‘Twas the night before Christmas and all...hell is about to break loose! It starts when a snowstorm grounds all planes at Chicago’s fictional Hoover International Airport. Nobody’s happy to be potentially spending Xmas at an airport but least of all are the Davenport siblings Spencer (Dyllan Christopher) and his little sis Katherine (Dominique Saldana) as well as airport security boss Oliver (Lewis Black). The two kids are escorted to the airport’s “Unaccompanied Minors Lounge ” where kids run wild and terrorize pushover Zach Van Bourke (Wilmer Valderrama) who acts as chief airport babysitter. One look at the madness is all it takes for Spencer and Katherine to bust out along with fellow kiddie anarchists Charlie (Tyler James Williams) Timothy (Brett Kelly) Donna (Quinn Shephard) and Grace (Gina Mantegna). They embark on a pratfall-heavy game of cat and mouse with Oliver who is the Grinch to their collective Santa Clause as they try and salvage Christmas--and their families. Unaccompanied Minors makes some odd but admirable choices when it comes to the cast with virtually every single actor attempting a “Frat Pack” mutiny--Daily Show mainstay Black is joined by “correspondent” Rob Corddry as the Davenports’ Hummer-hating dad not to mention parts from The Office’s B.J. Novak and Mindy Kaling Arrested Development’s Tony Hale and Jessica Walter SNL’s Rob Riggle and Kristen Wiig Paget Brewster David Koechner and a rare Kids in the friggin’ Hall (Kevin McDonald Bruce McCulloch and Mark McKinney) sighting. But the “Who’s that?” cameos aside the screen time is hogged by Black Valderrama and the children. Black the notoriously vulgar curmudgeon of a comedian shows great range and skill by dulling his shtick down but not so much that the kids watching won’t crack up while Valderrama’s performance is the same as his role--that of a bumbling easily overmatched lackey. With all the proverbial child actors in the mix it can seem a little Star Search-y but Williams (Everybody Hates Chris) steals most scenes with his amazing overall talent while Mantegna (Joe’s daughter) fares well too. Kelly (the bullied kid in Bad Santa) is exploited for his physicality and Christopher will likely go on to be a great actor even if he seems too seasoned at such a young age. The reason for the off-the-beaten-path cast is simple: director Paul Feig. The occasional actor has in the past directed episodes of The Office and the late Arrested Development Undeclared and Freaks and Geeks. It also might explain why he fell for a script--by Jacob Meszaros and Mya Stark--that takes a few stabs at grown-up comedy (i.e. Corddry’s character has a car that runs on vegetable oil). Such jokes will be lost on the exclusively preadolescent audience but almost all else will reel them in. Feig also seems adept at making the oft-unfunny (physical pratfalls) somewhat funny and he does so with little mention of bodily functions. Of course he stays true to the formula but all kid flicks are the ultimate exercises in contrivance--Feig just chooses to treat the viewers like kids instead of idiots.
Top Story: Hilton's Sex Video To Be Released
Just when we thought this notorious scandal was put to bed, so to speak, Paris Hilton's infamous home video of her having sex with former boyfriend Rick Salomon is going to be released in adult film stores, Reuters reports. Red Light District Video, a suburban Los Angeles porn production company, said on Thursday it has acquired rights from Salomon to distribute the full 45-minute video under the title One Night in Paris. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, Reuters reports. A spokeswoman for the company said the homemade tape, parts of which surfaced last year on Internet porn sites, will be released commercially in adult video stores on June 15.
Jackson's Defense Takes Stand
The recent grand jury indictment against Michael Jackson is likely to be challenged by the singer's defense team for being compromised by extraordinary secrecy precautions, The Associated Press reports. Jackson's attorney Mark Geragos, still on a mandatory gag order, has indicated in public hearings that he will argue on how authorities blocked sidewalks, hid and intimidated witnesses and delivered grand jurors to secret locations in buses with blacked-out windows to in order to keep the proceedings under wraps. "It's an interesting argument," Santa Clara Law School Professor Gerald Uelman told AP, who succeeded in getting a grand jury dismissed in the O.J. Simpson trial. "I think the courts are sensitive now to the criticism of the way grand juries are conducted." The indictment was to remain undisclosed until April 30 when Jackson is scheduled to be in court in Santa Maria for a pretrial hearing, where he could be arraigned.
"Idol" Voting Under Fire
Storms causing power outages in the Midwest may have been a contributing factor to the surprising turn of events on American Idol Wednesday, AP reports. Favorites LaToya London, Fantasia Barrino and Jennifer Hudson--or "The Three Divas" as they've become known--were in the bottom three, with Hudson being voted off. More than 15,000 people in Hudson's hometown of Chicago were unable to watch the show or dial in Tuesday night, when the vote turned out to be the closest in the show's three-year history, TV's Extra said. AP reports, however, that others, including many outraged voters, are claiming perhaps the voting has been rigged. "It simply seems inconceivable that the Idol results would turn out this way," Sam Rubin, an entertainment reporter with local station KTLA, said on the air. "You would almost expect (boxing promoter) Don King to replace Ryan [Seacrest], it looked so fixed." Idol executive producer Ken Warwick told AP, "You can never assume that any contestant is safe…that they have enough votes. It's imperative that viewers vote for their favorite idol every week."
Spacey's Quips About Mugging
Probably wishing he had never opened his mouth to begin with, Kevin Spacey was again asked about his alleged mugging-turned-con job in which his cell phone was stolen while walking his dog at 4 a.m. in a London park last week. Reuters reports the actor laughed off the incident Thursday at a news conference to announce the agenda for his first season as artistic director of London's Old Vic theater, joking it had all been a cunning plan to help the beleaguered soccer star David Beckham, whose face has been plastered on the tabloids due to his string of affairs. "Before I begin I would like to put to rest rumors that David Beckham offered 100,000 pounds to the Old Vic if I took him off the front pages for a few days," Spacey said. "After this news conference I am going to text him myself if someone can lend me a phone," he added.
Mr. Bean Settles With Newspapers
British actor Rowan Atkinson, best known as Mr. Bean and Johnny English, settled for undisclosed damages and a public apology Thursday from London newspapers Mail on Sunday and the Daily Mail who had alleged he was suffering from depression and on the edge of a nervous breakdown, AP reports. Atkinson told reporters that such reports were "indicative of a continuing sensationalizing and stigmatizing of the issue of mental health, and of the condition of depression in particular--from which I am fortunate enough never to have suffered."
Eminem Prevails in Cybersquatting Case
Eminem won a cybersquatting case against a British firm found to be misusing the rap star's trademark on an Internet site selling mobile phone ring tones and picture messages, a United Nations agency told Reuters Thursday. The ruling was announced by the U.N.'s World Intellectual Property Organization, who had been named an arbitrator to examine the rapper's complaint against Tim Mcintosh and Visitair Ltd., which registered the domain name eminemmobile.com a year ago. Reuters reports Eminem, whose real name is Marshall Mathers III, objected to his trademark name and hit songs including "Real Slim Shady" and "Stan" appearing on the site, which carries a disclaimer that it is unofficial and in no way connected with the five-time Grammy award winner, according to the ruling.
Role Call: Jackson Takes Over Lovely Bones, Weir Holds Pattern
Peter Jackson is in negotiations to take over the reins from exiting director Lynne Ramsay on the film adaptation of Alice Sebold's best-selling novel The Lovely Bones. The novel is a heartbreaking tale narrated by a 14-year old girl--after she has been raped and murdered. From heaven, she observes her shattered family's attempt to heal and acts as a detective to try to solve the case as her killer moves along his demented path…Master and Commander director Peter Weir is attached to direct the thriller Pattern Recognition, based on the novel by William Gibson. The story follows the adventures of a marketing expert who finds herself in a dangerous puzzle when she's hired to track down the source of a strange collection of video footage on the Internet. No cast has been set as yet.
A truck carrying hazardous materials accidentally drops one of its containers into a small lake contaminating it and its delicate ecosystem. Trouble arises when the wacky town entomologist feeds his collection of exotic spiders contaminated crickets which act as a sort of spider "steroid." The result is a horde of giant hairy spiders that prey on the town's unsuspecting inhabitants. Sheriff Sam Parker (Kari Wuhrer) doesn't believe her son Mike (Scott Terra) when he tries to warn her about what's going on but blames his "media-induced paranoid delusional nightmare" on too much boob-tube watching. Then when mining engineer Chris McCormick's (David Arquette) aunt gets spun--literally--into one of the spider's webs he enlists the help of Sheriff Parker and paranoid radio announcer Harlan Griffin (Doug E. Doug) to fight off the eight-legged freaks. Armed only with rakes ski poles and chainsaws the townspeople fight off the spiders in a losing battle before Chris comes up with a master plan that will blow the arachnids to smithereens.
Prankster Arquette (See Spot Run) tones down his funnyman routine in Eight Legged Freaks and takes on the role of the humble hero. It's refreshing to see Arquette playing a more subdued character with less of a slapstick edge although I half expected him to start yelling at people to "dial straight down the center." As the sheriff Wuhrer (Berserker) plays her dual role well as a headstrong single mother of two and the town leader. Sure she looks a little too hot to be a chief law enforcement officer but maybe some sheriffs really do look like that in small-town America. While the laughs may not have been coming from Arquette there were enough to be had thanks to Doug whose most memorable role to date has to be Sanka Coffie from the 1993 comedy Cool Runnings. His radio announcer in this film believes the government is conspiratorial and that the spiders are the alien invasion he has been warning people about for decades. Doug delivers some of the movie's funniest lines.
New Zealander Ellory Elkayem (Larger Than Life) wrote and directed Eight Legged Freaks a sort of homage to mid-1950s B-movie sci-fi thrillers like Tarantula or Earth vs. the Spider. But while these cult films were funny merely by accident--Tarantula director Jack Arnold probably wasn't being intentionally campy--Eight Legged Freaks at times seems to try too hard. Packing in one joke after another takes away from the spiders' scariness making them seem more like a practical joke than a potentially annihilating threat. The special effects are extremely slick however and the spiders are well done with techniques approaching those in the 1997 sci-fi actioner Starship Troopers (but none of the gigantic CGI spiders are as scary as the real-life tarantulas caged up in terrariums at the start of the movie). Although at 99 minutes the film moves quickly the final scene in which the townspeople are being chased through a labyrinth of mining tunnels drags on a bit too long.