Critics Consensus

Critics Consensus: Benjamin Button Rewards the Curious; It's Bedtime for Bedtime Stories

Also, The Spirit is lacking, Valkyrie isn't all bad, Marley & Me falters, and Doubt is Certified Fresh

by | December 23, 2008 | Comments

This week at the movies, we’ve got a full slate of new flicks: Bedtime Stories, starring Adam Sandler and Keri Russell; The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett; Valkyrie, starring Tom Cruise and Kenneth Branagh; Marley & Me, starring Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston; and The Spirit, starring Gabriel Macht and Scarlett Johansson. What do the critics have to say?

In such films as Punch-Drunk Love and Reign Over Me, Adam Sandler has proven that his adolescent schtick isn’t the only note he can play. So critics are a bit disappointed with Bedtime Stories, in which the beloved funnyman attempts to make a comedy for all ages — and comes up with something that never fulfills its admittedly clever premise. Sandler stars as Skeeter, a handyman at a hotel who notices something strange: the bedtime stories he’s been telling his children have a tendency to come true. A tug-of-war between Skeeter’s attempts to use this strange power to his advantage — and his children’s additions to the stories — ensues. The pundits say Bedtime Stories may offer younger audiences some yucks, but the film’s overplotted and haphazard approach can’t sustain the laughs — or much dramatic interest. At 24 percent on the Tomatometer, it appears to be bedtime for Bedtime.

“This Tomatometer score is all your fault. I knew we should have gone with your brother.”

Taking a break from chronicling the dark side of humanity, David Fincher makes a foray into period fantasy melodrama with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. And the critics say the film presents a bold, if flawed, dreamworld. In this loose adaptation of an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story, Brad Pitt stars as a man who is born old and ages in reverse. This profoundly complicates his romance with Daisy (Cate Blanchett), as the two of them can only share love at a fleeting moment in the middle of their lives. While critics say the film is sometimes so taken with its own epic grandeur that it doesn’t quite register emotionally, Button is visually remarkable thanks to some groundbreaking special effects, and Pitt is admirably nuanced in the title role. At 74 percent on the Tomatometer, the Curious may want to check this one out. (And click here for our interview with screenwriter Eric Roth.)

“So this is what Australia looks like…”

After months of rumor, innuendo, and release-date switcheroos, Bryan Singer’s World War II thriller, Valkyrie, is finally hitting theaters. And the pundits say it’s certainly not the disaster that industry buzz might have portended; instead, it’s respectable, if not spectacular. Tom Cruise stars as Claus von Stauffenberg, the ringleader of a plot by German officers to assassinate Adolph Hitler. It may sound like a plodding procedural, but the critics say the film is well-constructed and sharply-paced, a respectable adaptation of a remarkable true story. However, others say the performances are something of a mixed bag, and a sense of anticlimax can weigh down even some of the sharper scenes. Valkyrie currently stands at 58 percent on the Tomatometer.

“No, Tom, you can’t wear the general’s uniform. Get over it.”

Pooch-lovers the world over will likely rejoice at the prospect of Marley and Me, since they get to see the antics of an adorable canine. However, critics say lovers of drama and comedy may find this one to be lacking. Based on John Grogan’s bestselling memoir, Marley and Me stars Owen Wilson as a newspaper columnist who, along with his wife Jenny (Jennifer Aniston) adopts a Labrador retriever as a trial run for parenthood. Unfortunately, the dog is ill-behaved, destroying the house and occasionally threatening the couple’s sanity despite maintaining some measure of lovability. The pundits say what worked on the page doesn’t translate to the screen, as complexity and nuance have been jettisoned in favor a light blend of comedy and drama that feels, well, dog-eared. At 40 percent on the Tomatometer, you may not want to fetch Marley and Me.

“Warmhearted dramedy or Viagra ad? You make the call.”

Frank Miller’s noir-ish aesthetic fueled such muscular visual treats as Sin City (which he co-directed with Robert Rodriguez) and 300. Now, he’s all alone in the director’s chair with The Spirit — and critics say the result is a big disappointment. Adapted from the Will Eisner comic strip, The Spirit follows the title character (Gabriel Macht) — a slain cop who returns from the grave to fight crime — as he tangles with the evil Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson). Negotiating the dark streets of Central City, our hero keeps running into a bevy of femme fatales (including Eva Mendes and Scarlett Johansson) with murky motives. The pundits say The Spirit‘s over-the-top characterizations could be forgiven in the right circumstances — see Sin City — but the movie is crafted with little regard for coherence, the performances are generally histrionic, and the whole enterprise verges on camp. At 29 percent on the Tomatometer, the scribes aren’t feeling The Spirit.

“I deserve better than this. I’m mother****in’ Sam Jackson!”

John Patrick Shanley has adapted his Pulitzer Prize-winning stage play Doubt to the screen, and critics say it’s a worthy showcase for some of the finest acting you’ll see this year. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Father Flynn, a priest trying to bring new life to the staid world of a Bronx Catholic school. However, Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep) is threatened by some of his changes — and that’s before she hears rumors that he’s been spending too much time with the school’s first African American student. The pundits say Doubt at times has a stagey, un-cinematic feel, but it’s more than redeemed by its air of moral ambiguity and outstanding performances; in addition to Streep and Hoffman, Viola Davis and Amy Adams have also earned high marks (and Golden Globes nods). Certified Fresh at 75 percent on the Tomatometer, there’s no Doubt this is a strong film. (Click here for RT’s interview with Davis.)

“So tell me more about this ‘Andalasia.'”

Also opening this week in limited release:

Recent Brad Pitt Movies:

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