Did you know there are scientifically documented cases of very young children who had spontaneous memories of things and people and places they could never possibly have known about? Apparently The Return’s screenwriter Adam Sussman discovered this phenomenon and created the character Joanna Mills (Sarah Michelle Gellar) a young woman who since she was 11-years-old has been having disjointed flashbacks of some horrible attack she never experienced herself. She flashes regularly on a dank bar paintings of seahorses and ends up hiding from a man who calls her "Sunshine.” And who knew hearing Patsy Cline on your radio would spell supernatural trouble? The best part is when Joanna has one of these episodes she ends up cutting herself. Needless to say the girl’s a tad screwed up. Eventually Joanna finds herself inexplicably drawn to La Salle Texas where she finally starts to piece together the murder mystery that has been plaguing her for so long. Thank god! Someone just needs to hand Sarah Michelle Gellar a Coke and a smile. Forget about being a scream queen Gellar has become the queen of depression with the two Grudges and now The Return under her belt. She has actually made an art form of sad teary-eyed stares in the mirror sinking onto a bed with head in hand and general malaise. She also plays scared pretty well but deep down you know at any moment Gellar can get all Buffy the Vampire Slayer on whoever is threatening her especially as the tough Joanna. But the actress has to be getting tired of all this despair so let’s hope she decides to move on. The other Return cast members really aren’t worth mentioning except for a brief appearance by Sam Shepherd as Joanna’s dad. One can only imagine he did this for some extra cash. The Return is one of those cases in which the trailer makes the movie look a hell of a lot scarier than it really is which is probably why the studio didn’t pre-screen it for critics. It’s a marketing ploy of course pitching a thriller with an established horror actress attached--except this time they are messing with their built-in audience. Reminiscent of the truly creepy What Lies Beneath The Return may have a few jumps and bumps here and there but as a ghost story there isn’t any oomph. Maybe it has something to do with the ultra-depressive main character who isn’t nearly developed enough. We aren’t invested in what happens to Joanna or the woman periodically possessing her so she can solve her murder. The Return doesn’t measure up to its expectations lulling us instead of thrilling us.
Out patrolling a California highway officer Edward Malus (Nicolas Cage) picks up a lost doll that will change his life forever. After returning the doll to the little girl who dropped it from her mom’s station wagon their car goes up in flames rendering Edward hurt and unable to help them. After months of Edward trying to mentally escape the tragic scene with the aid of pills he receives a little reprieve from his ex-fiancé Willow (Kate Beahan) who calls for his help regarding her lost daughter. He promptly travels to the mysterious Summersisle an island in Washington State where Willow lives. There life revolves around the matriarch Sister Summersisle (Ellen Burstyn) and a ritual known as “the Day of Death and Rebirth.” Edward thinks therein lay the clues to the missing little girl but each step forward in his investigation brings him that much closer to meeting the Wicker Man. Cage is a star but some of his bad choices and misfortunes have kept him from being a megastar. File Wicker Man under “bad choices and misfortunes”--Cage can’t win here. The man’s incapable of a bad performance but he’s somewhat miscast as a haunted California policeman--that description immediately doesn’t fit the actor and calls to mind someone else--and the film’s overall incoherence buries him in the end more so than the rest of the cast. As for those supporters Burstyn predictably fares best though she’s not immune to the bevy of ridiculous images the film serves up. As Cage’s beleaguered ex-fiancé Beahan (Flightplan) too isn’t bad but she doesn’t always look the part of a pagan-like village woman even though her character had previously ventured into the real world. And turns--or more like cameos--from Frances Conroy (HBO’s Six Feet Under) and Leelee Sobieski (Joy Ride) misfire horrendously. Wicker Man is a remake of the 1973 (borderline) cult classic of the same name automatically giving off stenches of “unnecessary” and “pedestrian ” but director Neil LaBute (Nurse Betty In the Company of Men) mostly fails to live up to even those expectations. LaBute highly talented and often keen on much more offbeat projects apparently tried for a mixture of Hitchcock mystery and Witness-like intrigue but his modern update doesn’t add up. The suspense just isn’t there and in place of what should’ve been darker more fitting explorations of the village--such as forbidden-fruit sexual undertones and opportunities for genuine horror moments some of which are possible during the daytime by the way--are by-the-book PG-13 elements. Towards the end LaBute’s script (which he co-wrote)--and movie--unravels as Cage goes all Steven Seagal on us even karate-kicking women! Also the film looks gorgeous but Summersisle often appears more like a pristine getaway than a haunted village.
Still grieving for her dead husband she's taking back to the United States to bury Kyle Pratt (Jodie Foster) faces every mother's worst nightmare when her 6-year-old daughter Julia (Marlene Lawston) vanishes without a trace on a state-of-the-art 474 aircraft en route from Berlin to New York. Already emotionally devastated Kyle desperately struggles to prove her sanity to the disbelieving flight crew and passengers while facing the very real possibility that she may be losing her mind. You see all evidence indicates that her daughter was never onboard. Julia's name isn't on the manifest and she does not have a boarding pass. In fact there are no traces that the girl exists save for a stuffed bear Kyle carries around. While Capt. Rich (Sean Bean) or U.S. Air Marshal Gene Carson (Peter Sarsgaard) want to doubt the bereaved widow it becomes increasingly clear that Kyle is unstable and her adamancy is causing a slight panic among the plane's crew and passengers. Finding herself desperately alone Kyle can only rely on her own wits to solve the mystery and save her daughter. If she has one that is.
Jodie Foster can't help but lend credible intelligence to her films but unfortunately she is sometimes just too good for the movie she's in. This is sort of the case with Flightplan. Things start off very somber and moving as Foster heartbreakingly shows us a woman barely keeping it together. The pain of losing her husband is etched over her face but when Kyle looks at her adorable daughter--played convincingly by the young Lawston--you can see a glimmer of hope she'll get through it. Of course that is until Julia disappears and Kyle goes a little haywire. For any mother in the audience this surely will strike a chord. But as the plot twists and turns Foster is then required to turn into something of a supermom with super intellect and super brawn. Much like she was in her last film Panic Room Foster's the mother bear trying to save her cub from threatening forces. The Oscar-winning actress can pull it off natch but the story doesn't completely hold up to the acting. Sarsgaard (Kinsey) too has the ability to make anything he's in that much better and sparring with Foster as the seemingly patient U.S. Air Marshal Carson is just another notch in the actor's ever-widening belt of strong supporting performances. The rest of the cast follow suit as well most notably Sean Bean (Lord of the Rings) as the beleaguered but kind captain just trying to help a woman he believes is simply crazy with grief. It's a change of pace for him since he usually plays the villain. Also good are Erika Christensen (Traffic) as a caring flight attendant and newcomer Kate Beahan as her co-worker who could care less. It's a thankless job but somebody's got to do it.
For a movie contained entirely in the claustrophobic environment of a jumbo jet you better make damn sure the aircraft is esthetically pleasing. Flightplan plane's a real stunner. Of course the Aalto Air's E-474 jumbo jet--with its plush first-class accommodations (including a lounge) spacious coach cabin spiral staircases and most especially an immaculately clean and shiny interior--doesn't really exist but you hope maybe the aerodynamic engineers out there will take notice and start building them. German indie director Robert Schwentke (Tatoo) is very adept at creating the palpable tension within the main cabin as Kyle runs around frantically searching and stirring up paranoia among the other passengers. Flightplan also plays upon the fearfulness and distrust in air travel these days as did the recent taut thriller Red-Eye. But what we are really waiting for is the twist. Is Kyle really going off the deep end á la The Forgotten? Or is there some kind of conspiracy going on? Alas when the mystery is solved it's sort of a letdown only because the final whopper is just a wee bit contrived. Regardless you'll still enjoy the ride up to the final moments.
Steve and Terri Irwin are crocodile relocators in Far North Queensland Australia. They spend a lot of time well relocating crocs--saving a baby kangaroo and charming a few snakes along the way. But all that's about to change. A U.S. satellite has exploded in space and its black box has re-entered the atmosphere and ended up in the gut of a nasty 12-foot croc the Irwins are about to relocate. The FBI CIA and goodness knows what other agencies are out to find the box at any cost because it contains data that could change the world's power structure. When the agents cross paths with the Irwins they become convinced that the two croc hunters are actually spies mainly because as one agent says toward the end of the film "You don't make that kind of money in cable television." That's for sure and that's probably the reason the producers turned The Crocodile Hunter cable show into a movie. It definitely wasn't because the script was irresistible: The plot is as transparent as shed snakeskin and the acting (if it can be called that) is as stiff as the spikes on a croc's back. I'm sure this is the kind of movie that a critic shouldn't take seriously but from its lizard-pooh opening to its crocodile-pooh finish The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course really stinks.
Director/story writer/producer John Stainton was working with Irwin long before The Crocodile Hunter TV show became an international hit. In fact he wrote a movie script for Irwin in the mid-1990s that was scrapped because he didn't think Irwin should be acting. It's a shame he didn't take that thought process one step further; we'd all have been spared an agonizing guided tour of a good idea gone very very bad. The film's stars while appealing enough in the one-hour documentary format simply can't sustain a full-length motion picture and Mr. Irwin would have done well to heed his own advice--"Don't muck with it." Granted at least Stainton was smart enough to present the Irwins doing what they do best--enthusiastically working with wild animals while talking straight into the camera. The task of plot development is left to the other cast members--mainly Australian actors doing caricatures of Americans--who overdramatically play out the goofy spy plot in scenes that are completely separate from the Irwins' animal antics until the last 10 minutes of the film. The Irwin family dog Sui is probably the best actor of the bunch--and the smartest too. Most of the time she looks like she'd rather be just about anywhere else which is the most intelligent thing anybody in this film does.
As if anybody needed it The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course is proof that what works on TV doesn't necessarily make a good movie; the Crocodile Hunter documentary routine quickly grows frustrating in the film because the Irwin scenes do nothing to further what little plot the movie actually has. Plus the reason why the Irwins continually talk into the camera goes unexplained until the very end of the film--and when someone finally mentions the fact that the Irwins have been "filming" their show throughout the movie it's so offhand that it's easily missed. At the same time the spy storyline that drives the plot is trite and because of the movie's bizarre structure it's played out by actors the audience couldn't care less about rather than by the ones they came to see. The spy scenes separate the Irwin segments like commercials--and like commercials when they come on you just want to get up and go to the bathroom grab a snack or feed the dog. The best thing that can be said for Stainton's direction is that at least he's not afraid of the film's ridiculousness. Bad though the movie is in every way Stainton puts it all out there as enthusiastically as Steve Irwin wrestles crocs and that's saying something. The film also gets across the Irwins' admittedly important message about conservation loud and clear but that probably won't be enough to keep its audience from becoming extinct.