If you ever needed proof that one thing, one unexceptional and rather mediocre thing can ruin an otherwise promising film, look no further than this entry. No, it’s not fledgling novice feature filmmaker Don Scardino. No, it’s not the miscast Steve Buscemi or the left with nothing to do Olivia Wilde. It’s not even a barely there Jim Carrey and his personification and interpretation of the entire Chris Angel/ David Blaine school of Jackass ‘magic’. No, the one bad apple in this otherwise promising comedy is its star, Steve Carell. Frequently very funny and winning when working within a worthwhile conceit, he is horrible here.
At its core, 42 is a film about breaking down the race barrier in professional sports. It’s about Jackie Robinson and his struggles against prejudice and personal angst towards the beginning of his legendary career. Too bad then that, aside from one amazing scene, this movie is frightened of its subject matter. When Lee Daniels’ The Butler is a more strident statement against bigotry in America and the Black experience overall in this country, you know your movie is making a mess of history. Try as it might, this is a middling film of iconography instead of insight.
If yelling and scenery chewing were considered drama, and not high camp, this adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize (?) winning play by Tracy Letts would be the Schindler’s List of dysfunctional family films. No one here has an inside voice, or anything worthwhile or new to say. Instead, it’s all confrontations, coincidences, and contrivances. Maybe on the live stage this material felt real and raw. Here, with the name cast all trying their best to outdo each other, the results reek of glorified grandstanding and a deep desire to grab as much Awards Season attention as possible.
With its cast of Oscar winners and nominees, its slow burn style of suspense, and its genuinely engaging premise, Prisoners should have been an early awards season contender. So why isn’t it better? Why does it feel so flat and flawed? Well, for one thing, it takes too long getting to its numerous points. At 153 minutes, the movie feels overlong and unnecessarily dragged out and there are so many plot holes and narrative manipulations that, by the end, the movie has no choice but to try and return morality to the mess. Instead, we just grow angry and irritating by its pretentions.
At the beginning of The Expendables, Sylvester Stallone and his collection of once-were action heroes take on a band of bloodthirsty pirates. After a few catchphrases about the situation, the Geritol gang pulls out their various weapons and puts these desperate men out of their misery. In some ways, director Paul Greengrass could have used some broad, bloody spectacle. Captain Phillips is so insular, so locked in the littleness of its narrative, that it never achieves the kind of heartbreak epiphany of the filmmaker’s other fact based effort. All suspense is slowly drained out of the experience as we watch the formulaic face-offs repeat themselves over and over.