Movie Reviews: Armored, Brothers, Everybody's Fine 

Also, The Last Station, Transylmania and more

Wednesday, Dec 2 2009

ACROSS THE HALL Directed by Alex Merkin and adapted by Jesse Mittelstadt from Merkin’s original story, Across the Hall is the feature version of the duo’s 2005 short film of the same name. For the expanded form, they’ve crafted a twisting tale of betrayal in which the terms and limits of both friendship and marriage are tested. Julian (Mike Vogel) is sitting in a bathtub when he receives a phone call from his BFF, Terry (Danny Pino), who’s in a hotel room directly across from the one where Terry’s wife, June (Brittany Murphy), has checked in, presumably to meet another man. Emotionally unhinged and waving a gun, Terry agrees to hold tight until Julian can meet him. Things, of course, go horribly awry. The third act is wonderfully tense, although many of the flashback-heavy plot twists are predictable. The bigger problem is that the first act is full of such plodding line readings (everyone seems to have been directed to speak with maddeningly pregnant pauses) and mannered performances — remember when Brittany Murphy was a delightfully natural screen presence? — that the effect is to distance viewers from what’s happening onscreen. Merkin tries too hard for stylistic flourishes (as the hyper set-designed, claustrophobically seedy hotel underscores) and winds up almost sinking the noir-ish tale he’s telling. (Music Hall) (Ernest Hardy)

ARMORED A crew of working-stiff armored truck personnel decide to lift their own payload with a heist plan that no one would ever attempt outside a first-draft screenplay. Dramatis personae are introduced picking up their ID tag personalities, so that you can care when they’re eventually in harm’s way. (Milo Ventimiglia’s cop informs you that he has a dad; Amaury Nolasco’s gets a ribbing for his Bible.) The camaraderie in the Eagle Shield Transport locker room is strained stuff, despite a capable ensemble cast that includes Matt Dillon and Larry Fishburne — and Jean Reno’s sore-thumb presence as “Quinn,” an obvious bid for Euros. Director Nimród Antal shows the same weakness for augmenting action with swaggering beats that marked his debut, Kontroll (per Dillon’s character: “It looks like you’re overcompensating”), but he settles in once arrived at the film’s set-piece destination: In a gutted factory to divvy up the money — Armored gives a good tour of industrial L.A. — a stand-off results when the new guy on the crew (that’s former dancer-choreographer Columbus Short) gets an attack of conscience. Antal is never much beyond serviceable here, but he does make a chase-duel between two entirely identical armored cars almost decipherable, which is no mean feat. (Citywide) (Nick Pinkerton)

BREAKING POINT You’d figure by this point in cinematic history that there’d already be a low-rent crime thriller starring Tom Berenger and Armand Assante titled Breaking Point. But, no, that honor goes to this anonymously gritty New York drama about Steven Luisi (Berenger), a disgraced former assistant district attorney and recovering addict seeking redemption by defending an accused murderer. Luisi’s path to clearing his client’s name leads him to a dangerous thug (rapper Busta Rhymes) and the crime’s sole witness (Kirk “Sticky Fingaz” Jones), who is also the thug’s onetime henchman and latest target. Corrupt public officials, ghetto kids dreaming of a better life, a flawed hero with a dead daughter on his conscience — there isn’t any cliché that writer Vincent Campanella and director Jeff Celentano don’t treat with stoic reverence. From one perspective, you could say that Breaking Point never steps wrong since its every movement is perfectly (almost comfortingly) predictable. But between Assante’s tough-guy ADA with something to hide and Berenger’s squinty-eyed inner torment, Breaking Point is so dry you may wish it had the good sense to be a campy hoot. The one bright spot is Rhymes’ convincingly scummy performance — all of 50 Cent’s future gangster roles should be reassigned to him. (Sunset 5; Fallbrook 7) (Tim Grierson)

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BROTHERS Jim Sheridan’s remake of Danish director Susanne Bier’s 2005 film about the familial and psychic trauma caused by Operation Enduring Freedom feels like Operation Endurance. Marine captain and stalwart head-of-household Sam (Tobey Maguire), married to his high school sweetheart, Grace (Natalie Portman), and proud pop of two adorable daughters, returns to Afghanistan for a fourth tour of duty just a few days after Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal), his no-good kid brother, leaves the pokey. Thought dead after his helicopter crashes, Sam survives and is held captive by the Taliban (torture by radical Sunni Muslims has become a specialty of screenwriter David Benioff, who wrote the adaptation of 2007’s The Kite Runner). Tommy mans up, ice-skates with his nieces, renovates his sister-in-law’s kitchen, and gives her a smooch. Sam returns home (New Mexico does double duty as Anonymous Small Town, USA, and Afghanistan), looking and acting more and more like Travis Bickle. Sheridan, repeatedly drawn to family sagas, including his own (2002’s In America, which also featured two cutie-pie little girls), aims for Greek tragedy but ends up with a PTSD melodrama, with Maguire able to produce slobber almost as effortlessly as Portman can summon up tears — essentially all her role calls for. (Citywide) (Melissa Anderson)

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