This week at the movies, we got amnesiac spies (The Bourne Ultimatum, starring Matt Damon and Julia Stiles), loser daredevils (Hot Rod, with Andy Samberg and Isla Fisher), salsa singers (El Cantante, starring Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez), school girls (Bratz: The Movie, starring Nathalia Ramos and Jon Voight), flying canines (Underdog, starring Jason Lee and Peter Dinklage), and radio personalities (Talk to Me, starring Don Cheadle and Chjwetel Ejiofor). What do the critics have to say?
The third in a series is rarely the best — witness the critical response to the latest Shrek and Spidey installments. However, if you found the thrills and chills of The Bourne Identity and Supremacy too sedate, you’re in luck; critics say The Bourne Ultimatum is one of the most exciting, action-paced movies of the summer, and is easily the best in the series (not too shabby, considering the other two were both Certified Fresh). Yet again, Matt Damon isn’t really sure who he is or how he became such an awesome killing machine, and yet again, he’s on the run from the authorities. But in this episode, pundits say Damon really comes into his own as an action star here, and director Paul Greengrass is well on his way to becoming an auteur of commercial filmmaking. Critics say the dizzying camerawork, rapid-fire editing, and overall craftsmanship make for one wild ride. At 92 percent on the Tomatometer, this may be the ultimate Bourne.
Critics are musing: is Bratz much better than Barbie? Since 2001, the ethnically diverse dolls have built an empire based on their unique brand of girl power and lip gloss, including this film adaptation featuring four girls overcoming their differences and joining together in holy BFFness. But critics deem Bratz: The Movie a vapid and clueless enterprise, with characters who don’t seem to have any discernable characteristics beyond fashion and material wealth. And it freely employs stereotypes (girls must be skinny, boys must be dreamy, and adults are idiots) while paradoxically arguing stereotypes are bad. At 11 percent Tomatometer, these Bratz need a lesson in filmmaking.
You loved him when he was drinking Mr. Pibb with a Red Vines straw, and you loved him when he was cutting holes in boxes. But will you love Andy Samberg in Hot Rod, his feature-length debut in which he stars as an awful amateur daredevil trying to raise money for his ill stepfather? Though Samberg is singled out for his enthusiastic, mischievous charm, little else appears to impress the critics. They say Hot Rod tries for an anarchic brand of physical and lowbrow jokes, but ends up irritating and random instead, the kind of disjointed comedy that gives SNL movies its bad name. At 30 percent Tomatometer, Rod is anything but hot. (Check out our interview with Samberg and his Lonely Island pals here.)
It’s been said before, but it bears repeating: Don Cheadle is one of the best actors in Hollywood today. In his latest, Talk to Me, Cheadle gives a performance that some pundits are calling Oscar-worthy — while noting his co-star, Chjwetel Ejiofor, is no slouch as well. Cheadle plays proto-shock jock Petey Green, an ex-con who brought freshness, humor, and irreverence to the medium during the tumultuous and heady late 1960s. While some pundits note that the film has some bumpy patches – often a problem for biopics — they say the performances and energy are strong enough to overlook most flaws. At 79 percent on the Tomatometer, the Certified Fresh Talk to Me is a movie worth talking about.
Hector Lavoe isn’t widely known with the American public. And that probably won’t change much with the release of El Cantante, a biopic based on the late Puerto Rican salsa singer’s life. Marc Anthony stars as Lavoe, but it’s the life of Lavoe’s wife (played by Jennifer Lopez) that, for better or worse, you’ll remember the most vividly from the movie. Critics call Lopez’s scenery-chewing a vanity acting job, as the rest of the movie is too loosely loose structure, creating a vacuum of character and narrative focus. And while El Cantante revels in biopic clichés, it never bothers revealing why Hector Lavoe was even worthy of an inspiring biopic in the first place. At 26 percent Tomatometer, El Cantante hits a sour note.
“Never fear — Underdog is here!” So went the rallying cry of everyone’s favorite super-pooch back in the day. Now? It appears the people behind Underdog have plenty to fear from critics, since the film wasn’t screened before hitting theaters. The usually-dependable Jason Lee and Peter Dinklage star in the tale (or is it tail?) of a mutt who, after an experiment, gains superpowers. Kids, after you’re done taking Fido for a stroll around the block, Guess the Tomatometer.
Also opening this week in limited release: Summer ’04, a riveting tale of a summer holiday gone awry, is at 92 percent on the Tomatometer; Blame it on Fidel, a Parisian coming-of-age tale about a young girl and her radical activist parents, is at 92 percent; Them, a tense and existential horror flick from France, is at 81 percent; The Willow Tree, a Bergman-esque Iranian drama of a man coming to grips with death, is at 80 percent; Colossal Youth, a sprawling drama about urban life in Portugal, is at 71 percent; Becoming Jane, a biopic of Jane Austen’s early life, is at 62 percent; and The Ten, an anthology of comic vignettes based on the Ten Commandments, is at 57 percent.