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Awkward odd couples in Home and Get Hard

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HOME. Animation should be a safe harbor for unfettered imagination, where literally nothing is impossible. But I guess the risk of alienating some segment of the audience outweighs the potential rewards of challenging art, at least for the moneyed interests controlling the movie business. So, instead of breaking new ground, the studios continue to fob off familiar plots by wrapping them in new — but increasingly familiar — candy-colored packaging. In this case, it's another fish-out-of-water/lost-child mash-up with a cute alien thrown in.

Oh (Jim Parsons) is the alien in question, a member of a race called the Boov. The Boov, defined primarily by their cowardice, conformity and general incompetence, make a life's work of running away, mainly from the fearsome Gorg. One dark detail that doesn't get much play in the movie: Running away, for the Boov, entails locating a habitable planet and occupying it after interning its residents in prison camps with jolly names and easy access to ice cream. Anyway, Oh stands out among the others for being an individual, sensitive and kind of a dork. After the Boov takeover of Earth, Oh, alone and lonely, sends out a housewarming party invitation to the entire galaxy. Terrified that the evite might find its way to a Gorg inbox, Captain Smek (Steve Martin) mobilizes his entire race to apprehend Oh and somehow un-send the thing. (Apparently email works differently in this near future). A fugitive, Oh scrambles and falls in with a human girl who previously escaped detection, becoming separated from her mother in the process. She, Gratuity "Tip" Tucci (Rihanna), besides having a name that should exist only as a rejected idea in a writers' room, is as isolated and sad as Oh. They form an unlikely alliance when Oh agrees to help Tip locate her mom in exchange for, well, something. Doesn't matter, I guess. Not surprisingly, their trying situation eventually teaches the pair that they're not so different, after all. And Oh finally gets an opportunity distinguish himself positively.

Despite its faulty foundation, Home isn't all bad. The pacing is brisk, although it belabors the ending with uneven starts and stops. A female protagonist, one who is generally resourceful and self-reliant, is always welcome. And the animation is bright, lively and colorful (a given with major releases these days). But overall, it's too familiar to make a mark. Parsons makes Oh a likable goof, but the writers' trick of halfway corrupting his speech for comic effect gets old within minutes. And the character, aesthetically, doesn't really look like anything: he's a color-changing, amorphous ball with a number of tentacles, like an idea that's still gestating. And Tip, a by-the-numbers role model for little girls, fails to resonate. This may be because Rihanna plays a more convincing alien in real life than any of the characters in the movie.

Home is adequate, but it's the kind of thing that would have gone straight to video in a bygone era to make room at the box office for event movies. Now, though, this sort of innocuous, uninspired, blandly entertaining and ultimately forgettable stuff has become the main event, such as it is. PG. 93m.

GET HARD. It wouldn't be unfair to call this Kevin Hart/Will Ferrell vehicle sexist, homophobic and racist. Which is fine, but it's also not very funny. Going in, I figured Get Hard would be a second-tier entry from Ferrell and Adam McKay's Gary Sanchez imprint. I also assumed that Ferrell and Hart's charm and razor-sharp comic instincts would carry the day. I was half right.

James King (Ferrell), a well-intentioned one-percenter idiot, stands on the threshold of really insulting success. He's been made a partner in his firm, construction on his mansion is underway and he's put a giant rock on the finger of his beautiful girlfriend (Alison Brie), who has hired John Mayer to play his birthday party. It's all coming up James, in a horrifyingly white, privileged way. But then the Feds swoop in and cart him off to trial for myriad counts of fraud. He's convicted, mostly as a symbolic gesture that financial fat cats can't keep stealing from the people. The judges give King 30 days to get his affairs in order which, to his addled mind, means he needs to get himself trained up to survive prison. He hires the only African-American person he's ever met, Darnell (Hart), who operates a car wash company in the garage of King's office building. Darnell's never been to prison, but he needs the cash for a down-payment on house in a better neighborhood. And — that's the whole set-up really. The two protagonists eventually come to understand each other better and join forces to figure out who framed King with trumped-up fraud charges.

Ferrell and Hart can both be laugh-out-loud funny standing still; they might have been better served doing that for an hour and a half. Some care is taken to make their characters more than simple stereotypes, but the situation around them is defined primarily by the broadest of jokes. It's a pretty direct lift of the classic buddy comedy format of the '80s, but without the grit and cutting humor that made those movies great. T.I. and Ron Funches stand out in cameos. R. 100m.

— John J. Bennett


FURIOUS 7. Furiouser and furiouser. The wheels roll on in the late Paul Walker's last installment of the brake-less street racing series. Expect the usual roster of frowning toughies behind the wheel, revenge and squealing tires. PG13. 137m.

IT FOLLOWS. A high school girl picks up a curse like a supernatural STD and is stalked by a creepy entity. R. 100m.

AMERICAN SNIPER. Bradley Cooper plays a Navy SEAL in an intense and moving biopic/war movie that doles out adrenaline and domestic devastation in equal measure. R. 132m.

CHAPPIE. Stylish visuals and brisk editing outweigh heavy-handed sci-fi moralizing in an AI action movie starring a tragically kind-hearted police robot. R. 120m.

CINDERELLA. Kenneth Branagh's adaptation makes an old story new with classic Hollywood style, solid lead Lily James and the wicked-chic Cate Blanchett. PG. 113m.

INSURGENT. Great design and strong performances from Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller almost save it from a bloated plot. Don't worry — more are coming. PG13. 119m.

KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE. Funny, charming Taron Egerton steals the show in this imaginative action comedy about a street punk who becomes a spy. With Colin Firth and Samuel Jackson. R. 128m.

SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL. Maggie Smith and Judy Dench are back for the sequel as Brits abroad. PG. 124m.

— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill


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John J. Bennett

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