A great cast can be a powerful weapon. In the case of the new family dramedy The Oranges it's the saving grace.
The formula for a quirky suburban dissection is on full display in the feature from TV veteran Julian Farino and first-time writers Ian Helfer and Jay Reiss which follows two best friend couples Terry and Carol Ostroff (Oliver Platt and Allison Janney) and David and Paige Walling (Hugh Laurie and Catherine Keener) whose BFF relationship implodes when David strikes up a romance with the Ostroff's daughter Nina (Leighton Meester). The scandalous affair lights a fire under the well-to-do New Jersey families and when David realizes that his connection with Nina is deeper than just a one night stand their white picket fence lives completely crack.
Even with a divisive subject matter (to follow love or to stick with family?) The Oranges floats by without much edge. David and Nina's romance begins with passion but is entirely void of sexual fire. As it evolves they become complacent and boring — everything David hated about his first marriage. That would be a great twist but The Oranges isn't satire. The conflict comes with the scowling world around the unlikely pair the Ostroff's distraught over their daughter's choices Paige off exploring other options for her own now-single life and David's daughter Vanessa (Alia Shawkat) juggling her own aimless path as a furniture designer. For a risky life choice David and Nina's decision to declare their love for one another doesn't come with many repercussions even in the "squeaky clean" land of Jersey.
But the cast turns The Oranges into one to watch. Laurie has a life beyond the uptight Dr. House playing David as a compassionate conflicted acceptedly selfish man. It's easy to see why he falls for Meester's Nina who isn't simply a 20-something with an interest in older guys. They both see qualities in each other that are apparent to the audience and they play it with energy not present in the material. There's a been-there-done-that feeling to Platt and Janney in The Oranges but only because they're continually perfect as the hilarious overbearing parents. Sadly Keener goes to waste; another indie vet she spends most of the time of screen until one momentous outburst that arrives without build up.
Farino adeptly directs The Oranges and avoids the eye-rolling tropes that go hand and hand with movies of this nature (I'm looking at you head-on shots featuring Linus-like characters moping about). He knows how to let his actors play and when you have a man like Laurie in the lead that's a must. The movie never peels back the rhine to find something new to say about the 'burbs but with great actors in tow The Oranges rises above the lookalikes.
You can’t buy happiness so why not waste millions of dollars betting on illegal drag races between rare exotic cars. That’s just what L.A. pimp/record producer Infamous (Eddie Griffin) movie mogul Jerry (Tim Matheson) and a sociopath counterfeiter known to his family as Uncle Mike (Angus MacFadyen) like to do with their free time and seemingly endless piles of cash. These guys will gamble on just about anything: For example they bet $1 million Uncle Mike’s nephew can drive from L.A. to Las Vegas in under two hours. An impossible feat made more so by driving at night racing at speeds of over 200 mph through windy desert roads using special night goggles and zipping past CHiPs unnoticed like the Road Runner. But the annual multi-million dollar race is coming and Infamous needs a driver. Enter the movie’s hero and narrator Natasha (Nadia Bjorlin) who has retired from racing and is busy pimping rides and fronting a hair-metal band. After some teasers the mega-stakes illegal drag race kicks off deep in the Nevada desert where a fatal mistake costs one racer their life and another their freedom. The script gives little if any help to the actors in this scattered camp-fest meets a misogynistic hip-hop video—starting with funnyman Eddie Griffin basically doing standup and one-liners throughout. Angus MacFadyen (Saw III) brings some presence to the drowning film with his shell-shocked Martin Sheen/Apocalypse Now parody—strange drunken dances to boot. Veteran actor and man of a thousand bad parts Tim Matheson--who has managed to stay afloat with B movies since his glory days as Eric “Otter” Stratton in Animal House--actually seems to be having a little fun here. Sadly though the rest of the supporting cast is easily forgettable and at times comes off a little too much like the cast of a late night Cinemax skin-flick. Too bad Redline is PG-13. Redline is Andy Cheng’s (End Game) second time helming a feature film but he is no stranger to movie sets as his past credits include a myriad of stunt coordination work in films like Rush Hour and The Scorpion King. A lot of his early work was spent on Jackie Chan films which explains a lot about his directing style with Redline. Part of the charm of a Jackie Chan film is well Jackie Chan and all his amazing moves but take out Chan and leave the ridiculous cartoon characters and inane plots that surround his Hong Kong reels and you have Redline. Amidst the awkward one-liners and misplaced acrobatic fight scenes choreographed to unidentifiable hip-hop music some of the car races--as when a Porsche 911 takes on a $1.2 million Ferrari Enzo--are actually quite cool. This is where Cheng really shows his chops and he makes the most of his limited resources creating a really tacky however absolutely superbly bad-funny cult classic. Redline would have made an excellent double-feature back in 1975 alongside Death Race 2000 boasting: “See the world in the year 2007 where decadence rules and reckless millionaires live and die by fast cars and even faster women.”