Film » Film Clips

Capsule reviews of films playing the week of April 29



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OBSERVE AND REPORT In his sophomore effort (following The Foot Fist Way), N.C. writer-director Jody Hill valiantly tries to combine the twisted trappings of a black comedy with the more accepted slapstick shenanigans of a mainstream outing. Terry Zwigoff largely pulled off this difficult synchronization with Bad Santa, but Hill never locates the proper balance that would make this more than just a hit-and-miss curio. Seth Rogen plays Paul Blart – excuse me, Ronnie Barnhardt, a schlub who takes great pride in his work as the head of mall security. Ronnie is a disturbed individual, but he's largely oblivious to his own inner demons – he's too busy lusting after a makeup counter tart (Anna Faris), attempting to apprehend a flasher who's been terrorizing the mall, and engaging in a war of words with a real detective (Ray Liotta). Much of Observe and Report is aimless and lackadaisical – a whole burglary subplot could easily have been dropped without affecting the overall product – yet the script's biggest problem rests with its decidedly non-PC content. There's nothing wrong with ruffling a few feathers here and there – a little vulgarity is good for the soul, as Mel Brooks used to prove on a regular basis – but the material needs to be funny as well as potentially shocking, and almost none of the film's targets are skewered in a fashion guaranteed to elicit laughs. The exception is the rampant male nudity seen during the bloody climax; I won't ruin it here, but let's just say this might mark the only time that a movie manages to go limp and out with a bang at the same time. **

17 AGAIN The first half-hour of 17 Again is simply atrocious, lazily cobbling together pieces from Back to the Future, Big and all those forgettable '80s body-switch comedies in an effort to jump-start its tale. Zac Efron plays Mike O'Donnell, a high school basketball star who, two decades later, has transformed into a depressed doormat whose teenage children Maggie and Alex (Michelle Trachtenberg and Sterling Knight) hate him and whose wife Scarlett (Leslie Mann) is divorcing him. (The middle-aged Mike/Zac is played by a suitably pudgy Matthew Perry.) In the blink of an eye, Mike is suddenly 17 again, retaining his adult mindset but trolling the halls of his school looking like one of the gang. Armed with this opportunity, Mike hopes to set things right, first by helping out his two children (Maggie's romantically involved with the school bully while Alex is the perpetual target of said thug) and then by convincing Scarlett to give him (or, rather, his older self) a second chance. Efron is appealing within the confines of his limited range, but like the film itself, a severe case of blandness puts a lid on any breakout potential. Mann (aka Mrs. Judd Apatow) provides the piece with its heart, and she proves once again that she deserves a shot or two at more substantial roles. Beyond her, the film is completely disposable, with not enough timeline complications in its scripting and too much footage devoted to the antics of Mike's best friend Ned (Thomas Lennon), a fanboy who never grew up. The bed shaped like a Star Wars landspeeder is a cute visual gag, but by the time Ned started speaking Tolkien's Elvish language, I was ready to check back in with reality. **

SIN NOMBRE Winner of two awards at this year's Sundance Film Festival (Best Director and Best Cinematography), Sin Nombre marks an impressive feature-film debut for Cary Joji Fukunaga, albeit more as a director than a writer. Certainly, his screenplay is strong enough, showing how two lost souls intersect as they journey northward atop a train toward what they hope will be better lives. Casper (Edgar Flores) is a Mexican teenager who's a member of the violent Mara Salvatrucha gang. More conscientious than others of his ilk, he turns his back on the gang and soon becomes their hunted prey. Meanwhile, Sayra (Paulina Gaitan) is a Honduran teen who's immigrating with her father and uncle as they plot to eventually cross the Mexico-U.S. border and make it up to the dad's new home in New Jersey. Circumstances lead to the two youths meeting and developing a mutually respectful relationship that, when all is said and done, complicates their respective flights from their past lives. The gangland material is often intriguing to watch, even if Fukunaga can't quite escape from the shadows of similar films that include such material (City of God and Once Were Warriors spring to mind). And while Sayra is a completely believable character, it's difficult to imagine someone with Casper's sensitivity ever getting mixed up with the Mara Salvatrucha in the first place. But as a director, Fukunaga displays a keen eye, both for expansive compositions (he's aided immeasurably by cameraman Adriano Goldman) and for the small details that define the existence of these struggling people. ***

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