SCOUTS GUIDE TO THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE. Genre crossovers, particularly with comedy in the mix, are rarely successful, especially in this modern era of cinematic low-bidder manufacturing. Still, I've got a soft spot for the formula. I tempered my enthusiasm for Scouts Guide with the knowledge that it would most likely be terrible. The repetition of the movie's beyond-excessive ad campaign — four or five brief red-band trailers shown in quick succession — almost put me off altogether. I was still able to meet Scouts Guide halfway, and it did more than its share of work getting there, too.
In a blandly pleasant California town, three friends find themselves at a turning point. They've been scouts together for a decade, the only members of their troop. They've grown up together, but their identities have begun to crystallize and they may soon find themselves on different paths. Ben (Tye Sheridan), the handsome, thoughtful, painfully shy one, is ready to move on to other things but doesn't want to hurt anyone's feelings. He especially doesn't want to hurt Augie (Joey Morgan), the chubby, earnest one whose enthusiasm for scouting continues unfettered. Carter (Logan Miller), the sarcastic, sex-obsessed one, just wants to party and thinks it high time he and Ben let Augie know they're moving on. The two of them agree to do so after one last camp-out. This clean break is complicated, of course, by zombies. The scouts are thrown into a desperate survival scenario, with a stunning, badass blond named Denise (Sarah Dumont) who's added to the mix because, well, she couldn't very well not be there, could she? The four of them must make their way through an overrun town, rescue the senior class that's partying at an undisclosed location, figure out all their interpersonal drama, kiss the girls and get away before the military levels the whole area.
So far, Scouts Guide has fared poorly at the box office. I wonder if this is because it actually succeeds in what it sets out to do. Most genre pictures these days coast by on a narrow focus, particularly in the horror forum. They set out to scare the audience with tricks of timing or laborious torture sequences, not so much written as strategically plotted. Scouts Guide has the audacity to develop identities and relationships for its characters, and then throw them into the thick of the scenario. It is an old-fashioned screenplay in that it's written with a sense of craft and intention. It's still a teen-horror-sex-comedy — fair enough — but it plays with its own genre in inventive ways that still give credit to its predecessors; it does exactly what good genre movies are supposed to. The jokes are funny, there are some satisfying scares, good gore abounds and the principal cast all give charming, distinctive performances. This is a real movie directed with style and economy by Christopher Landon, enjoyable far beyond my (admittedly low) expectations. R. 93m. BROADWAY.
BURNT. While I applaud Bradley Cooper's drive, dedication and wide-ranging selection of roles, they can't all be winners. While Burnt may not be a loser, exactly, it will go down as one of his lesser choices — a noble experiment that hews too closely to convention to be memorable.
Cooper plays Adam Jones, maybe the best chef in the world, just recently emerged from self-imposed exile shucking, literally, one million oysters in New Orleans. He flamed out in Paris years ago with two Michelin stars, a heroin habit and too many enemies to count. Now he reappears in London, intent on winning that rarest of accolades, the third star. He coerces his old friend Tony (Daniel Bruhl), a swanky hotel proprietor who is also regrettably in love with him, into backing his efforts. While they re-open in the hotel's restaurant, Adam runs around the city recruiting a kitchen staff so he can later scream at them for their incompetence. One of them, Helene (Sienna Miller), may or may not become a love interest. Meanwhile, the Parisian drug dealer to whom Adam is deeply indebted keeps popping up to administer regular beatings and remind our hero that he still owes, new leaf or no.
Burnt is quite polished and formal, well acted, good-looking and completely formulaic. The rock star chef thing is, by now, a little long in the tooth, and even an actor of Cooper's caliber can only do so much with it. Particularly when the script, written by the usually formidable Steven Knight, gives precious little more than tired tropes to work with. Bruhl and Miller do fine work with similarly lightweight characters, and some of the kitchen scenes are fun and compelling. The movie comes together as less than the sum of its parts, though — an elegantly plated but unsatisfying meal. R. 100m. BROADWAY, MINOR.
— John J. Bennett
Mill Creek listings were not available at press time. For showtimes, see the Journal's listings at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456.
THE PEANUTS MOVIE. Snoopy and the gang put their enormous heads together again for this animated feature. G. 93m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA.
SPECTRE. Daniel Craig takes his last turn in the tux, as James Bond goes up against the rebooted syndicate. PG13. 148m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MINOR.
BRIDGE OF SPIES. Steven Spielberg's Cold War prisoner exchange drama resonates with recent events. Tom Hanks and a Coen brothers script yield a crackling, darkly funny story. PG-13. 143m. BROADWAY.
GOOSEBUMPS. Jack Black plays author R.L. Stein, who's trying to return his fictional creations to their books. PG. 103m. BROADWAY.
HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2. Adam Sandler voices a grandpa hanging onto his blended vampire-human family in this animated sequel. PG. 90m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
THE LAST WITCH HUNTER. Vin Diesel and recovering hobbit Elijah Wood battle baddies in a dream dimension. PG13. 106m. BROADWAY.
THE MARTIAN. Ridley Scott directs Matt Damon as a stranded astronaut in a compelling, exciting and beautiful space drama. PG13. 141m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA.
OUR BRAND IS CRISIS. A cynical American campaign strategist (Sandra Bullock) battles an old rival (Billy Bob Thornton) in a South American election. R. 107m. BROADWAY.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE GHOST DIMENSION. Spirit photography, handheld cameras and found footage. You know the drill. R. 88m. BROADWAY.
TRUTH. Cate Blanchett and Robert Redford in a newsroom/political drama about the 60 Minutes report on then president G.W. Bush's military record and the backlash that followed. R. 125m. MINOR.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill