Movie Reviews: NEW THIS WEEK


Max Payne

Max Payne (played by a stone-like Mark Wahlberg) is a cop whose wife and child have been murdered, their case grown cold. Obsessed with finding the killer and exacting revenge, he pores over every detail, alone in his need to find an answer. When new murders take place that provide the smallest hint of a clue, Payne is off on the hunt and realizes that a pharmaceutical company conspiracy may lie at the end of his journey. Along the way, a lot of people get harmed by-the-numbers - his last name isn't a homonym for nothing - but the somewhat preposterous action and predictable outcome, from the on-cue vengeance to the easily seen "who" in the whodunit, is tarted up with attractive visuals like shadowy mood camerawork, a stark urban winter landscape, and bullet's-eye views of doom. You'll have seen it all before many times, but it still packs a good-looking, zeitgeist-y, somewhat anticorporate punch. B-

Kinsey Scale: 1 (Wahlberg's porn-star character in "Boogie Nights" eventually becomes a male hustler. As a Calvin Klein underwear model early in his career, Wahlberg provided plenty of gay male eye candy. Co-star Beau Bridges appeared in the gay-themed indie comedy "Sordid Lives.")

W.

George W. Bush (Josh Brolin) fails upward to the U.S. presidency in Oliver Stone's biographical drama. Striking out at everything but politics, this resentful son of a powerful father (James Cromwell) finds invading Iraq as a way to step out of the old man's shadow. This plodding, not entirely unsympathetic portrait plays like an Oedipal tragedy, one that extracts a huge price from the entire country with the rush to war. Brolin's multifaceted portrayal reveals a man with more ambition than brains, who overcompensates on a grand scale. The usual suspects are all here, including manipulative adviser Karl Rove (Toby Jones) and supercilious Vice President Dick Cheney (Richard Dreyfuss). Thandie Newton adds comic relief with a broadly bizarre performance as National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice. B-

Kinsey Scale: 1.5

(Brolin played a gay FBI agent in "Flirting with Disaster" and appears as pioneering activist Harvey Milk's assassin in "Milk." Cromwell appeared in "Angels in America" and "Six Feet Under." Jones was Truman Capote in "Infamous." Newton was in "Interview with the Vampire" and "RocknRolla." Co-stars with queer credits include Jeffrey Wright, Elizabeth Banks, Jesse Bradford, Jason Ritter, Rob Corddry, Scott Glenn, Ioan Gruffudd, and Stacy Keach.)

ALSO IN THEATERS

Body of Lies

CIA agent Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio) does the dangerous, unglamorous groundwork in the war on terror, chasing down insurgents first in Iraq and then in Amman. While he's often in perilous situations, it seems his biggest problem is the moronic bureaucrats in Washington who run roughshod over his delicate intelligence work, particularly Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe), who spends nearly the entire movie talking and arguing with Ferris via cell phone. Ferris and Hoffman finally collaborate on a big plan - that's perhaps the movie's one good idea - to draw out an egotistical but elusive terrorist by turning an innocent Jordanian into what appears to be al Qaeda's latest hotshot. Ultimately, however, all the car bombs and spy satellites never amount to anything compelling, and Crowe and DiCaprio seem like thespian functionaries in an overly long procedural cop show. Add it to the growing heap of Hollywood's latest genre: Dull Iraq Movie. D+

Burn After Reading

Middle-aged gym employee Linda (Frances McDormand) laments about getting the money together to pay for plastic surgery. When a janitor finds a computer disc with top-secret intelligence information on it, Linda and her dim co-worker Chad (Brad Pitt) decide to blackmail ex-CIA man Osborne Cox (John Malkovich). He's got problems of his own, having been kicked out of the house by his uptight wife Katie (Tilda Swinton), who's having an affair with Treasury agent Harry (George Clooney), who's having a clandestine Internet romance with...Linda. Despite all the farcical set-ups and complications, "Burn After Reading" doesn't deliver the laughs. The Coen brothers don't seem to be sure if they're making a comedy or a spy movie, and they end up with neither. C-

City of Ember

Two hundred years after a catastrophe struck the earth, the only remaining humans live deep in the underground city of Ember, where a rapidly decaying infrastructure threatens to bring on a new apocalypse. Teenager Doon Harrow (Harry Treadaway) is determined to find a way to prevent the impending doom, and when his friend Lina Mayfleet (Saoirse Ronan) discovers a box suggesting that a world exists outside the city, the two join forces to find it. The immense charm of Treadaway and Ronan, a mutant rat the size of a hippo, and a smirking Bill Murray's dryly funny turn as Ember's corrupt mayor are among the highlights of this offbeat, but heavy-handed children's fantasy. This family movie otherwise disappoints with thinly drawn supporting characters, meager special effects, and a predictable story. C

Eagle Eye

A stranger's voice on the phone warns slacker Jerry Shaw (Shia LaBeouf) that the FBI is after him, just as agents burst through his door. The same voice threatens to kill single-mom Rachel Holloman's (Michelle Monaghan) son unless she does what she is told. The two are soon on the run together, the voice forcing them ever deeper into a violent conspiracy. This paranoid thriller begins with an arresting premise: that the government's surveillance equipment, meant to monitor for terrorists, could be turned against ordinary American citizens. Unfortunately, the movie never pauses long enough from the frantic stew of car chases, explosions, and lavish special effects to fully explore those implications, morphing instead into a flabby, barely suspenseful, and depressingly routine action adventure. C

Flash of Genius

Robert Kearns (Greg Kinnear) invented the intermittent windshield wiper, only to see Ford steal his idea and take the credit for it. As a result, Kearns did what anyone who eventually gets a feel-good movie made about his life would do: he fought back and won. But knowing the ending of this true story doesn't spoil this film - boredom and historical inevitability do that. Is Kearns a man of principle - he turns down a $30 million settlement in favor of a trial - or simply a nutty obsessive? The movie doesn't really seem to know. Meanwhile, the fact that it's a part of documented history insures that the final courtroom showdown is stripped of any suspense. And finally, it's about the guy who invented the intermittent windshield wiper, which frankly isn't the most exciting topic to build a big Hollywood movie around. The real Kearns may have had a flash of genius, but the movie is as weak as a 25-watt bulb. C-

Lakeview Terrace

For Chris (Patrick Wilson) and Lisa Mattson (Kerry Washington), their new hillside home in an L.A. suburb is paradise - that is, until Abel Turner (Samuel L. Jackson), the stern cop next door, begins a campaign of intimidation against the mixed-race couple that grows ever more threatening. This crime drama examines both the larger issues of racism and abuse of power, as well as the more intimate family challenges facing both the Mattsons and Turner. The Mattsons may be the victims, but the characters are also smug and underwritten. The angry, psychotic Turner emerges as the more sympathetic figure and the best reason to see the film, as Jackson delivers an explosive performance that captures both the bad and the good sides of this very troubled man. B-

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist

New Jersey high school student Nick (Michael Cera) makes mix CDs for his girlfriend Tris (Alexis Dziena) long after she's dumped him. He doesn't know that Tris' sometime-friend Norah (Kat Dennings), who's got ex-boyfriend troubles of her own, rescues the CDs from the trash for Nick's perfect musical taste. And when Nick and Norah are accidentally thrown into each other's lives on a typical teen excursion into New York City to see a band, they discover budding romance amidst chaotic surroundings, unreliable drunken friends, and emotional blackmail from exes. Call it "Sixteen Candles 2008," as the premise of "one wacky night that changes everything" used by countless high school comedies gets a scruffy update. Meanwhile, the infusion of sweet, low-key charm and the underplayed comic talents of Cera and Dennings save it from being just another teen movie and make it cause for minor celebration. B

Nights in Rodanthe

Wife and mom Adrienne (Diane Lane) can't decide whether or not to take back her estranged, philandering husband (Christopher Meloni). Troubled doctor Paul (Richard Gere) wants to face up to his mistakes and mend his broken relationship with his son (James Franco). When Adrienne and Paul meet - she's running an inn for her vacationing friend, he's the only guest - they brood, stare at the sea, and bond. And because they're played by Diane Lane and Richard Gere, they have Earth-shattering sex and heal each other's emotional wounds. Even if you're a sucker for chick flicks and/or tearjerkers, "Nights in Rodanthe" is so over-the-top - they fall into each other's arms as a hurricane hits! - that you'll find it difficult to stifle the giggles. Lane delivers another great performance, but she's too good for this material. C

Rocknrolla

Old-time gangster Lenny Cole (Tom Wilkinson) controls who gets a piece of London's booming real estate market. Low-level con men One Two (Gerard Butler) and Mumbles (Idris Elba) want in; so does Russian billionaire Uri (Karel Roden). Sly, sexy accountant Stella (Thandie Newton) is working her own angle, and so is Lenny's vengeance-seeking, punk rocker stepson Johnny (Toby Kebbel). With this many players and more, it is little wonder that Guy Ritchie's frantic, violent, and very funny black comic thriller barely makes sense. But then, he clearly values high style, rapier (and sometimes vulgar) wit, and boisterous mayhem, all set to a pulsing soundtrack, over coherency. The formula works: The director and his cast are brilliant in a film that is never less than spectacularly entertaining. A

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