Yet another in a continuing line of dismal Dane Cook so-called romantic comedies (Good Luck Chuck Employee of the Month) My Best Friend's Girl can’t seem to decide exactly what kind of movie it wants to be landing somewhere between gross-out humor and silly relationship dreck. Tank (Cook) is a moronic commitment-free sex-addicted loser who offers up his services to guys in need of keeping their girlfriends from jumping ship. The solution? One date revolving around Tank’s intentionally repulsive antics and they will come running back no questions asked. So when his roommate and best friend the love-struck Dustin (Jason Biggs) finds his new girlfriend Alexis (Kate Hudson) isn’t ready to marry him after just one month he turns to Tank to work his disgusting mojo on her. But it backfires when Alexis turns into a drunken sex-starved slut on their first outing to a strip bar thoroughly impressing Tank. The complications pile up as the mismatched pair fall in love and Tank begins second guessing the new relationship he has created behind his buddy’s back. Cook has now been down this road so many times it feels like yesterday’s warmed-up oatmeal. There’s no doubt he’s got comic talent and even a kind of oddball leading man appeal--but over and over he is asked to play the same garish guy an expletive hurling sex machine with no sense of social decorum manners or even common sense. He’s the poster boy for beer guzzling dunderheads who want jump into bed with no questions asked. He has a moment at the end of Best Friend's Girl in which he finally get the laughs but a little too late. Hudson is also apparently determined to take any script that comes her way floundering helplessly as the sexually confused Alexis who can’t seem to decide what she wants in a relationship: the good boy or the bad. Unfortunately she doesn’t seem to have any chemistry with Biggs--or for that matter Cook. All they do is shout at each other repeatedly using some form of the word “asshole” over and over. Biggs as the third wheel just doesn’t have anywhere to go with this role basically serving as an annoying plot device to get the two leads together. The only one who survives with any dignity is Alec Baldwin as Tank’s unapologetic womanizing father who offers up advice to his son that is blissfully politically incorrect. Sure Baldwin can do this kind of thing in his sleep but he does it with style even if wasted on this sorry enterprise. Eighties teen movie veteran Howard Deutch (Pretty In Pink) finds his career literally in the tank (pun intended) trying to unearth a romantic comedy from material that just doesn’t give him much to work with. Deutch is so divorced from the concept that it looks like he just turned the cameras on and let his stars improvise for the most undemanding moviegoers imaginable (even though there is a credited script supposedly written by Jordan Cahan). To top everything off he shoots most of it in unattractive poorly lit close-ups that do no favors for anyone particularly the usually bright and fetching Hudson. This looks like one of those movies in which everyone is having such a good time on the set they forgot to let the audience in on all the “fun.”
Sydney Wells (Jessica Alba) is a Los Angeles-based concert violinist who has been blind since she was 5 years old. She gets by the best she can and sees “using my other senses ” as she explains to a passer-by whom she saves from getting run over by a bus. But Sydney still desperately misses her vision and is one day away from a once-in-a-lifetime medical miracle that will bring her the gift of restored sight: a double corneal transplant. Almost immediately following the operation Sydney through extremely blurred vision begins seeing strange silhouettes but thinks nothing of them. As her sight improves with each passing day however the figures become clearer and much more troubling. Before long Sydney identifies them as “escorts” that take people away when they’re dead and she can’t escape the horrifying visions even while sleeping. But she’s forced to investigate and solve the situation mostly on her own as both her sister (Parker Posey) and ophthalmologist (Alessandro Nivola) swear it’s all in her mind’s eye. What Sydney discovers is both hair-raising and of course eye-opening. The opening shot features Alba looking glamorously hot in the way we’re used to seeing her as though just finishing a photo shoot for the cover of another glossy magazine. Then the camera pans down to her walking stick and you admit to yourself not three minutes in that Alba as a blind woman (and later a violinist!) will necessitate complete suspension of disbelief. Same can be said for The Eye’s few dramatic scenes namely one in which an extreme close-up draws attention to the actress' complete inability to fake-cry. Alba can pull off much of the rest of the movie since it’s relatively low on dialogue and emotion but The Eye is just another example of her trying in vain--much like Good Luck Chuck--to un-pigeonhole herself. In supporting roles veterans Nivola (Junebug) and Posey (Dazed and Confused) show that they’re much too esteemed for a B-grade horror movie and much better than the actress to whom they are playing second- and third-fiddle respectively. Although that’s usually the case in movies like this. Ah the much-too-frequent adaptation of the exotic-import horror movie--always reliable for a few cheap thrills and nothing more. The Eye based on the Pang brothers’ 2002 Chinese film is no exception to that rule and is undoubtedly a dumbed-down less-scary version of the original. The director duo of David Moreau and Xavier Palud who collaborated on 2006’s creepy French film Them manage to somewhat dilute all that is bad about The Eye by using music and style but there’s ultimately no way around the anemic adapted script by Sebastian Gutierrez (Snakes on a Plane) and acting by Alba. While the concept of someone having her vision restored after 20-plus years without it is fascinating and tantalizing for all the directions in which a filmmaker could take it there’s nothing post-setup--or post-op in this case--that eclipses the mildest of scares and this meant to be a horror film. To the directors’ credit The Eye looks gorgeously foreboding and the movie’s elevation to mere watchability shows that they have some promise in this genre.
Agnes (Ashley Judd) is bored with her life--and she's sworn off men. She's a bit fearful of her abusive ex-husband Jerry (Harry Connick Jr.) who just got paroled and works at an all-girl bar with her lesbian friend R.C. (Lynn Collins). When R.C. finds a handsome stranger Peter Evans (Michael Shannon) wandering through town she tries setting him up with lonely Agnes. She doesn’t really click with him but feels sorry for him and lets him spend the night in her rundown motel room. Then the bugs begin to bite. According to Peter they're not just bedbugs but aphids—and Peter thinks the bugs are part of a government conspiracy. To off-set the bug bites fend off the persistent helicopters flying around outside and avoid the mysterious Dr. Sweet (Brian F. O'Byrne) Peter and Agnes cover their hotel room in tin foil hole up from the rest of the world—and spiral down into a world of madness. It's a strange role for Judd. She's not glamorous at all but successfully pushes the edge as a white-trash waitress looking for something more out of life. Judd transforms believably from a strong hard woman to a fragile fearful female on the edge of sanity. She gets naked with a stranger she kisses her best girlfriend--and then she starts believing bugs are biting into her skin. Shannon is alternately a handsome handyman type who is also very uneasy and creepy to be around. "I make people uncomfortable " is his grand understatement. At one moment he is someone who Judd willingly decides to sleep with and in the next moment he's a psychotic wild-eyed madman that she should be running away from. Either way he is compelling. Connick Jr. however plays his bully ex-con role in a characteristic one-dimensional one-note depiction that isn't as interesting nor as threatening as Peter. Director William Friedkin who gave us Exorcist and The French Connection expertly helms this relatively narrow-focused screenplay by playwright Tracy Letts. Since it is an adaptation of a play the actors are sometimes limited in their actions and the setting is almost too claustrophobic. As the camera swoops down overhead to an isolated motel in the middle of the desert from unseen helicopters the drab hotel room transforms into a sparkling foil-covered eerie set with a blue tint courtesy of the talented production designer Franco Carbone (of the Hostel movies fame). Tightly winding up this conspiracy thriller--in which theories about Tim McVeigh the Unibomber and the Bilderberg Group abound—Friedkin allows the paranoia to wash over you in wave after agonizing wave. And nothing is more unnerving than Peter pulling what he thinks is an insect egg out of his tooth. Shiver.
Pride is “inspired” by true events. Unlike movies “based” on true events those that are “inspired” can take the bare bones of a true story and build exponentially upon them. It focuses on swim coach Jim Ellis (Terrence Howard)—not by the way to be confused with the great boxer Jimmie Ellis—who inspired in a group of inner-city kids “pride determination and resilience” when he was assigned to monitor a rundown Philadelphia recreation center in the early 1970s. As one would expect in a film of this sort Coach Ellis instills in his kids a will to struggle and fight--and to paddle their way to glory. Along the way they contend with the hazards of urban life (drugs crime) and the ugliness of racism. The kids learn teamwork and respect and the coach learns a thing or two about himself too. Terrence Howard who’s in such a beautiful groove as an actor that he can almost do no wrong brings his trademark intensity and passion to the role of swim coach Jim Ellis. He’s tough but tender forceful yet contemplative--and everything a big-screen coach should be. He also has great chemistry with the kids and particularly with Bernie Mac whose custodian of the rec center becomes a great sounding board for Coach Ellis and the swimmers. If Howard is a great screen coach--and he is--than Mac is a great assistant coach. It would be nice to see them paired up again. Kimberly Elise is very pretty and very good in another stock role that of a city councilwoman eventually won over by Howard leading to a potential (and predictable) romance. Even Tom Arnold cast as an antagonistic and racist rival swim coach manages a good turn. This is the first feature from director Sunu Gonera and he brings an enthusiastic approach to absolutely formula material. The swimming scenes are exciting and even better the scenes that focus on the characters are just as stimulating. Besides any director who can get a good performance out of Tom Arnold surely has something. Films of this sort can be done well and they can be done badly--and we’ve all seen countless examples of the latter. Pride is clearly a feel-good movie from the first frame to the last. And guess what? It all works. Every second of it. Pride’s corniness quotient which should be off the scale is instead supplanted (refreshingly so) by a good old-fashioned sense of storytelling and heart. It gets its message across without being heavy and that is tantamount to a victory in itself.