A jukebox musical is the epitome of reverse-engineered entertainment. Take a set of songs linked together by a common thread arrange them for Broadway belters and fill in the gaps with enough narrative to convince the audience they're not sitting through a large-scale cover band concert. Silly satisfying and familiar — the perfect combination for a crowd-pleaser. Rock of Ages the big screen adaptation of the hit stage musical manages to make the simplistic formula feel even lazier. Starting off like a full-on '80s movie spoof Rock of Ages quickly loses footing with a bombardment of overproduced tunes lip-synced by its celebrity cast. Simply put: it doesn't rock. At all.
The film opens with small town Kansas gal Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough) hopping on a bus to make it big in Hollywood. There's a glimmer of hope as she duets Night Ranger's "Sister Christian" with a bus driver — maybe Rock of Ages really will be this fun and absurd. But when Sherrie arrives at The Bourbon Room the city's premiere rock club and only second to Disneyland as the least threatening place in L.A. the movie spins out of control. Sherrie quickly strikes up a relationship with bartender/aspiring musician Drew (Diego Boneta) is hired by club owner Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin) and his second-in-command Lonny (Russell Brand) and becomes entangled in the joint's big attempt to stay afloat: the legendary Stacee Jaxx's (Tom Cruise) last concert before going solo.
Sticking with Sherrie as she explores the crazy hair metal scene is fun but director Adam Shankman (Hairspray Bedtime Stories) and his team of writers insist on piling more and more stuff on to Rock of Ages shoulders. There's politician wife Patricia Whitmore (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and her campaign against The Bourbon Room. There's Rolling Stone reporter Constance Sack (Malin Åkerman) who hopes to land one more interview with Jaxx. There's Jaxx's manager Paul Gill (Paul Giamatti) who responds to the fading rock scene with ambitions of starting a boy band with Drew. Anything that can open the door for more songs — pointless as the plot points may be — Shankman throws into the shuffle. Unfortunately the ears can only take so much autotune.
The upside of the clunky script is some genuinely funny moments souped up by the comedic prowess of the supporting cast (a baboon named HeyMan throwing bottles at Giamatti Cruise singing "I Want to Know What Love Is" into Ackerman's butt). Hough and Boneta have nothing to contribute to Rock of Ages hammy leads with no material who pale in comparison to their '80s romantic predecessors. But the rest of the crew throw up sign of the horns and try their best to crank up the craziness Baldwin and Brand making a case for a spin-off with their wacky rapport. A musical number in which the duo finally realizes their passion for one another would have made a great Funny or Die video but padded with the filler of Rock of Ages it has no room to shine. Even Cruise who kills whenever he's musing full rock star mode struggles to make the paper thin Stacee Jaxx work in his musical moments. The recordings are flat and lifeless automatically putting a strain on the performers.
The music and the movies of the '80s share a similar aesthetic. They're over-the-top they're hot and sweaty and they're about not giving a damn. Raw fun. Rock of Ages fails to capture that feel in both visuals and song blowing out the flame of every lighter-waving moment with its stale recreation. For an energetic entertaining two hours of classic rock tunes stick to karaoke.
The majesty of the Emerald Isle is on full display in Leap Year an opposites attract romantic comedy starring Amy Adams (Julie & Julia Enchanted) and Matthew Goode (A Single Man Watchmen). Director Anand Tucker (Shopgirl Hilary and Jackie) shooting entirely on location in Ireland takes us on a whirlwind tour of the country’s breathtaking landscape reveling in its fabled fairy-tale charm.
Pity then that such a magnificent setting is so mercilessly defaced by Leap Year’s unrelenting mediocrity. The film’s dubious premise testing the already loose limits of rom-com believability casts Adams as Anna a type-A career girl who flies to Ireland intending to pop the question to her feet-dragging boyfriend on February 29th aka Leap Day. Why Leap Day? Because according to some idiotic old Irish tradition that’s when women are allowed to do such things. (Click here to watch Adams herself try to explain the plot.)
Unfortunately for Anna weather problems force her plane to land far away from Dublin and her would-be fiance. Trapped in a tiny coastal town with no reliable transportation at her disposal she enlists the help of a scruffy abrasive barkeep named Declan (Goode) to drive her cross-country so she can reach her destination by the 29th. And thus begins the traditional rom-com mating ritual of sexually-charged bickering followed by moments of abrupt awkward intimacy.
While watching Leap Year I swear I could hear the Irish countryside quietly weeping as it witnessed Goode and Adams slog through the film's succession of trite misadventures the talented actors straining in vain to manufacture some semblance of romantic chemistry as an assortment of jolly Waking Ned Devine types futilely spurred them on. Oh if only Greenpeace could have intervened and put a halt to such wanton environmental desecration. It's the worst thing to come out of Ireland since The Cranberries.
We can understand the resurrections of Leatherface Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers. But one-hit wonder the Miner? Yes pickaxe-wielding mad miner Harry Warden appears to be on the rampage again. The residents of Harmony believe police fatally shot Warden after he picked off kids partying in the mine. But his body was never found. If Warden really is dead who’s now driving his pickaxe through the heads of those connected with all the mine murders? Could it be Tom Hanniger (Jensen Ackles) the mine owner’s son responsible for the accident that turned Harry into a homicidal maniac? Or could it be Sheriff Axel Palmer (Kerr Smith)? Caught in the middle is Sarah (Jamie King) who married Axel after Tom dumped her and fled Harmony. Worse the killer set his sights on Sarah so he can finished what was started long ago down in Tunnel No. 5. Bearing in mind the damsel in distress must remain standing it’s more important that King can bust some moves than explore the emotional and psychological toll of being victimized by an unstoppable force of evil. Luckily King prevails over her initial jitters in order to swing a mean shovel when under attack. On the other hand wimps Ackles (Supernatural) wears nothing but a pained expression on his face while Smith (Dawson’s Creek) is all bark and no bite. Horror fans though will get a kick out of seeing ageless tough-guy Tom Atkins take on the Miner. Oh and as for that glasses-fogging moment that’s mandatory for a 3-D chiller it’s Betsy Rue’s unenviable task to strip down to her birthday suit as Palmer’s high school sweetheart and rub what she’s got right in our faces. Does it matter that this My Bloody Valentine redo fails miserably as a whodunit? Or that the only time you’re on the edge of your seat is during a tense supermarket confrontation between King and the Miner? This remake exists solely to gross you out by throwing anything and everything at you in 3-D. Eyeballs pop out body parts drop to the floor blood and pieces of bone cover the screen -- to that end director Patrick Lussier doesn’t disappoint. Props to him for not giving us a scene-by-scene carbon copy of one of the earliest holiday-themed Halloween knockoff but the director falls short whenever he attempts to recreate his source material’s most nail-biting moments. So if its gore you want you got it; but if you want to be scared out of your wits give My Bloody Valentine the kiss off.
Merging Serpico with an almost Shakespearean sense of tragedy Pride and Glory details an extremely complicated investigation into the gunning down of four New York City cops after an attempted drug bust goes terribly wrong. With increasingly bad PR and an apparent cop killer still at large the Chief of Manhattan Detectives Francis Tierney Sr. (Jon Voight) assigns his son Detective Ray Tierney (Edward Norton) to lead the probe. The younger Tierney is reluctant since he knows all four cops served under his brother Francis Jr. (Noah Emmerich) and brother-in-law Jimmy Egan (Colin Farrell). Ray’s instincts may be right because as he digs deeper he discovers an awkward and uncomfortable connection between Francis Jimmy and the case. Could his own family have been involved in an inside job and tipped off the drug dealers? Soon Ray finds himself having to choose between the greatest moral dilemma of all: loyalty to the job or loyalty to his family. Although Pride and Glory doesn’t break any new ground and is composed of elements we’ve seen in many previous films dealing with police corruption this film is distinguished by some of the finest work in the storied careers of many of its cast. Norton follows up his summer comic-book movie The Incredible Hulk with a far smaller and more focused character in P&G playing a man caught in a moral bind facing the unthinkable prospect of going after his own family members. Norton wears his ticklish predicament on his face and is enormously effective conveying pure angst. Emmerich (Little Children) delivers a rich portrayal of a tortured soul not only caught up in an intense investigation but dealing with a wife (Jennifer Ehle) dying of cancer. Farrell is better than he has been in some time playing a shady officer who seemingly will stop at nothing to get what he needs. Voight as the proud family patriarch and veteran of the NYPD clearly understands the dilemma of this man who is watching his family torn apart. Co-writer/director Gavin O'Connor has spent a frustrating couple of years trying to bring this story to the screen but his perseverance pays off. Pride and Glory is a well-written cop tale that co-exists as an interesting character study about the power of family ties vs. personal pride. O’Connor manages to put us right in the center of the moral conflict at the heart of his story and with several first-rate actors (even in the lesser roles) crafts a film that seems authentic to its core. Incorporating Declan Quinn’s in-your-face realistic cinematography O’Connor resists going for a more obvious audience-pleasing flashier style achieving a look and feel that seems more grounded in the milieu he’s trying to capture. His script co-written with Joe Carnahan (who wrote and directed the equally gritty Narc) is tight and unsympathetic slowly letting layers of a very intricate and complex story peel away to reveal a core that packs a punch right to the gut.
Invincible is Rudy and The Rookie all rolled into one. Set in the mid-‘70s Mark Wahlberg stars as the real-life Vince Papale a blue-collar Philadelphian down on his luck after his wife leaves him. His only solace is playing football with his cronies and rooting for his beloved Philadelphia Eagles who are in a real rut. Newly hired head coach the legendary Dick Vermeil (Greg Kinnear) decides to infuse some new blood into the team by holding open tryouts. All of Vince’s friends think he’d be perfect and urge him to go for it. He does makes it and is soon playing with some of his idols much to their chagrin. I mean who is this punk anyway? Sure he’s got some excellent instincts but can he really be a NFL player with no experience? Yes in fact he can proving to all those regular Joes out there you can live the dream. Yeah yeah. Unfortunately none of the actors really add anything either. Wahlberg is definitely a natural to play this kind of role having already done so in Rock Star. At least in Invincible he gets to show off some of his athletic abilities rather than just his bare chest in black leather pants. But the performance is run of the mill. As is Kinnear who as Vermeil takes on the headaches of turning a losing team into winners all while his supportive wife sweetly reassures him he’s doing the very best he can. Seen it. To their credit some of the supporting actors—including Kirk Acevedo (The New World) Michael Kelly (Dawn of the Dead) and Michael Rispoli (Mr. 3000)—paint a convincing picture of genuine camaraderie between local Philadelphians. And Elizabeth Banks (The 40 Year-Old Virgin) rounds things out as Vince’s cute love interest (and eventual real-life wife) who knows a few things about football by golly. You’d think Invincible would be a no-brainer feel-good kind of sports flick. It’s based on a real-life person has that whole underdog thing going for it and it’s football. What could go wrong with that? Nothing really besides the fact it’s been done about a hundred times over—and has now been left in the hands of newbies. First-time director Ericson Core a former cinematographer and writer Brad Gann are clearly green doing things by the play book line for line. It’s scary helming a feature film for a big studio like Disney who had such sport hits like The Rookie and Remember the Titans. Perhaps Core wanted to go more out on a limb but was reigned in. Who knows? The football scenes are definitely the highlight and Core handles the action well. I mean you do want Papale to prove himself the natural athlete he truly is and make all his homies proud. But the rest of it is just blah.
Set in a world inhabited only by motor vehicles Cars is sort of a cross between Michael J. Fox's Doc Hollywood and NASCAR. The main hero is a hotshot rookie race car named Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson)--an obvious homage to the late fast-driving Steve McQueen--whose one goal in life is to win the Piston Cup and bask in fame and glory. Yet on his cross-country trip to the Piston Cup Championship in California to compete against two seasoned pros (real-life legendary racer Richard Petty voices the reigning champion The King) Lightning finds himself unexpectedly detoured in the sleepy--and forgotten--Route 66 town of Radiator Springs. There he meets its colorful denizens--including Sally (Bonnie Hunt) a snazzy 2002 Porsche who owns the local “rest” stop; Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) the town’s rusty but trusty tow truck; and Doc Hudson (Paul Newman) a 1951 Hudson Hornet who rules the town with a steady hand er wheel. Together they all help the cocksure Lightning realize that there are more important things than trophies fame and sponsorship. If Pixar calls you come running so it isn’t at all surprising how impressive the Cars vocal line-up is starting with legendary screen icon Newman as the Doc. Come on being the race car driving nut that he is you think the 81-year-old actor would say no to voicing a 1951 Hudson Hornet who has his own mysterious past in the racing world? Hell no. The rest of the cast also seem to have a good time channeling their inner car from Wilson’s snarky speedster to Hunt’s cute and sexy Porsche a big-city lawyer who decides to get out of the fast lane. Supporting voices include Cheech Marin and Tony Shalhoub as Radiator Springs’ low-riding body shop and Italian Fiat tire shop owners respectively. Even George Carlin gets into the act as a groovy ‘60s VW wagon who sells “organic” fuel. Good stuff. Of course what Pixar flick would be complete without its comic relief? Although he’s no Ellen DeGeneres as a short-term memory impaired fish Larry the Cable Guy fills in nicely as the dim but sweet Mater the ultimate hick tow truck. Having been out of the directing loop since his 1999 sequel Toy Story 2 Cars marks Pixar’s golden boy John Lasseter return--and this is his big love letter to the splendor that is the automobile. Of course his demand for perfection took its toll. The animators had to come up with a new technique called “ray tracing ” which allows the car stars--that are metallic and heavily contoured--to credibly reflect their environments. Even with a sophisticated network of 3 000 computers and state-of-the-art lightning-fast processors that operate up to four times faster than they did on The Incredibles the average time to render a single frame of film was 17 hours. Still all that time spent pays off. Cars is a real visual treat with another firm grasp in storytelling. Sure it’s a bit of a vanity project and may shoot way over the kiddies’ heads making them squirm a little during the “slow” parts. But as one of the recently appointed top guns at Disney Lasseter can do just about anything he wants these days--and we are going to love it dammit.
January 15, 2004 1:22pm EST
As Torque opens we learn that biker Cary Ford (Martin Henderson) skipped town six months before without any explanation leaving behind bewildered friends and a heartbroken girlfriend Shane (Monet Mazur) who owns a local bike shop. "Heard you were in Indochina " people ask when they see Ford who came back to "make things right." Before his disappearing act Ford hid away a collection of motorcycles left in Shane's shop that belong to Henry (Matt Schulze) a drug dealer and leader of the Hellions biker gang who wants his merchandise back--not surprising since he had stashed about $1 million worth of crystal meth in the gas tanks. Henry devises a plan to get the goods: He brutally kills a rival gang leader's younger brother and frames Ford for the murder then promises an exchange--he'll get Ford off the hook if Ford tells him where the bikes are. This doesn't fly with our protagonist who sees the drug-spiked bikes as his only insurance against Henry killing him outright. Now Ford has to prove his innocence while staying a step ahead of the gangs--and the cops--who are hot on his trail. This ridiculous film fails to answer glaring questions such as why Ford split in the first place and why he stashed the bikes for six months. But the nonsensical storyline is accompanied by even lamer dialogue: The only thing worse than the constant references to Indochina (does anyone still use that term?) is Ford's correction that he was actually in Thailand.
If anything positive can be said about Torque it's that the bad guys in the cast manage to go out of their way to overdo their characters delivering the memorably bad dialogue with the utmost passion and conviction. As rival gang leader Trey Ice Cube never laughs or cracks a smile; he snarls his way through the entire film. But the best performance in terms of facial expressions has to be Jaime Pressly's China (no not Indochina)--Henry's woman. China doesn't say a word until halfway through the film but Pressly maximizes her character's screen presence by making her sadistically raunchy: She seductively licks her pierced vixen-red lips every time violence breaks out be it a fight or better yet a murder. When she finally utters a line (something like "You messed with the wrong chick") during a wheelie showdown with Shane we at least know she means it. In contrast heroes Mazur and Henderson are positively bland. Mazur's portrayal of Shane is a straight-up tough-but-pretty girl who skids into one scene after another on her crotch rocket asking "Need a ride?" and although Henderson's stringy longhaired Ford looks the part of a biker boy the actor doesn't give his character any quirky attributes the way Ice Cube and Pressly do--he isn't having fun in the role and it shows. But the cast's biggest obstacle--besides again the awful dialogue--is the absurd leather getups they're forced to wear.
Prolific music video helmer Joseph Kahn makes his directorial debut with Torque and his roots are showing--the film looks like a barrage of stylish music videos strung together. When Ford's pal is getting it on with a biker skank in a hotel room for example N.E.R.D.'s "Lap Dance" song blares in the background ("Oooh baby you want me? Well you can get this lap dance here for free..."). But the soundtrack has nothing on Torque's dialogue and lines such as "You got 'til sundown to bring back my bikes" will have audiences laughing rather than shaking in their boots. Scribe Matt Johnson's attempted jibe at The Fast and the Furious is absolutely pathetic; in one scene Ford repeats Vin Diesel's infamous "I live my life a quarter mile at a time " and Shane sneers something about that being the dumbest line she's ever heard. Right because this dialogue is so intelligent it's earned the right to laugh at others'. It's a shame Kahn didn't look to Furious helmer Rob Cohen for tips about directing a film about fast things on wheels instead of making fun--he could have learned how to make a cheesy film entertaining. Instead Kahn delivers an action pic whose CGI effects more closely resemble a video game than reality and whose organizing principle is the three-minute music video which doesn't lend itself to fleshed out storylines or interesting characters.