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Movie Reviews: The Final Destination, Halloween II, World's Greatest Dad

CLOUD 9 Seamstress Inge (Ursula Werner), professorial husband Karl (Horst Westphal), and silver fox Werner (Horst Rehberg) form a Berlin love triangle with more than 200 collective years of experience. She strikes up the affair after hand-delivering a pair of pants, and, within minutes, their living room–floor intimacy goes beyond whether Werner dresses left or right. Rather than a tale of geriatric groove-getting, German director Andreas Dresen’s film dwells on Inge’s ambivalent compartmentalizing: She’s in love with her reliable companion of three decades, yet newly contented with her escape from routine, and demurring when pressed about her intentions. German theater veterans, the age-appropriate actors improvised their dialogue but often accomplish more through silence and the eloquence of their old faces. The psychology is rudimentary, however, and Werner the caring Other Man is little more than a sketch, a hale figure out of a prescription-drug ad. Inge’s vacillations are mechanically interspersed with her participation in a choir and family gatherings. Besides the frank, blithe sex scenes, a melodramatic ending aims to banish any last hope of gemütlichkeit, but the film comes to feel curiously incomplete, like one long, fretful afternoon. (Royal; Playhouse 7; Town Center 5) (Nicolas Rapold)

THE FINAL DESTINATION Fatality lurks around every ceiling fan, shampoo bottle and espresso machine in the fourth entry in New Line Cinema’s improbably long-running death-by-misadventure franchise, focused on yet another group of friends who narrowly escape a catastrophic accident only to learn the hard way that when your number’s up, it really is up. The Grim Reaper seems to have taken a hit from the lean economic times, judging from The Final Destination’s el cheapo Canada-as-Anytown, USA, production values and sub–One Tree Hill cast; but as usual, all that is merely fuel for the series’ signature domino-effect death scenes, here rendered in shlock-o-riffic 3-D by director David R. Ellis (Final Destination 2, Snakes on a Plane), bringing all manner of bodily impalement and dismemberment as close as the butter on your popcorn. Ellis and screenwriter Eric Bress even go all meta on us with an Inglourious Basterds–esque finale set inside a 3D cinema, though their set pieces never quite muster the giddy brio of Final Destination 1 and 3 auteur James Wong at his best. They come close, however, in what I’m fairly certain is the silver screen’s first episode of pool-drain disembowelment. And to think people say there are no fresh ideas in Hollywood anymore. (Citywide) (Scott Foundas)

FIVE MINUTES OF HEAVEN Guy Hibbert’s novel-writing process for Five Minutes of Heaven is an interesting experiment. In 1975, Ulster Alistair Little killed Catholic Joe Griffen’s brother; decades later, Alistair and Griffen unburdened themselves to Hibbert about the event and speculated on what would happen if they ever met. (They never did.) Then, Hibbert wrote this movie. He and director Oliver Hirschbiegel use the killing itself as a starting point in an atmospheric prologue. The production design is spot-on, but Hirschbiegel tries way too hard to create tension, making every occurrence — a record needle dropping, a car door slamming — an unsubtle potential bomb, fraying your nerves like a cheap horror movie. The next two acts are hypotheticals: Little (Liam Neeson) and Griffen (James Nesbitt) almost meet 25 years after the shooting, while taping a BBC program about reconciliation, but Griffen backs out at the last second. This near-brush plays out as a bad one-act play, with internal monologues on both sides; Neeson’s too calmly patrician to convey Little’s real inner turmoil, though Nesbitt’s Griffen is hilariously splenetic. It’s a hell of a show when he goes off, but nothing can be done with lines like, “That’s the trouble with me. I have all the wrong feelings.” Then, finally, there’s the physical confrontation, which plays like a bone-crunching and foley’d-out fight scene from the Bourne series. The three parts never coalesce, even if they all have potential. (Nuart) (Vadim Rizov) 

HALLOWEEN II Serial killer Michael Myers, it turns out, has mother issues. In this disappointing sequel to his intense and much underrated 2007 remake of John Carpenter’s 1978 classic, Halloween, rock star turned filmmaker Rob Zombie sends Michael (Tyler Mane) on another killing spree at the urging of his now-dead mom (Sheri Moon Zombie), who appears (all too frequently) as a beckoning ghost standing next to a white horse. Once again, Michael hunts baby-sitter extraordinaire Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton), who’s living, one year after the first film’s murders, with the town sheriff (Brad Dourif). In his 2007 movie, Zombie dug deep into Michael’s screwed-up, white-trash family history, a process which humanized Michael and made his subsequent brutality all the more unsettling. This time, Zombie doesn’t appear to have many deep thoughts, so Michael doesn’t just stab his victims, he slices and chomps them into gooey pulp — an overkill motif that actually feels false to the character and quickly becomes a depressing bore. As evidenced by his previous Halloween flick and 2005’s astonishing (and irredeemably brutal) The Devil’s Rejects, Zombie has talent to burn, but he’s slumming here, and one suspects that he knows it. (Citywide) (Chuck Wilson)

 

THE OPEN ROAD Justin Timberlake cuts such a cocky, carefree figure in his videos and on Saturday Night Live that it’s surprising (not to mention physically uncomfortable) to watch him struggle through The Open Road, a weak pulse of a father-and-son road drama. Timberlake plays Carlton, a slumping Texas minor-league ballplayer whose ailing mother (Mary Steenburgen) asks him to track down his estranged father, Kyle “Lone Star” Garrett (Jeff Bridges), a celebrated retired slugger who spends his time charming fans at conventions and uttering Dan Rather–worthy down-home expressions like “That girl’s finer than the hair on a frog.” With his supportive ex-girlfriend Lucy (Kate Mara) by his side, Carlton flies to Ohio to retrieve dad, but complications force the trio to drive back to Texas, which provides many opportunities for random conflicts and heartfelt conversations — and for viewers to check their watches. Unceremoniously dumped into theaters without advance screenings, The Open Road isn’t an unwatchable howler — instead, writer-director Michael Meredith’s film is merely dull and obvious. As for Timberlake, his success as a pop star is attributable to his graceful nonchalance, which registers as awkward shallowness when set against The Open Road’s leaden, earnest conventionality. Even worse, only one of the two male leads sings during the film — and it’s not J.T. (Sunset 5) (Tim Grierson)

ORGIES AND THE MEANING OF LIFE To maintain erections while bedding a succession of women, Baxter (played by writer-director Brad T. Gottfred) fantasizes that he’s surrounded by a bevy of sexually compliant partners from his past, including his strap-on wearing ex-wife, who sodomizes him. These imagined orgies aren’t just about orgasm, however, they’re part of Baxter’s quest to resolve his existential angst. Working with the earnestness and philosophical depth of an undergrad film student, Gottfred (a sexy, average-Joe type) blends familiar tropes: the struggling writer trying to get past a mental block; the son trying to wiggle out of the shadow of an overbearing religious father; the male artist forcing the roles of muse and savior on the women in his life. The sum isn’t freshness; it’s tedium. Dialogue ranges from exposition-heavy to cutesy (“I think I’m stalking you. Please stalk me back”), while the performances are little better. Orgies’ lone strength are its animated sequences, in which Baxter’s stick-figure stand-in embarks on a quest to find a portal into the 3-D world. Though the symbolism is heavy-handed and the writing as clichéd as in the live-action scenes, these interludes have an energy and poignancy otherwise lacking in the film. (Grande 4-Plex) (Ernest Hardy)

PLAY THE GAME In 2007, Waitress established that octogenarian TV legend Andy Griffith still had game as a sly charmer, but Marc Fienberg’s poky romcom does his legacy no favors by casting Griffith as an accidentally subversive caricature of his Mayberry prime. “Grandpa’s horny,” declares Griffith’s lonely widow Joe with sitcom believability, and, in a parallel twist on boob-tube history, his estranged son is played by Ron Howard’s goofy brother, Clint. But this Lifetime-ready comedy is hardly provocative — let alone perceptive, funny or fresh — so the respect Fienberg might’ve earned for addressing the love lives of the elderly is squashed by its insipid A plot, in which Joe’s playboy grandson, David (Paul Campbell), must learn to grow up and stop single-mindedly chasing pussy. The young pick-up artist teaches the old dog some gimmicky tricks, buying his gramps a baby blue tracksuit and backward baseball cap, and offering him piggish formulas that begin like: “Step 1 ... reconnaissance.” The reversal is predictable: David suddenly schemes for monogamous companionship with characterless cutie, Julie (Marla Sokoloff), while Joe pops Viagra and humps half the retirement home. We’re thankfully only treated to a chaste closeup of Griffith’s doughy puppet face as he’s getting head — think Avenue Q. (Music Hall; Town Center 5) (Aaron Hillis)

THIS BEAUTIFUL CITY Beware films in which characters have been saddled with ironic names: in Toronto playwright Ed Gass-Donnelly’s multihyphenate debut feature, This Beautiful City, Kristin Booth plays a perpetually wasted prostitute named Pretty. Along with her strung-out boyfriend Johnny (Aaron Poole), Pretty occupies the lowest rung of Toronto’s social ladder, but, as Gass-Donnelly’s script (adapted from his own play Descent) labors to illustrate, a loftier economic perch is no guarantor of happiness, either. The film’s first act finds Johnny and Pretty bearing witness to the maybe-accidental balcony plunge of condo-frau Carol (Caroline Cave), previously seen bitching at her husband, Harry (Noam Jenkins) — the implication being that this well-manicured young woman opted for suicide over one more day in upscale-young-married hell. But Carol survives and the film continues, with the two couples brought into each others’ orbit through a series of elaborate (and generally predictable) narrative contrivances. After establishing at length that we’re dealing with spectacularly damaged people (but, of course: This is a Canadian drama) the plot works itself into a melodramatic lather of anguished breakups, cross-caste hookups and looming violence, shot in a ragged blur of super 16mm — that tired, ersatz signifier of urban “reality.” The only real notes of authenticity are struck by the actors, and even then, only on the distaff side. Booth — last seen as one of the Young People Fucking — plays against her looks without descending into grotesquerie, while Cave, playing a woman in the midst of a troubled convalescence (as she did in David Christensen’s excellent Six Figures), gives a physically fearless performance. (Grande 4-Plex) (Adam Nayman)

 

GO  WORLD’S GREATEST DAD Playing dark, Robin Williams has developed the burly insecurity and gargoyle frown of damned Edward G. Robinson in Fritz Lang’s Scarlet Street — with World’s Greatest Dad, he almost has the movie to match. Lance (Williams) is an unpublished serial novelist and an unpopular poetry teacher at the same high school attended by the son, Kyle (Daryl Sabara), he is raising alone, who incarnates every nightmare of downloaded premature debauchery, a physical virgin and Caligula of the mind. Sabara, whose few scenes of abject irredeemability leave a lingering stain on the movie, is point man for a perfect cast, with the standouts including his lone, sallow school friend Evan Martin, and Henry Simmons as an alpha-male teacher and unflattering contrast to Lance. The particular stew of midlife and pubescent despair that clogs a single-father male-child household has rarely been achieved so well: Lance’s parental tough love is a trailed-off “ahh ...” The details of leftover dinosaur-themed wallpaper (unnoticed as it peels) and the dirty sneaker prints on the glove compartment are enough to convince that screenwriter-director Bobcat Goldthwait knows his stuff. His cringer lands improbably on its feet after every reckless plot turn — involving autoerotic asphyxiation and fraudulent authorship — all the way until an over-fondness for music montage fells it in the last reel. (The Landmark; Sunset 5; Playhouse 7; Town Center 5) (Nick Pinkerton)

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