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Movie Reviews: The Girl From Monaco, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, Kambakkht Ishq, I Hate Valentine's Day 

Also, New York and Youssou N'Dour: I Bring What I Love

Wednesday, Jul 1 2009
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GO  THE GIRL FROM MONACO There’s not much to this thin, sun-drenched concoction about a straight-arrow Paris lawyer (Fabrice Luchini) who descends on the titular Côte d’Azur resort to defend an accused murderess (Chabrol muse Stéphane Audran), only to find himself distracted by the tawdry charms of the local TV weather girl (Louise Bourgoin), who happens to be the ex of his 24/7 bodyguard (Roschdy Zem). Writer-director Anne Fontaine (who will helm the forthcoming biopic Coco Before Chanel) keeps the tone hovering — often uncertainly, sometimes intriguingly — between film noir and farce, but the modest pleasure of the film issues chiefly from the performances. There’s a sly, subtle tension to the byplay between the somewhat effete Luchini and the authoritatively masculine Zem (who isn’t exactly jealous of his client’s burgeoning romance but doesn’t approve of it either), while Bourgoin — a former Canal+ weather girl making her screen debut — proves a force of nature unto herself. Bursting on to the screen and nearly out of her gaudy, cleavage-hugging couture, slurring her lines in what can best be described as a French equivalent of Valspeak, she moves through the film in a blissfully ditzy haze, leaving every man onscreen — and many in the audience — helpless in her wake. (Sunset 5; Playhouse 7; Town Center 5) (Scott Foundas)

ICE AGE: DAWN OF THE DINOSAURS Though hardly landmarks of narrative or animation art, the first two Ice Ages were warm and goofy and appealing; John Leguizamo’s adorably sibilant Sid the Sloth remains a much-quoted guy in our household. But as with Shrek and countless other overextended studio franchises, the well has run bone-dry. Part Three sends woolly mammoths Manny (Ray Romano), a very pregnant Ellie (Queen Latifah), and the rest of their cobbled-together family of misfits to a lush land below the ice, which is fraught with dangers — like a burping purple plant that ingests foreigners — and teeming with the endlessly marketable dinosaurs so carelessly dispatched in the first movie. However spuriously gussied-up with 3-D, this verdant underworld is a playground for animation geeks, but its narrative pull hovers around zero, unless you count the lame postmillennial jokes about helicopter parents and single dads doubling as single moms, and even those are nothing but an excuse to float a raft of cuddly prehistoric babies for audience tots and their elders to coo over. Even with the addition of an (obligatory Cockney) weasel (Simon Pegg) to steer the herd through the usual slalom ride of hot lava and hostile beasties, there’s no breathing life into a formula that ought to have bowed out gracefully while the going was good. (Citywide) (Ella Taylor)

I HATE VALENTINE’S DAY Introducing her new romantic comedy at the Los Angeles Greek Film Festival, writer-director-star Nia Vardalos warned attending critics who had “come here to dump all over it” to “put a cork in it.” Alas! Corks must pop for a glorified sitcom as transcendently inept and self-regarding as I Hate Valentine’s Day. Slim, trim and far too old to be simpering like a demented kitten, Vardalos affects a bizarrely self-conscious runway lope through this naked attempt to repeat the box-office moxie of her big, fat Greek wedding. Trading Toula for Genevieve, Vardalos is now an apparently fancy-free Manhattan florist who sets a five-date limit on all potential relationships until she meets a shy restaurateur (John Corbett, again) with permanence written all over his handsome mug. Flanked by the usual gay stooges (Stephen Guarino and Amir Arison) gamely cracking wise, and an ensemble of sidekicks (among them Rachel Dratch, Jay O. Sanders and Gary Wilmes) more gifted than she, Vardalos stalks from one dreary set piece to the next (pretentious art shows, dire karaoke — that sort of thing), wearing an expression of petrified vivacity occasionally softened by, here it comes, the childhood wounds that have rendered Genevieve so scared of commitment. Vardalos calls her film “the ultimate indie experiment,” and if that’s what is meant by ham-fisted pacing, writing, and acting, this is as ultimate and an indie as it gets. (Sunset 5; Playhouse 7; Town Center 5) (Ella Taylor)

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GO  KAMBAKKHT ISHQ The Bollywood-gone-Hollywood Kambakkht Ishq makes a convincing argument that the problem with comparably cheesy American romantic comedies is that, while they’re equally predictable and manipulative, they don’t have enough fun doing it. Los Angeles stuntman Viraj (Akshay Kumar) is a lady-killing stud who’s about to encounter the one woman immune to his machismo: Simrita (Kareena Kapoor), a jaw-droppingly beautiful young surgeon who (get this) used to be a professional model in order to earn enough money to pay for medical school. Director Sabbir Khan treats Simrita’s ludicrous back-story with the same straight-faced delight that he approaches the rest of Kambakkht Ishq’s rampant foolishness, making for a sexy, dopey film that believes all you need for an entertaining night out are copious amounts of dancing, singing, broad clowning and gorgeous people. The upscale downtown and Westside locations occasionally lend this romantic comedy the look and materialistic worldview of a rap video, and at almost two-and-a-half hours, Kambakkht Ishq struggles to maintain its ferociously ebullient tone. But neither extraneous subplots nor awkward (yet improbably crucial) cameos from Sylvester Stallone and Denise Richards can keep Kumar and Kapoor from charming the audience as thoroughly as they beguile each other. Be warned: You are going to hate yourself for falling for a film this shameless in its attempts to win you over. But don’t worry — your secret’s safe with me. (Culver Plaza Theatres; Fallbrook 7; Naz 8) (Tim Grierson)

NEW YORK The so-called “Bollywood strike” that has kept new Indian commercial movies off international screens for the past two months was more like a lockout — an odd one, too, in which no workers were involved and one branch of management was pitted against another. Exhibitors on the new urban “multiplex” circuit demanded a larger percentage of the gross, and the major production companies retaliated by withholding their masterpieces. It’s a wonder the home audience is still willing to put up with these tantrum-throwers, especially when the hiatus is broken by the likes of Kabir Khan’s New York, a predictable, brow-furrowing drama (sadly songless except for a couple of Sunday-in-the-park montage sequences) about the effects of 9/11 (and 9/11 paranoia) on some South Asian immigrants living in New York. At the outset, the movie promises something much more interesting, when Omar (Neil Nitin Mukesh), a Manhattan cab-company owner, is framed on a weapons charge and blackmailed by the feds into cozying up to a suspected terrorist. The rub is that, a decade ago, the accused sleeper-cell organizer, Samir (John Abraham), was Omar’s closest college chum, and is now happily married to Maya (Katrina Kaif), the paragon whose romantic choice broke Omar’s heart. When the couple invites Omar into their home, the atmosphere should be clogged with desire, resentment and paranoia, an emotional maze worthy of Hitchcock, or at least De Palma. Quite apart from the fact that none of these performers is capable of smoldering with conviction, there’s no terror or sensuality in director Khan’s images. He’s a specialist in redundant visual prose, in underlining the obvious. The great Irfan Khan has the meatiest role, a Muslim-American FBI agent who hates the Jihadis for giving his community a bad name and scourges them for it even more ruthlessly than his Anglo colleagues. Toward the end, he becomes the voice of reason, and says some sensible things about the vicious circle of violence. But by then, it’s way too late. (Fallbrook 7; Naz 8) (David Chute)

YOUSSOU N’DOUR: I BRING WHAT I LOVE Senegalese superstar Youssou N’Dour can’t have expected his 2004 album Egypt — proudly devout, musically uncharacteristic, and released during Ramadan — to pass without some comment among Muslim compatriots, yet the hagiographic Youssou N’Dour: I Bring What I Love reads like a kind of defense. Playing up the religious opposition to the record, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi’s first documentary feature follows N’Dour on tour (powerfully compelling, muezzinlike) and on message (platitudinous and repetitive). The performance excerpts, starting with the head-clearing invocational introduction, are by far the most interesting part of the show, besides sumptuous photographed prayer calls at the holy Touba mosque and affecting moments with N’Dour’s grandmother and shadow-casting father. For all the singer’s sincere intentions to build secular-religious bridges, a straight-up concert film might have been a better approach, especially given viewer fatigue with those musicians and their causes. Indeed, the star’s avowal of noble intentions and surprise at the controversy tends, through repetition, to convey an air of entitlement to a positive reaction from fans. Still, N’Dour, who annually headlines the festive Great African Ball in New York, may be the only singer who can mesmerize Senegalese and Western audiences alike with a paean to a 19th-century Sufi hero. (Sunset 5) (Nicolas Rapold)

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