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Failed Escape

Three films in a rut




ESCAPE PLAN. I cut my teeth on big bloody action stuff like First Blood (1982) and Commando (1985), then followed Stallone and Schwarzenegger on to the mid-career weirdness of Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot (1992) and Junior (1994), respectively. Steeped as I am in the questionable cultural currency of their movies, chances are I'll take a gamble on whatever they put out there nowadays. And gamble is the right word, because for every dumb-fun Expendables, there is at least one dumb-pointless Escape Plan.

Stallone plays Ray Breslin, a security expert who makes crazy money breaking out of maximum-security prisons in order to expose their weaknesses. When he's offered twice his usual fee to test a secret prototype jail, Breslin accepts despite his staff's concerns for his safety. Once he's on the inside, he realizes that their fears were well founded, and that he's the victim of a double-cross. Whoever set him up intends to keep him buried for the rest of his life, with sadistic Warden Hobbes (Jim Caviezel) looking on. His only hope would appear to be an uneasy alliance with Emil Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger), a resourceful lifer with an obscure past.

There's never any question our retirement-aged heroes will make it out of their predicament, and that's part of the problem. Another is that Breslin's mastery of captivity feels contrived and bogus. Yet another is that, despite its ominous architecture and masked henchmen, the super-prison where most of the action occurs never feels really threatening. Caviezel and co-menacer Vinnie Jones (as merciless head guard Drake) do their best to impart some sense of danger, but it's not enough.

Stallone and Schwarzenegger know how to switch it on when the camera rolls, so at least they are reasonably entertaining to watch. But the script, the direction, the special effects — pretty much every other element of the movie — all fail to match them. R. 115m.

THE FIFTH ESTATE. Definitely the most thought-provoking, culturally relevant movie currently in theaters, this still stumbles and disappoints.

The Fifth Estate describes the rise to prominence of Julian Assange and his organization Wikileaks. The subject matter is contentious by its own merits, the movie perhaps even more so for what some are calling an anti-Wikileaks stance. I found the narrative fairly balanced, but I don't have a dog in the fight, so it's of little matter.

The narrative starts off with Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) meeting and enlisting the aid of a hacker/fan named Daniel Berg (Daniel Bruhl). Berg is won over by Assange's charisma, confidence and mission of governmental transparency. Together, they turn Wikileaks into a formidable primary news source, eventually scooping most of the world's major newspapers. As their profile increases, their website becomes a repository for ever more sensitive leaked documents. They eventually find themselves stewards of hundreds of thousands of internal U.S. State Department communiques and war-logs, at which point their ideological differences come to the fore.

Cumberbatch and Bruhl give their customarily excellent performances, and the story is a compelling and important one. But director Bill Condon's frantic, wannabe hacker-chic stylistic approach and the slapdash assembly of the script keep the actors from accomplishing anything noteworthy. The Fifth Estate is frustrating more than anything else; it promises impact and insight without delivering on either. R. 128m.

CARRIE. Kimberly Peirce is a director to be admired. She's an artist of great sensitivity and intelligence. She brought us Boys Don't Cry (1999), a difficult, important, impressive debut. She stumbled a little with her follow-up, the uneven but well-intended Stop-Loss (2008). I wish she had better opportunities than remaking '70s horror classics, but that speaks to Hollywood politics, and that's not my bailiwick. But she has a distinct perspective, and this is not the vehicle for it.

For those unfamiliar with Brian DePalma's 1976 version of this Stephen King story, Peirce's version will offer some fun surprises. For the rest of us, there is precious little here by way of novelty. Carrie White (Chloe Grace Moretz), the outcast daughter of a religiously zealous single mom (Julianne Moore), is humiliated by her classmates when she fails to understand the onset of her first menstrual period. The incident awakens telekinetic abilities in Carrie, results in the punishment of her tormentors and sets up one of the most famous climaxes in movie history (no spoilers).

This story, centered as it is in themes of bullying, awkwardness and the vulnerability of adolescence, is probably more relevant now than ever before. But instead of expanding on those themes, or illuminating them with contemporary context, this is a straight-ahead remake of DePalma's movie, all the way down to some of the weird turns of phrase. Moretz and Moore bring a lot to the proceedings, and their performances are strong enough to make one momentarily forget they're reprising Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie.

Moretz and Moore's performances are far and away the best thing about a not-too-bad movie. But the original Carrie is a part of the cinematic lexicon, and a remake has to do a lot to distinguish itself. I'd like to give Peirce the benefit of the doubt, to assume she had little choice but to toe the line and make the movie the studio insisted on. But that's pure conjecture; the fact of the matter is that her version doesn't accomplish anything new. R. 100m.

John J. Bennett


JACKASS: BAD GRANDPA. Johnny Knoxville gets old. Still waiting for somebody to lose an eye. R. 92m.

THE COUNSELOR. Michael Fassbender is a lawyer trying out drug trafficking. Ridley Scott directs Cormac McCarthy's story. R. 117m.


CAPTAIN PHILLIPS. Tom Hanks is beset by Somali pirates in a charged and riveting drama. PG13. 134m.

CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS 2. The 3-D sequel goes a little Dr. Moreau when food creatures populate an island and hero Flint (Bill Hader) has to stop them. PG. 95m.

DON JON. Love makes a man out of playboy Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the touching comedy he also wrote and directed. With Scarlett Johansson. R. 90m.

ENOUGH SAID. A woman finds out her wonderful new boyfriend is her friend's horrible ex. Whoops. Julia Louis-Dreyfus and the late James Gandolfini star. PG13. 93m.

GRAVITY. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are adrift in space. It's the best of sci-fi with a real human story. PG13. 90m.

WE'RE THE MILLERS. Drug smuggling comedy that's lingered since August. R. 110m.

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

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