By John J. Bennett
HALL PASS. This one came in completely under my radar. I hadn’t seen a trailer or cast list, and didn’t find out it was a Farrelly brothers (Dumb and Dumber) picture until the opening credits. I had heard vague rumblings it was a sex comedy about a husband’s reprieve from the strictures of marriage. Couple that with the movie’s dead-zone release date, and you get a formula for very low expectations. Which may be the best way to approach it: I was actually pleasantly surprised.
The setup is simple: Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis play slightly schlubby suburban professionals facing the realization that their days of wanton carousing are past. Their wives, played by Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate, respectively, have grown tired of their husbands constantly leering at other women. After a particularly embarrassing incident, each in turn heeds the advice of a psychologist friend (played by an amazingly miscast Joy Behar) to give their husbands a week of absolute freedom.
The thing that surprises me most about Hall Pass is the subtle honesty with which the filmmakers approach the stuff of marriage. Without forcing the issue, the movie effectively depicts some of the major aspects of the psychology of long-term commitment, the ways in which a relationship changes, the comparison/contrast of love and momentary physical attraction, and the complexity of modern sexual mores. That last one may be over-academizing a bit, but it has something to do with the notion of long-married men reentering the “dating scene” and proving to be not only inept, but not nearly as fearless or motivated as they initially thought. They spend a lot of time eating chicken wings and laying around their hotel room, in other words.
I’m predisposed to like all four lead actors, and they turn in multifaceted, generous performances, bias notwithstanding. I buy the premise that I’m watching long-committed couples contend with the reality of approved-of infidelity. Their vacillations, the fear behind the bravado, the facing of temptation are all brought across far more subtly, more realistically than I would ever have expected. Which is not to say this is Little Children, or anything, but again, I was surprised by the maturity and forthrightness with which these themes were explored. I forgot, for lengthy stretches, that I was watching a Farrellys movie.
But we can’t have that: These are unabashed purveyors of often-hilarious bad taste. So it is that Wilson’s first fledgling attempt at a date with his favorite Australian barista terminates with a big penis/small penis sight gag, while Sudeikis’ bringing home of a club girl gets terminally de-eroticized by fecal spray (not the only scatalogically charged moment in the movie, by the way). The movie is peppered with comic moments like this (not all of them quite so “hard R”), but the ratio of earnestness to humor creates an awkward imbalance in the final product. Many of the big-laugh scenes come out of nowhere, which creates an erratic, stop-and-go pace, preventing the narrative from spooling out smoothly. This tension keeps Hall Pass from really hitting the mark, but it comes close. 98m. Rated R for crude and sexual humor throughout, language, some graphic nudity and drug use. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.
DRIVE ANGRY. If someone had told me this latest Nic Cage vehicle would contain a scene wherein he handily guns down a horde of hillbilly Satanists wielding scythes, sawed-offs and cattle-prods without disengaging from the truck-stop cocktail waitress with whom he’s having sex, I would probably have been even more excited at its prospects than I was by looking at the poster. Fortunately nobody informed me of such scene, so it was only a minor disappointment when it played as just another flat moment among many.
I’m as big a fan of B movies as anybody, especially the cars and crimes variety. Ditto movies that allow Cage to get batshit crazy and gnaw on the scenery. Drive Angry let me down on both counts.
The story centers on Cage’s character -- unbelievably named John Milton -- who breaks out of Hell in order to rescue his newborn granddaughter from a nefarious, corn-pone cult leader who murdered Milton’s daughter for trying to leave the flock and who intends to sacrifice the baby to create Hell on Earth, or some such nonsense. Milton enlists the aid of a foul-mouthed, tough as nails waitress (Amber Heard), while being relentlessly pursued by The Accountant (William Fichtner) and too many Oklahoma state troopers to count.
The premise seems like a sound enough foundation for a seedy, gritty horror/road movie. Predictably, the final product does little more than play lip service to the long tradition of genre pictures to which it owes its existence. It plays up the gratuitousness, from cursing to nudity to violence -- including an implied genital mutilation -- but without the wit and style and bravado that can make real B movies great and fun and compulsively watchable.
The action sequences that punctuate this thing are shot and cut in such a way that their impact almost completely dematerializes; even the car chases are boring.
But the biggest disappointment here is Cage’s performance. Say what you will about the guy, he is undeniably a movie star, and when he goes nuts he’s as much fun to watch as anybody. But someone decided he should play this role as understated, despite the fact that he escaped from Hell and carries around a giant, Hellfire-forged gun called the Godkiller, of all things -- puzzling.
On the plus side, Fichtner brings a great sense of comic timing and subtlety of expression to his role, and manages to steal almost every scene he’s in. Too bad there aren’t more of them.
Related note: I can’t wait for everybody to get over this 3D fascination. I was forced by circumstance to see this in that vile format, and it lent absolutely nothing to the whole experience and it cost 50 percent extra for the ticket. 104m. Rated R for strong brutal violence throughout, grisly images, some graphic sexual content, nudity and pervasive language. At the Broadway and the Fortuna (in 3-D).
- John J. Bennett
THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU. Sci-fi action romance based loosely on a Philip K. Dick story stars Matt Damon as U.S. Congressman David Norris, whose life changes when he meets a beautiful dancer (Emily Blunt) and finds there's a powerful clandestine group (including John Slattery (Mad Men) and Terence Stamp) with another plan for his destiny. Can he control his own fate? 99m. Rated PG-13 for brief strong language, some sexuality and a violent image. Opening Friday at the Broadway, Mill Creek, the Minor and the Fortuna.
RANGO. CGI comedy/Western (the first by Industrial Light & Magic) directed by Gore Verbinski, the man behind the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Johnny Depp supplies the voice of the title character, a chameleon who shows up in Dirt, a classic Western town populated by desert creatures (voiced by the likes of Harry Dean Stanton, Ray Winstone, Alfred Molina and Ned Beatty among others). Rango must decide if he's fit for the role of High Noon-style lawman hero. 107m. Rated PG for rude humor, language, action and smoking. Opening Friday at the Broadway, Mill Creek, the Minor and the Fortuna.
TAKE ME HOME TONIGHT. Call this one, "That '80s Movie." Topher Grace, Eric from That '70s Show, stars in a comedy written by the Filgo brothers, writers for that TV show. It's 1988 and an Eric-esque Matt (Grace) is done with college and not sure about his future. He and his twin sister Wendy (Anna Faris from the Scary Movie franchise), and his buddy Barry (Dan Fogler) are ready for an '80s-style par-tee involving grand theft auto, Matt's hot dream girl Tori (Teresa Palmer) and that Eddie Money song. 114m. Rated R for language, sexual content and drug use. Opening Friday at the Broadway, Mill Creek and the Fortuna.
BEASTLY. Writer/director Daniel Barnz adapted Alex Flinn's fantasy romance novel, a reworking of the Beauty and the Beast fairytale set in present day New York City. Alex Pettyfer (I Am Number Four) stars as Kyle Kingson, a rich, handsome, arrogant teen who is turned into a tattooed beast by a young witch he's offended (Mary-Kate Olsen of the Olsen twins). He must make a girl (Vanessa Hudgens) fall in love with him to break the spell. 95m. Rated PG-13 for language including some crude comments, drug references and brief violence. Opening at the Broadway.
It's the first week in the month, which means two things: First Thursday Film Night at the Morris Graves Museum and Ocean Night at the Arcata Theatre Lounge. The Humboldt Arts Council/KEET documentary at the Graves is PUSHING THE ELEPHANT, a film about Rose Mapendo who escaped the ethnic violence of the revolution in the Congo and is working to rebuild her country and heal the wounds of the past. Her message: It takes many to move an elephant, and women are key. HSU poli-sci prof Marnie Lucas-Zerbe leads a post-screening discussion.
The Ocean Conservancy/Surfriders/Baykeeper Ocean Night Friday night at the ATL has a double bill with Irena Salina’s investigative documentary *FLOW answering the million dollar question, "How did a handful of corporations steal our water?" Interviews with scientists and activists provide scenarios suggesting solutions to the global H2O crisis. The second feature is typically a cool wave rider escape from problems, but this week's surf doc, OUT THERE*, is a bit different: The surfer/environmentalists are also fighting to protect endangered primo surf spots around the world.
Sunday at the ATL it's *PRETTY IN PINK*, a Brat Pack teen romance written and produced by John Hughes with Molly Ringwald as a semi-poor high school chick torn between her best friend but not quite boyfriend (Jon Cryer) and a suave rich kid (Andrew McCarthy) who asks her out.
Next Wednesday's Sci-Fi Pint and Pizza B-movie-o-rama (March 9) takes you to two parallel universes: PRISONERS OF THE LOST UNIVERSE has three people transported to another dimension in an experiment gone awry. Before they can return to the real world they must defeat otherworldly baddies. IDAHO TRANSFER, directed by Peter Fonda, takes four young researchers (including Keith Carradine) into the future to try to avoid a pending "eco-crisis."
Same Wednesday, Arcata Playhouse hosts a lecture/film montage/performance by actor/clown Rob Mermin called SILENTS ARE GOLDEN: A CELEBRATION OF SILENT CINEMA. Mermin uses clips from dozens of silents in all genres to shed new light on the physical acting style of the stars of the silent era: Chaplin, Keaton, Fairbanks, Pickford, Garbo, Gish, Laurel and Hardy etc. revealing something his mentor Marcel Marceau called the "silent language of the soul."
BLACK SWAN. Natalie Portman competes for the top spot in the New York City ballet’s production of Swan Lake, cries a lot and gets the Oscar. Rated R. 109m. At the Broadway.
COUNTRY STRONG. Gwyneth Paltrow stars as a troubled country music star fresh out of rehab, back on the road with her manager husband, a young songwriter and a cute would-be star. Rated PG-13. 112m. At Garberville.
THE DILEMMA. If you know you’re buddy’s wife is hangin’ with another dude, how much should you tell him? And how funny will it be? Rated PG-13. 118m. At Garberville.
GNOMEO AND JULIET. Yup. Romeo and Juliet, only with garden gnomes. Yup. Rated G. 84m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.
THE GREEN HORNET. Charlie says: “It is surely the worst superhero movie ever.” Rated PG-13. 119m. At the Broadway and Garberville.
I AM NUMBER FOUR. Three seemingly normal high schoolers with secret powers have already died. See title. Rated PG-13. 110m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.
JUST GO WITH IT. Adam Sandler enlists Jennifer Aniston to help him find the woman of his dreams. Not her. Rated PG-13. 116m. At the Broadway and Fortuna.
JUSTIN BIEBER: NEVER SAY NEVER. Isn't he adorable?! Rated G. 105m. At Mill Creek.
THE KING’S SPEECH. Based on the true story of the Queen of England’s dad and his remarkable friendship with a maverick Australian speech therapist. Colin Firth now has an Oscar doorstop. Rated R. 119m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.
NO STRINGS ATTACHED. Let’s have sex. Rated R. 108m. At the Broadway.
THE ROOMMATE. Thriller where the roommate does worse than drink the last of the milk. Rated PG-13. 92m. At the Broadway.
TRUE GRIT. The Dude conjures The Duke in the Coen Brother’s latest. You decide who’s Grittiest. Rated PG-13. 110m. At the Broadway.
UNKNOWN. Liam Neeson awakens after a car accident to find another man has assumed his identity. Rated PG-13. 113m. At the Broadway, the Minor and Mill Creek.
YU-GI-OH: BONDS BEYOND TIME. Pokemon for the younger generation. Not rated. 60m. At the Broadway.