by Jeff Boam


Opening this Week

Kit Harrington, Emily Browning
With director Roland Emmerich (The Day After Tomorrow, 2012) busily mounting production on back-to-back sequels to Independence Day, it only makes sense that another schlocktastic director would pick up the baton and continue grindhousing the gears of the disaster genre. In this PG-13-rated disaster flick from Paul W.S. Anderson (Resident Evil: Retribution), slave turned gladiator (Harrington) races against time to save his true love (Browning), who has been betrothed to a corrupt Roman Senator (Kiefer Sutherland) as Mount Vesuvius erupts around them. The Plus: The genre. Boy, it seems that moviegoers haven’t had a good lava-spewing adventure since the 1997 twofer Volcano and Dante’s Peak. Here, Anderson (Resident Evil: Afterlife) directs Harrington (HBO’s Game of Thrones), Browning (Sucker Punch), Sutherland (Fox’s forthcoming 24: Live Another Day) and Carrie-Anne Moss (Silent Hill: Revelation 3D). The Minus: The director. It seems like Anderson has the Midas Touch … everything he touches turns into a muffler (thank you, Henny Youngman). From derailing the Alien franchise (AVP: Aliens Vs. Predator) to unnecessarily remaking Death Race to crappily adapting The Three Musketeers, the man’s CV speaks poorly for this flick.

3 Days to Kill
Kevin Costner, Hailee Steinfeld
It seems like it was just weeks ago that this column raved that Kevin Costner was the best part of Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit and deserved to be given a another shot at being action hero … uh, actually it was just weeks ago. Be careful what you wish for. In PG-13-rated actioner, Costner plays a dying Secret Service Agent trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter (Steinfeld) gets offered an experimental drug that could save his life in exchange for one last assignment. The Plus: The players. In addition to Costner (Man of Steel), the cast includes Steinfeld (Ender’s Game), Connie Nielson (Fox’s The Following) and Amber Heard (Machete Kills). The Minus: The reality. Remember when director McG (Charlie’s Angels) was a hot H’Wood commodity? Nope? Well, that’s because the film industry has a short memory when it comes to box office duds (Terminator Salvation, This Means War). Though Costner certainly deserves a Liam Neeson-style career rejuvenation (Taken, The Grey), the participation of McG and screenwriter Luc Besson (Columbiana) hints that a John Travolta-style career mistep (From Paris with Love) seems more likely.


Now Playing

Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman
**1/2 — Half Man. Half Machine. Half Hearted.
Not your canon fodder’s RoboCop, this modern update proves somewhat enjoyable but entirely unnecessary when it comes to reinventing the bionic wheel. In this PG-13-rated remake, the multinational conglomerate OmniCorp realizes their vision for a part-man, part-robot after police officer Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) — a loving husband, father and good cop — gets critically injured in the line of duty. Oh, it’s fun beyond your wildest dreams … if it hit screens in 1995. Here, however, it’s just a big budget remake of a darkly comic and brutally violent cult hit whose leftovers — when reheated — feel redundant in the wake of better sci-fi thrillers. Though not as tongue-in-cheek as a certain original 1987 gem, this update does have a timely sense of humor in the guise of a staunchly right leaning Glenn Beck-esque TV-host zealot played by Samuel L. Jackson. But the machine vs. mankind downgrade theme already played out so many times already on-screen that it’d make Phillip K. Dick spin around on his Blade Runner. Joel Kinnamen possesses chops enough to pass off himself as an ass-kicking cyborg. The problem is, the rest of the production can’t make you care enough to go full Robo. Director Jose Padilha (Elite Squad) exhibits great vision when it comes to action but can’t work beyond the been-there/seen-that confines of Terminator 2 and Alien. That’s right, RoboCop — with its marquee cast firing on all melodramatic cylinders — feels derivative not of the blueprint but of machinations that came before and in its stead. There’s explosively exciting action and dramatics beside but it’s just dejà goo all over again.

The LEGO Movie
Voices of Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks
**** — Attack the Blocks
A bustling toybox of crackling wit and imagination, The LEGO Movie defies the odds and gives moviegoers as fun an afternoon as is humanly possible for a blockhead … and that’s meant as a high compliment. In this PG-rated animated comedy, an ordinary LEGO minifigure mistakenly thought to be the extraordinary MasterBuilder (Pratt) is recruited to join a quest to stop an evil LEGO tyrant (Will Ferrell) from gluing the universe together. I mean, these are Interlocking bricks, right? How funny can this flick be? In all honesty, it’s got more laughs than most of the modern blockbusting animated flicks put together because it knows just what it is: a major motion picture based on a plastic plaything. The LEGO Movie ends up to be a sarcastic triumph, tearing itself down with tongue firmly in cheek but also successfully integrating a multi-pop-cultural world of superheroes, wizards, presidents, and Star Wars characters into one funtastic joyride.

The Monuments Men
George Clooney, Matt Damon
***1/2 — World War Zing
Though it doesn’t exactly reach the heights of monumental filmmaking, some Men of good standing nevertheless turn this history lesson into a warzone romp that’s solidly entertaining. In this PG-13-rated historical drama, an unlikely World War II platoon (Clooney, Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Hugh Bonneville, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban) are tasked to rescue art masterpieces from Nazi thieves and return them to their owners. Owing more to Kelly’s Heroes than Ocean’s Eleven, director/star George Clooney’s film plays out more like a zippy ensemble piece than seriously hard-hitting drama. This goes double for the running time, which whisks filmgoers right into the action and rarely lets up. Monuments Men never inspires a feeling that you should be taking these goings-on seriously. For better and worse, it betrays more of a good-time Charlie Company vibe that just happens to tell a story worth hearing.



Small Screens

House of Cards
Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright
“Chapter 1”
**** — House on Fire
In this Netflix series about a duplicitous Congressman (Spacey) working with his equally conniving wife (Wright) to exact revenge on the people who betrayed him, certain political animals reveal themselves to be Dogs of War left to sic on the American Beltway. It’s a masterstroke of plotting and casting from director David Fincher (Fight Club, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), but it’s playwright-turned-screenwriter (Farragut North, Ides of March) Beau Willimon who brings cynical but brilliant lip service to this remake of the critically lauded BBC mini-series. ‘Shakespearean’ and ‘Machiavellian’ get thrown around a lot as a description but this engrossing chess game is its own political machine, making strange bedfellows of all who watch it right from the Pilot. Be forewarned. Spacey and Wright will send chills up your spines worse than any movie monster. Binge-watch it from the beginning so you can roll right into the recently launched Season 2.