As a legendary Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer Ben Randall (Kevin Costner) was all heart and no regret. But it all comes undone in the span of one night when he goes out to the menacing seas with his crew to make a rescue and he is the sole survivor. Following that fateful night he’s ordered to teach at “A” School--a demotion for a man of his stature and seniority--an elite training program that helps turn the best recruits into the best Rescue Swimmers. Randall teaches the cocky students the only way he knows how and his tough tough love is initially met with skepticism by his fellow trainers who think of him as a has-been. But one student in particular Jake Fischer (Ashton Kutcher) catches his eye and draws his ire. Fischer is cocky hotheaded and highly skilled--just the right pedigree to make a great Rescue Swimmer and a lot like Randall was at his age. Randall rides him extra-hard while Fischer only hopes to one day be in the same boat as his mentor. Be careful what you wish for Jake! Costner's always been an acquired taste--sometimes a downright noxious one on first bite--but there's no denying he slides right in here. Roles that feature him as the aging provider of wisdom are now his true calling and the sooner he accepts it the better. And even still Costner gets to flex his action muscle a bit. As for Kutcher the only thing he shares in common with Costner is the last two letters of his last name--as actors these guys are each other’s antitheses! And in a weird way they strike a nice chemistry because of it one that is borderline exciting to watch. As a standalone actor in The Guardian Kutcher is a bit misplaced and seems to know it. He nails the physicality of the role but while the character's attitude and brashness befit Kutcher the peak dramatic scenes with Costner leave something to be desired. A pleasantly surprising turn from relative unknown Melissa Sagemiller (The Clearing) as Kutcher's girl toy and reliable supporting performances from Sela Ward and Neal McDonough round out the cast. Director Andrew Davis' proximity to his career peak The Fugitive cannot be measured in time: He's a lot further away from the mega-hit than a mere 13 years. But in Hollywood if you have a Fugitive under your belt you'll never run out of chances to replicate it. That's the current juncture for Davis--one last shot at Fugitive glory...till his next last shot. It's hard to say what The Guardian will do at the box office but Davis' stodgy direction doesn't necessarily help its chances. The movie can be boiled down to awful pacing: the first and last 15 minutes are high-octane action and everything in between is low-octane Top Gun (the non-action scenes!). That blame belongs to Davis and writer Ron L. Brinkerhoff. But only Davis can shoulder the other flaws such as a single scene of dubious camerawork--filmed to look like handheld-montage style completely deviating from the movie's context--and the special effects during the somewhat cheesy action sequences which may remind you of a theme-park tour during which you learn how they filmed a boat scene...in the '80s!
Milwaukee Brewers' big swinger Stan Ross (Bernie Mac) is a baseball star--a man with big talent a bigger mouth and an even bigger ego. Nine years ago he achieved legendary status by getting 3 000 base hits and was revered by his fans but had burned most of the bridges with everyone else especially when he stuck it to his team by abruptly retiring from the game. No matter. Stan spent years capitalizing on his "Mr. 3000" persona and now is just waiting for his final honor--induction into the Hall of Fame. What he gets instead however is a slap in the face when it's discovered that three of his 3 000 hits aren't valid making him only "Mr. 2 997." To reclaim his record Stan is forced to return to the field and play once again for his former team and earn those three hits--and it ain't easy. The game has changed and so has he--pushing 50 Ross is faced with both physical and mental challenges. Not only must he measure up to the new kids on the block like the Brewers' cocky power hitter T-Rex Pennebaker (Brian White) he also has to contend with less-than-supportive sports journalists especially his former flame Mo Simmons (Angela Bassett) all of whom remember the lashings they took from invective-spoutin' Stan the Man back in the day. But this time around something happens to Stan. Now hungry to prove himself he finds his love for the sport and his team renewed realizing there is a difference between having a successful life and a meaningful one. See? I told you it was corny.
Bernie Mac is a smart man. Having played smaller but memorable roles in films such as Ocean's Eleven and Bad Santa Mac has made a wise choice picking Mr. 3000 as his first foray into leading man territory. First of all Mac actually used to play the game pretty seriously so you can definitely feel the love but the character also really suits this king of comedy emphasizing his gruff sense of humor (the scene in which he tells a group of school children their favorite story character has died just to shut them up is classic Mac) while also showing off some genuine acting chops as the self-centered Stan tries to change his life. Mac can pull off the romantic stuff too if you can believe it. He clicks immediately with the always-good Bassett as the two put on a rather refreshing display of affection tinged with some obvious history from their shared past. Stan also has a quirky but genuine relationship with his former teammate Boca (as in Boca Raton Fla. because of his trademark velour jogging suits) played by character actor Michael Rispoli (Death to Smoochy). Boca is Stan's only real and honest friend'; his cryptic refrain "That's why I love you man " becomes a running gag throughout the film. Other supporting standouts include White (who is actually a former pro-football player) as Stan's arrogant protégé and Paul Sorvino as the Brewers' stoic team manager who says next to nothing--until it really counts.
Baseball movies always seem to work. There's just something about that all-American pastime that gets moviegoers' emotions stirring--the underdogs; the camaraderie; the jaded ball player; the crack of the bat; the magical home run; the peanut-chomping fans; and of course the pure love of the game. Director Charles Stone III (Drumline) captures a good deal of that in Mr. 3000 as well as adding some funkiness to the proceedings with his savvy cast and a cool old time R&B soundtrack (Earth Wind and Fire gets you grooving every time). Still there's an inherent problem: We've seen this baseball formula done so many times before in better movies such as Bull Durham and The Natural. It's also highly predictable that Stan is going not only learn some lessons about life but will also impart that wisdom and inspiration to his younger teammates. Yeah yeah. Even Stan ends the movie saying "Was that corny enough for you?" It is--but that's why we love it man.
Looney Tunes: Back in Action revisits an age-old Tunes question: Why does the affable Bugs reap all the fame and glory while the egocentric Daffy gets shafted again and again? Our duck friend quite frankly has had it up to his skinny neck playing second fiddle to the carrot muncher. All Daffy wants is a little recognition from the studio but the brothers Warner (actual twin brothers as we come to find out) decide instead to let Daffy out of his contract on the advice of their no-nonsense VP of comedy Kate Houghton (Jenna Elfman). Bugs however knows they're making a mistake. Even though Daff bears the brunt of the abuse Looney Tunes would fail without him and Bugs convinces the powers that be they need the nutty mallard. If the plot had only followed this thread--perhaps showing Daffy on the skids--then maybe the film wouldn't have spiraled into Looneyville. Unfortunately Daffy ends up hooking up with the hunky D.J. Drake (Brendan Fraser) a studio security guard who finds out that his famous movie star father Damian Drake (Timothy Dalton) is really a secret agent hunting for a mysterious diamond known as the Blue Monkey a supernatural gem that can turn the planet's population into monkeys. The evil head of the Acme Corporation Mr. Chairman (Steve Martin) wants the diamond for his own diabolical plans and he's kidnapped D.J.'s dad in an effort to get it. Now the gang has to get the diamond save D.J.'s dad and of course save the world.
It might be a little hard to act subtly around cartoon characters but these aren't your ordinary cutesy Mickey Mouse types. Bugs Daffy Porky Yosemite Sam and Foghorn Leghorn are pros at comic timing able to spar with the best of them throw out zingers without a second thought and slay you with a droll glance at the camera. It isn't really necessary for the human actors to match their madcap-ness; just reacting would have sufficed. Fraser comes off the best of the human bunch; since he's had practice (Monkeybone) he easily interacts with his animated co-stars and deftly handles the doubletakes and jabs at pop culture. Elfman on the other hand sputters and goes bug-eyed every time she encounters silliness. She looks uncomfortable doing the green screen thing especially when she's trying to look natural when peeling a distraught duck from around her waist. Martin's highly anticipated turn as Mr. Chairman turns out to be the biggest disappointment. The over-the-top character is reminiscent of Martin's hysterically funny Rupert the Monkeyboy in 1988's Dirty Rotten Scoundrels but Martin turns Mr. Chairman--an angry schoolboy with knee socks and matted-down hair who never grew up--into a caricature of ridiculous proportions and unlike Rupert who came in small hilarious doses Mr. Chairman gets very tiresome very quickly.
Back in Action's animation is well done more engaging and ambitious than its 1996 predecessor Space Jam in which the action mostly took place in Looney Tunes land; here animated characters go the Who Framed Roger Rabbit? route and Bugs Daffy and the rest coexist harmoniously with humans in the real world. But despite its aspirations Back in Action leaves out vital elements that made Space Jam appealing. While the earlier film stuck to a simple plot Back in Action guided by director Joe Dante (Small Soldiers The 'Burbs) tries too hard to keep things wild and wacky while incorporating elements of '60s heist pics and action-adventure scenes and in the process loses sight of the most important ingredient in any kids movie: the story. Tykes may have limited attention spans but if the story's good they will watch. Granted some individual bits are laugh-out-loud funny particularly the scene in the Warner Bros. commissary where a stuttering Porky Pig complains about being politically incorrect with Speedy Gonzales while an animated Shaggy and Scooby-Doo berate actor Matthew Lillard for playing Shaggy as such a bonehead in the live-action Scooby-Doo. These scenes prove that if any cartoon characters could pass themselves off as real celebrities in the entertainment industry the gang from Looney Tunes could but moments like these simply can't overcome a contrived plot and juvenile antics.