Film » Film Clips

Capsule reviews of films playing the week of Sept. 21

by

comment

Page 9 of 12

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES If the first two sequels to 2003's highly entertaining Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl were fairly agreeable examples of popcorn fare — tasty, a bit salty, not at all nutritious, and forgotten before long — then this latest entry represents the grimace-inducing alternative: the unpopped kernel that just sits there, bereft of almost all value. Directed by Rob Marshall in a spectacular free-fall that saw him go from the Oscar-winning Chicago to the indifferently received Memoirs of a Geisha to the thudding Nine to this round of sloppy seconds — Gore Verbinski, helmer of Pirates 1-3, wisely elected to continue his Johnny Depp partnership over at RangoPOTC: On Stranger Tides is too long (even though it's the shortest of the four!), too cluttered and too forgetful of the reason why we're here in the first place. That would be to watch Depp cut loose in the role that turned his career supernova: Jack Sparrow, the fey pirate whose greatest skill remains looking out for himself. Depp still seems interested in the part, but scripters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio let him down by frequently ignoring his character's ability to surprise us with his go-for-broke insanity in order to mire him in an ofttimes dull quest to locate the Fountain of Youth. The teaming of Depp and Penelope Cruz (as a sexy swashbuckler) doesn't quite produce the fireworks one expects, while Ian McShane seems unable to muster much menace as the murderous Blackbeard. That leaves it up to Geoffrey Rush, once again playing the unsavory Barbossa, to elicit any of that old-time Pirates magic — his saucy scenes with Depp are arguably the movie's best. In reviewing 2007's POTC: At World's End, I wrote that "it's a fine summertime distraction, but woe to the viewer who elects to revisit it somewhere down the line." This latest effort can't even earn such guarded praise, meaning it's best to send On Stranger Tides to its watery grave and hope for stronger tidings from the rest of the seasonal blockbusters. **

POINT BLANK Art-house patrons who made the French thriller Tell No One a specialized hit three years ago won't want to miss Point Blank, another breathless import about an ordinary man whose wife is taken from him. Here, it's nurse's aide Samuel Pierret (Gilles Lellouche), whose kindly act of preventing a patient, a hood named Hugo Sartet (Roschdy Zem), from being murdered places him in a deadly situation: He must somehow help Hugo escape from the hospital or his kidnapped — and pregnant — wife Nadia (Elena Anaya) gets whacked. What follows is a twisty tale involving warring criminal factions, cops both good and bad, one totally unexpected rubout, a developing bond between Samuel and Hugo, and, of course, some good ol' fashioned last-minute escapes and last-second rescues. Point Blank doesn't break any new ground, but neither does it fumble its genre requirements. It's worth a shot. ***

RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES WETA-created and PETA-approved, Rise of the Planet of the Apes stands at the center of a campaign that boasts about how the film employed the Oscar-winning team behind Avatar and the Lord of the Rings trilogy to invent its photorealistic primates. Others have been prone to highlight the "realistic" part; I tend to accentuate the "photo" portion. In this outing, kindly scientist Will Rodman (James Franco) ends up "adopting" a baby chimp that's been made super-smart by a drug initially created by Will to combat Alzheimer's in humans. Named Caesar, the chimp goes from cuddly infant to questioning teen to, finally, betrayed and embittered adult. Along the way, Caesar crosses paths with a vicious zookeeper (Tom "Draco Malfoy" Felton, playing the anti-Kevin James), Will finds love with a vet (Freida Pinto) who's his match in dullness, and Caesar engages in risible sign-language conversations with an orangutan (suddenly, I had a real hankering for Every Which Way But Loose). Created by Peter Jackson's WETA Digital outfit and "played" by Andy Serkis, Caesar is a CGI triumph, although there's still an artificiality about the look that keeps the figure at a distance (personally, I found Serkis's "performance" as the title character in Jackson's King Kong remake to be more effective). Still, the film proves to be a reasonably entertaining experience, culminating in an all-out battle between apes and humans on the Golden Gate Bridge. But for all of its technical prowess, the picture never stirs the soul like the classic 1968 original, which dovetailed its allusions to real-life civil unease with its muscular handling of a surefire sci-fi hook. When the original's Charlton Heston bellows, "Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!" it's a clarion call to humanity; when a character in this new picture says it, it feels like an unearned co-option. **1/2

Add a comment