Movie Reviews: Max Payne, Sex Drive, What Just Happened? | Film Reviews | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly

Movie Reviews: Max Payne, Sex Drive, What Just Happened? 

Also, Morning Light, Secrecy and more

Wednesday, Oct 15 2008

CHOOSE CONNOR Pimply Owen Norris (Alex Linz) thinks his life is about to begin when he lands a summer job as the youth campaign spokesman for Senator Connor (Steven Weber). It’s not difficult to guess where this is going: The idealistic 15-year-old gets sick after his debut political soiree, foreshadowing the wretchedness in store for him. At least writer/director Luke Eberl grants Choose Connor a little texture by weaving in some unexpected details with the generic clichés. Our possibly closeted teenage protagonist becomes fast friends with the congressman’s gay nephew (Escher Holloway), and the developing relationship plays out with an awkward sweetness at odds with the otherwise grimy proceedings. The narrative also (inadvertently!) parallels the current campaign season, as Senator Connor jumps in to answer on Owen’s behalf during his first photo-op — calling to mind John McCain’s damage-control chaperoning of Sarah Palin. But for all the potential of this coming-of-age/political-awakening tale, Choose Connor undoes itself with an egregiously sordid turn. Aren’t politics depraved enough without the filmmaker resorting to a sex scandal that rivals that of the Catholic Church? Like this election cycle, the movie leaves you cynical and weary. We’ve seen it all before. (Sunset 5) (Kristi Mitsuda)

GO  CITY OF EMBER The struggle at the center of City of Ember, another treat from the maker of Monster House, is one for the good of all mankind. But what were the denizens of this world running from when they first trekked underground? Two hundred years after their mucky netherworld’s inception, the ever-hiccupping generator that keeps the lights on in Ember threatens to go forever kaput. It’s up to Lina Mayfleet (Saoirse Ronan) and Doon Harrow (Harry Treadaway) to decipher the clues left inside a mysterious box and usher their people — like Obama or Moses, take your pick — toward deliverance. Back story and motivation are almost nil here, but director Gil Kenan reveres the abstract tenor of Jeanne DuPrau’s acclaimed children’s book, understanding the postapocalyptic story as an allegory for the determination of humanity against the forces of darkness — whatever or whoever they may be. Its look suggests a twee City of Lost Children, but Kenan isn’t hung up on style alone, equally and voluptuously reveling in artifice and the courageous will of Ronan and Treadaway’s hopeful foot soldiers. The story subtly evokes Rand and scripture, colliding secular and spiritual values, and, as such, appeals to the blue- and red-minded alike. (Citywide) (Ed Gonzalez)

FLASHBACKS OF A FOOL Tinkering with his image in a way most 007’s don’t consider until they’ve washed their hands of the Bond biz, Daniel Craig assumes the moderately unflattering role of Joe Scot, a faded movie star floundering in a sea of joyless sex and drugs. Craig’s shaken-but-not-stirred charisma makes the most of an underwritten part, but the movie nearly flat-lines when the actor’s not onscreen, which is often. The eponymous stroll down memory lane, which consumes nearly half the running time, replaces Craig with Harry Eden as a 15-year-old Scot growing up in a quaint English village bathed in the golden glow lazy movies use to evoke time regained. Young Joe goes through predictable rites of passage, mooning over a glam-rock-loving nymphet (Felicity Jones) and discovering the joys and terrors of sex with a reliably horny housewife (Jodhi May). Writer-director Baillie Walsh works overtime milking Freud and brimstone from the proceedings, but the compulsive sexuality that supposedly fills the air is lost in a profusion of stodgy coming-of-age tropes, treacly strings and characters that never transcend one-word descriptions like “sassy” or “crotchety.” And when a grown-up Joe finally revisits his old stomping grounds to tie up loose ends, you can be sure he won’t really be going home again. (Music Hall) (Lance Goldenberg)

click to enlarge Sex Drive
  • Sex Drive

“Define distracted,” petty criminal Al Lewis (Ellen Cleghorne) asks murder suspect Mattie Fresno (Angela Pierce) early on in Mattie Fresno and the Holoflux Universe, and even in a story as unwieldily metafictional as this, it probably wouldn’t do to have Mattie name her own movie. But you get the point — distraction and diffuseness, not the proffered “unified theory of what is,” are the thematic and aesthetic core of director Phil Gallo’s failed political satire/media roasting/New Age fantasy. One could describe Mattie Fresno as being “about” the title character’s involvement in a convoluted assassination scheme, or “about” her physicist grandfather’s self-created alternate universe, but to do so would imply that the movie hangs together more coherently than the average YouTube video. Too bad, because the assassination plot, conceived by a public-relations firm to win the public’s eternal sympathy for a struggling client, briefly sustains a welcome, rabid cynicism about the politico-media complex, “spin doctors,” megalomaniacal TV personalities, fake holy men and an American public that laps it all up like a pig at the trough. Unfortunately, Mattie Fresno blunts these sharp satirical edges with moments of aimless screwball comedy, awkwardly composed flashbacks and green-screened dream sequences suggestive of anything but the universe’s deepest complexities. Rarely has a film killed off its own best instincts with more vigor. (Grande 4-Plex) (Matt Brennan)

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