smart ("Samantha Who") nearly steals the show as Nick's mother, who resembles a less flashy Dolly Parton.

The whole message of "Youth in Revolt," if there's any at all, is that it's sometimes good, or even fun, to be bad, especially if its for love. Cera has fun with his part, and it proves he can be a game actor even in an underwritten role. A tighter, more focused and relevant script as it relates to teens would've made "Youth in Revolt" better; however, it does prove one thing: there is something worse than being bad, and that's mediocrity.

Not recommended unless you're a big Michael Cera fan. Rent "Superbad" or watch episodes of "Arrested Development" for better (and far funnier) Cera.

Daybreakers - B-

Rated R for strong bloody violence, language and brief nudity, 98 minutes

Futuristic vampire thriller "Daybreakers" messy, over-the-top fun

"Daybreakers" is one of those low-expectation films that provides some unexpected fun, even with a largely incoherent, disjointed story that doesn't accomplish much. Graphically and excessively bloody and the over-the-top, somewhat campy tone make "Daybreakers," an original vampire film from German filmmaking brothers Michael and Peter Spierig so much fun to watch. Combining elements of sci-fi, horror and action-adventure, it doesn't always work well and certainly isn't for everyone, but those that see it will enjoy it.

In 2019, a plague transforms the world's population into vampires. With fewer humans to provide blood, the vampires, led by ruthless corporate head Charles Bromley (Sam Neill) farm the remaining humans and to find a way to continue their existence. A team of vampires working for Bromley, led by scientist Edward (Ethan Hawke) uncover a way that would rescue the human race. At the same time, a group of surviving humans, including Elvis (Willem Dafoe), a former now "cured" vampire who tangles with Edward, and Audrey (Claudia Carvan), who wants to repopulate the species and survive.

"Daybreakers" is a bloody, violent take on what a future looks like with most of the world as vampires, and the humans are the clear minority. Some elements are quite intriguing, such as how the vampire race has adjusted to living their lives primarily at night, with a huge dark subway system, daylight adjusted vehicles for when they have to get out during the day, down to how you have your coffee (20% blood, please!). The story becomes far murkier and downright confusing when they must find a "cure" to restore the human race, and how all of this really began in the first place.

The Spierig brothers shot the film back in 2007 in Australia and are just now getting around to releasing it, after some reshooting some key scenes, which may explain "Daybreakers" disjointed feel, particularly in its slower mid-section. They certainly aren't lacking in blood and gore (heads are severed, and in one case, explodes), and it literally takes center stage in the graphically violent (and muddled) climax in which people go from vampire to human. Hawke seems a rather complacent hero, while Dafoe and Neill make the most of their roles, particularly Dafoe, who hams it up as a Southern-flavored character named Elvis.

Add a few cool cars, including a Mustang, a throwback 70's "Smokey and the Bandit"-esque Firebird, and a futuristic, decked out Chrysler 300 along with loads of blood, vampire and other weapons, and you have a cool "Matrix"-like film that's both campy and cool but doesn't make much sense otherwise. Those vampire enthusiasts, and there's quite a bit of them, could likely make "Daybreakers" a cult-favorite if it doesn't do well at the mainstream movie box-office.