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Film Reviews 

For the week of April 21-27

Wednesday, Apr 19 2006
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ABOMINABLE Not quite aptly titled, but close, writer-director Ryan Schifrin’s cheapo horror opus pits everyone’s favorite hirsute hominoid against the denizens of a remote town nestled at the base of a mountain called Suicide Peak. It’s not much of a contest. The locals chalk up everything that goes bump in the night to “probably dem damn coyotes”; the quintet of leggy college girls on vacation are far too busy spraying each other with silly string to notice that one of their own has gone missing; and the paraplegic widower (Matt McCoy) who seems to be glancing out his rear window every time Bigfoot saunters by is dismissed by everyone as a delusional nutso — until, of course, he’s one of the few characters left who hasn’t become dinner. Getting to that point entails watching an assortment of curvy starlets and tired-looking genre vets (Lance Henriksen, Jeffrey Combs and Dee Wallace-Stone among them) do all the stupid things you’re never supposed to do in a horror movie, while trying their damnedest to look terrified at the sight of a really tall actor in a down-market Halloween costume. No doubt there are the makings here of a fine Darwinian horror-comedy on the order of the recent Slither; but whereas that movie’s extraterrestrial slugs wanted to take over the world, Abominable’s eponymous Yeti wants only to eat, and his feast is the audience’s famine. (Sunset 5) (Scott Foundas)

AMERICAN DREAMZ Can American Idol save the world? Maybe, according to writer-director Paul Weitz’s imagining of an Idol-like talent show that becomes the unlikely meeting point for a vainglorious British TV personality (Hugh Grant, his Cowell-isms honed to perfection), a Midwestern farm girl (Mandy Moore) with stars in her eyes, a Middle Eastern terrorist (Sam Golzari) with a fetish for show tunes, and a recently re-elected American president (Dennis Quaid) who’s sunk into a depressive funk after reading a newspaper for the first time in four years. Weitz sets out to assail the cultural politics of a nation more attuned to the election of a pop star than the election of its leader, but what he’s made instead is the sort of satire so “affectionate” that all of its would-be poison-tipped arrows seem to be coated in sugar. As in his previous In Good Company, Weitz wants too much to like all of his characters, and he wants us to like them too. The result is a movie devoid of any threat, or many laughs, with barn door–broad performances (by an admittedly high-spirited cast) in the service of some decidedly et cetera comic ideas — that Bush is a boob; that “reality TV” can seem preferable to actual reality. Only in the final stretch does American Dreamz come to its most provocative conceit, suggesting that the global fascination with American kitsch could just be the thing that will stop us from destroying each other. In which case, may I propose Paula Abdul for president? (Citywide) (Scott Foundas)

 GO  SOMERSAULT This remarkable film from Australia, the debut feature of writer-director Cate Shortland, moves to the lyrical rhythms and unhurried pace of a 1970s road movie, or one of those Joni Mitchell ballads about traveling in some vehicle through an unspecified landscape and trying to find a sense of yourself. It’s not a movie you watch so much as one that you feel — a succession of dreamlike fragments from the life of 16-year-old Heidi (Abbie Cornish), who gets caught kissing (and then some) her barmaid mother’s boyfriend and, rather than sticking around for the fallout, makes a run for it. She eventually lands in the Aussie ski town of Jindabyne, where she takes a job as a service-station clerk and embarks on an affair with a local farmer’s son (Sam Worthington), who has some sexual-awakening issues of his own to work out. Those might have been the makings of a standard-issue summer-I-became-a-woman melodrama, were it not for the facts that Somersault takes place in winter and that Shortland seems unable to manufacture anything resembling melodrama or sentimental cliché. The movie gives off the knowing sense of how adolescent lives can slip away from their bearers, and the shifting of tones Shortland achieves, often within the course of a single scene — including a drunken motel-room encounter that transforms into a terrifying near rape — is flabbergasting. She also has a remarkable eye for detail, crafting sensuous images that melt into one another like bends in a tranquil stream. But Somersault is above all a showcase for the talented Cornish, who asserts the role with sexy, know-it-all confidence, then shows us the trembling little girl lurking just beneath. (Sunset 5, AMC Loews Broadway) (Scott Foundas)

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STANDING STILL The title of director Matthew Cole Weiss’ debut feature refers to the arrested development of a gaggle of college friends — four years out of school but still unmoored in life — who reunite for the weekend leading up to buddy Michael’s (Adam Garcia) marriage to his longtime girlfriend, Elise (Junebug star Amy Adams). There’s the maid of honor (Melissa Sagemiller), who’s trying to coerce her own commitment-phobic beau (Aaron Stanford) into popping the question; the ne’er-do-well Pockets (Jon Abrahams), whose life is like one globe-spanning frat party; and the emotionally unstable actress (Mena Suvari), who finds herself surrounded by the only three men she’s ever slept with. And what little chill like this would be complete without the bride-to-be’s lesbian ex-roommate (Lauren German), who still harbors a hot-and-heavy crush after all these years? Standing Still is one of those movies about how you can be 20-something and feel as though your life is over, or at least that your best years are behind you — a sentiment that led to much seriocomic soul-searching in the case of Noah Baumbach’s Kicking and Screaming, but which here becomes fodder for less-than-Proustian pining over roads not taken and an unrecoverable past of getting wasted, hanging out and hitting on girls. Until, after one long night of drunken confession, everything magically rights itself. The script (by Matthew Perniciaro and Timm Sharp) is trite, and the direction so flat that every scene looks like it was shot in a broom closet, but the bright young cast makes things more bearable than they should be. They scurry around so frantically trying to stay light on their feet that it takes a while to realize the movie itself is heavy as a brick. (Selected theaters) (Scott Foundas)

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