by Jeff Boam



Opening This Week

Need for Speed
Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper
A TV program that never jumped the shark and was just starting to peak, the brilliantly scripted, acted and directed Breaking Bad went out on top with a bang last year in its fifth and final season. This left its stars, Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul, eyeing up their H’Wood prospects. While Cranston will next appear as the lead in Godzilla on May 16, Paul has his eyes set on the video game adaptation Need for Speed. In this PG-13-rated actioner, a street racing ex-con (Paul) who was framed by a wealthy business associate joins a cross country race with revenge in mind. His ex-partner, learning of the plan, places a massive bounty on his head as the race begins. The Plus: The genre. High-speed actioners like the Fast & Furious franchise keep the wheels spinning at the box office. Here, Scott Waugh (Act of Valor) directs Paul (Smashed), Cooper (Captain America: The First Avenger), Imogen Poots (That Awkward Moment), Michael Keaton (RoboCop) and Dakota Johnson (the forthcoming 50 Shades of Grey). The Minus: The odds. This is not a part of the Fast & Furious franchise, much like high-speed actioners Drive Angry and Getaway, which stalled at the box office. Also, outside of the Resident Evil franchise, video game adaptations have failed to engage moviegoers time (Max Payne) and time again (Hitman). Not even the dubious draw of Jesse Pinkman stands a chance at reversing this trend.

Veronia Mars
Kristen Bell, Jason Dohring
In this PG-13-rated dramedy, former teenage private eye Veronica Mars (Bell) gets pulled back to her hometown — just in time for her high school reunion — in order to help an old flame (Dohring) embroiled in a murder mystery. The Plus: The marketing. After Warner Bros. showed little interest in a big-screen limited release update of the UPN sleuth series Veronica Mars, a hugely successful Kickstarter crowd-funding experiment got a wide release project greenlit. News outlets the world over took notice and turned the cult series into the kind of media headline that no publicity machine can buy. Here, series creator Rob Thomas directs former castmates Bell (Frozen), Krysten Ritter (AMC’s Breaking Bad), Enrico Colantoni (CBS’s Person of Interest), Tina Majorino (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire), Max Greenfield (Fox’s The New Girl), Ken Marino (We’re the Millers) Jerry O’Connell (Scary Movie 5), Jamie Lee Curtis (You Again) and Gaby Hoffman (HBO’s Girls). The Minus: Very little. Though it won’t take much to re-coup its relatively small budget (north of $5 million), this flick based on a series that was cancelled for low ratings after three seasons has already won just by being released. Only if Veronica Mars gets savaged by the critics might her sleuthing days be finished.


Now Playing

300: Rise of an Empire
Sullivan Stapleton, Rodrigo Santoro
*** — Sores and Sandals
Though never as compellingly immediate as its predecessor, 300 companion piece Rise of an Empire gives moviegoers a visual treat despite a story lacking as much Spartan oomph. In this R-rated actioner, Greek general Themistokles (Stapleton) leads the charge against invading Persian forces led by mortal-turned-god Xerxes (Santoro) and Artemisia (Eva Green), vengeful commander of the Persian navy. Termed a sidequel (part prequel, part sequel, all cash-in), this follow-up fails to pack as much punch as it’s forebear but this hardly makes it a failure. In fact, the blood-splattered breast-baring spectacle presents many fist-pumpingly exciting battle sequences worthy of the greatest swords and sandals epics. Replete with much tactical detail and much creative license, the sea-set skirmishes and the characters skirmishing make for an exciting adventure. It’s just rarely as exciting or hard-charging as its blueprint, a trailblazing piece of hyper-stylized techno pop that brilliantly realized pen and ink comic book sex and savagery on screen. Oh, Rise of the Empire nearly does the same, but it unfortunately falls in the wake of a glut of 300 knock-offs like Immortals and Pompeii. Also, the stakes just never feel as high story wise. The hand-to-hand ground combat of the first flick gets transferred to some rocky waters here. While this tweak may seem to up the excitement factor, the threadbare story just isn’t smart enough to match the intensity of the action. Under the gifted eye of director Noam Murro, of Sullivan Stapleton and Rodrigo Santoro give appropriately over-the-top (though far from the star-making level achieved by Gerard Butler in the first 300) turns. Eva Green, however, steals the show with a deliciously sinister performance.

Mr. Peabody and Sherman
Voices of Ty Burrell, Max Charles
**1/2 — Quantum Leak
A 90-minute wrinkle in your time, this occasionally funny but overly busy improbable history ends up to be a probably blistery. In this PG-rated animated comedy, the time-travelling adventures of an advanced canine (Burrell) and his adopted son (Charles), as they endeavor to fix a time rift they created. Let’s be honest. Original ideas in H’Wood come along about as often as an honest politician in Washington, DC. Mr. Peabody and Sherman, which originally played out as filler on ‘60s Saturday morning TV on The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle alongside Dudley Do-Right and Fractured Fairy Tales, held great potential as a remake. It offered up a cockeyed trip through the history books with some simple but ridiculously bonkers components — a brilliant dog, an accident-prone boy, and a wonky time machine. More importantly, it came laced with an acid wit. The modern rendering, however, incorporates a good degree of smart jokes and gags but panders more to kids while the convoluted story can’t be understood by some of the adults who brought them. Rather than just tell a good story, the script throws everything AND the kitchen sink at audiences including King Tut, time traveling dopplegangers, Abe Lincoln, space-time continuum wormholes, and a sub-plot involving Child Protective Services. By the time the inevitable saccharine life lesson comes, you’re too busy scratching your head to care. Ty Burrell and Max Charles give decent lip service to the title characters but it’s the work of director Rob Minkoff (The Lion King, Stuart Little) and screenwriter Craig Wright that should concern moviegoing families more. Though far from that old rotten chestnut of a modern cartoon update known as Alvin and the Chipmunks, Mr. Peabody and Sherman nonetheless reaches way back and come up somewhat empty handed. Somewhere in time, Commander McBragg cries out for his piece of the pie.

Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore
*** — Taken to the Bank
Flying just high enough to give moviegoers a business class amount of frills and thrills, Non-Stop finds Liam Neeson in top form even when the story takes a familiar flight pattern. In this PG-13-rated actioner, an air marshal (Neeson) springs into action during a transatlantic flight after receiving a series of text messages that put his fellow passengers at risk unless the airline transfers $150 million into an off-shore account. Not only does Non-Stop apart keep audiences guessing, but it’s better than the blockbuster Taken twofer put together. Not that this is a high mantle, mind you, but it doesn’t put viewers in the economy class with a shoot-‘em-up that should’ve gone direct to video either thanks mainly to Neeson, who gets the job done brilliantly, looking every bit of his 61 years but convincingly doling out ass-whoopings at 10,000 feet.

Kit Harrington, Emily Browning
** — Pomp and Circumvent
Ashing in the face of famed ‘70s producer Irwin Allen, Pompeii takes Gladiator and pits it somewhere in between the Shake ‘n’ Bake twofer of classic H’Wood disaster movies Earthquake and Towering Inferno. In this PG-13-rated disaster flick from Paul W.S. Anderson (the Resident Evil franchise), a 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. That description alone should make your brain swell with hot anticipation, but the actual experience inspires less adventure and more displeasure as you pretty much watch a B-Movie with a 9 figure budget unfold before your eyes. When it comes down to it, why does Asylum, producers of such direct-to-video mockbusters as Transmorphers and Titanic II, catch such flak when such a supposedly A-List production house like Filmdistrict is pretty much providing the same blockbuster-aping product at a much higher ticket price?


Small Screens

24 Season 1
Kiefer Sutherland, Dennis Haybert
***1/2 — Buy the Number
Before Jack Bauer returns to Fox on May 5th in a 12-episode series titled 24: Live Another Day, check out the original series. Right out of the gates, this spy actioner had you by the grip of its sweaty palms. In the first season, Sutherland introduced viewers to the short-fused Bauer, Director of Field Ops for the Counter-Terrorist Unit of Los Angeles, who races against the clock to protect Senator David Palmer (Haybert) from an assassination plot and rescue his own family from those responsible for the plot — all in real time. There’s a reason this program went on for 6 more seasons and outlasted both Mission: Impossible and The Avengers as the longest running espionage series. The casting, concept, and adrenaline-fueled construct worked beautifully even if the later seasons began to get a bit repetitive and batspit silly.