PICK OF THE WEEK
30 Minutes or Less (***1/2). Promising sophomore director Ruben Fleischer's follow-up to the insta-classic Zombieland is a rude, frantic, R-rated comedy that scores where it counts thanks to two key factors: (1) its length - the movie only runs a scant 83 minutes and barely takes time to breathe, ending on an abrupt high note; and (2) its cast. At first blush, the combo of Jesse Eisenberg, Aziz Ansari, and Danny McBride may not seem likely to gel, and sometimes that proves true, but, for the most part, Fleischer keeps everybody on the same page even when their comedic styles are vastly different. Ansari is particularly great in this - establishing himself as a preeminent comedic performer on both movie and television screens, and earns the lion's share of laughs. 30 Minutes or Less is nowhere near as good as Zombieland (it lacks the smarts and could have used more action), so it will just have to settle for being a pretty good comedy instead. Still a fair trade, if you ask me.
The Help (***). Full disclosure: I have never read Kathryn Stockett's bestselling book, which serves as the adaptation source. I went into the film as a newbie, being relatively unimpressed with the marketing so far, which made the movie look like a Steel Magnolias retread. The Help is commendable for giving several talented actresses juicy parts to play and filling the screen with an almost-all female cast. For once, I think I understand what most women feel like watching a typical Hollywood male-centric movie, as all of the male characters here are treated as an afterthought and are way underdeveloped. The acting is stellar (look for Viola Davis' name come Oscar time), but the story is rather shapeless. It never goes anywhere or builds to anything. It just sort of rambles on, looking like it could go for 10 hours, before director Tate Taylor checked his watch, saw the movie was already 2.5 hours long and said, "Well, we better end it. Here's as good a place as any." Also, way to much time spent in the last hour on Minny's shit pie. I guess that settles for funny in boutique racial dramas.
Final Destination 5 (**1/2). If you judge this one based only on the improvement in quality from part 4, I'd understand if you wanted to give it a positive review. But this is really just more of the same. The Final Destination movies have always prided themselves on coming up with an elaborate opening setup. The bridge collapse featured here is the best opening death trap in the series since the freeway accident at the start of Part 2 (still my favorite in the series). Director Stephen Quayle and Writer Eric Heisserer have a lot of fun with the 3D technology (great opening credits) and dreaming up the goriest deaths imaginable. But the characters are one-dimensional (not to mention annoying and unlikeable), and the story in between death set pieces is boring and poorly acted. There are only so many times you can see Tony Todd tell a group of young adults that they can't cheat death. A nifty little surprise twist at the end redeems the movie somewhat and pays off nicely for long-time fans. The movie probably works best as a grim deterrent to ever getting lasik eye surgery.
The Smurfs (**). It may not be fair to grade this one as I only saw about half of it (my son wanted to "go home," out of irrational fear of Hank Azaria's Gargamel), but, having seen Alvin & the Chipmunks and its Squeakquel already, I knew exactly where it was going. 40 minutes of little blue guys saying "smurf" every other word is plenty. Two can play that game, so: "Smurf this Smurfin' movie." Not offensively bad or anything, just another by-the-numbers kids flick lacking in imagination and smarts. See you in 2013 for Smurfs 2.