Movie Reviews: When in Rome, Edge of Darkness, Legion | Film Reviews | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly
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Movie Reviews: When in Rome, Edge of Darkness, Legion 

Also, Extraordinary Measures, Saint John of Las Vegas

Thursday, Jan 28 2010
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EDGE OF DARKNESS “Did you shoot my daughtah?” is the question posed, in flat-voweled Bostonian, in the trailer for Edge of Darkness. And Mel Gibson, much-bereaved and much-vengeful, sets out to settle another score. Gibson is Thomas Craven: veteran, homicide detective, lonesome widower. His postgrad daughter is visiting home, when somebody fires a gun in front of his house. Craven, left lonelier, wants to find out who. As in the film’s predecessor — a Yorkshire-set 1985 BBC2 serial, with Bob Peck as Craven — the investigation of what’s supposedly an open-and-shut botched payback killing by an old collar taps into something much bigger, revealing a sweaty commingling of private and public sectors. Director Martin Campbell, most famous for James Bond relaunches, is revisiting old material — as a hot-handed U.K. TV director, he shot the original six-part, six-hour cult-classic miniseries from a Troy Kennedy-Martin script. For the film, mysteries unspool more quickly, while peripheral characters and “color” scenes without expository purpose have disappeared. What’s left is propulsive and streamlined, with Craven more single-mindedly focused on finding and damning the guilty. This Edge is a vigilante movie. Which isn’t to say it’s simply a downgrade from Anglo sophistication to Hollywood slam-bang. Given the film’s focus on bereavement — it is literally haunted by the dead — bodies drop with actual weight here. And the culmination is that rare shoot-out that can truly be called cathartic. (Citywide) (Nick Pinkerton)


EXTRAORDINARY MEASURES John Crowley (Brendan Fraser) is, for the time being, the doting father of three kids. One son and a beatifically smiling daughter could go any day; both are wheelchair-bound and on respirators, afflicted with a degenerative genetic disorder called Pompe disease. Shaken by another emergency-ward close call, Crowley quits his marketing job to make a pilgrimage to Nebraska to corner Dr. Robert Stonehill, a university medical researcher working out an enzyme treatment for Pompe (mostly by writing on a Dry Erase Board). Executive Producer Harrison Ford plays Stonehill as a “loose cannon”— that is, he drives a beat-up Ford Ranger, cranks up Boomer FM gold in the lab, and scares off sources of potential research funding with his irascible prickliness. Extraordinary Measures is best when dealing with the connection between family life and economics, personal passion and impersonal institutions (the background is mostly labs, hospitals and corporate parks). Business-savvy Crowley, frantic for a chance to save his kids, convinces Stonehill that he can raise funds for a biotech start-up to put the underfunded doctor’s theories into practice. To work toward the greater good of an expedited cure, both men will adapt — and compromise — themselves to the rules of the game, as Crowley, for an infusion of corporate cash, has to forget his personal stake to talk about “acceptable loss” and pitch the “highly lucrative” potential of a possible treatment. (Extraordinary Measures, billed as “Inspired by a True Story,” has made its own compromises to screen drama — there is a real John Crowley who might basically descry his own life here, but no real Stonehill.) This is the first release by CBS Films, and looks it. “Did you see Harrison Ford has a TV show coming out?” asked a friend who’d seen a prime-time commercial for Measures. Given the Movie-of-the-Week lighting, the mistake is understandable. Andrea Guerra’s emotionally instructive score gunks up every crack and corner in the movie. But even while winning the generic-title sweepstakes, Extraordinary Measures works according to its terms. Fraser is open and appealing, and Ford, his acting mostly isolated in the right corner of his mouth, does well enough with a secondary part.  Stonehill’s curmudgeonliness is even fitting an actor who’s evinced no visible pleasure in being on-screen for a decade or more. (Citywide) (Nick Pinkerton)


LEGION Coming in the wake of Avatar’s cultural tsunami and its controversial take on — among other things — Earth and ancestor-based spirituality, Legion is decidedly old-fashioned in its monotheistic Bible-thumping and fearmongering. While director Scott Stewart (who penned the script with Peter Schink) obviously can’t compete with James Cameron’s megabudget visuals, he does share with Cameron an affinity for cliché-addled storylines. Unbeknownst to eight months’ pregnant, cigarette-smoking waitress Charlie (Adrianne Palicki), the baby she’s carrying is coming to save us all. The heavily tatted, gun-toting angel Michael (Paul Bettany), drops from the heavens to act as protector, with a cavalry of “demons” (they’ve got a secret) in fast pursuit, setting the stage for a bloody biblical showdown. This wan rebooting of the Christ tale has decent acting, serviceable if familiar visual effects, a few jump-in-your-seat moments, and the always crowd-pleasing gimmick of a senior citizen cussing up a storm. But the downtime between action scenes is deadly dull, and the film’s hoary cinematic shorthand (i.e., a young black man enters the film to the sound of hip-hop and fights with his baby mama) is more terrifying than anything else served up. (AMC Century City, Pacific The Grove) (Ernest Hardy)


SAINT JOHN OF LAS VEGAS “When I lived in Las Vegas, I had plenty of luck. The trouble is, most of it was bad.” So John Alighieri (Steve Buscemi) introduces himself in voice-over at the beginning of Saint John of Las Vegas — and, yes, the film is in fact loosely “inspired” by Dante, complete with a guide named Virgil (Romany Malco). Writer/director Hue Rhodes’ debut doesn’t really do anything with the reference point besides hope some gravitas rubs off. In detailing the long, weird odyssey of car-insurance employee John through his first fraud investigation, Rhodes watches as Buscemi — his eyes more sunken-in and cadaverous than usual — comes to terms with his gambling addiction and the no-shit revelation that, like many men, he’s destined for comfortable mediocrity. Getting to that point requires a putatively wacky journey through the Southwest with sullen Virgil — the fraud investigator showing him the ropes but whose motives remain unclear — that veers between occasional laughs and portentous drama. As for Dante: Does a carny whose fire suit keeps randomly lighting on fire (Harold Cho) count as suitably purgatorial? Mostly, Saint John traps good comic performers — including Malco and Peter Dinklage as John’s boss — in airless editing and an unproductive, unresolved, sludgy tone. (The Landmark, Playhouse) (Vadim Rizov)


WHEN IN ROME
The bar for romantic comedies has been set so low that when one — especially one whose press materials boast "from the studio that brought you The Proposal"—doesn’t leave you with the feeling that you've witnessed onscreen gynocide, consider it a small victory. When in Rome is confused about what its lead actually does (Kristen Bell's Beth is supposed to be a curator at the Guggenheim, though the opening scenes suggest she's an event planner), its score is insufferable (Jason Mraz and Katy Perry dominate), and its plot is powered by dumb Old World hocus-pocus (Beth has fished out five coins from a fountain in the Eternal City and must fend off five suitors). But Bell, unlike Katherine Heigl and Sandra Bullock, who executive-produced their big-screen debasements of 2009, brings enough effervescence to the film that she's able to spark believable chemistry with a usual dud like Josh Duhamel, playing sportswriter Nick — who actually likes Beth and doesn't wish to change or humiliate her (and who suffers most of the pratfalls). Buoyed along by reliable scene-stealers, notably Will Arnett and SNL's Bobby Moynihan, When in Rome includes a nice disquisition on Picasso's Woman With Yellow Hair and homo innuendo that even GLAAD would support. (Citywide) (Melissa Anderson)

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