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Movie Reviews: Restrepo, Eyes Wide Open, The Sun Behind the Clouds 

Also, Knight and Day, Raavan, The Killer Inside Me and more

Thursday, Jun 24 2010
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GO  EYES WIDE OPEN The subject of gay Orthodox Jews isn't new to film, but it's typically the stuff of documentaries (2001's Trembling Before G-d, among others). So Haim Tabakman's feature directorial debut, Eyes Wide Open, deserves not just political points but artistic ones as well: Overused adjectives like "patient" and "understated" are perfectly justified here. The simple story of devout family man and Jerusalem butcher Aaron (Zohar Shtrauss), who falls from grace via a love affair with hired hand Ezri (Ran Danker), Eyes abstains from all forms of shouting, dramatic excess or third-act eruptions of tragic violence. There are a few missteps: Aaron's profession means a few too many symbolic shots of meat being cut, and Aaron and Ezri's exile from the community is too neatly paralleled by a parent-unapproved straight couple's similar shunning. Mostly, though, it wins with excellent performances: Shtrauss never overplays his character's internal tension, nor does Danker camp up his youthful virility. Cinematographer Alex Schneppat frames the film gorgeously, and Tabakman knows where the occasional showy effect can be inserted for emphasis. Not groundbreaking but definitely a cut above. (Vadim Rizov) (Sunset 5)

GROWN UPS You've probably seen the poster for Grown Ups, with its stars — Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, David Spade, Rob Schneider and Kevin James — barreling down a waterslide. Or is the verb I'm looking for "coasting"? Grown Ups begins with a flashback to a 1978 boys' basketball championship, where the starting five look like 12-year-old versions of the aforementioned lineup. We catch up with the teammates 30 years later, reunited for Coach's funeral in their New England hometown (helpfully identified onscreen as "New England"). Entrusted with Coach's ashes, the boys and their families head for their old summer-getaway lodge, where they sit in Adirondack chairs by a perpetually gold-shimmering lake. The guest list includes the urn, Rock's stock-comic mother-in-law, a dog with snipped vocal cords, five men, four wives and 10 kids. This small army becomes a gridlock of gags and plotlines, with conflicts and assigned traits dropped and hastily retrieved as needed. Maya Rudolph is the only capable comedienne among the wives, and the men are either unfunny or, if given fewer lines, useless. Though the uncynical goodwill that accompanies Sandler's work makes footing this vacation bill less enraging than the toxic Couples Retreat, it's one of those Sandler movies where the inevitable Steve Buscemi cameo passes for the highlight. While Sandler has never trafficked in epigrammatic wit, there's a difference between, say, Billy Madison's "Of course I peed my pants — everyone my age pees their pants," and this lazy stuff — the difference between smart dumb and plain dumb. (Nick Pinkerton) (Citywide)

JONAH HEX Bracingly inept, Chef Boyardee spaghetti Western Jonah Hex is the rare 80-minute movie that you can't even call "taut." Rather than teasing out curiosity about its outcast hero's past, Jonah pelts the viewer with clumps of exposition, including a hasty comic book–graphic origin montage illustrating the strange case of Hex (Josh Brolin), a former Confederate war machine whose near-death experience gave him the ability to talk to the departed — hardly utilized or meaningful, given the movie's fatuous killing. We catch up with Hex roaming the steam-punk Wild (Wild) West, now a heavy-ordinance bounty hunter with his face half-melted into a permanent growl, a reminder of the former commanding officer, Turnbull, who destroyed his life (played by John Malkovich, pulling his purring villain off the shelf). It's 1876, and guess who is plotting to construct a sort-of Doomsday Merrimack to sail into the Chesapeake Bay and level Washington, D.C., for President Grant's July 4th centenary address. Grudgingly tapped to save the Union, Jonah gets help from strategic Black Friend gadgeteer Lance Reddick and strumpet gal-pal Megan Fox, who looks like she's waiting for the invention of clear heels. Metal outfit Mastodon's sound-track riffs never lock down a groove with the image, interesting actors flit by barely used, and franchise ambitions quietly expire. (Nick Pinkerton) (Citywide)

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THE KILLER INSIDE ME The premise of The Killer Inside Me — directed by Michael Winterbottom from Jim Thompson's 1952 crime novel — could be summed up in a classified ad: Texas cop with pleasant boyish demeanor seeks compliant dames for sadistic sex games culminating in murder. Thompson's fearsome tale is recounted in the first person by a blatantly unreliable narrator. Foisting himself on the world as a gentlemanly, platitude-spouting Jimmy Stewart type, Lou Ford is less a character than an act. The ease with which the killer cop outwits the other characters is matched only by the apparent rationality with which this self-conscious psychopath explicates his increasingly brutal crimes. The Killer Inside Me isn't even so much a novel, let alone a thriller, as a vacuum that inexorably sucks the reader into a moral black hole. Perhaps this malign fiction could have been filmed in the manner of Isidore Isou's notorious Venom and Eternity — a black screen and an unending rant. Winterbottom's version is Classic Comics. The characters are stiffly drawn, the action is fastidiously staged, the production design is self-consciously retro. No shortage of cheap thrills, though: Lou (Casey Affleck) smiles affably as he stubs out his cigarette in a derelict's outstretched palm or sets about beating his adoring punching bags — a hot Grown Ups hooker (Jessica Alba) and a hard-faced schoolteacher (Kate Hudson) — until they're black-and-blue or (much, much) worse. Winterbottom's greatest asset is Affleck, convincing enough to keep The Killer Inside Me from being just a steamy, stylish, punishing bloodbath. (J. Hoberman) (Nuart)

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