Sunday, October 7, 2007

Week of October 1-7, 2007

The Heartbreak Kid (2007, Peter and Bobby Farelly) [4]- it's sort of bracing to see a big-budget comedy that's this brazenly caustic nowadays, unafraid of giving the audience a weaselly protagonist who lies and cheats on his wife and acts like an all-around assbag. In addition, there's the Farellys' usual body-panic issues, plus a lot of anti-romantic, male-centric thoughts on modern marriage that no doubt will alienate any unsuspecting women in the audience. But just because it's interesting doesn't make it especially good. The film has ideas, but they don't mesh especially well, nor does the movie really do a whole lot with them. Instead, the story eventually settles into a predictable, almost lazy rhythm, with Ben Stiller skipping out on his honeymoon with his convalescing, hot-psycho wife Malin Akerman to spend time with the adorable Michelle Monaghan, another in a long line of super-cool Farelly dream babes, who can swear and drink and play with the boys but still be, y'know, hot. Hell, there's even one of those scenes where Stiller and Monaghan try to have an important conversation but aren't actually talking about the same thing- what's the Ebert's Movie Glossary name for that again? Glad to see the story take a darker turn at the very end, but unfortunately the film just kind of throws it out there before the credits. And I won't even start comparing it to the Elaine May version of the film, not just because it's been years since I saw that one, but also because this film has enough problems without comparing it to its betters.

The Kingdom (2007, Peter Berg) [4]- another film that feels a little schizo in its execution, and not necessarily in a good way. After an opening-credits rundown of American history in Saudi Arabia and a double act of terrorism in an American compound near Riyadh, the movie is mostly content to be an procedural thriller, closer to network television than big-screen cinema. In fact, aside from the costumes and the heavy artillery, this could easily be a story about a serial killer or mad bomber on U.S. soil. Supercool FBI agent Jamie Foxx assembles a crack, motley crew to investigate the case, and with help from the Saudi military, headed by a west-sympathetic family-man officer, they hunt down the terrorists responsible for the attacks. For most of its duration, the film is clearly for U.S. involvement in the investigation- there's even a face-off between action-minded bureau chief Richard Jenkins and wishy-washy cabinet member Danny Huston ("interventionism: not a funny matter"). And then when the team is attacked, there's no choice left but to strike back. But in a movie that practically ignores the geopolitical implications of its storyline, the final scenes feel like a last-minute stab at topicality. Without them, one might half expect a fade-out followed by a sneak peek at next week's episode. There's certainly a place for something in the style of CSI or 24 against the backdrop of the Middle East, but if you're going to do it, fer chrissakes commit to it.

Rocket Science (2007, Jeffrey Blitz) [7]- as a former high school policy debater, I was grateful to see that for once a movie got the world right. Real-life policy debate is a far cry from the common image of two polished speakers standing at podiums and oratorically delivering prepared speeches. Instead, it's standing at a table, evidence at hand, and aggressively barreling through as much as you can in 8 minutes (the technical name is "spreading"). But this but one of the many ways in which the film defies expectation. The film sets up conflicts and situations but resolutely refuses to resolve them in a conventional manner, often just letting them simmer through the very end of the movie or just die away. Nothing is ever quite solved in Rocket Science, and the film ends up becoming not about how we overcome our problems but rather how we eventually learn to resign ourselves to them and move on. But even this doesn't quite happen for our hero, in large part because he's too young to know better. But by the final scene, he's well on his way.

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