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View From The Couch

Street Kings, Three Stooges among DVD reviews

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REDBELT (2008). If there's one thing that Tom Cruise proved with his race-car lovefest Days of Thunder, it's that it can be dangerous for filmmakers to lovingly place their hobbies up there on the big screen. The latest case in point is Redbelt, writer-director David Mamet's salute to jiu-jitsu. Mamet, a real-life practitioner of the martial art, has cobbled together a samurai flick, a sports yarn and a con game in order to pay service to this noble undertaking. The result is as schizophrenic as any movie certain to open in 2008, as an interesting character study finally sinks under the weight of the plot's predictable twists as well as a climactic fight so absurd, it makes the matches between Rocky Balboa and Ivan Drago seem as realistic as the Ali-Foreman championship bout. Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as jiu-jitsu instructor Mike Terry; presented as a cross between Christ, Gandhi and Mr. Miyagi, Mike prizes honor above all else, but his trusting nature results in his getting dragged into a major sporting event riddled with corruption. As a shady movie star, Tim Allen lands the first interesting role of his screen career (the animated Buzz Lightyear obviously excepted), and the movie could have used more of him; ditto for Emily Mortimer as a skittish lawyer who's afraid of men. Instead, everything potentially interesting comes to a grinding halt for a nonsensical conclusion in which Mike is determined to let the world know that – now here's a shocker – sports competitions are often rigged. (Say it ain't so, Joe!) This mission of morality naturally involves a climactic tussle between Mike and the evil, sneering champion, but the only thing that truly gets bloodied is Mamet's resume.

DVD extras include audio commentary by Mamet and co-star Randy Couture, a 19-minute behind-the-scenes piece, a half-hour interview with Mamet, a featurette on mixed martial arts, and fighter profiles.

Movie: **

Extras: ***

STREET KINGS (2008). Director Curtis Hanson's instant masterpiece L.A. Confidential was based on the novel by James Ellroy, and here's Ellroy himself writing the screenplay (with Kurt Wimmer and Jamie Moss) for another saga about the boys in blue. It's no wonder, then, that Street Kings' central player, a cop named Tom Ludlow (played by Keanu Reeves), manages to incorporate qualities from all three protagonists in Hanson's 1997 Oscar winner. Kevin Spacey's celebrity cop, Guy Pearce's myopic do-gooder and especially Russell Crowe's brooding tough guy can be found in Ludlow, a veteran detective who's the MVP on an elite squad operating under ambitious Captain Wander (Forest Whitaker). When apprehending (or, more often, blowing away) criminal suspects, Ludlow doesn't always follow the rulebook, which places him under the scrutiny of Internal Affairs Captain Biggs (House's Hugh Laurie). And when Ludlow's former partner (Terry Crews), the man who may have reported him to Biggs, gets fatally gunned down, it's up to the maverick cop to prove that he's innocent of any involvement in the brutal slaying. Street Kings proves to be as standard-issue as much of the gear assigned to real police officers – is there any doubt as to how deep the departmental corruption runs? – and this familiarity often numbs the picture's effectiveness. Yet director David Ayer (best known for penning such cop flicks as Training Day and S.W.A.T.) and a gruff Reeves manage to provide the picture with a suitably hard-nosed atmosphere, and even the stunt casting (Cedric the Entertainer, The Game) works.

DVD extras include audio commentary by Ayer, 15 deleted scenes, and various behind-the-scenes vignettes.

Movie: **1/2

Extras: **1/2

THREE STOOGES COLLECTION: VOLUME THREE (1940-1942). The misadventures of America's favorite clods – Moe Howard, Larry Fine and Curly Howard – continue in this third collection which contains all 23 shorts spanning 1940-1942. In addition to such titles as All the World's a Stooge, Sock-a-Bye Baby and Cactus Makes Perfect (nyuk nyuk), this also contains the 1940 Hitler spoof You Nazty Spy, in which a laborer named Hailstone (Moe), along with his assistants Gallstone (Curly) and Pebble (Larry), is coerced into overthrowing the king of Moronica, establishing himself as dictator, and promising to spread not democracy but hypocrisy. This was reportedly Moe's favorite (Larry's, too), and the 1941 sequel, I'll Never Heil Again, is also included here. As for Curly's favorite, that's in this collection as well: 1940's A Plumbing We Will Go, a hysterical short in which the boys wreak havoc while passing themselves off as plumbers. Incidentally, the fourth volume in this chronological compilation, featuring the 21 shorts they made between 1943 and 1945, will be released on October 7.

There are no extras in the set.

Collection: ***1/2

Extras: *

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