I blue? Avatar.
by James Cameron
the sci-fi epic about a clash of civilizations on a moon
named Pandora—a world far, far away—is a big hit. It’s a cultural
event. And I think it’s perfectly swell.
Steven Spielberg was quoted as saying that Avatar made
him feel the way he did when he first saw Star Wars.
If he means it’s a game changer, I agree. But Avatar
is a very different kind of game changer.
I saw Star Wars in 1977, too. I thought it was pretty
awesome, and wanted to get right back in line to watch it
again. But even then, at 13, I’d seen enough good sci-fi to
recognize that it was the swashbuckling action, not the cinematic
sweep, that made it so much fun. When I saw it again on TV
a few years later, I loved it in the same way.
How did it change Hollywood? It spawned a quarter-century
of dramatically thin but boisterous event movies, some sci-fi,
mostly not, that reinvented the industry’s business model.
James Cameron’s Avatar is a different creature altogether.
It’s an immersive cinematic experience first, taking the audience
deep into places that don’t exist, using wondrous state-of-the-art
technology. Seeing something like the original Star Wars
in IMAX wouldn’t be immersive—just bigger and louder.
And Avatar already is an event movie; we’ll keep getting
those, in 2D and IMAX.
The story, you may already have heard, is familiar to anyone
with a passing knowledge of colonialism. An army of mercenaries,
corporate suits and hapless do-gooder scientists from Earth
are pillaging this strange world, Pandora, for a substance
that keeps their own dying planet going. (This substance is
comically called “unobtainium.”) The atmosphere is poisonous
to Earthlings, but they get around that. They’ve even genetically
engineered hybrids of humans and the indigenous population—the
locals are a tall, lean, big-eyed, long-tailed, blue people
called the Na’vi—as a kinder, gentler way to further their
nefarious aims. Besides, they’ve got plenty of guns if genetic
The main interest is deep in the forests of—and high in the
skies above—Pandora, as a human hybrid, or “avatar” (Sam Worthington)
is taught the ways of the Na’vi by the daughter (Zoe Saldana)
of a couple of Na’vi Pooh-Bahs (CCH Pounder and Wes Studi).
You don’t see any of these actors, really. You see a part
of them, “motion-captured” and enhanced by technology.
The world of Pandora, and the way the Na’vi are both a physical
and spiritual part of it, is lovingly presented. You know
that Cameron would like to be facing down those strange beasts
in the forest, or mind-melding with horselike creatures and
Cameron proved himself patient by waiting for the New Zealanders
to come up with the necessary technology so he could create
the Na’vi, and goosing along, himself, improvements in 3D
cinematography. And that’s the basis of what’s really special
about Avatar: It’s a communal cinematic experience.
It reinforces large-scale entertainment at a time when millions
watch filmed content on wristwatch-sized screens.
And I’ve never seen the fun in that.
is a review of the IMAX 3D version of Avatar. Your experience
with Real 3D or flat screenings will definitely vary.
capers: (l-r) Kendrick and Clooney in Up in the Air.
in the Air
by Jason Reitman
know me is to fly with me,” says Ryan Bingham (George Clooney),
a corporate terminator who prefers his 322 days of travel
in his past year over the “43 miserable days at home.” Bingham,
the protagonist of writer-director Jason Reitman’s Up in
the Air, specializes in giving people the ax when their
employers are too gutless to do the same. It’s a hard job,
but one he obviously relishes, imbuing it with almost a sense
of duty, and in the process, trying to hold out a shard of
dignity to those whose lives he’s just changed.
The emotional toll that most of us would feel in a similar
situation is played out repeatedly as Reitman gives us montages
of real-life people who have been recently terminated, speaking
into the camera and telling the unseen/unheard questioner
either what they had said at that time, or, perhaps more important,
what they wish they had said. (When I saw Up in
the Air, I was unaware that these individuals weren’t
actors, and I made a mental note that the casting director
had done a phenomenal job.) Bingham doesn’t get emotionally
attached to these people; he merely follows the process, intones
the official words, packs up and jets off, a job completed.
His ultimate goal, to earn mega-millions in air miles, is
suddenly threatened when his bright new coworker Natalie Keener
(Anna Kendrick) proposes that the company cut its travel expenses
85 percent by going online. That is, termination by video
Before the boss (a deliciously smarmy Jason Bateman) agrees
to sign off on Keener’s plan, he has Bingham take her out
on the road, resulting in stunningly edited scenes of Bingham’s
superhuman travel efficiency and, eventually, a collision
between the two employees on their respective life philosophies.
Along the way, Bingham meets and beds Alex (Vera Farmiga),
another high-powered, Type A success story, a sort of twin
sister of different mothers. One of the highlights of the
movie is when Alex and Ryan, in a sort of business-class foreplay,
compare frequent flyer miles and club cards.
in the Air is at its giddy best when traversing the beige
glossiness of airport hotels, where Alex and Ryan sit in dim
lounges clinking cocktail glasses. Success in one’s profession
is a surefire aphrodisiac, evidenced by the sheer longing
and physical attraction these two feel for one another. When
Ryan’s sister demands that he make an appearance at their
little sister’s wedding, he agrees only after convincing Alex
to join him, and the resulting moments afford a glimpse into
what he, and she, might be missing, both good and bad. At
first I found the wedding scenes to be a silly diversion from
the main story, but the more I’ve thought about it, they serve
to buttress the very real dilemma facing Ryan. As was the
case in Michael Clayton, Clooney gives a magnificent
and nuanced turn as a man at a critical juncture in life,
a point at which everything that had mattered once is turned
upside down, or at least reexamined.
By turns hilariously funny and deeply poignant, Up in the
Air is a movie whose narrative is profoundly of our times,
not just because it holds up to our faces the real and personal
effects of economic devastation. The lack of meaningful human
contact, most obviously parlayed in Natalie’s vision of how
to fire people and cut costs, seeps out at nearly every corner.
Ryan’s family reunion, as it were, is cut with the implied
need to want to fit in, to be part of something, and the realization
that these people mean nothing to him.
fast, punch hard: Downey Jr. in Sherlock Holmes.
by Guy Ritchie
Sherlock Holmes used brains, not brawn, to solve cases of
criminality so baffling that law enforcement protocols of
the time were rendered useless. In Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock
Holmes, bare knuckles are as important in stopping evildoings
as deductive reasoning. Inspired by, rather than adapted from,
the works of Arthur Conan Doyle, this Holmes (Robert Downey
Jr.) is an eccentric, sometimes neurasthenic renegade who
just happens to have brilliant powers of observation. The
Victorian England he inhabits, however, seethes with hidden
agendas in an atmosphere of rotting class distinctions, opulent
parlors, and industrialized commerce, including a mechanized
slaughterhouse that provides an action sequence that is completely
in keeping with Ritchie’s previous films such as Lock,
Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, and Snatch. Dr.
Watson (Jude Law), too, has been reinvented, from a bumbling
counterpart to a handsome, effectual gentleman, recently engaged,
and trying to loosen himself from Holmes’ personal and professional
Bromance has apparently seeped into the realm of starched
collars and stiff upper lips.
The topsy-turvy plot begins with a peculiar murder, and then
another, and then the realization that a certain Lord Blackwood
(a potently sinister Mark Strong) is using black magic to
take over the British Empire. The case gets curiouser and
curiouser after Blackwood is seen alive after being hanged.
This is especially galling to Watson, who as the attending
physician confirmed the death. The plot thickens when Irene
(Rachel McAdams) arrives from foreign intrigues to ask Holmes
for his help in locating a cohort. Still besotted with his
old flame, Holmes agrees, and follows Irene incognito to a
carriage containing her mysterious employer.
The nefarious plot—slightly reminiscent of The Hound of
the Baskervilles—is suitably diabolical, and its confounding
skeins are tied together with panache. However, an overabundance
of fight scenes slows the proceedings and disrupts the momentum
of escalating corruption. To win some money (and exorcise
some personal demons), Holmes takes on a much larger opponent
in a boxing match. His use of scientific strategy (shown in
slow motion) to take down his adversary is enjoyably clever,
although a little less so when the sequence is repeated. The
same goes for when Holmes and Watson are attacked by a henchman
who won’t take a knockout lying down. The script, noticeably
the work of several screenwriters, shifts between snarky modernization,
CGI mayhem, and suspenseful period drama, diluting both the
menace of unseen powers-that-be, and the marvelous artistry
of the top-notch production crew (cinematography by Philippe
Rousselot, score by Hans Zimmer). One disappointment is that
the seemingly malevolent Inspector Lestrade (Eddie Marsan)
has been reduced to a bit player.
What elevates Sherlock Holmes from being just a Guy
Ritchie film with bowlers and watch fobs is Downey’s performance.
His insouciant attitude, bizarre savior faire, and convincing
displays of both brains and brawn make the character’s every
maneuver a pleasure, especially in the “ah-ha!” revelations
that make the original so enduringly intriguing.
stand: Mortensen in The Road.
by John Hillcoat
One of the most interesting aspects of The Road
is the fact that it exists at all. In brief description it
sounds like a movie with little to commend it to financiers:
a little-known director working with a mid-level leading actor
in a bleak movie about an unnamed man and son traveling through
a generic landscape devastated by an unidentified global cataclysm.
(Sounds like an absent-minded recollection of a late-career
Kevin Costner flick.) Plus, there’s no single antagonist and
no love interest. Yeah, good luck pitching that.
In fact, the studios did pass, and quickly. The movie got
made, in great part, because people who love Cormac McCarthy,
on whose novel of same name the movie is based, really
love Cormac McCarthy. The story is that the Australian musician
Nick Cave had a prepublication manuscript copy of the novel
and recommended it to director John Hillcoat (who has directed
two Cave-scripted movies well worth seeking out, Ghosts
of the Civil Dead and The Proposition). Hillcoat
loved it, secured independent financing and began making the
movie. In the meantime, another of McCarthy’s books was made
into a critically successful film (the Coen brothers’ Oscar-winning
No Country for Old Men), and The Road gained
McCarthy a Pulitzer and a seat on Oprah’s couch.
In a sense, Hillcoat and screenwriter Joe Penhall slipped
their non-studio-funded version through a little loophole
in the biography of the man now called “the greatest living
So, how’d they do?
Quite admirably, in large part. Hillcoat is to be commended
for his casting and direction of Viggo Mortensen and Kodi
Smitt-McPhee, as the nameless Man and Boy, respectively: Mortensen
convincingly evokes the strength that is parental love in
desperation; Smitt-McPhee’s combination of near autism and
childlike moral resolve renders the Boy character almost alien,
subtly reiterating the message of the blasted terrain.
Though one or two of the most gruesome scenes of the novel
have been skipped, the film is very faithful to both the plot
and to McCarthy’s spare, halting dialog. Visually, Hillcoat’s
road wends through a dim and ruined geography. It’s artfully
and compelling harsh and could very well be that described
But there’s the rub. One of McCarthy’s great gifts is the
almost geological nature of his poetic voice: patient, ancient,
removed and aloof . . . then suddenly molten, maliciously
attentive and brutally thorough. Stripped of McCarthy’s sentences,
this story is a considerably different experience.
Of course, that’s true of all adaptations across media. But
given the fanaticism of McCarthy fandom, it may prove a particular
bone of contention. Personally, I have a fitful relationship
with his writing. McCarthy is a more patient writer than I
am a reader, perhaps. I found the sentenceless version of
this story—a fable, at heart, about the act of paternal devotion,
the practice of male parenting in the face of a fate that
emasculates and obliterates—direct, affecting and brave.
But if you see anyone storm out of the theater, check the
retreating back pocket for a well-worn paperback.
bow: Ledger in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.
All the People
Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
by Terry GilliamThe
universe is conspiring against Terry Gilliam. The director
has butted heads with the Hollywood system for much of his
film career; he’s had almost as many projects go to pot as
have made it to the screen. (His aborted screen adaptation
of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is a legendary
failure.) So Heath Ledger’s passing in January 2008, halfway
through the filming of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus,
had all the makings of another God vs.Gilliam debacle. Sure
enough, even as the film was completed in Ledger’s absence,
tragedy continued to call: Producer William Vince died a week
after shooting wrapped, and Gilliam himself was hit by a car
and broke his back during postproduction. Maybe he was meant
to be a dentist?
Against nature, perhaps, Parnassus has made it to the
big screen, and it becomes quickly obvious why the Monty Python
alum was so passionate about the film’s completion. It’s a
typically indulgent work with all the philosophical hallmarks
of a Gilliam production, but this time it feels personal.
As much as the film addresses human temptation and the possibility
of imagination to escape or transcend a dreary reality, it’s
also about the director facing down his own old age and his
struggles with creativity, and contemplating—or defining—his
role in the grand scheme.
The immortal Doctor Parnassus (an ever-impressive Christopher
Plummer) is a morbid alcoholic and unrepentant gambler, an
aged outsider who leads a traveling sideshow troupe—including
a dwarf, Percy (Verne Troyer), and young prestidigitator Anton
(Andrew Garfield)—around the dark backstreets of modern-day
London. Parnassus “has the power to empower your mind”; by
passing through the doctor’s magic mirror, patrons are able
to explore their own imaginary worlds. But fewer and fewer
people are willing to believe. The only game participants
seem to be themselves drunks; in the film’s expository scene,
a loutish bar patron rushes the stage and attacks the doctor’s
beguiling young daughter, Valentina (Lily Cole), before tripping
through the mirror into the darkness of his own soul.
Parnassus’ opponent in the ongoing battle for souls is Mr.
Nick, played by Tom Waits. The two have an ongoing deal that
promises Valentina to Mr. Nick on her 16th birthday, in exchange
for the doctor’s eternal life—a deal, and a life, which Parnassus
appears to regret constantly. Always the entertaining screen
presence, Waits, in a pencil-thin moustache and bowler hat,
finds shades of Johnny Depp’s Willy Wonka in his portrayal
of a mischievous devil. But he stops short of full-on ham,
playing with a weariness that pales only in comparison to
Parnassus’ existential dread. Parnassus has a centuries-long
losing streak, yet the chemistry between the two is that of
Fortunes improve when the group are joined by a mysterious
stranger named Tony. Ledger’s performance here can almost
be read as postscript: In his first scene, he is hanging by
the neck, beneath a bridge. Lest that cast a pall over the
proceedings, the majority of the late actor’s scenes find
him injecting life and motion into the troupe’s otherwise
dreary existence. He modernizes the show to appeal to a new
audience, and the colors and alternate worlds spring to life.
A trio of Ledger’s friends—Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell—step
in to play the imaginary versions of Tony, a construct that
enhances rather than detracts from the enjoyment of these
About the imaginary worlds: This is the first time Gilliam
has made extensive use of CGI, to mixed results. For all the
computer-generated (sur)realism, longtime fans of the director’s
work might find themselves pining for the more tangible, handmade
worlds of the his earlier films. And in the CGI-dependent
final quarter, both the vision and the message become convoluted.
The use of figurative imagery becomes clouded by ham-handed
literalism, and the introduction of religion and sex into
the narrative seems like the product of too many rewrites.
But when it all clicks, it’s outstanding. To wit: When an
older, well-to-do woman enters the mirror, the world she sees
is a stunning watercolor universe full of giant shoes and
endless baubles. There’s more creativity in this one scene
than in all of Avatar. Storytelling, we’re told, sustains
the universe; moreover, it’s what makes Gilliam’s Imaginarium
pleased: Blunt as The Young Victoria.
by Jean-Marc ValléeOur
enduring impression of Queen Victoria is that of an exceedingly
plump, dour looking old biddy whose seemingly incongruous
fecundity lead to a veritable labyrinth of blood lines running
through nearly all the royal houses of Europe. That she shared
an enduring love with her husband, Prince Albert, and that
she never quite recovered from the grief she felt when he
died prematurely, are footnotes memorialized by history buffs
and royalists. So the chance to catch a glimpse of what the
monarch may have been like as a teen matching wits with those
who would attempt to usurp her right to the throne, as The
Young Victoria purports, is appealing. After all, a similar
plotline worked quite nicely for Elizabeth.
However, as directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, The Young Victoria
never quite cuts loose from its constricting stays. Victoria
(Emily Blunt) is certainly no coward, as evidenced by the
way in which she flings the pen away from her mother’s advisor,
Sir John Conroy (Mark Strong), after he again tries to get
her to agree to a regency agreement. And she’s quick-witted,
a fact that plays out nicely as she teasingly foments gossip
with her dying uncle, King William (Jim Broadbent). But she’s
largely untested and very malleable in the hands of the savvy
Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany), who uses his influence on the
novice queen to achieve his own ends, resulting in a not-very-convincingly-played
crisis of government.
The movie’s best moments are those in which Victoria and her
cousin Albert (Rupert Friend) realize that they really do
care for one another, and that ruling together can be quite
fun. There’s both playfulness and tension in these moments,
such as when Victoria proposes to Albert or when she chastises
him for overstepping his bounds. One has to marvel at the
man’s mettle, as he must defer to his queen even as he’s brimming
with great ideas for how she should rule.
Ultimately, The Young Victoria is the kind of costume
drama one used to expect from Brit offerings on PBS. It’s
plush and well-appointed, and the accents are indeed delightful
as they underscore occasionally witty ripostes, but it’s otherwise
dry and lifeless.
by Nancy Meyers
Jane (Meryl Streep) is a middle-age divorcee in Santa Barbara,
Calif., who has an enviably perfect life: three grown children
who adore her, a successful bakery, and a sunlit house where
she gets together with her friends to drink wine and bemoan
their single status. But Jane doesn’t quite have it all—her
husband of 20 years, Jake (Alec Baldwin), left her for a younger
woman. Ten years ago. And Jane hasn’t had a love life since.
But when Jane and Jake are thrown together at a party, a spark
flies—and follows them to their son’s graduation ceremony
in New York, where it turns into a bonfire. Exhausted by his
hard-driving, hard-body second wife (Lake Bell) and her demands
for another baby, Jake longs for Jane and the family life
he left behind. To which Jane responds with sarcastic caution
that melts into amused abandon after an evening of martini-fueled
repartee and dancing.
Written and directed by Nancy Meyers, who reinvented the chick
flick to cater to women of a certain age and income (Something’s
Gotta Give, What Women Want), It’s Complicated
is more confectionary than the chocolate croissants that Jane
is known for. But because she’s played by Streep, who has
terrific chemistry with a delectably comic Baldwin, this innocuous
puff pastry of midlife wish fulfillment heats up a frothy
head of steam. And who can resist hearing the regal Streep
coyly admitting, “I’m a bit of a slut.”
Jane makes this admission during an otherwise routine evening
of griping, giggling about nothing, and wine swilling with
her gal pals. But the entrance of Steve Martin, as a bashful
architect making a tentative play for Jane, and John Krasinski
as the finance of Jane’s daughter (who is the amusingly mortified
witness to Jane’s frazzled impetuousness), make up for the
clichés as Jane’s not-so-clandestine affair with her ex collides
with her first attempts at dating and her daughter’s upcoming
wedding. Complications do ensue, both bittersweet and ribald—Baldwin’s
attempt at a full-frontal surprise seduction is one of the
funniest scenes in the Myers catalog—and this comedic, ahem,
thrust compensates for a predictably mellowed-out conclusion.
kiss it! The Princess and the Frog.
Princess and the Frog
by Ron Clements and John Musker
Disney animation studios, under the enlightened new Pixar
regime, decided to return to first principles when reviving
hand-drawn animation with The Princess and the Frog.
These would include: Make the characters and setting appealing.
Get the story right. Make sure that there’s a couple of decent
songs. Introduce plenty of comic supporting characters, but
cut out the smart-ass modern anachronisms in the dialogue.
Don’t insult your audience—adults or children.
The lead character is an African-American, would-be Cinderella
named Tiana (Anika Noni Rose). She plans on being her own
Prince Charming, though, working hard waitressing, and saving
money to open the fancy restaurant her late father dreamed
of having. The unlikelihood that her father would have been
able to follow his dream in post-World War I, Jim Crow-era
New Orleans, is subtly conveyed to the audience.
The big set piece in the first part of the film is built around
Randy Newman’s song “Almost There.” Thanks to the Cartoon
Brew animation blog, I now know that this is technically called,
in princess-movie terms, the “I want” song. Think Snow White
warbling, in that tiny little soprano voice, “I’m Wishing.”
Here, it’s a rollicking moment, as Tiana’s imagination transforms
a decrepit waterfront warehouse into an Art Deco palace. The
scene looks and feels different from what comes before and
after, but it’s not jarring—it’s a dream made visible.
At this point, the racial politics get interesting. Soon enough
a wealthy Indian—as in South Asian—prince named Naveen (Bruno
Campos) is on the scene. The prince is to be hosted at a fancy
dinner by wealthy, white “Big Daddy” LaBouff (John Goodman)
and his daughter Charlotte (Jennifer Cody). She wants to marry
the prince—prince-hunting has been a lifelong passion—and
she hires Tiana to cook for the party. When Tiana’s dress
ends up ruined, Charlotte loans her a gown, and. . . . This
racial-political minefield is handled so deftly, even now
I can’t quite believe how they pulled it off.
Back to the story: There’s a nifty voodoo villain (Keith David)
with his own evil agenda, and soon enough both Tiana and the
Prince are turned into frogs. They travel across the bayou,
meeting musical gators and light-besotted fireflies, to try
to find a voodoo woman to reverse the curse. It’s all improbably
charming, with moments of honestly earned emotion along the
way. And Newman’s score helps. A lot.
Like any good princess movie, everything ends happily. And
since this is Disney, not DreamWorks, the leads—thank Walt—don’t
end up green and ugly.
they’re Italian? (l-r) Day-Lewis and Cotillard in Nine.
Time With Feeling
by Rob Marshall
Rob Marshall’s latest musical spectacle, though not enjoyable,
does serve as a valuable reminder that there are worse things
than bad movies. There are mediocre movies. Nine is
such a bland and pointless exercise that it’s hardly worth
talking about, but in hopes that it will prevent you from
wasting your time, I’ll carry on.
the movie Nine is an adaptation of an Italian musical
based on Frederico Fellini’s film 8 1/2. Released in
1963, Fellini’s movie is now regarded a classic of international
and art cinema. His fanciful and semi-autobiographical depiction
of director Guido Anselmi is a rambunctious, high-spirited,
Keystone-style romp through the midlife/artistic crisis of
a talented but recklessly selfish and immature man. Fellini
quite gracefully infuses Guido’s story with both the youthful
élan and sophistication of Italy in the ’60s and the still-powerful
inhibiting and chastising force of the Catholic faith. It’s
a masterful tension—in the lead character and in the movie,
as a whole—of angst and antics. Guido, a self-indulgent artist,
compulsive liar and womanizer, is both sympathetic and unforgivable.
Fellini does not let himself off the hook, much as he hopes
to be absolved and coddled.
Sadly, this spirit and this tension and this humor all are
absent from Nine. A major problem is in the casting:
Daniel Day-Lewis is no Marcello Mastroianni. No mistake, Day-Lewis
is a very fine actor. But he exudes an anxious gravitas that
is galaxies away from Mastroianni’s fidgety but fond self-awareness.
Frankly, Day-Lewis just isn’t funny. The rest of the cast
fares little better. Marion Cotillard (as Luisa, Guido’s wife)
is the best of the lot, though her character seems to have
been vitiated—either to accommodate or by the very fact of
Day-Lewis’ heaviness. There is not one performance in Nine
that matches, never mind improves, the performances in the
original. (Though, casting agents, whenever the Britney Spears
biopic gets underway, you’d do well to refer to Kate Hudson’s
True enough, this is a musical; so, arguably, some space had
to be hacked out for the songs. But speaking of “hack”. .
. Wow, these are terrible songs. Melodically, they’re competent
enough, but the lyrics are straight filler, with no more substance,
narrative purpose or emotional force than a back-up vocalist’s
“uh-huh, oh yeah.”
The motivation for making this movie in the first place is
beyond me. I’d be comforted to hear that it was just a cynical
attempt to reproduce Marshall’s box-office success with Chicago.
But whatever else the director failed to capture of the original
source, one wishes he had swiped the note Fellini is reported
to have taped to his camera during the filming of 8 1/2:
“Remember, this is a comedy.”
a Death Panel
You Hear About the Morgans?
by Marc Lawrence
Never have I sat through a movie during which I’ve actively
rooted for someone, something, to put a quick end to the ceaseless
whining of the putative romantic leads, but that’s just what
happened while viewing Did You Hear About the Morgans?
This dim-witted, leaden offering from writer-director Marc
Lawrence teams up Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker as Paul
and Meryl Morgan, fabulously successful New Yorkers who recently
separated but, through dumb luck, witness a murder and are
summarily whisked off to a witness-protection program in Wyoming.
What passes for humor in this dud is Meryl gesturing to a
couple of cows and asking which is skim, or Paul spraying
grizzly repellent in his eyes. Twice.
While the Wyoming natives come off as level-headed, Paul and
Meryl are just plain obnoxious, stereotypical New Yorkers.
Parker tries to channel a bit of Carole Lombard in My Man
Godfrey, but she’s got no tenderness. Her incessant whining
about Paul’s unfortunate one-night stand from several months
back is a strident sour note. There’s nothing cute or sassy
about Parker, and indeed, she’s too mature to be trying to
vamp those qualities. Her Meryl is a stringy shrew. Grant,
who has had some winning performances of late, is wooden.
He squeezes out witty one-liners, but they fall into nothingness,
and he looks pained at having had to make the effort.
When the killer spies the Morgans, we can’t help but hope
that he can parlay his skill into sudden death, and we can
go home. Same thought occurred to me when a grizzly bear threatens
Paul, or when a bull charges, or when the hit man finds them
again. In fact, the only thing that kept me occupied, besides
the fact of having to write this review, was imagining all
the ways a more creative, or at least diabolical, filmmaker
would have killed not just the Morgans, but the very concept
of the movie.