Film » Film Clips

Capsule reviews of films playing the week of August 18

by

comment

THE A-TEAM "Overkill is underrated," opines group leader "Hannibal" Smith (Liam Neeson) at one point during the course of The A-Team. Clearly, the man isn't talking about summer films, wherein the whole point of many of these heavily hyped efforts is to render everything louder, larger and more expensive. Still, as far as costly packages go, this is one of the better ones in recent memory. The film is of course based on the TV series that aired during the middle stretch of the 1980s. The series was crapola, a cheesy crash'n'smash rally that often played like The Dukes of Hazzard stripped of the hick accents. This film is occasionally cheesy in its own way, but it's also far smarter than the series ever was. As B.A., Quinton "Rampage" Jackson isn't nearly as memorable as Mr. T — the latter always looked like he could beat you to a pulp just by staring — but in the case of the other three actors, they're improvements over their small-screen counterparts. They provide the human hook that draws us into the action, much of it more imaginative than what we usually encounter in CGI-heavy efforts: The cheerfully ridiculous sequence involving the "flying tank" rates a half-star all by itself. The A-Team is basically a B-movie writ large, and in that respect, it gets the job done. ***

DESPICABLE ME When James Stewart offers to lasso the moon for Donna Reed in Frank Capra's classic It's a Wonderful Life, it's purely a romantic gesture. When Gru (Steve Carell), the star of the 3-D opus Despicable Me, plots to shrink the moon to a size small enough so that he can make off with it, it's clearly to show that he's the baddest dude around. After all, if a supervillain isn't feared and respected, then what good is he? Despicable Me is a witty, congenial lark that obviously won't have the staying power of Toy Story 3 but serves quite nicely as a pleasing placeholder in the cinematic summer of 2010. Sweet-natured yet also avoiding the cloying sentiment that tarnishes any great number of toon tales, this finds Gru enlisting the aid of three oblivious orphan girls to help him one-up his biggest competitor in the supervillain sweepstakes, a self-satisfied nebbish (Jason Segel) who calls himself Vector. Naturally, Gru knows nothing about children, and just as naturally, the girls will teach him about family and responsibility. But that comes later. First, the movie has to let loose with a volley of inspired sight gags, a smattering of adult-oriented humor (note the homage to The Godfather), and some screen-pushing innovations to justify the 3-D expense. ***

DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS France's The Dinner Game was a subversively funny picture about a smug book publisher named Pierre who takes part in a game in which he and his buddies all invite the most boring or idiotic people they can find to a dinner simply to make fun of them. Sentimentality and sympathy had no place in this ruthless comedy, as Pierre was a thoroughly venal character. But, to paraphrase Homey the Clown, Hollywood don't play that. In this remake, the detestable Pierre has been transformed into the likable Tim (reliable Paul Rudd), and even his treatment of his chosen one (Steve Carell) has been softened. But here's the surprising thing: Despite its squishy center, the picture still manages to sport a prickly exterior that leads to countless scenes of squirm-inducing hilarity. For that, primarily thank Carell, whose performance nails the character's social ineptitude and physical retardation to an almost painful degree. Unfortunately, the film peters out once it reaches the actual dinner party, as the finale crams in a number of broadly played "schmucks" and asks us to laugh at them before pitying them. But the laughs came earlier, when the movie stood by its comic convictions. The clever coda notwithstanding, the ending mainly offers a mild case of indigestion. **1/2

GROWN UPS Adam Sandler's worst film since the one-two punch of Little Nicky and the inexplicably popular Big Daddy a decade ago, Grown Ups marks the umpteenth collaboration between the comedian and director Dennis Dugan. Dugan is to screen comedy what the atomic bomb was to Nagasaki, and with this film, he and ostensible writers Sandler and Fred Wolf serve up a mirthless affair in which the only people laughing are the ones on screen. In fact, that's basically the plot of the movie: As five school chums reunite 30 years later to honor the passing of their former coach, Lenny (Sandler) makes a bad joke and the others laugh. Then Eric (Kevin James) makes a bad joke and the others laugh. And so on through Kurt (Chris Rock), Marcus (David Spade) and Rob (Rob Schneider). As they're laughing, those of us in the audience are cringing. Salma Hayek, Maria Bello and Maya Rudolph are wasted (in arrested-development movies like these, nerdy schlubs always have hot wives), yet even these actresses don't escape the script's indignities, as evidenced by the scene in which Bello squirts Rudolph in the face with milk from her tit. Countless sequences like this one reverted me back to my own infancy, as I wanted to do nothing more than curl up in a fetal position and block out the screen. *

Add a comment