MOVIE 43. A frenzied ruffian (Dennis Quaid) buffaloes his way onto a Hollywood studio lot by forcibly fellating a security guard (off-camera, in the movie's only nod to decorum). He then proceeds to hold a meek, confused executive (Greg Kinnear) at gunpoint so he can pitch his movie: Comprised of a gaggle of unconnected, addled short films starring very prominent A-list talent, his diseased brainchild is driven primarily by body fluid jokes and lame put-downs. Kinnear's executive doesn't really have any choice: Buy the movie or die.
As it turns out, the joke's on us -- at least those of us who get duped into watching this unrelenting shit show. The movie got made, and I had a choice. But I watched it anyway. Now that all is said and done, I don't even have the energy to hate this lamentable train wreck. I regret having seen it, and the lack of laughs was actually pretty draining. It just left me feeling tired and sad.
To a certain extent, it makes sense that actors who usually appear in "important" movies would happily seize the opportunity to cut loose. I can only imagine that, on the page, the scenes were funnier -- or funny at all. There are moments, doled out in miserly proportion, that almost made me laugh, but nearly all are undone by predictable, gross-out punch lines. And the gross stuff isn't even disgusting enough to shock.
I hope everybody had fun making this. But my cynical side makes me want to believe they slogged it out, if not just for the paycheck then to thumb their collective nose at the ticket-buying public. The finished product is that unfunny. R. 90m.
HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS. This movie is nowhere near as tough and gritty as I think it's supposed to be. To its credit, on that front, it does have a smattering of f-words, a good witch with a nude scene and a sequence wherein a kindly troll bloodily pulverizes several human heads. In light of this, I found it surprising that so many parents brought kids small enough to need booster seats. But the little guys didn't seem to mind, maybe because the movie isn't scary.
H & G rejiggers the bedtime story we all know so well: After escaping the candy-trap-setting witch of their childhood, the titular protagonists discover an innate skill and passion for killing witches. They become bounty hunters, roaming the mythical 18th century German countryside in search of prey, wearing leather pants and bristling with repeating rifles and semi-automatic crossbows.
We catch up with the formidable siblings as they sign on with the mayor of a village that has a child vanishing problem. Hansel and Gretel do some witch hunting, discover that under the light of the coming "blood moon" the witches will perform a ritual that, er, something or other; doesn't really matter.
Ostensibly, director/co-writer Tommy Wirkola (Dead Snow) has made a modernized, shoot-em-up fairytale: There's the above-mentioned tough talk and strong bloody violence. Plus, Hansel has adult onset diabetes (complete with steampunk insulin injection works) from overdosing on witch-candy as a child. But the story lacks the tension, terror and sustained humor it would need to work. Noisy, stunt-filled and intermittently gory, the final product feels like a kids' movie nudged weirdly into an R-rating. R. 88m.
PARKER. I prefer not to review movies by comparison, if I can avoid it. But the makers of Parker clearly hope we don't remember Out of Sight (1998), wherein Steven Soderbergh combined a high-toned Florida backdrop, an Elmore Leonard caper plot and the questionable screen presence of Jennifer Lopez to create a modern heist comedy classic. Of which this is a kind of pale, humorless, muscled-up imitation.
Jason Statham stars in the title role as a professional thief with a very specific code of conduct. After getting double-crossed by some accomplices, he sets out on a brutal vendetta, reluctantly enlisting the aid of a down-on-her-luck real estate agent (Lopez) in the process.
Good guys and bad continually commit implausible, heinous acts of violence (including murder), usually in front of witnesses. The plot's turns are all blatantly telegraphed, the would-be set pieces hackneyed and dumbed-down. And instead of Clooney's suave, jokey lead presence, we get Statham as one man army, per usual.
That last trait I don't necessarily have a problem with. Statham is an action star in the classic mold, the standard-bearer of 1980s dumb-movie icons like Stallone and Willis. I just wish his people could get him some better scripts.
By the time Parker started dragging toward the final showdown, I couldn't stop thinking about how much I'd rather watch Out of Sight. Or any number of other, better movies. R. 118m.
-- John J. Bennett
BULLET TO THE HEAD. At 66, "'80s dumb-movie icon" (see above) Sylvester Stallone is older than Mitt Romney. Or two Ryan Goslings. Or 3½ Justin Biebers. (Those ratios work for size, too.) And yet, since going back to the well with Rocky Balboa (2006) and Rambo (2008), the Italian Stallion has been enjoying something of a late-period renaissance in his chosen mediums of punching and shooting. In his latest he plays a tattooed hitman. End of summary. R. 91m.
WARM BODIES. Vampires are so two thousand and late. It's all about zombies now. This horror-romcom from the director of 50/50 gives life to the undead genre with a clever twist: A cute zombie boy whose brain still kinda works saves the life of a cute non-zombie girl, who sees the spark in his eyes. A romance is born. PG13. 97m.
THE IMPOSSIBLE. The cynic in me wants to make a crack about casting attractive white people (Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor) to make audiences care about the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, but by most accounts (including an Oscar nod for Watts) this is an effective tearjerker of a disaster flick. PG13. 107m.
RUST AND BONE. From French writer/director Jacques Audiard (2009's brilliant A Prophet) comes the story of a single father who helps a beautiful orca trainer (Marion Cotillard) recover after she's injured in a tragic accident. R. 120m.
Since the Arcata Theatre Lounge opened in 2009 it has become clear that one of its most sacred charges is providing the community with a suitable public venue for watching The Big Lebowski. The 1998 Coen Brothers comedy rewards repeat viewings like no film since The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and this week it's back for a two-night engagement, showing Friday at 8 p.m. and again Saturday at 9 p.m. And, of course, there will be White Russian drinking specials in honor of The Dude, who, rumor has it, abides. R. 117m.
ARGO. Ben Affleck helms a thrilling and surprisingly funny account of the 1979-80 Iran hostage crisis, starring alongside Alan Arkin, John Goodman and Bryan Cranston. R. 120m.
BROKEN CITY. A shady mayor (Russell Crowe in a tux) hires an ex-cop-turned-private Dick (Mark Wahlberg) to follow his wife. R. 109m.
CIRQUE DU SOLEIL: WORLDS AWAY 3D. Now you can watch the renowned performance troupe contort, trapeze and twirl from the relative comfort of a theater seat. PG. 97m.
DJANGO UNCHAINED. Quentin Tarantino's violent Blaxploitation fantasy about an avenging slave in the antebellum South is the most audacious and entertaining film of the year. Starring Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio. R. 165m.
GANGSTER SQUAD. Despite a talented cast that includes Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone and Sean Penn (as the notorious Mickey Cohen), this picture is all style, no substance. R. 113m.
A HAUNTED HOUSE. A Scary Movie-style parody of the found-footage sub-genre, this crude comedy (think ghost sodomy) aims low and still misses. R. 86m.
THE HOBBIT. Exploiting the riches of Middle Earth once again, Peter Jackson's bloated Lord of the Rings prequel (part one of three) looks beautiful but sags. PG13. 169m.
LINCOLN. Daniel Day-Lewis delivers a bravura performance in Steven Spielberg's handsome and rousing biopic, which portrays the deft political wrangling of our 16th president. PG13. 149m.
ZERO DARK THIRTY. Director Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker) crafts a taut thriller that follows a young CIA agent's (Jessica Chastain) dogged 10-year pursuit of Bin Laden. R. 157m.
-- Ryan Burns