Bad Money?

Reviews of new and recent releases

OPENING THIS WEEK

CASSANDRA'S DREAM (PG-13) We've lost count of how many movies Woody Allen has made, but obviously buoyed by the success of Match Point, this is the third consecutive one the director has shot in England. It might be time for Woody to come home, however, as advance reviews of this latest U.K.-shot production have been extremely unkind. Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell star as brothers caught up in a terribly inconvenient murder. Also stars Hayley Atwell, Sally Hawkins and Tom Wilkinson. Opens Jan. 18 at local theaters. (Not Reviewed)

CLOVERFIELD (PG-13) Everybody's seen the trailer, but the only thing that's certain about this shrouded-in-secret project from producer J.J. Abrams (Lost) is what we've learned from that already famous money shot — the one where we see that something has lopped the head off of the Statue of Liberty. A giant Godzilla-like monster apparently figures large into the equation here, and lots of cute but terrified New Yorkers scurry about the edges. Stars Michael Stahl-David, Mike Vogel, Odette Yustman, Lizzy Caplan and Jessica Lucas. Opens Jan. 18 at local theaters. (Not Reviewed)

MAD MONEY (PG-13) A feeble yuk-fest for The Great Depression II, Mad Money stars Diane Keaton as an over-educated, under-skilled yuppie who takes up crime when her husband is the victim of downsizing. Callie Khouri (screenwriter of Thelma and Louise) is the director here, so there's plenty of warmed-over girl power going on, as Keaton hooks up with an African-American single mom (Queen Latifah) and a cute space cadet (Katie Holmes) to stick it to the man, take the money and run. The movie tests our credulity at every step, with friendships forged in perfunctory fashion between its paper-thin characters, gaping plot holes you could do laps in and a heist that's straight out of a Scooby Doo cartoon. By the movie's midpoint, the women are all bumpin' heinies in the bedroom to golden oldies, and the shrinking middle class is just a shot away. The brand of humor here is supposed to get funnier in direct proportion to the bleakness of the times, but even with the New Dark Ages breathing down on our necks, Mad Money is just a drag. Also stars Ted Danson and Stephen Root. Opens Jan 18 at local theaters. 2.5 stars

RECENT RELEASES

THE BUCKET LIST (PG-13) Director Rob Reiner layers on the schmaltz, and Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman supply the star power in a meathead's delight that might just have well been called Grumpy Old Terminally Ill Men. Freeman's obligatory opening voice-over sets the tone, cramming in the words "love," "fate" and "folks" in under a minute, as dying roommates Carter (Freeman) and Edward (Nicholson) decide to spend their final months, and a sizeable chunk of the latter's fortune, doing all the things they never got around to doing. Endless footage ensues of the old coots skydiving, getting tattoos, driving fast cars, and popping up in a virtual travelogue encompassing the Taj Mahal, the pyramids of Egypt and the Great Wall of China. Freeman's wise but slightly prickly character periodically pontificates on the nature of the world, eventually teaching the meaning of life to the considerably richer but far more cynical Nicholson, and it all feels like the spitting image of a made-for-TV movie. Also stars Sean Hayes and Beverly Todd. 2 stars

CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR (R) Based on true events from the Reagan years, Mike Nichol's new film stars Tom Hanks as Charlie Wilson, a hard-partying Texas congressman who sets monumental forces in motion, almost without realizing it, when he begins lobbying to supply Afghanistan's Mujahideen in their struggle against Russian invaders. Urging Wilson on is his occasional lover, a rich, ultra-right-wing dragon lady played by Julia Roberts. The individual players are fairly engaging, but Charlie Wilson's War never manages to muster up much dramatic momentum. The movie's tone is all over the place, veering from screenwriter Aaron Sorkin's trademark sitcom style to quasi-screwball satire to something approaching sentimental mush, and then straight into agitprop, with tears welling up in Hanks' eyes in the midst of multitudes of mistreated Afghan orphans. Charlie Wilson's War starts out strong and then slowly fizzles out just as it should be getting interesting. The covert war waged by Hanks' congressman results in the Soviet empire crumbling just as the film is ending, all but ignoring the more interesting twists that followed (specifically, how Afghan "freedom fighters" transformed into the legions of Osama bin Laden and the Taliban, using American weapons and training against their so-called benefactors). The movie opens with a dreamily stylized image of a Muslim praying beneath a starry sky, then picking up his rocket launcher and aiming at squarely at the camera — which is to say, at us — but that's about as close as Nichols gets to that particular can of worms. Stars Tom Hanks, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julia Roberts and Amy Adams. 2.5 stars

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