Movie Reviews: Be Kind Rewind, Men in the Nude, The Signal 

And other Feb. 22 releases

Wednesday, Feb 20 2008

GO  BAB'AZIZ: THE PRINCE WHO CONTEMPLATED HIS SOUL Even though one of the earliest appeals of cinema was the window it opened onto other cultures and continents, films that engage that interest now routinely get dismissed as "ethnographic" or as prurient exoticism. It's a charge that the Tunisia-born, Paris-educated poet-sculptor-filmmaker Nacer Khemir has faced before — and will probably face again with this mystical, meandering, marvelously photographed ode to his Sufi faith and the power of storytelling, intended in part as a corrective to the West's impression of fanatical Islam. Embarking toward a legendary gathering of dervishes (humble Sufi wanderers who devote their lives to love and beauty) that happens every 30 years, the blind, aging Bab'Aziz (Parviz Shahinkhou) entices his young granddaughter Ishtar (Maryam Hamid) to join him by spinning the tale of a prince who lost his kingdom but found his soul in the depths of a reflecting pool. As they walk, Khemir (in collaboration with longtime Antonioni screenwriter Tonino Guerra) meshes their stories with those of other travelers. But despite the unhurried pace, the stories unfold without compelling details, and the interweaving is more pedestrian than artful. Instead, the pleasure of Khemir's picaresque lies in the music, dance and locations found along the journey — and to brush these wonders off as exotic collector's bait would be more than a little patronizing. (Nuart) (Jim Ridley)

Abbot Genser/New Line Cinema

When there’s something wrong with your VCR, who ya gonna call?

BE KIND REWIND The pleasures of Michel Gondry's latest film as writer and director do not extend far beyond the promise of its premise: Jack Black, magnetized and manic (yawn), erases every single videotape in the rental store where he hangs out and has to reshoot the movies with pal Mos Def. Theirs becomes a ramshackle filmography of redos made for pennies on the multimillions: Ghostbusters, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Rush Hour 2, The Lion King, Robocop and, most amusingly, the Ali-Foreman doc When We Were Kings. Too bad the makeovers occupy only a few minutes of screen time — the film doesn't even seem terribly interested in its own conceit, instead dawdling around the margins till lurching toward the let's-put-on-a-show climax around which the film appears to have been built (rather shakily). Be Kind Rewind isn't amiably ambling, not affably shaggy, just a mess that gets messier till, at times, the whole thing looks improvised by amateurs more concerned with being clever than something resembling affectionate. For the first time in the former music-video director's scattershot career, which includes a heartbreaking, mind-bending masterpiece (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) bookended by dazzling disappointments (Human Nature and The Science of Sleep), Gondry seems completely lost. The greatest mystery is how a movie peddling the bliss of moviemaking is absent any hint of joy. (Citywide) (Robert Wilonsky)

COVER This wackily uneven drama from director Bill Duke (A Rage in Harlem) opens with Atlanta photographer and housewife Valerie Maas (Aunjanue Ellis) sitting in a police interrogation room trying to explain to a doubting detective (Lou Gossett Jr.) why she's not guilty of murder. Flashbacks reveal that Valerie and her psychiatrist husband, Dutch (Razaaq Adoti), recently moved to town and instantly became entangled in the sordid lives of Dutch's new boss (Roger Guenveur Smith), his unhappy wife (Paula Jai Parker), and a creepily amorous rap star (Leon) who has his sights on Valerie. These folks are knee-deep in sin, the nitty-gritty details of which it wouldn't be fair to reveal, since screenwriter Aaron Rahsaan Thomas means for it all to be shocking and surprising. This is a weirdly schizophrenic movie, one that's light on murder-mystery thrills and heavy on social-issue sermonizing, particularly when Valerie's church-basement women's group — which seems to meet hourly — starts wailing about the devilish temptations that are luring African-American men from God and family. Duke appears to be aiming for a Tyler Perry-style mix of the taboo and the saintly, but his touch is so leaden that one ends up giggling, not weeping. (AMC Magic Johnson Crenshaw 15) (Chuck Wilson)

click to enlarge ABBOT GENSER/NEW LINE CINEMA - When there’s something wrong with your VCR, who ya gonna call?
  • Abbot Genser/New Line Cinema
  • When there’s something wrong with your VCR, who ya gonna call?

HOW TO ROB A BANK The standoff starts in medias res, with bystander Jinx (Nick Stahl) locked in a bank vault with Jessica (Erika Christensen, in Meg White wig), herself forced into a life of crime by the lack of career opportunities for gorgeous young thoroughbreds. The rest of the stickup team is cornered in the lobby; the SWAT team's guarding the street beyond. Despite an 81-minute running time, the plot has to stretch to go the distance, mostly by reiterating its theme (the danger of ATM surcharges) compulsively. So we get an endless chain of cell-phone negotiations, spritzes of "kinetic" stylization that not even a homeschooled adolescent seeing his first movie would find cool, and a sepulchral whiff of the mid-'90s in the form of Roger Avary mannerisms and that guy from Bush (Gavin Rossdale), now an actor. Even the mighty Terry Crews, who made White Chicks sporadically watchable, is herein defeated. So objectively awful it ceases even to be a reflection of writer-director Andrews Jenkins' nontalent, How to Rob a Bank calls into question the distribution filtration process that should protect delicate consumer eyes from things like this. (Sunset 5) (Nick Pinkerton)

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