Friday, March 29, 2013

The Host (2013) - Movie Review

One day, when The Host reaches TV audiences, I think the Tivo synopsis might read something like this:  An alien struggles with schizophrenia while humans say, "I love you", a lot.

It's no secret to anyone that I was not a fan of any of the Twilight series.  When I saw that Stephanie Meyer had another movie coming out based around aliens, I was really, really not interested in seeing it.  But then I saw that Andrew Niccol (Gattica) was writing and directing, and I thought maybe The Host had a chance after all.  Boy, was I wrong!

I don't know how much of the terribleness of The Host was due to Stephanie Meyer's source material, or Andrew Niccol's decisions as a writer/director.  What happened to this guy?  Ten years ago, I thought he was on his way to being one of the better Sci-Fi directors of our time, but he's been in steady decline since then.  His last film, In Time, at least had a decent idea and an interesting enough universe, but was undermined by uneven characters and performances.  Contrast that with The Host, which is dead on arrival.

The Host doesn't spend a lot of time explaining its universe, which basically comes down to that the world was invaded by these glowing, parasitic aliens called Souls.  A Soul takes a human host and possesses their mind, erasing all traces or their consciousness.  Once you are possessed, your eyes glow a bluish-silver, making your easily identifiable.  The stated goal of these aliens is to go from planet to planet to improve it.  They also claim to be peaceful and against taking life, but I guess this doesn't extend to destroying the minds of the hosts they inhabit, eh?  Anyway, you see that a Soul has to be surgically implanted in the back of a hosts neck.  If that's the case, then how did the first person get taken oven then?  How did any of this happen without anyone not noticing or fighting back?  Aren't these pretty giant plot holes?

Occasionally, the host's consciousness fights back, which is what happens when Melanie (Saoirse Ronan) is implanted with a Soul that goes by "Wanderer".  This eventually gets shorted to "Wanda" (ugh, I know).  We also learn there are pockets of human resistance, but are later told the aliens outnumber the humans by one million-to-one.  Lets just take a step back and say there were only a few human casualties during this invasion.  Wouldn't that mean there are only about six or seven thousand humans left on Earth?  Why are the Souls worried about any kind of resistance at this point?.  One Soul even says to just let them die out.

Anyway, one of the head Souls, known only as The Seeker (Diane Kruger), wants Wanda to access the memories of Melanie and find where her group of human resistance is.  Melanie fights her, and this begins the hilariously bad dialog, where you have Melanie as a voice in her head, arguing with Wanda as she speaks aloud.  Even this isn't consistent, as there are times where Wanda just whispers when people are around, and other times when both Melanie and Wanda have a argument in their head.  It gets extremely confusing to follow at times, and you don't know who's voice you're hearing.  Even when she speaks aloud, there are times where you aren't sure if Melanie has managed to 'break through', or if it's just Wanda. I really simple fix to this would have been to play up on the fact that Melanie was from Lousiana. Melanie's accent would drop in and out throughout the film (something that should have been fixed anyway, considering she only spoke in voiceover), but if maybe they had focused on giving Melanie a stronger southern accent, and Wanda a standard, American accent, then you'd more easily be able to identify who was speaking.

Melanie is able to convince Wanda to find her group without alerting the rest of the Souls.  Melanie is desperate to get back to her younger brother Jamie (Chandler Canterbury), and her boyfriend Jared (Max Irons).  However, when Jared sees Wanda/Melanie, his immediate response is to punch her.  Yep, he walks right up an hits her.  I know he recognizes she's been taken over, but you'd think if he was in love with Melanie, his first instinct when seeing her, infected or not, wouldn't be to attack her.  Then, there are several attempts at her life by others in their group.  Melanie tells Wanda that she shouldn't tell anyone that Melanie is still 'alive' inside Wanda's head, because they'll think she's trying to deceive them to stay alive.  Then Melanie says, "They're going to kill us."  Huh?  Doesn't that completely contradict what you just said?  If they're going to kill you anyway, why would you hide the one detail that might be the reason they keep you alive?  Does this make any sense at all?

Wanda starts to fall in love with Ian (Jake Abel), but Melanie is still in love with Jared.  I wouldn't think an alien would necessarily have a concept of human love, but whatever.  This leads to more unintentionally hilarious dialog where Melanie and Wanda argue over who should they should be kissing.  At one point Wanda asks Jared to kiss her in a way that she'll want to slap him (just go with it, okay), and he just kisses her a little differently.  I thought, why don't you just grab her boobs?  I usually get slapped when I do that.

The universe Stephanie Meyer has created isn't consistent at all.  The Souls say all they want to do is improve the planets they visit, which basically means make everything chrome or mirrored.  You see fancy sports cars, that based on engine noise, are still clearly combustion engines.  Was anyone involved in the movie aware of the fact that electric cars make very little noise?  Plus, why aren't all of the vehicles chrome?  You see plenty of people still driving around in older cars, and referring to having a full tank, so I guess these aliens haven't mastered alternative fuel sources or transportation.  Then you see a large superstore where the Souls get all of their supplies, and the store has a giant sign that simply says "STORE" on it.  Are the Souls giant morons or something?

There are plot threads that are introduced, but later dropped that would have been so much more interesting if they had been explored.  Melanie begins the movie throwing herself out of a window and landing several stories below, leaving a dent in the concrete.  They say she didn't break any bones or hurt any vital organs.  The Seeker explains it off by saying, "This one wants to live."  I wish the laws of physics worked like that.  You hope that maybe she's some kind of superhuman, but this is never mentioned again.  You also see that The Seeker may have some internal conflict of her own, but it's also dropped as quickly as it's introduced.  It's a waste to cast someone like Diane Kruger as The Seeker and then make her act like a robot.

This is what bugs me about Stephanie Meyer.  It's just lazy world building where she borrows heavily from other sci-fi or fantasy sources, but then shows she doesn't understand what makes those things interesting. She's already shown that she doesn't know how to write interesting characters or dialog, so what else is there?  It's not all Meyer's fault though.  Andrew Niccol could have tried to explain some of these things better, or improve the dialog, but there didn't seem to be any attempt to liven this up.  The inclusion of all of these various elements just serves to distract you since they are so poorly implemented in the story.

Now despite everything I've said about the inconsistent, plot hole-riddled story, laughable dialog, and missed opportunities to do something interesting, I'd be able to give the film a pass if it wasn't so freakin' boring!  The Host is inexplicably over 2 hours long, and nothing of significance happens the entire time.  It's just talking, staring off into space, and forced melodrama.  I seriously struggled to stay awake for the last hour of The Host.

Poor Saoirse Ronan.  She's one of my favorite young actors (check out Hanna if you haven't already), but this is a film that is totally beneath her and wastes her talent, as well as Diane Kruger's.  The rest of the cast is extremely forgettable.  Even William Hurt seemed to be sleepwalking through this.

I could keep going, and I already took a bunch of crap out of this already too long review, but I think you get the picture by now.

I will say that with all of the unintentional humor, this is a movie that's ripe for a drinking game.  Every time someone tries to harm Wanda/Melanie, drink!  Someone says, "I love you.", drink!  Wanda/Melanie kisses someone, drink!  Wanda and Melanie have a head argument, drink!  You'll probably get alcohol poisoning with that last one.

The Host is quite honestly one of the worst films I can remember seeing in the past decade or so.  I can't believe I've about to say this, but I'd watch any of the Twilight films before having to sit through this again.  It's that bad.  Terrible dialog, ridiculous love triangle, and plodding story where nothing happens.  There is one way I can recommend this film: as a cure for insomnia.  It'll have you out within an hour.

0.5 out of 5 Death Stars

Thursday, March 28, 2013

G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013) - Movie Review

All right, kids.  Remember to drink your teeth, stay in drugs, and don't do milk! Knowing is half the battle...

It's kind of hard to take a movie seriously based on a series of toys and cartoons, let alone an unnecessary sequel to one.  G.I. Joe: Retaliation is not a movie set in our universe, but an alternate one where a regular military doesn't exist, ninjas wear white and bright red, and everyone speaks in bad puns.

This review is going to be spoiler-filled, so be warned...

Some of you may remember that G.I. Joe: Retaliation was originally scheduled to come out back in June, but just a few weeks before its release, it was announced it was being pushed back to March.  The reason given was that they were going to do a 3D conversion.  I've heard many rumors that the real reasons varied from the studio understanding it wouldn't make as much money competing against the bigger, summer films, where it would do better in March (a much weaker month for action movies).  One of the more popular rumors I heard was that due to Channing Tatum's increased popularity, they wanted to go back and shoot more scenes with him to capitalize on his stardom.  I'm guessing there some truth behind all of this based on what I saw on screen.

As far as converted 3D goes, it actually wasn't that bad.  Maybe they are finally starting to get the hang of post-3D conversion. I did see this in RPX again, so that may have had something to do with the quality.  Also, there were a few scenes with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Tatum that felt like they were shot way after the fact.  Their scenes together, while trying to establish their friendship, seemed tonally opposite from the rest of the film and really out of place. These scenes also managed to not have any of the rest of the cast in them, which further reinforced my belief that they were pickup shots done recently to have more Tatum in the film.

While I've lightened up on Tatum, these scenes really did show me how miscast he was.  I just couldn't buy him as someone that had military training, and he still has problems with enunciating.  On the other hand, I came away from their scenes (and the rest of the film) thinking that Dwayne Johnson really needs another action film that is worthy of his charisma and physical abilities.  He truly deserves a vehicle to showcase him in an action film that puts him up there with the all-time action stars. Don't get me wrong, Johnson is the real star of Retaliation, but it wasn't made strictly with him in mind.

The good thing I will say about Retaliation is that it's definitely action packed.  I was never bored, and there are some great sequences.  The action is a bit of a mixed bag though, as there are lots of scenes that seemed to suffer from Micheal Bay-ism where you just couldn't tell what was going on or where anyone was at any point in the scene.  There were some fights that had too much of that damn handheld, shaky camera work, coupled with quick cuts.  I can't believe this is a trend that continues, when I don't know anyone that likes films that use this.

The bad part of Retaliation is just about everything else related to the plot.  The whole story was laughable to the point where I actually did laugh out loud several times at how stupid some of it was.  The movie has a ton of exposition, starting with introducing you to the characters in about the most ham-fisted way you could do it during the opening credits.  It was like how an old, 80's TV show (like the A-Team) would introduce characters.  Like I said before, G.I. Joe is set in it's own universe, but they aren't even consistent with it throughout the film, let alone the previous one.  They didn't even bother to mention what happened to all the other Joe's from the first film. Did they all die? Are they retired?  At least they had the good sense to get rid of that stupid power armor, and Snake Eyes (Ray Park) doesn't have a mouth anymore.  Retaliation burns through nearly every action movie cliche there is. It's as if writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick were playing Mad Libs for action movies, or pulling random plot threads out of a hat.

The main plot is that it's revealed early on that Zartan, the master of disguise, has taken the President's (Jonathan Pryce) identity.  I thought it was funny that he was only referred to as "President" in the credits.  They didn't bother to even give the President a name.  Anyway, Zartan, acting as the President, launches some crazy plan to kill the Joe's off and frame them as villains while freeing Cobra Commander from some totally over-the-top elaborate prison that only housed only him and Destro. I guess maximum security wasn't maximum enough for two people with no discernible super powers.  It's not like they had Magneto and Darth Vader locked up.  They break Cobra Commander out, and for some reason decide to totally abandon Destro, with absolutely no explanation as to why.  This will likely disappoint G.I. Joe fans, as Destro's kind of an important part of Cobra, and they decide to just completely blow off his character.

Only Roadblock (who wants a body massage?), Flint (D.J. Cotrona), and Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki) survive the attack, and it's up to them to figure out what's going on.  This part was kind of hilarious as they have puzzled together that someone must be impersonating the President, but do not just leap to the conclusion that Zartan is likely the person behind it.  They go to great lengths to prove it's Zartan, and act surprised when they confirm it.  It's as if they completely forgot about his existence, despite their previous encounters with him.  Do the Joe's not keep a database of bad guys and people they've fought against, or are they all just going from their shitty, collective memories?

But then, we transition to completely different film, where the RZA plays a ridiculous, martial-arts character, and I guess he was somehow Snake Eyes' master, or something.  Snake Eyes is training Storm Shadow's (Byung-hun Lee) sister, Jinx (Elodie Yung).  It's interesting to note that she speaks with a vaguely European accent despite that her brother is Korean.  I guess they had different parents and grew up in different parts of the world?  The two of them track down Storm Shadow (who only wears white, the most advantageous color for a ninja), and then there's some subplot about Storm Shadow's true origin.

The remaining Joe's enlist the aid of General Joe Colton (Bruce Willis), who's the original G.I. Joe, and then they all hatch some undefined plan to rescue the President and stop Cobra, who's true plan isn't really revealed until like the final 20 minutes of the film.  Their plan didn't make sense to me at all, but it involved several satellites (that Cobra somehow got into orbit without anyone noticing) that fire some rod that somehow does more damage than a regular nuke because it's 'dropped'.  Hey, I didn't write this crap.

This is a big spoiler, but it all climaxes with one of the most ridiculously hilarious endings I've seen in a while.  They actually went with the whole "hit the abort button just as the countdown reaches zero" trope.  Only when the abort button is hit, it magically causes all of the satellites to simultaneously explode.  Cobra designed these satellites with an abort function that also destroys the satellite?  Do they also drive specially designed cars that blow up when they kill the ignition?

I can't believe that director Jon M. Chu didn't stop at any point while making this film and questioned whether or not it made any sense.  Based on all the different plot threads and inconsistencies with tone, I don't think Chu could even settle on the kind of movie he was trying to me.  Were there any attempts to bring in a script doctor to fix some of the glaring plot holes and horrible dialog?  Look, I know it's a movie based off a toy, but that doesn't mean it can't have a plot that is consistent or has some kind of logic behind it.  I can forgive a certain amount of stupidity in my action films, but only up to a point.

Outside of Tatum and RZA (who was really, really miscast), I actually didn't mind the rest of the cast.  Bruce Willis appeared to be phoning it in again, but he's really not in it that much, so whatever.  I thought Adrianne Palicki was actually a bright spot, and I think the fact that she's a taller actress worked for her here.  I thought Ray Stevenson as Firefly was having a good time. He's another actor I wish would get more roles worthy of his talent.  Walton Goggins has a small role in this for some reason, and he clearly deserves better.  There's even a cameo from James Carville.

While G.I. Joe: Retaliation has some loud, fun action, and further proves that Dwayne Johnson needs to be a bigger action star, it's simply a really, really dumb film.  There's a small part of me that still enjoyed it, but I can only hope I've lowered your expectations enough so that if you do go see it, you'll benefit from that.  This is a rental, and now you know...

2 (out of 5) Death Stars

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Spring Breakers (2013) - Movie Review

Imagine a Girls Gone Wild video gussied up and then passed off as 'art'...

That's the feeling I got when watching Spring Breakers, the latest film from Harmony Korine.  Much of the film made me feel like a dirty old man watching montages of random, naked girls drinking and doing drugs.  Even the main actresses have no shortages of closeups of their cleavage and crotch shots.  Oh, but Spring Breakers has a message and social commentary.  It's nothing you haven't seen done better in other films, including ones by Korine, but we'll get to that later.

Three dumb girls (Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, and Rachel Korine (Harmony's wife)), and their more level-headed, religious friend, Faith (Selena Gomez) take a trip to Florida for Spring Break.  If you're wondering why I'm not referring to the other girls by name, it's because I don't recall hearing their names at any point of the film, where they make a point that you know Faith's.  Anyway, the girls don't have enough money to afford heading down to Florida, so the three dumb ones decide to rob a restaurant first.  Their actions immediately set the tone for the rest of the film, and let you know that there's really nothing to like about them.

Once they get to Florida, they engage in the typical Spring Break debauchery.  Lots of drinking, drugs, etc.  That part is fine. If this part of the movie is trying to make a point that society is in decline because young kids party, or we've become too hedonistic, then they failed.  Partying at Spring Break is nothing new and has gone on for decades.  Plenty of people have a time in their life where they let loose.  I don't have an issue with this, and there are lots of well adjusted and successful people that have partied at some point in their life.

However, things get real for the girls when they get arrested for doing drugs.  It's compounded when they don't have money for bail, but a local rapper and criminal named Alien (James Franco) bails them out.  Anyone with half a brain knows he didn't do this for altruistic reasons, and he picked the right group of girls.  To illustrate how dumb they are, when they meet Alien, they seem to have no clue as to who he is, despite that earlier in the movie they are in the front row of one of his concerts. Now maybe you could write this off as being so drunk and high that you don't remember being at a concert just a day or two ago, but the concert was decorated with aliens, and the same symbols were all over Alien's car.  Were these scenes shown out of order?

Faith is immediately creeped out and senses things are about to take a turn for the worse, so she has the good sense to go home.  Maybe the lesson there is to trust your instincts.  The others continue the party, destroying any remaining sympathy you may have had for them.  Movies about unlikable people only work where there's a sliver of humanity about them, or they are hilarious.  Neither is true here.

Another sledgehammer-like message about the film was naming the good, religious girl Faith.  This is a message that's generally always been lost on me, as I don't believe that religious faith is an absolute requirement to have good morals or a conscience.  The whole movie is trying to make several points, but they are so obscured by nonsense and clumsy film making that they really lost all impact for me.  This is compounded by the fact that I read interviews where Harmony Korine says stuff like he wrote the film to make up for all of the spring breaks he missed out on, and that he's an old pervert.  I think that dilutes the message a bit more, as it doesn't sound like he was out to make a point, but just make a movie about hot young girls at Spring Break.

I credit the film for at least having a stylish, music video look about it, and there was some great use of color, especially at the end.  The music video aspect was hammered home by the Skrillex-powered soundtrack.  I don't care for electronic music or dubstep, so I tended to tune out on the score.  I also don't know what a Skrillex is?  Is it related to Skittles?  I'm more of a Goobers guy.

Clearly the best part about the film was James Franco's performance as Alien.  He's pretty funny and I thought his performance was inspired at times.  However, the act tires out after a bit, y'all, and it becomes a less funny version of J-Roc from Trailer Park Boys.  Know what I'm sayin'?

I thought the rest of the film was a mess though.  There's some extremely choppy and repetitive editing in the film. It constantly jumps around, sometimes just minutes back and forth in the same scene.  Scenes are reused, and lines of dialog are repeated in voice over throughout, not that there's a ton of meaningful dialog anyway.  I found it extremely annoying to sit though, and then made worse by the fact that movie crawls along at a snails pace.  It's a 90 minute movie that felt like it was never going to end, and probably only had about 60 minutes of actual story if it had been edited linearly, and they got rid of all of the party footage that didn't feature any of the main characters.

Speaking of, there's a lot of nudity in the film, and most of it comes during this girls gone wild segments of the film.  These are nameless kids, and there's nothing about these scenes that are fun to watch.  As I mentioned before, I felt like an old perv watching them.

I also really hated the ending and thought it took any meaning away from whatever points they were trying to make.  I just couldn't suspend my disbelief to see two bikini-clad women that have no weapons training just walk into a criminal's compound and shoot up the place without ever reloading (where do you hide spare ammo in a bikini) or even getting grazed by a bullet.  It also bothered me that they went from knocking off a restaurant to murdering several people in cold blood over the course of a few days.  They drive away without a hint of remorse or any consequence.  These chicks are psychopaths.

Was that the point of all of this?  To show that young kids have no conscience anymore?  No sense of right or wrong?  That we've become desensitized to violence by playing violent video games?  Several times you hear them say to 'just pretend it's a video game', so it's another message I thought was just too heavy-handed. There are plenty of kids that play violent video games all the time, that aren't homicidal maniacs. Spring Breakers seems to be focusing on the exceptions as the rule. Maybe I'm being too literal, but that's how my mind works.

I hate using this word to describe a movie, but I found Spring Breakers to be very pretentious and tedious to watch.  It's a slick looking Girls Gone Wild video that tries to have a message, but it's as heavy-handed as you can get, and muddled by terrible, repetitive editing. This isn't anything you haven't already seen or heard before.  I can't recommend this one.

1 (out of 5) Death Stars

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Stoker (2013) - Movie Review

For some reason I can't say the title of this movie without getting that stupid Tom Jones song "Strokin'" stuck in my head.  Not that they are at all related, but I just can't help it.  "I stroke it to the east, and I stroke it to the west."  Damn it!  It's stuck in my head again!

Kidding aside, I had been looking forward to watching Stoker for quite some time, as it was directed by Park Chan-wook (or is it Chan-wook Park?), who many of you may know as the director of Oldboy.  There was a good amount of hype surrounding the film, and I'm glad to say that I wasn't disappointed.

From the opening moments, you can tell that India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) is bit of an odd bird.  She doesn't have any friends, and her hobbies vary from piano playing to hunting small animals, which is already kind of a red flag.  She would normally hunt under the supervision of her father (Dermot Mulroney) though, but then that just made me think India is a female version of Dexter.  She also doesn't seem to like any kind of physical contact, and doesn't have much of a relationship with her mother (Nicole Kidman), which you know is going to come into play when we learn that her father has died on her 18th birthday.

At the funeral, India's uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), who's been travelling the world, returns home and moves in to help out. We also learn that Charlie has been sending India a pair of saddle shoes every year for her birthday, but India never actually knew Charlie existed until he showed up.  India remains distant from both her mother and Charlie, but Charlie continues to try befriend her.  Something definitely seems a little off about Charlie, too.  Something is off about everything and everyone in Stoker.

I'd have to say that Stoker is a movie that's definitely not for everyone, as it's a real slow burn for a thriller.  If you like a dark, psychological thrillers though, then Stoker should be right up your alley.  Throughout the film I was reminded of the same eerie feeling I got when watching Take Shelter (totally underrated movie that you should go rent right now).  The score also reminded me so much of Take Shelter that I had to look up and see if they were done by the same person (nope).

One of the things that makes Stoker such an effective thriller is that there's a good use of red herrings that kept me guessing where the film was really going.  You're always wondering what the real motivations of the characters are or if what you're seeing is really happening.  I started to outsmart myself with some of the various reveals, so I did spend the majority of the film wondering what the hell was going on, but that's a good thing.  When everything is finally revealed, it was very satisfying.

Stoker does take a bit of time to get going, but another aspect of the film that works is that there are a lot of great, interesting camera shots that make the film that much more mesmerizing.  I'm usually not one to notice things like cinematography unless is really stands out, but there are some really great camera angles and transitions used throughout the film.  Like at one point Nicole Kidman is having her hair brushed, and you get a real tight closeup where you see every strand of hair, but then the camera begins to pan down and the hair slowly turns into long strands of dried out grass in a field.  Park Chan-wook and cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung (who also worked on Oldboy), created a great look for the film, and it's the kind of work where you're want to go back and watch other films they've worked on together.  If you haven't seen Oldboy yet, I do recommend checking it out.

Another thing that really surprised me about Stoker is that this was written by Wentworth Miller, of Prison Break fame.  I was really never a big fan of that show, but I think he wrote a really interesting thriller here, and I hope he keeps at it.

Lastly, sometimes a movie works only as well as the cast can carry it, and that's another strength of the film.  Nicole Kidman has that perfect icy demeanor that is spot on for her role.  Matthew Goode has a great, creepy duality about his performance that just sells his character so well, and you never quite know what's really happening with him.  Mia Wasikowska is simply fantastic as India Stoker.  She's been on my 'one to watch' list for a while and this just cements her place there.  Her performance is one where you just can't take your eyes off her and you're always wondering what's going on in her head.

Stoker is an eerie, layered mystery that's powered by the aesthetic and direction of Park Chan-wook, and further strengthened by the great cast and performances.  This is one of those haunting thrillers that'll stick with you, and I highly recommend checking it out.  It's in limited release, so many of you will have to save it for rental, but if it's playing in your area, then it's definitely worth the trip.

4 (out of 5) Death Stars

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Admission (2013) - Movie Review

Just for the record, Princeton was my safety school, but I chose to go the Jedi Academy instead...

Tina Fey stars as Portia Nathan, a Princeton admissions officer.  As you'd guess, getting in is pretty competitive, and there's even competition between other admissions officers.  Portia's boss (Wallace Shawn) is stepping down soon, and she and her rival (Gloria Reuben) are the top candidates to replace him.  There's a subplot in there about Princeton's ranking dropping and it's implied that whomever does a better job will take over, but it's really not a main thread of the film.

Portia goes on a recruiting trip to an alternative high school ran by John Pressman (Paul Rudd).  He introduces her to a gifted student, Jeremiah (Nat Wolff), but the twist is that John reveals that Jeremiah might be the baby Portia gave up for adoption back in college.  Portia takes an interest in Jeremiah and tries to help him through the process. In another 'surprise' twist, Portia and John start to fall for each other.

If this doesn't sound like the setup to a hilarious comedy, well, that's because it isn't. Admission is another example of a movie where the trailer really lies to you about the type of movie you're going to see.  If this had been billed as more of a straight up drama, or even a dramedy, then perhaps it wouldn't have been such a disappointment.  The disappointment is compounded by the fact that the comedic elements are sparse to begin with and really uneven.  It ranges from subtle to very broad and silly in parts. It's interesting to note that the dramatic elements of the film were the more interesting parts that worked.  Jeremiah comes off as a bright and earnest kid, which is a credit to Nat Wolff's performance, and Portia's struggle with her own relationships and whether or not to reveal her relation to Jeremiah seemed genuine.

There is good chemistry between Paul Rudd and Tina Fey, but again, it's a shame to get such likable comedic actors and not really give them much to work with.  I think it would have helped to let Rudd improv a little more, and Fey should have taken a pass at the script to punch it up a little.  I think their pairing is the only thing that keeps you watching the movie though.

The script by Karen Croner is based off the book of the same name by Jean Hanff Korelitz.  Another strength of the story were the elements that detailed the arduous admission process.  The film could have been a bigger indictment of the process, but it never quite goes there.  Overall, Admission had a little too much going on, and would have been better to pick a consistent direction.  It's close to two hours, which was excessive and could have used some tightening up.  For example, there's another plot involving John's and his adoptive son (Travaris Spears), that I'm sure they thought added depth to John's character, but it really just added to the number of threads that needed to be trimmed.

Another element that seemed out of place was the inclusion of Portia's mom, played by Lily Tomlin.  Initially, her character was funny, but got sillier the more she was used.  There was also a weird gag involving Portia's ex (Michael Sheen), that wasn't funny in the first place, but then they ran it into the ground.  Then again, I shouldn't be surprised at the inclusion of silly, unnecessary comedy from the guy that directed Little Fockers.  Director Paul Weitz started off great with films like the first American Pie (although it doesn't hold up all that well if you watch it now) and About a Boy, but there seems to be a steady decline since then.  Admission isn't the worst film he's directed, but he really needed to make some stronger choices with the story, or brought someone in (you've already got Tina Fey) to punch up the script.

Admission isn't a terrible movie, but it's hard not to look at it as a missed opportunity.  They brought together Paul Rudd and Tina Fey, but had them work off a really inconsistent script that just couldn't settle on a tone.  As a drama, it's not the worst thing out there, but if you're looking for a good romantic comedy, then you're going to be disappointed.  Stick to rental on this one.

2.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

Friday, March 22, 2013

Olympus Has Fallen (2013) - Movie Review

You can rest assured that Gerard Butler at no point in the film yells, "This! Is! Olympus!", before kicking the bad man into a bottomless pit.

I wan't really looking forward to seeing Olympus Has Fallen, despite being directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day).  The trailer had that really bad action movie look about it, and it stars the box-office-poison that is Gerard Butler.  I don't mean to be hard on Butler, as I actually like him, but I think we can all agree after watching Olympus Has Fallen he just needs to turn down any romantic comedy he's offered from now on.

Butler plays former Army Ranger Mike Banning, who is now a Secret Service Agent leading President Asher's (Aaron Eckhart) detail.  When leaving Camp David on a snowy night, an accident happens and Banning is only able to save the President and the First Lady (Ashley Judd) is lost in the process.

We fast forward 18 months later and Banning is working at the Treasury.  One thing I liked about the story is that Banning is not disgraced, or has been drummed out of the Secret Service.  He's actively looking to get back into the Service, but the President took Banning off his detail, as seeing him is a reminder of his what happened to his wife.  I appreciated the fact the movie didn't go with the cliche of Banning being unable to be an agent or was too haunted by his 'failure' to perform anymore.  He's not a broken man.

During a meeting between the President and South Korean Prime Minister, a Korean force attacks the White House and is able to take the two of them, along with several other government officials, as hostages in the White House bunker.  I don't think it's unreasonable to wonder how realistic it is that a small force would be able to take the White House in just a few minutes.  I don't know enough about the military or police response or what kind of counter-measures are in place to stop something like this, so I can't get into that.  The Korean force did seem pretty organized as far as their plan, so I just went with it.  It's probably best that you don't think about it too much.  In a lot of ways, this part of the film was more like a disaster porn where we see the White House get blown all to hell and the Washington Monument crumble.  It's was an entertaining sequence though, so I'll give it that.

During the firefight, Banning, who was just down the street, is able to get in the White House where he attempts to take out bad guys and provide intel to the acting President (Morgan Freeman.  President again, eh?) and the remaining staff.  Before I get too far ahead of myself, there's some huge star power at work here.  Besides Freeman, you have Angela Bassett, Robert Forster, Melissa Leo.  That's some top-tier talent in the supporting roles.  I think it helps sell the film though, as nobody seems miscast.

Anyway, as Olympus goes on, you'll get a distinct "Die Hard in the White House" feeling about it.  It's the first thing my friend commented about as the credits rolled.  There's even a scene where Banning pulls shrapnel out of his body while talking to someone on the phone.  The good news is that this is much better than the last Die Hard film.  Olympus is the first feature from the writing team of Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt, and it's not super creative or even all that original, but what it is though is no nonsense.  I mentioned earlier that I appreciated that they didn't go with typical cliches regarding Banning, and they did a good job of avoiding it across the board.  Throughout the film I kept waiting for a traitor to be revealed at a high level of government, because that always seems to happen, but thankfully they didn't do that.  There's also a subplot involving getting the President's son (Finley Jacobsen) out of the White House that could have gone a different way, but they were smart not to waste too much time with it.  Once the bad guy reveals he knows who Banning's wife is (a nurse played by Radha Mitchell), I kept waiting for some subplot where she somehow gets kidnapped, but that didn't happen either.  I'm glad they didn't use any of these overused plot devices.  It was refreshing.

Antoine Fuqua, who has a mixed track record as far as I'm concerned (Training Day was 12 years ago, I think it's time to move on), did a good job keeping the tension consistent throughout its two-hour run time, and gave us some good, entertaining action scenes.  Another thing I really appreciated is that the film doesn't shy away at all from the violence.  Banning is ruthless and brutal as he knows what's at stake.  They didn't go out of their way to make Banning a 'good guy'.  I said that the movie didn't mess around, and neither did Banning.  Imagine if Jack Bauer was a Secret Service agent, and that's what Mike Banning is.

I mentioned the star power earlier, and it wasn't just confined the actors mentioned previously.  I liked Aaron Eckhart, and based on his performance, it didn't seem like a stretch to see him as the President.  Cole Hauser was a welcome sight as a Secret Service agent, as well as Dylan McDermott, not to be confused with Dermot Mulroney (watch this link).  It's funny because I just watched a movie with Dermot Mulroney in it yesterday.  If there was any weakness in the cast, I thought it was with the main villain, played by Rick Yune.  I think it's mainly just that his character wasn't written all that well.  The star of the film really is Gerard Butler, and it's clear he needs to stick with action films.  Even though sometimes his native accent bleeds though, I never really had a hard time believing him in the role, and he showed he still has a physical presence to carry an action film.  He even got to have a few snarky one-liners, and it seemed like he had a lot of fun.

Another quick note I wanted to make was that I got to see this in Regal Cinemas' RPX format, which just debuted at my local theater this week.  It's kind of like IMAX-lite.  You have to pay a few bucks more for the ticket, but you get a larger screen and high-powered sound system that works well for a loud action film.  The best part though are the upgraded, bucket seats.  I believe they were leather, have a full sized headrest, and rock significantly.  They are extremely comfortable to sit in, and I thought the experience was worth it.  I wouldn't hesitate to see another movie in RPX.  Plus, with all the new seats and fresh construction, there was a very 'new car' scent in the theater.

Olympus Has Fallen isn't a particularly smart movie, and covers a lot of familiar territory, but as far as a tense action film goes, it's not all that bad.  I surprised by how entertaining it was, and had more fun with it than I expected.  If you're an action fan, and you want to something to tide you over until the Summer action films start rolling out, then you could do a lot worse.  It's a decent matinee.

3 (out of 5) Death Stars

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (2013) - Movie Review

Is it too late for Steve Carell to go back to The Office for the series finale?

It's not that The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is a career killer, but it's the kind of film where even on paper it wasn't very strong idea with a really small margin for error.  If you don't knock it out of the park, then you're going to have really mediocre film on your hands.

We meet Burt as a small, bullied kid.  You immediately feel for him when he gets beaten up in front of his own house on his birthday.  His mother, whom we never meet (which seemed like a missed opportunity for a good, gag-casting), gives him a magician's starter kit featuring an old school magician, Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin). This part of the film I thought was amusing as there were a few subtle 80's references that made me laugh.  Burt dives headfirst into learning magic, but it hasn't made him any more popular at school.  He befriends another outcast kid, Anton, and they decide to become a magic team.  As far as the story goes, this as actually the strongest part, as kids were pretty sympathetic and you understand why they became friends.

We fast forward several years, and Burt (Carell) and Anton (Steve Buscemi) have become a successful Vegas magic show act.  Things are going well for a while, and they are making millions.  You see their cheesy, tired antics and it's kind of funny.  Performing magic is evolving though, and people aren't turning out for their shows anymore.  This is mainly due to the popularity of street magician Steve Gray "The Brain Rapist" (Jim Carrey).

I guess the good news is there are some silly laughs from time to time.  Unfortunately, the laughs are more of the polite chuckle variety, with no real gut-busting moments.  It's a shame, too, as there are many times you're watching Burt Wonderstone and wonder why it's so tame or how much funnier it would have been if they had taken a few of the bits in a different direction.  Nothing every really hits, so we're left with something that's mildly amusing, but a huge missed opportunity considering the cast.  It's also very forgettable.  One of the characteristics of any good comedy is quotability, and I can't recall a single line or gag that has that kind of impact.  I realize that it sometimes takes multiple viewings for something to really stick, but I don't think this is the kind of comedy that you're going to want to watch over and over.

I guess I'm a little disappointed considering the writing team of Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley are two-thirds of the team that wrote Horrible Bosses (maybe they really needed that last 1/3rd), and director Don Scardino has directed many episodes of 30 Rock.  You'd think the comedy would be the strongest point of the film.  I think one of the issues is that they went with a PG-13 rating, when a movie like this really needs to be R.  It's not that a PG or PG-13 movie can't be funny, but it can really limit the humor.

Even the story itself is pretty cliched for the kind of comedy it was.  You have the stubborn, out-of-touch star, unable to adapt and loses everything.  Then, the young upstart takes his place.  Finally, the star goes back to his roots, regains humility and comes back stronger with an updated approach.  You could have swapped out magic for any sport and it would have been the same movie.

I'm a big Steve Carell fan, but I thought his performance was all over the place.  I think you can attribute a lot of that to how his character was written and directed, but it don't think he was the best fit.  It was almost like he seemed uncomfortable at times, or maybe that's just how the performance made me feel.  The supporting cast I enjoyed more, Olivia Wilde and Jim Carrey in particular.  I've been on hard on Wilde in the past, but I think she worked really well playing it straight off Carell and I'd like to see her take on more roles like this.  I know Jim Carrey isn't everyone's cup of tea these days, but I though he was another smart casting and his style really suited his character (I also think he looks really good in the upcoming Kick-Ass sequel). Alan Arkin was good as well, and he's one person I wish had been in it a little more.  There are a few small cameos and smaller roles from comedic actors that you may get a kick out of, but it's not enough to get this over the hump.  I realized I haven't said anything about Steve Buscemi, but it's because he's actually not in it all that much.  It really focuses more on Burt Wonderstone, and the problem is that he's really just not that great of a character.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is a dull comedy that just never really hits a good stride and plays it way too safe.  Even the great cast couldn't elevate this, and we're left with a very mediocre and forgettable movie.  It's a rental.  Perhaps we get an unrated version on DVD, so I'd say to hold out for that.

2 (out of 5) Death Stars

Friday, March 8, 2013

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) - Movie Review

Indeed he is powerful, as the Emperor has foreseen...

We haven't had a great start to 2013, but the one exception so far has been with movies related to fantasy elements.  Much like how last week Jack and the Giant Slayer was an example of the reimaging of a classic story that worked (even though I wasn't in love with it), Oz the Great and Powerful is an example of a 'prequel' that expands on a classic story without stepping on the toes of the original.

Oscar (James Franco), who has maybe the longest full name in movie history, so he just goes by "Oz", is a magician in a travelling circus.  He's also a selfish con-man and womanizer that treats his friends poorly.  While Oz has his charms, he isn't exactly the most likable guy in the world.  Despite this, you do get some entertainment value from watching Oz try to bullshit his way through a situation or into a woman's undergarments.  The latter gets him into to trouble and he's forced to flee the circus in a hot air balloon, but the bad luck piles on as he's immediately caught in a tornado and whisked away to the land of Oz.

Upon arriving, he's greeted by the witch Theodora (Mila Kunis), who tells Oz the prophecy of a wizard that will save them from a wicked witch.  Theodora believes Oz is that wizard, but her sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz) isn't convinced.  Even Oz himself doesn't believe he has what it takes, but goes along with it due to the huge fortune he stands to gain, as well as the chance to hook up with either Theordora or Evanora.  I can't say I blame him on that second part at all.  Oz heads out on a quest to stop the Wicked Witch, joined by Finley, a flying monkey that pledges himself to Oz (and voiced by Zach Braff), and a small china doll (voiced by Joey King).

It's best to stop there are there a few twists and plot developments that caught me by surprise, but fans more intimate with The Wizard of Oz may figure these things out before I did.

What made Oz the Great and Powerful fun to watch was that there were a lot of nice little touches and callbacks to the original The Wizard of Oz without being totally obvious or winking at the audience when doing it.  It does a really good job of being respectful to the original Oz while managing to feel like an original story on it's own.  For younger audiences I think this will serve to get them more interested in the other stories of Oz and watch those as well.

Oz... is an absolutely gorgeous film.  The visuals play out like the trailer, starting in black and white with a 4:3 aspect ratio. This part of the film had a much older, classic look to it.  When we arrive in Oz the color palate opens up and the screen expands to its full size.  The world they created was very vibrant and colorful, with tons of details in every scene and there was always something interesting to look at on screen.  I often found myself distracted by something in the background, and had that take my attention to the point where I almost lost track of what was going on.  The effects were top notch throughout the film, and the look and animation of China Girl was particularly impressive to me.   However, there were a few times it looked a little too CG-ish.  This may have been due to the 3D or the fact that I saw it on IMAX and didn't sit close enough to the middle, so sometimes things were blurry or looked off.  I did think this had really good use of 3D, and it's a time where I don't think seeing it in 3D would be a total waste.  There's a great waterfall sequence where you really feel how the 3D immersed you into the action, and you can also see how this will likely end up a ride at Disneyland.  Unless you can get there early for IMAX and get a seat in the middle, I'd recommend just standard 3D though.

Another thing that looked a little odd to me was the makeup for the Wicked Witch.  It was too clean or new looking, which I guess makes sense since this is her origin and she's younger, but I thought maybe a little more dirt or grime would have helped.

The cast all seemed to be having a blast.  I wasn't sure if James Franco was the right choice for the lead role, but my doubts quickly dissolved.  He really owned the role and was able to use his comedic chops to ham it up when needed.  I also think Rachel Weisz was really great as Evanora.  She's always been one of those actresses that's hard to take your eyes off of, but here I think she was having a lot of fun and chewing up a little bit of scenery.  Mila Kunis and Michelle Williams were also very good, but I can't say too much about them without revealing too much about their characters.

I was more impressed with the voice acting, Zach Braff in particular.  While I've always liked Braff (I'm a HUGE Scrubs fan), I've never thought anything of his voice until now.  He really does have a perfect voice for animated characters, and I thought his work for Finely was spot on and very funny.  I was also impressed by Joey King's voice work as China Girl.  There's a lot of emotion in her voice, and I would have guessed that the work was done by an older, more experienced actress.

One thing that caught be by surprise was that I genuinely didn't know this was directed by Sam Raimi until the opening credits.  That automatically made perk up a bit and take notice of certain things.  You could definitely feel Raimi's influence with some of the subtle humor and occasional scares, but otherwise it didn't feel like a Sam Raimi film.  In a lot of ways this may remind you of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, especially since Danny Elfman did the soundtrack, but Raimi out-Burtoned Tim Burton.  And yes, as with all Raimi films, there is a Bruce Campbell appearance.

The script by Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire has a little something for everyone.  There's humor that only adults will pick up on, and things that are a little more for the kids.  I heard lots of chuckles throughout the film, so it definitely has a broad appeal.  While it is PG, there are a few good jump scares that caught me by surprise, so you might need to be careful with the really young kids, but I don't think it's anything that's going to give them nightmares.

Oz the Great and Powerful is a fun film that the whole family can enjoy together.  The visuals are outstanding, and there's plenty of humor and good performances across the board.  Enough respect is given to the source material, while creating a world that still feels fresh.  Older fans of Oz should enjoy this as well as introduce a new generation to it.  I highly recommend checking it out.

3.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Jack the Giant Slayer (2013) - Movie Review

What if I told you that Obi-Wan Kenobi, Al Swearengen, Beast from X-Men: First Class and the Dad from Easy A were all in a movie together?  Slam dunk, eh?

Actually, that's not totally respectful to Stanley Tucci, but I couldn't think of his character's name from The Hunger Games.  Could anyone though, except for you nerdy book-readers?  I'm kidding of course, as I'm actually reading The Hunger Games right now.  What the hell was I talking about again?  Oh yeah, Jack the Giant Slayer.

Jack the Giant Slayer is the latest in the re-imaging of classic fairly tales, combining elements from both "Jack and the Beanstalk" and "Jack the Giant Killer".  This is one of the times where I felt the expansion on the existing tale worked well.  You get a little more backstory about their world and then they added more typical fantasy elements. It's done in a way that felt natural to the story.  It still manages to not be all that deep, so I didn't feel afterwards that this was a world I wanted to visit again.

The basic premise hasn't changed.  Jack (Nicholas Hoult) is an orphaned farmboy living with his uncle.  He's sent into town to sell off a horse and cart.  The cart gets stolen right away, and then a monk dupes him into trading the horse for a small pouch of useless, 'magic' beans.  Yes, Jack is kind of a screw up.  Jack does (unsuccessfully) try to defend the honor of Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson), so at least he's a nice guy.  It turns out Isabelle is a princess who is expected to marry Roderick (Stanley Tucci), but she's not having it and wants to have adventures of her own.

This leads to her getting lost and finding Jack's house.  While taking shelter from the rain, one of the beans gets wet and a giant beanstalk grows upwards rejoining the human and giant realms.  Isabelle is carried away to the giant realm, so the King (Ian McShane) orders a small group of soldiers, let by Elmont (Ewan McGregor) to rescue her.  However, the giants haven't forgotten the humans (the humans have forgotten all about them) and how delicious they taste, so they are anxious to get back down to the human realm for some snacking.  It's up to Jack, the nice screwup, and Obi-Wan to stop them.

The main issue I had with Jack the Giant Slayer was that I felt it was all kind of lifeless.  There's no zip at all to the dialog, and not much chemistry between any of the characters.  I think it's the same problem the Star Wars prequels had in that there's so much CG that the actors don't react naturally to what's going on around them since nothing is actually there.  I will say that the CG is good, actually great in a few places, but I still got that sterile feeling I get from movies that use too much of it.  It's like The Hobbit, where sometimes you feel like you're watching a video game cutscene.

Another issue I had was that you have this great cast, and then don't really get to do much.  I was hoping that Ewan McGregor would get to show his swashbuckling, Jedi swordplay chops (even though I still hate Obi-Wan for what he did to me), but he doesn't get much of a chance to fight.  He actually loses his sword pretty early on in the movie, and then in the one hand-to-hand fight he has it's with Stanley Tucci, who's holding his own against him, despite not being a trained soldier.  You'd think a trained soldier would be able to beat the crap out of an aristocrat in like two seconds.  Stanley Tucci plays 'obviously evil guy' and has a creepy henchman (Ewan Bremner). They were about as generic as villains can get.  I was disappointed that there wasn't much to Ian McShane's character either.  There's just not much for him to do other than deliver his lines.  He seemed kind of bored with it.

I did like Nicholas Hoult and Eleanor Tomlinson (who reminds of me of a young Rachel Weisz), even though I didn't think there was a ton of chemistry between the two.  They are attractive and easy enough to like, but again, there's just not that much beneath the surface of their characters.

I'm going to harp on the dialog again.  It's actually not bad, but it's disappointing that there wasn't anything really clever about it.  Most of the humor came from fart jokes, and I only heard kids laughing at those moments.  There's this scene at the end (it's in the trailer, but maybe I'm remembering it wrong from the film), where the main giant catches Jack and he goes, "Who are you?"  Jack replies defiantly, "It's Jack!"  As if the giant knows who Jack is, or that should mean something to him.  Dialog really fails when it's just for the audience, and not for the characters in the film.  It would have been great if the giant replied, "And that means 'what' to me?"  The screenplay by Darren Lemke, Dan Studney and Christopher McQuarrie (never a good sign when there's three writers), really needed some punch up.  I'm surprised especially with McQuarrie's involvement, as he has written some great stories in the past.

When I heard Bryan Singer was involved, I took that as a mark of quality, as I figured he was just producing.  I was very surprised to see he actually directed it, as I didn't think he would have made something that's so clearly a kids film.  There is a lot of action and with the effects being as good as they are, that aspect of the film is entertaining and it's biggest strength. Jack the Giant Slayer isn't boring and well paced for a two hour film.

Even though this is PG-13, I didn't think there were any particularly scary images, and I didn't see any of the kids in the audience covering their eyes.  It'll depend on the kid, of course, but it might be a little too much for kids under 5.  The whole movie I thought about how much my nephews (8 and 5) would like it.  Contrast this with both X-Men and X-Men 2, which were both PG-13, and while also not bloody, both films felt so much more adult.  There are a lot of deaths in the film, but the film was largely bloodless or the camera cuts away at the point of impact.  Most of the deaths are of the video game variety, and involve disposable 'red shirt' characters.  The characters are so disposable that they didn't even bother with giving them decent names, if they were given names at all.  One of the guards name was "Bald".  Yes, he was bald.  I kept waiting for "Four Eyes" and "Porkins" to show up.  Anyway, I really think they could have gotten away with giving this one a PG rating.

Jack the Giant Slayer is sometimes fun and has really good effects, but ultimately a little too flat to be considered great.  They assembled a great cast, but then didn't give them much to do or anything interesting to say. If there had been a little more wit about it, then I think this would have had a much broader appeal, but it's ultimately a kids film. If you have a kid in that 5-12 range, then I think you can take them to a matinee and won't be too bored yourself. For anyone else, this is a rental.

3 (out of 5) Death Stars

Friday, March 1, 2013

21 & Over (2013) - Movie Review

From the writers of The Hangover, it's yet another version of The Hangover...

High School buddies Miller and Casey visit their friend Jeff Chang on his 21st birthday. They want to take him out for a crazy night, but Jeff Chang's scary dad (Francois Chau) reminds him that he has an important job interview in the morning.  You know that's not going to stop Miller, who's role is the irresponsible one that's born to party. They talk Jeff Chang into going out.  He drinks a lot, they get lost, crazy stuff happens, they're worried Jeff Chang won't be able to make his job interview.  Get the picture?

When watching 21 & Over you'll constantly get the feeling that you've seen this all before.  This shouldn't be a surprise since the writing and directing team of Jon Lucas and Scott Moore are the same guys that wrote The Hangover.  21 & Over is just a variation on the same theme, and these guys are starting to feel like one trick ponies. I suppose there are lots of writers and directors that recycle themes from movie to movie, but they usually aren't as obvious about it.   As much as I wanted to hate the film for how recycled and silly it is, I kept finding things to laugh at throughout the movie.

21 & Over is rated-R, which is actually a strength in that the humor isn't tame or holds back.  I didn't feel like it was crude for the sake of being shocking or for cheap laughs.  Also, because of the stronger rating, some of the better gags in the film aren't spoiled by the trailer, which is yet another credit to the film.

However, the story doesn't hold up to any kind of scrutiny.  Yeah, I know a movie like this isn't intended to be smart, but just indulge me for a bit.  Like, when Jeff Chang is clearly hammered and being belligerent to bouncers, they are still letting him into bars, when you know they'd never let him in at that point. This is the point where even his friends should have cut him off and called it a night.  Plus, the whole idea of them getting lost in a small college town is pretty hard to believe in the first place.  None of these guys have the address programmed into their phone or something?  Maybe thinking ahead isn't their strong suit.  Also, Miller and Casey are generally sober throughout the film despite drinking heavily themselves.

Then, you think about the timing of how things are playing out, it doesn't work out at all either.  At one point they mention they are only six blocks away from their destination, but then proceed to drive for what feels like an hour.  Couldn't they have walked there faster?  It's after 11 PM when they first realize they are lost, and are talking to people that are wide awake, not drunk at all, but only just on their way to a rally or party.  When they arrive at the rally and then another party, you figure it's gotta be around 2 or 3 AM.  They schedule college rallies after midnight?  Keep in mind, I went to a 'commuter college', so I didn't have the campus college experience that many of you may have.  Maybe this is something that happens all the time.

The trio themselves are pretty stereotypical group of friends.  Miller (Miles Teller is doing his best Vince Vaughn impression) is the boorish one that hasn't grown up, Casey (Skylar Astin as Paul Rudd-lite) is the serious one that's forgotten how to have fun, and Jeff Chang (Justin Chon, in what is basically the Ed Helms role) is the one with the overbearing dad and stressing out with too much studying.  You know the night is going to teach them all a valuable lesson.  Everyone has to learn something in these movies, right?  Then, there's the cute girl that Miles is after, Nicole (Sarah Wright), who conveniently neglects to mention until much later that she has a boyfriend, Randy (Jonathan Keltz), who they've already had several run-ins with.  You kind go between finding these guys a little sympathetic or relatable, to wanting to smack them at times for being stupid.  Overall, I liked their performances, so that kept me watching their adventures to see what happens next.  If everyone would have been totally unlikable there's no way you'd be able to get through the movie.

21 & Over isn't anything new.  It's dumb and crude, but it does have a few good laughs here and there.  If you've enjoyed movies like The Hangover and The Hangover Part II, then this is just more of the same, except with younger actors.  It's not a bad movie to see with some friends, have a few drinks beforehand, and enjoy it for what it is.  It's a matinee if you see it that way, otherwise, save it for rental.

2.5 (out of 5) Death Stars