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Now Playiing Movie Reviews: Traitor, Hamlet 2

By |2018-01-16T16:25:37-05:00September 4th, 2008|Uncategorized|
NEW THIS WEEK

Hamlet 2

Dana Marschz (Steve Coogan) is a failed actor stuck teaching drama in a Tucson, Arizona, high school. When his boss threatens to fire him, Dana decides to save his job by staging the most brilliant, elaborate show he can conceive. What he winds up with is “Hamlet 2,” a sequel to the Shakespearean tragedy that involves the Danish prince, a time machine, and a musical number called “Rock Me, Sexy Jesus.” British TV vet Coogan is a comic genius, and the script by Pam Brady (“South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut”) is full of laughs. Unfortunately, all the characters are so cartoonish that there’s little human element to the comedy, yet Coogan and his capable co-stars – including Catherine Keener, Amy Poehler, and Elisabeth Shue – make this a warped “high school musical” for a grown-up audience. B-

Kinsey Scale: 3 (Gay director Andrew Fleming’s previous credits include “Threesome” and “Dick,” and Brady’s “South Park” script gave us Satan and Saddam Hussein as gay lovers. Skylar Astin co-stars as Rand, one of Dana’s pet pupils, who can barely hide the fact that he’s hot for his teacher. Keener received Oscar nominations for her role as Truman Capote’s best friend Harper Lee in “Capote” and for playing bisexual in “Being John Malkovich.”)

Traitor

FBI agent Roy Clayton (Guy Pearce) and American bomb expert Samir Horn (Don Cheadle) meet in a Yemeni terrorist camp where Horn is discovered in conference with the jihadists. An embassy bombing sets Clayton on Horn’s trail again, the pursuit becoming urgent with the prediction of an imminent attack on U.S. soil. A sleek, glossy, well-acted production, this paranoid thriller is nevertheless simply dire. By focusing as much on the terrorists as on the FBI agents pursuing them, the movie attempts to present all sides of the story while still offering suspenseful entertainment. But it is overly simplistic, airing out every single war-on-terrorism cliche within a story that is entirely predictable. And the whole enterprise tastelessly exploits post-9/11 fears of another spectacular assault. D

Kinsey Scale: 1 (Pearce’s breakthrough role was in “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” and he played Andy Warhol in “Factory Girl.” Cheadle had a role in “Boogie Nights.” Co-star Archie Panjabi appeared in “East Is East,” a culture clash comedy with a gay subplot. Co-star Jeff Daniels was in the Truman Capote biopic “Infamous,” and played gay in “The Hours.”)

ALSO IN THEATERS

The Dark Knight

A new arch-villain, The Joker (Heath Ledger), declares murderous war on Gotham City, vowing to terrorize the town until Batman (Christian Bale) surrenders. But the Caped Crusader, driven district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), and police lieutenant James Gordon (Gary Oldman) plan to take down not just the clownish fiend but Gotham’s entire underworld. The late Ledger may be receiving the most buzz for his fierce performance, but the entire cast is excellent, putting heart and humanity into a suspenseful action thriller in which the awesome stunts and special effects might otherwise easily overshadow the characters. This is riveting, uncommonly intelligent summer entertainment that delves deeper into the Batman myth as the Joker’s actions call into question the ethics of Batman’s vigilante justice. A

Death Race

Jensen Ames (Jason Statham) is forced by the warden of a no-rules prison (Joan Allen) into participating in a brutal road race that involves the slaughter of other drivers in order to win. It’s all part of a big conspiracy, but none of that really matters here – if you’ve come to this movie, you’ve come to see bloodshed. And there’s plenty of that, but there’s also plenty of everything wrong: bad acting (even from good-movie veteran Joan Allen), bad script, and bad direction, all of which is – if B-movie mayhem is all that’s required and expected – not entirely necessary anyway. But the laziness of the action sequences and the amped-up killings are the real unforgivable sins in a film that relies on those very qualities to sell itself. Still, a so-bad-it’s-good mindset and a rowdy audience might help alleviate the high-speed tedium. D

The House Bunny

Shelley (Anna Faris) loves her life at the Playboy Mansion, but she’s unceremoniously asked to move out the day after her 27th birthday. (“That’s 59 in bunny years,” she’s told.) She winds up becoming house mother to the Zetas, the nerdiest sorority on campus, but the frumpy gals are transformed into the hottest chicks around after Shelley whips them through the obligatory shopping and makeover montage. Can they get enough pledges to save the Zeta house from its bitchy rival sorority? Three guesses. In “Lost and Translation” and the “Scary Movie” series, Faris demonstrated herself to be a brilliantly funny actress, but not even she can save this contrived rehash of “Legally Blonde” and “Revenge of the Nerds.” This college comedy will never make the dean’s list. D+

Journey to the Center of the Earth

Scientist Trevor Anderson (Brendan Fraser), grimly looking for his lost brother, discovers instead a giant hole that leads to the center of the earth. When he and his nephew and their mountain guide fall into this deep, endless pit they discover a world of hungry dinosaurs and even more treacherous dangers waiting for them. Because this is a predictable family film, very little in the way of serious plot twists or scares are in store, but the fancy new digital 3D effects mean that once the glasses are put on, the cliches transform into punchy visual jolts. It may prove too intense for very young children -the dinosaurs have big, angry teeth – but for everyone else, it’s the next best thing to being on a sweltering theme park rollercoaster. B

Mamma Mia!

Donna (Meryl Streep) has spent the last 20 years on a Greek isle raising her daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) alone. But on the eve of Sophie’s wedding, the curious bride wants to know the identity of her long-absent father. Enter three of Donna’s former suitors (Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard) as wedding guests. But that’s just the anorexically thin plot. The only thing that really matters here is whether or not it’s fun to watch this particular cast sing and dance to ABBA songs. It’s not. With the exception of Streep, whose exuberance is worth the price of admission all by itself, the cast seems uniformly confused as to what sort of movie they’re in. And Brosnan’s singing could peel paint from walls. Bring ear plugs for the moments when Streep’s not belting out a song while bouncing in the air and doing splits. C-

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

Adventurer Rick O’Connell (Brendan Fraser) and his wife Evelyn (Maria Bello) have retired from mummy-chasing and find themselves bored on an expansive English estate. Luckily for them, there’s no shortage of cursed mummies waiting to be awakened – in fact, one happens to get itself discovered by their son (Luke Ford). Toss in Jet Li as the new emperor and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”‘s Michelle Yeoh as the curse-delivering witch and you’d have reason to expect a fun, Indiana Jones-style adventure. No such luck. This third installment of a franchise that was never all that exciting to begin with is even more bland and personality-deficient than the two films that preceded it. No thrills, no chills, a by-the-numbers script, and sub-par computer effects make this a mummy that should have been left sleeping in its tomb. C-

Pineapple Express

Flying high on pot, process server Dale Denton (Seth Rogen) witnesses drug kingpin Ted Jones (Gary Cole) murder a rival and runs to addled drug dealer Saul Silver (James Franco) for help, putting both men in the crosshairs. This lazy stoner comedy milks a very thin idea for all it’s worth and much more. There are a few laughs, but the movie is mostly a dull, overlong slog with a skein of visceral violence that is too ugly and mean-spirited to ever be funny. The only compelling reason to see this uneven mess at all is Franco. The pretty actor, long groomed to be leading man material, turns out to be a natural comedian, gifted with infectious good humor and perfect timing. C-

The Rocker

Two decades after drummer Robert “Fish” Fishman (Rainn Wilson) lost his chance at superstardom, his nephew Matt (Josh Gad) recruits him to play with his band. Styles clash between the flamboyant, middle-aged metalhead and the emo-spouting teens, but Fish seizes the unexpected opportunity to relive the dream. There is not a single unpredictable moment in this amiable tale of redemption, but while the comedy may not be fresh, it is nevertheless very funny, with a terrific supporting cast, a decent soundtrack, and a genuine affection for rock ‘n’ roll excess. It also has an ace in the hole in Wilson, who delivers an appealing, sometimes touching performance that emphasizes Fish’s vulnerability even while playing up his ridiculous rock-star mannerisms. A-

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2

The four best friends from the first “Pants” fitting – Tibby (Amber Tamblyn), Bridget (Blake Lively), Lena (Alexis Bledel), and Carmen (America Ferrera) – are back, moving on to college and separate lives, but continuing their strong friendship thanks to a magical pair of jeans that fits all their differently sized bodies. The demands of college, boyfriends, even separately lived summer vacations take a toll on the connectivity of the girls, but the pants – which act as a metaphor for the unspoken but ongoing devotion that separated friends give one another – keep them together. It’s a fantastical story, yes, but the emotions are real, and, in the hands of talented director Sanaa Hamri (“Something New”), never feel forced or pushy. Call it a younger, sweeter version of “Sex and the City,” if you want (minus all that naughty dialogue), just don’t underestimate its life-affirming power. B

Star Wars: The Clone Wars

In this animated installment of the now-bloated and boring George Lucas saga, Anakin Skywalker (voiced by Matt Lanter) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (James Arnold Taylor) are pulled away from the titular droids-vs.-clones conflict to go and rescue the kidnapped son of Jabba the Hutt. Along for the ride is Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein), who’s in training to become a Jedi. (With her pouty lips, bare midriff, and sassy mouth, you’d think she was in training to become a Cheetah Girl.) The kidnapping plot winds up being just a small part of the nefarious plans of the evil Count Dooku (Christopher Lee, one of the few actors from the “Star Wars” movies to reprise his role). But “Clone Wars” is so ugly to look at and difficult to pay attention to – even the legendary theme music sounds clunky – you may find yourself missing Jar Jar Binks. D

Step Brothers

When Dr. Robert Doback (Richard Jenkins) marries Nancy Huff (Mary Steenburgen), each brings a son still living at home into the marriage. Forty-year-old man-children Dale Doback (John C. Reilly) and Brennan Huff (Will Ferrell) initially despise each other, but quickly become best friends whose outrageous antics threaten to sink their parents’ new bond. Ferrell and Reilly’s chemistry together is sublime, as Ferrell and his co-writer, director Adam McKay, channel their inner 12-year-olds to create a broad comedy that blends slapstick, gross-out gags, screwball shenanigans, and just plain silliness. While not every joke works – there are some dead moments, and some of the humor crosses the line from coarse to offensive – more often than not this ribald ode to the Peter Pan syndrome is flat-out hilarious. B+

Tropic Thunder

When their prima donna antics threaten his production, director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) drops dimwitted action hero Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller), extreme Method actor Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.), and their co-stars into the Vietnamese jungle. Cockburn intends to shoot his war movie guerrilla-style, but the battles become real when heroin traffickers target the interlopers. The cast is genius, and so is the hilarious stew of slapstick, screwball, dark comedy, and cutting Hollywood satire that aims its barbs at a range of targets, including vapid thespians, venal studio bosses, and the Oscars. Disability rights groups calling for a boycott over the portrayal of one of Speedman’s characters miss the point – the movie isn’t making fun of the developmentally disabled, but of the movie industry’s cavalier ignorance. A

About the Author:

BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.