Film » Film Clips

Capsule reviews of films playing the week of March 23

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HALL PASS It's hard to wax philosophic about a film in which a portly guy stoned out of his gourd elects to use a golf course sand trap like so much kitty litter, so let's just state that the latest from the Farrelly Brothers doesn't merely alternate between scenes that are dumb and dumber. It's actually a smart picture at times, both in its dissection of marital matters and in its ability to extract solid laughs from dubious situations. Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis play Rick and Fred, suburban hubbies who spend all their time ogling other women and imagining all the fun they could be having were they still single. After some debate, their wives (Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate) elect to give them a "hall pass," the opportunity to take a week off from marriage and do whatever they desire. But getting back into the swingers' swing of things is harder than the men imagined. Perhaps in an effort to compete with the industry's younger raconteurs of raunch, the Farrellys go all-out with the gross-outs, leading to mixed results (two scenes featuring bowel movements is at least one — and probably two — too many). This, combined with a sloppy third act as well as the whopping screen time given to an annoying minor character (a crazed barista played by Derek Waters), admittedly dilutes much of the film's impact. Still, it's memorable enough to get a passing recommendation from me. **1/2

JUST GO WITH IT Adam Sandler's latest catnip for knuckleheads is based on Cactus Flower, a farce that's been the basis for a French play, a Broadway hit, and a middling 1969 film starring Walter Matthau, Ingrid Bergman and Goldie Hawn in her Oscar-winning role. The base story — the usual formula about a man (in this case, Sandler's plastic surgeon) who spends all his time chasing the wrong woman (Brooklyn Decker's school teacher) before realizing that the Right One (Jennifer Aniston's office assistant) was by his side all along — is workable, there are a few genuine chuckles, and the child actors (Bailee Madison and Griffin Gluck) have more personality than the usual plastic moppets. But any potential is negated by bad casting choices — not Charlotte-raised bombshell Decker, who fulfills the minimal demands of her role, but screen irritant Nick Swardson, a useless Dave Matthews and a slumming Nicole Kidman — and the typical Sandler concessions to fratboy humor. Whether it's a kid pooping on Swardson's hand or Sandler describing his own poop as "black pickles," these witless interludes destroy the film's raison d'être: its romcom convictions. After all, it's hard to snuggle with your sweetie in the auditorium when both hands are required to cover your nose and mouth. *1/2

THE KING'S SPEECH Arriving on the scene like so much high-minded Oscar bait — indeed, it ended up winning four awards, including Best Picture — The King's Speech is anything but a stiff-upper-lip drama as constrained as a corseted queen. It is, however, perfect film fodder for discerning audiences starved for literate entertainment. Director Tom Hooper and particularly screenwriter David Seidler (both earning Oscars) manage to build a towering film from a historical footnote: the debilitating stammer that haunted Albert Frederick Arthur George (aka the Duke of York and then King George VI) since childhood and the efforts of speech therapist Lionel Logue to cure him of his affliction. The film is careful to paint in the historical details surrounding this character crisis — the support of George's wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), the abdication of his brother Edward (Guy Pearce), the buildup toward World War II (Timothy Spall as Winston Churchill; love it!), etc. — but its best scenes are the ones centering solely on the unorthodox teacher and his quick-tempered student. Colin Firth (scoring an Oscar) and Geoffrey Rush are accomplished actors on their own, but squaring off as, respectively, George VI and Lionel Logue elevates their game. It's no wonder that they deliver the two best male performances of the year. ***1/2

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