This week’s wide releases share a theme of Escape. Escape from The Game, escape from the bottom of the Little League standings, escape from a futuristic Philip K. Dick-esque dystopian island, and escape from a family of murderous weirdos. Which of these films will escape the wrath of the critics?
Although he’s never (and I mean never) been a critics’ darling, give Michael Bay some credit: when he’s on, in films like "The Rock," he creates unabashed, gloriously exciting spectacles. And he’s filled his casts with interesting actors who have more than a little indie cred, from Billy Bob Thornton to Owen Wilson to Steve Buscemi, and now, Scarlett Johansson. "The Island," which also stars Ewan McGregor, tells the story of a futuristic utopian colony with a dark secret. But while some critics have lauded the film as Bay’s most thoughtful and intriguing, others say it’s just another big, loud summer flick. At 44 percent on the Tomatometer, this "Island" may not be worth a visit. Still, it’s his best-reviewed film in a decade, as 1996’s "The Rock" (which featured another notable island, Alcatraz) scored 61 percent.
Speaking of Mr. Thornton, he’s got a new flick of his own, although "new" isn’t the best way to describe "Bad News Bears." It’s a remake, and the source material has been cribbed with stunning regularity (see "Rebound" and "Kicking and Screaming" for this year’s examples). Critics say that while director Richard Linklater has maintained some of the cheerful crassness of the original, he hasn’t generated enough freshness to let it stand on its own. At 55 percent on the Tomatometer, these "Bears" are in a serious slump. The original, at 93 percent, is still the MVP.
Like "Blackboard Jungle" with rock ‘n’ roll and "The Harder They Come" for reggae, "Hustle & Flow" features an emerging musical form (crunk), and puts it into a dramatic sociopolitical context. To paraphrase Jay-Z, critics say you can’t knock this "Hustle." The writers say this tale of a pimp trying to escape the game by laying down rhymes over crunk beats is redemptive and powerful, and the gritty Memphis locations give new meaning to the term "The Dirty South." Star Terrence Howard, who was singled out for praise in such ensemble pieces as "Ray" and "Crash," makes a very compelling and morally complex hustler. Howard’s combined Tomatometer rating, currently at 50 percent, should be helped by this one, which is currently at 78 percent.
Rob Zombie rubs noses in a basic concept that many slasher films beat around: that murderous backwoods villains are much more compelling than the so-called heroes who fall into their clutches. His latest, "The Devil’s Rejects," tells the story of a family of psychopaths with bloodlust, and critics say it captures the elemental dread that made movies like "Deliverance" and "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" resonate. At 65 percent on the Tomatometer, Zombie’s movie is being called brutal, perverse, and brutally perversely fun. It also beats Mr. Zombie’s previous directorial effort, "House of 1,000 Corpses," with a rusty shovel, as "House" scored a scary 16 percent on the Tomatometer.