AMERICAN REUNION. As we left the theater, my wife turned to me and said, "Well, that wasn't very funny." She's right; there are a handful of successful jokes in the latest American Pie sequel, but the whole thing is generally flat and pointless.
I was never much of a fan of this franchise. When the first movie came out in 1999, I was an outspoken detractor. This may have had something to do with my generally sexless high school experience, or the fact that I was deep into a period of cinephiliac snobbery. Or maybe it was my tendency to bristle at anything so wantonly commercial and popular. Whatever the cause, I didn't connect with the characters in American Pie, and the intervening years haven't changed my mind.
I skipped all the previous sequels, so I'm not aware of all the keen insights into contemporary sexual mores -- and knee-slappers! -- surely contained therein. Fortunately, American Reunion opens with enough ham-fisted exposition to catch-up even the completely uninitiated. The gist is that the years haven't been as good to the principal characters as they might have hoped. Whether it's new parenthood, romantic mismatches or unsatisfying career paths, turns out adulthood isn't all awesomeness. Good thing it's time for a 13th high school reunion! Cue the jock-rock and dick jokes!
Trying to keep one foot apiece in the worlds of comedy and drama, Reunion does a disservice to both. Not surprisingly, the movie is at its best when it doesn't overreach. The most successful moments are pretty low-brow, while the heavier "grown-up" content falls flat. The cast all turn in respectable performances, but the standout performers (Seann William Scott, Allyson Hannigan, Eugene Levy, Jennifer Coolidge and John Cho) deserve better than this.
By the end, American Reunion has a disconcerting air of inevitability and pointlessness. Did we really need another sequel to a teen sex comedy that inexplicably became a huge success? Of course not, but as long as there's money to be made, I'm sure we'll keep getting them. R. 113m.
TITANIC 3D. Speaking of crass commercialism, the only other opening this weekend was Titanic 3D. The first time around (1997) I railed as loudly against James Cameron's monstrous creation as I have at anything in my life. Like American Pie, it arrived when I was at the peak of my self-righteousness, and to my dismay it became a gigantic cultural phenomenon. I can't say exactly what provoked my rage, which in hindsight seems so silly and immature -- at least intellectually; on an emotional level there's still some glimmer of that white-hot hatred.
Looking back on it, Titanic rang in the end of a Hollywood era that started in the 1970s. It was huge, overwrought and dominated by technical wizardry. I'll grant that it's an amazing achievement, and often spectacular to look at, but the writing is frustratingly simple and hackneyed. I don't have a problem with love stories, but this one has always felt antiseptic to me. Because it lacks subtlety and spark, the plot becomes a vehicle for the effects sequences. The story, which should be the heart of the movie, is secondary, almost an afterthought.
And this seems to have become the blueprint for the bulk of the product Hollywood is now churning out. Gone are the days of ambitious, moderately budgeted studio movies. That middle-ground is deserted: Giant, underwritten blockbusters dominate the landscape, with occasional incursions from micro-budget independents.
It may be worth noting that I really enjoy much of James Cameron's work -- everything from The Terminator (1984) through True Lies (1994), actually. When he was working in the action genre, his shortcomings as a screenwriter didn't undermine the effectiveness of the movies. But when he decided to take on "issues" (true love in Titanic, environmentalism and intolerance in Avatar), he lost me altogether.
Rather than surrendering 3½ hours to Titanic 3D, I rented The Adventures of Tintin and enjoyed it immensely. Not only is it visually striking, but the plot is tense and action-packed, and the characters live vividly on the screen. Titanic is rated PG and runs 194m. Tintin is PG and 107m.
--John J. Bennett
THE CABIN IN THE WOODS. From the ingenious duo Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard (creators of Buffy the Vampire Slayer) comes a twisting, turning subversion of a classic horror/suspense setup. R. 95m.
THE THREE STOOGES. The Farrelly brothers, whose work has declined precipitously since There's Something About Mary, drag Larry, Curly and Moe into their scatological playpen. PG. 92m.
SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN. A British fisheries expert (Ewan McGregor) gets convinced by a flirty consultant (Emily Blunt) to help a loony sheik (Amr Waked) transplant his favorite sport, fly-fishing, to the high desert. Based on the book by Paul Torday. PG13. 111m.
THE RAID: REDEMPTION. Hailed by critics as "the best action movie in decades," this violent, Indonesian martial arts import follows an elite special-forces team into a 30-story building filled with gangsters. Prolonged scenes of ass-whoopin' ensue. In Indonesian with English subtitles. R. 101m.
LOCKOUT. Guy Pearce plays a man in the near-future who gets wrongly convicted of espionage against the U.S. of A. He's offered freedom in exchange for rescuing the president's daughter from an outer space prison where the violent inmates have escaped. PG13. 95m.
OCTOBER BABY. The main character in this right-wing Christian propaganda film is "the survivor of a failed abortion," a young woman who suffers from epilepsy, asthma, joint problems and a mental disorder because her evil, evil mother tried to murder her in utero. Take a guilt trip to salvation. PG13. 107m.
Sunday at the Arcata Theatre Lounge, Rick Moranis plays a scientist who accidentally reduces the size of his children, along with some neighborhood friends, prompting him to inform his wife, "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" (1989). PG. 93m. 6 p.m. On Monday and Tuesday, the Banff Mountain Film Festival delivers the stunning backdrops and adrenal secretions of adventure sports, from rock climbing and mountain biking to skiing, kayaking and tightrope walking. Doors at 6, show at 7 p.m.
21 JUMP STREET. Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as cops who go undercover, inside the plot of a 1980s sitcom starring Johnny Depp. R. 109m.
ACT OF VALOR. Active-duty Navy SEALs star as active-duty Navy SEALs in this fictionalized account of Navy SEALs on active duty. Paid for with your tax dollars. R. 101m.
THE ARTIST. Mostly silent, black-and-white homage to cinema's mostly silent, black-and-white early years. Winner of five Academy Awards including Best Picture. PG13. 103m.
THE HUNGER GAMES. In a dystopian future state, teenagers get conscripted into a televised death match. Based on Suzanne Collins' bestseller. PG. 142m.
JOHN CARTER. A hunky Civil War vet gets transported to Mars, where, with the help of some four-armed green dudes, he must save a princess. PG13. 132m.
MIRROR MIRROR. Beautiful sets, visual panache and Julia Roberts can't save this flat and underwritten update on the story of Snow White. PG. 106m.
WRATH OF THE TITANS. Perseus, a yoked demigod, stabs 3D computer images with his trident in order to save his "holier than thou" dad, Zeus. 99m. PG13.