(On DVD, March 2018) About as generic a romantic comedy as it’s possible to put together, A Lot like Love is familiar and forgettable, but not necessarily terrible. Ashton Kutcher and Amanda Peet do well as a couple that repeatedly meets over a seven-year period, eventually discovering that they belong together through personal failures and growth. The nineties sequences already feel nostalgic, not to mention the early dot-com era material. Kal Penn shows up in a small role, as does Kathryn Hahn in a very brief and early role that nonetheless adds to her later persona of playing sex-crazed characters. The episodic, time-skipping structure of the film is equally interesting and frustrating, as we know early on that romantic frustration will be maintained until the story catches back up to present time. On the other hand, the film is decently scripted (witness the mini-romances going on in the background during the seven years of the story) and can depend on capable leads. Sure, the various plot threads are predictable but seeing the film from a perspective twelve years later, it’s a reminder that Hollywood studios have gone almost entirely out of the mid-budget romantic comedy genre. Seeing the film in 2018 is almost inevitably less repetitive than having seen it in 2005 … by lack of similar examples. Still, let’s not fool ourselves: A Lot like Love remains a generic romantic comedy, and it fades away as soon as the final credits roll. You won’t begrudge the time spent watching it … as long as you don’t have a big queue of other movies to watch.
(In theatres, November 2009) It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that Roland Emmerich’s 2012 tries to ape and one-up much of the disaster-movie genre. Where else can you find a 10.5 earthquake, a super-volcano and a mega-tsunami in the same movie? As such, it demands to be considered according to the particular standards of the disaster movie genre, and that’s indeed where it finds most of its qualities. The L.A. earthquake sequence is a piece of deliriously over-the-top action movie-making (I never loved 2012 more than when the protagonists’ plane had to dodge a falling subway train), the Yellowstone volcano sequence holds its own and those who haven’t seen an aircraft carrier smash the White House now have something more to live for. The problem, unfortunately, is that those sequences are front-loaded in the first two-third of the film, leaving much smaller set-pieces for the end. This, in turn places far more emphasis on the characters, dialogue and plot points, none of whom are a known strength of either the genre or 2012 itself. Sure, the cast of characters is either pretty (Thandie Newton! Amanda Peet!), competent (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Danny Glover) or entertaining (John Cusack, Oliver Platt). Of course, we want to see them live through it all. But as a too-late consideration of ethical issues bumps against less-impressive sequences and significant lulls (including a 15-minutes-long prologue), it becomes easier to see that this 158 minutes film is at least 45 minutes too long and suffering from a limp third act. The defective nature of the roller-coaster also makes it less easy to tolerate the hideous conclusions, screaming contrivances and somewhat distasteful ethics of the screenplay. While the clean and sweeping cinematography (interestingly replaced by a hand-held video-quality interlude during one of the film’s turning points) shows that 2012’s production budget is entirely visible on-screen and will eventually make this a worthwhile Blu-Ray demo disk, there isn’t much here to respect or even like. At least special-effects fans will be able to play some destruction sequences over and over again.