In the 2006 animated blockbuster Happy Feet an alienated emperor penguin named Mumbles found empowerment through tap-dancing and in so doing managed to both attract a mate and stop the overfishing that imperiled his Antarctic habitat. Directed by George Mitchell – the same George Mitchell who gave us the post-apocalyptic Mad Max trilogy and the almost despairingly bleak Babe: Pig in the City – Happy Feet paired its broadly conventional narrative with a darker sensibility not often seen in talking-animal fare.
The film’s sequel Happy Feet Two finds Mitchell (co-directing with Gary Eck) both more jovial and more easily distracted. The story begins straightforwardly enough with Mumbles (Elijah Wood) now grown-up and by all appearances well-adjusted ceding the mantle of self-discovery to his son Erik (Ava Acres). Boogie fever has swept the once dance-averse penguin nation but in a cruelly ironic twist Erik has inherited none of his father’s nifty moves. But just as Happy Feet Two appears intent on recycling its predecessor’s basic storyline the film abruptly changes course and embarks on a series of detours that seemed geared more as fodder for throwaway gags and showy set pieces than anything else. The disparate narrative elements while enjoyable in isolation never quite coalesce into a meaningful whole leaving us entertained but unfulfilled.
As before Happy Feet Two features a variety of buoyant song-and-dance numbers with Alecia Moore (aka P!nk) lending her formidable pipes to spirited re-workings of “Rhythm Nation” and “Under Pressure ” among others. Robin Williams returns for double duty as both Ramon a diminutive oversexed Latin lover and Lovelace a fiery Southern-preacher type. (Lovelace later adopts a Rastafarian dialect allowing Williams to achieve the rare culture-caricature trifecta.) His voracious scenery-devouring is all the more impressive given the grandeur of the scenery. Not to be left out of the quasi-Vaudevillian comic shenanigans Hank Azaria lays on a thick Scandinavian shtick as Sven a charismatic Arctic émigré who presents himself as the only penguin in the world who can fly. Azaria is a hoot but the film’s best moments come courtesy of the cast’s highest-profile additions Matt Damon and Brad Pitt voicing Bill and Will (respectively) two tiny krill in search of meaning at the bottom of the food chain.
Archeologist extraordinaire Lara Croft (Angelina Jolie) and her team find a luminescent sphere located in an ancient underwater ruin in the Mediterranean Sea. Croft soon finds out the glowing orb is actually a map revealing the location of Pandora's Box a mythical box containing "life and death"--and a lot of really bad people including a Chinese crime syndicate boss named Chen Lo (Simon Yam) and his evil partner Jonathan Reiss (Ciaran Hinds)--want it. The battle is on as all three race for the box Croft to protect it and the others to turn it into a nifty doomsday weapon. The film strings one action sequence after the next as Croft fights evildoers in her around the world scavenger hunt for Pandora's box--and while some fit in most are gratuitous. There is Croft performing flips on her jet ski for example or Croft riding a motorcycle for what seems like an eternity through the hills in eastern China. The film plays out like the multilevel video game but unlike its PlayStation2 counterpart we have no control over the action. The extravagant stunts however cannot make up for the dry storyline that isn't gripping and ultimately fails to draw you in.
The concept behind Lara Croft is so fresh and intriguing that it's a shame Hollywood consistently traps the character in such shamefully bad storylines. As portrayed by Jolie Croft is the perfect female heroine; she's intelligent driven and tough and her life is absolutely fascinating. But while the first Tomb Raider movie gave us a wealth of information about Croft's character including her patronage education and what drives her as an explorer the sequel just hangs her out to dry. Too bad! If any actress can pull off a complex character like Croft it's definitely Jolie. Not only can she pull off the physical stunts but she also has developed little character quirks--i.e. the raised eyebrow quizzical look. But we never get a closer glimpse into Croft's life and the screenplay rarely allows her personality to emerge. There is an endearing scene in which Croft knocks on the door of a Chinese family and asks to borrow their television so she can hook up a video cam and send a message back home to England. The brief interaction Croft has with the little girl who sits and watches Croft in amazement is quite touching and it would have been nice to see more of this human side.
Dutch director Jan De Bont (Speed 2: Cruise Control) exhibits a flamboyant visual style here but Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life has little to offer other than its look. Most of the slick stunts for example are not only unnecessary but also unsound. One of the more preposterous action sequences has Croft slicing her arm underwater to attract a shark which she then punches in the nose before clutching on to its dorsal fin and pilfering a ride to the surface. Croft had just had her thigh torn open minutes earlier in a brawl. Couldn't she have squeezed some blood out of that wound rather than carve a new one? Never mind the fact that the shark then conveniently swims away and never comes back for a bite of its bleeding prey. But wait it gets worse: Croft then gets rescued while floating at sea by some Brits who show up on a Russian nuclear submarine. Little of it makes any sense. Shot in Greece Tanzania and Hong Kong De Bont shows some polished National Geographic-looking frame compositions that are unfortunately trapped within Dean Georgaris's lackluster screenplay.
January 31, 2002 5:51am EST
A group of high school seniors put a boy who is eager to become part of their clique through a cruel initiation prank that involves jumping off some sort of high scaffolding into a cloudy pool at a local cement factory. When one of them Landon (Shane West) gets caught the principal decides Landon needs to hang with a different crowd and assigns him to tutor kids on the weekend and take part in the drama club's spring play. Surprise-the plan works! In over his head with the play Landon seeks help from Jamie (Mandy Moore) a dowdy bible-thumper who apparently only owns one ratty cardigan. Jamie however is not your run-of-the-mill unpopular girl. Rather than being introverted and weird she is smart witty and confident-in fact that grubby sweater of hers seems to be the only thing branding her as an outcast. The two grow closer and Landon eventually sees her inner beauty forgoing his own A-list status to be with her. But Landon learns that Jamie has been keeping a secret from him that inevitably blocks their path to happiness.
Moore the underdog of the teen pop stars dyes her hair brown and dulls herself down for the role of Jamie a simple girl that loves to gaze at the stars in her spare time. She did a great job transforming herself into her character but in the process extinguished most of what makes her sparkle on screen. Mind you the script might be to blame for creating a character so unbelievably mundane and one-dimensional. Under all of Jamie's goodness and perfection is well nothing. West does a great job portraying his character transformation. Even while Landon runs with the bad crowd West conveys a sense of humility in the character. Peter Coyote plays Reverend Sullivan Jamie's over-protective father without being too overbearing which is refreshing. An almost unrecognizable and weathered Daryl Hannah has a small but convincing enough role as Landon's mother. Maybe it was her now-brunette hair but I didn't realize it was Hannah until I saw the credits.
In A Walk to Remember director Adam Shankman steered away from being overly sentimental. The relationship that develops between the teens is actually very sweet and interestingly enough the film ends up being more about Landon's transformation than about Jamie's faith. While the film is not as flaky as the rash of recent teen movies it still manages to fall into the same clichés. Though the story is very-dare I say-poignant characters like Jamie's in trying to be different have become a stereotype: The plain Jane whose personality and convictions win over the popular guy. Remember Andie (Molly Ringwald) in Pretty in Pink? Or more recently Laney (Rachael Leigh Cook) in She's All That? And though Moore has a beautiful melodic voice her singing scenes are too drawn out. We are not just treated to her crooning a chorus or two of a song during a church scene but the songs in their entirety. Even Mariah Carey spared us that much in Glitter.