License to Wed is typically predictable as well as eye-roll producing: Ben Murphy (John Krasinski) proposes to the girl of his dreams Sadie Jones (Mandy Moore) and the two of them plan to live happily ever after. That is until they meet Reverend Frank (Robin Williams) the head cleric at Sadie’s family church. He’ll marry them as requested so long as they pass his patented “foolproof” marriage-prep course. Consisting of outrageous classes outlandish homework assignments and some outright invasion of privacy you’re not sure if Rev. Frank has been asked to ruin their engagement or if he’s just a sociopath. Needless to say Ben and Sadie’s relationship is put through the ringer to the point of seemingly no return. But of course this is a rom-com—and all things sweetness and light shall prevail. See? There go the eyes. Williams must have said yes right away to License to Wed. It’s a chance for him to play his zealous preacher a personality we’ve seen many times in his stand-up routines (“And you shall be HEA-A-LED!”). Although Rev. Frank is a certainly a toned-down version who also has a wise twinkle in his eye there is still plenty of Williams wackiness to go around--which is probably why everyone else signed on. Making a comedy with Robin Williams has got to be one of the more hilarious ways to spend three months on a set. It’s just too bad they are all stuck in such a so-so comedy especially The Office’s Krasinski. He's so much better than the milquetoasty groom-to-be he has to play starring with the oh-so-bland Moore and excluding about as much chemistry as two test tubes. There’s no The Office’s Pam-Jim connection here. But Krasinski is just starting out his movie career and I would hope chalk License to Wed up as a learning experience. Speaking of The Office just about everyone save for Steve Carell and Rainn Wilson makes a cameo appearance. And then there’s Josh Flitter as Rev. Frank’s lackey. He’s the elfish kid from Nancy Drew and The Greatest Game Ever Played who is endlessly playing the wiseacre and mischievous sidekick. Wonder how he’ll turn out when he’s older? License to Wed is familiar territory for director Ken Kwapis best known for helming other light and frothy fare such as Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and The Beautician and the Beast (bet he wishes that last credit would go away). Without blinking an eye Kwapis simply wades right into the bubblegum that is License to Wed pointing and shooting his camera at his star player Robin Williams. But even someone as talented as Williams at comedy needs some kind of guidance once in a while no? Apparently Kwapis—and the bevy of writers who took a stab at the screenplay--doesn’t think so. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with License; it just doesn't make a lasting impression. Besides the outtakes which I already mentioned the only other part worth mentioning is when the fake robot babies which Ben and Sadie are forced to take care of shoot fake snot/goo out of their noses. Good times.
It’s hard to make 16-year-old Nancy Drew (Emma Roberts) look like a fish out of water. I mean this IS Nancy Drew we are talking about. The same girl who is able to solve any mystery great or small with her sharp intellect quick reflexes—and handy dandy sleuth kit. Nancy’s lawyer dad (Tate Donovan) however is a little worried about the danger his daughter keeps finding herself in and decides to take her away from their hometown of River Heights to Los Angeles for a little while so he can work on a special case. Yeah like L.A. is a safer place to be. He also asks her not to do anymore sleuthing at least while they are there. Nancy agrees in theory and tries to fit in at her new school but in her tweed skirts and penny loafers she sticks out like a sore thumb. That doesn’t really bother her though. What’s bothering her is the no-sleuthing promise she made to her father. See the house the Drews are renting has a whooper of a mystery attached to it—and the temptation is just too great not to solve it. Emma Roberts’ acting genetics (from dad Eric and aunt Julia) seem to be working. Without her Nancy Drew would have been just another bubble-gum movie for the Nickelodeon set. The young actress easily conveys those certain Nancy Drew qualities that make the literary icon so unique while infusing the character with her own wholesomeness. And she thankfully never turns into an irritating know-it-all. The only drawback is that the 16-year-old Roberts looks about 12 so watching her drive around in the Nancy Drew roadster takes a little getting used to. The rest of the cast however don’t measure up. They all come off fairly one-note--including the spitfire sidekick aptly named Corky (The Greatest Game Ever Played’s Josh Flitter) the mean girls in Nancy’s school (Daniella Monet and Kelly Vitz) and even Donovan as Nancy’s well-meaning but clueless dad. Then again most of the supporting players in the books don’t add much either. It’s really a one-woman show. Only Ned Nancy’s boyfriend back home (played sweetly by The Astronaut Farmer’s Max Thieriot) has potential—that is if the franchise continues. Having helmed films such as The Craft and Dick writer/director Andrew Fleming knows a few things about making youthful movies but taking on the whole Nancy Drew experience takes some guts. Not only are you dealing with fans all over who remember reading and loving the books but there’s the generation who loved the popular ‘70s TV series starring Pamela Sue Martin as well. Fleming’s idea is to give the character a contemporary retooling cast an up-and-comer already popular with tween set and maintain the essence of the books without seeming dated. Not an easy task but Fleming succeeds on a few things namely the choice of leading lady which we’ve already mentioned plus capturing the books’ mystery-solving adventurousness complete with spooky old houses secret rooms creepy caretakers hidden wills etc. One just wonders why Fleming didn’t just keep everything in the Nancy Drew ‘60s era. The Mean Girls/Beverly Hills 90120 scenario simply dumbs the movie down. Still there’s enough right about the film to warrant another Nancy Drew mystery if they stick with what works. Now let's see what they do with the Hardy Boys spoof starring Ben Stiller and Tom Cruise. Sounds promising.
She's a hip-hoppin' be-boppin' mean ol' nanny who whips a mean stew and your butt for not doing your homework—and now she's back! Alas we don't speak of the Mrs. Doubtfire sequel but rather that of Big Momma a.k.a. FBI Agent Malcolm Turner (Martin Lawrence). Agent Warner has cut ties with the FBI at the behest of Sherry (Nia Long)—who as you no doubt recall is the granddaughter of the real Big Momma—since she's pregnant with Malcolm's baby. But wouldn't you know that he gets sucked back in after a former colleague is killed. Posing as Big Momma he's hired as a nanny to a suburban family the deadbeat dad of which is involved in the murder and a crime plot. She does it all—cooks cleans dances and even runs down bad guys but it's a race against time to stop the potential national security crisis. That is a race against the film's (mercifully) short running time. Although Lawrence's resume includes some of the dregs of comedy it's hard to argue that he is truly blessed when it comes to physical comedy and comedic timing. He continues both trends here this time without the help of the breakthrough actors of the past two years Paul Giamatti and Terrence Howard who yes both starred in the first Big Momma's House. That means Lawrence's urban mania is truly on its own and absurd and juvenile as the film may be even film snobs can't hold back a few laughs at his Big Momma outlandishness. Longreturns for no more than a select few scenes and to provide a minor conflict in the story. The notable newcomer is CSI's Emily Procter as the sterile mother who hires Big Momma. She does a serviceable job as a suburban Petite Momma. Might she be the next Giamatti or Howard to bolt to bigger and better things in time for the next sequel? No.
Big Momma's House 2 is right up director John Whitesell's alley. He's the guy behind such misses—though not necessarily financially—as Malibu's Most Wanted and See Spot Run and he's right at home here. Whitesell doesn't hold back in (literally and figuratively) pulling the robe off Big Momma but he clearly knows that nothing is to interrupt Lawrence's antics not even the thin story line. Aside from that he knows quite well how to execute thinly veiled rip-offs of the aforementioned Mrs. Doubtfire as well as countless other hidden-motive comedies (i.e. Kindergarten Cop Houseguest et al). Because while the main guise is the Big Momma fat suit Whitesell parades the film about as a feel-good/family flick.
Based on the best-selling book by Mark Foster Game tells the remarkable real-life story of Francis Ouimet (Shia LaBeouf). He was a working-class immigrant kid who in the early 1900s turned the privileged world of golf on its ear. The story begins with Francis working as a caddie at a posh country club where he masters the game by quietly practicing on his own. His French-born father (Elias Koteas) thinks he's wasting his time and should be earning an honest wage but Francis is far too smitten with the game to give it up. Francis finally gets his big break when an amateur spot opens up at the 1913 U.S. Open. With a feisty 10-year-old caddie named Eddie (Josh Flitter) by his side egging him on Francis plays the best he ever has. He eventually finds himself facing off against the sport's undisputed champion Harry Vardon (Stephen Dillane) a U.S. Open winner and six-time British Open champion (a record that still stands today). Their legendary battle changes the face of the sport forever--but I wouldn't necessarily call it the greatest game ever.
Game is one of those juicy little biopics actors can really sink their teeth into. Starting with our young lead LaBeouf (Holes) is sufficiently determined as the guy playing against impossible odds. His Francis with his liquid brown eyes and winning smile is full of optimism and raw talent that propels him into the majors. And he looks pretty authentic swinging a golf club too. Still it may be time for LaBeouf to move on from the Disney family fare and do something grittier sort of like what he showed in Constantine. Dillane--who was so achingly good in The Hours as Virginia Woolf's beleaguered husband--also does a fine job as the legendary Vardon a man haunted by his own demons. In a way Game is a story about both men who have more in common than they realize. Although a top professional in the sport Vardon has to fight against the elitist golfing community's prejudices. You see Vardon grew up dirt poor on the plains of Scotland and because of his background was never permitted into any "gentleman's" clubs. The cast of colorful supporting players add to the film especially Flitter as the caustic but encouraging Eddie. He may be small but he packs a wallop. The last shot of the movie features Francis and Eddie walking off the golf course at sunset evoking the classic Casablanca ending line "This is the start of a beautiful friendship"--which apparently really happened. The real-life Eddie and Francis remained friends for the rest of their lives.
The main slice against Game is that it's about golf. Besides comedies such as Caddyshack and Happy Gilmore a serious movie about the game really isn't going to stir your soul say like football or baseball. But actor-turned-director Bill Paxton--who made his directorial debut with the creepy Frailty--takes the story and keeps it convincingly affecting. Much like Seabiscuit it's the real-life historical context that makes Game even more compelling. Paxton painstakingly details how the game was played at the turn of the century--and who was allowed to play it. The whole discriminatory arrogance surrounding the game makes the stakes even higher for our heroes. Vardon had a score to settle while Ouimet simply became the game's new hero paving the way for legendary whiz kids like Tiger Woods to step up on the green. Paxton also views Game as a Western. The final golf round between Vardon and Ouimet is the ultimate shootout á la the OK Corral in which the camera angles are inventive--a bird's eye view of the ball sailing through the air or gliding on the green into the hole. Plus he keeps the tension as taut as he can considering the less than exhilarating subject matter. Oh come on who isn't a sucker for a good sports underdog story even if it is golf?
David Callaway (Robert De Niro) is having a tough time dealing with the apparent suicide of his wife (Amy Irving). His young daughter Emily (Dakota Fanning) also has taken her mother's death very hard retreating into her own little world. As a psychologist David decides the only way to help Emily is to move from the big city to a house in the country. Sure that kind of thing usually works like a charm. Emily does perk up a bit when she finds a new "friend " Charlie who likes to have fun and play hide and seek with her. Of course we can't actually see this new friend but that's beside the point. The imaginary Charlie is still a powerful force in Emily's life instructing her not to talk about him much and hating pretty much everyone else in her life including her dad. In short order bad things start happening--yes the family pet gets whacked--which Emily blames on Charlie. This leaves David wondering how his little girl could have turned so psychotic. But wait. Maybe Charlie isn't imaginary after all but actually a flesh-and-blood malevolent presence. Oh god do you think so?
Why you may ask would an acting icon like Robert De Niro star of such classic movies as Raging Bull and Goodfellas choose such a cheesy film as Hide and Seek? Very good question. Maybe he was drawn into the project based on the premise like the rest of us without realizing how derivative the story would get as things progressed. Of course De Niro plays the confused father--dealing with what could possibly be a demonic child--with a fair amount of finesse. But he's a pro that's what he does. Fanning (I Am Sam) too does the best she can as the sunken-eyed pasty-faced Emily. She sulks around rarely smiles and draws scary pictures of people dying horrible deaths which has now become a prerequisite for any child in a scary movie. In the supporting roles Elisabeth Shue Famke Janssen and Dylan Baker are all pretty much wasted. Shue who hasn't acted in anything major since 2000's Hollow Man makes a brief appearance as a potential paramour for David. Janssen (X-Men) playing David's colleague and Emily's confidante thinks living in isolation is a bad idea (and she's right!). Veteran character actor Baker (Kinsey) takes on the predictable role of the hapless town sheriff who never quite gets he's about to be in a world of hurt.
It is always disappointing when the promise of something potentially creepy turns out to possess the same old tired plot points and scare tactics seen countless times before. Director John Polson--best known for helming Swimfan another predictable stalker-gone-mad thriller--and novice screenwriter Ari Schlossberg don't have the necessary skills to take Hide and Seek above and beyond its conventional trappings. To its small credit the film does build a bit of tension in the beginning as David and Emily skirt around each other trying to grasp onto some kind of normalcy. Then when Emily introduces Charlie you continue to hold out hope that somehow the filmmakers will channel some of M. Night Shyamalan's aura and start really scaring the bejesus out of you. But alas it isn't meant to be. Instead you're sitting there pretty much guessing every move the film is going to make before it happens. When the twist finally comes around--you knew there was a twist right?--it doesn't really surprise you whether you've guess it or not.