Kicking & Screaming
Klutzy, mild-mannered Phil Weston (Will Ferrell) grew up in the shadow of his athletic, ultra-competitive father, Buck (Robert Duvall), never measuring up to the old man’s high expectations. When Phil becomes a peewee soccer coach, just like pop, it looks like more of the same – until Phil’s lovable losers start to win, and the overcaffeinated, drunk-on-success Phil transforms into an even bigger jerk than his dad. This featherweight comedy begins amiably, but goes off the rails once Phil adopts poor sportsmanship as a winning strategy. A pedestrian script generates more laughs than it ought to, thanks to Ferrell’s gifts for physical comedy and hysterical line readings, and to inspired performances by Duvall and former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka, playing himself as Buck’s truculent neighbor.
Grade: : B- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Two of the soccer moms are a couple. Ferrell had small parts in “Boat Trip” and the metrosexual comedy “Zoolander.”)
Eight FBI serial-killer profilers (LL Cool J, Christian Slater, Kathryn Morris, Patricia Velasquez, Eion Bailey, Will Kemp, Clifton Collins, Jr., and Jonny Lee Miller) are taken to a remote island by their eccentric chief (Val Kilmer) and left to participate in a field exercise to catch a hypothetical killer. But when the group members begin dying in methodically detailed mousetraps, they come to realize that one of their own is the murderer. The audience will realize even more quickly that it’s watching a shlocky B-movie masquerading as an intense psychological thriller, and will learn to deal with the witless, cliche-ridden script and wooden performances. When that happens, enjoying the implausibly intricate, yet inventive murders becomes its own – and the movie’s only – reward.
Grade: : C Kinsey Scale: 1 (Bailey played Jann Wenner in “Almost Famous.” Velasquez has been romantically linked in the past to Sandra Bernhard.)
When aspiring fashion designer Charlie (Jennifer Lopez) falls for handsome Dr. Kevin Fields (Michael Vartan), his rich, controlling mother, Viola (Jane Fonda), takes an instant dislike to her future daughter-in-law. What follows is a slapstick battle between the seasoned veteran and the young upstart. The pair spend the entire film taunting, insulting, tricking, and slapping each other to prove who loves the ineffectual Kevin the most. The borderline misogynist plotline might have been more palatable if only the script were sharper, meaner, funnier, and more meaningful. As it is, Fonda takes the weak material and runs with it, turning in a bitingly funny performance, and leaving a lost-looking Lopez – and the entire rest of the movie, for that matter – in her dust. Of the remaining cast, only Wanda Sykes, as Fonda’s assistant, squeezes any laughs from this dull wedding rehearsal.
Grade: : C Kinsey Scale: 2 (Adam Scott plays Charlie’s gay best friend. Lopez played a wishy-washy lesbian in “Gigli” and starred in “The Wedding Planner,” from gay director Adam Shankman. Fonda starred in the late 1960s camp favorite “Barbarella,” and in the lesbian-suggestive “Julia.” Vartan co-starred in “The Next Best Thing” and “To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar.” Gay director Robert Luketic also helmed “Legally Blonde.”)
Danny (Jet Li) is a slave, a killing machine raised in a cage like a dog, complete with collar. Whenever his loan-shark owner, Bart (Bob Hoskins), removes the collar, it’s Danny’s cue to kick-start the carnage. Danny escapes Bart and is taken in by a kindly blind piano tuner (Morgan Freeman) and his stepdaughter (Kerry Condon), who teach him how to live like a human being – that is, until Bart shows up to claim his property. Although a fascinating premise, it’s completely sunk by an atmosphere of cloying heart-warmth that – while not out of place in a movie about Ya-Ya Sisterhoods – has no business in a film where bad guys are supposed to be getting constantly kicked in the face. Factor in a script full of insipid, self-esteem-boosting dialogue, and you have the film that’s hard to beat for Most Bizarre Bad Movie of 2005.
Grade: : F Kinsey Scale: 1 (In 2001’s “The One,” Li played a character who had multiple clones in alternate universes, and who was dismayed to discover that one of those many clones was gay. Hoskins appeared as Geri “Ginger Spice” Halliwell’s disguise in “Spice World.”)
A Lot Like Love
Oliver (Ashton Kutcher) and Emily (Amanda Peet) have anonymous sex in an airplane restroom, exchange names, then spend a day together bickering and probably imagining how cute they look doing it. Then Emily bets Oliver that in six years he won’t be a successful, competent adult. Oliver takes the bet, and the two sporadically reunite in the ensuing six-year span for more bickering and making out. Whether or not they eventually fall in love, however, is irrelevant. Frankly, it’s weird enough that these two irritating, dull, shallow characters manage to sustain interest in anything other than their own reflections. The movie wants to be “When Harry Met Sally” for Generation Y, but its target audience is more likely to walk out feeling punk’d.
Grade: : D Kinsey Scale: 1 (Peet appeared in “Isn’t She Great,” and Kutcher made out with Seann William Scott in “Dude, Where’s My Car?” Co-star Gabriel Mann appeared in “High Art,” “I Shot Andy Warhol,” and “Stonewall,” while co-star Jeremy Sisto is a regular on “Six Feet Under.” Linda Hunt, who played a man in “The Year of Living Dangerously,” makes a cameo appearance.)
The Amityville Horror
The white Long Island colonial looks like a dream home to George (Ryan Reynolds) and Kathy Lutz (Melissa George), in spite of the realtor’s admission that its most recent residents died there violently. No sooner have the Lutzes moved in than daughter Chelsea (Chloe Moretz) befriends the ghostly little girl who haunts her room, and George starts hearing voices urging him to kill his family. This silly remake of a 1979 horror classic – based on an allegedly true story – pours on the dripping blood and horrific special effects, but more often provides unintentional laughs instead of chills. Reynolds and George don’t possess the gravity to make the family’s situation believable, and a script that ladles on the cliches further sabotages the action.
Grade: : C Kinsey Scale: 1 (George had a small part in the lesboerotic “Mulholland Drive,” while co-star Philip Baker Hall appeared in the Charles Busch drag comedy “Die, Mommie, Die.”)
While a detective (Don Cheadle) investigates an African-American policeman’s murder at the hands of a white fellow officer, a racist beat patrolman (Matt Dillon) disgusts his liberal partner (Ryan Phillippe) when he humiliates a black TV director (Terrence Howard) and his wife (Thandie Newton) at a traffic stop. Those are just two story threads in this multi-layered, mosaic-like drama that investigates issues of race and class among Los Angelenos. “Million Dollar Baby” scribe Paul Haggis’ script is overly schematic in its dependence on coincidence to move the interlocking stories forward, but his characters are unforgettable, and the situations in which they find themselves are as fresh as today’s headlines. The awesomely talented ensemble is terrific, particularly Cheadle and Dillon as jaded cops who undergo unexpected epiphanies.
Grade: : B+ Kinsey Scale: 1 (Haggis could have delved even deeper into society with the addition of gay or lesbian characters, but he limits himself to issues of race and class. Dillon, Phillippe, Howard, and co-stars Jennifer Esposito, Brendan Fraser, and Keith David have all appeared in gay-themed films.)
High-powered consultant Lindsey (Drew Barrymore) falls hard for math teacher Ben (Jimmy Fallon), who is sensitive, kind, and unthreatened by her success. But when she discovers that he is a rabid Boston Red Sox fan, it’s Lindsey who feels threatened by his love for the team. This is one of those romantic comedies that presumes a strictly heterosexual universe where men and women can never get along. It paints a world where women, no matter how successful, are only really interested in their relationships, while men are depicted as childish for caring about things outside of theirs – a premise both dated and insulting. Still, Ben’s fellow Sox fanatics are hilarious, and, however weak the central story, seeing a replay of Boston’s curse-breaking 2004 season is pretty wonderful.
Grade: : B- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Barrymore is bisexual and starred in the somewhat homoerotic “Poison Ivy” and the lesbian drama “Boys on the Side.” Co-stars Ione Sky, Marissa Jaret Winokur, Michael Rubenfeld, Willie Garson, and Jackie Burroughs have all appeared in gay-themed projects.)
With her parents, Percy (Bernie Mac) and Marilyn (Judith Scott), about to celebrate their 25th anniversary, Theresa (Zoe Saldana) thinks it’s the perfect opportunity to introduce her boyfriend, Simon (Ashton Kutcher), and announce their engagement. But her African-American family only finds out that Simon is white when they meet him, throwing everyone, especially over-protective Percy, for a loop. This comedy works best when it confines itself to physical bits of slapstick, as when Simon teaches Percy to tango. The rest of it plays like an overlong sitcom, with tired race jokes and hackneyed put-upon-dad gags alternating with moments of cringe-inducing sentimentality. Mac makes the best of an underwritten part with a forceful, charismatic performance, stealing the movie away from bland, pretty-boy Kutcher.
Grade: : C Kinsey Scale: 1 (Percy in convinced that the party planner for the anniversary fete is gay, while his wife insists he’s merely metrosexual. There are a few fleeting moments of gay panic when Percy and Simon hit the dance floor and share a bed.)
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
When the earth is destroyed, mild-mannered Englishman Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) and his intergalactic travel-writer pal, Ford Prefect (Mos Def), become galaxy-hopping hitchhikers. Romantic entanglements and life-threatening adventures ensue when they land on a stolen spaceship manned by renegade galaxy president Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell) and the girl Arthur adores, Trillion (Zooey Deschanel). The late Douglas Adams’ cult sci-fi series comes to the big screen in a dazzling display of special effects and animatronics, but it is the amiable cast, witty dialogue, and Alan Rickman’s magnificently crabby tone as the voice of depressed robot Marvin that provide the movie’s chief charms. Purists may balk that the balance has shifted from science fiction to romantic comedy, but the fleshed-out love story is sweetly appealing.
Grade: : B Kinsey Scale: 1 (Gay actor/filmmaker Stephen Fry has a voice-only role. Co-star Anna Chancellor appeared in the lesbian drama “Tipping the Velvet,” while co-star John Malkovich played queer director F.W. Murnau in “Shadow of the Vampire.”)
House of Wax
When twins Carly (Elisha Cuthbert) and Nick (Chad Michael Murray) and a group of friends encounter car trouble en route to a sports event, they wind up in a small, deserted town. However, the town’s wax museum isn’t empty – its residents are also twins, ones who delight in killing stranded motorists and making wax figures out of their corpses. This “re-imagining” of the 1953 Vincent Price film shares practically nothing with its predecessor. For starters, it’s brutally violent, picking off its characters in especially sadistic ways. And the inclusion of do-nothing socialite Paris Hilton in the cast is hilariously distracting – she can’t even run away from psychos convincingly. But the killings are inventive in their nastiness, the blood flows freely, and the wax-melting final moments are a marvel of digital technology. Just don’t go in expecting to be scared.
Grade: : C+ Kinsey Scale: 1 (None of the young cast has any queer-related credits, but there are a few innocuous moments of male characters engaging in gay-baiting banter with one another. And lead bad boy Murray winds up shirtless once for no reason related to the movie’s plot.)
United Nations interpreter Silvia Broome (Nicole Kidman) returns to her listening post after business hours and overhears conspirators discussing a plot to assassinate her country’s president. Secret Service agent Tobin Keller (Sean Penn) is assigned to investigate the matter, although he suspects Silvia is either lying or a potential assassin herself. This paranoid thriller suffers from a miscast Kidman and a plot that hinges on too many coincidences, so it is a credit to director Sydney Pollack that he is able to maintain a steady level of suspense despite those distractions. The real reasons to see the film, though, are for the peek it provides into the U.N., and for Penn, who infuses his depressed, skeptical lawman with a kind of wounded grace.
Grade: : B- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Kidman won her Oscar for playing bisexual writer Virginia Woolf in “The Hours,” while Penn appeared in the queer-themed “Before Night Falls.” Pollack directed and co-starred in “Tootsie,” and currently plays Will’s dad on “Will & Grace.”)
Kingdom of Heaven
Simple French blacksmith Balian (Orlando Bloom) becomes involved in major battles during the 12th-century Crusades. He’s brave but spiritually conflicted, managing along his journey through the ravages of war to reconnect with his long-lost father (Liam Neeson), to romance a princess (Eva Green), and to work his way up the ladder of Roman success and lead the battle for Jerusalem. And while the story is formulaic and the boyish Orlando Bloom lacks the sort of gravitas that Russell Crowe brought to “Gladiator,” “Kingdom” is a staggeringly good-looking epic, one that does its best to be even-handed about religious wars in this cultural moment of religious tension. In fact, for a Hollywood take on the Crusades, its sweep is almost matched by its commitment – more or less – to historical accuracy. Who would have guessed that a holy war could be so much popcorn fun?
Grade: : B Kinsey Scale: 1 (Bloom’s first screen role was as a rent boy in “Wilde,” Neeson starred in “Kinsey,” and co-star Jeremy Irons starred in the gay drama “Callas Forever” as well as in “M. Butterfly.” Co-star David Thewlis played queer poet Paul Verlaine in “Total Eclipse.”)
Undersea expert Dirk Pitt (Matthew McConaughey) and his sidekick, Al (Steve Zahn), are on a mission to hunt down a lost Confederate ship they believe drifted across the ocean to African waters. They cross paths with a U.N. doctor (Penelope Cruz) who’s researching what seems to be a plague, and collide with French corporate criminals, tribal warlord baddies, and one action sequence after another in a mixed-up stew of a plot. The ridiculous pile-up of characters and perilous moments would be unforgivable if the movie weren’t so much fun. Sure, there’s no reason to believe that any of it could happen – much less that Cruz and McConaughey’s characters could find time to fall in love in the middle of it – but this popcorn movie is so handsomely crafted and excitingly paced that believability is the least of its concerns. It just wants to entertain, and does so with exuberance to spare.
Grade: : B- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Zahn appeared in “The Object of My Affection,” played gay in “Reality Bites,” and pretended to be gay in “Happy, Texas.” Cruz played an HIV-positive nun in Pedro Almodovar’s “All About My Mother”)
xXx: State of the Union
When gunmen breach his heavily fortified offices, NSA agent Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) knows that it is time to go underground and recruit a new super-secret operative. For this new XXX, Gibbons turns to imprisoned ex-Navy SEAL Darius Stone (Ice Cube), and before long both men realize that a growing conspiracy threatens the very freedom of the United States. This ridiculous action thriller arrives in theaters dead on arrival, which is appropriate given its extravagant body count. The acting is generally abysmal, the premise is ridiculous, and while there are plenty of laughs, they are nearly all unintentional. Gearheads will appreciate the many muscle cars on display, but the only real entertainment value in this movie is in the spectacle of its many explosions.
Grade: : D Kinsey Scale: 1 (Co-star Willem Dafoe has appeared in several gay-themed films and worked with John Waters on “Cry-Baby.”)