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When movies are mediocre, they’re maddening. But when they are as bad as the selections here, you can’t help but question the artform’s overall validity.


 

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Savages

Director: Oliver Stone
Cast: Taylor Kitsch, Blake Lively, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, John Travolta, Benicio del Toro, Salma Hayek

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Savages


With its lack of emotional or even pragmatic investment and a lousy lead performance at its core, Savages doesn’t stand a chance. It may capture a bit of the angry adult audience (they won’t be lining up to see Spidey swing again) that is usually left out of the Summer season mix, but for the most part, said oldsters will be bored by this by the numbers nonsense. We are supposed to see Ben, Chon, and O as naive idealists dealing with a band of cutthroat criminals. We are supposed to champion their laidback lifestyle, menage a trois relationship, and fierce determination to play the dope game on their own terms. We are supposed to hiss at Del Toro, sympathize (to some extent) with Hayek, and wonder aloud why John Travolta is chewing the scenery so (he plays a DEA agent who, naturally, is working both sides of the situation). In the end, we find few rationales.


Yet it’s Ms. Lively and her lack of clear characterization that causes Savages to stumble. She’s our narrator, our rich girl gone to pot seed, tanning her skin while sexing up her male meal tickets. She tries to turn the role into something of a little girl lost, but since Stone can’t stop fashion photographing her, all we get is vague and shallow. There’s no meat to her performance, no moment when we stop seeing O as a THC opportunist and more like a human being we care for… and since we don’t get upset when she’s kidnapped (she gets treated rather well, for the most part), we don’t care if she’s rescued. This makes the next two thirds of Savages almost pointless. As individuals, Ben and Chon are nothing more than a dichotomy—moral/amoral, cautious/contentious. Besides, this is not their story. It’s O’s, and the movie suffers because of who was cast. Bill Gibron


 

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Red Dawn

Director: Dan Bradley
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Josh Peck, Josh Hutcherson, Adrianne Palicki, Isabel Lucas, Jeffrey Dean Morgan

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Red Dawn


After a few years of ‘80s remake mania, a new version of Red Dawn isn’t just an apotheosis of pointlessness. It’s both more and less than the ultimate nostalgic cash-in. In its current form, after years of release delays, it’s an accidental experiment, a movie that deconstructs the very notion of a nostalgic cash-in.


The 1984 film imagined a Cold War gone hot and aggressive, with Soviets and their allies invading the United States and then facing rebellion from a ragtag group of teenagers. The Dawn remake began by simply swapping out the Russians for the Chinese, but then made another race-switch in post-production, when positioning the Chinese as our enemies began to seem less than expedient—not because it’s a ridiculous notion, but because China has become a boom market for boom-heavy US action films. The enemies arriving on US movie screens for Thanksgiving weekend are at least somewhat transformed: their flags are digitally adjusted even if the actors’ Asian features remain visible, and their backstory is now changed, by bad expositional ADR, to North Korea—until, presumably, North Korea begins importing more US movies, at which point these bad guys will be turned back into Russians.


These shifts perfectly illustrate the quaintness of redoing Red Dawn. The title is a brand to which the remake must adhere, except the brand is also outdated, so it must be tweaked. The result is a generic version of a 1984 time-capsule relatively few people care much about anyway, now untethered from any meaningful context. Nothing much replaces any sense of anxiety over actual geopolitical events; the North Korean invasion is just another rah-rah football-game-style proving ground. Jesse Hassenger


 

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Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

Director: Lorene Scafaria
Cast: Steve Carell, Keira Knightley, William Peterson, Adam Brody

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Seeking a Friend for the End of the World


A difficult film to truly hate, because it has the best of intentions but doesn’t really know how to put all of them together, and is completely forgettable in the process. For example, Adam Brody is in this movie. I am both a big fan of The O.C. and saw this film in theaters on opening weekend and I am just finding out right now that Adam Brody plays a fairly significant supporting role.


This revelation stumbles upon a theme throughout End of the World, as it wastes several of the most likable television actors from the past decade—Brody, star Steve Carell, Rob Corddry, Connie Britton (this movie’s ultimate sin might be the discovery that Tami Taylor is hilarious, then dumping her and Corddry’s characters after about 10 minutes), Patton Oswalt, Gillian Jacobs, Jim O’Heir, William Peterson—on a patchwork script that never really finds a groove. At best, it feels like you’re watching a halfway decent sketch comedy (i.e. a scene at a theme restaurant with a drug-addled Jacobs and T.J. Miller as hosts), but at worst, just feels like nothing.


The movie is written and directed by Lorene Scafaria, who previously penned 2009’s much more likable (and financially successful) Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Seeking a Friend treads similar territory (mismatched lovers, the importance of music) but gets multiple things that Nick and Norah got right completely wrong. Michael Cera and Kat Dennings sparked that film to life, whereas Keira Knightley lacks any chemistry with Carell (Knightley is a maddeningly inconsistent actress, and it doesn’t help that she’s completely miscast here) and the movie’s musical subplot feels forced. By the time the movie winds down in a ludicrous twist involving Martin Sheen, like all well-intentioned things that aren’t very good, you feel completely worn down and upset at your wasted time. Steve Lepore


 

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The Three Stooges

Director: Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly
Cast:   Sean Hayes, Will Sasso, Chris Diamantopoulos, Jane Lynch, Sofía Vergara, Jennifer Hudson, Craig Bierko, Larry David

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The Three Stooges


The worst thing to happen to the Three Stooges since Joe Besser, the Farrelly brothers’ big screen update on the classic comedy trio probably has Curly shuffling 360s in his grave right now. The film attempts to offer an origin of the Stooges, however, it merely serves as a loose framework for a series of unfunny pratfalls and eye-gouges. Even more pathetic than The Three Stooges’ “storyline” is the film’s desperate attempt at credibility via a string of cameos by award-winning actors and the now-irrelevant Jersey Shore crew. The original Stooges’ PG-rated slapstick was far funnier and holds up better over half a century later than this wreck does mere months after its theatrical release. Bobby and Peter Farrelly should be forced to “pick out two” for this clunker. Lana Cooper


 

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Lockout

Director:   James Mather, Stephen St. Leger
Cast: Guy Pearce, Maggie Grace, Vincent Regan, Joseph Gilgun, Lennie James, Peter Stormare

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Lockout


I’m not sure what’s more irritating about the Luc Besson action factory’s space jail action picture Lockout: that it’s a movie about space jail where neither space nor jail factor in to much of the uninspired action, or that it’s somehow developed a minor reputation as an underappreciated, unpretentious B-movie that delivers the goods. It doesn’t; the only one who even seems to be trying to deliver any manner of goods is poor Guy Pearce, who could clearly make a sharp wisecracking action hero, if anyone were to write him a single decent wisecrack or put him in a single decent chase, fight, or shoot-out. Instead, he gets perhaps the worst-looking action sequence of the year: a motorcycle chase that wouldn’t pass muster in most videogames. Jesse Hassenger


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