THE 11TH HOUR In exactly which universe could Al Gore possibly emerge as a more charismatic screen presence than Leonardo DiCaprio? In our own, it seems. DiCaprio has long proven himself to be a sincere environmentalist (he was a logical choice to share the stage with Gore at this year's Academy Awards ceremony), yet good intentions don't always make for good movies. Case in point: The 11th Hour, in which DiCaprio (who serves as producer and narrator) looks at the fragile condition of this planet and makes some suggestions on how to improve our quality of life before it's too late. Unlike the Oscar-winning An Inconvenient Truth, in which Gore shocked everyone by revealing himself as an appealing teacher while passing along a wealth of knowledge in a colorful and easy-to-digest manner, this dry documentary relies on a monotonous DiCaprio and 55 talking heads (yes, 55; I counted the names in the end credits) to relay soundbites of scientific data, much of which many of us already knew (if this film was a book, it'd be called Environmentalism for Dummies). This is clearly a case of too many cooks spoiling the organic broth: Whereas, for example, An Inconvenient Truth and Who Killed the Electric Car? focused on specific issues and explored them in depth, this dull film is too scattershot to make much of an impression -- or impact. As a PSA, The 11th Hour is an extremely important work, but as a motion picture, it's ripe for recycling. **
THE INVASION I suppose every generation deserves its own sociopolitical take on Jack Finney's novel The Body Snatchers, though The Invasion does neither the audience nor the source material any favors. Depending on one's political bent, the 1956 classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers, in which emotionless "pod people" from outer space take over human beings, was either a warning about Communism or an indictment of McCarthyism. The 1978 version (same title) tapped into post-Watergate paranoia, also finding room to mock the rampant New Age-y philosophies of the time. And 1994's Body Snatchers honed in on teen alienation while also examining the splintering of the nuclear family. So what agenda rests on The Invasion's plate? Hard to tell, given the general muddle of the piece (much of it was refilmed after poor test screenings, and it shows). There's some talk of eradicating humankind's intrinsic need to destroy (and plenty of TV sets showing scenes from Iraq), but it's unconvincing lip service. There's a hint that this might satirize our nation's obsession with medicating its populace, but that's quickly dismissed. Without anything to chew on, we're left with a straightforward thriller -- and a fairly effective one until the film self-destructs with a wretched ending that had me slapping my forehead in staggering disbelief. That I was able to register such emotion proves that I'm still human, though I'm not sure the same can be said for the indifferent automatons who made this dud. **
MR. BEAN'S HOLIDAY By borrowing from Jacques Tati, Jerry Lewis and silent-cinema icons like Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, Rowan Atkinson managed to concoct his own singularly unique comic creation in the bumbling Mr. Bean. It's just a shame that the actor has yet to find a feature film to do his character justice. Atkinson fared well when he incorporated elements from his Bean persona into his role as a befuddled pastor in the 2005 dark comedy Keeping Mum, and he was delightful as an inept secret agent in 2003's underrated Johnny English. But neither 1997's Bean nor this belated sequel offer comparable consistency in terms of laughs-per-minute. Mr. Bean's Holiday has some amusing moments scattered throughout (check out his introduction to a seafood platter), but they're not enough to sustain an entire picture. That the plot is completely disposable (Bean wins a trip to the south of France but has trouble reaching his destination) shouldn't matter -- after all, the Tim Burton gem Pee-wee's Big Adventure wasn't about anything more than a guy looking for his stolen bicycle -- but for a skeletal framework to properly function, the gags need to be as complex as the story is thin (for prime examples, rent Tati's masterpieces Playtime and Mon Oncle). But inspiration runs dry long before the film reaches its Cannes-set climax, though cineasts will take pleasure in this portion's tweaking of pretentious art-house twaddle. Now whether the small kids who are taken to this G-rated confection view this segment with anything other than boredom remains to be seen. **
NO END IN SIGHT "This is absolute Fantasyland. These people -- I don't know what they were smoking, but it must have been very good." So says author and talking head James Bamford about the members of the Bush Administration and their actions regarding the Iraq War in this absorbing documentary that dissects the mind-numbing incompetence that has defined this White House since Sept. 11, 2001. At this point in time, all Americans except for the most brainwashed of FOX News fanatics have accepted the irrefutable fact that this war was a bad idea from the get-go, and No End In Sight offers an excellent analysis of the logistics behind this disaster-in-the-making, insuring that no viewer gets left behind as it carefully details the timeline between 9/11 and now. But this can't be dismissed as simply a liberal tirade: Rather than relying on the usual leftist talking commentators like Gore Vidal and Noam Chomsky, writer-director-producer Charles Ferguson gathers interviews with key personnel from within the Iraq campaign and allows them to explain how myopic leaders -- among them Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and George W. Bush (the latter coming across, not surprisingly, as an imbecile who was kept out of the loop on most key directives by his own underlings) -- made countless decisions that guaranteed this war would be lost before it even started. Iraqi citizens have their say, as do American soldiers and even one pro-war official (predictably, all the rest refused to be interviewed for this film). It isn't often that a movie comes along that should be mandatory viewing, but here's one that should absolutely be integrated into every U.S. high school curriculum. ***1/2
RUSH HOUR 3 Exactly 50 years ago, Max Von Sydow was exploring philosophical issues of life and death in the recently departed Ingmar Bergman's masterpiece The Seventh Seal; now, he's relegated to a small role in the background to make room for the increasingly unfunny antics of Chris Tucker. If there's a more depressing commentary to be made on the current state of cinema, I can't imagine what it might be. The original Rush Hour was a high-spirited lark that milked its mismatched-cops formula well, but the sorry Rush Hour 2 was a prime example of a lazy sequel produced solely to cash in on the goodwill generated by its predecessor. Rush Hour 3 takes that same mercenary attitude and sprints with it. Jackie Chan, still up for any challenge at the age of 54, has considerably slowed down in recent years, and his up-close-and-personal brand of fighting has lost much of its vibrancy. It hardly matters, though, as even this longtime audience favorite is expected to take a back seat to the incessant shenanigans of his costar. Tucker once again lets loose with a steady stream of slurs that targets women, gays, Asians, tall people, fat people, French people (Roman Polanski appears as a Parisian inspector who enjoys performing rectal probes) and doubtless others that have slipped my mind. It's not funny, just tedious -- when it comes to insult humor, he's clearly no Redd Foxx. There's one great line involving Starbucks, and, as always, the outtakes provide a few smiles. Otherwise, Rush Hour 3 is a total dud, as well as the worst sequel to appear in this overcrowded summer movie season. *
SUPERBAD The kids are alright in Superbad; it's the adults who prove to be a drag. Coming from some of the same talents involved with The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, this can't match the impact of its predecessors, despite its best intentions to (slightly) set itself apart in the "teen sex comedy" genre. The movie begins promisingly, as longtime best friends Seth and Evan (Jonah Hill and Michael Cera, both perfectly cast) hope to end their high school stint attending cool parties and dating hot girls. With their ultra-geeky pal Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) along for the ride, the boys hope to score some alcohol to bring to a major bash. Using Fogell's fake ID (on which he's identified as a 25-year-old simply named McLovin), they set out across town on their holy quest, a mission that turns sour after a robbery spoils their plans and separates Fogell from his pals. Potty-mouthed but true to its milieu, this hums along until two cops (played by co-writer Seth Rogen and Saturday Night Live's Bill Hader) come along to spoil the fun. Tiresome characters, they steer the picture away from its mother lode of comic material, and rather than disappear after making their mark, the pair hang around for the remainder of the film. Superbad gets back on track in the late innings, and it's here that the movie's true theme -- the fierce and touching bond that can establish itself between two boys suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous high school shenanigans -- becomes most pronounced. So whenever it centers on its teenage characters, Superbad is a likable coming-of-age comedy; whenever it focuses on the tedious antics of the cops, it turns into a bad SNL skit. **1/2
3:10 TO YUMA 3:10 to Yuma proves to be a rarity among remakes. It doesn't slavishly copy the original, nor does it update it for modern times. It's respectful of its predecessor, and when it does make changes to the existing template, they aren't preposterous or pandering -- rather, they merely take another logical path than the one employed in the previous version. Based on a short story by Elmore Leonard, the 1957 3:10 to Yuma retains its status as a solid Western, typical of the psychologically rooted oaters that emerged in force during that decade. Adding roughly a half-hour to the original's 92-minute running time, the new take includes more characters and more action sequences, but it takes care not to water down the battle of wills between its two leading characters. In Glenn Ford's old role, Russell Crowe plays Ben Wade, a captured outlaw who's scheduled to be transferred via train to the prison in Yuma, Arizona. Dan Evans (Christian Bale in the Van Heflin part) is a rancher by nature -- he's so mild-mannered that his own wife (Gretchen Mol) and son (Logan Lerman) are often disappointed in him -- but because he's about to lose his home and cattle, he agrees to help deliver Wade to the train for $200. Crowe pours on his bad-boy charisma as Ben Wade, milking it for maximum effect, while Bale embodies the noblest traits that can possibly be found in such a disreputable arena as the Old West. The strong supporting cast is headed up by Peter Fonda as Byron McElroy, a leathery bounty hunter whose past assignments (including the massacre of Native American women and children) qualifies him as one sleazy rider. ***
OPENS FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 21:
EASTERN PROMISES: Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts.
GOOD LUCK CHUCK: Dane Cook, Jessica Alba.
THE INTERVIEW: Steve Buscemi, Sienna Miller.
IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH: Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron.
RESIDENT EVIL: EXTINCTION: Milla Jovovich, Ali Larter.
SYDNEY WHITE: Amanda Bynes, Matt Long.