Director Alexander Payne's (Election Sideways) new film opens over sprawling landscape shots of Hawaii's scenic suburbia accompanied by George Clooney's character Matt King summing up his current predicament: "Paradise can go fuck itself." The reaction unfortunately is reasonable.
We pick up with King an ancestor of Hawaiian royalty in the middle of deliberations over a plot of land handed down through his family over generations. With every uncle aunt and cosign whispering opinions into his ear King is suddenly presented with an even greater problem: taking care of his two daughters. A boating accident leaves his wife in a coma forcing Matt to take a true parenting role with his young socially-troubled daughter Scottie (Amara Miller) and his rebellious teen Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) who was previously shipped off to boarding school. Matt awkwardly hunts for the emotional glue necessary for the mismatched bunch to become "a family " but matters are made even more complicated when Alex reveals that her mother was cheating on him before the accident. Murphy's Law is in full effect.
With The Descendants Payne continues to explore and discover the inherent humor in life's melancholic situations unfolding Matt's quest for understanding like a road movie across Hawaii's many islands. Simultaneously preparing for the end of his wife's death and searching for the identity of her lover Matt crosses paths with a number of perfectly cast side characters who act as mirrors to his best and worst qualities: his father-in-law Scott (Robert Foster) who belittles Matt for never taking care of his daughter; Hugh (Beau Bridges) an opportunistic cousin who pressures Matt to sell the land; Alexandra's dunce of a boyfriend Sid (Nick Krause) who always has the wrong thing to say; and Julie (Judy Greer) the wife of the adulterer in question. Colorful yet real Matt experiences a definitive moment with each of them yet the picture never feels sporadic or episodic.
Clooney and Woodley help gel these sequences together as they observe experience and butt heads as equals. Clooney's own magnetism stands in the way of making Matt a fully dimensional character but he shines when playing off his quick-witted daughter. His reactions are heartbreaking—but it's the moments when he has to put himself out there that never quite ring true. But the script by Nat Faxon Jim Rash and Payne gives Clooney plenty of opportunities to work his magic visualizing his struggle as opposed to vomiting it out like so many of today's talky dramas.
The Descendants is a tender cinematic experience an introspective and heartwarming film unafraid to convey its story with pleasing simplicity. Clooney stands out with a solid performance but like many of Payne's films it's the eclectic ensemble and muted backdrop that give the movie its real texture. The paradise of Descendants isn't all its cracked up to be but for movie-goers it's bliss.
Top Story: Talk Show Host Paar Dies
Jack Paar, who helped pioneer the late-night talk show popularity by turning the The Tonight Show into a runaway hit in the late '50s, early '60s, died Tuesday in Greenwich, Conn., after battling a long illness and suffering a stroke last year, The Associated Press reports. He was 85. Paar took over the fledgling talker from Steve Allen in 1957, turning it into a late-night staple for viewers across the country. During his run as host, Paar championed such entertainers as Jonathan Winters, Bob Newhart, Carol Burnett, Woody Allen and Bill Cosby and coined the phrase, "I kid you not." Johnny Carson, a rather uncanny Paar look-alike, took over the show in 1962 when Paar decided to pursue other avenues. Carson was at his Malibu, Calif., home when he got word of Paar's death, AP reports. In a statement, he said he was "very saddened to hear of his passing. He was a unique personality who brought a new dimension to late-night television."
ABC To Be Millionaires Again
Two years after it went off the air, ABC is bringing back a special version of the primetime game show Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? with host Regis Philbin, The Associated Press reports, for a sweeps event next month. The game show, Super Millionaire, in which contestants will vie for a $10 million prize, will air over course of six days starting Feb. 22.
Britney, Beyonce and Pink Go Pepsi
The trio of pop divas were in London Monday to watch the premiere of the Pepsi commercial they made with Latin heartthrob Enrique Iglesias, which features the classic Queen song "We Will Rock You," Reuters reports. The Gladiator-themed commercial was filmed in Rome with Iglesias in the role of the evil emperor. It was given a Hollywood-style premiere at London's National Gallery, Reuters reports. Spears, signing autographs for hordes of fans, said she was thrilled to work with her co-stars. "It's amazing to work with artists like Pink and Beyonce. It's really, really cool. You want to pinch yourself," she told Reuters. "This was a thrill beyond belief."
Lewis Back to Old Self
A more svelte Jerry Lewis returned home after a three-month hospital stay in Las Vegas, where he shed 50 pounds after undergoing a managed withdrawal from prednisone, the steroid he had been taking for his chronic lung ailment pulmonary fibrosis, Reuters reports. He was discharged from the facility on Jan. 16 and plans to make a return engagement Mar. 3 at Orleans Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, where he had been a regular performer before his health worsened nearly three years ago. His publicist said his first show might end up being reserved entirely for family, friends and celebrities, and thus may not be open to the public.
CBS, Fox Pick Up Promising Pilots
In the latest hunt for new shows, CBS chose the comedy The Amazing Westerbergs, which, according to the Hollywood Reporter, comes from Spin City alumni Jay Scherick and David Ronn and chronicles the lives of two twentysomething brothers in Manhattan who were raised to think they could accomplish anything but are confronting a different reality. Meanwhile, Fox decided to give the drama Point Pleasant a try, which is described as Peyton Place meets The Omen, about a beachside community that is turned upside down when a mysterious dead girl washes ashore.
NAACP Fetes Dave Matthews Band
The Dave Matthews Band will receive the special Chairman's Award at the upcoming NAACP Image Awards for its devotion to social and environmental causes and its "dignified representation of people of color," the civil rights group told AP. With the awards, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People honors people and companies that support positive change for people of color in arts and entertainment. The honor will be bestowed at the Mar. 6 awards ceremony in Los Angeles, which will then be broadcast on Fox Mar. 11.
Role Call: Peet, Kutcher in Love, Sarsgaard's Got a Skeleton in His Closet
Amanda Peet and Ashton Kutcher will join forces in the romantic comedy A Lot Like Love. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the film revolves around a guy and a girl who manage to resist their mutual attraction over the years only to see fate throwing them back together…Meanwhile, Peter Sarsgaard, getting some attention for his turn in Shattered Glass, is in negotiations to play Kate Hudson's love interest in The Skeleton Key. The trade paper reports the New Orleans-set story follows a young woman (Hudson) who begins to experience spooky things in the home of the elderly couple for whom she's caring.
Police academy reject Earl (Martin Lawrence) has locked his keys in his car and has his arm shoved through the driver side window's narrow opening when L.A.P.D. officer Hank (Steve Zahn) takes notice. But an otherwise routine traffic stop escalates out of control when a bumblebee flies into the picture. It turns out Earl is allergic to bees so a well-intentioned Hank swats at it with his nightstick. A bystander catches the whole thing on videotape but with the car obscuring the view it really looks like another Rodney King-esque police beating. The incident--one of those rare sidesplitting movie moments--sets off a chain of events for the two main characters: There's a hearing and fearing another riot on their hands the L.A.P.D. kicks Hank off the force and sentences him to prison for six months. Hank and Earl's paths cross again however when fate has the two partnered as security guards who uncover a smuggling operation led by L.A.P.D.'s not-so-finest. The rest of the plot isn't really that crucial. The story has its share of problems but it's simply there as a vehicle for Lawrence's shtick and for this purpose it works.
As a comedian Lawrence has always courted controversy and his edginess has made him the kind of entertainer that people either love or hate. Bill Cosby for example criticized Lawrence's 1990s sitcom Martin for reinforcing negative stereotypes of blacks while the NAACP honored him with its Image Award for the very same series. The PG-13 National Security features a milder Lawrence especially coming on the heels of his last feature the R-rated concert film Martin Lawrence Live: Runteldat. But although Lawrence throws in a few raunchy zingers--don't be surprised if you catch yourself laughing at some slightly misogynistic jokes--he retains that likeable quality he has and his knack for physical comedy. His partner in security guard crime is played by Zahn (Joy Ride) whose easygoing style actually blends well with Lawrence's. And although his comedic flair is oftentimes overshadowed by Lawrence's charisma he seems content in the passenger seat. If this film has a saving grace it's definitely Lawrence and Zahn's onscreen antics.
Director Dennis Dugan (Saving Silverman) delivers a crude looking picture that is rough around the edges. The special effects are generic and a little cheesy. There are plenty of screeching car chases that end in fiery collisions and a fair share of clumsy fight sequences. Even the script penned by Jay Scherick and David Ronn (the duo responsible for that Serving Sara calamity) starts off feeling a bit too "jokey"; some of Lawrence's lines sound as though they are lifted straight from a standup routine. But once the Earl and Hank characters mix the script actually generates a decent amount of laughs that are less clotted with obvious setups and predictable punch lines. More importantly National Security stays clear of those touchy poignant moments that have ruined so many buddy flicks. Unfortunately like his last two comedies What's the Worst That Could Happen? and Black Knight this film is unlikely to turn much of a profit and Lawrence may have to wait on Bad Boys 2 for meatier box office receipts.