Film » Film Clips

Capsule reviews of films playing the week of Oct. 22

Body of Lies, Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist among titles

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EAGLE EYE The peril of encroaching technology has been a cinematic mainstay at least since Stanley Kubrick allowed HAL to temporarily get the upper hand in 1968's 2001: A Space Odyssey (film purists can feel free to go even further back, to Fritz Lang's 1927 Metropolis), but rarely has this intriguing concept been presented as daftly as in Eagle Eye. Executive-produced by Steven Spielberg, this tiresome action yarn finds slacker Jerry Shaw (Shia LaBeouf) and single mom Rachel Holloman (Michelle Monaghan) drawn into what appears to be a terrorist strike against the United States. Initially strangers, they find themselves working together after each one receives threatening phone calls from a woman who orders them to carry out her instructions ... or else. The caller seemingly has control over every electronic device in sight, as she's able to manipulate traffic lights, power lines, subway cars and cell phones. Even allowing for the big twist that reveals the villain's identity, this requires a greater suspension of disbelief than might be humanly possible. If Jerry perishes during the course of his misadventures, then the assignment's a bust, yet the caller repeatedly places him in death-defying situations (I especially liked his leap-before-you-look jump from a speeding train). A faster running time might have helped us overlook the gaping idiocies, but the film is packed with repetitive – and poorly edited – vehicular chases that bloat this to a punishing two hours. But pay heed to the movie's warning: Technological advancements might indeed become a concern in the future, especially if they allow for greater mass production of duds like this one. *1/2

THE EXPRESS The problem with most musical and sports biopics is that they adhere so much to rigid formula, they rarely allow their subjects to breathe. There's a sameness to these types of films – their characters' triumphs and travails can be predicted at every turn – that it's no surprise to see most critics go gaga over something that dares to break the mold like I'm Not There, which was audacious enough to allow both a woman and and a black child to portray Bob Dylan at various points in his career. There's nothing daring about The Express, which, like most real-life sports stories co-opted by major studios (The Rookie, Miracle, Remember the Titans), strips the achievements of any individuality or historical worth and renders them all part of the same gumbo of sticky clichés. Here, the sanitized story is that of Ernie Davis (Rob Brown), who became the first African-American player to win college football's Heisman Trophy, only to helplessly stand by as personal tragedy derailed his plans to become an NFL superstar opposite his idol, Cleveland Browns legend Jim Brown. It's a heartrending tale worthy of the Greek gods, yet here it's been robbed of its vibrancy, and as blandly and beatifically played by Brown, the character never registers as anything more than a walking sliver of American history. But the sight of gridiron-star-turned-actor Jim Brown (played here by Darrin Dewitt Henson) does raise a thought: How about a movie based on his interesting life? Because even if the studio homogenizes it to the point of tepidity, at least audiences might get treated to a few scenes from Brown's best-known Hollywood outing, The Dirty Dozen. **

MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA There's a scene in Miracle at St. Anna in which a light bulb mysteriously flickers back to life, and it feels as if director Spike Lee is paying tribute to whimsical Italian maestro Federico Fellini. Alas, that moment passes, and it no longer becomes clear exactly what Lee is honoring with this baffling motion picture. Certainly, Lee wants to pay tribute to the black soldiers who served this country during World War II, but a more linear narrative might have helped him accomplish that goal. This turns out to be a clusterfuck of good intentions crossed with clunky storytelling, opening and closing with a contemporary (read: 1983) framework that's supposed to infuse the story with a heady mystery but only adds unnecessary clutter to the 150-minute film. The flashback portion of the movie finds four African-American soldiers (Derek Luke, Michael Ealy, Laz Alonso and Omar Benson Miller) stranded in a Tuscan village in Nazi-occupied territory. The quartet take it upon themselves to protect the locals, leading to underdeveloped storylines involving Italian partisans, supernatural intervention and, worst of all, an ongoing feud between two of the men as they vie for the attention of a shapely villager (Valentina Cervi, trapped in an impossible madonna/whore role). Despite his personal commitment to the material, Lee rarely blesses this picture with his trademark style, an expression of cinematic prowess that enlivens even his clunkiest films. On the contrary, there's no moviemaking miracle at work here, just a half-baked project that might be Lee's biggest disappointment to date. **

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