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.
The true story of the longest criminal trial in U.S. history is told through the eyes of one defendant "Jackie Dee" DiNorscio (Vin Diesel) who ends up representing himself while 19 other members of the notorious Lucchese crime network is being tried around him. Jackie brings a much-needed air of brash simpatico to the courtroom as he describes how his cousin walked into his bedroom and shot him four times and a fellow defendant collapses and remains in a hospital bed for the duration of the trail. As he tries to mend relations with his wife and kids and attempts his own brand of lawyering Jackie turns the court into a stage as if he's testing a stand-up comedy routine. Yeah Vin proves he's a better actor than The Rock but somehow playing a low-class goomba doesn't seem all that hard for him. Diesel is practically unrecognizable with a partial toupee showing a thinning hairline and of course there’s the few pounds he put on for the part. Peter Dinklage who got noticed after The Station Agent plays one of the defense attorneys who needs to have a heightened podium set up every time he talks to the jury. He and Ron Silver as the judge play their roles with tongue-in-cheek humor as well as necessary bravado. However the rest of the mob looks like they came from the Sopranos casting rejects and Linus Roache (Priest) who's normally a fine actor is way over-the-top with his tirades as the prosecutor. How could a visionary master like Sidney Lumet think that this protracted courtroom drama could be interesting for more than two hours? Courtroom dramas are usually rather tedious but this is the guy who brought us 12 Angry Men a few decades ago so you think he’d know how to make the legal process appear interesting on film. But he misses it with Guilty. When Diesel's character addresses the jury his sincere charm seems to captivate the jury and it translates to the audience but then we're shown Jackie's seedier side too. Much of the dialogue is taken from actual court transcripts and most of the film is shot in one room--much like 12 Angry Men--but the conflict and the drama doesn't seem to carry through the whole movie.
Based on his popular novella of the same name Martin takes the non-comedic role in a painfully awkward love triangle. It starts with Mirabelle (Claire Danes) whose stands behind the purse counter of an upscale Beverly Hills department store waiting for something to happen. Then along comes a wealthy handsome older gentleman named Ray Porter (Martin) who her sweeps her off her feet with restrained charm and lavish gifts. Meanwhile an inept suitor Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman) tries winning Mirabelle's attention but ends up asking her to pay for him on their date. Shopgirl is another loving postcard by Martin to the City of Angeles but let’s hope people in L.A. have more exciting romances than he shows here. Shopgirl got a tepid response at the Toronto International Film Festival. The faux-praise at the after-party for the actors seemed as forced as some of the L.A. kiss-and-schmooze events depicted in this film. Schwartzman can easily come across irritating instead of funny. Thankfully in Shopgirl he transcends his irritating personality and turns charming. But he’s just not as funny as Martin and when he tries the deadpan humor Martin is so famous for it falls rather flat. Martin has proven he can be great in a drama--The Spanish Prisoner is a fine example. But he excels in comedy and unfortunately he doesn't show much of it here. And as far as our leading lady is concerned she's just as bland as a piece of toast in this. It's obvious that British filmmaker Anand Tucker (Hilary and Jackie) is an outsider to L.A.. His fascination with the mundane details of the city makes the whole film seem a bit European. Maybe that's good. Maybe that's why Volcano was misunderstood because it really was a comedy told through the eyes of a Brit. Maybe that's why Venice/Venice so oddly juxtaposed the romantic Italian city with the tacky L.A. boardwalk. Maybe ultimately that's why Shopgirl is such a bore at times with scenes of Danes standing behind a counter looking at her watch and waiting for something to happen. I identified with her because I was doing the same thing.
We meet the two very unlikely sisters while each are having sex. Rose Feller (Toni Collette) is a successful lawyer who is sleeping with her boss and thinking of ways it can improve her career. Maggie Feller (Cameron Diaz) is a party girl and at her 10-year high school reunion--after trying to have a fling in a bathroom stall--she ends up puking instead. Inevitably Maggie gets kicked out of her dad and stepmother's house and winds up on the doorstep of her sister. The Feller girls were close once when they were young girls especially after their mentally unstable mother died. But now their grown-up personalities clash rather dramatically. And when Maggie seriously crosses the line by seducing Rose's new boyfriend the straw is broken. Forced out Maggie stumbles upon some birthday cards from a long-lost grandmother and decides to go hit her up for cash. Turns out Grandma Ella (Shirley MacLaine) lives in a senior citizen's community in Florida that gets its humor from Golden Girls re-runs. Maggie may ingratiate herself within this new environment but isn't any more redeemed by reconnecting with Ella. She still acts like a petulant child. But rather than throwing her out Ella along with the gang of old folk forces Maggie to take some responsibility.
Collette (The Sixth Sense) is fantastic as the frumpy pudgy Philadelphia lawyer who gives up everything so she can walk dogs and lead a simpler life. But she's done this many times before--and honestly is so much better than Muriel's Wedding. Diaz (my personal favorite Charlie's Angel) doesn't need to stretch too far to play a conniving ditz with a heart. This is her There's Something About Mary role albeit a tad more screwed-up with a sister and lost grandma. So that leaves MacLaine as the saving grace for any worthwhile acting in this movie. Despite the obvious shuffleboard clichés--and the occasional leers at Diaz by the old guys around the pool--when the old folk are around the film gets lively and tolerable believe it or not. MacLaine leads the way with the quips and barbs but in a more subtle way than we are used to from this usually eccentric actress. The supporting cast of cranky cronies have some great moments especially veteran actor Norman Lloyd as the blind professor who teaches Maggie a thing or two about manners trust and family.
If this were Nora Ephron directing that would have been one thing but coming from Curtis Hanson the Oscar-winner who gave us L.A. Confidential it just doesn't mesh. Hanson can do quirky (Wonder Boys) he can do adventure (The River Wild) he can do hard-hittin' rap stories (8 Mile) and he can even do scary (Hand That Rocks the Cradle) but why in the world would he attempt a saccharine-soaked female family story that threatens to be a Crimes of the Heart tear-jerker? Screenwriter Susannah Grant who adapted In Her Shoes from Jennifer Weiner's popular bestseller of the same name also wrote Erin Brockovich and 28 Days. She understands strong female characters but there's still a major layer of sugar coating that Hanson can't scrape off. He doesn't tone anything down from Grant's script--not the overly cute dogs nor the embarrassing bridal shower nor the expected moments of guilt-tripping between the ladies. Instead he plods through the paint-by-number script and wraps it all up nicely into a crowd-pleasing film that is ultimately forgettable.