Reel Opinions

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Superman Returns

At long last, it's finally here. After wading through a seemingly endless string of overhyped turkeys and big budget wannabes, we actually have a summer movie that delivers in just about every way. That movie is Superman Returns, filmmaker Bryan Singer's (X2) loving tribute/sequel to the original film franchise that started back in the late 70s, and then derailed in the mid 80s. Don't get the wrong idea, this movie is not a clone copy of the original formula, nor does it come across as feeling dated. The film is vibrant, fun, exciting, and sometimes even touching. From the moment the familiar opening notes of John Williams' famous Superman theme begins to build on the soundtrack all the way up to the ending credits, this movie rarely misses a beat. To put it simply, Superman Returns is top notch popcorn entertainment with class.

The film's title is tied into the background story of the plot, which finds the famous defender of "Truth, Justice, and the American Way" returning to Earth after a five-year disappearance. During that time, Superman (Brandon Routh) has been searching the galaxy for any remains or signs of life of his birth planet of Krypton. After a fruitless search, he returns to Metropolis to reassume his secret identity as mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent, explaining his lengthy absence by saying he was on vacation and seeing the world. Clark returns to his job at the Daily Planet to find that not much has changed, except for the fact that his longtime secret love, Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) has moved on from the days she used to long for Superman. She's apparently not happy over the fact that he disappeared five years ago without saying anything, and has since fallen in love with another man (James Marsden) and has even given birth to a cute little boy (Tristan Lake Leabu). It seems that Lois now views Superman as somewhat of a bad memory, and has even written a Pulitzer Prize winning article titled "Why the World Doesn't Need Superman". When the Man of Steel makes his triumphant return rescuing a doomed aircraft plane (which Lois just happens to be on), her feelings for him are reawakened and she becomes conflicted between the man she once loved and the man she has promised herself to.

Unfortunately for our hero, his return to action coincides with the hatching of the latest scheme by arch nemesis, Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey). Lex is out of prison, and has become even more wealthy and powerful after inheriting a vast fortune from an ailing millionaire widow whom he struck up a false relationship with during her final years. The villain then sets his plan into motion to locate Superman's legendary hideaway, the Fortress of Solitude, and steal the ancient secrets of Krypton that lie within. (Knowing that it holds all the secrets of the universe, you'd think Superman would have installed some sort of security device on his Fortress of Solitude, but Lex and his henchmen are able to discover it and waltz right in with no opposition whatsoever.) With the knowledge of advanced alien technology at his disposal, the madman plans to use it to destroy most of the United States and create an entirely new continent ruled solely by him, making him the world's next great ruler.

Superman Returns, much like the Spider-Man films, attempts to dig deep into its title hero, and portray the relationships, feelings and loves of a legendary comic character. For the most part, the film is successful in this regard. This is a Superman who does not have quite the same amount of confidence that he once had. For perhaps the first time since he was an awkward teen, just discovering his powers, Superman finds himself alone. Any hope of finding traces of his own kind have come up short, and now he returns to Earth to find that some are not happy to see him, chief amongst them being Lois. Even though he flashes that same confident smile to reporters who are on the scene of his exploits, for the first time, he is beginning to truly question himself and his worth to the people of the world he has sworn to protect. When Superman and Lois are reunited, there is obvious tension, neither are quite as confident as they once were. It's quite obvious that they both hold each other in the highest regard, but there is much more hesitation. The movie, for the most part, does a good job at examining the complex relationship between this legendary couple. They get some good moments together, the highlight being a night meeting on the roof of the Daily Planet building, which leads to a touching and beautiful special effects sequence where Superman gives Lois an aerial tour of Metropolis. Where the film's depiction of their romance beings to slip somewhat is that it is not developed quite far enough. The way things come across, Lois is only interested in Superman, and seems to care less about his more nerdy real life counterpart, Clark. She actually spends so little time with the hero's alter ego that their relationship is practically nonexistent. This makes Lois come across as somewhat shallow, as she seems to only love one side of his personality, which is a stark contrast to the previously mentioned Spider-Man films, where the heroine Mary Jane loves both sides of the hero.

But, this being a summer movie, few people in the audience will probably care less about the plotting and character development. They'll be coming for the special effects and action sequences, and in these areas, Superman Returns definitely shows where the film's astronomical budget (reported to be well over $200 million) went. The first big action sequence in the film, where our hero must rescue an airplane that is falling apart as it plummets to earth, is quite literally awe-inspiring. There is such a sense of speed and rush during this sequence that you almost start to wonder if the filmmakers are blowing their wad within the first half hour or so. Fortunately, this is not so, as the movie has many more wondrous sights to show us. Some other action highlights include Superman taking on some heavily armed bank robbers, and the film's powerful climactic sequence. There is an actual sense of grandeur and awe to these sequences. This is not just a series of big explosions or expensive stunts splashed on the big screen just to keep the audience awake between the dialogue-heavy scenes, like some other blockbusters. (I'm looking at you, Mission: Impossible III.) The movie does a great job of balancing the heart and sentiment of the characters with the over the top action sequences that, appropriately in this case, look like a comic book come to life. These scenes are edited masterfully, they never become confusing or fly by too fast, and the sense of speed creates a more realistic sensation of flight when Superman takes to the air than the original films could have ever accomplished due to special effects limitations at the time. I like it how Superman literally takes off with an almost small sonic boom in this movie, instead of just merely jumping into the air and floating away. It gives him a greater sense of power and majesty this way.

In terms of casting, relative newcomer Brandon Routh has been under much scrutiny since it was announced he'd be filling in the blue tights and red boots famously worn by the late Christopher Reeve in the original franchise. I'm proud to say that he fills the role with ease. While it certainly helps that he somewhat looks like a young Reeve, which kind of helps with the transition a little, he is able to bring across the stoic mystery that his Superman persona needs, while also filling out the more comical and awkward elements of the Clark Kent character. The real star of the film is Kevin Spacey, who all but walks away with the movie thanks to his energetically evil portrayal of Lex Luthor. While I have great respect for Gene Hackman as an actor, I always thought his portrayal of the famous supervillain was lacking and too comical in the earlier films. Spacey still portrays Lex with humor, but it is much subtler and darker now. Not only that, he comes across as much more menacing and cunning than Hackman ever did, much more of a suitable match for the "last son of Krypton". As intrepid reporter Lois Lane, Kate Bosworth fills the role well enough, but never truly stands out as she should. Aside from a few choice moments with Superman, like the previously mentioned rooftop meeting, she actually lacks any real interesting scenes that can truly attach her to us. But, I'm sure that's something that could be easily fixed in a sequel. As for the rest of the supporting cast, they are simply required to stand in the background and react to the action that's going on around them (such as the other staff members at the Daily Planet like Jimmy Olsen and Perry White), or they are not developed as much as they should be (the new man in Lois' life). The only supporting character who stands out is Parker Posey as Luthor's ditzy girlfriend/sidekick, who begins to question her own actions during the course of the film, and comes across as being much more interesting than the simple comic relief she initially passes herself off to be.

Aside from a couple characterization troubles, there is very little I can find fault within Superman Returns. When compared to its other main comic book competition this summer (X-Men: The Last Stand), there is simply no comparison - Returns leaves its competition in the dust. You can tell that a lot of care and planning went into just about every aspect of this film. From the set pieces to the wonderful music score by composer John Ottman (which skillfully mixes material from the older films with new tracks), everything is just as it should be. Even with a running time of just over two and a half hours, the movie never lags or loses our attention. It goes without saying, but I highly doubt there will be a finer blockbuster hitting multiplexes in the remaining summer months to come. Superman Returns is much more than just big budget spectacle and escapism, it is joyous and has an actual heart. If the inevitable sequel can iron out the film's few tiny faults, I see a very successful return to form for the franchise.

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Saturday, June 24, 2006

Waist Deep

To watch Waist Deep is to watch a lot of aspirations and ideas curl up and die right there on the screen. Here is an urban drama that concerns itself with a convict trying to go straight who is forced back into the game, a kidnaped child, and a modern day Bonnie and Clyde. All of these aspects could make for an intriguing 100-minutes, but director and co-writer Vondie Curtis Hall (2001's infamous Mariah Carey star vehicle Glitter) shoots his story at such a breakneck pace that the movie barely has time to even touch on its own plot. Heck, the movie doesn't even have time for opening credits, not even its title. Though watchable and holding some decent performances, Waist Deep is just too flimsy and forgettable to leave even the tiniest impression on just about any viewer.

Set during a two day-period in LA during a record hot summer, the story focuses on an ex-con nicknamed O2 (Tyrese Gibson) who has been trying to make a decent life for himself and his young son Junior (H. Hunter Hall, the son of the director) since being released on parole. The story begins when O2 is forced to leave his security job early to pick up his son from school. Mere moments later, he is jumped by a thug who drives off with his car, his son still in the back seat. With the help of a local street hustler named Coco (Meagan Good), O2 learns that the carjacking was no coincidence or accident, and that it was in fact set up by an old partner of his back when he was a criminal - a local crime kingpin named Meat (rapper The Game). There's been some bad blood between the two ever since O2 stole money from Meat, and now the kingpin wants his former friend to pay him $100,000 by the next day in order to guarantee his son's safety. In order to come up with the money, O2 will have to return to a life of crime and avoid the law, with Coco and him staging a citywide crime wave of bank heists.

What's so bizarre about Waist Deep is that it seems to be in such a rush, even though it never actually goes anywhere. Ideas and plot elements are brought forth to the viewer or introduced, and then dropped completely, or so little time is spent on them you wonder why the screenplay even bothered in the first place. As mentioned before, the story wastes no time in setting up the characters or the situations. We're thrown directly into the chaos of the film's plot, and then forced to watch the actors go through the motions as if even they don't know where the story is going. Relationships are underdeveloped and practically nonexistent in some cases. Take the strained relationship between O2 and Meat. Other than their history which serves only as a plot device, we know absolutely nothing about them, or why this Meat guy would go to such extremes to get back at him. The movie tries to show us the psychotic side of the villain in order to prove to us that he's dangerous (he chops off a man's hand in one scene), but it doesn't go deep enough into the character. He acts mainly as a menacing figure standing in the background, not a real villain. And when you consider that the final standoff between the two men lasts a whopping whole five seconds (if even that), the word "anticlimactic" doesn't even begin to describe it.

Just about every plot element is handled with the same haphazard and lazy style. One scene with O2 and Coco in a gas station seems to hint that the two are becoming celebrities in the local area due to the media attention their crime spree is supposedly getting (I say supposedly since besides one time, which actually has absolutely nothing to do with the crime spree, we see hardly any news coverage of O2's actions during the film), but once again, the film does absolutely nothing with this idea. A guy asks for their autograph, and then the movie moves onto the next scene. While watching Waist Deep, I was thinking that the intention was supposed to be somewhat of a statement on gang wars, and the way the media can make desperate heroes into folk heroes. These ideas have been explored much better in other films, and when you take that away, the movie is just a series of well-shot action sequences that serve very little point. It seems as if writers Hall and Darin Scott started to lose their nerve as the screen writing process went along, and they just didn't develop their own ideas far enough. Even that does not excuse the film's ending, which is so manipulative and false that I almost can't believe that anyone involved with this project thought it'd be a good way to end this story. It reeks of studio interference, and is about as plausible of an ending for this story as that famous "alternate ending to It's a Wonderful Life" skit on Saturday Night Live that featured George Bailey and the townspeople savagely beating Mr. Potter.

The only aspects that keep Waist Deep somewhat afloat are some strong performances and some generally well done action sequences. Tyrese Gibson's performance is one you can root for, though he doesn't forget to keep somewhat of a dark edge which relates back to his past. Despite his underwritten relationships with his son and love interest Coco, there are some fleeting and surprisingly sweet moments between them that ring true. Meagan Good in particular gets a few choice scenes as a down-on-her-luck hustler whose sassy and smart attitude hides the pain of her entire life. It may be cliched, but hey, so is just about everything else in this film, and at least Good is able to bring some well-needed emotion when the movie slows down long enough for her to display some. The entire supporting cast outside of the three main characters are completely disposable, and the script seems to know it, since they usually exit the movie after their introduction scene in one way or another. As for recording artist The Game in his big screen debut, despite the fact he's been given the role of the main villain, he has surprisingly little at all to do, and even exits the movie long before its time for the end credits. Whoever told him this would be a good role to start his film career should be made to see the error of his ways.

Waist Deep wants to be a gritty drama about revenge and gang wars, but it's too soft for its own subject matter. Long before the film's ending has betrayed its very ideals, we lose interest because the movie itself doesn't seem interested in its own ideas. With a running time that barely stretches past 90 minutes, you get the sense that there used to be a lot more to this movie that got left on the cutting room floor. Whether or not the added footage would help the film is a personal call. Whatever the case, the end result is that the movie just doesn't take any chances whatsoever, and the fact that it's being released amongst the summer blockbusters is a clear sign that the studio no longer cares about the product, and just threw it out into the cinemas in the hopes it can have at least one semi-decent weekend. When all is said and done, there's just not a lot to notice here.

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Friday, June 23, 2006


When a movie tries to be too many things to too many people, it tends to become confused about what it's trying to be. This is the problem at the very core of Click, a sometimes amusing, but often messy and frustrating mix of star Adam Sandler's different film styles. The movie is one part crude frat boy comedy, with plenty of sexual humor and fart jokes that make the movie far too inappropriate for the small children who were in my audience, one part whimsical fantasy (the movie's plot owes a large debt to It's a Wonderful Life, and the climax stops just short of having Sandler's character running down the street wishing everyone Merry Christmas), and another part depressing morality drama that will probably leave some audiences confused by the sudden shift of tone from laughs to tragedy. Much like The Break Up, Click has been advertised as a featherweight and fun comedy, but there is a very serious, downbeat, and sad undercurrent to the story. The film deals too much with death and loss to make it appropriate for the family audience that the ad campaign seems to be aiming for. There are some creative ideas, and some scenes that genuinely work, but they are surrounded by scenes that either don't work or don't flow together into a coherent film-going experience.

Overstressed and overworked architect father, Michael Newman (Adam Sandler), is practically killing himself to give his family a better life, not knowing that by doing so he is alienating the family in the process. He lives on a diet of Twinkies and french fries to keep up his energy, stays up to the odd hours of the morning making designs in the hopes that his smarmy boss (David Hasselhoff) will notice him and make him a partner, and is constantly trying to please everyone in his life without taking the time to please himself or stop and notice his loved ones. His loving wife Donna (Kate Beckinsale) tries to be supportive, but she is growing concerned, fearing that her husband is working himself sick as evidenced by his telltale coughing fits. Michael's frantic life takes a sudden turn one fateful night when he enters a Bed, Bath, and Beyond in the hopes that they carry a universal remote so he can control all the objects in his house with one device. He finds a mysterious door labeled "Way Beyond" in the back of the store, and stepping through it, discovers the work room of the mysterious Morty (Christopher Walken).

Morty realizes Michael's problem, and offers him a universal remote that can literally control the universe, giving Michael complete control over his life. He can fast forward moments he doesn't want to sit through, he can rewind to relive his favorite memories, and he can even stop time complete with a push of the remote's "pause" button. With the help of the many functions of the remote, Michael is able to quickly work his way up the corporate ladder. However, what he does not realize is that by skipping past certain family events, he winds up alienating them completely. He soon finds that he has no control of his life whatsoever, as the remote automatically fast forwards through certain moments of his life due to its built in Tivo-like function that remembers the kind of moments that Michael fast forwarded through in the past. Time races forward out of control, and before he knows it, he has lost everything he once had, and has missed out on his entire life.

Click certainly has an interesting premise, and the entire time I was watching it, I kept on wondering what this movie would have been like if someone like Charlie Kaufman (the writer of such quirky comedy dramas like Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) had been behind it. The movie does have a couple of very creative gags, such as the remote's "menu" button which brings up a literal DVD menu of Michael's life where he can watch a "making of" feature (the night his parents had sex and conceived him) and even an optional commentary where an off camera James Earl Jones narrates the events in Michael's life. Unfortunately, most of the jokes in Click aim for the youngest of Sandler's fans, or those who are nostalgic for his Billy Madison days. The film's humor is chalk full of farts, dogs humping, sexual body humor, and just plain mean-spiritedness. There's a character in the film played by Sean Astin whom Sandler hates, and so he constantly uses the remote to humiliate and/or abuse him. (He pauses time and kicks Astin's character in the privates repeatedly so that when time is restored, the guy is doubled over in agony.) The problem is, Astin's character does not deserve the treatment, as he never does anything wrong to Michael. The movie tries to give us an excuse for Michael's actions, but it doesn't work because the situation in question is his fault to begin with. So the fact that he is constantly using the remote to beat up on him comes across more as sadistic rather than funny.

With the movie being so juvenile and crude for most of its running time, it's downright confusing when the movie shifts gears and suddenly turns into a tear-jerking drama during the film's final 40 minutes. The funny thing is, this is where the movie works the best, and it almost makes you wish that director Frank Coraci (The Waterboy) and writers Steve Koren and Mark O'Keefe had just dropped the whole pre adolescent humor that carries throughout most of the movie. The drama may be a bit too heavy and calculated at times, but it is also undeniably effective. As the remote starts fast forwarding through Michael's life on its own, he finds himself rapidly aging and losing everything, from his family to his friends. He doesn't remember the events that happened in-between the moments he is transported between, but everyone else does, and it leads to some poignant scenes, such as the moment where Michael is forced to rewind back to the last time he saw his father alive, since he wasn't there when he died. The last half of Click is so depressing and so downbeat that it almost seems like you're watching an entirely different movie. A better movie perhaps, but not one that flows together with everything that's come before it.

It's actually during the second half of the movie that everything starts to come together, including the acting. The way that Adam Sandler plays Michael, he almost seems to have a split personality. One minute he's a kind and caring family man, and the next, he's framing the bully boy next door for smoking cigars laced with pot for no reason whatsoever other than the fact that the kid likes to brag that his family has it better than he does. He's also a guy who likes to pause time so he can fart in people's mouths and ridicule people who have done nothing to hurt or offend him. It's not until the film's second half when he starts to realize his own mistakes that he comes across as even remotely likeable, but the damage has already been done by that point. Kate Beckinsale is sweet and likeable in her role as his understanding wife, but you really can't stop wondering what she sees in him. The rest of the cast is mainly there so Sandler's character can humiliate them with the remote for his own amusement, except for Christopher Walken, who seems to be having a lot of fun playing the role of the bizarre Morty. You know your movie is in trouble when Walken is doing his usual bizarre act, and he comes across as being more relatable than the "normal" main character.

Click plays like a movie that lost its way somewhere during the writing process, because no one knew which tone they wanted to take, so they just decided to throw a little bit of everything. There's some good ideas and a couple good laughs to be had, but the movie just never quite comes together as a whole. I almost wish I had a magical remote of my own so they could go back in time and give the script another couple rewrites. I personally think the movie will have a hard time finding an audience, as the first half seems to play to die-hard Sandler fans (even including the prerequisite Rob Schneider cameo where he talks in a goofy voice), while the second half aims for the more serious minded viewer. You can't have it both ways, and because it tries to, Click ultimately fails.

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Monday, June 19, 2006

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift

Some movies are simply immune to film criticism. I could say that The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift is a big, dumb, loud, and often unintentionally hilarious 100 minutes of pure summer movie junk, which it certainly is. Something tells me that director Justin Lin (Annapolis) would just shrug his shoulders and agree with me. And yet, something also tells me that when I would call it big and dumb and loud to his face, I would say so with a goofy grin on my face. No one will ever confuse Tokyo Drift for being a good movie, but I'd be lying if I didn't say it isn't fun in a guilty pleasure sort of way. No one can deny that the movie delivers on what the title promises. It's fast, it's furious, and the car action sequences are sometimes spectacular. If you can focus on that, and not the lamebrained plot or the often laughably bad dialogue, you'll have a good time with this film.

Our rebel hero is a high school student named Sean Boswell (Lucas Black). He looks like he's about 15-years too old to be in high school, but that's okay, he goes to one of those magical movie high schools where everyone looks like they're pushing 30, and have the bodies of models. Sean is a troublemaker, especially when he's behind the wheel of a car. Less than three minutes after the opening credits are done, he's already stuck in a race with a snobby rich kid that winds up destroying massive amounts of public property. Sean's mom has had enough, and so has the local law enforcement, so they decide to send him to Japan where his military father (Brian Goodman) lives, hoping he can straighten him out. It doesn't take Sean long until he's in trouble again, this time with the Japanese Mafia. You see, Sean has his eyes on a pretty young girl named Neela (Nathalie Kelley). Problem is, she's currently dating the son of a Mafia crime boss who calls himself D.K. (Brian Tee), which stands for "Drift King", since he's the king of the underground drift racing circuit in Japan. With the help of his sassy black friend named Twinkie (rapper Bow Wow), and a few auto racing addicts who would like to see D.K. fall, Sean will rise to the top, win the heart of the girl, and basically break every conceivable road law known to man in public without a single police officer or pedestrian raising an eyebrow.

It goes without saying that you don't see a movie called The Fast and the Furious for its engaging plot and dialogue. Good thing too, because the screenplay by Chris Morgan, Kario Salem, and Alfredo Botello is so juvenile and ludicrous that I have a hard time picturing them writing this stuff with a straight face. I certainly had a hard time listening to its ham-fisted dialogue as the characters "philosophize" about speed and cars, and the third rate acting that would hardly cut it in a high school musical. The script is a messy combination of crime drama, music video, and Girls Gone Wild as various Asian women flash their behinds at the camera in shots that linger on for far too long to not make the audience burst into laughter. The fact that the movie tries to fool you into thinking it's about something by having some half-hearted attempts at quiet character building scenes makes it all the more hilarious. The conflict between son and father is all but forgotten for pretty much the entire movie (The father lays down some strict rules when Sean arrives, then seems to not care for quite a while that his son is staying out all night doing "extra curricular" activities at school.), and the whole plot about Sean and D.K. competing for the affections of lead girl Neela seems underdeveloped, since the two guys seem to be more interested in cars than women in the first place.

Where Tokyo Drift becomes fun is with its multitude of fast-paced, impressive, and often downright thrilling car-based action sequences, which are some of the finest I've seen in an action movie lately. They are big, loud as hell, and sometimes barely coherent, but the action is often quite frequently intense, even if some of the sequences seem to be about as easy to swallow as having a piano shoved down your throat. (I loved the scene where the characters are zooming in and out of traffic, and are speeding along so fast that they cannot stop in time to avoid hitting a large mob of people crossing the street. So, what happens? The crowd of people literally part themselves like the Red Sea, giving the drivers plenty of opportunity to just drive right through the giant convenient gap that the crowd of pedestrians managed to make in a split second.) It doesn't really matter if it's believable or not, all that matters is that it's fun and well done, and it certainly is here. The stunt driving is first rate, and although the editing may be a bit too rapid, it does manage to mostly keep up with the action and not make it too confusing. I have the feeling that these scenes are what the audience for the movie will be coming for, and in this regard, Tokyo Drift definitely delivers.

So, having said that, do I really have to say much about the acting on display? Most of them are just pretty bodies filling the roles of the characters, and they pretty much know it. They glare, smile, and wink at the camera on cue as they show off their perfectly toned bodies. And just like the high school in the film's opening scenes, they all stick out like sore thumbs when they're dressed in their school uniforms. As far as the lead roles go, only Brian Tee stands out as the evil D.K., because he actually comes across as somewhat menacing. For a violent rebel, Sean certainly doesn't come across the same way, most likely because Lucas Black plays him with a heavy Southern drawl and a big toothy grin in place of actual acting or emotion. And for a girl who's supposed to be torn between the two men, first-time actress Nathalie Kelley certainly doesn't show it.

Still, as I mentioned before, all of this is pointless. Tokyo Drift isn't a movie so much as it's one big geek out session for car fanatics. They're sure to get their kicks. I admit, I had some fun too, despite how blatantly stupid the movie can be. The movie is a bit too long for its own good, but for big dumb entertainment, you could certainly do a lot worse. The movie at least does not squander its foreign setting, so anyone interested in Japan or Tokyo will enjoy the scenery, which is actually shot very well. In the end, all I can say is I know when I'm beat. I can insult this movie's script and acting all I want, and it won't make a world of difference. If that's the kind of thing you're looking for in your movie, you're in the wrong cinema, pal.

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Sunday, June 18, 2006

Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties

Every once in a while, a sequel is announced that makes me ask myself, "wait a minute, the first movie actually made money"? That was the question that immediately sprang to mind when the posters for Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties started popping up at my local theater. The original 2004 Garfield movie was a loud, obnoxious, and mostly unfunny attempt to bring the famous comic strip fat cat to the big screen, with only a couple good performances making it watchable for adults. The sequel is pretty much more of the same, only there are even more good performances this time around thanks to a game cast of talented British actors cashing a pay check. Director Tim Hill (TV's SpongeBob Squarepants) along with screenwriters Joel Cohen and Alec Sokolow saw no reason to improve on imperfection, so we are once again stuck with another movie that does not do justice to the comic I grew up with. It is slightly better than the first film, but that's really not saying much.

As the film opens, we discover that pampered house cat Garfield (voice by Bill Murray) has an unknown doppelganger living on the other side of the world. This other cat is Prince (voice by Tim Curry), a royal cat living in London who has just inherited a massive fortune and ownership of the entire castle that once belonged to his human owner who has since passed on. Naturally, this news is not met very well by the owner's scheming nephew, Lord Dargis (Billy Connolly), who wants to take control of the castle and convert it into a luxury estate, which would mean that the hundreds of farm animals that make the castle grounds their home would become homeless. The evil Dargis comes up with a plan to get rid of Prince by dumping him in the river, thereby claiming ownership of the castle grounds. Meanwhile, Garfield himself has just arrived in London after stowing away in the suitcase of his haplessly sweet owner, Jon Arbuckle (Breckin Meyer). Jon has come to England to chase after his girlfriend Liz (Jennifer Love Hewitt), who is there for a convention, and hopes to propose to her. While Garfield and his dim-witted dog companion Odie are exploring the streets of London on their own, a mix up occurs when one of the castle's servants mistakes Garfield for the missing Prince, and Jon mistakes the royal cat for Garfield. The lasagna-loving fat cat now finds himself enjoying the royal lifestyle that he's always dreamed of, not aware of the danger awaiting him with Dargis plotting to get rid of him once and for all.

While watching A Tale of Two Kitties, my mind started to wander a little bit as it tends to do when I'm stuck watching a movie that I'm not particularly engaged in. I started to wonder such things as why is Garfield a CGI cartoon cat, while all the other animals are actual animals that "talk" by means of special effects similar to the Babe films? Though the effects for Garfield are generally quite strong, he does look a little too out of place when he does scenes surrounded by hundreds of actual animals. And why is it that Odie is the only animal in the movie who cannot talk, when there are plenty of other dogs featured in this movie who converse fully with Garfield? It's true that Odie never actually talked in the comics and the cartoons, but I still found it curious that he was the only animal not gifted with the ability of speech. No matter, this is a movie for kids in the single digits, and no doubt they will be amused. There are plenty of crude bodily humor jokes and pratfalls to keep them rolling in the aisles. The plot and humor are simple enough so as to not offend, and with a running time of just 80 minutes, the film is mercifully short. The problem here is, just like the last film, it doesn't feel like a Garfield movie. The Garfield in this movie is still a fast-talking, one liner spewing comedian, rather than the sarcastic observer that creator Jim Davis often portrays him in the comics. This is a Garfield who makes pop culture references, impersonates Hannibal Lecter, and just does not capture the spirit of the character at all. I don't know who this impersonator is, but he's not Garfield. And while Bill Murray's line readings as the voice of the feline may be energetic, he still comes across as too loud and desperate, almost as if he's just trying too hard to generate laughs.

What ultimately saves the film from being completely disposable is a change of scenery and a large cast of likeable actors, which helps lift the material out of the gutter if only just a little. Though a lot more London scenery could have been used, what is there is well shot and interesting to watch. The most appealing aspect to this mostly forgettable sequel is the large group of animals that make the castle their home. They're headed by gruffish dog named Winston (voice by Bob Hoskins), and are desperate to convince everyone that Garfield is the missing Prince so they don't lose their home. Although the animals never say anything particularly witty, they are cute, the special effects used to make them talk are convincing, and the filmmakers have included a large cast of talented British actors to supply their voices, including Richard E. Grant, Rhys Ifans, and even Sharon Osbourne. The animals of the castle do get one of the few memorable scenes in the film that depicts Garfield teaching them to make lasagna, which made me smile, and a dim-witted attack dog sent by Dargis to wipe out Garfield supplies one of the film's very few laugh out loud moments. The animals of the castle are so much more personable and likeable than the completely CG Garfield that it almost makes me wish they had gone the same route for him as well. And, just like last time, the little dog who portrays Odie once again steals just about every scene he's in. I'm not much of a dog person in real life, but this is one cute and very funny canine, and it's almost a shame he's not in the movie more often.

As for the human cast, Breckin Meyer and Jennifer Love Hewitt reprise their roles as the sweet couple of Jon and Liz. They're just as likeable and cute together as they were in the last film, but this time around, they're given less to do, especially Hewitt, whose role is mostly a glorified cameo and mainly just stays in the background and observes in most of her scenes. The stand out of the actors is Billy Connolly as the evil Dargis, who gets the most laughs and seems to be the only human cast member who gets to do anything memorable in the film. Most of the other cast members seem to fade in and out of the screenplay as the film sees fit, which is a shame, because like the voice cast, there is some recognizable British talent on display such as Lucy Davis from the original British sitcom The Office. Like Hewitt, everyone is forced to mainly let the animals take center stage.

With so many sub-par family films clogging the market (even the mighty Pixar has fallen to the curse with the underwhelming Cars), Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties certainly seems to fit right in, and I'm sure it will find its audience with children, especially on DVD. I guess I'm just still disappointed. The comics and cartoons were a big part of my childhood, and neither of the live action films have brought the same feeling to me. The film is at least watchable and has a couple scattered laughs (more than the original did), which I guess makes the sequel better than the original. Still, should the inevitable Garfield 3 make its appearance in the next two or three years, I think I may just skip it and stick to my memories of the character's better days.

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Saturday, June 17, 2006

The Lake House

Here is a warning that all cynics and logical thinkers must take heed of - Stay away from any cinema showing The Lake House. This romantic drama, based on a Korean film called Il Mare, has such a complex and twisting plot that deals with time travel, alternate realities, and magical mail boxes that anyone who tries to apply logic to the plot will probably have their head explode just trying to wrap their brain around it. As for the cynics, they will be brought down by the film's hopelessly romantic tone and "love conquers all" theme. The movie is profoundly silly, but in a strange way it also works, thanks in no part to the likeable performances of the two leads and the fact that it's certainly never dull. It may not make a lot of sense, but as a date movie, The Lake House serves its purpose.

The story begins in 2006 when a lonely female doctor named Kate (Sandra Bullock) leaves her beloved lake house behind to move to the city of Chicago for a hospital job. Before she leaves home, she lays a letter in the mailbox telling whoever is to move into the house after her to forward any of her mail that may show up at the lake house after she leaves. The man who receives her letter is an equally lonely architect named Alex (Keanu Reeves), but it's not quite that simple. You see, when Alex moves into the lake house, the year is 2004. Needless to say, he's somewhat confused by this letter he finds left behind in his mailbox from the house's "previous tenant" when no one has lived in the house for years in his time. Through some sort of cosmic force that is wisely left unexplained by the screenplay by David Auburn, these two people separated by two years are somehow able to exchange letters back and forth to each other through the means of this magical mailbox. This being a romantic drama, the two begin to fall in love through their letters and try to meet with each other, even though they have actually met in the past but just did not know it. (Are you still following this?) Their fated meeting runs into a series of set backs too complicated to summarize, and it turns out the only way they can get together is by altering history. Thrown into the plot is Alex's estranged father (Christopher Plummer), and a cute little dog who may be the key connection between these two lovers separated years apart from each other.

It is a credit to Argentinian director Alejandro Agresti that he somehow is able to make The Lake House work in some way despite its overly convoluted and silly storyline that becomes all the more harder to swallow when you try to apply logic to it after the movie is done. How it accomplishes this tricky task is by playing down the melodrama as little as possible (though there are still some moments that will have the women in the audience reaching for the Kleenex), and most of all by not trying to overly explain how this phenomenon is happening. In other words, in order to truly enjoy this movie, you kind of have to stop trying to figure it out and just go with it. Even then, there are still a number of plot hole hurdles you'll have to be willing to jump through. For example, in one of Kate's letters, she mentions to Alex that although she enjoys her new city home, she misses the trees that used to grow around the lake house. Alex decides to correct this problem back in 2004 by planting some trees in the place where the apartment building that Kate is living in will be in 2006. (In Alex's 2004 time, Kate's apartment building home is just a construction site.) As soon as Alex finishes planting the tree, a beautiful fully grown tree magically appears right in front of Kate's eyes in 2006. It's a cute idea, but the film fails to explain how nobody but her happens to notice this tree suddenly appearing seemingly out of nowhere. You'd think the other people in Kate's building would find it odd that there's a tree outside that wasn't there before. Also problematic is how willing these two seem to be to change history and the very flow of time itself just so that they can meet and be together.

Thankfully, the characters are mostly grounded in reality so that the plot doesn't fly too out of control. Both Kate and Alex and likeable, and although they don't spend enough time together for us to want to see them get together, we at least like them enough to want them both to be happy. They are wonderfully old fashioned and intelligent characters who talk about books and ideas in their letters. A lot of the charm is also mainly due to the two lead performers. Much has been made that this is the first time Bullock and Reeves have worked together since 1994's Speed, the film that cemented Reeves as an action star and jump-started Bullock's career. Though they spend little actual time in the same scene together, they are both able to create likeable and feasible characters amongst the chaos of the plot. Bullock's Kate is a sad and somewhat worn woman who feels that love has passed her by one too many times. She uses her smile and a slightly sharp sense of humor to hide her pain and loneliness, but she is obviously a vulnerable woman. Sandra Bullock does a great job with her role, as she is able to tackle all sides of her character without falling into the trap of becoming too cute or coming across as being desperate to be loved. Reeves' role is a bit more limited, due to the fact that the screenplay does not seem to be as interested in him as Bullock's character. I admire that Keanu Reeves tried to tackle a more everyman role with this film, but he seems underwritten and less developed as a character. Still, he does what he can, and he does have a few touching moments and some genuine acting scenes such as when he is looking at past photos of his father.

Speaking of the father, there are a number of subplots concerning Reeves' family, including the gruff and uncaring father who is also an architect and originally designed the lake house years ago. The movie hints at a strained relationship between the two, due to the fact that the father cared more about his own personal success than his own family, but doesn't seem to dig deep enough, which made me question why the movie even bothered with the subplot in the first place. It feels tacked on, and although Christopher Plummer is strong enough in the role as Reeves' father, we never quite get the emotional attachment between the two actors that the film seems to need in order for it to work. Equally underdeveloped is Bullock's best friend at work (played by Shohreh Aghdashloo from House of Sand and Fog), who seems to be less a character and more of an automatic device to dispense words of wisdom or encouragement to Kate. These characters were apparently added as an outside voice of reason beyond the world of magic mailboxes, but the script just doesn't do enough with them to warrant their being in the film. We want to see more of Kate and Alex and their eventual getting together, and these tacked on subplots only take away from what truly works in this movie.

This review may skew a bit to the negative, but you know what, The Lake House is not all bad and is actually watchable provided you are willing to check your brain at the door. It's competently made (there are actually a couple of cool hidden split screen effects that make it look like Bullock and Reeves are in the same room, but they're actually in the same place two years apart), it's got a good look that skillfully uses many landmarks of Chicago and the changing seasons, and it has a pair of likeable leads that are only held back by a sometimes underdeveloped screenplay that is too busy glossing over its own plot. You can probably tell by reading this review if The Lake House is right for you or not. I guess the best way to describe my reaction is that I liked it enough while I was watching it, despite the silliness. At least it's not quite the overly sappy big budgeted Lifetime movie that the film's ad campaign made it out to be. But, as far as time travel romance films go, this definitely pales in comparison to the early 80s classic Somewhere in Time. The Lake House is fluffy romantic summer escapism that's good for a date, and nothing more.

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Friday, June 16, 2006

Nacho Libre

In a summer movie season already overflowing with overstuffed blockbuster turkeys, Nacho Libre is like a breath of fresh, absurd air. Here is a movie so strangely bizarre yet also strangely heartfelt that I found myself smiling and laughing almost all the way through it. It has a certain joy and charm that pours out from the screen and just makes you feel good. I credit most of this to Jack Black, in what is surely one of his most likeable performances in his career. With a visual style that somewhat reminded me of a Wes Anderson film (Rushmore, The Life Aquatic), the sense of humor of an early Zucker Brothers comedy, and a heart as big as...well, a Mexican wrestler, Nacho Libre is the first genuinely joyful filmgoing experience I've had this year so far.

Taking your standard underdog storyline and adding a fresh spin of absurdity in just about every cliche, the film follows a sweet-natured cook at a run down Mexican monastery named Nacho (Jack Black). He lives for his work, even if the church cannot afford decent ingredients for him to make meals. Though he dearly loves his faith and the orphans that he cooks for, he also has had a secret desire since childhood to be a professional Mexican wrestler. He longs for the glory and respect of the wrestling superstars, something he has never received from the Priests at his job. A chance encounter with a street thief named Esqueleto (Hector Jimenez) allows Nacho the chance to participate in tag team matches under the disguise of a masked luchador. Nacho sees a chance to make some money and finally earn some respect, as well as win the admiration of the saintly nun Sister Encarnacion (the lovely Ana de la Reguera). However, the deeper Nacho goes into the world of wrestling, he begins to find his dual lifestyles clashing, and he must decide whether to follow the path of his dreams or the path of his God.

Director and co-writer Jared Hess rose to fame with 2004's Napoleon Dynamite, a film which many loved but I personally could not stand. The movie seemed mean spirited in its depiction of its own characters, making it seem more like a freak show than an actual comedy. With Nacho Libre, the characters are just as bizarre and outrageous as the ones found in Dynamite, but this time, the movie is not laughing at them. These are real characters with genuine heart and feelings, and no matter how crazy or implausible the situations get, the movie never loses its focus on character or their relationships. The screenplay by writing team Jared and Jerusha Hess, along with Mike White (School of Rock), is a winning combination of your standard sports story, off beat humor, and sentiment that never seems forced or sappy. The movie is fresh and invigorating in its weirdness - from the many bizarre (yet eerily plausible) opponents that Nacho and Esqueleto find themselves going up against in the ring, to its slightly off kilter view of the world itself. There are many big laughs, and many smaller moments that just plain made me smile.

The film keeps itself fresh by playing against our expectations of the sports underdog genre. This puts a unique spin on some tired cliches, such as a scene late in the film that hilariously parodies the old standard of having a voice over reading a letter out loud as the character on the screen reads it. Another sequence that explains just how a woman can get around a house so quickly in pursuit of her lover is also one of the more memorable visual gags to appear in a live action comedy in quite a while. Not all of the jokes work, including a couple unfortunate fart gags that seem to have been added at the last minute to appeal to the kids in the audience, but for every gag that falls flat, there's usually one that works waiting just around the corner. The film is infectious and just plain giddy with its own weirdness. More than that, it is the characters themselves that endear the film to us. Despite their oddball nature, the film takes the time to let us get to know them and like them. And this is thanks mostly to the performances of a game cast.

With Nacho Libre, Jack Black has found a role that may be a work of comic gold. His facial expressions, mannerisms, and reactions to everything going on around him are enough to make me laugh, but thankfully, the screenplay also supplies him with some generally funny dialogue. He is sweet and likeable, and never becomes so goofy or outrageous that he loses our interest. He is energetic, but not manic, and pretty much demands our attention from the second he walks into the movie. He is supported by a strong and game cast who seem to be having just as much fun as he is. The real stand out is Ana de la Reguera, who makes her English-speaking film debut with the role of the kindly Sister that wins Nacho's attention and heart. She has a great screen presence and personality that helps fill her somewhat limited role, and makes it more memorable than it would be with a lesser actress in the part. She also has good chemistry with Black that it's a shame they share so few scenes alone together. As Nacho's wrestling partner, Hector Jimenez makes a good opposite to Black's energized performance, giving a subdued but still very funny turn.

I actually was quite surprised by Nacho Libre. I walked in expecting a goofy comedy, and although I got one, I also got a very sweet and winning film that constantly has its heart in the right place. It's not art, and it's certainly not going to be remembered as a "great" movie, but it's just so gleeful and full of life that I almost think it'd be impossible to hate. It's a silly and warm little movie that never wears out its welcome, and knows how to stage fighting scenes that are simultaneously hilarious and exciting. From the first frame to its last, Nacho Libre is just plain fun, something that I've been sorely missing from most movies I've seen. Here's to hoping the movie achieves a well-deserved sleeper hit status amongst the blockbusters of the summer.

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Friday, June 09, 2006


Since bursting onto the scene with 1995's Toy Story, Pixar has built a reputation better than just about any studio in Hollywood today. Their track record is far from flawless in my eyes, but I have always found something to like, even in their weaker efforts such as A Bug's Life or Monsters Inc. No streak can be held forever, and I think Cars will be the first real blemish in the Pixar library. A joyless, sappy, manipulative, and nearly laugh-free concoction that will appeal to only the most undiscriminating of children, Cars loses our interest long before its over due to a paper-thin plot that can barely hold up its nearly two hour running time, and a cast of underdeveloped or just plain unlikeable characters. Director John Lasseter (the Toy Story films) and his staff had an entire extra year to hammer out the kinks in the script, as Cars was originally set to be released last year. Whatever they did with that extra time, it certainly does not show through in the final product other than the visuals.

The bare bones plot is set in a fantasy version of our world where cars and other sorts of vehicles make up the world's entire population, even the insects. It centers on a cocky and arrogant racing car named Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) who has shot from rookie status to superstardom in less than a year, and is fast approaching his dream of winning the ultimate prize - the Piston Cup. The final race results in a three-way tie between Lightning, the long-time champ, and Lightning's equally cocky rival (Michael Keaton). A race between the three is set to be held in one week to determine the winner in California. On his way there, Lightning is separated from his transport truck (Pixar regular, John Ratzenberger), and quickly finds himself lost and off the Interstate. The back roads lead him to a long-abandoned ghost town called Radiator Springs where a small handful of colorful locals struggle to keep the town running. Lightning is arrested by the town's sheriff for speeding, and brought before Judge Doc Hudson (Paul Newman), who sentences the hot rod to repair the road that he damaged during his reckless driving. Lightning curses his luck at first, but the more time he spends in the quiet laid back town, he begins to see a different side to the local residents, finds a love interest in local Porsche gal Sally (Bonnie Hunt), and learns of a simpler time where people traveled by road to experience the world around them, not just to speed along everywhere in a hurry.

Like a lot of the animated films that have been released this year, Cars features next to no plot. It's tone is laid back, overly padded, and slow. In a way, I think this was the intention of the filmmakers, as the message of the film is to slow down and just enjoy life. However, Pixar makes a grave misstep in not only making the pace laid back, but tremendously dull and lifeless. Once Lightning arrives in the town of Radiator Springs, the movie grinds to pretty much a near halt as we listen to him whine over and over about how much he hates being there, we get some antics from comic relief sidekick, Mater the rusted tow truck (voiced by Larry the Cable Guy), and we get the typical wise old man with a past storyline, and an underdeveloped love story arc that seems to come right out of the blue because the six writers credited to the screenplay felt the movie needed one. Cars doesn't really have a plot, rather it is a heavy-handed message movie that bashes you over the head with its moral of respecting others and slowing down our hurried lives. While it's certainly a message worth preaching, Lasseter and company do absolutely nothing creative or original with it, opting instead to just give us scene after scene where the characters do nothing but spell the point out to us in a way that's about as subtle as a knee to the groin. Maybe I wouldn't have minded quite so much if the jokes featured in the film were funny, but aside from one brief sequence early in the film, I never laughed or even smiled. I found myself quickly growing bored with the "wacky" residents of Radiator Springs, and wanted to get out of there just as badly as Lightning McQueen did. (Unlike the character, however, I did not have a change of heart, and grow to love the town or its inhabitants.)

Maybe if the characters were interesting, I could have grown to love them, but it's impossible to like these wise cracking two dimensional vehicles that take up most of the running time. Most of the characters are one-note "joke" characters (a hippie bus who's addicted to organic fuel, a sassy jive-talking black car) that hold no personality whatsoever, and exist only to react to what's going on with Lightning. They're not characters, they're one liner-spewing bystanders that the screenplay can't be bothered to waste time with. Even the characters the script does focus on seem rushed and about as deep as a puddle that you would find on the side of the road. Lightning McQueen is the first lead in a Pixar film that I downright hated. He's a cocky, arrogant, unlikeable little jerk, and even when he has a change of heart, he's still impossible to get behind because he's just not very interesting. Same goes for love interest Sally, who seems to develop feelings for him for no reason whatsoever, making their budding relationship overly forced and hard to swallow. The voice acting, in turn, suffers because the actors are given very little to do. Owen Wilson and Bonnie Hunt lack chemistry together, and Larry the Cable Guy is just as annoying in animation as he is in real life. Paul Newman has a couple promising moments as the head of the town with a hidden past, but he's mainly used as a plot device, and a cliched wise sage who passes on info to Lightning with Yoda-like efficiency.

It's a shame that Cars is so underwhelming at its core, because does it ever look good. The movie is so brilliantly animated that it makes almost every other animated film this year pale in comparison. There are a number of stunning sequences, such as the opening race scene, and a sequence where Lightning and Sally take a ride through the local country. The attention to detail in the characters is stunning, and the backgrounds could easily be mistaken for live action at times. That's not to say the film always works. A fantasy sequence where Lightning and Sally try to picture what the town of Radiator Springs must have been like in its prime seems to hint at being touching and poignant, but falls short, because the film refuses to let us get to know the locals other than just comic relief. We don't care about the characters at all, so when the film tries to tug at our heartstrings, we watch with curious detachment and wait for the scene to end. The film also wastes its beautiful animation on a number of seemingly-endless music montage sequences set to different pop songs, and lame puns tied into cars. The movie features a number of celebrity cameos from the auto racing and television world, only they have been named after cars. For example, Jay Leno is now Jay Limo. If that joke made you laugh, you're just the right kind of audience Cars is looking for.

You know, I've had a bad feeling about Cars ever since I saw the first teaser trailer before The Incredibles back in 2004. I didn't want to believe it. I wanted Pixar to prove me wrong. Unfortunately, I must report that this is the first film released by them that failed to generate even the slightest reaction from me. The audience I saw the film with seemed to be in agreement, as the children in the audience were starting to get restless by the half hour mark, and absolutely no one but me stayed for the additional scenes that played right when the ending credits started to roll, opting instead to shuffle silently out of the theater in less than a minute without saying a single world. I have no doubt the studio will bounce back, but Cars is just a huge disappointment from beginning to end.

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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Omen

Did Hollywood learn nothing from the infamous 1998 remake of Psycho with Vince Vaughn and Anne Heche? If you'll recall, that was a movie that tried to do a shot for shot remake of the original horror masterpiece. Needless to say, the movie turned out to be just as pointless as it sounds. The new remake of The Omen is not quite that bad, but it still serves no purpose for existing, other than to cash in on its gimmicky release date of 06/06/06. Director John Moore stays slavishly faithful to the original movie, even going so far as to hire the original screenwriter, David Seltzer, who changes little in his script other than modernizing it and adding a few modern day ominous references such as September 11th. From dialogue and even the camera angles in some scenes, it's pretty much the same thing audiences watched 30 years ago. Which of course begs the question why bother in the first place, as all this new version has to offer is talented actors giving wooden line readings, making the film a lethargic chore to sit through.

Rising politician Robert Thorn (Liev Schreiber) is forced to make a difficult decision when his young wife Katherine (Julia Stiles) gives birth to a baby born dead as the film opens. A shady priest at the hospital offers a suggestion - Take ownership of a different baby who was born in the same hospital and has lost its family. Since Katherine has never seen the child, she will never know the difference. They take the little tyke home and name him Damien (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick). The child seems normal and healthy during his early years, perhaps a bit too much so, as Katherine ominously states at one point Damien never seems to get ill, which she finds unusual. As the child reaches the age of five, strange occurrences begin popping up. Damien's nanny hangs herself in front of the guests during the boy's grand birthday party, mysterious growling dogs appear out of nowhere, seemingly keeping watch over the kid, and Katherine begins to be haunted by terrifying visions that hint that Damien is not what he seems to be.

Robert has a series of run-ins with a frantic priest (Pete Postlethwaite) who tries to warn him that Damien is evil and that time is running out. Robert quite stubbornly chooses to ignore the fact that his wife is scared of her own child and other ominous signs until Katherine winds up hospitalized, and the priest who's been trying to warn him all this time winds up dead in a bizarre accident. It is only then that he begins to dig into the mystery with the help of a photographer who's been following him (David Thewlis), and eventually uncovers the truth that little Damien is the son of Satan.

Anyone who has seen The Omen during its countless showings on TV or on video will know exactly what to expect. In fact, the movie almost plays out like a high school production of the original. All the pieces and all the elements are there, but they don't come together in quite the way that made the original a classic to some people. The movie is clumsy, dull, and just plain overlong. The fact that the filmmakers make no effort whatsoever to try anything new makes me question the movie's very reason for even being filmed in the first place. Wouldn't it have been cheaper and smarter if Fox had just rereleased the original if they wanted to cash in on the date? And when the movie does try something different, it winds up falling on its face, because the original did it better. Remember that scene where the monkeys started attacking the car that Damien was inside while it was driving through a safari-like zoo attraction? Well, this time, all we get are a bunch of scared tiny monkeys cowering behind trees, and a guy in a gorilla costume throwing its body against the surface of its cage. It just doesn't really have the same effect, and it's surprising that out of all the scenes in the movie they could have done differently, they chose to fumble one of the more memorable moments.

Especially when there's so much that could have been done to make this movie better than the original. But no, all the things that annoyed me the first time around come back to haunt me. Particularly the fact that Robert Thorn is one of the most stubborn and clueless heroes to ever grace a horror film, especially in this version. It's impossible to root for this guy, because he's so narrow minded that he can't even see that his kid is truly evil until there's only about five minutes left in the film. He sees all the ominous signs, he sees everyone who tries to warn him get murdered in gruesome ways, and he still keeps on insisting that there's nothing wrong. Let me ask you a question, if you were attending an opera, and a priest came up to you during intermission, and told you that your wife was in grave danger, and that you must meet with him tomorrow before he walked away, would you chase after him and ask him what he meant by what he said, or would you just stand there and go back to watching the opera as Robert does in this film? You'd think that the guy would be at least a little bit concerned, especially when his wife starts complaining of nightmarish visions, and pleading with him to not let their son kill her, but Robert appears unnerved and unmoved in scene after scene.

A lot of this may have to do with the fact that The Omen is comprised of a large cast of talented stars who apparently were under strict orders by the director to show as little emotion as possible. Liev Schreiber in particular gives a completely stiff and robotic performance that makes me wonder if I wasn't watching a performance by a pod person disguised as Schreiber. It doesn't matter what's going on in a scene, he keeps that same stone face expression, and reads his dialogue as if he were reading off a grocery list. This makes his character even more laughable as he seems to react to people around him dying with such casual disinterest. It is not until his last couple scenes that his voice rises above a monotone. Julia Stiles at least puts some emotion in her performance, but she is vastly underwritten, and pretty much forced to stand there and react to her spooky kid in every scene. Of the performances, only Mia Farrow stands out as Mrs. Baylock, Damien's new nanny after the first kills herself. She's at least able to put a different spin on the character from the original, but her overly friendly performance seems to make her all the more suspicious almost from the second she walks into the frame.

Of course, what would The Omen be without Damien? Young Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick certainly has glaring evilly down to an art, and that's good, because that's all he's required to do. He just sits and glares at everyone, even when he's supposed to be happy, that you're not exactly surprised that he turns out to be the AntiChrist. He has maybe three or four lines of dialogue total in the entire film, and seems to disappear for a vast majority of it as his father goes seeking out a disfigured priest who looks like a cross between The Emperor from Star Wars and The Phantom of the Opera. The kid's required to do nothing but glare in every scene he's in that it becomes hard to take him seriously. I especially love the sequence where little Damien gives his mother the evil eye the entire time he's making a peanut butter sandwich for himself. His performance becomes a self-parody before long, and anyone who is even frightened by him should probably swear off horror movies for life, 'cause villains don't get any less frightening than this, folks.

The Omen is a shallow, junky, worthless excuse of a remake that simply never should have been given the green light. It improves upon the original in no way, and quite frankly, it manages to find ways to make things even worse. The movie is a lifeless deadweight piece of horror that does can't even manage to produce a single solitary thrill, so it instead tries to startle us with loud noises on the soundtrack every so often so we don't fall asleep. This movie is a work of evil all right, but I don't think the Devil is to blame here. I personally blame the greedy Fox executives who saw a chance to exploit audiences out of their hard-earned money. If you've seen the original, stay home and rent it. And if you haven't seen it, stay home and rent it. Anyway you put it, The Omen is plain pathetic in just about every way.

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