Capsule reviews of films playing the week of August 18 | Film Clips | Creative Loafing Charlotte

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Capsule reviews of films playing the week of August 18

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THE KARATE KID If your parents are Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, you're probably going to get what you want, no matter how ill-advised. And certainly, mounting a remake of one of the 80s' definitive crowd-pleasers, a movie that led to major box office, a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for Pat Morita and (alas) three inferior sequels, probably constitutes some sort of career death wish. Yet The Karate Kid turns out to be a pleasant enough surprise. To be sure, there's absolutely no area in which it improves on the original, yet the basic plot remains durable enough that there's no harm done by this easy-to-take update. Jaden Smith plays Dre Parker, who's forced to move from his Detroit home when his single mom (Taraji P. Henson) lands a job in Beijing. Dre catches the eye of a cute schoolmate (Wenwen Han), but most of the time, he's being beaten to a pulp by a local bully (Zhenwei Wang) and his sycophants — at least until his building's maintenance man, Mr. Han (Jackie Chan), teaches the lad how to protect himself. This Karate Kid clocks in at 135 minutes, which seems absurd until one recalls that the original itself runs a lengthy 126 minutes. But that version flies by; this one proceeds in fits and starts. Chan and Smith are charismatic enough, although no match for Morita and Ralph Macchio. **1/2

THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT Annette Bening and Julianne Moore star as the fastidious Nic and the openhearted Jules, a married lesbian couple with two upstanding children, 18-year-old Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and 15-year-old Laser (Josh Hutcherson). The kids decide that they'd like to meet their biological father, the man who donated the sperm that led to both their conceptions. He turns out to be the laid-back Paul (Mark Ruffalo), whose scruffy demeanor and easygoing attitude eventually earn the affection of the kids and Jules but sets Nic on edge. One more movie exploring family dysfunction might sound like a slog through well-trodden indie film terrain, yet this piece from writer-director Lisa Cholodenko is written with such perception, directed with such sensitivity and acted with such brio that the result is not only a path paved with good intentions but also one lined with loving detail. Besides, while many films of this ilk focus more on the "dysfunction" — often with a trace of bemusement if not outright condescension — this one centers more on the "family," specifically how a true family is determined not by society-approved labels but by the hard work that molds all those involved, and how simply wanting to belong to a family doesn't mean that carte blanche will (or should) automatically be given. ***1/2

KILLERS In Killers, Ashton Kutcher plays a seasoned CIA assassin, which is only slightly more believable than Miley Cyrus portraying Scarlett O'Hara or David Spade tackling General Douglas MacArthur. His character, Spencer Aimes, is tired of his bloody lot in life, though, so after he meets the sheltered Jen Kornfeldt (Katherine Heigl), he quits the hitman biz and marries her, never bothering to tell her about his dubious profession. Cut to three years later, where we find the pair living in petrified bliss — that is, until his past comes back with a vengeance. The idea of a suburban setting as a front for illicit activity is fairly original, and this could have made for a sharp satire. Instead, everyone blows their assignment. The ham-fisted direction is by Robert Luketic, who previously teamed with Heigl on the worst film of 2009, The Ugly Truth. The forced banter between the stars comes courtesy of scripters Bob DeRosa and Ted Griffin, who apparently never met a dreadful line of dialogue they didn't like. Yet reserve the main brickbats for Heigl, who once again uses variations on her single, solitary, thespian expression (wide-eyed wonder) to play the only role she ever tackles in movies: the annoying, neurotic pill whose ill-placed air of superiority can't disguise the fact that she's an intolerant nincompoop. *

THE LAST AIRBENDER This live-action spectacle is based on the animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender, and were writer-director M. Night Shyamalan really as brilliant as his admirers insist, he would have demanded that the studio retain the word Avatar in the title — that act alone could have added an extra $10 million to the coffers from ill-informed folks thinking they were going to witness a sequel to the James Cameron smash. Left to its own devices, though, it's difficult to ascertain whether the picture's good-but-not-great gross is enough to warrant its planned sequels or not even enough to allow Shyamalan to Super-Size his next fast-food order. Unlike most of the family-friendly films of today, this has nothing to offer adults — it's strictly kid stuff all the way. That may not be the case with the source material, but it's unlikely anything here — beyond some of the special effects — will capture the imagination of anyone over 12. Those effects are occasionally excellent, and they're the only things that provide any pulse to an otherwise poorly executed story of how one young lad, Aang (Noah Ringer), proves to be the only person in his world with the ability to control all four elements of air, water, fire and earth. This is a clunky, soporific undertaking punctuated by some truly cringe-worthy dialogue. *1/2


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