Film » Film Clips

Capsule reviews of films playing the week of Sept. 21

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CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE. Just how likable is Crazy, Stupid, Love.? Likable enough that it survives not one but two absurd narrative coincidences that would cripple a lesser film. The secret to the film's success starts with its blue-chip cast, the summer's finest gathering with the possible exception of Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris. Steve Carell plays Cal Weaver, a typical suburban schlub; Julianne Moore is Emily Weaver, who announces to her husband that she wants a divorce. Rocked right down to his rumpled pants and designer sneakers, Cal spends his post-breakup period wallowing in nightly pity parties at a stylish bar. His caterwauling attracts the attention of uber-stud Jacob Palmer (Ryan Gosling), who elects to take Cal under his wing and teach him how to be a successful ladies' man. Before long, Cal is reborn as a swinging single, but the resultant meaningless sex can't conceal the fact that all he really wants is his wife back in his arms. For his part, Jacob finally meets a woman — Emma Stone's aspiring attorney Hannah — who stirs his heart as much as his libido. That right there is enough plot to pack a running time (in fact, it once was; see the similarly themed Hitch), but writer Dan Fogelman clearly had taken his vitamins before cranking this one out, adding on a few more story strands. It's a lot of material for one film, and to help himself make all of these competing plotlines somewhat manageable, Fogelman takes some shortcuts by tossing in the aforementioned pair of whopping coincidences. The first is minor and easily dismissed, but the second affects the entire film and, worse, is revealed in a silly sequence that culminates in an over-the-top physical brawl. Fortunately, the actors continue to shine, the movie's hard-won truths are articulated in an unlikely but effective denouement, and all is forgiven. ***

THE DEBT Don't be turned off by the worrisome facts that its release date has kept changing, it's already made the global rounds since last September, and it's being buried with an end-of-summer release date. An English-language remake of a 2007 Israeli film of the same name, The Debt is actually a compelling thriller that features a topnotch cast and able direction by Shakespeare in Love helmer John Madden. In 1966, Mossad agents Stephan (Marton Csokas), Rachel (Jessica Chastain) and David (Sam Worthington) are tasked with locating and bringing to justice Dieter Vogel (a chilling Jesper Christensen), a Nazi madman who, like Josef Mengele, conducted gruesome experiments on Jews during the war. Thirty years later, the Israeli agents (now played by, respectively, Tom Wilkinson, Helen Mirren and Ciaran Hinds) are still celebrated for their heroic achievements in East Berlin back in the day. But something is clearly troubling two members of the team, and as the film smoothly moves back and forth between eras, it becomes clear that there's more to the saga than what the world knows. For the first hour, The Debt delivers on its growing mystery and its punchy suspense, with Madden further wringing a real sense of stifling confinement as the young agents are forced to shack up in a grubby apartment with their bound captive. Once all questions have been addressed, the story's third-act shenanigans become increasingly fanciful and aren't as gripping as what preceded them, although they still bring the story to a reasonably acceptable conclusion. The entire cast is excellent — even the usually vanilla Worthington — although the MVP is clearly Chastain. Already the breakout star of the summer thanks to The Help and The Tree of Life, she's the vital center of this picture. Not just anybody can convincingly play the great Helen Mirren as a young woman, but Jessica Chastain pulls it off without breaking stride. ***

FRIGHT NIGHT If you weren't around in 1985, the original Fright Night is worth a Netflix rental, thanks to its fleet-footed approach to the vampire genre and a lovely performance by Roddy McDowall as Peter Vincent, a late-night horror-show host who helps teenage hero Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) defeat the bloodsucker (Chris Sarandon) who lives next door. The new souped-up version isn't bad as far as these needless remakes go: It's for the most part well cast, contains some slyly wicked scenes that equal anything in the original, and expands some of the characters in interesting ways. It's a shame, then, that the movie botches its version of Peter Vincent, and even more unfortunate that the third act is a furious mishmash of unsatisfying plot developments, unexceptional confrontations and, depending where and how it's viewed, 3-D blurriness. On the plus side, 22-year-old Anton Yelchin is believably conflicted as the teenage protagonist, Toni Collette nicely fleshes out her role as his mom (the part in the original was a nonentity), and Colin Farrell is aces as Jerry, the suave, sexy vampire who prefers tight T-shirts to billowy capes. Changing the setting to a Las Vegas suburb, where transient neighbors aren't as likely to be missed should Jerry elect to sup on one, is also an inspired move. Yet Peter Vincent (named in '85 as a tribute to horror legends Peter Cushing and Vincent Price) is no longer a poignant figure — a fading actor-host with nothing but memories — but has instead been reconfigured as a boozy Vegas magician (played by Doctor Who's David Tennant) who (insert eye roll here) sports a Batman-esque past that largely leads to the late-inning shenanigans. Given this character's British accent, flowing mane, boozy disposition and initial air of insouciance, it's a wonder they didn't bypass Tennant altogether and just send the limo to pluck Russell Brand off the Arthur set. **1/2

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