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Movie Reviews: The City of Your Final Destination, Oceans, Five Easy Pieces 

Also, Paper Man, Handmade Nation, Kenny Chesney: Summer in 3D and more

Thursday, Apr 22 2010
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THE BACK-UP PLAN I'm no obstetrician, but I'd wager that Jennifer Lopez's own labor when birthing fraternal twins two years ago was much less interminable and painful than watching this romantic comedy, the star's first movie since 2006's El Cantante, about knocking yourself up. As single, financially comfortable, baby-craving Tribeca pet-store owner Zoe, Lopez muddles through the dismal big-screen debut of both writer Kate Angelo and director Alan Poul, who burden her with an absolute void (Alex O'Loughlin) as a love interest, an SNL castoff (Michaela Watkins) as a second banana, and a disabled Boston terrier. The same day she receives intrauterine insemination from Dr. Harris (Robert Klein, who later provides some weird gallows gyn-humor), Zoe meets Stan (O'Loughlin), an organic-cheese monger. Throughout their courtship, crises are incoherently manufactured, involving Stan's struggle to pass an econ test at CUNY, Zoe's eligibility in the Single Mothers and Proud Group (which, confusingly, seems to include dyke couples making predatory lez eyes at the newcomer), and our heroine's final-act lesson on learning to trust. Though fans have long given up hope that Karen Sisco will ever be reborn, why does Lopez, post-motherhood, now seem intent on reinventing herself as a screen presence even blander than Kate Hudson? (Melissa Anderson) (Citywide)

GO  THE CITY OF YOUR FINAL DESTINATION James Ivory and cast make every scene flutter with feeling in this adaptation of Peter Cameron's 2002 novel, written for the screen by Ivory's collaborator of 50 years, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. Omar (Omar Metwally), an American Phd student, shows up unannounced at a secluded Uruguayan country estate to petition the household of novelist and suicide Jules Gund for permission to write the great man's biography, the completion of which would guarantee a professorship (a fate worse than death, it's implied). Omar must impress Gund's stranded 28-year-old mistress, Arden (Charlotte Gainsbourg), his shunned 40-something wife, Caroline (Laura Linney) — loathe to publicize their ménage — and his elder brother, Adam (Anthony Hopkins, with Hiroyuki Sanada his longtime companion). These are Merchant-Ivory cosmopolitans, people who quote Persian poets before dulcet landscapes. But even life among this aristocracy of the sensitive is not without complexities, with everyone trapped in their age-appropriate life-crises. Arden and Omar's flirtation is interrupted when his girlfriend (Alexandra Maria Lara) arrives; dashing, weak Omar, less self-willed than the average heroine of a 19th century marriage novel, hereafter recedes behind the women. Best is Linney, conquering scenes as the acrid and touching Caroline, her regal bitterness a shield against nostalgia, dressed Park Avenue–posh to drink alone. (Nick Pinkerton) (Playhouse, Royal, Town Center)

DEATH AT A FUNERAL It doesn't take much to improve the first Death at a Funeral, the flat Frank Oz–directed Britcom of 2007; a few tossed-off references to Jet and sickle-cell anemia will do it. Though the plot of Dean Craig's original script remains almost entirely intact (he receives the sole writer's credit), the tweaks by star-producer Chris Rock — who replaces the pallid ninnies of London with a mostly African-American extended clan gathered in Pasadena to say good-bye to a deceased patriarch — yield some particularly sharp specifics. Rock plays elder son Aaron, whose successful-writer younger brother, Ryan (Martin Lawrence), has made his riches off books titled Mama's Secret, Black Hurt and Rhonda's Tiny Box. Eulogizing Dad before learning about his life on the "waaaaay down-low" (Peter Dinklage reprises his role as the extorting secret boyfriend), Aaron refers to his father's "love of Golden Girls, especially when it went into syndication." But Rock's interventions can't compensate for excessive fealty to dumb gags involving watery poop and designer hallucinogens. Some cast members bring welcome controlled mania: Tracy Morgan, as a hypochondriacal friend of the family, further hones his logorrheic outbursts. Others, like Luke Wilson, as a scorned suitor of Zoe Saldana, are such null presences that they should have been in the original. (Melissa Anderson) (Citywide)

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GO  FIVE EASY PIECES Jack Nicholson — hair thinning, 33, a Hollywood scenester who by 1970 had seemingly missed his shot at being a star—became just that as Bobby Dupea, a Bakersfield oil-rig hand who spends free nights fooling around on his hash-house waitress girlfriend (Karen Black). Happier bowling a strike than playing Chopin, Bobby's a stalled Salinger-esque prodigy who can do both. Family matters bring him back to the boyhood home, on an island in Washington state, where the walls — a gallery of so-serious WASPs brooding in black-and-white — show the family pretensions he's disappointed. Equally uncomfortable in Buck Owens denim and Bergman turtleneck, Bobby relaxes his sneer for the "cracker assholes" he's been slumming with only to lash out at "pompous celibates" like the caricatured intellectuals his brother hosts (at least the crackers can have an honest good time). It was Easy Rider's success that greenlit Five Easy Pieces — but director Bob Rafelson and screenwriter Carole Eastman's film is totally human, trading Rider's counterculture mythopoetics for a study in the charisma of disdain (which Nicholson personifies) and how rebellion and loutishness are often indistinguishable (ditto), never excusing the pain Bobby causes. Set against the stillness of cinematographer László Kovács' luminous landscapes, now restored for the film's 40th anniversary, it's a great work of the Discover America Seventies. (Nick Pinkerton) (Nuart)

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