OPENING THIS WEEK
BE KIND REWIND (PG-13) Read Lance Goldenberg's review.
CHARLIE BARTLETT (R) Read Lance Goldenberg's review.
VANTAGE POINT (R) Read Lance Goldenberg's review.
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
CLOVERFIELD (R) The pitch here would barely fill a cocktail napkin — Blair Witch meets Godzilla — and the film never really makes a stab at expanding that conceit. The first half-hour introduces us to both the bogus concept (amateurish shaky-cam footage supposedly translating as a more credible, intensified reality) and to the disposable characters, a bunch of shallow yuppie twerps attending a going-away party for one of their pals. We're forced to sit through endless, headache-inducing footage of these non-entities standing around making small talk before things summarily start blowing up, and the big, bad monster initiates the extended (but not particularly exciting) chase scene that is Cloverfield. We're supposed to believe that everything we're seeing is being shot by one of the characters on his camcorder, but badly framed shots and nonexistent editing can only be excused so far. The giant monster is a huge guilty pleasure (I particularly liked the smaller, even more repulsive creatures that drop from its limbs like lice) — but, a few special effects aside, this mess looks like anyone could have made it, and not in a remotely interesting way. If this is the future of filmmaking, brace yourself for what comes next. Stars Michael Stahl-David, Odette Yustman, Lizzy Caplan, T.J. Miller, Jessica Lucas and Mike Vogel. 1.5 stars
DEFINITELY, MAYBE (PG-13) This sweet but not exactly starry-eyed romantic comedy challenges us to figure out which of its multiple dreamgirls is the real Ms. Right, keeping us guessing long enough to qualify as the Where's Waldo of rom-coms. Ryan Reynolds stars as a vaguely dissatisfied dad telling his precocious young daughter about how he met her mother. The twist here is that Reynolds relates a tale involving a trio of old flames, giving all of the women pseudonyms in order to prolong the suspense and keep the identity of the woman he'll eventually marry a secret until the last possible moment. The three women — conveniently color coded as a blonde, a brunette and a redhead — are all equally adorable and receive roughly equal screen time, so it's pretty much anyone's guess whom Reynolds will wind up with. The movie overstays its welcome by at least 15 minutes, but it's still nice to see a romantic comedy that doesn't get completely dragged into the pitfalls of formula or fall all over itself aping the new rom-com standards established by Judd Apatow and the Farrelly Brothers. Also stars Isla Fisher, Elizabeth Banks, Rachel Weisz, Kevin Kline, Derek Luke and Abigail Breslin. 3 stars