Critics Consensus

Critics Consensus: W. Has OK Strategery, Max Is A Payne

Plus, Sex Drive is a mixed bag, and The Secret Life of Bees is too sticky sweet.

by | October 16, 2008 | Comments

This week at the movies, we’ve got presidential redemption (Oliver Stone‘s W., starring Josh Brolin), a lethal cop (Max Payne, starring Mark Walberg), a raunchy road trip (Sex Drive, starring Josh Zuckerman and James Marsden), and Southern sisterhood (The Secret Life of Bees, starring Queen Latifah and Dakota Fanning). What do the critics have to say?

In last night’s presidential debate, both John McCain and Barack Obama spent plenty of time explaining how they’d be different from George W. Bush. So while it would seem the time wouldn’t be right for a big-screen biopic of the current president, Oliver Stone isn’t one to worry about such things, and critics say his W. is mostly compelling and sharp. The film, starring Josh Brolin in the title role, follows Bush on his journey from hard-partier to born-again Christian to the Oval Office, offering plenty of pop-psychological insight along the way. The pundits say Stone presents a largely sympathetic portrait of the man, and is ably abetted by his strong cast, particularly Brolin and Richard Dreyfuss as Dick Cheney. Still, others say Stone can’t help but throw in some cheap shots, and the movie works better in parts than as a whole. At 59 percent on the Tomatometer, W. shouldn’t be misunderestimated. (Check out this week’s Total Recall for our rundown of memorable movie presidents.)

Oliver Stone assumes his new post as secretary of conspiracy theories.

Video game adaptations rarely make for satisfying pictures, and critics say the losing streak continues with Max Payne. Which is a drag, since the game, with its John Woo-esque action, neo-noir atmosphere, and pill-popping antihero is pretty cinematic in its own right. Mark Walberg IS Max Payne, a cop who’s searching for the killer of his wife while investigating several other homicides and trying to rid the streets of a particularly lethal drug. The pundits say Max Payne lacks emotional resonance, the plot is convoluted, and the action scenes are noisy without being kinetic (though there are traces of visual flair throughout). At zero percent on the Tomatometer, the scribes say this one’s mostly a Payne.

“This is neither the place nor the time to bring forth the rhythm and the rhyme!”

American Pie helped renew interest in raunchy teen comedies almost a decade ago, and a slew of similar movies have bombarded audiences since then. The cheekily-titled Sex Drive is the latest of these wild romps, focusing on a graduating high schooler (Josh Zuckerman) and his quest to shed his virginity before he steps foot on a college campus. He meets a stunning girl on the Internet and sets out on a 500-mile road trip to meet her… in his brother’s vintage Pontiac. At a tenuous 57 percent, critics are so far split on the comedy, with some claiming it’s merely unoriginal and offensive while others saying it manages to rise above the others of its ilk. They do all seem to agree on one thing, however: it’s raunchy, it’s ridiculous, and those who will see it probably already know what they’re in for.

“No, no, a lollipop is cool… it’s just that I wanted an inflatable Tigger.”

Based on a best-selling novel by Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees chronicles the tale of a young girl (Dakota Fanning) who flees her troubled home with her caretaker (Jennifer Hudson) and takes refuge with a trio of sisters (played by Queen Latifah, Sophie Okonedo, and Alicia Keys). Based on its current 46 percent Tomatometer rating, this may unfortunately be a case where the story works better on paper than it does on film. Though the performances are mostly considered solid, critics are taking issue with the movie’s overt sentimentality, drawing fire for being everything from “maudlin” and “manipulative” to “too pat” and “drenched in sugar.” Bees seems poised to jerk some tears and wrench some hearts, but audiences may find this batch of honey to be a bit too sweet for their tastes.

“One reason I’m such an accomplished apiarist is that I have no problem finding the queen.”

Also opening this week in
limited release: