Theatrical Releases

March 28, 2008
A thought by James Berardinelli

It's brutal out there. There's no other way to describe things at the multiplexes this weekend. Has anyone else noticed this? For the third straight weekend, Horton Hears a Who! will likely take the Box Office Champion crown, and that's mainly because there's nothing out there to unseat it. It's the height of obviousness to note that that box office is in a major slump. This is an issue of product - how is it that so many dull and unimaginative titles have made it all the way through production and onto theater screens? Half of what has come out in the last month is the kind of thing one expects to show up direct-to-DVD.

So what is out there? If you're into parodies, there's Superhero Movie. Although (thankfully) not made by the people responsible for the unfunny Date Movie, Epic Movie, and Meet the Spartans, this film has two things going against it: it stars Leslie Neilsen (who hasn't been funny in two decades) and Pamela Anderson (who has never been funny) and it wasn't screened for critics. I elected not to see it because I need a break from non-screened movies. There's enough badness out there being shown to us that I have had my fill. Maybe there's some good humor to be found in Superhero Movie, but the previews don't look promising.

21 should be a lot better than it is. The book upon which it is loosely based is fascinating; the movie decides to jettison most of the reality so what's left can be crammed into a traditional Hollywood caper plot. The result underwhelms and it's not helped by poor casting decisions and some rather obvious plot holes. For those who like heist films, there's a much better choice out there. Flawless, with Demi Moore and Michael Caine stealing diamonds, is this week's Pick of the Week. It's only playing in Landmark Theaters but it's also available on cable/satellite pay-per-view, so the distribution isn't as limited as it might seem. Given a choice between these two superficially similar motion pictures, it's no gamble to go with Flawless.

If you don't expect Superhero Movie to be funny enough, you can give Run Fatboy Run a shot. It stars and was co-written by Simon Pegg (of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz), but it lacks the zing of the productions he brought to the screen with Edgar Wright. Run Fatboy Run is limp and lazy, and even the presence of the divine Thandie Newton can't save it. This movie feels like a direct-to-DVD feature and, for anyone who's interested, just wait a few months and it will be there. Watching Run Fatboy Run will hurt a lot less when it doesn't require the money and effort necessary to attend a multiplex screening.

Finally, there's Stop-Loss, the latest anti-war Iraq movie. Let me clarify something I don't spell out in the review: I'm not a supporter of Bush's war. I don't accept the premise. But agreeing with a philosophy doesn't mean I'm going to applaud a mediocre movie. Stop-Loss is strident and ineffective. It sermonizes but fails to provide interesting or sympathetic characters. There are enough powerful anti-war movies out there to prove that it can be done; it's just that the latest crop of Iraq-centered efforts have repeatedly failed. (I am cognizant that these opinions will generate hate mail. Liberals will dislike me for flaming a movie that embodies their feelings. Conservatives will dislike me for revealing anti-war sentiments. Oh well – I need material for the next "hate mail" column anyway.) Based on the public's reaction to the other Iraq war movies, this one will sink like a stone and even the ripples will be gone by week's end.

So we bid March adieu. Cinematically, it came and went like a lamb. Now it's time for April showers. We can only hope and pray they'll bring flowers before the May crop of big-name titles arrive.