by Jeff Boam

Opening This Week

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
Chris Pine, Kevin Costner
Given that Jack Ryan has previously been realized on screen by the likes of Alec Baldwin (The Hunt for Red October), Harrison Ford (Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger), and Ben Affleck (The Sum of All Fears), Chris Pine would seem to have some pretty big spy shoes to fill. Given that he’s already successfully followed William Shatner in realizing U.S.S. Enterprise Capt. James T. Kirk (Star Trek, Star Trek Into Darkness), however, his odds appear pretty damn good as a Shadow Recruit. In this PG-13-rated reboot of the late great Tom Clancy’s espionage franchise, a young covert CIA analyst (Pine) uncovers a Russian plot to crash the U.S. economy with a terrorist attack. The Plus: The players. For his follow-up to directing Thor, Kenneth Branagh pulls double duty here, helming a cast that includes Pine (Unstoppable), Costner (Man of Steel), Keira Knightley (Anna Karenina), and himself (My Week with Marilyn) as Russian baddie Viktor Cherevin. The Minus: Backlash. Shadow Recruit isn’t even based on one of Clancy’s books. Even the last entry, 2002’s The Sum of All Fears, failed to re-ignite the franchise after making nearly $119 million at the U.S. box office AND being based on one of the late author’s bestsellers.

Ride Along
Ice Cube, Kevin Hart
In this PG-13-rated comedy, a fast-talking security guard (Hart) joins a hard-nosed cop (Cube) on a 24-hour patrol of Atlanta in order to prove himself worthy of marrying the cop’s sister. The Plus: The players. Before he went all family friendly (Are We There Yet?, the appropriately titled Are We Done Yet?), former rap star Ice Cube made a name for himself with the Friday urban comedy series. Here, Tim Story (Fantastic Four) directs Cube (21 Jump Street), Hart (Grudge Match) and John Leguizamo (Kick Ass 2) in a comedy that’s not exactly family friendly. The Minus: The competition. Contending with Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is one thing, but Ride Along has the likes of last week’s number one flick Lone Survivor and other new release Devil’s Due also to contend with.


Now Playing

The Legend of Hercules
Kellan Lutz, Gala Weiss
*1/2 — Crap of the Titans
Trying to be 300 on a 30 IQ and $300 budget, this take on a Greek god quickly reveals itself to be a Greek tragedy. In this PG-13-rated adventure arriving in theaters six months before a similar such take on the Greek strongman, Hercules (Lutz) must use his formidable powers to fight his way back to his rightful kingdom after being betrayed by his stepfather, the King, and exiled and sold into slavery because of a forbidden love. So insipid that it doesn’t inspire parody so much as make you think you’re watching one, Hercules makes the craptacular Z-List TV series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys look like the intellectual equivalent of The Wire. A CG-animated lion, for instance, inspires about as much fear in moviegoers as a common cold to the Man of Steel. And speaking of Superman, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson will be taking on Herc later this summer under the dubious direction of Brett Ratner. As this Herculean turd slides down the screen, however, their version is starting to sound like popcorn — munching Oscar bait. Kellan Lutz flexes huge muscles and delivers the right lines, but he’s no mythmaker. Ripping off style from Zach Snyder (300) and material from, well, not mythology, director Renny Harlin presents not so much a low rent Thor as a broke ass Gladiator. If by selling this as an origin tale, the producers mean to make more chapters, then it’s this reviewer’s duty to relay some sound advice: Stop while you’re behind.

Lone Survivor
Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch
*** — To Hell and Hack
Shoving your nose in the all-too-real grit and spit of modern warfare, director Peter Berg presents a true story that strives for realism overall but can’t help but let H’Wood hokum creep in through the cracks. In this R-rated military actioner based on the failed June 28, 2005 mission “Operation Red Wings”, four members of SEAL Team 10 (Wahlberg, Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster) get tasked with a mission to capture or kill notorious Taliban leader Ahmad Shahd. Spoiler alert: The title represents the utmost example of truth in advertising. Why the producers gave away an end result that would’ve best been kept under wraps seems beyond comprehension. Beyond that, however, the action and detail prove ridiculously intense even if the third act head scratchingly tries undoing most of this with some cliched grandstanding. The cast stands, shoots, and delivers beautifully. What these actors and their stuntmen went through defines tough-as-nails and instantly earns respect for the real American heroes they portray. There are some scenes involving cliffs which literally stop the heart and make you long for a back brace. Regardless, after imbedding filmgoers in the SEAL brotherhood with a laudable level of authenticity, the last act plays out with formulaic plodding. One moment involves an Afghani kid pitching in to help the titular character as if to say, “Hey, these terrorist-killing Americans aren’t all that bad.” Perhaps, it DID really happen … only not to this cloying degree.

The Book Thief
Sophie Nelisse, Geoffrey Rush
***1/2 – Steal Away
Purloining your eyes and almost your heart with a beautifully threaded tapestry where history and fantasy intertwine as a safety net, the sanitized Book Thief nonetheless burns through the page and into your senses as one of the year’s most original — though occasionally shortsighted — dramas. In this PG-13-rated war drama, young Liesel (Nelisse) finds solace by stealing books and sharing them with others while the horrors of World War II Germany lie at her doorstep. Granted, the material rings familiar. Filmgoers have seen World War II-set adventures and Nazi horror stories numerous times, but this engrossing spin on Markus Zusak’s inventive novel tells the tale anew, backed by letter perfect performances and painstaking period detail. However, it does all of this nearly TOO well. Were it not for the neatly wrapped bow on and the glossing over of war crimes, this Thief would have gotten away with the Oscar red handed. From the carefully constructed scene work to the beautifully shot cinematography to the safe re-telling of wartime atrocities, The Book Thief is a highly polished affair. Like his phenomenal cast, director Brian Percival shows all of the skill of a seasoned player. His adaptation of this YA novel aims at much more of audience than young adults, however. A rose-tinted view of Nazi Germany is what young and old filmgoers get, which doesn’t serve anybody exceedingly well. Not letting the truth get in the way of the story, the film is good looking and smart … just not smart enough to broaden its audience.

Inside Llewyn Davis
Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan
**** — Folk Hero
Music to your ears and poetry to your other senses, Inside Llwelyn Davis presents an at times wholly unlikeable singer/songwriter who still manages to lull you into the rich strains of his not-always-folksy world. In this R-rated dramedy, the Coen Brothers (Fargo, No Country for Old Men) present a week in the life of a young singer (Isaac) as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961. Granted, it’s cut from the cloth of the Coen Brothers’ more esoteric oeuvre that also includes equally lost souls The Man Who Wasn’t There and A Simple Man. It’s an artful extension of their usually stellar craft that’s not tied with a neatly wrapped bow. No, it leaves you pondering the intermingling of art, commerce and the selfish soul of the artist balancing all of this. Of course, the titular character shares a lot of screen time with an occasionally misplaced tabby cat. Another supporting character describes the cat as contented, which is a great blanket statement for the film. The Coen Brothers, a brilliant double act of writing and directing, present a canvas brimming with so much period that you’ll fall seamlessly into the rich fabric. The naturally lit ‘60s folk music scene comes alive, replete with an amazing soundtrack produced by T. Bone Burnett. But none of this groundwork would’ve worked without Oscar Isaac, who sings and acts with such conviction that gets within without a self-possessed performer who’s watching tastes and time slip away.



Lee Daniels’ The Butler
Forrest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey
*** — The Butler Does It
In this PG-13-rated historic drama new to DVD, an African-American White House butler (Whitaker) bears witness to numerous notable events of the 20th century. Despite serving up more fiction that fact, The Butler shines up an engrossing semi-historical tale that sings the truth even through some overbearing strains. Those who call it a Civil Rights Forrest Gump or a Black Power Zelig aren’t completely off of the mark. Despite some stunt casting that results in some pantomime performances and arch sermonizing, The Butler manages to tell a decades-spanning story that thankfully takes a brutally honest look at the fight for equality. Regardless, Robin Williams was more believable as a woman in Mrs. Doubtfire than as President Dwight Eisenhower. Still, the finished product ultimately puts forth a well-shot film worth seeing even if it falls short of Oscar worthiness.