The Company You Keep

April 26, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Robert Redford, Shia LaBeouf, Julie Christie
Directed by: Robert Redford (“The Conspirator”)
Written by: Lem Dobbs (“Haywire”)

It might flaunt the most impressive cast top to bottom you’re likely to see this year on the big screen (21 Oscar nominations, 4 wins), but the script behind Oscar-winning director Robert Redford’s political thriller “The Company You Keep” can only lead its actors just far enough before they’re let down by the material.

It really is unfortunate since Redford, who earned an Academy Award for directing in 1981 for “Ordinary People,” comes into the project with a lot of the pieces already in place. This should be a more intriguing look into the radical leftist organization known as the Weather Underground in the late 60s and early 70s, but it falters. The revolutionary group, whose members were charged during that time for bombing a number of sites such as the U.S. Capitol and the Pentagon, were hell-bent on overthrowing the U.S. government.

In “Company,” Redford stars as Jim Grant, a New York City lawyer and former activist of the Weathermen, who has been living as a fugitive for the last 30 years after a bank heist he is involved in during his heyday claims the life of a guard. Jim is flushed from his quiet suburban home when one of his former Weather Underground colleagues Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon) is finally found and arrested for her involvement in the radical movement. Her arrest triggers a domino effect that leads to Jim’s participation in the crime. Now on the run with the FBI and media (Shia LaBeouf plays a scrappy newspaper reporter who cracks the case) on his trail, Jim hits the road in search of a way to clear his name.

Based on the novel of the same name by Neil Gordon, “Company” is a sort of slowly-paced road-trip movie where tons of characters join the fracas, but none are very important to the overall narrative. It’s great to see the likes of heavy-hitters like Julie Christie, Richard Jenkins, Chris Cooper, Nick Nolte and Stanley Tucci tag in and out like some kind of all-star contest, but the substance behind each of their individual connections to the story is thinly scripted.

The acting makes up slightly for the film’s lack of tension. We’re not looking for car chases and extensive getaway scenes here, but Redford’s inability to draw out more emotional conflict from the script is its greatest letdown. There just aren’t enough big moments the talent can sink their claws into. “Company” is never boring, but it also never shifts out of first gear, which poses a major problem when you have a fugitive on the run and a lot at stake.

The Zookeeper

July 15, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Kevin James, Rosario Dawson, Leslie Bibb
Directed by: Frank Coraci (“Click”)
Written by: Nick Bakay (“Paul Blart: Mall Cop”), Kevin James (“Paul Blart: Mall Cop”), Jay Scherick (“Norbit”), David Ronn (“Norbit”), Rock Rueben (debut)

Deep inside the ferocious land of Hollywood, grazing around the talent pool like a fat warthog at a watering hole, a stumpy beast hunkers down waiting to pounce on the first screenplay too weak to defend itself. His eyes dart back and forth as other more agile predators pick off the meatier prey one by one. Suddenly, the creature gets his chance. A scrawny script has been separated from its herd and is helpless. Within seconds, the brute leaps from his squatting position and takes aim. His broad calves push him forward for the kill, but it isn’t meant to be. His feet are caught in the brush and he lands on the ground with his face in the mud.
 
This is what the narration might sound like if the Discovery Channel featured a Kevin James Week.
 
Unfortunately for audiences, James, best known for the TV series “The King of Queens,” which ran for nine seasons before ending in 2007, gets his paws wrapped around more flimsy screenplays than anyone who likes to laugh would hope.
 
Despite his terrible movie choices over the last four years (“I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry,” “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” “Grown Ups”), James is as harmless as a collection of chubby cherubs, which is one reason he continues to get second-rate roles in comedies like “The Zookeeper,” another dismal product from Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison Production Company (AKA Rob Schneider’s meal ticket).
 
Directed by Frank Coraci, who delivered one of Sandler’s best movies with “The Wedding Singer,” “Zookeeper” takes a page from another James flick, 2005’s “Hitch.” Instead of taking dating advice from Will Smith, however, James, who plays insecure lead zookeeper Griffin Keyes, is schooled in the subject of love by a zoo-full of chatty wildlife. Voice work includes Sylvester Stallone as a discerning lion, Nick Nolte as a depressed gorilla, and what sounds like a constipated Sandler as a capuchin monkey.
 
Although it might sound like another wannabe “Charlotte’s Web,” the talking animals don’t make up much of the story, which centers on Griffin trying to win his materialistic ex-girlfriend back. In one unfunny scene, a wolf explains that a male mammal must mark his territory to get the female species’ attention. Acting like even more of a numskull and for no particular reason, Griffin relieves himself in a potted plant at a dinner reception as if the advice was actually useful.
 
Let’s just hope James stops pissing on things long enough to realize his film career is already sufficiently soaked.

Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore

July 30, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: James Marsden, Nick Nolte, Christina Applegate
Directed by: Brad Peyton (debut)
Written by: Ron J. Friedman (“Chicken Little”) and Steve Bencich (“Chicken Little”)

Aptly named “Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore” in reference to the character played by actress Honor Blackman in 1964’s “Goldfinger,” the new talking-animal sequel doesn’t have nearly enough bark or bite for anyone to take notice. Despite the number of James Bond references director Brad Payton and screenwriters Ron J. Friedman and Steve Bencich try to inject into it, the spoof is still as annoying, useless, and lightweight as the pet dander you’d find fused to a couch cushion.

In “Kitty Galore,” a sequel to the first film in 2001, Bette Midler lends her voice to the title character, a hairless, villainous feline who has come up with a dastardly plan to turn all the dogs of the world against his or her owners by broadcasting a high-pitched sound that will cause all canines to go insane.

Enter the team of secret cat and dog spies who put aside their differences and join forces to stop Kitty before she takes over the world. This includes Diggs (James Marsden), a former hot-shot police dog who is released from the force for his risky behavior; Butch (Nick Nolte), a snippy old hound who recruits him; and Catherine (Christina Applegate), a stealthy cat with ninja skills. Even a pigeon named Seamus (Katt Williams) joins up as a feathered informant who might be able to lead them to the bad kitty.

As far as talking-animal movies go, “Kitty Galore” could be worse. Remember the fluffy special agent gerbils in the terrible animated movie “G-Force” last year? At least “Kitty” is able to use a combination of real and CGI pets instead of relying completely on computers to create their heroes. Some of the dogs are huggable enough to capture a kindergartener’s attention, but without any real humor and charm coming from any of these fuzzy characters, it’s difficult to defend a movie that simply refuses to be even a bit original.

Instead, Peyton’s only concern is in how many 007 jokes and references he can squeeze into the short 75-minute runtime (even Roger Moore cheapens his link to Bond to be part of this). After those fail, Peyton goes for the obvious, witless gags: cat nip, dogs sniffing butts, fur balls. There’s even an uncreative parody of “Silence of the Lambs” that turns up for no real reason except to maybe jolt parents from dozing off by giving them something they’d recognize.

As easily forgettable as the original, “Kitty Galore” will trigger some reaction from the youngest moviegoers (probably in the form of “look at the doggy, mommy!”), but even a caboodle full of cute kittens isn’t reason enough to drag the entire family out for a weekend matinee.

The Spiderwick Chronicles

February 14, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Freddie Highmore, Mary-Louise Parker, Nick Nolte
Directed by: Mark Waters (“Mean Girls”)
Written by: Karey Kirkpatrick (“Charlotte’s Web”), David Berenbaum (“Elf”), John Sayles (“Lone Star”)

Ever since the first “Harry Potter” and “Lord of the Rings” hit the big screen in 2001, fantasy films have become an essential piece of the studio’s movie arsenal. From the smaller-scale “The Brothers Grimm,” “The Bridge to Terabethia,” and “Ella Enchanted” to blockbusters like “The Chronicles of Narnia,” imaginative escapism at the theater is easy to find these days.

Enter the newest film to the genre, “The Spiderwick Chronicles,” which is based on the book of the same name by Tony DiTerizzi and Holly Black. The film follows three siblings (Freddy Highmore plays twin brothers Jared and Simon Grace), who move with their mother (Parker) into a creepy house known as the Spiderwick Estates.

Of course, there’s more to the home than a few dusty corners and eerie hallways. The estate holds a secret that stems back to the original owner himself Arthur Spiderwick (David Strathairn, who performs his classy scenes through some nicely scattered flashbacks). When Simon discovers a mysterious book called “Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You” he ignores the warning on the front cover that advises him not to read it.

Reminiscent of the game board in “Jumanji,” the book unleashes a host of creatures from another realm, including brownies, goblins, and faeries. There is also darker forces like Mulgarath (played by Nick Nolte), who wants to get a hold of the book for the powers it possesses. Also part of the noteworthy characters are Martin Short (“The Santa Clause 3”), who lends his voice as the bipolar Thimbletack and Seth Rogan (“Knocked Up”), who is a perfect fit for the voice of the piggish Hogsqueal (pictured above).

Highmore does a fine job playing both the Goofus and Gallant-type roles while some very impressive special effects allow both boys to react to each other and the make-believe world around them. Although Highmore is already 15 years old, he doesn’t seem to have hit that unfortunate mark in a child actor’s career (a la Haley Joel Osment of ‘The Sixth Sense”) where his or her face contorts into an unattractive, adolescent mutant. Highmore still has an innocent façade, which will keep him fresh for more role in this genre. He’s already been in a handful (“Finding Neverland,” “The Golden Compass,” “The Mists of Avalon,” “Jack and the Beanstalk,” “Arthur and the Invisibles,” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”).

Rich with creativity, “The Spiderwick Chronicles” is fun and whimsical although at times much scarier than its PG rating would have you believe. Still, even if your five-year-old is watching through his or her fingers, the family adventure should leave an impression for kids and adults alike.