This week at the movies, we’ve got a high school do-over (17 Again, starring Zac Efron and Leslie Mann), some journalistic thrills (State of Play, starring Russell Crowe and Rachel McAdams), and cardiovascular action (Crank High Voltage, starring Jason Statham and Bai Ling). What do the critics have to say?
If you’ve seen Big, Back to the Future, and Peggy Sue Got Married, you’ll have a pretty good idea what’s in store with 17 Again. The good news? The critics say the film may be derivative, but it’s also clever, entertaining, and poignant, largely thanks to an impressive post-High School Musical turn from Zac Efron. He stars as Mike O’Donnell, a big man on campus circa 1989 who, 20 years later, finds his life and his marriage to high school sweetie Scarlett (Leslie Mann) on the rocks. He gets a second chance to correct his mistakes when he’s magically transformed into his 17-year-old self — albeit with his late-30s personality intact — and discovers a thing or two about life. While some critics find the film’s premise a bit unseemly (a 30-year-old bro-ing down with minors?), most say 17 Again is mostly sweet, funny, and perceptive, and that Efron has a bright future as a leading man.
The newspaper industry is in bad shape these days, so it almost seems quaint to release a thriller about a principled investigative journalist in the midst of a vast conspiracy. But here’s a news flash: critics say State of Play is engrossing, smart, unnerving, and surprisingly timely, a tribute to the hardworking reporters that shed light on our political system. Russell Crowe stars as old-school Washington beat reporter Cal McAffrey, who’s had a solid professional rapport with up-and-coming congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck) — that is, until some of Collins’ associates turn up dead. McAffrey uneasily joins forces with Della (Rachel McAdams), a blogger at the paper, to untangle a sinister web of secrets and lies. The pundits say State of Play may offer a few too many twists and turns, but its ensemble, which also includes Helen Mirren as McAffrey’s exacting editor, is unimpeachable, as is the immediacy and authenticity of the newsroom setting. State of Play is Certified Fresh.
It appears the folks behind Crank High Voltage were concerned it would make critics, ahem, cranky, because it wasn’t screened prior to release (strange, since its predecessor notched a perfectly respectable 60 percent on the Tomatometer). Jason Statham once again stars as Chev Chelios (apparently no relation to the Red Wings defenseman) whose heart is removed; he must do everything in his power to keep his battery-powered ticker going while finding his missing organ. Kids, guess that Tomatometer! (And don’t forget to check out Crank star Bai Ling’s Five Favorite Films.)
Also opening this week in limited release: