Katherine Winter (Hilary Swank) is an ordained minister who loses her faith after losing her family in a tragedy and has turned to debunking purported miracles around the world. Along with her handsome religious sidekick Ben (Idris Elba) she explains away one religious phenomenon after another. Then a science teacher (David Morrissey) from a small town called Haven comes to her lecture to ask for help. It turns out the river running through town has turned red with blood and the townspeople are blaming it on a 12-year-old girl (AnnaSophia Robb) who looks a lot like Katherine's dead daughter. Before the religious fanatics of Haven turn into a lynch mob Katherine gets help from the girl's very crazy mother (Andrea Frankle) the town's sheriff (William Ragsdale) and a priest she once worked with (Stephen Rea). Nevertheless plagues start happening: Frogs drop from the skies locusts swarm cows die kids get lice people get boils on their skin and more. Katherine begins wondering if the girl really is to blame and what she has to do to stop it. Two-time Oscar winner Swank once again nails it as a smart strong professor. Some people would say she's slumming doing a horror movie but Swankbrings the necessary gravitas and charm to a potentially one-dimensional role. And she always looks great in a tank top whether she's playing a boxer a boy or a teacher. Her connection with Elba (Daddy's Little Girls) is palpable as well as her connection with Morrissey (Basic Instinct 2). All three of them have seething sensuality and dark secrets that make their characters intriguing every step of the way. Although she may get confused a lot with Dakota Fanning AnnaSophia Robb (Bridge to Terabithia) has proven herself a fine young actress and is particularly odd and creepy in The Reaping. The usually great Stephen Rea (Crying Game) is the only one out of place. He seems to be just phoning it in sometimes quite literally. The supporting cast of rural townsfolk is oddball enough to be distinguishable each with their own quirk. Director Stephen Hopkins knows how to put together a suspenseful film. He has helmed the pilot to 24 as well as movies Under Suspicion Predator 2 and Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child. Sometimes however he resorts to cheap scares that really aren't necessary and an overbearing score by John Frizzell leads too obviously into frightening moments. The Reaping is also confusing at times and it's never clear why the plagues are invading this tiny town. Swank delivers long monologues on actual history and Biblical verse but thankfully makes them interesting. Once the plagues unravel however all the pretensions melt away. The special effects aren’t solely dependant on computer graphics even if a few of the final plagues go over-the-top. Overall The Reaping does what it intends to do assuring more than a few jumps.
Based on the bestseller by Nicolas Sparks the film begins with Duke (James Garner) and Allie (Gena Rowlands) an inseparable couple living in a nursing home. While Duke remembers their life together Allie who suffers from progressive dementia does not. Their only bond is a faded notebook from which Duke reads to Allie every day telling her the same story over and over. It's a sweeping tale of two South Carolina teens country boy Noah (Ryan Gosling) and city gal Allie (Rachel McAdams) who spend one glorious summer in the early 1940s falling madly in love. Unfortunately the couple is soon separated first by her disapproving parents and then by World War II but after seven years apart after taking different paths they are passionately reunited. There's a catch though; Allie is now faced to choose between the man she once loved and the successful businessman (James Marsden) she is engaged to. It's really no surprise who the young Allie chooses in the end--but for Duke the only thing that keeps him going is the fact that every day somehow through the power of this story the mentally impaired Allie miraculously remembers their love if only for a very brief moment before slipping back into oblivion. Tears being jerked from your eyes yet?
The talented cast certainly elevates The Notebook's romantic drudgery. McAdams takes a departure from all the Mean Girls she's played lately (including The Hot Chick) and easily wins you over as the spirited young Allie while the usually intense Gosling also tackles something lighter so to speak than his previous darker roles such as his Jewish-turned-American Nazi leader in The Believer. While infusing a certain sense of brooding and melancholy into Noah especially in the years he spends pining for Allie Gosling manages to exude Noah's genuine warmth and sensitivity as well. And between the two of them real sparks fly as the actors paint a fresh and inviting picture of young love that stands the test of time. Marsden is completely wasted however as Allie's fiancé Lon a upstanding Southern gentleman Allie's parents expect her to marry who offers little as to why Allie should stay with him. As the older contingency veterans Garner and Rowlands who take the sappiest material and turn it into something meaningful inspire some truly heart-ripping moments as the aging couple holding onto their love as tight as they can. In the supporting cast Joan Allen has some shining moments as Allie's uptight mother with a secret of her own.
In bringing the popular novel about enduring love to life director Nick Cassavetes (Unhook the Stars) may have used his own experiences having seen his parents--the late John Cassavetes and his lady love and muse Gena Rowlands--play out their own real-life love affair. Cassavettes gets to the heart of the material right away and permeates the screen with the beautiful surroundings of South Carolina where The Notebook was filmed. We glide through lush moss-filled swamps and sleepy Southern towns marvel at languid shots of the South Carolina coastline. It's very clear Cassavetes has a way with actors much like his father did gently coaxing realistic performances from his young somewhat untested leads while allowing old guards like Garner and Rowlands to simply work their magic (imagine telling your Oscar-nominated mother how to act. Right). The problem is the story itself which not only offers nothing new to the romance genre but also isn't very compelling. There are no great tragedies (save perhaps for the whole dementia thing) no real villainous presence to keep the lovers apart no peril at all. It's boy-meets-girl boy-loses-girl boy-wins-girl-back--ho-hum. Where's the sudsy soap opera when you need it?
We've all known nobodies like Joe Scheffer (Tim Allen)--a milquetoast fellow who works at his job while hardly anyone notices him. Even though he's a talented video specialist for a big company he is regularly passed over for a long-promised promotion. Only one of his co-workers "wellness coordinator" Meg Harper (Julie Bowen) pays attention to him--mostly because it's her job but she also genuinely likes him (he secretly likes her too). One day the straw breaks when he loses his hard earned parking spot to the office bully Mark McKinney (Patrick Warburton) and is then humiliated by Mark in front of his precocious 12-year-old daughter Natalie (Hayden Panettiere). Joe decides he is not going to roll over and play dead; he's going to challenge Mark. Suddenly his popularity grows at the office. He starts climbing the corporate ladder. He gets a makeover and takes martial arts instruction from a washed-up "B" action star (Jim Belushi). Life is good--that is until Joe notices how unimpressed Meg and Natalie have become; they want the old Joe back (and darn it so do we). As the big day approaches Joe must decide if he will play into the popular vote or show everyone that he is truly a "somebody" now.
You've got to admit that Tim Allen is a funny guy. He can be thrown into any comedy (and he's smart enough to keep making them instead of trying to do a "drama") and you know he's going to pull out a pretty good performance. Some of his efforts like the hysterical Galaxy Quest have been better than others. Unfortunately Joe falls into the "other" category but don't blame Allen too much since he still manages to make Joe an endearing character. Bowen is plucky and spirited without much substance while Panettiere is a standout as Joe's daughter Natalie. With a face like an angel she projects more real emotion than anyone else and if she plays her cards right she might turn into a good little actress. Best of all it was great to see Belushi again. Definitely a high point of the film he is hysterical as the has-been action star trying to teach Joe how to fight.
Joe provides just enough laughs to keep you in your seat but it isn't really going to surprise you. The formula is simple-wimpy guy stands up for himself learns invaluable lesson about being true to oneself and gets the girl. This isn't rocket science folks and the script lapses into pat answers a little too easily. Still it's one of those comedies that grows on you whether you want it to or not. The funniest moments in the film are between Allen and Belushi hands down with the comic veterans playing off one other expertly. It's also clear director John Pasquin and Allen have a long history together. They began their relationship on Allen's hit TV show Home Improvement and then went on to make a few successful films for Disney including The Santa Clause and Jungle2Jungle. Pasquin can bring out good stuff from Allen but somehow misses the great things Allen can do.