ReelThoughts: April 11, 2008

"Theatrical Releases"

Commentary by James Berardinelli


The end of the drought is nearing: Al Pacino, a Judd Apatow-produced comedy, and a teaming of Jet Li and Jackie Chan. But that's next weekend. What about today? Sadly, more of the same. A lot of movies that few people care about and even fewer will see.

The two biggest titles of the weekend endeavor to take us back to the '80s in spirit if not in fact. Prom Night is not, as it has been mistakenly identified in numerous places, a remake of the 1980 movie of the same name. In fact, it has nothing to do with that one. The producers must have been aware of the connection, so why create the confusion? Maybe they were hoping it would sucker a few more souls into theaters. Prom Night, while not a remake of an '80s movie, is still a throwback. Recall the mid-'80s, when the slasher genre was gasping its last breaths and some horrifically bad movies were rising from the ashes. That's the kind of film Prom Night is, with the added twist that it's rated PG-13. That's like a porn movie without the sex scenes. Nevertheless, most analysts expect this to be the Box Office Champion, and I'll go along with them. If you don't remember how bad slasher films can get, Prom Night provides an excellent opportunity to jump-start the memory.

Street Kings is a throwback as well - to the tough, gritty cop movies that flooded theaters during the '80s. It was the era of Dirty Harry (who was still around) meeting Miami Vice. Some of them, especially at the beginning, were good. Most, however, were routine and the more of them that were produced, the more clichéd they became. Street Kings seems a little out-of-place in 2008 but would have found a familiar niche 20 years ago. It's not a bad movie until the end, when it implodes in a few minutes of spectacular stupidity. I'd love to know if the last scene was tacked-on after the fact, because it feels that way. I can't really recommend the movie, but it's not a total disaster. And, while Hugh Laurie isn't officially playing Dr. House, he might as well be.

Smart People and The Visitor share a thematic kinship. They're both about bored, disgruntled college professors who find something to re-invigorate their lives. Of the two, The Visitor is smarter and more interesting. Smart People features Ellen Page in a supporting role, but she doesn't have a lot to do. The Visitor has a slightly stronger "feel good" vibe, although there is a pro-illegal alien message contained within that some will find disturbing. (This becomes the second movie in as many weeks to underline this theme - see last week's Under the Same Moon.) I'm recommending The Visitor, but not with boundless enthusiasm. I'm not recommending Smart People - it's too formulaic to be worth the price of admission.

So, with all these misses, is there something to see? Yes, if it has opened near you. This week's Pick of the Week is the inspirational documentary Young @ Heart, which follows the exploits of 24 oldsters who form a chorus that sings pop, rock, punk, and blues. No Sinatra for these Senior Citizens. Young @ Heart isn't the Next Great Documentary, but it's a pleasant 100 minutes and it's hard to imagine anyone not liking it. The term "crowd pleaser" applies. And if it's not opening at a theater near you, this may be another weekend for yard work and DVDs.


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