This week at the movies, we’ve got living history hijinks ("Night at the Museum," starring Ben Stiller), the Italian Stallion’s return ("Rocky Balboa," starring Sylvester Stallone), a tragedy-to-triumph pigskin drama ("We Are Marshall," starring Matthew McConaughey), and the dark early days of the CIA ("The Good Shepherd," starring Matt Damon). What do the critics say?
It’s a great idea for a movie: what if all the cool stuff in a museum came to life after visiting hours? In "Night at the Museum," Ben Stiller stars as a less-than-competent security guard at the Museum of Natural History who inadvertently triggers an ancient curse, bringing to life the prehistoric people, animals, and dinosaur skeletons of the exhibits. Sounds kinda like a cross between "From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler" and "Jumanji," right? Unfortunately, critics say the gags in "Night at the Museum" are often shrill and noisy, despite a frighteningly funny cast that includes Owen Wilson, Ricky Gervais, Steve Coogan, and Ernest Borgnine. But as family fare goes, the whimsy of "Museum"’s CG-enhanced antics may pass the time easily enough. At 54 percent on the Tomatometer, this one may not be a "Night" to remember.
Forget prizefighting — Rocky’s only a few years shy of cashing social security checks. And his eponymous movie series has made nearly as many ill-advised comebacks as Evander Holyfield. So it’s something of a surprise — nay, a shock — that critics are praising "Rocky Balboa" as not only a return to form, but the best film in the series since the original. Sylvester Stallone — who else? — stars as the retired champ, lured back into the ring with the promise of testing his mettle against a younger fighter (played by real life pugilist Antonio Tarver). Pundits say the moribund series is back in fighting shape, for the back-to-basics "Rocky Balboa" is a gritty, poignant underdog story that redeems one of American cinema’s most iconic characters. At 77 percent on the Tomatometer, this one may still be a notch below the original "Rocky" (96 percent), but it gets to wear a new title belt: Certified Fresh.
After "Remember the Titans," "Invincible," and "Facing the Giants" you’d think there wouldn’t be enough material for another inspirational football movie. You’d be wrong. "We Are Marshall" tells the heartbreaking true story of the Marshall football program. In 1970, a plane crash claimed the lives of 75 coaches and players; the film, starring Matthew McConaughey, is about the football team’s (and the entire community’s) resurrection. Alas, good intentions can only go so far; critics say "Marshall" is all too typical of its genre, with schmaltz and clichés taking the place of the messiness that must have surrounded the story’s real-life circumstances. "We Are Marshall" currently stands at 44 percent on the Tomatometer.
In "The Good Shepherd," director Robert DeNiro takes us on a fictional tour of the dark history of the CIA, from its inception at the end of WWII to the Bay of Pigs debacle. And, critics say, he takes his time. "Shepherd" stars Matt Damon as reserved Yale grad Edward Wilson, a man who works his way up the ladder at the agency but slowly loses his soul in the process. The scribes say the film boasts wonderful production values and an outstanding cast (which includes DeNiro himself, Joe Pesci, and Alec Baldwin), but underuses many others (Angelina Jolie in particular, as Wilson’s wife). Worse, critics complain that despite the film’s nearly three-hour runtime, there is little action to be had and virtually no pace-quickening intrigue, making this a mind-numbingly long spy flick in which not a lot happens. At 44 percent on the Tomatometer, this "Shepherd" could have used more guidance.
Also opening this week in limited release: "The Case of the Grinning Cat," a graffiti-strewn French documentary, is at 100 percent; Clint Eastwood‘s Oscar hopeful "Letters from Iwo Jima," which sees the WWII battle from a Japanese perspective, is at 93 percent; "Venus," the tale of a May-December friendship starring Peter O’Toole, is at 87 percent; "The Painted Veil," based upon W. Somerset Maugham’s novel and starring Naomi Watts and Edward Norton, is at 77 percent; "The Curse of the Golden Flower," Zhang Yimou‘s period piece starring Gong Li and Chow Yun-Fat, is at 56 percent; "Matthew Barney: No Restraint," a doc about the avant-garde artist/filmmaker and Bjork spouse, is at 56 percent.
Recent Ben Stiller Movies:
51% — Tenacious D In: The Pick of Destiny (2006)
27% — School for Scoundrels (2006)
55% — Madagascar (2005)
38% — Meet the Fockers (2004)
69% — Anchorman: the Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)