In yet another variation on the shopworn road picture in which two mismatched former buddies are forced to cross the country together Soul Men’s uneasy brand of overly broad humor and contrived situations is saved intermittently by some cool musical numbers. But alas it’s not enough. Louis (Samuel L. Jackson) and Floyd (Bernie Mac) are part of a major musical group led by Marcus Hooks (John Legend) who goes solo leaving Floyd and Louis in the lurch. Fast forward 20 years Hooks has died and Louis and Floyd who did not end on good terms and have not spoken since have been coerced into appearing a tribute show for Hooks at New York’s famed Apollo Theatre. Afraid to fly they get in Floyd’s 1971 Cadillac El Dorado accompanied by a talented young woman (Sharon Leal) who may be Floyd’s daughter. Along the way they try to get their act up to speed by appearing in various redneck honky tonks filling the interminable 103-minute running time with a lot of unfunny sexual encounters and unbelievable situations. The late Bernie Mac was a terrific comic talent and is highly wasted in this mishmash in which he is constantly encouraged to mug for laughs. Mac is so much better than the lowbrow material he has to work with here that it’s a shame this film should stand as one of his last (at least there’s Madagascar 2). Faring even worse however is Samuel L. Jackson who is out of his element in a musical comedy and seems to be taking none of this hokum seriously. Thankfully the soulful musical numbers reminiscent of classic ‘60s Sam and Dave R&B are well chosen and capably performed even though neither Mac nor Jackson are known for their singing. Best number in fact is fronted by John Legend making his acting debut as Hooks. As the young eager beaver manager trying to get Floyd and Louis back together Sean Hayes is way too broad. Faring better is newcomer Adam Herschman as Hayes’ mop-topped intern who uses his fanboy infatuation with the pair to nice advantage. And there’s a nice now bittersweet bit near the end with the late Isaac Hayes. Malcolm Lee (Undercover Brother Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins) is a director who tends to go for the slapstick when a little subtlety and believability would be more in order. With a great Sunshine Boys premise and some nifty musical material to pepper the proceedings Lee still manages to drop the ball letting his talented actors down and encouraging them to chew up every scene. The corny silly situations certainly doesn’t help matters with the road trip device feeling more like padding than anything else. Soul Men doesn’t find the right rhythms.
Don’t get me wrong. The Heartbreak Kid does have its moments. As a loose remake of the 1972 Neil Simon classic starring Charles Grodin this story centers on 40-year-old Eddie Cantrow (Stiller) a commitment-shy fellow who can’t seem to settle down. After years of his lusty father (Jerry Stiller) and henpecked married best friend (Rob Corddry) berating him for his pickiness when it comes to women Eddie finally meets Lila (Malin Akerman) a seemingly perfect antidote to bachelorhood. Eddie impulsively proposes—and thus embarks on the longest journey of his life. As the couple head to Mexico on their honeymoon Lila goes from being cute and quirky to being cute and crazy. From Lila’s need for aggressively scary sex to her deviated septum from a cocaine problem Eddie begins to realize he’s made a terrible TERRIBLE mistake. Then at the exotic Mexican hideaway Eddie falls for the down-to-earth Miranda (Michelle Monaghan) who has no clue he’s on his honeymoon. Things get kind of complicated after that. Stiller doing the stuff he does best really never gets old. He manages to instill in the not-so-likeable Eddie his own unique manic charm like he has done countless times before. But now slightly grayer and more distinguished looking the comic actor may have finally outgrown balls-out antics. At times Stiller almost seems uncomfortable going wild and crazy in The Heartbreak Kid. He can do it no problem but he’s actually more effective as the romantic lead. As the object of Eddie’s affection Monaghan (Mission: Impossible III) continues her streak of playing genuinely adorable if slightly off-kiltered ingénues. Akerman (Brothers Solomon) naturally doesn’t come off nearly as well since she’s the nutcase in this scenario. But while comparisons to her look-alike and former Farrelly favorite Cameron Diaz should be obvious Akerman tries to make the klutzy wacko her own. And in a fun turn veteran comedian Jerry Stiller gets to shine his irascible light on his real-life son. You have to wonder if maybe some of their er conversations in the movie ever happened for real. Here’s the thing: Peter and Bobby Farrelly are respected veterans in film comedies hands down. Dumb & Dumber and There's Something About Mary are hilarious classics full of all the toilet humor one can handle. Who hasn’t played a good drinking game watching one of those films? But as the Farrelly bros have gotten older it seems they have also gotten softer in the middle hence films such as Fever Pitch--and now I’m afraid The Heartbreak Kid. First of all it must have been difficult raunchin’ up an established Neil Simon gem (not too mention why they'd want to mess with the original in the first place). Secondly maybe the Farrelly brothers have also finally grown up a little. There are definitely some outrageous moments in The Heartbreak Kid--most of which are in the trailer--but the underlying theme of the movie is more sweet than sticky. And that’s OK just so long as you don’t expect the old Farrelly magic.
Pride is “inspired” by true events. Unlike movies “based” on true events those that are “inspired” can take the bare bones of a true story and build exponentially upon them. It focuses on swim coach Jim Ellis (Terrence Howard)—not by the way to be confused with the great boxer Jimmie Ellis—who inspired in a group of inner-city kids “pride determination and resilience” when he was assigned to monitor a rundown Philadelphia recreation center in the early 1970s. As one would expect in a film of this sort Coach Ellis instills in his kids a will to struggle and fight--and to paddle their way to glory. Along the way they contend with the hazards of urban life (drugs crime) and the ugliness of racism. The kids learn teamwork and respect and the coach learns a thing or two about himself too. Terrence Howard who’s in such a beautiful groove as an actor that he can almost do no wrong brings his trademark intensity and passion to the role of swim coach Jim Ellis. He’s tough but tender forceful yet contemplative--and everything a big-screen coach should be. He also has great chemistry with the kids and particularly with Bernie Mac whose custodian of the rec center becomes a great sounding board for Coach Ellis and the swimmers. If Howard is a great screen coach--and he is--than Mac is a great assistant coach. It would be nice to see them paired up again. Kimberly Elise is very pretty and very good in another stock role that of a city councilwoman eventually won over by Howard leading to a potential (and predictable) romance. Even Tom Arnold cast as an antagonistic and racist rival swim coach manages a good turn. This is the first feature from director Sunu Gonera and he brings an enthusiastic approach to absolutely formula material. The swimming scenes are exciting and even better the scenes that focus on the characters are just as stimulating. Besides any director who can get a good performance out of Tom Arnold surely has something. Films of this sort can be done well and they can be done badly--and we’ve all seen countless examples of the latter. Pride is clearly a feel-good movie from the first frame to the last. And guess what? It all works. Every second of it. Pride’s corniness quotient which should be off the scale is instead supplanted (refreshingly so) by a good old-fashioned sense of storytelling and heart. It gets its message across without being heavy and that is tantamount to a victory in itself.
Maybe it’s Accepted’s whole getting-into-college experience that grabs you. Most people have gone through it at one point or another--and for those high school seniors who are about to go through it Accepted should ring true for them too. The film revolves around Bartleby “B” Gaines (Justin Long) who has been rejected again and again from the colleges he’s applied to. It’s very frustrating especially with his parents breathing down his neck. So what does the clever B do? Simple: Open his own university the esteemed South Harmon Institute of Technology (of course the acronym is not missed). Juggling the balls delicately in the air B and his other college-less friends forge ahead with maintaining a fake functioning university. But it may take more than just sleight of hand to keep the very free-forum South Harmon going which has now gained quite a name for itself in the short time its been open. A lot more. Long has been turning in hilarious performances as awkward but lovable goofballs in comedies such as Dodgeball and Galaxy Quest--and is probably most recognizable right now as the Mac guy who makes fun of the Dell guy in those Apple computer ads. But the affable actor finally gets his big shot at full-fledged goofball-hood successfully carrying Accepted on his own. As B you quickly warm up to his easygoing yet quietly sarcastic style a method he told Entertainment Weekly he developed under the tutelage of fellow Frat Packer Vince Vaughn. Of course in Accepted Long has some help too. There’s some strong supporting bits especially from comedian and The Daily Show regular Lewis Black as Uncle Ben the university’s neurotic “we’re mad as hell and we aren’t going to take it anymore” make-believe dean. Good stuff. Rounding out the colorful cast is cute-as-a-button Blake Lively (The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants) playing the girl-next-door B adores who defects to SHI...well you get the picture. You have to admit college-based comedies are usually mindless fun and Accepted is no exception. The premise alone lends itself to all kinds of mishaps and guffaws especially when B and the gang turn a deserted former mental institution into an institution of higher learning. In his directorial debut Steve Pink--best known for co-writing comedies such as High Fidelity and Grosse Pointe Blank--understands this and hits most of the right beats. But unfortunately Accepted can’t keep up its inimitable momentum--as B fights for the school’s unique curriculum as well as its right to exist at all--becoming Revenge of the Nerds meets Animal House meets Old School meets...I could go on forever. Maybe in the hands of a more experienced filmmaker Accepted could have been taken to its own higher level instead of lapsing into standard underdog territory.
In the late 19th century Dr. Gabriel Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) a misunderstood monster hunter is summoned to Transylvania to ferret out Count Dracula (Richard Roxburgh) and kill him once and for all. When Van Helsing gets to the small village where the vampire was last spotted he discovers he also must contend with Dracula's three seriously twisted vampire brides Dracula's angry henchman/werewolf--and a lovely gypsy princess named Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale) who is hell-bent on eradicating Dracula and his bloodsucking kind for slaughtering her entire family. Oh and let's not forget Frankenstein's Monster (Shuler Hensley) who holds the key to Dracula's evil master plan--something about releasing his minions of unborn bat-like children from their goo-filled cocoons so they can wreck havoc on the world. Yuck. Sounds like our resident monster stomper and his sword-swinging gal pal have their work cut out for them. If Van Helsing does manage to kill all his monster foes does that mean he's out of a job?
Jackman has the whole antihero thing down pat. He adequately embodies the younger more virile Van Helsing dishing out as much pain and torture as he can on the undead--but the Aussie actor isn't given nearly as much meat to chew on as he did say delving into the complicated Wolverine in X-Men. Instead the monster hunter is relegated to carrying big weapons wearing a big hat and muttering something about having bad dreams to a past he can't remember. Same goes for Beckinsale. The British actress was oh-so-cool on the other side of the fence playing the chic vampire Selene in Underworld cutting her way through a myriad of werewolves. As Van Helsing's heavily accented female counterpart Anna however she just runs around with her sword blurting out such pathetic dialogue such as "Dracula took everything away from me and now I'm alone in the world" while Roxburgh's Dracula--who can't hold a candle to other far more charismatic Draculas before him--wails about being so very alone as his luscious brides hang upside down in front of him. Give me a break. At least Australian actor David Wenham (The Lord of the Rings) provides much-needed comic relief as Van Helsing's sidekick Carl a Catholic friar who doesn't much like playing hero.
With the requisite dark mood and tone action sequences and snazzy CGI-creations including the winged vampire brides and formidable werewolves you can see exactly where writer/director Stephen Sommers (The Mummy) spent Van Helsing's nearly $150 million budget. But even all the bells and whistles can't tie together the film's vacuous nonsensical mumbo jumbo as Sommers attempts to bring classic movie monsters together in the same movie. Maybe in a tongue-in-cheek Abbott and Costello movie it could work but as a serious action-packed thriller clearly Dracula Frankenstein and the Wolf Man do not need to meet. On top of that Sommers steals from other movies as well such as recent films Underworld (the whole vampire vs. werewolf conflict) and The League of Extraordinary Gentleman (Van Helsing defeats a rather familiar-looking Mr. Hyde at one point). Whatever originality there is in the film leaves you either scratching your head--Dracula has kids?--or rolling your eyes--Anna needs to kill Dracula so her nine-generations of family can reunite in Heaven? Please.