Barbershop 2: Back in Business
Calvin (Ice Cube) and his cutting crew return for this warmly enjoyable sequel, in which the emphasis is less on the plot than on the large cast’s human interaction. This time around, a developer trying to “regentrify” Chicago’s South Side opens a sleek salon – part of a national chain – that threatens to destroy the neighborhood’s independently owned businesses. However, Calvin and his band of stylists aren’t going out without a fight. Again, that’s just the plot; the real reason to see this movie is for the return of “Barbershop”‘s cast, notably Eve and the hilarious Cedric the Entertainer, whose mouthy, politically incorrect charm steals every scene. It’s a funny, welcome return to business as usual.
Grade: B+ Kinsey Scale: 1 (Queen Latifah has a small role as the beauty-shop owner next door – where her spin-off film, “Beauty Shop,” will be based. Troy Garrity, as barber Isaac, starred in the queer-themed “A Soldier’s Girl.”)
Catch That Kid
When 12-year-old Maddy’s (Kristen Stewart) father, Tom (Sam Robards), needs a $250,000 operation to avoid permanent paralysis, she springs into action to raise the cash. While her mother (Jennifer Beals) works to install a bank’s high-tech security system, Maddy and her friends Austin (Corbin Bleu) and Gus (Max Thieriot) plan to use Maddy’s inside knowledge to rob the bank. A go-cart chase and a sweet romantic triangle among the three best pals feature in this children’s action adventure that pre-teens on down will appreciate for its kid-empowerment fantasy and likable young stars. Parents, on the other hand, might want to check out what else is playing at the multiplex, or risk the boredom of a predictable, simplistic story and overly broad supporting characters.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Beals stars in TV’s “The L Word,” while co-star Stark Sands was last seen being seduced by Jason Priestley in “Die, Mommie, Die.” Co-star Michael Des Barres played one of Martin Mull’s boyfriends on “Roseanne.”)
Kurt Russell gives one of the finest performances of his career as Herb Brooks, the hard-driving coach who led the 1980 Team USA hockey team to improbable Olympic glory. It’s a Cinderella story played out against the Cold War, as the young, inexperienced Americans battle the seemingly invincible Soviet team to advance to the gold-medal round. This inspirational sports saga displays unexpected bite and depth as it presents an unvarnished portrait of Brooks as a driven, sometimes slave-driving, control freak whose motivational methods border on the cruel. Twenty-four years ago, Team USA performed one miracle in capturing Olympic gold. By resisting the urge to smooth a complicated man’s rough edges, Russell and this absorbing drama perform another.
Grade: A Kinsey Scale: 1 (Co-star Patricia Clarkson played a lesbian in “High Art” and appeared in the queer-themed “Far from Heaven.” Though presented in a nonsexual context, there’s plenty of intense physical contact among the beautiful boys of Team USA.)
Along Came Polly
Hidebound risk analyst Reuben (Ben Stiller) discovers that there is no insurance against heartbreak when his bride, Lisa (Debra Messing), leaves him for her scuba instructor (Hank Azaria) on their honeymoon. When Polly (Jennifer Aniston), a free-spirited former classmate, breezes back into Reuben’s life with all the subtlety of a hurricane, she upends his sterile world and melts his heart. Stiller’s sober goofiness contrasts well with Aniston’s warm earthiness, but these amiable performers are let down by a trite script that relies on flatulence, vomit, irritable bowel syndrome, and a blind ferret’s tendency to ram into walls for its humor. A roguish Bryan Brown as a base-jumping, shark-diving millionaire seeking life insurance provides this sophomoric comedy with one of its few bright spots.
Grade: C Kinsey Report: 1 (One of Polly’s friends is gay. Stiller, Messing, Azaria, Aniston, and co-star Philip Seymour Hoffman are all veterans of queer-themed projects.)
The Big Bounce
Small-time grifter Jack Ryan (Owen Wilson) finds himself in over his head when he becomes involved with Nancy (Sara Foster), the mistress of shady real-estate magnate Ray Ritchie (Gary Sinise). Nancy has a plan to fleece Ray with Jack’s help – that is, if Jack can stay alive long enough to pull off the scam. Wilson’s laidback, surfer-boy charm perfectly suits the role of a good-natured conman, but his performance is in a vacuum in this sloppily plotted, badly paced, would-be caper comedy. Model-turned-actress Foster proves her mannequin days are not yet behind her with a performance that can only charitably called “stiff,” while a gallery of high-profile stars in minor roles – including Morgan Freeman, Bebe Neuwirth, and Willie Nelson – adds little luster to this cinematic misfire.
Grade: D Kinsey Scale: 1 (A minor character is gay. Wilson’s specialty is the vaguely homoerotic buddy movie, and he was a producer of the queer-themed “As Good as It Gets.”)
William Bloom (Billy Crudup) has spent his entire adult life running from his father, Edward (Albert Finney), and the old man’s fanciful yarns of adventure, circus feats, and daring deeds. When he finds out that his dad is dying, William returns home to try to separate fact from fiction in a last-ditch attempt at reconciliation. While some of the fantasy sequences are witty and colorful, director Tim Burton’s attempt at blending whimsy with domestic drama mostly grates. Finney’s Edward comes across as a blowhard endlessly repeating the same stories, while Crudup’s frigid performance renders William a heartless bore. As young Edward, the normally charismatic Ewan McGregor tries in vain to breathe life into a tissue-thin role, but comes across as little more than a cartoon.
Grade: C Kinsey Scale: 1 (Finney and McGregor have both played queer characters, while Burton directed the 1993 camp classic, “Ed Wood.” Co-star Steve Buscemi’s breakthrough role was in the pioneering AIDS drama “Parting Glances.”)
The Butterfly Effect
Evan (Ashton Kutcher) has more than a few problems. He has blackouts that eliminate painful memories, but learns that he can control them and then time-travel in order to undo the unpleasant events. Unfortunately, his life has been so chock-full of those ugly scenes (his dad tried to kill him, his neighbor is a pedophile, and his friends are guilty of voluntary manslaughter) that just when he fixes one wrong, more dreadful consequences pop up in its place. In fact, this wacky, terrible, yet never dull movie throws so much violence, abuse, misery, drug addiction, prison sex, amputation, and Kutcher hairstyle-changing at the audience that it becomes giddily laughable the more serious it gets. Feel free to talk back to the screen.
Grade: C Kinsey Scale: 1 (There are two strange gay moments in this film, one when Kutcher’s horrible childhood friend calls someone a “faggot,” and the other when Kutcher himself, stuck in prison and desperate to be protected, offers oral sex to a pair of neo-Nazis. Yes, really. Kutcher also made out with Seann William Scott in “Dude, Where’s My Car?”)
Cheaper by the Dozen
When Tom Baker (Steve Martin) is offered his dream job, coaching his college alma mater’s football team, he and wife Kate (Bonnie Hunt) move their 12 kids to Chicago. Open rebellion breaks out among the couple’s resentful progeny after Kate leaves on a publicity tour to promote her new book. This wretched family comedy relies heavily on vomit jokes, inane slapstick, and the dubious charm of overacting children. Martin and Hunt’s amiable warmth provides scant compensation for a group of petulant adolescents and young moppets who behave so monstrously that they serve as arguments for both strict birth control and corporal punishment. The movie’s central premise – that it is somehow wrong for parents to occasionally satisfy their own needs – is breathtaking in its idiocy.
Grade: D Kinsey Scale: 1 (Martin’s romantic competition in “L.A. Story” was a gay man. Co-star Alan Ruck was part of a long-running gay/straight odd couple on “Spin City,” while co-star Richard Jenkins is a regular on “Six Feet Under” and played a queer G-man in “Flirting with Disaster.”)
North Carolina laborer Inman (Jude Law) and minister’s daughter Ada (Nicole Kidman) fall in love but barely have time for a first kiss before the Civil War breaks out. Unable to bear their separation, Inman deserts the Confederacy in order to make a peril-filled journey home to his beloved. Meanwhile, back on Cold Mountain, the now-orphaned Ada struggles to maintain her farm with the help of blunt-spoken hand Ruby (Renee Zellweger). Law and Kidman make a gorgeous couple, and they are well-supported by a large, excellent cast. But this intimate, romantic drama is ill-served by writer/director Anthony Minghella’s tedious attempt at fashioning a sweeping epic, and the lack of political and social implications within a Civil War story renders the film curiously antiseptic.
Grade: B Kinsey Report: 1 (Minghella, Law, Kidman, Zellweger, and co-stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, Eileen Atkins, Charlie Hunnam, Jena Malone, and Ethan Suplee have all participated in queer-themed projects.)
The Lord of The Rings: The Return of the King
Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) reach the end of their journey in this, the final and best installment of the trilogy. The story? It’s a long, complicated one, but, in a sentence, two little hobbits are sent on a mission to save the world from the terrible, destructive power of The Ring. In this chapter, their attempt to destroy it at Mount Doom is the catalyst for a gigantic battle between Good and Evil for the future of Middle Earth – a fight in which the spectacular special effects never crowd out the heart-wrenching emotional climax. It’s a perfectly balanced epic, one that will thrill you for its entire 200-minute running time. So take an afternoon off, settle in, and enjoy this holiday treat.
Grade: A+ Kinsey Scale: 2 (Sir Ian McKellen plays Gandalf, and fellow cast members Liv Tyler and Hugo Weaving have played gay. However, the gayest thing about this trilogy has been the ongoing subtext of a deep love affair between hobbits Frodo and Sam. No, it’s not queer in any explicit way, but the intimacy they share is so strong that in any other film it would find its denouement in a climactic kiss.)
A top-of-the-line ensemble cast competes to see who can deliver the most over-the-top performance in this turgid drama about three childhood friends who reunite over a tragedy. When ex-con Jimmy’s (Sean Penn) daughter is murdered, his old pal Sean (Kevin Bacon), now a homicide detective, is called into investigate, while their former playmate Dave (Tim Robbins) – still fighting the demons of childhood sexual abuse – comes under suspicion for the crime. The film starts out promisingly, as director Clint Eastwood eerily limns the events leading to young Dave’s molestation; but it soon loses all suspense and dramatic tension, thanks to its too-slow pacing. Its greatest sins, though, are the contrived, coincidence-dependent plot, cliched dialogue, and ham-fisted performances.
Grade: C- Kinsey Scale: 2 (Bacon, Penn, and co-stars Laura Linney, Marcia Gay Harden, and Tom Guiry have all appeared in gay-themed movies. Eastwood made the queer true-crime drama “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”)
The Perfect Score
This teen comedy is a case of niche marketing run amok, offering little of interest to anyone on either side of the 16-to-18-year-old divide. Six college-bound high school students conspire to steal the answers to the SATs from testing headquarters in Princeton, but their poorly planned break-in leads each to rethink the wisdom of cheating. There is only enough hackneyed material here to cover a half-hour sitcom episode, but the screenwriters and director stretch it out to a torturous 90 minutes of bad dialogue, lame action, and thin, stereotyped characters. The young ensemble cast, which includes “Lost in Translation”‘s Scarlett Johansson, is attractive, but not nearly charming enough to make this failure of a movie bearable.
Grade: F Kinsey Report: 0 (Absolutely no gay content of any kind.)
Something’s Gotta Give
When Erica Barry (Diane Keaton) meets Harry Langer (Jack Nicholson), it’s because he’s dating her daughter (Amanda Peet). Their instant dislike of one another is tested when Harry suffers a heart attack and is confined to Erica’s home. They warm up to each other, eventually falling into something resembling love, but there are complications, like a young doctor (Keanu Reeves) with a crush on Erica, Erica’s various neuroses, and Harry’s inability to be monogamous. The movie’s own complications cause it to stumble as well: Its supporting characters (Jon Favreau and Frances McDormand) are never fleshed out, and the leads sometimes flirt with unfunny, sitcom-esque behavior. Still, it’s a mature, adult comedy, Nicholson’s usual smarminess isn’t indulged, and Keaton hasn’t been this much fun to watch in years.
Grade: B Kinsey Scale: 1 (Nicholson took care of a gay man’s dog in “As Good As It Gets,” while McDormand starred in “Laurel Canyon,” from lesbian director Lisa Cholodenko. Reeves played a bisexual hustler in “My Own Private Idaho “and had a small role in the queer-themed “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues.”)
Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!
Hot, shallow actor Tad Hamilton (Josh Duhamel) participates in a “win a date” contest and finds himself falling for the winner, West Virginia supermarket employee Rosalie (Kate Bosworth). In turn, her best friend and co-worker, Pete (Topher Grace), finally finds the nerve to confess his long-held affection for her. Apparently, test audiences urged the filmmakers to eliminate the humor from this potentially sweet, inoffensive romantic comedy, because that’s exactly what’s missing. A few laughs do slip out, and it’s clear that the cute, charming cast is trying its best. But the witless, condescending script (people from West Virginia are hicks!) kills any goodwill an audience might muster for these characters. Everyone loses.
Grade: C- Kinsey Scale: 2 (Director Robert Luketic is gay and helmed “Legally Blonde.” Nathan Lane and his obvious toupee co-star, portraying Hamilton’s manager, while Sean Hayes has a cameo as his agent. And that shirtless scene in the trailer? It’s one of only two. It’s a good one, mind you – but that’s all you get.)
You Got Served
David (Omari Grandberry) and El (Marques Houston) are childhood friends with dreams of making it in the entertainment world. To do so, they engage in weekly street dance “battles” where they regularly mop the floor with the competition. When a rival Orange County dance crew challenges and beats them in a financially draining competition, the local favorites are thrown into dangerous turmoil. Call it “Breakin’ 2004,” if you will. The cast is appealing – featuring members of hip-hop groups IMX and B2K – and the dancing is mind-blowing (and would be more so if the camera would hold still for more than a second at a time during the battle sequences). But the borderline-inept filmmaking (major plot conflicts simply disappear; characters die for no reason) does its best to cripple the talented dancers. The final score: Dance 10, Brains 3.
Grade: C- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Lots of shirtless basketball playing happens when the guys aren’t dancing. And it is, for the most part, a male-dominated dance scene here, making the film’s lack of any gay content ring false. Jackee Harry and L’il Kim make cameo appearances.)