In Duncan Jones’s sci-fi thriller Source Code Jake Gyllenhaal plays Captain Colter Stevens a U.S. Army helicopter pilot who awakens after an enemy ambush to find himself sitting on a Chicago-bound commuter train surrounded by strangers with absolutely no idea how he got there. As he struggles to process his strange new milieu he’s pestered with small-talk by a perky fellow-passenger (Michelle Monaghan) whom he doesn’t recognize but who clearly seems to know him. When he looks into a mirror staring back at him is the image of a man who while handsome is certainly no Jake Gyllenhaal. What Hitchcockian hell has Captain Stevens wandered into? Could it all be a dream?
Before Colter can ponder matters further a massive explosion sends him hurtling into oblivion from which he emerges intact strapped to a chair inside a dark capsule-like enclosure. A woman Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) pops up on a video screen and tersely informs him that he is now part of a new high-tech front in the War on Terror: Source Code an experimental program that allows a person to assume the identity of someone else during the last eight minutes of his or her life. Whoever planted the bomb on the train is said to be readying another far deadlier attack to unleash on Chicago in a matter of hours. The only hope for preventing it is for Colter to repeatedly scour the memory of one of the train's deceased passengers in the hopes of finding clues that might help them determine the identity of the bomber.
Soon Colter finds himself in an existence not unlike that of Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day revisiting the same eight-minute scenario over and over again. As a soldier his first instinct is to try and prevent the explosion from happening and save the lives of the innocents on board. But doing so is futile Source Code’s creepy and condescending inventor Dr. Walter Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright) glibly explains. Source Code is not a time-travel machine but rather a “time-reassignment” device built on principles of quantum mechanics and parabolic calculus that Colter's feeble mind couldn’t possibly comprehend. The train bombing is a part of the past which is unalterable; Stevens’ actions to prevent its occurrence however heroic have no real-world ramifications. He is simply a detective whose crime scene is the residual consciousness – the “after-image” – of a dead man’s brain.
But if that were true Colter wouldn’t be able to exit the train make cell phone calls strike a romantic chord with Monaghan’s character or engage in various other activities that we see him perform in the film activities that lie well beyond the experiential purview of the dead man’s final memories. Could it be that the Source Code program is actually something more profound perhaps a kind of portal to a parallel universe? (Jones’s usage of Scott Bakula star of TV’s Quantum Leap in a clever cameo as the Colter's father provides a strong hint.) Colter's own experiences seem to confirm as much: Each time the train-bombing scenario unfolds he notices subtle differences in seemingly trivial details like the timing of a coffee spill. No two universes after all can ever be exactly alike.
This little twist exposes some potential issues with Source Code’s underlying logic chief among them being questions about the reliability of any “evidence” uncovered by Colter in his quantum adventures. The narrative asks us to take a few logical leaps of faith and I humbly suggest you comply. Source Code is more than strong enough as a film – an intelligent probing sci-fi thriller that packs a surprisingly strong emotional punch – to withstand any nitpicking about its theoretical veracity. Director Jones’s ambitions are grander his aim more mainstream his tone more hopeful this time around than in his haunting 2009 breakout hit Moon but the result is just as resonant.
Former cellmates Michael (Russell) and Murphy (Costner) are leaders of a posse that plans to pull off the heist of a lifetime: robbing the Riviera Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas during International Elvis Week. This means of course adopting full-on spangled jumpsuits sunglasses and "thank yuh thank yuh vurry much"-es. But when Murphy turns against the crew to keep all the loot for himself Michael escapes with it instead and heads for the border to launder it. He's sidelined along the way by a dalliance with a grifter (Courteney Cox) and her young son. Meanwhile Murphy's hot on his trail.
Costner turned down the chance to play Russell's part to take on the villain instead - and he looks like he's having the time of his life. Less filled out but more amoral than his baddie in the underrated "A Perfect World " Costner bats well as a foil to Russell who shows a barely visible vulnerability under the necessary roughness. Cox to her credit does a complete 180 from her uptight role on "Friends" as the sexually aggressive con-chick Cybil. Christian Slater David Arquette and Bokeem Woodbine make small appearances as part of the Elvis crew Howie Long and Ice-T kick some tail and Kevin Pollak and the long-absent Thomas Haden Church ("Wings") provide comic relief as bumbling lawmen.
"3000 Miles to Graceland" may seem like a caper reminiscent of last month's "Snatch " except there's a lot of bloodshed particularly during the casino robbery where machine gun blasts fling people across the room to land on cha-ching!-ing slot machines. Novice director Demian Lichtenstein's music video background is evident in his Guy Ritchie-esque cuts zooms and a way-bizarre computerized scorpion fight that kicks off the movie (what was that about?). His style and the Vegas ambience give the film a kitschy edge that disappears once the guys shed their Elvis garb. Stay for the credits - you'll see a costumed Russell lip-synching in his own music video as Costner Cox and crew dance about.
November 12, 2003 8:57am EST
A combination of classic Christmas tales Elf is the story of Buddy an orphaned baby who crawls into Santa's toy bag and ends up being raised by elves as one of their own in the North Pole. But years later at 6 feet 3 inches tall this eccentric "elf" just doesn't fit in--literally and figuratively--so his adoptive father Papa Elf (Bob Newhart) tells him about his real father a children's book publisher living in New York City. Like the aspiring dentist elf in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Buddy sets off to his version of the Island of Misfit Toys Manhattan but his dreams of a sugarplum-filled reunion turn sour when his dad Walter (James Caan) turns out to be a Grinch-like curmudgeon more concerned with money then anything else. Worst of all Buddy believes everyone in the city has forgotten the true meaning of Christmas. But when Santa's sleigh crash-lands in Central Park on Christmas Eve New Yorkers like the people of Whoville in How the Grinch Stole Christmas break out into song and their energy bestows enough holiday spirit to thrust Santa's reindeer-driven sleigh back into the sky. And Buddy? He wins his father over by publishing a profitable biography of his life.
Tall blonde and goofy-looking Ferrell's characterization of Buddy as a naïve and tenderhearted giant is absolutely hilarious and is the saving grace behind Elf. Ferrell resuscitates the film's not-so-funny lines with his delivery: he has a babyish way of pointing out the obvious in a manner that would normally be considered insulting: for example when he meets a renowned children's author (Peter Dinklage) who happens to be a "little person " he excitedly points out "Hey you're an elf!" Playing Buddy's biological father and serious counterpart is veteran actor Caan whose unyielding expressions make Buddy's persona seem even more over the top--like when he tells his son flat out that that it's time to ditch the yellow tights. Adding an edge to the normally jovially portrayed Santa Clause is Edward Asner whose chubby St. Nick is more stressed out and short-tempered than jolly--as expected from a man with all his responsibilities.
With a wacky concept and a great cast it's a shame director Jon Favreau (Made) never fully exploits Elf's potential; Like Santa's reindeer-guided sleigh the movie launches with an encouraging start in the North Pole but sputters and eventually nose-dives in the heart of Central Park. Elf's opening North Pole sequence are by far the film's best with the lofty Buddy somewhere in his 30s still not fully comprehending that he is not an elf. The tiny snowcapped sets create a truly funny juxtaposition for Ferrell's oversized character as he crams into miniscule props including a school desk a bathtub a bed and an impractically small house. But like a blizzard Favreau plows through the movie's creative North Pole setting and into the insipid city backdrop where the film falls prey to clichéd fish-out-of-water jokes. Here Buddy marvels at all things cosmopolitan including department store revolving doors and escalators. It's a shame Favreau cut short Buddy's antics as a lanky middle-aged human surrounded by elves in the North Pole while utterly prolonging his experiences as an elf in New York City.
August 24, 2003 10:53am EST
Here are the awful facts: Ashton Kutcher plays Tom Stanisfield an apprehensive executive at a large publishing firm called Midnight Owl run by a ruthless megalomaniac who fires staff members for brewing a too-bitter batch of java. One day the boss's attractive daughter Lisa (Tara Reid) asks Tom to come over and babysit her father's pet owl so she can go to a party and he agrees misunderstanding that he has made a date with her. Poor Tom realizes the mix-up once he arrives at the mansion and is given instructions on how to care for the owl O.J. (named after the football player). He decides to go through with it anyway; after all a little butt kissing never hurt anyone right? Things quickly take a turn for the worse as one unwelcome visitor after another struts through the house: a drug dealer after the boss's son Red (Andy Richter) a neighbor with a gushing head wound from an accident (Ever Carradine) a former employer wanting her job back (Molly Shannon) to name a few. Oh and O.J. gets loose. The uninvited guests subsequently spend the entire movie crashing through tables and breaking antiques as they try to get the owl back while wimpy Tom stands at the center of it all pleading for everyone to "please leave."
My Boss's Daughter wrapped in June 2001 and for obvious reasons sat on a shelf for some time collecting dust over at Miramax. Perhaps the studio thought this would be a good time to capitalize on the popularity of Kutcher who is having a great year with his two series Fox's That '70s Show and the MTV prankster series Punk'd not to mention the commercial success of his last feature Just Married. What is so genuinely funny about Kutcher is that he delivers the stupidest lines with such earnestness that he is simply funny because he tries not to be. Here Kutcher outshines the material; his timing and delivery are on but the jokes just lack impact. It's sad to see such a truly funny actor stuck in such a truly bad movie. His co-star Reid looking a little over-baked is also a victim of this bad material. Remember her back when she impressed moviegoers with her performance as Bunny in the Coen brothers' 1998 comedy The Big Lebowski? While the actress has since shined in supporting roles that have overtly capitalized on her sexuality including Cruel Intentions and American Pie My Boss's Daughter is not clever enough to do that. Her character Lisa is supposedly a sharp businesswoman by day but by night she jumps up and down on her four-post bed while listening to the radio. Not even the talented supporting cast which includes Richter and Shannon draw laughs in this calamity of a movie.
With his younger brother Jerry and high school pal Jim Abrahams director David Zucker is responsible for helming a series of hilarious movies including the comedy Ruthless People and the spoofs Top Secret! and Airplane!. In 1988 Zucker helmed his first solo project The Naked Gun - From the Files of Police Squad! and its sequel but the quality of his material since has waned. His 1998 effort Baseketball was infantile and badly executed but My Boss's Daughter is just walk-out headache-inducing bad. The jokes are so lame that moviegoers will know the outcome before they even happen. Does scribe David Dorfman who penned the box office topper Anger Management expect the audience to laugh at the series of hackneyed sight gags like a mouse running up Tom's pant leg? And Zucker's trademark urination jokes only doom this comedy further. In one scene for example an intruder asserts his vigor by pissing all over the living room. Unless you are a three-year-old wrestling with the pressures of potty training how is that funny? There is also a weird and pointless running gag about characters saying benign things that then get misconstrued as racially biased. Let's just hope Zucker has better tricks up his sleeve for his upcoming spoof Scary Movie 3.