Capsule reviews of films playing the week of Nov. 10 | Film Clips | Creative Loafing Charlotte

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Capsule reviews of films playing the week of Nov. 10



CASE 39 Case 39 is one of those unwanted Hollywood bastards, a production that was completed years ago and has even been released in other territories but is only now making its stateside debut. Just how old is this picture? Let's just say that when filming began, David O. Selznick was still combing the country for the perfect Scarlett O'Hara. OK, so I exaggerate by a decade or seven, but the point is that for this to have had a shot at succeeding, it probably needed to predate Orphan, The Omen and perhaps even The Bad Seed in the "evil that kids do" mini-genre. As it stands, its thudding familiarity is only compounded by its narratively limp and technically humdrum presentation. Renee Zellweger stars as a social worker who saves 10-year-old Lilith (Jodelle Ferland) from execution by her seemingly religious-wacko parents, only to eventually figure out that the adults were only trying to save the world from their demonic daughter. Along the way, cop Ian McShane demonstrates remarkably poor aim when it comes to firearms, child psychiatrist Bradley Cooper discovers hornets crawling out of every bodily orifice, and Zellweger manages to make a horror film that isn't even one-tenth as terrifying as her romantic comedy New In Town. *1/2

CONVICTION This relates the true-life tale of Betty Anne Waters (Hilary Swank), who spends close to two decades trying to prove the innocence of her brother Kenny (Sam Rockwell). Charged with murder, Kenny's serving a life sentence thanks in no small part to the efforts of a humorless police officer (Melissa Leo) and the testimonies of his wife (Clea DuVall) and girlfriend (Juliette Lewis). But Betty Anne is convinced that he's not guilty, so this woman of limited education concentrates on the single goal of becoming a lawyer so she can work to free her sibling. The cast members, especially Swank and Rockwell, do their best to sell what on paper is a worthy story, but their game efforts come up short against the thudding treatment by director Tony Goldwyn and scripter Pamela Gray. The two filmmakers are so myopic in their focus on their heroine's pitbull approach to judiciary matters that they fail to provide much in the way of context, with important background details either painted in broad strokes or ignored altogether. Worse, their limitations result in a picture that operates at the same speed throughout, with little variation in tone. Ultimately, the finale will have audiences on their feet, but for the wrong reason — not as part of a standing ovation but in an effort to beat a hasty retreat to the exit. **

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. ***

DEVIL Agatha Christie meets M. Night Shyamalan in Devil, and damn if the mystery author's inspiration doesn't put the hack auteur's career back on the right path. Make no mistake: There's nothing special about Devil, but after a string of notorious flops, it's surprising to see Shyamalan involved with a film that's at the very least watchable. Still, any praise should be followed by an asterisk, since his contributions are relegated to co-producing the picture and coming up with the storyline (John Erick Dowdle and Brian Nelson get credit for the direction and screenplay, respectively). But regardless of how the muted kudos is parceled out, the end result is a moderately entertaining tale that borrows Christie's Ten Little Indians template of putting a group of strangers together and having them get picked off one by one. Here, we find five people trapped together on a stuck elevator, with the added element of having the killer among the quintet actually being the devil in disguise. The supernatural angle occasionally lapses into silliness (the pontificating by a superstitious security guard grows overbearing), but Dowdle comes up with some interesting visuals, and the atmospheric score by Fernando Velazquez (The Orphanage) is, uh, heaven-sent. **1/2

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