To say that Meet the Spartans is a spoof of 300 is to suggest that there is some semblance of a storyline mocking that the 2007 blockbuster epic; I refuse to give it that much credit. Rather this movie is a lame-ass excuse to randomly throw jabs at pop culture and in extreme emergencies “advance” the “plot”--which only really makes fun of 300’s subtexts not its story. It all starts in ancient Sparta where a young Leonidas (Sean Maguire) is groomed to defeat the evil Xerxes (Ken Davitian “the fat guy from Borat ” which is essentially how the movie introduces him) and the invading Persians (led by Method Man). But really Spartans is all about the atrociously unfunny parodies that litter its not-brief-enough 80 minutes: Transformers Stomp the Yard Happy Feet American Idol Dancing with the Stars Ugly Betty Anna Nicole Britney Paris homosexuality bodily functions--they’re all spoofed here! A truly groundbreaking concept indeed. Formerly up-and-coming British actor Maguire (England's EastEnders) must’ve thought a lead role no matter how bad the movie would beget bigger jobs in the near future. Oops! Didn’t he ever hear of Adam Campbell the like-minded bloke whose biggest role since headlining Date Movie was last year’s Epic Movie? In short actors looking to break out should not be tempted by crap like this. It’s the same story: Maguire can obviously act but he makes a complete fool of himself in the process and now must give his career time to recover. He only bears a slight physical resemblance to the actor he’s parodying Gerard Butler (when heavily bearded) and otherwise spends the movie uttering the worst possible lines when not subjecting himself to scenes so mortifying that they’re like some kind of Fear Factor for Actors. Elsewhere the usual D-listers pop up for a shot at regaining quasi-relevance. Carmen Electra now a veteran of this franchise--lucky her!--plays Leonidas' wife and is leaned on for nothing more than her hotness. Which is more than can be said about everyone else from a clearly desperate-for-work Kevin Sorbo (Andromeda) as one of Leonidas’ ‘yes’ men to Method Man whose heretofore-horrible film résumé just got worse. Whereas Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer’s Scary/Epic/Date Movie spoofs might’ve bore the “this probably wasn’t as easy to come up with as it seems” tag Spartans looks like something from a script they found in the garbage can at a middle school: Not only is it pure trash unworthy of being released but the “jokes ” if you will were seemingly written by and for 13- to-14-year-olds. Not one second of the movie is even implicitly deserving of a snicker; instead it’s actually antagonizing to watch as Friedberg and Seltzer bombard us with scene after scene of the shallowest material ever committed to celluloid. This is the absolute dreg of cinema the lowest of the low not to be confused with “lowbrow ” which would be an unfair compliment in this case. Spartans even fails miserably in trying to make fun of the few pop-culturisms that deserve it and the least the writer-directors could’ve done was hire actors who physically resemble the celebs they’re spoofing! Friedberg and Seltzer are just utterly allergic to originality: Obviously you don’t expect the story to be original since it’s all a rip-off to begin with but they can’t even spin any of it into a single original gag. And they're so lost during the few non-spoof scenes that they resort to the dreaded pratfalls. Seriously these dudes make Uwe Boll look like Orson Welles.
P.J. Hogan's Peter Pan follows J.M. Barrie's story almost to the letter. A girl on the brink of womanhood Wendy Darling (newcomer Rachel Hurd-Wood) loves telling her brothers John (Harry Newell) and Michael (Freddie Popplewell) stories of dastardly pirates as they sit in their nursery under the watchful eye of their St. Bernard Nana. Her 19th-century Londoner parents however believe the time has come for the young girl to grow up especially her father. Then a cheeky wild-haired boy named Peter Pan (Jeremy Sumpter) flies through the nursery window one night with his trusted yet jealousy-prone fairy Tinkerbell (Ludivine Sagnier) telling Wendy he can take her to a place full of adventure where no one ever has to grow up. She readily accepts the offer and with a few happy thoughts some fairy dust and her two brothers in tow she flies off to Neverland. (Not the ranch…the real place.) Once there Wendy encounters mermaids Indians and the Lost Boys (who refer to her as "mother") and gets the whole pirate experience in Peter's ongoing feud with arch-nemesis Captain Hook (Jason Isaacs). But Wendy soon becomes conflicted because on the one hand she likes hangin' with hottie Peter but on the other she misses her mother. She decides it's probably best to go back and grow up but in her hurry to leave she ends up in Hook's clutches. A rescue ensues. Swords clash ticking crocodiles are fed and fairies are saved as our clever fly boy zooms Wendy and company back to London on a giant pirate ship. But does he stay and grow up himself? Hell no he's a Toys 'R Us kid forever!
All the kid actors in Peter Pan are highly watchable and appealing with angelic faces peaches-and-cream complexions and pouty cherry lips. This is the first time Peter is being played by a real-life boy a fact much hyped by the filmmakers and 12-year-old Sumpter (Frailty) does his best to live up to the expectations. (He's soon to be swoon-worthy material for sure.) He's got a mischievous gleam in his eye and a great sly smile but he really lights up when he's looking into Wendy's adorable face. Hurd-Wood the first-time actress who plays the spirited girl earned her role after a long and involved casting process it's well deserved; she fits the typical English-girl profile perfectly and gets the hang of her craft quickly infusing the character with a natural cheerful energy. It's also refreshing to see the young actors play up Wendy and Peter's feelings of first love which prior films always hinted at but never fully realized. Isaacs in a dual role as the firm-but-loving Mr. Darling and the frightening comical lonely charming needy reprehensible Captain Hook draws on his experience at playing exquisitely awful baddies (The Patriot Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) and really sinks his claws into Hook. In a stand out supporting role French actress Sagnier (Swimming Pool) is really fantastic as the vivacious non-speaking Tinkerbell portraying the fairy's conflicted emotions with a silent-film over-the-top technique.
Director/writer P.J. Hogan (My Best Friend's Wedding) and his team try to distinguish their film from the other Peter Pans of the world by using all the technical and special effects wizardry at their disposal. Hogan says his Peter Pan is the way its author Barrie intended to be when he wrote it as a play over a 100 years ago--full of fantasy and wonder. In a way he's right and production designer Roger Ford and visual effects supervisor Scott Farrar take his vision and run with it giving audiences a very lush Neverland with waterfalls fluffy pink clouds crystal-blue waters and a gorgeous fairy world. But despite the bells and whistles there really isn't anything original and different in this Pan. Even its look at the dark side of Neverland has been done in Steven Spielberg's 1991 semi-sequel Hook which showed the dangers of Neverland. In this version lives really are at stake and the pirates are not cute and fun. Even the mermaids are mysterious and malevolent with scary faces and murderous intentions a far cry from the beautiful if somewhat mean-spirited creatures of the 1953 classic Disney animated adaptation another inescapable influence on the audience. When the crocodile draws near for example tick-tocking away the croc's signature tune from the Disney film comes immediately to mind. People may love those Disney films for those cutesy catchy songs but Peter Pan really is a good story. Heck it's a great story. But it's just been done.