Based on H.G. Wells' classic 1898 novel this War is set in a contemporary world where the threat of terrorism looms around every corner. But not even the brains at Homeland Security can prepare the human race for this kind of an attack. After a series of mysterious and powerful lightning storms strike all over the world giant three-legged war machines long buried beneath the earth rise up and start incinerating everything--and everyone--in sight. Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise) a divorced New Jersey dockworker horrifyingly witnesses the first strike in this catastrophic alien invasion. He is suddenly faced with protecting his estranged children--teenager Robbie (Justin Chatwin) and young daughter Rachel (Dakota Fanning)--after they are left with him for the weekend. Traveling across the ravaged countryside Ray takes them on a journey to reunite them with their mother and gets caught up in a desperate tide of refugees fleeing from a seemingly inexorable and merciless enemy. But are they really unstoppable? Ha! We'll see who has the last laugh you nasty old susceptible aliens.
As I watched Tom Cruise run and hide from the invading aliens I didn't once think about Scientology antidepressant drugs or Katie Holmes. Not once. That's because no matter what kind of personal issues Cruise has going on at the moment he is a consummate actor drawing you into his on-screen world without missing a beat. As deadbeat dad Ray Cruise aptly exhibits an apathy to his prodigy only to then turn into a courageous American hero fighting to protect the ones he loves without one clichéd speech or false moment. Quite a feat. Of course he also has a lot of support from his co-stars especially Dakota Fanning as his daughter in keeping things genuine. While either playing terrified with fervent screams or deadly still from shock the young actress' tearstained face gives the whole horrific experience a very human quality. Man imagine what's she's going to do once she's an adult. Chatwin (The Chumscrubber) also does a fine job as the rebellious teen whose growing need to join the fight has his dad torn up inside. Tim Robbins makes a memorable appearance as a refugee on the verge of madness holed up in a bombed-out basement and ready to single-handedly take the aliens down. And finally as a nice touch we hear Morgan Freeman's deep resonate voice open and close the film with very poignant passages from H.G. Wells' literary masterpiece.
Spielberg's back--and what a relief! A War of the Worlds update is just what he needed to rejuvenate himself especially after his latest slate of tepid movies (i.e. The Terminal A.I.). I mean it has been a long time since we've seen the passionate Spielberg--the special-effects driven director who challenges himself to make the most visually stunning movies ever (Jurassic Park Raiders of the Lost Ark) or the finely tuned director who can create the most incredibly intimate movies against a historical backdrop (Saving Private Ryan Schindler's List). And nothing on this earth inspires Spielberg more than aliens especially now that he has grown older and wiser since his kindler gentler E.T. days. Keeping to Wells' original source material and paying homage to both Orson Welles' infamous 1938 radio play (both are set in New Jersey) and the original 1953 film (a marvel of special effects for its time) War is an absolute seat-gripping wonder to behold. From the beginning of the Tripod war machines' reigning terror disintegrating poor souls with their heat rays or snatching them up in the air with their tentacle extensions (to use for a very gruesome task indeed) it's shockingly realistic. The only small drawback is showing the actual aliens especially in this sophisticated day and age of Alien and Independence Day. It just isn't necessary and adds very little to the already mounting tension. But it's a small quibble. This War will give you nightmares for weeks.
The original Seuss story is a wonderful--albeit simple
--children's tale about two bored kids left alone in their house on a cold wet day. They're visited by a six-foot-tall talking adventure-seeking feline who's looking for a little fun (OK maybe a lot of fun). Against the warnings of the children's seriously repressed pet goldfish the Cat (with the help of a couple of troll doll look-a-likes called Thing One and Thing Two) turns the house upside down then puts it all right-side-up again before the kids' mother gets home. The question for Hollywood is how to turn a story like this one that's left an indelible impression on millions of readers young and old since 1957 into a major motion picture? While the film thankfully keeps to this original's plot talking fish and all it obviously tries to flesh things out adding some new characters and tacking on a few life lessons. The kids now have very distinct personalities: Wild older brother Conrad (Spencer Breslin) plays fast and loose with the rules while sister Sally (Dakota Fanning) an uptight control freak has driven all her friends away with her rigidity. Their mother Joan (Kelly Preston) works at the town's real estate office run by the anal retentive Mr. Humberfloob (Sean Hayes) and she's dating the guy next door Quinn (Alec Baldwin) a superficial scumbag who wants to send Conrad to military school. On the particular cold wet day in question Joan leaves instructions not to mess up the house since she's having an important business meet-and-greet there later that night. When the Cat (Mike Myers) arrives he quickly assures Sally and Conrad they can have all the fun they want and nothing bad will happen. Ignoring vocal opposition from the Fish (voiced by Hayes) the Cat quickly puts into motion a series of events that will a) prove his point b) destroy the house and c) teach the kids a sugary-sweet but valuable lesson about being responsible while living life to the fullest.
Just as Jim Carrey immortalized the Grinch Mike Myers seems born to play the Cat in the oversized red-and-white striped hat--he has the sly slightly sarcastic wholly anarchistic thing down cold. Myers' impersonations of a redneck Cat mechanic (with requisite visible butt crack) an infomercial Cat host and a zany British Cat chef are outrageous as are the hilarious little asides he spouts although they'll probably go over kids' heads: "Well sure [the Fish] can talk but is he really saying anything? No not really." But even though Myers has some fun moments he just isn't the Barney type and when he turns on the come-on-kids-let's-have-fun charm and adopts a dopey laugh he seems uncomfortable. As for the kids Fanning and Breslin (Disney's The Kid) do a fine job reacting to the wackiness the Cat surrounds them with although Fanning basically plays the same uptight character she created in the recent Uptown Girls. Of the supporting players Baldwin has the most fun as the villainous Quinn a bad-guy role that while a little superfluous gives Baldwin plenty of opportunities to chew the scenery. Hayes is also good in his dual role; he stamps Humberfloob indelibly on our brains then kicks butt as the voice of the beleaguered Fish.
It must have been a no-brainer for producer Brian Grazer to do another Dr. Seuss adaptation after all the fun magic and profits the 2000 hit How the Grinch Stole Christmas generated. With Cat in the Hat however he didn't collaborate with his usual directing partner the Grinch's Ron Howard. Instead Grazer took a chance on first-time director Bo Welch who previously served as production designer on Tim Burton's Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands and has three Oscar nods to his credit for production design on other films. Welch certainly takes his quirky cue from Burton when it comes to the look of Cat in the Hat especially Sally and Conrad's suburban Southern California neighborhood with its lilac frames and blue roofs. The gadgets are cool too from the Cat's Super Luxurious Omnidirectional Whatchamajigger or S.L.O.W vehicle to the Dynamic Industrial Renovating Tractormajigger or D.I.R.T. mobile for cleaning up the house. When we enter the Cat's bizarre world though the film's Seussian look starts to have problems possibly because there's nothing of this place in the original book. Hidden within the feline's magical crate the Cat's world can produce "the mother of all messes " and in keeping with that purpose there's some effort at making it look like a fragmented Cubist painting. But it's more plastic than Picasso and in the end it's about as interesting as a Universal Theme Park ride (a fact the movie actually mentions).