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Am I blue? Avatar.

Brave New World

By Shawn Stone


Directed by James Cameron

Avatar, 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 diplomacy fails.

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 flying dragons.

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.

This is a review of the IMAX 3D version of Avatar. Your experience with Real 3D or flat screenings will definitely vary.

Corporate capers: (l-r) Kendrick and Clooney in Up in the Air.

The Lonely Skies

Up in the Air

Directed by Jason Reitman

“To 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 chat.

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.

Up 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.

—Laura Leon

Think fast, punch hard: Downey Jr. in Sherlock Holmes.


Sherlock Homes

Directed 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 dependency.

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.

—Ann Morrow

Last stand: Mortensen in The Road.

The Long March

The Road

Directed 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 American writer.”

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 by McCarthy.

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.

—John Rodat

Last bow: Ledger in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.

Imagine All the People

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Directed 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 old friends.

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 scenes.

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 great.

—John Brodeur

Royally pleased: Blunt as The Young Victoria.

Royalty Under Glass

The Young Victoria

Directed 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.

—Laura Leon

Never Too Late

It’s Complicated

Directed 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.

—Ann Morrow

Don’t kiss it! The Princess and the Frog.

Old School

The Princess and the Frog

Directed 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.

—Shawn Stone

Really, they’re Italian? (l-r) Day-Lewis and Cotillard in Nine.

Next Time With Feeling


Directed 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.

So, 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 work here.)

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.”

—John Rodat

Convene a Death Panel

Did You Hear About the Morgans?

Directed 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.

—Laura Leon

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