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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PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME To say that this isn't as bad as other films adapted from video games is a bit like saying that day-old roadkill doesn't smell as bad as week-old roadkill: It isn't praise so much as it's looking for the silver lining in an otherwise unfortunate situation. Certainly, Prince of Persia is far better than such wretched works as Super Mario Bros. and Resident Evil, but it's still little more than an average fantasy flick. The plot concerns the efforts of a buff prince (a game but miscast Jake Gyllenhaal) to aid a princess (dull Gemma Arterton) in protecting a mystical dagger from falling into the wrong hands. The blade, you see, has the power to turn back time, although the specifics of this procedure seem to change at the writers' whims as well as sometimes allow the holder to end up at the most convenient points in time imaginable. As expected, the film is packed with CGI effects, some more believable than others. The only original characters are the ostriches, and it must be noted that they deliver the best performances. The film takes chances with the fates of some of the characters but then serves up an ending that leaves the viewer feeling absolutely cheated. I won't reveal how this plays out, but let's just say that this device should be retired right alongside the hoary "It's all a dream." **

SALT A neo-Cold War thriller would seem like just the ticket for cineastes who fondly recall Iron Curtain-courting capers on the order of The Spy Who Came In from the Cold and select James Bond tales. And the title even suggests a nod to that chunk of 20th century history involving U.S.-U.S.S.R. tensions, as SALT was the name given to discussions centering on reducing both nations' arsenals of nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, the majority of this film fails to honor either its cinematic predecessors or its real-life milieu: Extracting the occasional misplaced titter from viewers, it stirs memories less of John le Carre and more of Yakov Smirnoff. Angelina Jolie headlines as Evelyn Salt, a CIA agent accused of being a Russian spy; as she follows a trail of clues in an effort to clear her name, it begins to appear as if maybe even she's not completely certain about her own identity. Jolie is practically the whole show; the rest is negligible, from the repetitive (if well-staged) chase sequences to the absurd plotting, which — thanks to obvious casting in a key role — culminates in a final twist that can be spotted even before moviegoers manage to crack the top layer of their buttered popcorn. There's already talk of a sequel to Salt, but it's going to have to provide a lot more flavor than this bland offering. **

SEX AND THE CITY 2 As I wrote in my review of the first film, "Sex and the City works because its ability to mix real-world issues with reel-world fantasies interestingly provides it with both gravity and buoyancy." In SATC2, only half of the equation really works. That would be the dramatic side, represented by those sequences in which the principals cope with issues that resonate beyond the screen. These segments prove to be so affecting and sometimes even insightful that it's a shame the film's more lighthearted elements turn out to be so clunky. A major plot point takes the foursome out of New York for a trip to the United Arab Emirates, and while the thought of these liberated ladies confronting Middle Eastern misogynists sounds tantalizing on paper, clumsy writing strips the material of any import. And it's not just the plotting that's below par: This lengthy segment of the film also produces some atrocious quips that cause the ears to bleed. "Abu Dhabi Doo!" and "I'm having a mid-wife crisis" are bad enough, but the nadir is easily when Samantha (Kim Cattrall, here forced to endure various humiliations) meets a hunky Australian in the desert and moans, "Lawrence of my labia!" If that doesn't have Lawrence of Arabia director David Lean spinning around in his grave at mach speed, nothing will. **1/2

SHREK FOREVER AFTER The Shrek series now stands at 2-2 thanks to the latest addition to the cartoon canon. After the first two entertaining (if wildly overrated) installments made enough money to seemingly feed and clothe the entire U.S. population, the filmmakers opted to give us a pair of desperate lunges at more filthy lucre. Shrek Forever After is an improvement over Shrek the Third, but it's not enough of a step up to revitalize the ailing franchise. This entry gives us a Shrek (again voiced by Mike Myers) who's none too happy with his domesticated lot in life. Feeling stifled, he ends up signing a contract whipped up by the devious Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn), one that eventually leads to an alternate reality in which Shrek never existed. Thus, Rumpelstiltskin rules the kingdom, Fiona (Cameron Diaz) is a resistance fighter, Donkey (Eddie Murphy) is an unwilling servant to the witches that serve as Rumpelstiltkin's enforcers, and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) has grown lazy and fat. Living on the contract's borrowed time, Shrek has less than 24 hours to make everything right. While the plotline aggressively lifts from It's a Wonderful Life, it's clear that this isn't a wonderful movie, just an average one whose primary function will be to serve as a babysitter once it hits DVD. **


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