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Movie Reviews: Crazy On the Outside, Daybreakers, Leap Year 

Also, Bitch Slap, Youth in Revolt and more

Thursday, Jan 7 2010
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BITCH SLAP Touted as a cross between Russ Meyer, Blaxploitation and Memento, director Rick Jacobson’s Bitch Slap is the latest proof that calculated camp in the form of homage is nearly impossible to pull off. (Last year’s Black Dynamite was the rare successful experiment.) When the femme trio of a seemingly naive stripper, a drug-running gun-for-hire, and a corporate power broker try to abscond with a psycho gang lord’s fortune in diamonds, things immediately go awry and bodies pile up left and right. Co-written by Jacobson and Eric Gruendmann, the film is structurally ambitious, though derivative, in that each successive flashback takes the viewer farther back in time, as the layers of the main characters are gradually peeled back. In keeping with the film’s giddy superficiality, what’s revealed is a series of sexy poses passed off as character depth. All the backstabbing, shifting alliances and dark motives are held together by adolescent, innuendo-laden dialogue and thick Sapphic overtones aimed purposely at hetero male titillation. Matters aren’t helped by the fact that Jacobson’s clunky sampling across genres and mediums (from Kill Bill to Victoria’s Secret television ads) underscores the fact that he’s stuck in snickering, 14-year-old fanboy mode, merely riffing on the surfaces of the things that gave power to the B films and filmmakers he’s emulating. (Nuart) (Ernest Hardy)

CRAZY ON THE OUTSIDE After an impressive dramatic turn against type in David Mamet’s Redbelt, tool fetishist Tim Allen returns to lowest-common-denominator comedy as the star of his own ill-advised, irritating directorial debut. Fresh out of the pen, convicted video pirate Tommy Zelda (Allen) moves in with his tough-love sis (Sigourney Weaver) and her oversexed, cynical hubby (J.K. Simmons), who have perpetuated a lie to Grandma that our boy’s been in France for three years — zing! Tommy pines for his gold-digger ex (Julie Bowen), who still wants to fuck him on the side, even while engaged to an insecure consumer-electronics salesman (Kelsey Grammer). Will Tommy be able to move on, avoid the illegal temptations of his former accomplice (Ray Liotta), rebuild his late dad’s painting business, and hook up with his sexy probation officer (Jeanne Tripplehorn), whose little-leaguer son has taken a shine to him? Given Allen’s prefame background — he turned state’s evidence to lessen a coke-possession sentence in the ‘70s — one might think Crazy on the Outside had the potential for a poignant, quasi-autobiographical tale about starting over. Instead, we get charmless hack work from two sitcom writers, a phoned-in ensemble, and a vanity role for Allen that could certainly be called criminal. (Citywide) (Aaron Hillis)

DAYBREAKERS No fashion-conscious multiplex movie should face opening day without some grave issue of our day propped in its buttonhole. Last year’s sci-fi blockbusters took on apartheid (District 9) and the Indian Wars (Avatar) not a moment too soon; Daybreakers dials up resource scarcity, class conflict, the military-industrial complex and Big Pharma. (Actual line: “It was never about a cure. It’s about repeat business.”) The rationed near-future of Daybreakers recalls Soylent Green — except everyone knows they’re eating people, because almost everyone’s a vampire in 2019. Where the trailer ploddingly spelled out the horror-dystopia setup (“Imagine a world ...”), Daybreakers opens on a cool, obliquely shot, dialogue-free prologue that shows life after the vampire plague — and how frictionless-slick co-directors Michael and Peter Spierig are. Unrest grows as drinkable blood from living humans, now factory-farmed, runs out. Ethan Hawke plays a hesitant bloodsipper, a hematologist looking for a synthetic substitute, who falls in with a band of free-range mortals who’re working on a cure while organic farming. There are pleasures here: The “Subsiders,” degenerate, starving, cannibal Nosferatu, are effectively awful; Sam Neill is hambone-wicked as a vulpine CEO. But wearisome “Ain’t it cool?” video-game splatter-violence is all that’s memorable of the action, while a (mixed) metaphorical subtext of conservationism can’t save a text that squanders its actors. (Citywide) (Nick Pinkerton)

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LEAP YEAR According to supposed Irish custom, women may propose to their reluctant boyfriends on February 29. The woman in Leap Year is Anna (Amy Adams), a Boston apartment stager, and her intended fiancé, Jeremy (Adam Scott), is a surgeon more in love with his BlackBerry than her. But after four years, he hasn’t pulled the Tiffany trigger. What’s a girl to do? Jeremy has flown to a medical conference in Dublin, which neatly coincides with Leap Day, so Anna follows — intending to ambush him on the fated date. Needless to say, things don’t go as planned. Leap Year belongs to the Prada backlash subgenre of women’s pictures — epitomized by The Proposal — in which smart, stylish women must be muddied, abased, ridiculed and degraded in order to get their man. Only the new man is waggish innkeeper Declan (Matthew Goode), who agrees to drive stranded Anna to Dublin. She’s uptight and hyper-organized; he’s a grinning oaf who chews with his mouth open. See where this is going? Adams and Goode are both appealing, but you can write Leap Year’s opposites-attract itinerary yourself. Written by Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan (Made of Honor), and directed by Anand Tucker (Shopgirl), the movie seems a rehash of 1930s conventions — It Happened One Night in Ireland. (Oh, no! There’s only one bed left at the B&B!) Free from sex or naughty language, Leap Year appears to have been designed for that huge mother-daughter matinee market, ahem. Trust me: Take Mom to It’s Complicated instead. (Citywide) (Brian Miller)

YOUTH IN REVOLT Winded and weary from its long journey to a bigger screen, C.D. Payne’s 500-page 1993 novel has been squeezed into a 90-minute Cliff’s Notes version starring Michael Cera as Nick Twisp as Every Role Michael Cera Has Ever Had. Nick — portrayed in the novel as a 14-year-old “I’m Single, Let’s Mingle” T-shirt–sporting, foreign film–watching, Frank Sinatra–listening Oakland-stuck virgin — has been stripped of his eccentricities, his smarts, his specialness. Now, he’s just another horny too-smart movie teen doing whatever he can to get the girl (Sheeni Saunders, played by Portia Doubleday) in between woefully animated sequences and surrounded by sketched-out weirdos, among them Steve Buscemi as his creepy dad with the bimbo gal pal; Ray Liotta as a fascist cop in line to sleep with his mom (Jean Smart, who already played this part in Garden State); and Erik Knudsen as Lefty, so named because that’s the direction in which his dick bends. It’s as if the writer (Charlie Bartlett’s Gustin Nash, now 0-for-2 in the revolting youth sweepstakes) severed the jokes and hijinks from Payne’s plain yet also playful narrative with a dull ax. The surrealism and sensitivity of the novel, which spawned a cult of collectors who trade the limited-run first edition for hundreds of dollars, have been boiled down till it tastes like pungent tween formula. (Citywide) (Robert Wilonsky)

WONDERFUL WORLD Ben Singer (Matthew Broderick), once the third-biggest kids’ musician in the country, is now the No. 1 grump of an unnamed city that’s played by Shreveport, Louisiana, where writer-director Joshua Goldin’s feature debut was shot, and which also doubles, later in the film, as Dakar, Senegal. More impoverished than the budget is Wonderful World’s script, a shopworn tale of redemption in which the constantly outraged, pot-puffing misanthrope learns that “magic is everywhere.” Alienating his legal-proofreader co-workers and even his 11-year-old daughter, Sandra (Jodelle Ferland), with his bilious indignation, Ben softens in the company of his Senegalese roommate and chess partner, Ibu (Michael K. Williams), who soon exits the movie in a diabetic coma, though his work in the rehabilitation of Ben’s soul will be quickly picked up by his sister, Khadi (Sanaa Lathan). It’s heartbreaking to see Lathan, an underemployed actress whose talents were last put to good use in 2006’s Something Else, in such a ridiculous, impossible role, falling into bed with repugnant Ben and teaching Sandra West African dance. Broderick looks as if he wants to hide permanently behind his three-day growth. But nothing can mask the embarrassment of having to bark lines like, “If I wanted a parasite, I’d eat raw pork.” ( Laemmle Music Hall Theatre) (Melissa Anderson)

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