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DOOMSDAY Remember that scene in The Warriors where the Turnbull ACs chase the heroes in a pimped-out bus? Whoa! And remember that part in Escape From New York where Snake Plissken pulls the switcheroo on the commander in chief? Cool! How about that showdown in The Road Warrior with all the modified hot rods? And the fast zombies from 28 Days Later, and the death-match arena from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, and Excalibur, and Streets of Fire, and Army of Darkness, and, and … and so writer-director Neil Marshall (The Descent) cobbles together his third feature, in the manner of a junk-food glutton topping a pizza with French onion dip, ice cream and four bags of Cool Ranch Doritos. Actually, it’s a fascinating conundrum: How can a filmmaker take can’t-miss elements from a DVD stash of superior mayhem, smash ’em all together and not end up with the most! freakin’! awesomest! movie! of all! goddamn! time! How? By not creating a single memorable character, decent line, or moment that wasn’t lifted from its context in a better movie. You almost have to credit Marshall for the rampaging senselessness of this contraption, which sends a lithe ass-kicker (Rhona Mitra) into plague-ravaged, walled-off 2035 Scotland to fetch a possible antidote: Somehow the director wedges in pus-spurting ghouls, club-wielding punks, human cookouts, motorcycle chases, knights in armor and gladiator fights, while breezing past matters as trivial as the plenitude of gas in this postapocalyptic wasteland. I still believe with all my heart that no movie with real car stunts, a tough-chick hero, and a severed head that thunks directly into the camera can be all bad. But this is pushing it. (Citywide) (Jim Ridley)

Suzanne Hanover

Drillbit Taylor

Mystery man: Paris in his prime

 
DRILLBIT TAYLOR Rare is the star vehicle that is as poorly matched to its star as Drillbit Taylor, which casts Owen Wilson as a homeless Army deserter and con man, able to fool people into believing he’s both a substitute teacher and a master of hand-to-hand combat. It’s a part that requires bluster, but Wilson’s laid-back delivery just doesn’t pass muster. It’s easy to believe he’d be homeless and lounging around the beaches of Santa Monica all day, but impossible to buy him as an ass-kicker — or believe that anyone else would. Shame, too, because Drillbit Taylor is pretty good in almost every other respect. Were this just about the high-school freshmen — overweight and foulmouthed Ryan (Troy Gentile, the young Jack Black in both Tenacious D and Nacho Libre), scrawny stepchild Wade (Unfabulous’ Nate Hartley) and über-dorky Emmit (scary Ring kid David Dorfman, now pubescent) — who hire the title character as their bodyguard, it could have been a real charmer. (Citywide) (Luke Y. Thompson) 

 
GO  FIGHTING FOR LIFE Only as political as you want it to be, Fighting for Life excises context to focus on a single wartime relationship: that of soldiers getting broken into bits and the surgeons who stitch them together again. At Maryland’s Uniformed Services University, would-be Clara Bartons follow a combat-specialized curriculum that’s graduated a full quarter of current frontline practitioners. Meanwhile, America’s overseas ventures feed broken bodies through a chain of hospitals, from the MASH units in full mortar range to Germany’s Ramstein Air Base, then back home for reconstruction and rehab. Following the routing of casualties, one sees a full textbook of ways that the human body can be torn, blasted or blistered by bullets and (far more frequently) IEDs. Director Terry Sanders’ goal of comprehensiveness and some bad sequencing prevent the film from achieving the ringing purity of John Huston’s post–WWII doc Let There Be Light. But Fighting’s murky images of the maimed — soldiers, Iraqi and American; a 5-year-old, badly burned — are staggeringly affecting. Returning to the USU campus is a diluting digression, though in surer hands, the class’ simulated mass-casualty situation, replete with ghoulish prosthetic wounds, might’ve been a masterpiece. (Sunset 5) (Nick Pinkerton)

 
GO  THE GRAND As the convergence of two cooling trends — poker and the comic mock-doc — this largely improvised comedy set at a Texas hold-’em championship is itself somewhat the victim of a bum deal. Even so, it’s played all-in: Director/co-writer Zak Penn (Incident at Loch Ness) has a lot of affection for his screwy characters, and he has a cast worth watching even when the plot’s held captive by unexciting card play. Continuing his own recent streak of superior work, Woody Harrelson plays the drug-casualty owner of a failing Vegas casino, who pins his hopes on the tournament’s winner-take-all $10 million pot. Standing between him and the loot are an expert ensemble at the top of their game — everyone from Cheryl Hines and David Cross as rival siblings to Werner Herzog as a brass-knuckled, bunny-stroking nut known as “the German.” Studded with guest stars (Ray Romano, Mike Epps, Hank Azaria), real-life poker champs (Doyle Brunson, Phil Laak, Celebrity Poker Showdown co-host Phil Gordon) and lots of quotable lines, The Grand forms a diverting time capsule of the early-century poker bubble — that moment when the game was dragged out of the backrooms into prime time, its daylight-challenged top guns became mainstream celebrities, and the Net raked fish into the nets of five-card predators. (AMC Loews Broadway) (Jim Ridley)

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THE HAMMER Former Loveline and The Man Show cohost Adam Carolla brings his self-deprecating, improvisational, regular-dude deadpan — as well as his former Golden Gloves status — to this semiautobiographical comedy with ambitions so low that one might call it charmingly mediocre. Carolla’s sitcom-grade doppelgänger is Jerry Ferro, a once-promising southpaw with the titular nickname, who quit boxing for a life of menial construction jobs and a girlfriend who loathes him. After a ludicrous sparring match against a beefy up-and-comer, the unfit 40-year-old tries for one last shot at Olympic glory, and Carolla tries to sell us on the mustiest of underdog premises. Directed by Charles Herman-Wurmfeld (Kissing Jessica Stein) and written by longtime Carolla producer Kevin Hench, the film is essentially Rocky in a lighter weight class, with snarky barbs, a wacky Nicaraguan sidekick (Oswaldo Castillo) and a too-good-to-be-true love interest (Heather Juergensen, Hench’s wife and she who smooched Jessica Stein). With collaborators like these, it’s surprising the film doesn’t feature lesbians jumping on trampolines too. (AMC Burbank Town Center 8; Monica 4-Plex; Playhouse 7; Sunset 5) (Aaron Hillis)

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NANA Ai Yazawa’s popular manga series Nana, now in its ninth volume in English translation, has a structural gimmick that frees this observant chronicle of Byronic aspiring musicians and art students in Tokyo from most of the usual J-soap contrivances: Two girls with sharply contrasting personalities — one grim and rebellious, the other chirpy and optimistic — share a seat on a train and are so struck by the fact that they are both named Nana that they become roommates of convenience and then loyal friends. In real life, of course, spiky budding rock star Nana Osaki (Mika Nakashima) and the bubbly Nana Komatsu (Aoi Miyazaki) would never get within a hundred miles of becoming buddies. (Komatsu is so eager to please that she is quickly dubbed “Hachi,” after the most famous loyal puppy dog in Japanese pop mythology.) The premise that ropes the girls together is also wishfully calculated to make their differences seem superficial. And in fact, despite its large number of moody, brooding characters, Nana is a feel-good film, promoting an unconvincing brand of live-and-let-live optimism — an effect mitigated somewhat when the supposedly angry music made by Osaki and her leather-clad bandmates turns out to be fairly mild, growly, fake-defiant power pop. Director Kentarô Ôtani gives the movie a bright, clean, friendly look that might have been art-directed by Hachi herself. Despite the gritty urban setting, there are episodes of Gilmore Girls that have more “edge.” (ImaginAsian Center) (David Chute)

PLANET B-BOY True story: In fourth grade, a nun gave me and a friend detention for breakdancing, squashing whatever dreams two guilt-stricken Catholic-school twerps may have had of becoming future b-boys. Maybe it was for the best, given how notoriety and financial reward are hard to come by in the world of b-boying, a reality illuminated by Benson Lee’s documentary, which weaves the stories of numerous crews from 18 nations vying in the Battle of the Year championship in Braunschweig, Germany. Lee pays little attention to the roots of breakdancing or how it helped to spread hip-hop worldwide, choosing instead to obsess over the mad skillz of his international subjects. The b-boys’ whirling legs and arms sustain one’s interest, but only Teams Korea and France get ample face time, the former for incorporating its country’s divisive politics into the choreography, and the latter for having a lily-white shorty in its ragtag crew. The flashes of human interest are welcome, but what most sticks is Planet B-Boy’s aesthetic, which feels jocked from the school of Michael Moore and runs counter to one b-boy’s gripe about breakdancing being co-opted by mainstream America back in the day. (Nuart) (Ed Gonzalez)

 
SHUTTER Toshio, that malicious, pale little boy from The Grudge, will follow you home with his pissed-off mother in tow and maybe rip your jaw off. Ringu’s watery witch Sadako will reach out from your TV set and paralyze you with her stare of doom. Megumi (Megumi Okina), the roving angry spirit at the center of Shutter, will shoot you icy looks from afar and ruin your wedding photos. Oh, and give you a shoulder cramp. Scared yet? Jane Shaw (Rachael Taylor, the blonde-bombshell hacker from Transformers) sure is — so terrified that she occasionally forgets she’s supposed to have an American accent. And yet, if the ghost never actually hurts her, why should we care? A newlywed in Japan alongside jet-setting photographer hubby Ben (Joshua Jackson), Jane first encounters Megumi on a lonely country road, and in several visions and blurred photos thereafter. . .but nothing really happens until about an hour into the movie, by which point it isn’t long before the inevitable series of fake-out endings and obvious “twists” kick in. Ostensibly a remake of a Thai film — by a Japanese director with a Hollywood cast — Shutter plays more like a video copy of The Ring that’s become so degraded that all the good bits are no longer visible. (Citywide) (Luke Y. Thompson)

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FILM PICK  'TIS AUTUMN: THE SEARCH FOR JACKIE PARIS Jackie Paris is a name long relegated to the memories of record collectors and jazz columnists; ’Tis Autumn modestly attempts to correct this fact. Paris was a Jersey-bred Italian-American bebop vocalist who spent the ’50s at the gates of full-blown superstardom without ever passing through, though he relentlessly gigged 52nd Street, recorded with Mingus and Hawkins, toured with Parker, even opened for Lenny Bruce. Fan and filmmaker Raymond De Felitta (Two Family House) discovers that his man — whom he’d thought deceased on the basis of on old reference works — has just returned to playing club dates in 2004, at age 79. Living in comfortable marginality, frail but well-preserved and entirely with it, Paris seems perfect in so many ways: his poise, his name (real), his Park Avenue South apartment, and that voice, which sumptuously upholsters every lyric (copious album selections and “comeback” live footage are given breathing room, allowing noninitiates a sampler). The film, by contrast, is unkempt and sometimes awkward — a homely, homemade labor of love that’s loosely structured as an investigative procedural. Admirers, relatives, ex-wives, and Paris himself are interviewed; the recurring question: What kept Paris from the top? The answers provided rarely qualify as revelation, but this affectionate portrait distinguishes itself from the ongoing epidemic of musician docs by mere virtue of staking out ground that hasn’t already been thoroughly tilled. (Grande 4-Plex) (Nick Pinkerton)

 
GO TYLER PERRY’S MEET THE BROWNS  Prolific filmmaker-mogul Tyler Perry’s fifth feature since 2005’s Diary of a Mad Black Woman (his sixth is already scheduled for a September release) is surprisingly half-decent — surprising because Perry’s not about to switch up his hardly revelatory but consistently bankable box-office signature: African-American familial drama, complete with soapy romance, broadly farcical supporting roles, and motivational Christian principles. Finding a positive, progressive tone in what would ordinarily be played as woe-is-me melodrama, Meet the Browns is the story of single mother-of-three Brenda (Angela Bassett, the film’s soul and highlight), an inner-city Chicago woman of tireless integrity who remains strong even after being laid off: “One thing a black woman know how to do is make it.” Keeping her head up when she and the kids travel to Georgia to attend her long-estranged father’s funeral, Brenda makes earnest efforts to refuse handouts from the eccentric extended family she’s just gained — as well as romantic advances from the amateur b-ball scout (Rick Fox) who may or may not want to cash in on her talented son. Unlike Diary, the drama here is buoyant enough to handle the contrast of its too-silly slapstick; Perry’s pot-smoking granny Madea only turns up in cameo, fortunately, but David Mann’s leisure-suited buffoon Leroy may be too shrill for those Perry has yet to convert. (Citywide) (Aaron Hillis)

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UNDER THE SAME MOON Firing off a deluge of immigrant-hardship vignettes with the thudding consistency of a tennis-ball machine, Under the Same Moon presents a genre somewhat at odds with itself: the gritty fable. Last year’s The Italian, another story of a small boy’s picaresque search for his mother, struck a balance between the awful and the wondrous by surrounding the hero with a whiff of Grimm grotesque, in which it was hard to tell the truly strange from the general strangeness of being a child. Director Patricia Riggen’s tone is too gauzy to cohere the perspectives of 9-year-old Mexican Carlitos (Adrían Alonso), who crosses the border alone when his grandmother dies, and his mother, Rosario (Kate del Castillo), a Los Angeles maid who hasn’t been home in four years. Many of the scenarios don’t translate the immediacy of Carlitos’ jeopardy or Rosario’s heartache (the border trauma, the Bel Air bitches, the ICE raids), recalling instead distractingly similar moments in films like Babel and Fast Food Nation. Alonso, an expressive, ingratiating actor, develops a textbook rapport with Enrique (Eugenio Derbez), a grizzled illegal whom he drafts as an escort, but the duo’s travels never gain a traction of their own, and the film’s destination feels overdetermined despite its sweetness. (Selected theaters) (Michelle Orange)