The Space Between Us

February 3, 2017 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Asa Butterfield, Britt Robertson, Gary Oldman
Directed by: Peter Chelsom (“Hector and the Search for Happiness”)
Written by: Allen Loeb (“Collateral Beauty”)

In space, no one can hear you scream—or let out a monstrous yawn. Such is the case in “The Space Between Us,” a tepid young-adult sci-fi romance that will likely cater to the same tween crowd who eat up tear-jerkers adapted from Nicholas Spark novels and think the dude they go to their homecoming dance with sophomore year will no doubt be the future father of their children.

That might be enough to placate some less discerning audiences, but “Space” contains so many eye rolling-worthy moments, even those starry-eyed high school girls might find it hard to contain their frustration over just how inauthentic the narrative is.

Asa Butterfield (“Mrs. Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children”) stars as Gardner Elliott, an intelligent young man whose astronaut mother died giving birth to him on Mars. As the youngest inhabitant (and only teenager) on the Red Planet, Gardner’s only real connection to people his age are the daily video chats he has with Tulsa (Britt Robertson), an Earth girl who doesn’t know she’s communicating with a Martian and, like Gardner, is alone in her respected world.

Although it is impossible for scientists (Gary Oldman hamming it up; Carla Gugino phoning it in) to allow Gardner to travel to Earth and experience life because of his weak bone density (huh?), screenwriter Allen Loeb (“Collateral Beauty”) seems to exclaim, “extraterrestrial health concerns be damned!” and figures out a way to drop an absurd plot point to get him there to meet Tulsa and go on a wild goose chase in search of Gardner’s estranged father (because without said absurd plot point, there wouldn’t be a movie, of course).

From there, it’s off to the races as scientists do everything they can to bring Gardner home before the Earth’s atmosphere destroys him and before he can find the truth about his past. Awkwardly directed by Peter Chelsom (“Hector and the Search for Happiness”), “Space” never finds its voice or decides what kind of movie it was to be. It is obvious Chelsom and Loeb have grand aspirations (the “E.T.” allusions are laughable), but if tapping into some kind of Steven Spielberg magic was their ultimate end game, they missed it by a few million light years.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins

June 17, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jim Carrey, Carla Gugino, Angela Lansbury
Directed by: Mark Waters (“Mean Girls”)
Written by: Sean Anders (“Hot Tub Time Machine”), John Morris (“Hot Tub Time Machine”), Jared Stern (debut)

“Mr. Popper’s Penguins” is poppycock – a poorly prepared picture packed with pleasantries for the pipsqueaks and pathetic puns for parents who are paying the painful price.

Alliteration aside, “Penguins” is a family film based on a children’s book from the 1930s written by Richard and Florence Atwater. Jim Carrey (“Yes Man”) stars as title character Mr. Popper, a real estate businessman who is left a plethora of penguins by his estranged explorer father who has recently passed away.

On deadline to complete a very important real estate deal, Mr. Popper is forced to bird-sit a set of six penguins who he deems his childrens’ pets when they come over for a visit with his ex-wife Amanda (Carla Gugino).

For whatever reason, everyone seems nonchalant about everything the penguins do from the moment they take over Popper’s apartment. Not much makes sense in “Penguins” for people over the age of seven. It’s harmless drivel for Carrey who phones in his performance and proves he can still collect a paycheck by putting a pothole in his comedy résumé the size of the Arctic Circle.


November 26, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Billy Bob Thornton, Carla Gugino
Directed by: George Tillman Jr. (“Notorious”)
Written by: Tony Gayton (“Murder by Numbers”) and Joe Gayton (“Bulletproof”)

While we’re ecstatic Dwayne Johnson seems to have ditched embarrassing kiddie fare like “Tooth Fairy,” “The Game Plan,” and “Race to Witch Mountain” by starring in “Faster,” his stock isn’t much higher since the ultra-violent action flick is without personality.

It’s not entirely Johnson’s fault. As “Driver,” an ex-convict out for revenge for the death of his brother, the ex-WWE star proves he still has everything it would take for him to be the next Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s actually kind of surprising that he’s not closer to that distinction yet since he’s been out of the wrestling ring for six years. It’s not charisma, attitude, or primal instinct Johnson is lacking. High-quality scripts keep dodging him for some reason.

That’s where screenwriters Tony and Joe Gayton come in with “Faster,” a film with all the violence one could want, but without a true sense of adventure. In the film, “Driver” does his share of point-blank shooting and engine revving, but it all feels very unoriginal in a genre that usually needs a distinctive touch to stand out. Director Quentin Tarantino has recently mastered it with films like “Kill Bill” and “Inglourious Basterds.” It doesn’t help that Johnson has already starred in “Walking Tall,” another less-than-stellar entry into the revenge genre. Johnson carries a small hand cannon in this one and not a two-by-four, but it feels all the same nonetheless.

Aside from Johnson’s no-nonsense attitude, the Gaytons fail to give any depth to the characters that are thrown in “Driver’s” way. Billy Bob Thornton plays “Cop,” a drug-addicted officer who never comes off as an actual threat. Then there is a character identified as “Killer” (Oliver Jackson Cohen), a slick assassin who has absolutely no reason to even exist. Actually, all the secondary storylines are weak and uninteresting, which puts all the pressure on Johnson to maneuver the film past all the pointless junk.

“Faster” is well shot, but there’s simply not enough material here to create a memorable vengeance movie. When the twists and turns start happening, it’s far too late to save face. Most of them have been blown off anyway.

Righteous Kill

September 3, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Carla Gugino
Directed by: Jon Avnet (“88 Minutes”)
Written by: Russell Gewirtz (“Inside Man”)

One of my favorite Robert De Niro-with-a-badge movie moments comes courtesy of the 1997 crime drama “Cop Land.” A pudgy Sylvester Stallone interrupts a moustach’ed De Niro in his NYPD investigator’s office during his lunch break wanting to help expose a unit of crooked cops despite previous uncertainties. In a most hardhearted way, De Niro stands up and shouts three simple words to let him know his opportunity has been squandered: “You blew it!”

That’s the exact same message someone needs to convey to director Jon Avnet (88 Minutes) and screenwriter Russell Gewirtz (Inside Man) for their new film “Righteous Kill.” With Robert De Niro and Al Pacino at their disposal (their first film together since sharing the screen for a few brief minutes in 1995’s “Heat”), you could presume that Avnet and Gewirtz lost focus thinking about the 14 Academy Award nominations and three wins between their two stars or how 100 hundred years from now, history will undoubtedly look back and consider them the preeminent actors of their generation, but that would be letting them off too easy. Instead, the filmmakers simply choked.

In “Righteous Kill,” veteran NYPD detectives Turk (De Niro) and Rooster (Pacino) are on the trail of a serial killer who shoots criminals that have slipped through the judicial system. From physically abusive pimps to predatory Catholic priests, no one with a shady past is safe from the killer’s wrath.

But when the murders start linking back to Turk, officers from another precinct (Leguizamo and Wahlberg) begin thinking that the 30-year veteran of the force could actually be responsible for the point-blank murders. While Pacino plays the role of the more seemily professional officer, Gewirtz writes De Niro’s character as a short-tempered “pitbull on cocaine” who spends his free time coaching little league softball with an iron fist and participating in the masochist fantasies of a lovely forensics investigator (Gugino).

The strong bond between Turk and Rooster is evident, which makes “Kill” bearable enough when De Niro and Pacino aren’t sounding so much like cops. Of course, we’ve seen them in these roles before, but here they are merely going through the motions and what is expected of them. Plus, the mystery behind the murders is so obvious and carelessly written, it almost emerges as a joke. Imagine hearing a gun shot, walking into a room, and seeing two guys standing over a dead body. One guy has a smoking gun in his hand and is covered in the victim’s blood. Then, other guy admits to the murder. That is literally the depth of Gewirtz’s script.

The bottom line is that “Righteous Kill” has high expectations riding solely on the much-anticipated reunion of De Niro and Pacino. But with a paper-thin who-done-it storyline and underdeveloped characters, their second cinematic encounter becomes more of a second thought. While the bullets hit their marks, not much else makes a memorable statement and we’re left longing for the days when Frank Serpicio and Jake La Motta once commanded the big screen.