The Last Song

April 2, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Miley Cyrus, Liam Hemsworth, Greg Kinnear
Directed by: Julie Anne Robinson (debut)
Written by: Nicholas Sparks (debut) and Jeff Van Wie (debut)

Adapting his novel into a screenplay for the first time since his stories began hitting the big screen in 1999 (“Message in a Bottle”), author Nicholas Sparks (“The Notebook,” “Dear John”) quickly loses handle of his newest tearjerker “The Last Song” from the start.

Written specifically for teenage music and TV idol Miley Cyrus (“Hannah Montana: The Movie”), the role proves to be far too much for someone with so little feature film experience to explore. Aside from the unmotivated script and direction, it is Cyrus’s shockingly inept performance that makes “The Last Song” so very dissonant. Facetiously speaking: Those voters from the MTV Movie Awards aren’t going to be knocking on her door for this one.

In “Song,” Cyrus takes a dramatic turn for the worst as Ronnie Miller, an unhappy teenage piano virtuoso who is still hurting from her parents divorce. Sent with her little brother (Bobby Coleman) to spend the summer with their estranged father (Greg Kinnear) at his beachside home, Ronnie is not about to meet her dad halfway and try to make the best of an uncomfortable situation.

Uninterested in playing the piano anymore (she stopped on the day her father left the house; how very symbolic) or following her dream to enroll at Julliard, Ronnie would much rather be a sulking teenager with nothing to live for. Cyrus’s self-pity parade becomes more and more unrealistic with every pouty moment she musters.

When she finally meets the man of her dreams, Sparks’s half-hearted efforts plop into a series of formulaic plot devices and corny montages fit for a Disney TV show. As Ronnie and her summer fling spend more time with one another, unnecessary and underwritten secondary storylines are tossed in without much thought. One includes Ronnie taking an interest in sea turtles. Another has her looking out for a girl she meets who is in a dysfunctional relationship.

Waiting in the wings is Kinnear, who is wasted as a father hoping to reconnect with his daughter. Instead, his character is misplaced until Sparks need a tragic story to fall back on and to complete his relationship melodrama. He does the same in every one of his stories, but in “Song” it feels even more insincere than ever before.

If young girls want nothing more than an unoriginal and extremely silly summer romance, Sparks has spun tween gold. This bland story, however, has been told so many times before and with less giddiness. Most importantly, those same movies are done without Cyrus, who makes fellow songstress Taylor Swift’s laughable performance in “Valentine’s Day” earlier this year look Oscar worthy.

Green Zone

March 13, 2010 by  
Filed under CineStrays

Starring: Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Jason Isaacs
Directed by: Paul Greengrass (“United 93”)
Written by: Brian Helgeland (“Mystic River”)

While there are plenty of thrilling moments in this political war game, director Paul Greengrass does something he didn’t come close to doing in his masterpiece that was “United 93” – he preaches up a storm. It’s unfortunate that Greengrass can’t play the film down the middle. With a pulse-pounding performance by Matt Damon, “Green Zone” could have been so much more than just some time behind the political pulpit.

Flash of Genius

October 4, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Greg Kinnear, Lauren Graham, Dermot Mulroney
Directed by: Marc Abraham (debut)
Written by: Philip Railsback (“The Stars Fell on Henrietta”)

While true-story underdog films are usually reserved for athletes in the sports world, it’s always nice to see other industries get some attention and find a way to stick it to the man.

That’s exactly what Dr. Bob Kerns (Greg Kinnear) tries to do to the Ford Motor Co. in Detroit back in the 1960 when he sued them for patent infringement. As a college professor of electrical engineering and aspiring inventor, Bob did what no Ford-employee could do and perfect the intermitted windshield wiper for the automobile.

With dreams to sell it to the big auto companies and manufacture it himself, Bob is furiously undercut by Ford executives who steal his invention and call it their own. Although he is advised to bite the bullet and put the offense behind him, Bob can’t get passed the thought of how close he was to making a real contribution to the world. His depression and paranoia soon get the better of him as he decides to ignore all the advice given to him and sue Ford.

Obsessed with the case, Bob feels cheated and won’t let anything stop him from getting the credit he feels he deserves. As his life begins to crumble from the ground up, Bob sticks to his timeless plan even as it destroys his marriage and family.

As a straight-forward biopic, “Flash of Genius” is formulaic in its delivery but captures the daunting emotional tug-o-war Bob is experiencing in every aspect of his life. Kinnear suits the character well and gives a fine performances especially when Bob it at his most compulsive.

Because the Kerns case took so long to go to court, the film jumps to the most significant years of Bob’s battle with Ford. It’s a waiting game for audiences, too, but Kinner manages to hold our interest. His work is exceptionally poignant when we finally get into the courtroom and watch Bob lay everything on the line in hope that justice will prevail.

“Flash of Genius” is an appealing story about an event in the auto industry’s history that has never been put on film before. Ironically, the film works on the same level as a working intermitted windshield wiper. Its movements might be predictable, but the pacing is consistent and gets the job done solidly.

Baby Mama

April 27, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Greg Kinnear
Directed by: Michael McCullers (debut)
Written by: Michael McCullers (“Austin Powers in Goldmember”)

If anyone can make being dorky sexy it’s actress/writer Tina Fey. The former “Saturday Nigh Live” star returns to the big screen for the first time in “Baby Mama” (we won’t hold her cameo in “Beer League” against her) since the 2004 comedy “Mean Girls,” which she also wrote.

Taking the helm as the screenwriter and first-time director is Michael McCullers, who worked on “SNL” as a writer during the 1997-1998 season. This was at the same time Fey jumped on board as one of the shows sketch writers.

In “Baby Mama,” Fey plays Kate Holbrook, a successful businesswoman who finds out she is unable to have children just as soon as her biological clock begins ticking. Actually, the ticking is more like manic banging as Kate decides to do anything she can to have a child before all her eggs dry up.

Putting all her faith in surrogacy, Kate welcomes Angie Ostrowiski (Amy Poehler) into her life as the woman who will carry her baby to full term. The film takes a turn towards something like “The Odd Couple” when Angie, who is only participating in the miracle of birth for the money, breaks up with her boyfriend and moves into Kate’s apartment.

In a wave of predictability, “Baby Mama” turns pregnancy into drudgery when all we really want is some type of comedic elements that are a bit sharper than McCullers is able to deliver. While Fey drops some nice one-liners (“My avatar’s dressed like a whore!”) and a small role by Steve Martin proves he has a bit more to give the genre than “Cheaper by the Dozen” and “Pink Panther” sequels, there’s a disappointing air lingering throughout the film mostly brought on by Poehler’s caricature role and McCullers’ inconsistent humor.