Film » Film Clips

Capsule reviews of films playing the week of April 29

by

comment

ADVENTURELAND Our multiplexes need another period coming-of-age flick about as much as the nation needs another banking industry bailout, yet Adventureland proves to be a modest surprise. For that, thank the efforts of a talented ensemble and a screenplay that mostly steers clear of the usual gross-out gags that have come to define this sub-genre in modern times. Jesse Eisenberg stars as James, whose best-laid plans to attend grad school are dismantled by a sudden lack of funds. He's forced to take a minimum-wage job working the game booths at the Pittsburgh amusement park Adventureland, and what makes the gig endurable is his burgeoning relationship with a fellow employee, the pretty if often moody Em (Twilight's Kristen Stewart). Adventureland was written and directed by Superbad's Greg Mottola, and he frequently has trouble nailing the 1980s milieu in which the film is set: Some scenes are visually so nondescript that it's easy to forget the time frame and assume the movie takes place in the here and now. Other bits hammer the 80s connection home in marvelous fashion: The "Rock Me Amadeus" gag is especially inspired. Eisenberg is exemplary as the nerdy intellectual whose sensitivity and demeanor attract rather than repel women – here's that rare youth flick where it's actually believable that the geek gets the girl – while Stewart again demonstrates her standing as one of our most promising young actresses by ably tackling the script's most complicated role. The supporting parts are also well-cast, offering familiar character types yet investing them with enough personality to offset any sense of deja vu. ***

DUPLICITY Duplicity is a jet-setting romp that proves to be as bright as it is brainy. Writer-director Tony Gilroy, flush from his Michael Clayton success, retains that film's examination of corporate malfeasance yet replaces the sense of dread with a sense of style. After all, when a movie showcases a Caribbean hotel where rooms cost $10,000 per night, it's clear that the protagonists won't be cut from the same cloth as us po' folks who have to worry about trifling matters like soaring unemployment rates and obstructionist Republican Congressmen. Indeed, the leads are played by Julia Roberts and Clive Owen, the sort of high-wattage movie stars so glamorous that it's easy to believe even their bath tissues are Armani-designed. She's former CIA agent Claire Stenwick; he's ex-MI6 operative Ray Koval. Having both left their jobs to take lucrative assignments with rival corporations (the company CEOs are played in amusing fashion by Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti), Claire and Ray end up pooling their talents in order to swindle both companies and steal the formula for a new cosmetic product that will revolutionize the industry. But all the time, they each wonder whether they can really trust the other person. If there's a fault with Duplicity, it's that Gilroy relies far too heavily on fastbacks to the point that the first half-hour is often impenetrable – telling the story in linear fashion would have still produced enough narrative twists to keep audiences happily engaged. Fortunately, as the movie continues, plot basics become more digestible, and it all pans out with a climactic "gotcha" that should invoke happy memories of The Sting. ***

EARTH This feature-length spinoff of the BBC series Planet Earth has been playing Europe since the summer of 2007, yet it was only released in the U.S. on April 22, 2009 (Earth Day). Hmm, perhaps its British creators deemed it pointless to release such a pro-environment documentary in a country then ruled by a heinous Republican administration bent on the destruction of our natural resources? At any rate, the picture has finally been released stateside by Walt Disney Studios under its new Disneynature label, a welcome throwback to the days when Walt himself would personally supervise such Earth-friendly fare as The Living Desert and The Vanishing Prairie. And while it's hard to urge moviegoers to spend money on something they can basically catch on the Discovery Channel for free, there's no denying that the magnificence of the images on display is even more impressive when presented in a larger-than-life format. With his majestic voice, narrator James Earl Jones introduces us to the animal protagonists of this globe-spanning piece – among them polar bears, elephants, humpback whales and a particularly scary shark – and discusses the various challenges most of them face, whether from other animals or from global warming. Earth is an enjoyable experience, but it would be wrong to simply digest the picture as a complacent moviegoer. So here's my contribution to the cause: A frequent friend of big business, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar would have been right at home in the Bush Administration (what was Obama thinking when he picked him?), given his abysmal indifference to wildlife and specifically his approval of a Bush Administration plan to slaughter endangered wolves. Protest his actions at www.doi.gov/feedback.html or make a contribution at www.savewolves.org. ***

Add a comment