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July 2011 Review Roundup

After a slow start, things closed with a bang including five big-screen flicks in the final eight days of the month. The 7-4 theatrical-home split was a change from the usual, too.

July 3 - Transformers: Dark of the Moon (7/10)
July 4 - X-Men: First Class (9/10)
July 10 - Hall Pass (5/10)
July 11 - Unknown (6/10)
July 23 - Captain America: The First Avenger (9/10); Mean Girls
July 25 - Drive Angry (3/10)
July 26 - 30 Minutes or Less
July 27 - The Change-Up (5/10); Friends With Benefits (8/10)
July 31 - The Hangover Part II (7/10)

Month's Movies Watched: 11
Previously Unseen: 9
Theatrical: 7
Home: 4
Year-To-Date: 72
YTD First-Timers: 60
YTD Theatrical: 26
YTD Home: 46

"The Hangover Part II" Review

The Hangover (reviewed here) was a modern comedy classic. The Hangover Part II is an unneeded but totally expected cash-in on the mega-success of the first. If you think it's going to be pretty much the same movie, but in a new location with a few twists, you're right.

This time the Wolf Pack is in Thailand for Ed Helm's wedding to Jamie Chung. How the dopey dentist scored such a hot babe isn't explained and frankly doesn't make sense. Whatever. Her dad hates Ed and insults him at the welcoming dinner. If this guy is so rich, why is he allowing his little girl to marry Ed. (No, I don't hate Ed. I'm just saying.) One thing leads to another and the trio wake up in a seedy Bangkok hotel room with a shaved head (Zach Galiafinakis or however he spells it), a Mike Tyson tattoo on his face (Ed), and otherwise looking dashing and handsome (Bradley Cooper). They're also missing the bride's little brother, but they've got his finger, so that's a start. Wait, what?

The element of surprise in the first one is missing this time. What made the original so clever was that the audience found out what was going on as the guys did. This time, others always seem to have the answers so if anyone had wanted to stop them and explain what had happened, well, there wouldn't be a movie, would there? As a result, beyond the new setting, director Todd Phillips and gang resort to a darker, meaner brand of humor which strays into disturbing territory enough that it gets a little scary which makes it less funny. We're down with watching these idiots get run through the wringer, but some of the stuff that happens gets pretty dark.

I saw a review bagging on Zach's performance and the character of Alan in general; basically saying that Zach is obviously so dangerous and stupid that there is no way in hell anyone would willingly hang out with him, especially with his track record of mayhem. That's pretty much right, because Zach has been really milking his time in the spotlight to push his weird humor. While that's always been his bag, I'm starting to sense he thinks it's really impressive when the charm before was he didn't seem aware that he was odd and that's what was funny about him.

On the plus side is Ken Jeong who is back as the manic Chow, the naked guy who jumped out of the trunk in the first one. He's still having clothing issues and I hope for his wife's sake he's not really hung, as Detroit punk poet Jimmy Doom would say, like a startled hamster, but he brings a zany angle that somewhat balances the meaner tone elsewhere. Jeong too has used The Hangover to springboard to bigger things (like Community on NBC), but he's lovably daffy unlike Zach's "keep the taser handy" comedy.

Ultimately, The Hangover Part II isn't a disaster - I laughed a lot - but it's just so lacking in ambition or purpose that it's hard to recommend it heartily. There is no real reason for it to exist other than make some more money and with an opening weekend gross of $135 million during the five-day Memorial Day weekend and a current worldwide take of $563 million, that's a big mission accomplished.

Score: 7/10. Catch it on cable.

"Friends With Benefits" Review

Rom-com. If there are six letters that sum up a genre more devoid of originality and surprises than the abbreviation of "romantic-comedy", I can't think of them. (Granted, I'm writing this at the bar while on my 4th beer of the night, but...) The genre is so pitiful that even the trailers spell out every beat of the movie, thus saving you the time and money to bother seeing them. Is there ever a real question whether the couple who initially hate each other won't fall madly in love by the last reel? Exactly.

In a bonus dose of uncreativity, Friends With Benefits as the disadvantage of coming a half-year after the dreadful (according to my girlfriend who says she hates rom-coms yet watches any I download for her) No Strings Attached (starring Ashton Kutcher and Academy Award-winner Natalie Portman; yeah, that happened), but somehow turns out not only tolerable, but enjoyable. (The fact we saw it free after strolling in after a screening of The Change-Up can't have hurt.)

The setup is the usual: A pair of beautiful people (Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake) decide that since they can't find anyone meaningful - yeah, it's partly sci-fi movie - they decide to have a sex-only relationship. Will they end up falling in love by the end? It would be spoiling to tell, but let's just hint that YES THEY DO!!!!

When the conclusion is foregone, how you get there is what counts and where FWB succeeds in having very appealing stars enabled by a knowing script and the director of Easy A, Will Gluck, to keep the familiar feeling fresh. There are scenes with the couple watching a terrible fictional rom-com starring an uncredited Jason Segel and Rashida Jones and riffing about how awful it is. Even when the film ranges through the part late in the second act when all these movies find a way to break the lovers apart, it does so with a subtext saying, "Yeah, we know this is crap and a waste of time, but it's Hollywood rom-com law that we do it otherwise we lose our discount at Starbucks, man." A heavy subplot involving Justin's father having Alzheimer's is salvaged by having dad played by Richard Jenkins and allowing it to illuminate Justin's dilemma. That the movie didn't crash and burn there is a minor miracle.

It also helps that there are colorful supporting turns from Patricia Clarkson as Mila's a-little-too-free-spirited Seventies love mama; Woody Harrelson as the gay sports editor of GQ magazine; Jenna Elfman as Justin's single-mom sister taken care of Dad; and Emma Stone as the John Mayer-obsessed girl who dumps Justin in the beginning. Gluck plays everything fast and light and manages to hit all the tired cliches of these flicks without making us hate them as we should.

Will Friends With Benefits change your life or rehabilitate the tired rom-com genre? Heck to the no! But what it does do is not make you wish you were cleaning your place or getting your kneecaps sandblasted instead of watching this. It's frivolous, unsubstantial and otherwise unnecessary, but it's fun and doesn't actively insult your intelligence and that's a minor miracle these days.

Score: 8/10. Catch a matinee or pay full price for date night. (So says my girlfriend.)

"The Change-Up" Review

Summarizing The Change-Up is easy: It's Hall Pass meets Freaky Friday with dudes. Jason Bateman is a happily-married father of three who is on the verge of becoming partner at his law firm. (He's Owen Wilson's Hall Pass character crossed with his part in Horrible Bosses.) Ryan Reynolds is a stoner slacker, a permanent man-child who's been Bateman's best friend since 3rd grade (as the script helpfully tells us.) One night, after drinking and having a mutual case of grass-is-always-greener-over-there-itis, they pee into a magic fountain while wishing they had each other's lives and wake up in each other's bodies. Hijinks ensue.

I was never really able to get on board with The Change-Up for some reason. The whole time it felt off-kilter and choppy and frankly I'm bored stupid with poop humor. In the first minute we're treated to a close-up of a baby boy's CGI-enhanced farting butt presaging a torrent of chocolate pudding poo blasting all over Bateman's face. So funny. Not. (Has any movie with a baby-changing scene passed up having some hapless chump peed/pooped upon? Grow up, Hollyweird!) It goes slightly uphill from there, but it never strays far from the toilet. What ever happened to people getting punched in the junk? That's still slightly amusing.

The episodic nature of the "story" isn't helped by the overall familiarity of the bits. Will Ryan in Jason's body screw up the big deal, but redeem himself? Duh. Will Jason in Ryan's body be appalled at the Skinemax "lorno" movie he has to perform in? (BTW, if it's fake porn, why does he have to stick his thumb up the terrifying actress' butt?) When Jason/Ryan gets to go out with the smoking hot Olivia Wilde, a law associate at his office, will he ultimately punk out because he misses his wife and family? Yawn...

There is one scene where they attempt to tell Jason's wife, Leslie "Mrs. Judd Apatow" Mann, about the body switch when they try to use the "Ask me something only I'd know" gambit and (surprise!) Jason doesn't know his wife while silly Ryan/Jason knows. That this predictable bit happens isn't the problem; that a while later Leslie cries to Ryan/Jason about how weird Jason/Ryan is behaving and she's afraid he doesn't love her and never stops to think that it may be because THEY'RE IN EACH OTHER'S BODIES is a problem. It's as if no one read the whole script and spotted that nothing aligned. Another problem is that the performances aren't as defined as they need to be. When we look at Jason and Ryan, we never really think we're seeing Ryan and Jason's characters.

All these complaints make it sound like I hated The Change-Up, but I didn't. I just found it lumpy, lazy and mostly obvious. What is good? Olivia Wilde's hottie hot girl co-worker. When she goes out on non-date with Ryan/Jason and suggests that they keep doing stuff because it's still early, I was hoping she'd suggest they go kill hobos because that would've been HAWT!! (Ahem.) Like she did in TRON Legacy, Wilde manages to make a flatly-written character fascinating. Mann is also good, though there's no way she did that nudity; she's never done it before and while she's a very attractive woman, the boobs they CGI onto her body are from a girl half her 39 years. CGI is also utilized for some funny stuff involving Jason's babies. However most of the humor is mostly shock-based. (I guess simply writing funny stuff is too difficult for Hollywood these days.)

I've given an extra point to the score for Olivia Wilde and to compensate for any possibility I may've been out of sorts and thus not appreciating the true awesomeness of The Change-Up, but no matter how you slice it, it's a wait for cable flick.

UPDATE: After further consideration, I've decided to knock it back down a point to an unadjusted 5/10. It's just too much of a mess.

Score: 5/10. Catch it on cable.

"30 Minutes or Less" Review

If something about the setup of 30 Minutes or Less seems familiar, it's because you're thinking of the weird case in 2003 where a middle-aged guy in Pennsylvania walked into a bank claiming he had been jumped and fitted with a bomb shackled around his neck and if he didn't get money for his attackers, he'd die. Captured by the police after failing to get away, he was sitting on the pavement waiting for the bomb squad to arrive when the bomb went off, killing him. Who did this to him and whether he was party to scheme was a mystery and even though there were eventually people held accountable, there is still some speculation whether the masterminds were actually punished.

Fortunately, director Ruben (Zombieland) Fleischer's movie downplays the grimness and merely uses the bomb vest device in a totally unrelated story. Danny McBride is a moron (no typecasting here!) who hates his father and concocts a scheme to have him killed in order to inherit the rest of his Lotto winnings. In order to get the money for a hitman, he and his dim-but-technically-savvy buddy lure pizza delivery guy Jesse Eisenberg to an isolated spot where they jump him, chloroform him, and strap a bomb to him. With orders to get $100,000 within 10 hours or BOOM!, Jesse goes to his best friend, Aziz Ansari, whom he's on the outs with after admitting he'd slept with Aziz's twin sister years before. Hijnks ensue.

Fast-paced at only 83 minutes long, 30 Minutes or Less delivers plenty of profane, low-brow laughs along with some sly observational gags (e.g. McBride's riff on proper mix tape construction for crime) and it's obvious that there was plenty of improvisation happening. If there's a flaw with the movie, it's that the characters don't arc much even within the limits of a movie that all takes place in one day. The performances are all good and Eisenberg continues to make anyone who thought Michael Cera deserved a career regret their naivety. (Judging from Cera's IMDB page, the failure of Scott Pilgrim, Hollywood has finally discovered he is box office poison.)

Compared to Zombieland, which had a much better script, 30 Minutes or Less feels a tad slight. It's worth seeing, just not trekking to the theater for.

Score: 6/10. Rent it.

"Drive Angry" Review

Remember when Nicolas Cage was an actor? He actually won an Oscar, but judging from the string of scenery-devouring B-movies he's been making, it's getting hard to remember when he wasn't a joke. Every few years, he'll make something decent like Matchstick Men, Lord of War, Kick-Ass, or Adaptation, but mostly it's been crap like The Wicker Man, Season of the Witch or Drive Angry here.

The premise and execution sound promising on paper: Cage plays John Milton (not the guy who wrote Paradise Lost, but same name, get it?), a man who escapes from Hell in order to save his granddaughter from being sacrificed by a Satanic cult who want to usher in Hell on Earth. (Why this kid? Never explained.) He hooks up with a hot sassy waitress played by Amber Heard and they head cross-country to save the baby, pursued by a mysterious man calling himself The Accountant (an awesomely creepy William Fichtner). Shot in 3D (and not post-converted), there are plenty of moments of stuff sticking out of the screen (note: I watched it on 2D video). It should be a fun grindhouse-style popcorn muncher but it doesn't gel into anything much.

Nailing an appropriate over-the-top tone is a trick that is harder to pull off than it looks. The Crank movies did it; Planet Terror did it; Shoot 'Em Up (from which a scene where the hero fights off attacking baddies while having sex is cribbed) was a live-action Bugs Bunny cartoon; but Drive Angry oscillates between trying to be arch Grand Guignol with oodles of CGI blood and gratuitous nudity - not that there's anything wrong with that - and a serious Satanic cult movie. It just doesn't work and at the end, it calls into question just what the Satanic cult led by Billy Burke was actually going to accomplish.

Cage is Picking Up A Check Cage here. 'Nuff said. Amber Heard is spunky and hot. (Too bad she's a lesbian in real life with a hotter girlfriend than you for the double fail, kids.) The best thing in the movie is Fichtner who sorta channels Christopher Walken's off-kilter vibe as the Accountant, telling people when he'll be seeing them next and the scene with Heard's crappy boyfriend is awesome.)

It's also shot in this hot, overexposed style which is frankly ugly and not in a good way. You know how terrible photos taken in the noonday sun look? Like that.

Score: 3/10. Watch it on a friend's cable.

"Mean Girls" Blu-ray Review

Amy Winehouse was found dead today, to the surprise of absolutely no one. After her critical and commercial success with her Grammy-winning debut, she descended into a tabloid fodder hell of drugs, booze and reckless self-destruction. Glimmers that she'd pulled herself together always proved illusory. Now she's gone and will probably be remembered for everything but her original talent.

This prompted me to finally pop in the Blu-ray of Mean Girls I'd picked up for a few bucks a couple of months back. I haven't seen it since it was in theaters in 2004 and already had an unwatched DVD lying around.

Lindsay Lohan has had a rather tragic, albeit not Winehouse-grade awful, career self-immolation path since Mean Girls blew her up as the Hot New Thang. Whether it was getting bombed in the Gossip Girl clubs of NYC, hanging with Paris Hilton in a toxic frenemy relationship, to being a lesbian with DJ Samantha Ronson (who had a tune on the soundtrack), to various run-ins with the law and getting dropped from movies that were meant to reignite her career, Lindsay has been in the words of the Lit song her own worst enemy.

Watching Mean Girls now is interesting because in the ensuing several years, much of the cast has gone on to interesting careers:

• Writer/co-star Tina Fey was still on SNL when this came out and she then left to create 30 Rock, the show that was supposed to be the poor doomed runt sibling to Aaron Sorkin's Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. (While 30 Rock is heading into its sixth season, Studio 60 got Old Yellered before the first was done airing.) It's striking to see how many stock 30 Rock tics like rapid cutaways to illustrate past events are evidenced here. That's the way Tina writes.

• Rachel McAdams (the evil queen bee here) went on to The Notebook and tons of rom-coms.

• Amanda Seyfried (as the sweet but dumb-as-dirt one who thought she had "a fifth ESPN") was the doomed Lily Kane in the first season of Veronica Mars and then took her awesome rack to the big screen.

• Almost unrecognizable Lizzy Caplan - so snarky and hot in Cloverfield and True Blood - was a chubby, sarcastic goth here.

• Lacey Chabert has never gotten her career going, typecast as the hot girl with big boobs, not that that's a bad thing, but she's like a less-successful Jennifer Love Hewitt.

And then there's Lindsay. Sigh. She wore these outfits in the movie:

When stardom called, she did a GQ spread with pictures like this:

She was a hot cherry bomb being compared to Ann-Margaret. But it just wasn't her looks - if looks were everything, we wouldn't be worried about Megan Fox's career opportunities now - but her talent that makes her career and life slides so sad. Having done impressively in the dual roles of the remake of The Parent Trap when she was 11 (Hayley Mills was 14 when the original was done) and recreated the Jodie Foster role in the Freaky Friday remake at 16, she was only 17 when she made Mean Girls and to look at her fresh face in the movie now and then look at the hard, bleached-out, skank (harsh, yes) woman she is now, barely past 25 and looking a decade older, it only makes one sadder.

As the fish-out-of-water new girl in school, having been home-schooled by her folks and living in Africa for the past 12 years, she's first earnest before succumbing to the charms of popularity. There's a lot of subtext in her performance which is why hopes for her career were so high. Sure, Herbie Fully Loaded was a speed bump and obviously a result of her Disney ties, but she hasn't made a major movie where she's been more than a sideshow freak, like her body-doubled bit in Machete. Her "big comeback" in the Linda Lovelace biopic seemed more desperate and daring and as her legal problems mounted, she was dumped in favor of Watchmen's Malin Ackerman.

Compounding her problems is the legion of impressive, attractive, and crazy-talented actresses who have arrived in the past few years starting with Emma Stone who with Easy A pretty much declared to Lindsay that "all your career are belong to me!" What Stone did to build to that point was very savvy in that she killed it in a series of supporting roles in films like Superbad, The House Bunny, Zombieland, The Rocker and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (coincidentally directed by Mean Girls' Mark Waters) before taking the spotlight. Now she's got two big movies coming out shortly and is Gwen Stacy in The Amazing Spider-Man reboot next summer. Lindsay, I think, is making a TV movie about John Gotti. People adore Emma's geeky awkwardness on and offscreen - she's basically if Lindsay had stayed true to her 17-year-old self and didn't compete with her mother for Party Whore of the Year awards. (Again, harsh, but...)

How is a mess-up like Lindsay supposed to compete for roles when, in addition to her co-stars from Mean Girls, she has to fight Jennifer Lawrence, Kristen Stewart, Dakota Fanning and various CW network actresses. What producer is going to stake a movie that costs tens of millions of dollars on an actress who hasn't made a positive impression in the media or onscreen for seven very long years?

Can Lindsay resurrect her career and recapture her skills? Perhaps. Does anyone really remember Drew Barrymore's wild grade school drunk days? Hasn't Robert Downey Jr. had a remarkable run since he cleaned up his act? (Fun fact: He was paid less than Terrance Howard for Iron Man and the studio didn't even want his washed-up, ex-druggie, ex-con ass in the role; Jon Favreau had to fight for him.) Whether Lindsay can pull a rabbit out of someplace will be a neat trick to see. Until then, we still have her at her luscious best in Mean Girls.

As a Blu-ray, it's an OK release. The transfer is clear, though there are some trouble spots of noise in a couple of sections. The audio track is all front side - it's one of those non-surrounding surround tracks than make me wonder if something's wrong with my receiver. I haven't listened to the commentary, but there's a short blooper reel and some odds and ends that comprise the lean extras.

Score: 8/10. Buy it cheap.

"Captain America: The First Avenger" Review

With the clunky-but-needlessly-thought-necessary-because-everyone-hates-America-named Captain America: The First Avenger (or as I call it Captain America (F*ck Yeah!), Marvel Studios turns the hat trick of superhero movies in 2011. Along with the good fellow Avengers setup film Thor and the sublime X-Men: First Class, Marvel has soared while rival DC had their Green Lantern fizzle out. (On the upside, this should free up Ryan Reynolds for a Deadpool movie. Make it so!)

If X-Men went retro with its early-1960s setting, Captain America is true to its WWII origins with scrawny Steve Rogers (a digitally-diminished Chris Evans in a career-changing role) trying to enlist but being turned down for being scrawny, asthmatic and generally a 90-pound weakling. He's got gumption, but that's not what the Army is looking for. Fortunately, it is what Stanley Tucci's scientist is seeking for his Super Soldier project in which serum and vita rays are meant to turn him into the ultimate fighting man. That the last guy who'd tried it turned into the Red Skull is problematic, but that's because he was a bad guy.

Keying the whole show is Chris Evans' portrayal of Cap, both before and after his transformation. It would've been very easy to play the noble, patriotic Steve Rogers as a bit of a stiff, a steroid-infused Boy Scout, but it works because Evans makes us feel the frustration of wanting to contribute, but being on the wrong end of the genetic card deal. If you only know the cocky Evans from his Human Torch role in the lackluster Fantastic 4 movies or light comedies, he's a revelation. (If you saw Sunshine, Danny Boyle's sci-fi "trip to reignite the dying Sun" movie, it's a little less of a surprise.)

It helps that he's surrounded by a top-notch cast including Tommy Lee Jones, the luscious Hayley Atwell as a spunky, sexy English agent, and Hugo Weaving as Red Skull. Dominic Cooper plays Howard Stark, Tony's father (who was played by John Slattery in Iron Man 2), and it's interesting to see how his influence on his son would've manifested.

The most valuable player (after Evans) has to be director Joe Johnston whose film The Rocketeer and his work as visual effects supervisor for Raiders of the Lost Ark prepped him ably for the period look and feel of a slightly sci-fi'ed up version of WWII. Giant flying wings and airplanes that look like rockets with giant pusher propellers feel matter-of-fact and that guileless tone makes the more fantastical elements go down easily. The way they handle his costume, which would

There was some angst from conservative quarters about the tacking on of "The First Avenger" part and initial concerns it would be released without the Captain America half in order to placate supposed anti-American sentiment around the world (only Russia, South Korea(?) and Ukraine chose the alternate title) and a couple of particularly stupid hacks at Big Hollywood whined that it wasn't jingoistic enough for their tastes, but take it from me, there's nothing to their complaints. It's patriotic and not the least apologetic about the inherent goodness of America and doesn't try to temper its pro-USA tenor other than not piling on needless flag-waving on top of a star-spangled avenger battling evil. We get it; stop crying, bitches.

Captain America (F*ck Yeah!) easily joins other top shelf Marvel comic book movies like X-Men 2 and Iron Man and nicely sets the table for next year's Joss Whedon-helmed The Avengers. Bring it on!

Score: 9/10. Pay full price.

"Unknown" Review

I love it when the trailer spells out the plot and saves me the typing. Watch this:

As Unknown spun its tale of replaced identity, it genuinely built suspense as I wondered who exactly Liam Neeson and his deal were. I started having wild fears of a possible explanation which would be so silly as to render the whole movie a waste of time. However, when they finally do explain the deal, it just lets all the air out of the movie, rendering the last act an exercise in mild tedium because I just didn't care about the somewhat silly plot twist. They tried for clever and landed in stupid.

Liam Neeson is good here as is Bruno Ganz as a former East German Stasi spook who agrees to help Liam sort out the mystery of his life. On the other hand, I thought January Jones was flat. I thought nerds were bashing her so-so turn as Emma Frost in X-Men: First Class partially because they hate her as Betty Draper on Mad Men, but watching Unknown right after an episode of Hammtown (as my girlfriend calls it), I'm noticing the same flat iciness in everything she does. It's a little off-putting.

While Unknown isn't a bad movie, the way it fumbles the payoff after such an interesting setup magnifies the disappointment. I dropped it a point from where I'd thought it was at by the time things wrapped up and have decided to dock it another point for only being 2/3rds a good thriller before tripping within sight of the finish line.

Score: 6/10. Catch it on cable or, better yet, watch Taken to see Liam Neeson rampage through Paris.

"Hall Pass" Review

After a quartet of hit comedies in the Nineties - Dumb and Dumber, Kingpin, There's Something About Mary, and Me, Myself and Irene - the Farrelly Brothers (Peter and Bobby; where's Greg?) - hit the skids in the new millennium with a streak of critical and commercial disappointments and outright flops. With their latest, Hall Pass, they still are back to form, but they do deliver some big laughs from time to time.

Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis are two dopey (but not dumb) guys married to Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate respectively. Owen and Jenna have three kids and have been togther about 20 years; Jason and Kelly Bundy have no spawnlings. When the wives get offended by their hubbies mild ogling of other women, they take the advice of shrink pal Joy Behar - well, there's a mistake right there! - to give their husbands a "hall pass," a week off of marriage when they can do whatever they want. The wives will go to vacation places on the shore and Owen and Jason can see just how studly they really are.

Compared to lowbrow-yet-with-heart movies by Judd Apatow like The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, the Farrellys have a tough time balance the tart and sweet aspects. The often hilarious raunchy gross-out bits clash with the more tender moments to show that the couples really love each other and don't wish to stray, even when they take a step off the straight and narrow. There is little danger or risk and the "shocking" full-frontal male nudity in one spot is so clumsily handled, you just feel embarrassed for everyone involved.

The performances are good (though Sudekis is an awful lot like he was in Horrible Bosses; limited range?) included the pals of the pair and the hot coffee shop babe (Nicky Whelan) Owen has his eyes on. Hall Pass takes forever (for a comedy) to get going, but when it's on, it's funny; it's just a lumpy mixed bag overall.

Score: 5/10. Catch it on cable.

"Transformers: Dark of the Moon" Review

What can be said about Transformers: Dark of the Moon? It's proof that bigger doesn't always mean better.

Watch the trailer below for the plot: Shia LaBeef (sp?) has a new hot girlfriend (thus assuring this is a science fiction movie) and there are giant talking robots and bad robots blow the hell out of Chicago and blah-blah-woof-woof. Do we go to these things for plot? Who said yes? Get out of my blog, weirdo!

Here's what you need to know: Rosie Huntington-Whitley is hot and cute and less skanky than Megan Fox (which is why she's Jason Statham's girlfriend in real life and not Shia's). There are several funny nerd-meta jokes which riff off of Leonard Nimoy's voicing Sentinel Prime. Sam's goofy parents are back, but unlike most people, I like them. There are some new Autobots and Decepticons, but other than shorthand stereotyping like the new Ferrari one having a "It'sa me, Mario!" accent, they're just more metal. There is also some slightly clever writing explaining the true origins of the Space Race and how some have collaborated for decades with the Decepticons.

Not that you care about characters, but there's a smarmy boss of Rosie's played by Patrick Dempsey; a slumming Frances McDormand as a prickly NSA chief; and John Malkovich apparently deciding that he wants Christopher Walken's career in a schizophrenic role which starts of one way and then changes into something totally different for no explained reason. Ken Jeong also has a small bit part that he works hard for laughs.

But you don't go to Transformers movies for plot and characters; you go for the BAYHEM! As long as you see giant fighting robots tearing sh*t up (as my girlfriend stated as her bare minimum for satisfaction from the first film in 2007), it's all good, right? Normally I'd agree and while there are some truly epic action scenes here, it gets so crazy and chaotic for so long at the end, it starts turning into noise that you can't focus on anymore. Look at the last shot of the trailer before the title card goes up. Look at all the whirring rotating teeth and whatnot. The level of detail in the robots and environments is so minute - the 'bots have multiple gears in their eyes now, for instance - that there simply is no way to take it all in so it actually goes unnoticed.

The movie is also too damn long at over 2-1/2 hours. The distribution of action is also too backloaded. The finale involving several set pieces, each of which would be the grand finale of another action movie, runs nearly an hour and by the time it's over, you're just numb from sensory overload and I saw it in plain 2D on a big theater screen. They could've cut the end down to a half-hour, taking the other 20 minutes and spread them out over a sub-2 hour movie and been the better for it.

My first remark to the girlfriend afterwards was, "Well, I'm set for my fighting robot movies*. I don't need anymore."

Score: 7/10. Catch it on a huge screen at a matinee or dollar show.

* Not counting the upcoming Hugh Jackman movie, Real Steel, which was shot in Detroit and coincidentally, I was in one of the locations used today (as I write this review).
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