This week at the movies, we’ve got a new take on the first Noel ("The Nativity Story," starring Keisha Castle-Hughes), endangered Americans in Brazil ("Turistas," starring Melissa George), and a hard partying expat ("Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj," starring Kal Penn). What do the critics have to say?
It may be based on The Greatest Story Ever Told, but critics say "The Nativity Story" is hardly the greatest movie ever made — or even a particularly good one. In case you need a refresher on the origins of the upcoming holiday that may be the occasion for you to receive a Playstation 3, "The Nativity Story" tells the tale of a teenager named Mary (Keisha Castle-Hughes) who is to give birth to the savior of mankind — all the while dealing with political persecution and lousy hotel service. Critics say the film is too safe (strange, given director Catherine Hardwicke‘s previous films about remarkable young people, "Thirteen" and "Lords of Dogtown"), adding little spark to the most inspirational (and familiar) of sagas. "The Nativity Story" currently stands at 26 percent on the Tomatometer.
"Turistas" continues a mini-trend in slasher films that began with "Hostel": arrogant Americans getting their comeuppance in foreign locales. In this case, a group of youngsters are terrorized in Brazil after they fall into the clutches of a mad organ harvester. While some critics have praised the film’s political undertones and better-than-average tension, most say "Turistas" adds little to a stale genre. At 38 percent on the Tomatometer, this tourist trap may be worth avoiding.
"Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj" was not screened for critics, which may indicate that it has the potential to sink like a stone with the scribes. (The original "Van Wilder" garnered a robust 17 percent.) Guess that Tomatometer.
Opening this week in limited release: "10 Items or Less," a laid-back romance starring Morgan Freeman and Paz Vega, is at 53 percent; "3 Needles," a globe-spanning drama about the toll of the AIDS virus, is at 33 percent; and "The Architect," a tale of two families in conflict over a public housing structure, is at 33 percent.
Notable Biblical Epics:
51% — The Passion of the Christ (2004)
80% — The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
88% — The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1965)
96% — Ben Hur (1959)
91% — The Ten Commandments (1956)