This week at the movies, we’ve got sleaze (Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’ "Grindhouse," starring Kurt Russell and Rose McGowan), fixer-uppers ("Are We Done Yet?," starring Ice Cube), plagues ("The Reaping," starring Hilary Swank), and pooches ("Firehouse Dog"). What do the critics have to say?
Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez have made careers of turning trashy material into cinematic treasure. And just like the good old days of the drive-in double feature, critics say "Grindhouse" is two schlocky treats for the price of one, albeit made with a greater level of skill than the old school-sleazemeisters. Rodriguez’ "Planet Terror," starring Rose McGowan and Freddy Rodriguez, tells the tale of a gas that threatens to turn the world’s population into zombies, and Tarantino’s "Death Proof" stars Kurt Russell as a killer stuntman. The critics say "Grindhouse" delivers an exhilarating platter of exploitation style with wit and panache, and its makers improve upon their source material with their feral intelligence. At 87 percent on the Tomatometer, the Certified Fresh "Grindhouse" is a trashy delight. (For more on the history of exploitation cinema, check out RT’s "Grindhouse A to Z" feature.)
Ice Cube once rapped, "I’m scarin ya, wanted by America." If "Are We Done Yet?" is any indication, those days are long gone — and critics say that’s not a good thing. "Are We Done Yet?" is not only a sequel to 2005’s poorly reviewed "Are We There Yet?," it’s also a loose remake of the Cary Grant–Myrna Loy comedy "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House." The author of "Parental Discretion Iz Advised" plays a family man fixing up a money pit in the suburbs, and his wonderfully expressive scowl is reserved for shoddy construction and an unhinged contractor. The pundits say the film is way too safe, featuring generic slapstick and amiable but uninspired domestic foibles. At 10 percent on the Tomatometer, "Are We Done Yet?" may be aptly titled.
"No more buffets, okay?"
The latest in a storied line of cinematic Fidos, "Firehouse Dog" at least gets points for originality: it features an undercover movie-star pooch that rides skateboards and does laundry. The movie tells the tale of Rexxx, an Irish terrier who’s a hairpiece-wearing, overly pampered canine thespian who accidentally gets dumped in a small town and is adopted by, yep, the local firehouse. The "Doc Hollywood"-esque plot has promise, and some say "Firehouse Dog" is warm enough to please the little ones. But the majority of critics say the movie ruins it with endless fart and poop jokes, and an overlong run time. At 37 percent Tomatometer, this one’s strictly for the dogs.
Why, oh why, ask critics, if the Bible is so loaded with action, suspense, and miracles, have the recent glut of religious-themed dramas been so gosh-darned dull? The latest in Good Book-inspired mediocrity is "The Reaping," starring Hilary Swank as a faithless former missionary who travels the country disproving religious phenomena. But when she comes across a series of plagues in a small Louisiana town, her adherence to science is sorely tested as she tries to save the community. Critics say "The Reaping" is schlocky, spiritually shallow, and wasteful of a grade-A cast that includes David Morrissey, AnnaSophia Robb, Stephen Rea, and Idris Elba (aka Stringer Bell on "The Wire"). At six percent on the Tomatometer, "The Reaping" is an unholy mess.
Also opening this week in limited release: "The Hoax," starring Richard Gere in the true story of biography-forging Clifford Irving, is at 89 percent on the Tomatometer; "Black Book," Paul Verhoeven’s epic about a beautiful Dutch resistance fighter in WWII, is Certified Fresh at 75 percent; "The TV Set," a satire of prime time television starring David Duchovny and Sigourney Weaver, is at 60 percent; and "Whole New Thing," the story of a teenager and his crush on his English teacher, is at 44 percent.
Recent Robert Rodriguez Films:
77% — Sin City (2005)
19% — The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl in 3-D (2005)
45% — Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over (2003)
68% — Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003)
75% — Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams (2001)