BRIDE WARS Or, the mirror opposite of Rachel Getting Married, in which Anne Hathaway played a grungy, irritaining maid of honor fresh out of rehab. In this shiny sitcom pilot that looks like something yanked from NBC’s shelves circa 1989, Hathaway is back to bright smiles and dewy eyes as schoolmarm Emma, who, with lifelong galpal Liv (Kate Hudson), has always dreamed of a June wedding at the Plaza. Alas, a scheduling snafu means both brides-to-be have to share the date, which, solely for the purpose of an 88-minute film that feels as though it’ll last till July, they refuse to do. Hence all manner of juvenile hijinks (Liv dyes Emma’s skin orange; Emma streaks Liv’s hair blue) that linger till the icky “I do”s (or do they?). A step backward for Hathaway, Bride Wars is one more step into the quicksand for Hudson, who’s spent the nine years since Almost Famous wandering the rom-com wasteland in search of an exit strategy; this movie, which she exec produced, ain’t it. The biggest giggle comes in the opening credits: Cinematography by Frederick Elmes, best known for working with David Lynch and Jim Jarmusch. Really, Fred? Really? (Citywide) (Robert Wilonsky)
NOT EASILY BROKEN Would that the sparring spouses of Revolutionary Road had only thought to turn to the Lord for help; it would have solved all of their pesky problems. Such is the lesson to be taken from Not Easily Broken, the second feature film (after 2004’s Woman Thou Art Loosed) adapted from the novels of Dallas televangelist T.D. Jakes. Directed by actor Bill Duke (whose erratic behind-the-camera career has ranged from the searing neonoir Deep Cover to the altacocker crowd-pleaser The Cemetery Club), Not Easily Broken begins in 1995 with the wedding of pro-baseball player Dave (Morris Chestnut) and upwardly mobile real estate agent Clarice (Benjamin Button’s Taraji P. Henson), then catches up to the present, where a knee injury has sidelined Dave into a contracting career and Clarice’s taste for luxury finds the couple living well beyond their means. It’s not long before the strands of their union begin to fray, abetted by a car accident that leaves Clarice with a mangled leg to complement Dave’s metaphorical knee. Tragedy lurks around every bend here, along with the requisite quotient of meddling mothers-in-law, derelict baby-daddies and Nordic-looking white temptresses — all of it played to the rafters for an unsteady mixture of Sirkian melodrama and “You go, girl!”/“Oh, no, he didn’t!” empowerment fable. These resourceful actors — to say nothing of the audience — deserve better. “Don’t go all Waiting to Exhale on me,” advises one of Clarice’s soul sisters late in the film. If only. (Citywide) (Scott Foundas).
TRACING COWBOYS The actors and screenplay of Tracing Cowboys are upstaged by the cinematography of David Morrison, who shot the movie on HD. Whether it’s the staggering expanse of the Mexican landscape or close-ups on weathered faces, Morrison’s handiwork gives Tracing a meditative beauty. The rest of director Jason Wulfsohn’s sophomore feature, inspired by and constantly referencing John Ford’s The Searchers, is a little less successful. Struggling country singer Ethan (Sacha Grunpeter, who also wrote the script) and amateur photographer Debi (Megan Charlotte Edwards) are an oil-and-water couple, alternating lovemaking with fiery battles. When Debi impetuously takes off to Mexico, Ethan follows, using as his guide the photos mailed back from Debi’s route. The slow-moving, fractured tale is told in flashbacks that seamlessly mingle with the present, making for confusing if gorgeous viewing. The romanticized depiction of Mexicans (stoic, filled with wisdom) veers toward patronizing, but what drags the film down is Debi’s voice-over, filled with clichéd philosophizing (“I guess you can be standing next to someone and still feel alone”). Press notes reveal that the narration was added after Grunpeter died, just before the film’s completion. His loss adds to Tracing Cowboys a layer of melancholy that the film actually earns in the third act, when Ethan meets Debi in an unexpected way, and his past is revealed to the audience for a very moving ending. (Downtown Independent) (Ernest Hardy)
THE UNBORN As it forges ahead without explanations, The Unborn works in its way, as a series of snap-cut gotchas introducing each new contestant in its pageant of cold-sweat set pieces. Often, this involves starlet Odette Yustman approaching some obscured, inevitably terrifying figure from behind, very … very … slowly. Yustman plays Casey, a well-heeled young suburbanite who’s been having bad dreams. The night terrors begin to infest her waking life when, while babysitting one of those whey-faced grade-schoolers who populate modern horror films as if by quota, the kiddie cryptically intones: “Jumby wants to be born now.” Trying to figure out what that means leads Casey and The Unborn into a thicket of exposition involving suicided mothers, Nazi mad geneticists and kabbalah/Jewish folklore. The titular reference to from-the-womb haunting is only an afterthought; The Unborn more fully belongs to the durable exorcism subgenre, complete with a climactic exorcism-by-committee that plays like a pandenominational, PC update of TheExorcist’s implicit verification of Catholicism’s One True Faith. Tune out the battle royale bombast, and start wondering where to eat after the movie. (Citywide) (Nick Pinkerton)
YONKERS JOE Yonkers Joe (Chazz Palminteri) is an old-school gambler who scams Atlantic City casinos, dances on the brink of commitment with his lovely accomplice, Janice (Christine Lahti), and fends off responsibility for his severely autistic teenage son, Joe Jr. (Tom Guiry). In terms of inspiration, Yonkers Joe (directed by Robert Celestino) breaks about even with its eponym. In the film’s most animated sequences, Joe and his crew are like a troupe of crooked magicians, out-dazzling each other with new tricks and devices, always looking not just for the biggest payout but the most elaborate dupe. When Joe Jr. ages out of his treatment facility, Joe contemplates a risky pull, one that will yield enough money to send the boy to a home where the walls are perhaps padded with cashmere. The trio ends up in Vegas, where Janice’s diligent affection toward Joe Jr. backfires in the worst way imaginable, and the latter redeems himself by entering into his father’s hustling fray. Lahti burns through a thinly written role with a surprising level of warmth and humanity, and Guiry is at times repellently convincing as a kid genetically incapable of either nuance or fakery. Palminteri, though, looks tired of twitching his shoulders and working a pompadour in two-bit roles like this. (Music Hall; Sunset 5) (Michelle Orange)