(On DVD, October 2016) The premise of “Two best friends turn into competing bridezillas!” seems so high-concept that Bride Wars should write itself without trouble, right? And yet, this is a film that seems so unaccountably full of missed opportunities, dull scenes and odd character moments that it often feels that it’s intentionally shooting itself in the foot. The result isn’t terrible, if only for seeing Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway return to basic broad comedy. Some of the comic set pieces are amusing, and the supporting performances by Candice Bergen and Kristen Johnson can be amusing. But as the film advances, blind to more comic opportunities, it also turns gratuitously sour (as per the Emma/Fletcher subplot) and so far-fetched that the seemingly happy conclusion feels unearned—even contrived to be unsatisfying. There are so many obvious ways the story could have turned out without arbitrarily going through its checklist of plot points that the final result seems like a lazy patchwork at best, wholly manipulated at worse. Even for the notoriously lax standards of romantic comedies, Bride Wars seems like a misfire, which is too bad given the premise and calibre of the people involved.
(On Cable TV, September 2016) I have accumulated some delays in reviewing movies, and now that I sit down to write about You, Me and Dupree, it hasn’t been more than two months since I’ve seen it and already crucial bits are gone from my memory. It’s definitely about a newly-married couple and Dupree, a hugely annoying friend of the groom. There are certainly many scene in which the new bride (Kate Hudson) is annoyed at the interloper (Owen Wilson) and how her husband (Matt Dillon) can’t seem bothered to drive him away. I can at least recall a scene in which the living room catches fire. Michael Douglas shows up as an imposing father-in-law to glower at our protagonist, and that’s bad for him. But then it predictably turns sad as Dupree is underlined as a colossal screw-up who has no friends and no home and ends up on a bench in the rain. But don’t worry! Dupree somehow redeems himself (or maybe it’s pity from the main characters—My memory doesn’t reach in that much detail) and it all chugs along to a happy ending. I don’t recall the film as being particularly bad or good, nor offensive or unpleasant. On the other hand, it’s not registering as particularly memorable either, and that’s its own issue. Perhaps more noteworthy now for being the first feature film for the Russo Brothers (who would then go on to help two well-received Captain America movies), You, Me and Dupree is the kind of wholly unremarkable comedies to emerge from the studio system in the 2000s. They’re not awful … but they can be a challenge to remember even a short while after the ending credits.
(Netflix Streaming, June 2016) I expected a bit more from the idea of Bill Murray as a veteran impresario finding new talent in war-torn Afghanistan. The premise seems fit to accommodate a lot of comic potential, not to mention Murray doing what he does best. While Rock the Kasbah does manage to meet a few of those expectations, it seems limited by budget and imagination from delivering a truly satisfying result. The clash of culture between American hedonism and Afghani resilience is never completely explored, Kate Hudson seems wasted as something of a super-prostitute, Murray doesn’t get to disengage his persona’s autopilot and the film’s conclusion manages to weaken the impression left by the film’s better second quarter. Rock the Kasbah could have been a much sharper geo-sardonic comedy, but it seems happier to coast on caricatures and attitude. There are unexplainable script issues (Why get rid of a certain character entirely? Why bring in another main character so late? Why waste strong actors in small roles?) While Bruce Willis once again shows up for the paycheck, at least Leem Lubany is a revelation as an Afghani singer, and Murray does get a few moments of hangdog charm. Fitfully amusing, Rock the Kasbah nonetheless leaves us wanting more. There have been far better comedies exploring the twenty-first century’s geopolitical weirdness for this one to register as particularly interesting.
(On TV, November 2015) Sometimes, all that’s needed to save a film from pointlessness is a good ending. The Skeleton Key is not, to be fair, an entire bad film. It’s just that, for all of the magnificent bayou atmosphere of a story that largely takes place on an old plantation, it feels intensely formulaic for most of its duration. So a young nurse (Kate Hudson, more unremarkable than sympathetic) moves in and discovers a pattern of abuse. So she finds out about ancient hoodoo legends and digs deeper. So she earns the enmity of the house’s matriarch. It all points to a well-worn kind of ending… but then that’s not what happens. What happens is, actually, kind of interesting. Mean, but far more interesting than what one would expect from the rest of the film. It doesn’t necessarily catapult The Skeleton Key into a magically better kind of film but it does rescue it from instant forgetfulness. It’s nothing much, but at least it’s a little bit more than expected.
(On Cable TV, July 2015) Everyone’s got to pay their bills, which is how I explain seeing James Franco, Kate Hudson and the omnipresent Tom Wilkinson in this fairly standard thriller in which money is the root of all problems. Good People gets going when a cash-strapped couple finds a bag of money in their dead tenant’s apartment –such an amount is seldom legal, and before long the true owners of the money come calling back. Stuck between an overly-interested policeman and warring criminal gangs, our sympathetic expatriate couple gets the chance to run, fight and set up traps in a dilapidated house. The building blocks of the story are simple, but executed fairly and the result is the kind of thriller that can be watched without too much involvement. There isn’t much for Franco and Hudson to play with: they’re meant to be a likable couple stuck in a nightmare, and their restrained performance reflects exactly that. It doesn’t help that the film is shot in a dark and blue-tinted mode, rain never being far away even when it’s sunny. Predictable and by-the-numbers, this is a straight-to-video 80-minutes entertainment for those who have seen just about everything else playing. Good People is not bad, although it could have been a lot more fun.
(On DVD, January 2012) I suppose that you have to be in the right kind of mood to appreciate this tropical treasure-hunting romantic comedy. Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson practically sleepwalk through familiar roles as the bickering lead couple, but the real worth of Fool’s Gold is in its carefree sunny atmosphere. Colorful cinematography, distinctive supporting characters and a fairly unassuming plot all add up to the kind of film designed to cheer up anyone stuck in gloomy winter. Too bad, then, that the film couldn’t go beyond the obvious and deliver something that could be appreciated by broader audiences. A few annoying characters, dull dialogue, unnecessary violence (three deaths, including a fairly graphic one that crams an unnecessary “ewww” in the middle of a lighthearted film), talky exposition sequences and a general sense that no one is trying harder than the strict minimum (except the cinematographer) all conspire to make the film less interesting than it could have been. Too bad, because for a few moments, some sequences of Fool’s Gold point the way to a lighthearted Caribbean adventure. At least it has the decency to wrap up well. It’s just a bit inert, and no amount of gorgeous blue tropical water photography can make up for a less-than-stellar effort. The DVD doesn’t help matters with a too-short making-of featurette and a forgettable gag reel.
(On DVD, October 2010) Medium-budget films featuring a cast of known actors but popping up unexpectedly on DVD shelves always present a challenge for viewers: Is it possible to guess why the film wasn’t given a wide theatrical release? In the case of The Killer Inside Me, the truth gradually dawns that in-between the period setting, awkward staging, rough sex and unconvincing script, the film would have been savaged by reviewers looking for a middle-of-the-road thriller. And yet, the cast remains impressive, with a few standouts being Jessica Alba as a prostitute who gets the worst of a bad deal, whereas Kate Hudson is strangely credible as a white-trash woman and Casey Affleck becomes as repulsive as he can be as a deputy sheriff gradually revealed as a full-blown psychopath. The period setting is a hint that the film is adapted from a classic noir novel by Jim Thompson, but a bigger clue is found in the strikingly clumsy staging and character motivations as portrayed on-screen: Novels allow for inner monologues that don’t always translate harmoniously to the big screen, and The Killer Inside Me often feels forced in its graphic violence against women, unexplainable character motivations and repellent protagonist. A novel getting in the head of a criminal is something that a film simply portraying that violence can’t aspire to. Numerous decisions, such as the graphic brutality directed at women, the loathsome protagonist and the slow pacing, end up grating more than they convince. As such, the adaptation can’t aspire to much more than a curiosity for noir fans, even though the period detail is convincing (except for the anachronistic trailer-tanker that shows up during a chase sequence) and the acting talent does the best with the script it’s given. By the end of the film, there’s no doubt that its proper place is on DVD shelves, and then on to oblivion for most viewers.
(In theatres, February 2010) I’m favourably disposed towards musicals, but my indulgence felt its limits with Nine, a somewhat limp take on Fellini and his approach to cinema. Some things work really well: the atmosphere of bygone Italy, the portrait of the director as a hedonistic monomaniac, the flashy cinematography, the eye-popping line-up of female stars… it adds up to a project with potential. Seeing Fergie deliver the film’s best musical number won’t leave anyone indifferent, but it’s more fun to see Kate Hudson pop her way through “Cinema Italiano”, the film’s bounciest number, and Penelope Cruz vamp it up in fancy lingerie. Lucky Daniel Day-Lewis, playing a director stuck in the middle of so much female attention. But in most of its musical numbers, the film has trouble distinguishing itself through a series of mopey ballads. The plot troubles multiply, but they all lead to a narrative crash from which the film never recovers: there’s only an epilogue to suggest that our protagonist is on his way back. There is, in other words, little pay-off for all that came before, and a surprising amount of boredom on the way there. Nine is not a film that involves; it prefers to be looked at and occasionally admired for its art direction. Which is really too bad, since its first half promises a lot more than it delivers in the second.