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Film Reviews

BEERFEST Connoisseurs of le cinéma de Broken Lizard can take modest consolation that this ode to “cold, fresh joy” marks a distinct rebound for the Colgate University–spawned comedy troupe from the dregs of Club Dread and The Dukes of Hazzard. Here, a pair of brewski-loving brothers (Paul Soter and Erik Stolhanske) travel to Munich to scatter the ashes of their dear old dad (Donald Sutherland), where they stumble upon the titular Olympiad of inebriation — think The Saddest Music in the World without the music — and, after getting their asses whooped, vow revenge. Topped off with politically incorrect potshots at the Fatherland (characters escorted offscreen and shot; a jackboot-shaped stein) and an impressively idiotic litany of drinking games (beer pong, trick quarters, the line chug), Beerfest bubbles with the cheeky irreverence of early John Landis and David Zucker. Yet, like just about every other American screen comedy of the moment, it’s far too long in the tooth, with a scattershot final half-hour that seems the work of an editor battling a bad hangover. The Lizards are a likable bunch, but in the pantheon of pilsner-scented comic pleasure, Strange Brew’s immortal McKenzie brothers could chug them under the table with one liver tied behind their backs. (Citywide) (Scott Foundas)

BUZZ One of our hardest-boiled film noir screenwriters, the great but largely forgotten A.I. “Buzz” Bezzerides (Thieves’ Highway, Kiss Me Deadly, On Dangerous Ground) is the subject of this warm and wide-ranging documentary portrait by Greek filmmaker Spiro N. Taraviras. Shot between 1999 and 2002, Buzz finds the nonagenarian author alive and cantankerous, shuffling about a crumbling Schindler-designed home in the San Fernando Valley and recounting — in vibrant, sharp-edged detail — the good (and bad) old days. Much more than a career tribute, the movie covers Bezzerides’ youth as the son of a Greek-immigrant trucker, his ascent as a contract writer at Warner Bros. in the ’50s, his friendships with Faulkner and Bogart, and his premature professional demise at the hands of the McCarthy-era “graylist.” Bezzerides doesn’t mince words about an industry that has long treated writers like so much grist for the mill, and whose strong-arm tactics were eerily familiar to a hardscrabble prole versed in the ways of the criminal underworld. So rich and expansive is his tale that one film can barely contain it: Even at two full hours, Buzz skims over Bezzerides’ marriage to screenwriter (and avowed Communist) Sylvia Richards and his post-studio years, all of which Taraviras might have had more time for were he not so enamored of L.A. cityscapes and the trailers (shown in full, sometimes more than once) of just about every picture Bezzerides ever worked on. Still, the film’s power is undeniable, as a bittersweet valentine to Buzz and the many others who came to Hollywood and found a factory that produced dreams, yes, but nightmares too. (Fairfax) (Scott Foundas)

HOW TO EAT FRIED WORMS From the studio that brought you Snakes on a Plane comes this equally stomach-churning (in the best sense) adaptation of Thomas Rockwell’s beloved young-adult novel, with its evergreen message about the struggle to fit in and the danger of judging books by their covers. Set in one of those Anytown, USA suburbs where kids play unattended in the streets and all races and ethnicities live in placid harmony, Worms is the story of one Billy Forrester (Luke Benward) — the proverbial new kid on the block — and how his newness is sniffed out by the resident schoolyard bully, who in turn challenges the queasy Billy to a creepy-crawly test of prepubescent manhood: Eat 10 worms, cooked in a succession of inventively disgusting manners, in the course of a single day. From there, writer-director Bob Dolman (The Banger Sisters) kicks things into gross-out slapstick overdrive, and the movie is so cheerfully crude, in both its tone and its making (it favors garishly lit extreme close-ups), that you begin to wonder if it wasn’t just made for fifth-graders, but by them as well. That’s a compliment, of course. For Worms is one of those rare kiddie flicks that successfully adopt a child’s-eye view of the world, where nothing is more important than saving face on the playground and where parents are as distant and clueless as storybook giants. (Citywide) (Scott Foundas)

INVINCIBLE If the early scenes of Invincible are to be trusted, then, circa 1976, the life of a Philadelphia bartender and part-time schoolteacher named Vince Papale (Mark Wahlberg) was like one of those country songs about how I lost my job, my wife left me, and my damn car done broke down, except it was all real. Then, at the prodding of friends, Papale, who had only played a semester of high school football, attends an open tryout for the beleaguered Philadelphia Eagles — newly under the leadership of untested head coach Dick Vermeil (Greg Kinnear) — and makes the team, much to the chagrin of veterans and conventionally drafted rookies alike. It’s the story of two underdogs, really: Papale, who, at the age of 30, was already over-the-hill by pro-football standards; and Vermeil, who’d quit his coaching post at UCLA to head east, where he was greeted by notoriously prickly “Iggles” fans like a surfer dude who just walked into a biker bar. Released by Disney, which has made a cottage industry out of true-life sports stories in recent years, Invincible is stacked nosebleed high with blue-collar pride and inspirational homilies. But, like Miracle and Remember the Titans, it’s rooted in a keen understanding of sports as popular religion, so that Vince’s personal victory becomes a communal one, for a nation — or at least a few blocks of South Philly — uneasily transitioning into its third century. (The movie’s backdrop is labor strikes, the energy crisis, and the still-blistering wounds of Vietnam and Watergate.) Directed by noted cinematographer Ericson Core, who also shot the picture, Invincible looks great, bathed in rich, earthen hues that make every scene seem to be taking place at dusk, and the football sequences — set in a CGI-reconstructed Veterans Stadium — have a knee-tearing verisimilitude. (It’s one of only four movies ever made with the official support of the NFL.) Unlike most D.P.s-turned-directors, Core has a touch with actors, too, and there are surprisingly fine performances here, from Wahlberg (who has rarely been so ideally cast), Kinnear (who nails Vermeil’s mix of California cool and coachly authority) and the consistently impressive Elizabeth Banks (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Heights, Slither), who transforms a potentially throwaway love-interest role into a resonant sketch of a wounded romantic on the rebound. (Citywide) (Scott Foundas)

SNAKES ON A PLANE Seen at its first public screening at Hollywood’s Chinese Theater, Snakes was the most exuberantly trashy delight of this summer movie season — and affirmation that there’s no screen actor today who engenders more immediate audience good will than Samuel L. Jackson. But I make no claims for how the film will play three or four weeks out, in the basement of some overcrowded multiplex: Try that at your own peril. Directed by David R. Ellis from a script by John Heffernan and Sebastian Gutierrez, the movie isn’t entirely in on its own joke in the way of the greatest scary-funny creep-out pictures, but it’s the closest thing to a down-and-dirty exploitation quickie Hollywood has churned out in years, and a potent anti-venom to the ever more self-important summer blockbusters with their ballooning budgets and poisonously long running times. Watching the eponymous reptiles slither their way up cabin and down (sometimes with the benefit of green-tinted snake-o-vision), striking at anything and everything that moves, is crass, senseless fun, as is the movie’s inevitable, retributory second half: When Sam Attacks. For the complete review, visit www.laweekly.com/film. (Citywide) (Scott Foundas)