Rexxx is a superstar dog in Hollywood with movies such as Jurassic Bark and The Fast and the Furrious on his plate. On the set of his latest movie he is being a diva refusing to come to the set because one of the spotted coats in his trailer reminds him of a snooty Dalmation who broke his heart. Eventually Rexxx’s people convince him he can outlive the Taco Bell Chihuahua dog's legacy if he performs this one great stunt. But while diving out of an airplane Rexxx forgets his parachute and lands in a truck full of tomatoes. He ends up running into a boy Shane (Josh Hutcherson) who’s really not into dogs. Shane’s dad is a fire captain (Bruce Greenwood) and the boy’s extended family is a group of well-meaning misfit firefighters at the Dogpatch Station. They're in constant competition with their rival fire station and the city manager (Steven Culp) is warning the Dogpatch Station that they will soon be closing down. On top of it all there are lots of mysterious fires breaking out around Dogpatch. Can Rexxx help save the day? Hutcherson is an amiable child star. After his recent dramatic role in Bridge to Terabithia and as the older brother in Zathura it's clear he's got a long career ahead of him. He comes across as clever and sensible while the world around him is often going haywire. And the young actor has a superb connection with Greenwood as his distant father. Also doing a fine job is Culp as the city manager and Greenwood’s best friend. The last time these two veteran character actors starred together was in Thirteen Days. Teddy Sears (TV’s Ugly Betty) is particularly funny and charming as the fireman who keeps sliding on top of his fellow firefighters when going down the pole. But of course this is a dog's movie and the four Irish setters used to play the lead pup do some pretty cool stunts and reaction shots. Rexxx comes across as delightfully personable even though he smells bad. Director Todd Holland certainly knows how to direct family stories after winning three Emmys for Malcolm in the Middle. This father-son story centers on a recent tragedy and neither of them deal well with it instead becoming more and more distant from each other. Of course the dog’s intrusion brings them together but the storyline cleverly dances a fine line between the stereotypical genres. Firehouse Dog has both laugh-out-loud moments as well as warm fuzzy teary-eyed moments that feel very real. Of course some of the absurd facial expressions and Matrix-like moves by the dog are computer generated but it's not distracting--and not too obvious. The movie is fun for kids and parents to see together especially if they have a dog at home.
In adapting a rather flimsy children’s book into a full-fledged feature film one has to take some liberties. We first meet the lovable little monkey in the wild where his curious habits wreck havoc. Meanwhile in the big city Ted (voiced by Will Ferrell)--aka The Man with the Yellow Hat--is a highly enthusiastic guide at the soon-to-be-closed Bloomsberry Museum. In order to save the museum (here’s where they pad it) he is sent on a mission to Africa to retrieve a lost shrine. But when he gets there the only thing he finds is a miniature version of it--and George of course. The lonely monkey decides to follow Ted all the way back to the city where his mischievous tendencies get him into even more trouble. George nearly ruins everything for Ted but somehow the little feller eventually grows on him. How could he not? If I can borrow a line from Madagascar little George is so cute I just like to dunk him in my coffee. When you’re reading Curious George out loud to your kids you don’t get the impression The Man with the Yellow Hat is a good-natured but geeky fellow gangly clumsy and clueless about women. Thank goodness the film has Will Ferrell to clear it up for us! You basically know what you’re in for once you recognize his voice and his natural comic timing shines through lending for some funnier moments (“OK I’m looking directly into the sun. Staring right at it. I’ve got to be honest with you it stings…”). The other voices in the film also do a fine job including Drew Barrymore as a schoolteacher who has a crush on Ted; Eugene Levy as the mad museum scientist; Dick Van Dyke as the museum’s old-time curator; and David Cross as his weasly greedy son. Based on the books and illustrations by Margret and H.A. Rey Curious George embraces the essence of the timeless stories created 65 years ago. The film apparently took awhile to find its voice. Producer Ron Howard originally conceived it as live-action film but quickly realized they could never get a real monkey as cute and fuzzy as George. Then CGI was considered but ultimately the filmmakers kept returning to the source: the late H.A. Rey’s original painstakingly beautiful illustrations. Thankfully they stuck with that idea. Curious George is lush and vibrant with all of Rey’s best efforts fully realized in Technicolor. And much like what the Piglet’s Big Movie did with Carly Simon and The Wild Thornberrys with Paul Simon Curious George is also sprinkled with original songs by hot pop singer Jack Johnson to give it a modern feel. So what if the story gets a little overblown in parts it will still introduce one of literature’s most enduring icons to the young-un’s--while allowing the adults to reminisce.
This is a tough one to judge. You never get any explanation of who these people are or why they do what they do; if you don't know the video game you're basically thrown into Tomb Raider blind. Just go with it and figure it'll all make sense eventually. It does--for the most part. Lara Croft (Jolie) who is carrying on her deceased father's (Jon Voight) work as an English archaeologist/antiquities hunter uncovers an ancient puzzle that she must solve before it's too late. Centuries before a mysterious otherworldly object with a godlike power to alter time was split in two and the pieces buried in tombs on opposite ends of the earth. Jolie must race against time to find both halves of the object and destroy it before a leader of an evil secret society (Iain Glen) gets his hands on it.
With her long dark braid and impossible figure (thanks to some stuffing up top) Jolie certainly is a dead ringer for über-heroine Croft. Her hoity-toity monotone Brit accent is sporadic and fleeting; she slips in and out of it as often and easily as she does impending death. Our globetrotting superwoman switches languages as needed winning over Buddhist monks and little Mongolian girls in the process (tell me please how she wears a T-shirt while dog sledding in Siberia while everyone else is bundled up in parkas? That bra must've been padded with Thinsulate). Jolie can kick butt with the best of 'em but she's tiresome. All arch looks and badass 'tude this Kelly-LeBrock-for-the-new-millennium is not terribly much fun. Granted Croft has serious work to do but a little lightheartedness goes a long way. Raiders of the Lost Ark this ain't.
Given that there's little story line acted out by characters with whom it's hard to connect since you have no idea who they are the movie surprisingly manages to keep your attention for a couple hours. Then again that could be due to the tremendous and seemingly never-ending clamor on screen where every few seconds a hailstorm of bullets showers the scene or really big things are happening--gargantuan rock statues turn into sword-wielding CGI beasts enormous retro-futuristic contraptions like something out of Brazil materialize from the earth beams of light descend from the distant beyond. Or maybe it's just the mesmerizing effect of waiting for Jolie's lips to crawl across her face like two fat slugs going after the magic jasmine Daddy Croft told Lara about.