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Sexy-but-silly sisters: (l-r) Johansson and Portman in The Other Boleyn Girl.

Tudor Bling

By Laura Leon

The Other Boleyn Girl

Directed by Justin Chadwick

I’m a sucker for costume dramas, particularly when they feature stunning gowns, heaving bosoms, brooding men and a passing resemblance to something historically factual. At the same time, I am willing to accept artistic license. That said, I almost choked on my hot tea when, in The Other Boleyn Girl, sister Mary (Scarlett Johansson), summoned to the bed of her liege, King Henry VIII (Eric Bana), murmurs “So, this is where the King of England sleeps.”

Can you blame me? I mean, I’d hardly had time to recover from an earlier guffaw, when the ever-dignified Kristin Scott Thomas, playing Mrs. Boleyn, chastises her husband Sir Thomas (Mark Rylance) for having invited the king and his entourage to call, reproving him with a tart variation on something housewives have been telling their spouses since time immemorial: “It will cost a fortune to get this house ready for a royal visit!”

Who penned such pithy sayings, you ask? Strangely enough, the screenwriter here is Peter Morgan, the guy who fared much better with The Queen. Apparently, his charge here wasn’t so much to create a compelling story about the sibling rivalry that existed between Mary and the future queen, Anne (Natalie Portman), or the royal love triangle, or even the icky maneuverings of Sir Thomas and the girls’ uncle, the Duke of Norfolk (David Morrissey), to get one of their kin between the sheets with Henry. Rather, it appears that his task was to relegate an intriguing historical drama into the language of, say, One Tree Hill or Dawson’s Creek. Indeed, it’s something of a surprise that Portman and Johansson were chosen over, say, Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie.

Director Justin Chadwick shows a liking for galloping horses—preferably ridden by frantic ladies with the aforementioned heaving bosoms—and dramatic entrances and exits, but seems to have no clue how to make such drama punctuate a grade-A tale. Bana gets to saunter from one beauty to another, whispering “tonight!” in their ears, seemingly in order to show off his buff physique. One would be hard pressed to find, in The Other Boleyn Girl, any of the qualities that made Henry such a compelling and commanding leader. How can it not be so, since, based on Morgan’s screenplay, he did nothing but chase skirts in hopes of producing a male heir? Portman, playing a woman many historians have called one of the single most influential royals ever, doesn’t get to show her considerable intelligence; rather, she’s seen as a manipulative cocktease, somebody lacking in her sister’s gentleness and—whoa Nelly!—ability to repeatedly sate the lusty Henry. Anne’s infamous beheading on trumped-up charges of treason and incest are given light coverage, with the filmmakers preferring to focus on Johansson’s quivering lip and, again, heaving bosom. A-ha! When it comes down to brass tacks, these must be the end lesson of Anne’s and Mary’s tumultuous life and times.

Airball

Semi-Pro

Directed by Kent Alterman

Judd Apatow would never stand for this.

After a series of like-minded films that were funnier than they had any right to be (Blades of Glory, in particular), Will Ferrell’s latest foray into the sports-comedy genre is a total brick. The unfortunately chosen title says it all: From first-timer Kent Alterman’s slapdash direction (just point the camera at Will and let it roll; he’s bound to do something funny!) to a script by Scot Armstrong (Old School, Starsky & Hutch) that barely plays as a comedy, everything about Semi-Pro reeks of amateurism.

Here’s what we’re given to work with: It’s 1976, and Jackie Moon (Ferrell) is the owner of the Flint Tropics, a third-rate basketball team that’s about to be snuffed out by the impending NBA-ABA merger. Moon tries to get his team into the NBA through a series of stunts and promotions. Of course we know from the outset that Moon’s efforts will be for naught, and this is one of the film’s major problems: With the Tropics cast against a bunch of actual NBA teams, we’re handed the entire film in the first 10 minutes. From there, it’s just a series of half-drawn characters, silly-stupid catchphrases, and sketches that play out like so much Saturday Night Live filler. Will Arnett isn’t even particularly funny here, something I previously thought to be impossible.

The best thing about the film—the cast—is simply wasted. Woody Harrelson (as a former Boston Celtics benchwarmer) and Andre “3000” Benjamin (as the team’s showboating star player) are the only ones besides Ferrell whose roles are deeper than a puddle of piss (not by much, mind you); Andy Richter and Maura Tierney should ask to have their names removed from the credits entirely. Casting Jackie Earle Haley as burnout Tropics fan seems like an inspired move, but he too is given absolutely nothing to work with. (Also: poor Tim Meadows.)

Semi-Pro just doesn’t seem to know what kind of film it wants to be. The few cute or clever moments are trounced by rampant vulgarity (the film earns its “R” rating almost entirely for language); the characters, such as they are, are barely even caricatures. The last third of the film begins to coalesce, but by then it’s too little too late. I left this film thinking it might have worked had it been trimmed by 15 minutes—and it’s barely 90-minutes long. What the fuck happened?

—John Brodeur


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