UNFINISHED BUSINESS. R-rated comedy is a risky medium. Keeping all the dirty language, nudity and questionable subject matter automatically shuts out a broad swath of ticket buyers: everybody under 17 and everybody else who prefers their comedy clean, thank you very much. The risk can pay off, though, as a more catholic approach to storytelling and joke-telling is more apt to generate surprises and laughs. (I realize not everybody wants new. When, in the trailer for Paul Blart 2, Kevin James bounced off a plate glass window, I thought the roof was coming off the theater.) I should know better by now, but a comedy with the potential for some grown-folks stuff in it still compels me. Given my generally strong, lately shaken confidence in Vince Vaughn and newfound liking for Dave Franco, I figured Unfinished Business had a fair shot at funny. And it is funny, in fits and starts. It's also burdened by excess plot elements and a dearth of originality.
Dan Trunkman (Vaughn), learning that his most productive year has earned him a 5 percent pay cut, seizes his own Jerry Maguire moment. He walks away jobless, accompanied by Tim (Tom Wilkinson), a fellow former rep recently fired based on his age, and a good natured simpleton named Mike Pancake (Franco), who happened to be there on a failed job interview. With Dan at the helm, they set out to beat his former employer in the exciting world of industrial mineral waste brokerage. (What they actually do is obscured by top-sheet circumlocution, but they appear to sell metal shavings). After a year of hard work for little reward, the promise of a major deal sends the boys to Berlin, ostensibly to shake hands and sign contracts. As it turns out, Dan's mean-spirited former boss Chuck (Sienna Miller) is in the mix, and their certain payday turns into a street fight. All the while, Dan's trying to FaceTime co-parent with his overworked wife (June Diane Raphael). Their adolescent son is the target of bullying, their younger daughter is getting in fights, and the cure-all of private school (?!) depends on Dan's successfully negotiating the Berlin deal. In the background, Tim and Mike indulge their various interests, chemically, sexually and otherwise. Nick Frost pops up in a charming, if misguided cameo.
The root problem with Unfinished Business is its lack of cohesion. It forcefully insists on its hard-R rating, down to a graphic glory-hole sequence that never goes anywhere. At the same time, it tries for warm-hearted family comedy, taking on absentee parenting, bullying and upper-middle-class hardships. Or rather, it attempts to take on those prickly subjects. In the end, it does little more than make mention and move on without resolution or enough genuine laughs. R. 91m.
CHAPPIE. Some might say that writer/director Neill Blomkamp (District 9, Elysium) has gone too far down the rabbit hole of his chosen genre. Each of his movies has used effects-driven science fiction to explore themes of social inequity, racism and the progression of technology. You know, the kind of stuff to which sci-fi is best suited, especially in an era where the genre has been all but subsumed by comic-book tent-poles and uninspired horror. Ignore those naysayers; Blomkamp can keep right on doing what he's doing, as far as I'm concerned.
What he's doing now, with Chappie, is taking on the notion of the Singularity (as I understand it, the moment when humanity and technology become indistinguishable) and the definition of the soul. In near-future Johannesburg, a pioneering tech company has brought to market the world's first robot police officers. These "Scouts," developed primarily by engineer Deon Wilson (Dev Patel), have effectively reduced violent crime in the city and preserved the lives of countless police officers. Their success has also curtailed the progress of a parallel program, spear-headed by soldier turned engineer Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman), a gun-toting Christian with a bitching haircut. This professional rivalry puts Deon in Vincent's cross-hairs, a situation that escalates when Deon uses a scrap Scout chassis as a test bed for his nascent artificial intelligence software. The result is a sentient robot named Chappie (Sharlto Copley) with childlike impressionability. This tendency leads him to fall in with a hard-luck trio of street criminals (Ninja and Yo-landi Visser of Die Antwoord, along with Jose Pablo Castillo) who become his surrogate family, and eventually get him into pretty serious trouble.
Like Blomkamp's previous work, Chappie is defined by near-flawless visual effects, brisk editing, distinctive visual style and slightly heavy handed 21st century moralizing. In this case, he casts Christians as out-moded villains, and posits that consciousness is empirically definable and transferrable. It's an interesting, divisive theme, and one that could probably have used a little refining in this context. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the effort from start to finish, and found myself especially taken with Copley's tragically kind-hearted little robot. R. 120m.
— John J. Bennett
CINDERELLA. Live-action fairytale fantasy with Cate Blanchett making wicked stepmothers look good. PG. 113m.
RUN ALL NIGHT. Liam Neeson brooding and killing in a father-son hitman movie with Ed Harris. R. 114m.
SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL. Maggie Smith and Judy Dench are back for the sequel as Brits abroad. PG. 124m.
AMERICAN SNIPER. Bradley Cooper plays a Navy SEAL in an intense and moving biopic/war movie that doles out adrenaline and domestic devastation in equal measure. R. 132m.
BIRDMAN. Back after swooping up all the Oscars. Excellent weirdness as a former superhero franchise star (ahem, Michael Keaton) grasps at a second act. While his character struggles, Keaton clearly still has his chops. R. 120m.
THE DUFF. Teen makeover comedy about a girl (Mae Whitman) who finds out she's the Designated Ugly Fat Friend in her group. It's like Mean Girls never even happened. PG13. 101m.
FIFTY SHADES OF GREY. The real torture is the muddled characters and blush-worthy story. If you came for more than a little slap and tickle, use your safe word and bail. R. 125m.
FOCUS. A charismatic Will Smith plays a con man in a paint-by-number heist movie with some fun moments and too few surprises. R. 104m.
JUPITER ASCENDING. Gorgeous trademark visuals and a wreck of a story from the siblings Wachowski. With Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum and a stylishly villainous Eddie Redmayne. PG13. 127m.
KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE. Funny, charming Taron Egerton steals the show in this imaginative action comedy about a street punk who becomes a spy. With Colin Firth and Samuel Jackson. R. 128m.
THE LAZARUS EFFECT. Nothing new in this rushed and redundant raising-the-dead horror retread. Even the talented cast feels crowded by characters with nothing to contribute. PG13. 83m.
MCFARLAND USA. The story about a cross-country coach (Kevin Costner) hits all the marks so that even the expected triumphs yield a few tears. PG. 128m.
MR. TURNER. Timothy Spall plays the famed British painter in this biopic. R. 150m.
THE SPONGEBOB MOVIE: SPONGE OUT OF WATER. He of the square pants leads his undersea crew onto land in this animation and live action mash-up. PG. 93m.
STILL ALICE. Julianne Moore plays a linguistics professor losing her mind to Alzheimer's Disease. With Alec Baldwin. PG13. 101m.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill