Film » Film Clips

Capsule reviews of films playing the week of Sept. 21

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CAPTAIN AMERICA Even moviegoers suffering from superhero burnout might want to stand up and salute Captain America, which doesn't match the excellence of X-Men: First-Class but ranks ahead of fellow summer stablemates Thor and Green Lantern. I've long held a soft spot for 1991's The Rocketeer and 2004's Hidalgo, two box office underachievers that refreshingly stripped away the modern era's automatic coat of cynicism and instead delivered old-fashioned thrills with no trace of irony or condescension. Both films were helmed by Joe Johnston, and coming off the disastrous monster muddle The Wolfman, he's back in his gee-whiz element here. Chris Evans stars as Steve Rogers, a scrawny kid whose 4F status repeatedly prevents him from being accepted into the army during World War II. But responding to the youth's inner decency rather than his outward lack of muscles, a kindly scientist (Stanley Tucci) turns him into the ultimate super-soldier. The sickly Steve Rogers now sports a Charles Atlas physique, and he eventually goes after the man who has emerged as his arch-nemesis: Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), a Nazi whose use of the same serum has transformed him into the appropriately named Red Skull. As expected, the movie has the requisite CGI bombast, although the most unique visual effect involved digitally altering the buff Evans so that he would appear emaciated in the early sequences — an approach that works far better than the technique for which The Curious Case of Benjamin Button managed to grab a Visual Effects Oscar. Aside from the effects, the movie generally takes a decidedly more low-key approach, both in tone and performance. Balanced enough to offer entertainment to young and old alike, Captain America should make us all proud to be moviegoers. ***

THE CHANGE-UP Hollywood's latest men-will-be-boys bit of buffoonery, The Change-Up opens with a baby projectile-pooping straight into his father's mouth. It's a sensation that won't be entirely unfamiliar to audiences members who subject themselves to this cinematic cesspool's frontal assault. Part of a subgenre that seems to be growing more witless as it grows more raunchy, this "man-child" feature also brings back that popular 1980s staple: the body switch comedy. Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds respectively portray workaholic family man Dave and slacker pothead Mitch, who drunkenly wish they had each other's lives while urinating into a magic fountain (stay with me, people). Waking up the next morning occupying the other's body, Dave and Mitch desperately try to reverse the situation. But first, they must spend a few days as the other fellow, meaning that the uptight Dave has to perform Mitch's duties in a softcore porn flick while the irresponsible Mitch has to dole parental advice to Dave's oldest daughter (Sydney Rouviere) and share the matrimonial bed with Dave's wife Jamie (Leslie Mann). A chaotic scene in which Mitch fails to properly supervise Dave's twin infants, resulting in near-accidents with a blender and an electrical outlet, will infuriate many adults, but truth be told, it's about the only gag that's even remotely fresh in this stale endeavor (if anything, it reminded me of Baby Herman's outlandish exploits in those Roger Rabbit cartoons). The rest is the usual mix of anus-and-penis-fixated gags, ritual female humiliation (Mann, as usual, deserves far better), and insincere, late-inning attempts to show us that all of these wacky shenanigans turned Dave and Mitch into better people. Riiight... I'm more likely to believe that Rick Santorum will be the keynote speaker at Charlotte's upcoming Democratic National Convention. *1/2

CONAN THE BARBARIAN John Milius' 1982 treatment of author Robert E. Howard's pulp hero was a lumbering bore, with a wooden Arnold Schwarzenegger not yet seasoned enough to work up the charisma that would serve him well in later pictures. Still, I'm now forced to recall that model with at least some smidgen of fond nostalgia after sitting through this perfectly dreadful reboot. A humorless endurance test from the director (Marcus Nispel) who previously desecrated horror staples both good (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre) and bad (Friday the 13th) with so-what? remakes, this Conan fails in practically every respect. Despite being presented in 3-D, this sports characters who barely fill out one dimension. The battle sequences are staged with little variance and no imagination. There is one nifty FX scene involving an army of monsters made out of sand, but even this becomes idiotic once it's apparent that a single tap will cause them to fall apart (guess they should have been fashioned from adamantium instead). As the title warrior who makes it his life's mission to avenge the death of his father (Ron Perlman), Jason Momoa has the requisite six-pack abs but otherwise comes off as such a contemporary jock that you half-expect him to eventually forget about the bloodletting and start discussing Cam Newton's chances as the Carolina Panthers' new quarterback. And speaking of Perlman as his pop, am I the only one who thinks his facial hair makes him look like the title creature from that dreadful '80s family flick, Harry and the Hendersons? Perlman isn't the only decent actor wasted here: Providing the narration is no less than Morgan Freeman, who sounds so bored and distracted that it's likely he was reading his lines while simultaneously making an omelette or putting away his laundry. As the daughter of Conan's nemesis (an unrecognizable Stephen Lang), Rose McGowan sports a receding hairline and talons that would make Freddy Krueger jealous. Her character is also blessed with an incredible sense of smell, although obviously not strong enough to keep her away from this suffocating stinkbomb. *

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