Capsule reviews of films playing the week of Oct. 6 | Film Clips | Creative Loafing Charlotte

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Capsule reviews of films playing the week of Oct. 6

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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

KNIGHT AND DAY Cameron Diaz did some of her best acting when she was cast opposite Tom Cruise in Vanilla Sky, but the difference between that dark mindbender and this sunny concoction is as glaring as the difference between... well, I'm not gonna say it. The similarity between the films, though, is obvious — specifically, the fact that Cruise and Diaz again prove to be an engaging team. Diaz here plays June Havens, an innocent who gets sucked into the high-voltage world of secret agent Roy Miller (Cruise). Roy repeatedly insists to June that he's actually an honorable FBI agent who's been set up by his colleague (Peter Sarsgaard) as a way to cover up his own nefarious actions; June doesn't know whether to believe him, although she does know that he's remarkably adept at keeping her alive whenever danger appears. Director James Mangold and writer Patrick O'Neill mean for none of this to be taken seriously, but even escapist popcorn fare should have some semblance of intelligence. Instead, Knight and Day is often so preposterous that it makes The A-Team look as complex as L.A. Confidential by comparison. Luckily, Cruise and Diaz both have their movie-star wattage burning bright, and their easy-going rapport makes the whole confection go down easily. **1/2

THE LAST EXORCISM The prospect of journeying to Hell and back seems less daunting than sitting through another horror yarn made in the faux-documentary style of The Blair Witch Project, but this one proves to be a pleasant surprise. Director Daniel Stamm uses the fake cinéma vérité style to milk a lot of tension out of this feature in which the disillusioned Reverend Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) takes along a documentary crew to perform an exorcism in some remote Louisiana hellhole, to prove that exorcisms are bogus and merely prey upon the superstitions of rubes. Cotton thinks he's found a perfect showcase as devout farmer Louis Sweetzer (Louis Herthum) insists that his sweet teenage daughter Nell (Ashley Bell) is demonically possessed. After some initial scoffing, Cotton realizes that there is indeed something wrong with the girl, but is it merely psychological trauma or is Satan really hanging around? Propelled by unexceptionally fine performances from Fabian and Bell, this creepy yarn builds to a powerhouse ending that would be even stronger were it not so choppy and truncated. In fact, too many unanswered questions prevent this movie from soaring to even greater heights. Still, as a deftly executed piece of unsettling cinema, it's only fair to give Daniel Stamm — and the devil — their due. ***


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