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Old 06-02-2007, 11:17 AM   #106
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Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
Directed by Gore Verbinksi
Written by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio
Starring Orlando Bloom, Jack Davenport, Johnny Depp, Naomie Harris, Tom Hollander, Keira Knightley, Bill Nighy, Geoffrey Rush, Stellan Skarsgard and Chow Yun-Fat


In the summer of 2003, Walt Disney Pictures' Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl landed in theaters as a fun, cinematic thrill-ride about Will Turner, a blacksmith who teams up with the eccentric pirate Jack Sparrow in an effort to save the governor's daughter Elizabeth Swann. The film went on to gross over $305 million at the box-office, and led to the follow-up film Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest in 2006. A movie that was more about style than substance, but enjoyable nonetheless, the second film follows Sparrow, Swann and Turner as they race to recover the heart of Davy Jones, hoping to avoid enslaving Sparrow's soul to Jones. And now less than a year after Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest set box-office records and grossed over $423 million, comes Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End -- a film that easily trumps this month's other releases to take the crown as 2007's first entertaining summer blockbuster.

This time around, Lord Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander) has formed an alliance with the Flying Dutchman and Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) to take over control of the seas and to rid the world of pirates once and for all. But Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) and Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) have also formed an alliance and set sail to the end of the Earth to rescue Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) from Davy Jones' locker.

The three are soon aided in their quest to rescue Captain Jack in Singapore by Captain Sao Feng (Chow Yun-Fat) and his band of Chinese pirates. Once they are able to successfully rescue Sparrow, the group joins forces with the Nine Lords of the Brethren Court in an effort to fend off the pending doom from the East India Company and the Flying Dutchman, while Turner battles to rescue his imprisoned father "Bootstrap" Bill (Stellan Skarsgard).

Lengthy and plot-heavy, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End fails to capture the surprising magic displayed in the franchise's first film, but director Gore Verbinski (The Weather Man, The Ring), writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio (The Legend of Zorro, Shrek) and the movie's fantastic ensemble have managed to outdo the second film by conjuring up an immensely entertaining action-adventure flick that can be quite confusing, but somehow remains exciting. And after a slight slow and tedious start, the movie nicely builds to an energetic and climactic finish.

But the real success of the entire Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy is based around the astonishing technical achievements the series has created. The franchise is very stylistic and visually stimulating, and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End wonderfully captures the incredible visual effects, cinematography, art direction, make-up and costume design that helped make the first two films a joy to watch, while Academy Award winner Hans Zimmer's (The Holiday, The Da Vinci Code) original score also helps add to the intensity of the movie's numerous fight sequences.

The weakest performance in the film unexpectedly comes from Depp (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Libertine) as the beloved Captain Jack, who has now been weighed-down by a script with a large amount of slapstick-like actions and forced one-liners that urge Depp to go increasingly over-the-top in his portrayal of the unusual Sparrow. Knightly (Domino, Pride & Prejudice) gives the most striking performance in the movie, with her character of Elizabeth Swann asked to carry several key scenes in the film, and Keira excelling in the role. And while the romantic plotline between her and Will Turner is still prevalent, that story at least gets rewarded with an eventual payoff.

Despite the movie's complicated storylines and 168-minute running time, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End is still a satisfying spectacle that is sure to delight any fan of the series.


***/****


Upcoming Movie Reviews:
Mr. Brooks, Knocked Up, Bug, Hannibal Rising and The Messengers

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Old 06-02-2007, 11:30 AM   #107
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Mr. Brooks
Directed by Bruce A. Evans
Written by Bruce A. Evans and Raynold Gideon
Starring Dane Cook, Kevin Costner, Marg Helgenberger, William Hurt, Jason Lewis, Demi Moore, Danielle Panabaker and Matt Schulze


Two-time Academy Award winner Kevin Costner was one of the more promising actors in the late-1980s and early-1990s. Costner found critical acclaim with his work in such films as The Untouchables, Bull Durham, Dances with Wolves and JKF. But soon after, Costner begin participating in some of the more disastrous films in recent years, including Waterworld, The Postman and 3000 Miles to Graceland. And while Costner has started to do a better job in recent years with selecting material, he once again stumbles by headlining this year's disappointing picture, Mr. Brooks.

Costner stars as Earl Brooks, a highly-successful businessman, husband and father whose alter-ego Marshall (William Hurt) leads him down a mysterious, serial killer path. Two years removed from his last murder, Brooks ends up taking the life of a fiery couple with which he has had his eye on for sometime. Leaving trademark clues behind him, Brooks draws the ire of Detective Tracy Atwood (Demi Moore), who has worked feverishly throughout her career to solve the cases behind Earl's murderous streak.

Usually a systematic and methodical killer, Brooks accidentally murders the couple in their bedroom while their window blinds are opened. A young photographer from across the street, disguising himself as Mr. Smith (Dane Cook), has several photos of Brooks in the couple's apartment at the time of the killings, and blackmails Earl into letting him tag along for his next round of slayings.

A confused and jumbled mess, Mr. Books ultimately suffers from Bruce A. Evans and Raynold Gideon's screenplay that fails to tell or provide depth to the enourmous amounts of sub-plots involved in the film. Beyond the main thrust of the movie, Earl deals with the return home of his pregnant teenage daughter Jane (Danielle Panabaker), who has dropped out of college midway through her freshman year and has found herself tied-up in a campus scandal. Atwood, on the other hand, is in the midst of a messy divorce with her greedy husband Jesse Vialo (Jason Lewis), and her life is soon threatened by serial killer Thorton Meeks (Matt Schulze), who has escaped from prison and has revenge on his mind. None of the stories are ever provided much detail, and in the end they just complicate and distract from the rest of the movie.

In his first directed film since 1992's Christian Slater action-comedy Kuffs, Evans struggles trying to find a proper tone for the movie. The story is not engaging enough to be a recommendable psychological thriller, the characters are inadequately developed and their motivations take a backseat to the action on several occasions, making it hard to consider the film a noir, and most of the inserted jokes in the dialogue are forced and seem too out-of-place for Mr. Brooks to be labeled as a dark-comedy.

Costner (The Guardian, Rumor Has It...) is captivating in the role of Earl Brooks, and his work in this film will rank alongside his performance in Mike Binder's The Upside of Anger as his best acting job in well-over a decade. Unfortunately, Costner spends most of his time on-screen with his irritating alter ego Marshall, with Hurt's (The Good Shepherd, Syriana) performance serving as more bothersome than thrilling. Moore (Bobby, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle) is the only likeable character in the film, but is bogged-down with too many ridiculous and unanswered plotlines, and Cook (Employee of the Month, London) is easily the most uninteresting and uninvolving of the bunch.

What could have been a simple and intriguing story in the mind of a serial killer, Mr. Books turns into a film made around several characters and several stories that are not worth investing time in.


*.5/****


Upcoming Movie Reviews:
Knocked Up, Bug, Hannibal Rising and The Messengers
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Old 06-04-2007, 12:18 PM   #108
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Knocked Up
Directed by Judd Apatow
Written by Judd Apatow
Starring Iris Apatow, Maude Apatow, Jay Burachel, Ketherine Heigl, Jonah Hill, Leslie Mann, Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd, Jason Segel and Martin Starr


39-year old Judd Apatow began his career as a television writer for the Fox sketch comedy program, The Ben Stiller Show. The show earned Apatow an Emmy Award for Outstanding Invidual Achievement in Writing in a Variety or Music Program, and led to Apatow joining the writing crew of HBO's The Larry Sanders Show, where he would receive four additional Emmy nominations and win two CableACE Awards. Apatow also became a writer and director on the short-lived television show Freaks & Geeks, before creating his own short-lived television show Undeclared. Apatow then went on to direct his first-feature film in the summer of 2005, The 40-Year Old Virgin. Now in 2007, Apatow follows up that $100 million box-office hit with his second-film, Knocked Up.

Katherine Heigl (Caffeine, TV's Grey's Anatomy) stars as Alison Scott, a young producer for E! Television who has been afforded the opportunity to move in-front of the camera to begin conducting celebrity interviews. Scott decides to celebrate her new promotion by going dancing at a nearby hotspot with her sister Debbie (Leslie Mann), but unexpectedly concludes the evening with a one night stand with funny, young partier Ben Stone (Seth Rogen).

The next morning, Allison realizes that hooking up with Ben was likely a mistake, and the two end up going their separate ways. But weeks later, Scott discovers that her one-night stand with Stone has resulted in an unwanted pregnancy. Once Scott decides to go ahead with the pregnancy, she and Ben begin dating with the hope of forming a lasting relationship for the sake of their child.

The definition of a romantic comedy for guys, Knocked Up provides a ton of crude and outrageous humor, while also maintaining a good balance of heart and warmth. The lewd and vulgar remarks made throughout the film will make Knocked Up one of the more quotable releases of the year, but the story and the picture only works if told in a realistic and earnest manner. And while the drama and the acting in the movie feels sincere, the story feels a little rushed and doesn't take the needed time to sell you on why the characters are acting in the manner they do.

Heigl proves her star quality with this vehicle, turning in the best performance of her career and one of the finer female performances of 2007. Similar to Catherine Keener's role in The 40-Year Old Virgin, Heigl's Scott is asked to be the straight-laced and endearing counterpart to Rogen's (You, Me and Dupree, Shrek the Third) rude and lazy Stone, and she manages the role exceptionally well. Rogen, on the other hand, doesn't have the desired charisma and charm required to headline the film, but he is funny enough to also refrain from dragging the picture down.

Apatow regulars Jay Burachel (Million Dollar Baby, The Rules of Attraction), Jonah Hill (10 Items or Less, Accepted), Jason Segal (11:14, TV's How I Met Your Mother) and Martin Starr (Kicking & Screaming, Stealing Harvard) make appearances as Stone's weed-smoking friends, and while they spout-off the occasional funny line, their schitck becomes tiresome and many of the jokes feel like rehashed material from previous Apatow scripts. Paul Rudd (Night at the Museum, The OH in Ohio) and Apatow's wife Mann (Orange County, Big Daddy) play members of Scott's family, with both highly enjoyable to watch in slightly underutilized roles.

A brazen comedy with a little touch of sweetness, Knocked Up is a refreshing tale that will likely please both male and female adult filmgoers.


**.5/****


Upcoming Movie Reviews:
Bug, Hannibal Rising, The Messengers, Surf's Up and Ocean's 13
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Old 06-04-2007, 04:03 PM   #109
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Bug
Directed by William Friedkin
Written by Tracy Letts
Starring Brian F. O'Byrne, Lynn Collins, Harry Connick Jr., Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon


Tulsa, Oklahoma native Tracy Letts is the son of actor Dennis Letts and author Billie Letts, whose novel "Where the Heart Is" was adapted for the screen in 2000, and starred Natalie Portman and Ashley Judd. Tracy followed in his family's famous footsteps by becoming an American playwright, authoring the off-Broadway play "Killer Joe," which featured Scott Glenn, Michael Shannon and Sarah Paulson. Letts reteamed with Shannon for the Obie Award winning "Bug," before adapting his successful play into a feature film in 2007.

Starring both Ashley Judd (Come Early Morning, De-Lovely) and Michael Shannon (Lucky You, Let's Go to Prison), Bug follows Agnes White (Judd), a poor, miserable and depressed woman living in an old, worn-down motel room in Oklahoma. White, reeling from the news that her ex-husband Jerry Gross (Harry Connick Jr.) has been released from prison, is introduced to former soldier Peter Evans (Shannon) by her lesbian friend R.C. (Lynn Collins). White discovers that Evans is hiding out from the government, who he claims conducted several biological tests on him.

White and Evans quickly begin to form a budding relationship with each other, that soon turns sexual. But following their first sexual encounter, Evans alleges to have been bitten by a small-aphid in White's hotel room. Soon, it appears both White and Evans have been affected by the severe bug bites, leaving the two of them with noticeable rash-like symptoms and paranoid towards their ability to find a cure.

A film that is far different from how it is being marketed by Lions Gate Films, Bug is not the scare-flick nor thrill-ride that you might be expecting. Instead, Bug is a low-budget, unsettling and compelling character study brought to life through incredible acting and Academy Award winner William Friedkin's (The Hunted, Rules of Engagement) intrusive direction. Bug joins 2006's Hard Candy as one of the more suspenseful and gripping films without ever having to resort to a typical blood-and-guts, creepy-killer resolution.

Ashley Judd gives the performance of her career as Agnes White, eloquently portraying a dejected small-town woman and wonderfully personifying someone suffering from delusions. Shannon is just as deeply powerful in the role of Evans, matching Judd in every scene with an intense and dark performance of his own.

The only real disappoint in the movie is Lett's adapted screenplay, which contains a handful of formuliac characters and unfortunately still feels like it was designed as a stage play. The movie merely revolves around two characters talking in a solitary environment, but unlike David Slade's Hard Candy or Richard Linklater's Tape, which already had several talking points established in the beginning of the film, Bug slowly and tediously builds to what it is still an effective climactic finish.

A disturbing art-house style flick, Bug is a tremendously well-directed and ardently-acted picture destined to be a misunderstood, but impactful movie.


***/****


Upcoming Movie Reviews:
Hannibal Rising, The Messengers, Surf's Up and Ocean's 13

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Old 06-20-2007, 09:58 AM   #110
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Hannibal Rising
Directed by Peter Webber
Written by Thomas Harris
Starring Richard Brake, Rhys Ifans, Gong Li, Kevin McKidd, Gaspard Ulliel and Dominic West


Jonathan Demme’s 1991 film The Silence of the Lambs took home five Academy Awards, sweeping the major categories of Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay. The movie starred Anthony Hopkins in a superb performance as the chilling cannibal Dr. Hannibal Lector. Ten-years later the sequel Hannibal arrived in theaters, with Hopkins returning to the screen in the role of Lector, but the film lacked any suspense and was a big disappointment. In 2002, Hopkins and Edward Norton starred in the prequel Red Dragon, a film that wasn’t as riveting as The Silence of the Lambs, but the strong performances made it a definite improvement over Hannibal. This year’s Hannibal Rising now takes us back even further in time to the origins of Hannibal Lector’s dastardly ways, and the movie also takes this series to incredible new-lows.

The movie introduces us to Hannibal Lector as a young child in Lithuania in 1944. In the midst of a region at battle near the end of World War II, young Hannibal witnesses the killing of his parents and his younger sister Mischa by the Nazis. Flash-forward in time by eight years where Lector (Gaspard Ulliel), while still haunted by his inability to protect his sister, has now relocated to Paris, France to study medicine and seek out forgotten members of his family.

In France, Lector meets his Japanese Aunt Lady Murasaki Shikibu (Gong Li), who lost members of her family in Hiroshima. Hannibal and Lady Murasaki start to bond over the art of Japanese sword and stick fighting, with Lector using his newfound skills to help plot out his revengeful actions.

Despite some okay visuals and some decent cinematography from Ben Davis (Imagine Me & You, Layer Cake), Hannibal Rising surpasses a level of boredom that even the worst of films have trouble attaining. While the movie is partially hampered by the disposition of being a prequel to an already fantastic and loved film, Hannibal Rising also does plenty of damage itself by being a highly predictable movie centered around a paltry story with poor pacing and putrid writing.

Ilan Eshkeri (Layer Cake) and Shigeru Umebayashi’s (Curse of the Golden Flower, Jet Li’s Fearless) clamorous and incessant original score is overused and highly annoying once the audience is asked to only rely upon the synthesized music as the basis for a particular scene’s tension and intrigue. And surprisingly, a lot of the violent action in the film occurs off-screen, but remains very easy to foretell, lacks audience interest and is oftentimes wrongly drawn out.

The acting in the movie is very uninspiring, with most of the film’s supporting players written in a one-dimensional manner. Young French actor Gaspard Ulliel (A Very Long Engagement, Brotherhood of the Wolf) takes on the challenging role of Hannibal Lector, but is ultimately disappointing in an over-the-top performance. While the script fails Ulliel in trying to establish a fascinating background for his character of Lector, and while it also may be unfair to compare Ulliel to Hopkins or even Brian Cox’s portrayal of Hannibal Lector in Michael Mann’s Manhunter, Gaspard unfortunately possesses no charisma to make him the least bit engaging to watch.

Most filmgoers should be thankful that the stories of Hannibal Lector are starting to be told in reverse order, because Hannibal Rising offers fans absolutely nothing to get excited about in follow-up pictures.


1/2-a-star/****


Upcoming Movie Reviews:
The Messengers, Surf's Up, Ocean's Thirteen and Tyler Perry's Daddy's Little Girls
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Old 06-20-2007, 10:06 AM   #111
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The Messengers
Directed by Oxide Pang Chun and Danny Pang
Written by Mark Wheaton
Starring John Corbett, Penelope Ann Miller, Dylan McDermott, Kristen Stewart, Evan Turner and Theodore Turner


Twin brother screenwriters and directors Danny Pang and Oxide Pang Chun have found international success with their Asian horror films. The duo created the successful The Eye horror movie franchise, which has recently fallen victim to the Hollywood remake-machine with The Eye starring Jessica Alba and produced by Tom Cruise currently in post-production. The Pang brothers have decided to tackle Hollywood themselves, with the release of their first American horror film this year, entitled The Messengers – the type of movie that doesn’t build much excitement for future American made Pang brother projects.

The story follows the Solomon family, who have recently relocated from Chicago, Illinois to a small-town farm in North Dakota. The father, Roy Solomon (Dylan McDermott), returns to the town of his childhood home and has purchased a run-down and abandoned farmhouse where he plans to harvest sunflowers. Denise Solomon (Penelope Ann Miller) is Roy’s stay-at-home wife, Jess Solomon (Kristen Stewart) is their troubled teenage daughter and Ben Solomon (Evan and Theodore Turner) is the couple’s toddler son.

Suffering financial woes, Roy has a lot riding on the success of his sunflower farm, so he hires a grizzly-looking gentleman named Burwell (John Corbett) to assist him with the harvest. But while things appear to be particularly calm on the outside, the inside of the Solomon family farmstead begins to appear haunted with both Jess and Ben spotting ghosts in the home. But Jess has trouble trying to convice her unsuspecting parents that the terrifying occurences are actually happening.

An overly predictable and tedious supernatural thriller, The Messengers is a movie with very few redeeming qualities. The biggest problem is found in Mark Wheaton’s debut screenplay which establishes nearly all of the characters and the majority of the plot to the film within the movie’s first act, with much of the second and early-part of the picture’s third act spent with monotonous filler material so the flick could stretch itself out to barely over 80-minutes in length.

Wheaton’s screenplay also borrows heavily from previous modern-day haunted house horror films like The Grudge or The Amityville Horror, which doesn’t allow for the movie to build any sort of suspense or excitement since the audience has traveled this beaten path one too many times before. The Pang brothers’ direction also leaves a lot to be desired, relying heavily on trite “jump-scares” with sounds cues to provide suspense, while also framing some moments in an odd and somewhat distracting way.

16-year old Stewart (Zathura: A Space Adventure, Panic Room) does a commendable job given the ordinary and stale role of a troubled teenage girl that she was asked to work with, somehow managing to separate herself from the rest of the cast. McDermott (Wonderland, TV’s The Practice) and Corbett (Raise Your Voice, Raising Helen) are both disappointing by playing their roles in an over-the-top way that makes several moments in the movie seem more unintentionally funny as opposed to dramatic.

A derivative and weary tale, The Messengers is an uninventive PG-13 yawner.


*/****


Upcoming Movie Reviews:
Surf's Up, Ocean's Thirteen, Tyler Perry's Daddy's Little Girls and Breach
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Old 06-20-2007, 10:22 AM   #112
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Surf's Up
Directed by Ash Brannon and Chris Buck
Written by Lisa Addario, Christian Darren, Don Rhymer and Joe Syracuse
Starring Diedrich Bader, Jeff Bridges, Mario Cantone, Zooey Deschanel, Jon Heder, Shia LaBeouf and James Woods


In 2005, Luc Jacquet released the film March of the Penguins, which documented the yearly journeys of the emperor penguins to their traditional breeding ground. The Academy Award winner for Best Documentary, March of the Penguins grossed over $77 million and started a new-found love with penguins in film. 2006’s animated pic Happy Feet showed us emperor penguins who find their soulmates through song and dance. Taking in nearly $200 million at the box-office, Happy Feet picked up the Oscar for Best Animated Film at this year’s Academy Award ceremony. Now, Hollywood’s recent love affair with penguins continues with this year’s release of the animated flick Surf’s Up.

Cody Maverick (Shia LaBeouf) is an up-and-coming teenage surfer in Shiverpool, Antartica, who developed an intense passion for the sport of surfing following a childhood encounter with surfing legend “Big Z.” Maverick’s talents in the water attract the attention of talent scout Mikey Abromowitz (Mario Cantone), who recruits Cody to compete in the 10th Annual “Big Z” Memorial Surf-Off at Pen Gu Island, and broadcasted live on SPEN (Sports Penguin Entertainment Network).

Days before the competition, Maverick challenges the surfing world’s current top performer Tank Evans (Diedrich Bader) to an impromptu surf-off, but the youngster is in way over his head, and ends up embarrassing himself on the big waves. But a local native of Pen Gu Island named Geek (Jeff Bridges) decides to take Maverick under his wing, and helps Cody prepare for the renowned Memorial Surf-Off.

A refreshing and inventive animated tale, Surf’s Up is presented on-screen in a mockumentary-filmmaking style that has been popularized by recent Christopher Guest films like Best in Show and A Mighty Wind. The format is pleasant early on, with the overall direction, interviews and character interactions wonderfully encapsulating the feel of a documentary. But midway through the film, the mockumentary method gravitates towards a basic narrative structure, and late-returns to the distinct concept begin to feel out-of-place and slightly distracting.

While the animation work in Surf’s Up is an improvement from the work in Sony Pictures Animation’s 2006 release Open Season, the mockumentary structure doesn’t allow for the film to become overly visual, as the movie is hampered by too many stand-in place interviews and too many background stories presented as still photographs as opposed to archive video footage. The surfing competition is also lacking, with the action not as exciting as one would hope.

The story follows the typical pattern experienced in recent animation productions, but the mockumentary approach does allow for the story to feel new and the writers wisely use the format to bring to life some charming, off-beat humor. Unfortunately, despite some talented voice work in the movie, most of the characters are writing without any depth, and repeat what feels like the same joke and same dialogue throughout the film.

A laid-back and mildly entertaining flick, Surf’s Up's unique mockumentary style will grab your attention in the beginning, but it doesn’t have the capabilities needed to continue to grasp your attention until the very end.


*.5/****


Upcoming Movie Reviews:
Ocean's Thirteen, Tyler Perry's Daddy's Little Girls, Breach and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
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Old 06-20-2007, 10:23 AM   #113
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Ocean's Thirteen
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Written by Brian Koppelman and David Levien
Starring Casey Affleck, Ellen Barkin, Scott Caan, Don Cheadle, George Clooney, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, Elliott Gould, Eddie Jemison, Bernie Mac, Al Pacino, Brad Pitt, Shaobo Qin and Carl Reiner


In 2001, Academy Award winning director Steven Soderbergh remade the 1960 Lewis Milestone comedy Ocean’s Eleven with a cast of Hollywood heavyweights; including, George Clooney, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts. The updated, modern-day tale of Danny Ocean became a box-office hit, grossing over $183 million. Three years later the ensemble returned in the sequel Ocean’s Twelve, with the crew moving their heist hijinks from Las Vegas to across the pond in Europe. While Ocean’s Twelve still managed to gross over $100 million in theaters, the sequel wasn’t as successful as its predecessor and was met with a more mixed critical reaction. But that didn’t stop the majority of the gang from signing up for a the third film in the franchise, Ocean’s Thirteen.

This time around, one of Danny Ocean’s co-conspirator’s Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould) has financially partnered with Las Vegas tycoon Willie Banks (Al Pacino) in creating an impressive, sleek casino and hotel. But Banks and his new business partner Abigail Sponder (Ellen Barkin) have decided to double-cross Tishkoff and remove Reuben from all involvement in the opening of Banks’ new casino. Distraught by the news, Tishkoff soon finds himself in the hospital after suffering a near-fatal heart attack.

Tishkoff’s pals Ocean (Clooney), Linus Caldwell (Damon) and Rusty Ryan (Pitt) formulate a plan to get revenge against Banks, with a heist scheduled for opening night for Willie’s new hot-spot. The three bring all of their familiar associates back together with hopes of rigging every game at the casino so the house ends up losing, while also stealing $250 million in diamonds from Banks. But to help finance the project, the gang has to look towards their old adversary Terry Benedict (Garcia).

A pleasant and charming movie, Ocean’s Thirteen silences the negative critics of Ocean’s Twelve, while almost becoming as entertaining as this group’s version of Ocean’s Eleven. The movie is harmless fun centered around a tremendous cast that possesses an amazing bit of chemistry together. While no member of this movie’s large cast truly stands out from another, it is easy to see that the entire ensemble is having just as much fun working together as the audience is watching their antics unfold on-screen.

Much like the first film in the series, Ocean’s Thirteen does a tremendous job with its Las Vegas interior production design, while Soderbegh’s (Bubble, The Good German) direction and cinematography gives the movie a distinct style that is very satisfying to watch. Given this, and the fine work of the actors involved, Ocean’s Thirteen has a very relaxed feel that makes it an easy to film to sit through.

The flick’s script from Brian Koppelman and David Levien (Walking Tall, Runaway Jury) might be the movie’s biggest weakness, as it feels like much of the dialogue has been rehashed from the previous films, and most of the jokes elicite a simple smile as opposed to a laugh. The majority of the characters’ involvement in this picture’s heist never gets explained, with most of the film focusing solely on the build up to the con. This is fine, as it keeps the movie moving, but it also makes the film come off as forgettable summer fluff.

A likeable sequel from Soderbergh and Co., Ocean’s Thirteen will please fans of the series, but it’s mild entertainment that isn’t worth going out of your way to see.


**/****


Upcoming Movie Reviews:
Tyler Perry's Daddy's Little Girls, Breach, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer and The Namesake
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Old 06-20-2007, 10:32 AM   #114
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Tyler Perry's Daddy's Little Girls
Directed by Tyler Perry
Written by Tyler Perry
Starring Louis Gossett Jr., Idris Elba, China Anne McClain, Lauryn Alisa McClain, Sierra Aylina McClain, Tracee Ellis Ross, Tasha Smith, Gary Anthony Sturgis, Gabrielle Union, Terri J. Vaughn and Malinda Williams


Tyler Perry is a successful African-American playwright and theater producer who recently crossed over into film when he adapted his play Diary of a Mad Black Woman for the big-screen in 2005. Starring CableAce Award winner Kimberly Elise, Diary of a Mad Black Woman went on to gross over $50 million and led to Perry’s directorial debut in 2006 with Madea’s Family Reunion. The movie, starring Blair Underwood and Lynn Whitfield became another hit, taking in over $63 million at the box-office. This success has led to the release of Perry’s quickly put together third film — the melodramatic mess – Daddy’s Little Girls.

Monty James (Idris Elba) is a single father of three with dreams of one day opening his own mechanic shop. His daughters Sierra (Sierra Aylina McClain), Lauryn (Lauryn Alisa McClain) and China (China Anne McClain) currently live with Monty’s mother-in-law, while James does his best to support his daughters from paycheck to paycheck. But following the death of his mother-in-law, Monty has to move his daughters in with him in his small, one-bedroom apartment, and decides to take on a second-job in order to provide for them financially.

James’ nighttime job involves him chauffeuring around a young and successful lawyer named Julia (Gabrielle Union). One night while transporting Julia from her office to her apartment, a freak accident at home with his daughters results in James losing custody of his kids to their estranged mother Jennifer (Tasha Smith) and her drug dealing boyfriend Joe (Gary Sturgis). This move forces Monty to have to turn his boss Julia for help in once again gaining custody of his three daughters.

I respect Tyler Perry and his desire to want to make inspirational, family-friendly movies with an African-American ensemble, but it’s unfortunate that movies like Daddy’s Little Girls are brought down by Perry’s sensationalized and heavy-handed storytelling. The movie’s script is far from discreet, constantly hitting you over the head with the idea that it’s a unique story because it talks about a successful, independent black female in the business world and a black single father who actually loves his children. While this overdramatic style is somewhat easy to excuse, it’s Perry’s insistence on perpetuating the worst of black stereotypes in this movie’s anti-heroes that ultimately ends up hurting the picture.

Despite the sentimental and predictable narrative, Perry’s screenplay wisely leaves out his annoying, famed character Mable “Madea” Simmons and also avoids trying to force comedy into parts of the movie where it doesn’t belong. Some light humor is presented throughout, but this movie is entirely centered around the drama in each of the character’s lives. Also, Perry has shown he has improved as a director, with Daddy’s Little Girls serving as a better paced movie that is more visually entertaining than his previous flick.

While most of the supporting cast lacks any depth to their characters, Elba (The Gospel, TV’s The Wire) and Union (Running with Scissors, The Honeymooners) do an adequate job helping to carry the film. Neither of the two manage to rise above the material, but they do possess a fine chemistry on-screen with each other that at least makes their scenes in the movie bareable to watch.

An endearing film with numerous flaws, Daddy’s Little Girls feels like an after-school special made with a bigger budget and a much better cast.


*/****


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Old 06-20-2007, 10:37 AM   #115
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Breach
Directed by Billy Ray
Written by Adam Mazer, Billy Ray and William Rotko
Starring Gary Cole, Chris Cooper, Caroline Dhavernas, Dennis Haysbert, Laura Linney, Ryan Phillippe and Kathleen Quinlan


Described as possibly the worst intelligence disaster in United States history, FBI Agent Robert Hanssen was arrested in February of 2001 for selling American secrets to the Soviet Union and Russia for $1.4 million in cash and diamonds over a 15-year period. Hanssen pled guilty to 15-counts of espionage, and was subsequently sentenced to life in prison. Director Billy Ray (Shattered Glass) brings this well-documented story to the big-screen in the form of this year’s Breach, but he ends up investing most of the film’s narrative on the wrong lead character.

A junior FBI employee training and working to hopefully become an agent, Eric O’Neill (Ryan Phillippe) lands his first major assignment through Special Agent Kate Burroughs (Laura Linney). Burroughs asks O’Neill to work as an undercover clerk for renowned operative Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper), who has been relocated to a new division. Burroughs informs O’Neill that Hanssen is being monitored because the FBI discovered evidence that he is a sexual deviant, but Eric becomes suspicious of this claim after finding nothing of interest that would lead him to question Hanssen’s lifestyle.

After O’Neill manages to earn the respect of Hanssen, Kate informs Eric that Hanssen is actually under investigation by the FBI for having been a spy for the Soviet Union and Russia for nearly 15-years. The FBI is determined to catch Hanssen in the act of espionage, and O’Neill drags himself deeper into the case hoping to help the FBI uncover the truth behind these claims.

A fascinating and entertaining movie, Breach may lose some of its desired suspense because it notes the end result of the case before the story ever begins, but the film does achieve its overall goal by becoming an interesting psychological drama. Breach is an unconventional picture that isn’t concerned with the predictable cheap thrills and shocking twists that are usually prevalant in this genre of film, and instead relies on smart, simplistic storytelling and its fine actors to carry the film.

Academy Award winner Cooper (Syriana, Jarhead) has shown for years that he is one of the better supporting actors around, and is finally given the chance to headline a motion picture. Cooper not only takes the ball and runs with it, he also ends up scoring the go-ahead touchdown by turning in an enthralling performance. Cooper’s character would have been a lot stronger, though, had he been able to work with a better sparring partner than Phillippe (Flags of Our Fathers, Crash), who continues to improve as an actor, but is mismatched and miscast in this film.

Academy Award nominee Linney (Man of the Year, Driving Lessons), Gary Cole (Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, TV’s The West Wing), and Dennis Haysbert (Jarhead, TV’s 24) do an adequate job in their supporting efforts, but they are unfortunately only relied upon intermittently. Writers Adam Mazer and William Rotko do a commendable job with their first screenplay, but the script is padded with too many distracting sub-plots that, in the end, are rather insignificant to the overall plot.

An enjoyable film made even more effective by Chris Cooper’s outstanding performance, Breach manages to hold your attention but ends up missing the mark on becoming a must-see movie.


**.5/****


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Old 06-20-2007, 10:43 AM   #116
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Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
Directed by Tim Story
Written by Mark Frost and Don Payne
Starring Jessica Alba, Andre Braugher, Michael Chiklis, Chris Evans, Laurence Fishburne, Ioan Gruffudd, Doug Jones, Julian McMahon and Kerry Washington


The comic book craze in Hollywood continues with the release of this year’s Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer — a sequel to the 2005 summer blockbuster Fantastic Four. Based on the Marvel comic book characters, Fantastic Four followed a group of four scientists who become exposed to cosmic radiation that alters their DNA and provides them with superhuman powers. A second-tier level comic book-based movie that still managed to gross nearly $200 million, Fantastic Four joined Halle Berry’s Catwoman as one of the worst comic book films of all-time. But even the original couldn’t prepare movie audiences for the overall absurdness that is experienced in its 2007 sequel.

American gossip rags are alive with activity as Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) and Susan Storm (Jessica Alba) prepare to exchange nuptials, but the legitimate national news media is more concerned with strange electronic and climatic disturbances occuring all over the world. While the Fantastic Four agreed as a group to avoid any involvement in assisting the United States government in trying to resolve the disastrous events across the globe, they are soon forced to act after Richards and Storm’s lavish wedding ceremony is interrupted by the arrival of the Silver Surfer (body: Doug Jones; voice: Laurence Fishburne).

The group learns that the Silver Surfer serves as a herald for the evil Galactus — a dark, billowing cloud in the universe that is devouring planets and has set its eyes on Earth as its next target. The United States Army enlists the help of the Fantastic Four, as well as the foursome’s former nemisis Victor Von Doom, to finally bring Galactus’ reign of terror to an end.

Where most of the recent comic book adaptations have turned towards darker character studies and overly long runtimes, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer is a brisk and non-threatening picture that provides a bit of enjoyment for its audience, but the movie also takes a drastic leap over the silly and childish line that was drawn by its predecessor two years ago, and now lands into a new, laughably foolish territory.

Entirely non-involving, the Fantastic Four series suffers from a cast of characters that are cartoonishly-designed, unlikeable and never devevlop, grow or learn any important moral values. Instead, they remain the same vapid people from the start of the film until the very end, and their ludicrous and irrational storylines are so predictable and without intrigue that the audience never believes for a second that any of the heroes presented are ever at risk or in any danger.

Way too much time is devoted to the dull relationship of Richards and Storm, with the two flat actors involved so painful to watch that they make the relationships of Peter and Mary Jane in the Spider-Man series and Will and Elizabeth in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise seem like something created by Bogie and Bacall. And it is amusing to me that the best actor of the bunch, Michael Chiklis (Do Not Disturb, TV’s The Shield), is the most underutilized character in the film, and unfortunately masked under thick orange rock as the Thing.

Outside of some decent visual effects work, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer feels like the type of movie that would be much better suited for a 30-minute time slot on Saturday mornings.


*/****


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Old 06-20-2007, 10:48 AM   #117
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The Namesake
Directed by Mira Nair
Written by Sooni Taraporevala
Starring Jacinda Barrett, Irfan Khan, Sahira Nair, Kal Penn, Zuleikha Robinson, Brooke Smith and Tabu


Jhumpa Lahiri is a contemporary Indian American author who won a Pulitzer Prize for her short story collection “Interpreter of Maladies.” Following her prize winning work, Lahiri would go on to publish her first novel in 2003, entitled “The Namesake.” The story spans more than thirty years in the life of the Gangulis, a fictional family that has immigrated to the United States and the discovery of a cultural gap that is formed between the parents and the children. Two longtime collaborator’s, director Mira Nair and screenwriter Sooni Taraporevala, have now adapted Lahiri’s book and have turned The Namesake into one of the great films of 2007.

Newlywed Indian couple Ashoke Ganguli (Irfan Khan) and Ashima Ganguli (Tabu) have fled their homeland of Kolkata and have settled into a new life in New York City. Shortly thereafter, the couple welcomes the birth of their first child. The hospital staff requests that the Ganguli’s come up with a name for their child for the birth certificate, with Ashoke deciding to name his son Gogol, after his favorite author Nikolai Gogol.

Years later, Gogol’s (Kal Penn) name has brought him a lot of embarrassment, so he changes his name to Nikhil (or Nick). Nikhil also separates himself further from his parents closely-held Indian beliefs by dating a white college student named Maxine Ratliff (Jacinda Barrett). But following the death of his father, a traumatized Nikhil destroys his relationship with Maxine once he elects to revisit his heritage, including beginning a relationship with childhood Indian friend Moushumi Mazumdar (Zuleikha Robinson).

An honest and touching story, The Namesake isn’t the most deeply sentimental or powerfully-felt film, but it is a well-crafted journey of finding one’s-self and the discovery of what makes someone unique and different. The picture is beautifully photographed and carries it with it a magnificient original score from Nitin Sawhney. And while the movie moves a little slow under Nair’s (Vanity Fair) direction, it still manages to hit all of the right emotional notes.

The terrific adapted screenplay from Taraporevala (Mississippi Masala, Salaam Bombay!) stretches over the course of several years and applies an amazing amount of depth to each character and story presented. The sensitive and subtle portrayal of the Ganguli family resonates without difficulty, and Taraporevala adds just the right amount of light humor to ease the mood, creating a much more affecting drama.

Kal Penn (Epic Movie, Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj) manages to step away from the world of moronic comedies and succeeds in his toughest film role to date. And while the majority of the story centers around Gogol, The Namesake truly is a multi-layered picture with a great ensemble, including the real stars of the movie, Khan and Tabu. Both are engrossing on the screen, with Tabu delivering one of the finest female performances in the early part of the year.

A poignant movie that is rich in texture, The Namesake is a wonderful film with strong performances and a heartfelt story.


***.5/****


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Old 06-20-2007, 12:51 PM   #118
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Hostel: Part II
Directed by Eli Roth
Written by Eli Roth
Starring Roger Bart, Richard Burgi, Laura German, Jay Hernandez, Vera Jordanova, Heather Matarazzo and Bijou Phillips


In the first part of 2006, horror film director Eli Roth released his second feature-film, Hostel. A crazy and sadistic picture, Hostel followed three backpackers in Europe who are lured to a hostel in Slovakia, only to be violently terrorized and tortured upon arrival. While far from great or even good, Hostel was still a surprising film that didn't hold back when it came to showcassing excessive amounts of bloodshed. A little over a year later, Roth has released Hostel: Part II, which offers fans of the first movie nothing new, and actually feels like a dreadful carbon-copy of its predecessor.

American college students Beth (Lauren German), Lorna (Heather Matarazzo) and Whitney (Bijou Phillips) are studying abroad in Italy. The financially wealthy Beth is the tame and cool one of the group, while Lorna is the nerdy and annoying type and Whitney is the wild and crazy chick. After a scary encounter with a robber on a train, the three are comforted by passenger Axelle (Vera Jordanova), who invites the three to join her on vacation in Slovakia.

The women check into the hostel, where the desk clerk at the hotel uploads their images to a website and, unbeknownst to the ladies, auctions the three of them off to Americans Todd (Richard Burgi) and his best-friend Stuart (Roger Bart), who plan to torture and kill the women. But once in Slovakia, Stuart begins to have second thoughts about the outrageous and grotesque things he is about to take part in.

An unpleasant and distasteful movie, Hostel: Part II accomplishes the overabundance of sex, violence and unsettling images that it sets out to achieve, but it does so without creating anything remotely interesting to offset what audiences have come to expect based off the severe nature of the first film. Similar to recent gross-out comedies that fail to make us laugh, Hostel: Part II spends way too much time trying make your stomach turn instead of trying to become an intriguing or involving scare-flick.

One of the movie's major problems is the lack of character development in Roth's script, which only asks us to sympathize with the people being tortured, not because they are decent human beings, but because they are being terrorized by a group of repulsive, not-so decent human beings. And while that may be something that I would be sympathetic towards if this situation were to occur in real-life, as a viewer of this movie, the least Roth could have done was afford me a reason to care about how a particular person is being treated.

The acting is incredibly stale and much of Hostel: Part II's narrative feels redundant, based upon what we saw in the original film. A hurried flick with zero-suspense, only the tiniest bit of audience interest is formed through wondering what kind of bizarre concoctions Roth has decided to now demonize his lame characters with.

Lacking the shock and awe factor of the original picture, Hostel: Part II is cheap and trashy junk that unfortunately leaves the door open for a possible third film in Roth's now predictable saga.


1/2-a-star/****


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Old 06-28-2007, 11:38 AM   #119
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Primeval
Directed by Michael Katleman
Written by John Brancato and Michael Ferris
Starring Gideon Emery, Orlando Jones, Brooke Langton, Gabriel Malema, Dumisani Mbebe, Jurgen Prochnow and Dominic Purcell


A one-ton crocodile named Gustave is one of the largest crocodiles known to man, residing on a river island near Lake Tananyika in Burundi, Africa. National Geographic reports that Gustave was most recently sighted in April of 2007, and although he is believed to be over 100 years of age, rumors surrounding the oversized animal suggest that he is responsible for the death of over three-hundred humans. Possibly worse than coming into contact with Gustave in real-life, though, is having to watch this year's awful-thriller that the menacing croc inspired, called Primeval.

Tim Manfrey (Dominic Purcell) is a television journalist asked to go to war-torn Burundi, Africa with reporter Aviva Masters (Brooke Langton) to cover the incredible story of Gustave. A hard-nosed and legit journalist, Manfrey seems entirely uninspired with the task of having to report on a killer crocodile, but Masters believes that capturing the large animal who recently devoured a noted scientist on an expedition is just the opportunity she needs to break into bigger forms of television news.

Television cameraman Steven Johnson (Orlando Bloom), along with scientist Jacob Krieg (Jurgen Prochnow) and a Crocodile Hunter-esque television host named Matthew Collins (Gideon Emery) tag along with Manfrey and Masters, setting up traps along Lake Tananyika that they hope will capture the killer croc. But staying in a small village in Burundi places each of the individuals right in the center of an ongoing civil war between Huti and Tutsi that could also have deadly effects on the group.

One of those unintentionally funny flicks, Primeval could have also been an enjoyable ride had they played up the campiness of the storyline like in Slither or Snakes on a Plane, but instead the film tries way too hard to become a serious B-movie with an overabundance of dramatic elements stolen from Blood Diamond or Catch a Fire. The movie lacks a clear direction, unfortunately spending very little time on the vicious killer animal the television crew is seeking out, and more on trying to deliver a message on the type of devastation taking place in the nearby war zone, yet without a strong grasp on what that message should be.

The screenplay by long-time collaborators John Brancato and Michael Ferris (Catwoman, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines) is hokey and filled with silly dialogue during its most dramatic moments. The constant shifts in stories also makes it hard for director Michael Katleman to guide an audience through his feature-film directorial debut, but Katleman does an adequate job at keeping things tightly paced and continously moving.

The visual effects are baffling, with Gustave merely a badly computer generated animal who offers up more laughs than he does fear in movie goers. The stiff acting is also painful to watch, while the lead characters of Jones (Runaway Jury, TV's Father of the Pride), Langton (The Benchwarmers, TV's Friday Night Lights) and Purcell (Blade: Trinity, TV's Prison Break) are all one-note, highly uninteresting people to follow.

A mediocre tale, Primeval begins with an interesting premise and is never boring, but it's also not worth much more than a late-night cable viewing.


*/****



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Old 06-30-2007, 10:24 AM   #120
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Reno 911!: Miami
Directed by Robert Ben Garant
Written by Robert Ben Garant, Kerri Kenney and Thomas Lennon
Starring Carlos Alazraqui, Mary Birdsong, Robert Ben Garant, Kerri Kenney, Thomas Lennon, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Niecy Nash and Cedric Yarbrough


In the summer of 2003, Comedy Central debuted the mockumentary television show Reno 911!. A parody of the popular Fox television show COPS, Reno 911! is an improvised show that follows a fictional group of seven irreverent and colorful sheriff deputies in Reno, Nevada, whose work in the department is being documented by a television camera crew. Produced by Danny DeVito, Reno 911! recently completed its fourth season on-air, and the show branched out into the motion picture world with the release of this year's Reno 911!: Miami.

The deputies with the Reno Sheriff's Department have been invited to attend the annual National Police Convention in Miami, Florida, but upon arrival, the group discovers that their names are not on the entrance list and they are not allowed to enter the site of the convention. But a bio-chemical terrorist attack forces all of the local law enforcement authorities in the area to be locked inside of the Convention Center, leaving the members of the Reno Sheriff's Department as the only available law enforcement group in Miami.

Taking over the headquarters of the Miami Police Department, the deputies begin to respond to all of the emergency calls in Miami, including an alligator swimming in a residential pool and a dead whale that has washed up on the beach. But their biggest case involves the bio-chemical attack at the National Police Convention, which the Reno Sheriff's Department discovers may have been a local government conspiracy.

Filled to the brim with cheap jokes and a mostly non-existent plotline, Reno 911!: Miami is only 84-minutes long, but its tired and ultimately unfunny repertoire makes the film a chore to sit through. While the movie could have worked as a throwback to the cult comedy classic Police Academy, or tried a little harder to actually develop itself into a full-length film like the 2002 Broken Lizard film Super Troopers, Reno 911!: Miami is simply a more foul version of the television show it's based on, and the movie also begins to wear out its welcome about 30-minutes in.

Written by the show's stars Robert Ben Garant (Night at the Museum, Let's Go to Prison), Kerri Kenney (TV's The State) and Thomas Lennon (Herbie: Fully Loaded, The Pacifier), the movie overextends the outrageous skits seen in the Comedy Central television show, and a few chuckles do manage to slip-out from time-to-time. But the writers failed to give the movie a cohesive or interesting storyline, with most of the plotline I described above established in either the first-ten minutes or in the final-ten minutes of the flick. Frankly, this movie offers absolutely no reason for fans of Reno: 911! to see this picture instead of just watching any number of reruns on cable.

While the actors in the movie appear to be enjoying themselves, and even though the improvised nature of the film makes the picture seem fun and fresh, Reno 911!: Miami relies too heavily on one-liners and sight gags, neglecting to properly build to any laugh-out-loud moments or offer a rewarding punch line to a scene. And the movie doesn't take enough advantage of its beautiful surroundings or its R-rating, paling in comparison to the gross-out and disrespectful comedies that have cluttered the marketplace in recent years.

A longer and more vulgar version of the popular television series, Reno 911!: Miami only exists to make a buck off of its already established fanbase.


*/****


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