A massive hit never ends at its own conclusion for better or worse. Lost Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland The Blair Witch Project and other pop culture milestones spawned plenty of imitators of wavering quality that trickled on to screens until the phenomena tapered off. Joyful Noise the new film starring Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton is one these auxiliary creative endeavors a direct descendant of the cheeky drama/comedy/musical hybrid Glee. But instead of teenage issues and pop covers Joyful Noise swaps in familial struggles gospel tunes and a sizable serving of Christian faith. The combination results in a movie that lacks the jazz hand energy of Glee but packs good-natured laughs to keep someone awake for its two hour duration. More "noise" than "joyful."
Mere minutes after the passing away of choir leader Bernie Vi Rose (Latifah) inherits the position—along with a serving of negative vibes from Bernie's wife G.G. (Parton) who was hoping to take the job herself. The new responsibility is only the beginning of Vi Rose's troubles as she attempts to balance her rebellious daughter Olivia's (Keke Palmer) raging hormones her son Walter's (Dexter Darden) Asperger's syndrome her husband's absence during a military stint and her own old school God-faring ways. Hardships are whipped into further chaos upon the arrival of Randy G.G.'s rambunctious horny grandson who shows up at rehearsal with an eye on Olivia and undeniable vocal skills. Randy's rock and roll edge is readily embraced by the group but even with the national gospel championship on the line Vi Rose isn't ready to toss tradition aside.
Joyful Noise is a mixed bag sporadically entertaining when director Todd Graff (Camp Bandslam) lets his two commanding stars flex their comedic muscles or belt soulful tunes. Latifah and Parton can do both with ease—Latifah has a natural charm while Parton essentially fills the "kooky Betty White" here—but instead of letting the two fly Graff breaks up the action with overwrought drama and bizarre side character stories. The script injects a lot of ideas into the picture—loss of faith modernizing ideologies coping with tragedy sexuality under the eye of God—but every tender moment is fumbled. A gut-wrenching conversation between Vi Rose and her autistic son should have weight and the actors do their best but the material doesn't service the emotional complexity of the scenario. Instead it opts to cut to a musical number. Another sequence involving the overnight demise of another character is even played for comedy even when it causes one woman to question her beliefs.
Thank God for the musical numbers which have enough energy to brush the flimsier moments under the rug. The Glee-inspired pop tune covers (Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror " Usher's "Yeah"—both tailored with religious modifications) aren't nearly as interesting or powerful as the straight-up gospel songs. But unlike the tunes Joyful Noise doesn't have rhyme or reason. A mishmash of played out character stereotypes narrative cliches and enjoyable but erratic music the movie feels more like a cash-in than it should. Latifah and Parton are a sizzling duo but the vehicle built for them is a clunker. As Vi Rose might say the only way to have a great time at Joyful Noise is to believe. Really really hard.
BFF’s Tibby (Amber Tamblyn) Carmen (America Ferrara) Bridget (Blake Lively) and Lena (Alexis Bledel) have completed their first year of college--but they seem to be drifting apart even more so than ever. Carmen wants to spend the whole summer with her friends to catch up but the other three all have separate plans: Tibby is staying at NYU for summer school; Bridget is going on an archeological dig which inadvertently spurs her to go visit her estranged grandmother (yeah got to take a leap there); and Lena is taking an art class. Feeling abandoned Carmen takes an internship at a theater festival and ends up meeting a handsome actor and getting a lead role in the main stage production. The Sisterhood eventually realizes the error of their ways and how important their friendship is--with or without the pants--and we as the audience can all give a sigh of relief that it all works out. When the first Sisterhood was released back in 2005 Tamblyn and Bledel were the most recognizable faces both starring in TV shows (Tamblyn in Joan of Arcadia and Bledel in Gilmore Girls). Now with the sequel it’s Ferrara and Lively who are the more successful ones with Ferrara’s Ugly Betty and Lively’s megahit Gossip Girl. Funny how things work out. The girls still have a nice rapport with Ferrara once again stands out as the feisty Carmen who gets suckered into auditioning for Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale and then totally nails it. Tamblyn too does a nice job as the eccentric Tibby dealing with some first love issues. Still it seems the fresh quality these four had in the original seems a tad forced this time around. Supporting turns by Shohreh Aghdashloo as Bridget’s archeological advisor Blythe Danner as her grandmother are noteworthy. The original Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants rode on the high of the bestselling book by Ann Brashares--and it was indeed a sweet touching film about the bond between four girls on the cusp of womanhood. It also made the majority of the female audiences cry which is always a good thing. Changing hands from TV director Ken Kwapis to Something New’s Sanaa Hamri however Sisterhood 2 unfortunately lacks some of the endearing qualities of the original. Rather than feeling like we are revisiting old friends and seeing how they’ve changed the second installment is a little stale as if the old pair of jeans they keep passing around to each other has worn out its welcome. Thankfully there’s a solution to that particular dilemma in this sequel if you know what I mean. Let’s just say a third Traveling Pants is unlikely.
Holly Kennedy (Hilary Swank) doesn’t know how lucky she has it. She’s smart beautiful and married to Gerry (Gerald Butler) a passionate funny and impetuous Irishman who loves her with every breath in his body. But when that breath runs out--Gerry dies unexpectedly from an illness--Holly’s luck runs out. Barely coping her salvation arrives in the form of letters from Gerry that come to Holly in unexpected ways--letters he wrote to her before he died to help her get through the pain and move on with her life and letters that always end with “P.S. I Love You.” A saint huh? Holly’s mother (Kathy Bates) and best friends Sharon (Gina Gershon) and Denise (Lisa Kudrow) begin to worry Gerry’s letters are keeping Holly tied to the past but in fact each letter pushes Holly on a journey of rediscovery and to show her how a love so strong can turn the finality of death into new beginning for life. Tissues please! Swank will be damned if she pigeonholes herself into always playing serious women who don’t wear makeup. P.S. I Love You is her stab at romantic dramedy and while the genre may not suit her best the Oscar-winning actress still has fun playing a spirited woman who wears designer clothes cute hats and gets to make out with a strapping Irish hunk. Actually Swank gets to bed TWO strapping Irish hunks in P.S. I Love You: The first is the yummy Butler of course and the other is Gerry’s old bandmate William played by American Jeffrey Dean Morgan (who’ll be seen in the upcoming romantic comedy The Accidental Husband with Uma Thurman). Lucky girl. Butler however is the one the ladies will sigh over the most. Having already given a powerhouse performance this year as the Spartan king in 300 the Scottish actor turns the tables to show his soft underbelly as the adorably romantic and fun-lovin’ Gerry. The abs still rock though. One can easily see why Holly is such a mess after he dies. Gershon and Kudrow add some genuineness as Holly’s friends (someone please find a Kudrow a TV show) as does Bates as Holly’s hardened mother. Harry Connick Jr. however seems out of place as Holly’s would-be suitor. She just needs to stick with the Irish guys. Hilary Swank teams up with her Freedom Writers director Richard LaGravenese once again for P.S. I Love You and it’s clear they have a symbiotic relationship. Swank probably likes the way LaGravenese accentuates her best features turning her into a glam leading lady while LaGravenese obviously enjoys gazing at her through his camera lens. Unfortunately the two really haven’t found the best material. Freedom Writers is the mother of all teacher-gets-students-motivated retreads while P.S. I Love You--based on a novel by Cecelia Ahern and adapted by LaGravenese and Steven Rogers--is just pure fluff with very little substance behind it. Not that the film won't inspire some romantic feelings or work up tears but its only real strengths are: 1) the players who somehow rise about the triteness of it all especially Butler and 2) the gorgeous landscapes of Ireland which should send any woman in her right mind straight to the Emerald Isles to find her perfect man. Seriously ladies book your trips NOW.
Based on the best-selling novel by Ann Brashares the story centers on four best friends--Lena (Alexis Bledel) Tibby (Amber Tamblyn) Bridget (Blake Lively) and Carmen (America Ferrera)--who realize that they are about to spend their first summer away from each other. On one last shopping spree they find a pair of jeans that fits all of them odd considering their different body shapes. It must mean the pants are magical and will bring them good luck. So the girls make a pack that each of them will spend one week with the pants and then send them off to the next girl. Lena the shy self-conscious artist who is spending the summer in Greece with her grandparents takes the pants first--and meets the hunky Kostas (Michael Rady). Tibby a rebel "suckumentary" filmmaker who marches to the beat of her own drum gets them next. But as tough as Tibby thinks she is she learns some invaluable life lessons through her chance encounter with an extraordinary girl Bailey (Jenna Boyd). Then it's Bridget's turn a vivacious blonde who spends her summer playing soccer in Mexico and displays some reckless behavior with a hands-off camp coach (Mike Vogel). Finally there's Carmen a spit-fire writer who decides to spend some quality time with her wayward dad. Yet upon arrival she is greeted with a not-so-pleasant surprise when her father (Bradley Whitford) introduces her to his very white-bred fiancé (Nancy Travis) and her two teenage children. These four realize in the end whatever magic there is comes from their enduring friendship.
The ensemble cast of fresh faces makes Sisterhood entirely watchable. Tamblyn of TV's Joan of Arcadia's gives the strongest performance as Tibby. The talented actress really digs in executing perfectly Tibby's tough-on-the-outside-but-a-real-softie-underneath persona. Ferrera best known for her stellar performance in the indie hit Real Women Have Curves is another standout as Carmen a girl who wears her heart on her sleeve especially when she finally confronts her dad about never being there for her. Boyd (The Missing) too is quite affecting as Tibby's new rather outspoken friend harboring a tragic secret of her own.. Newcomer Lively does an adequate job playing Bridget who we think is pretty blonde and carefree but who has really been left with a void after the death of her mother. Had she put in a little more effort though she could have been the star of the show. Only Bledel fails to inspire. Watching her is just like an extended episode of her TV show Gilmore Girls both boring and lackluster. She doesn't seem to stretch herself in any way.
This is every teenage girls story being with the best of friends but also being "afraid of time and not having enough of it." At least this is what author Ann Brashares wanted to convey when she wrote the critically acclaimed hugely popular book. TV director Ken Kwapis understands this; Sisterhood bleeds heart and soul. While the pacing seems to drag a bit and the maudlin factor heighten in parts the movie nonetheless mixes the right amount of comedy tragedy and the difficulties of being 16 on the cusp of adulthood. Sisterhood is also beautifully shot especially the scenes in Greece. Kwapis shows the beauty and history of this magnificent country in a way that makes you want to grab your passport and take a trip there. But being that the movie is already a tad slow even the many picturesque Greek moments seem unnecessary. Sisterhood could have shaved a good half hour to make it a more concise movie.
Nolan Walsh (Bruce Greenwood) once a champion thoroughbred trainer and now a mild-mannered Kentucky farmer rescues an abandoned baby zebra and takes him home to his young daughter Channing (Hayden Panettiere). Stripes (voiced by Frankie Muniz) as the adoring Channing calls him grows up on the farm with its misfit troupe of barnyard residents. They include the cantankerous but wise Tucker (voiced by Dustin Hoffman) a Shetland pony; Franny (voiced by Whoopi Goldberg) a motherly old goat who keeps the farm in line; Goose (voiced by Joe Pantoliano) a skittish hit pelican who's hiding out from Jersey thugs after taking out the wrong bird; and Buzz (voiced by Steve Harvey) and Scuzz (voiced by David Spade) two horseflies with attitude--and an affinity for poop. But Stripes isn't cut out for farm life. Instead he has his sights set on the neighboring racetrack with hopes of running in the race himself--even if he isn't exactly a horse. With a little help from his human and farm animal friends he finally gets his chance. And loses! Oh I'm just kidding.
Although the human actors do an adequate job maintaining the core emotional element of the film especially the sweet-cheeked Panettiere (Raising Helen) it's the animal characters that keep Racing Stripes entertaining. Muniz is earnest enough as the enthusiastic Stripes while the sugary Mandy Moore voices his love interest Sandy a local show jumper horse. Veterans Hoffman who finds his inner horse as the crabby Tucker and Goldberg who does the maternal goat thing very well both handle their animal chores with aplomb. The ever-country hick Jeff Foxworthy and the lackadaisical Snoop Dogg also make vocal appearances as a none-too-bright rooster (are there any other kind?) and lazy bloodhound respectively. But it's Joey Pants as Goose the incompetent gangster pelican on the lam and Spade and Harvey as the quippy espresso-lovin' dung-wallowing horseflies who steal the show.
They always say its hardest to work with animals and children so director Frederik Du Chau (Quest for Camelot) really had his work cut out for him working with real zebras something which has never really been attempted before because of the animal's flighty temperament. Apparently a zebra's nature is rooted in a fight-or-flight response stemming from the fact they are chased by predators in the wild. Makes sense but training them to race around a track? Sounds like a nightmare shoot. Plus Stripes was played by no less than eight different "adolescent" zebras. Yikes. Du Chau pulls it off however. You're sitting there with the best of them cheering our hero on as he runs his big race oblivious to how they made it all happen. Overall it's just too bad that unlike its cousin Babe Racing Stripes has to go for the same tired and cheesy formula of an underdog proving himself rather than creating a tender story of a zebra making his way on a Kentucky horse farm.
December 11, 2003 1:48pm EST
Remember that movie about a high school geek who gets the most popular girl in school to be his girlfriend to boost his own image only to discover that fitting in isn't worth sacrificing his individuality? Or was that a Saved by the Bell episode? Love Don't Cost a Thing is the latest teen comedy to follow that formula to a fault: Alvin Johnson (Nick Cannon) is an outcast teen with no style and he's ready to do anything to shed his nerdy image. Even his father (Steve Harvey) an old-school ladies' man wishes the boy would get out and socialize more. So when the popular Paris Morgan (Christina Millian) wrecks her mother's Cadillac Escalade Alvin an amateur mechanic offers to fix the vehicle and pay for the parts if she will pretend to be his girlfriend for two weeks. A haircut and several Sean John warm-up suits later Alvin becomes "Al " an ultra-smooth guy who's "got all the 411s." Of course Paris starts to fall for Al who's too busy keeping up his "big pimpin'" facade to notice. But after alienating everyone close to him including his childhood friends stylin' Al learns a valuable lesson about being himself.
Cannon's performance in Love Don't Cost a Thing falls short of the impressive one he delivered in the musical drama Drumline--his first lead role in a feature film. Here it's impossible to sympathize with the 23-year-old Cannon's clownish character even when he is needlessly bullied by jocks. With his crazy uneven Afro and spastic walk even Molly Ringwald's goody-good character Samantha in Sixteen Candles might be tempted to point and laugh. But while the movie's hero doesn't score many points other characters do notably Al's gal pal Paris played by songwriter/actress Millian who has written songs for Ja Rule and appeared as a guest on several TV shows including Charmed and The Steve Harvey Show. She delivers a very sincere performance as the "frappuccino with hips " and although audiences should despise her character for prostituting her popularity and lying to just about everybody Millian manages to morph Paris into a likeable personality--and we can't help but go along for the ride. But mustachioed comic Harvey steals the show as Al's loveable father Clarence a man who still boogies to his 8-track collection and gives his son very valuable life advice including how to open a condom wrapper using only one hand.
Writer/director Troy Beyer's Love Don't Cost a Thing is so visually horrendous that it should have been called This Film Didn't Cost a Thing. Beyer who directed the dire 1998 comedy Let's Talk About Sex and penned the even worse 1997 B.A.P.S. doesn't much improve her track record in 2003. Her guidance here including sound light and action is so amateurish that the film seems unfinished. An outdoor party scene for example is so dark it's difficult to make out the characters on screen and in another scene inside the school the sound is so muffled the character's lines are barely audible. Beyer's screenplay adapted from the mind-numbingly bad 1987 comedy Can't Buy Me Love doesn't help matters either; most of the characters remain as shallow and label-obsessed as they were 15 years ago. And while there have been countless Hollywood films revolving around the same theme many have done so successfully including the aforementioned oldie Sixteen Candles and more recently The New Guy.