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Sisters and Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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SISTERS. Sadly, too many people have yet to figure out that women are funny. I was dumbstruck when Bridesmaids (2011) became a "surprise" hit; were we not all on the same page about the talents of Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, et al? Apparently not. It's this kind of exclusionary thinking that turns a movie like Sisters, which might have best worked as a springboard for new talent, into a star vehicle for two of the most prominent ladies in comedy. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are deserving titans in the field, geniuses both. But in the case of Sisters, I wonder if their fame might actually be a liability, more hindrance than help in executing its comedy.

Maura (Poehler), the bookish, people-pleasing younger Ellis sister, has established herself in her career but is still reeling from her divorce. Kate (Fey), the hard-partying, man-eating older sister, can't manage to hold a steady job, and her short-fuse/devil-may-care outlook has put her at odds with her teenaged daughter Haley (Madison Davenport). Kate has lately conceived a brain child: She and Haley will move back into her parents' house in Orlando and get back on their feet. The problem, of course, is that Mom and Dad (Dianne Wiest and James Brolin) have the house on the market, having already moved into a condo. Maura, aware of this but afraid to hurt her sister's feelings, joins Kate for the trip back home. Once they get there, and Mom and Dad break the news, the Ellis sisters decide to use the house to revisit the debauchery of their high school glory days, throwing one last blow-out party before they leave home for good.

As one might expect, the party transitions from mundane Chardonnay sipping into destructive chaos. Dave (John Leguizamo), the party-animal-turned-homeless-career-alcoholic, brings over an ominous drug dealer named Pazuzu (John Cena). Alex (Bobby Moynihan), the class clown who can't switch it off, inadvertently snorts some of Pazuzu's wares and goes batshit crazy. Maura tries to hook up with the hunky handyman (Ike Barinholtz), while Kate is thrown into conflict with her old nemesis Brinda (Maya Rudolph). Lessons are learned.

Had this not been a Fey and Poehler showcase, I wonder if it would have leaned into the comedy more, dialing back the important grown-up stuff. Don't be mistaken, this is an R-rated comedy, but the adult content comes mostly in the form of forced F-bombs and vaguely naughty sexual references. Cena and Moynihan, who embrace the unchained aspects of their characters, each have standout moments. Unlike the movie's headliners, these two act like they have nothing to lose, embracing the darkness of a comedy about trying to recapture youth and put aside decades of repression, inhibition and regret. That's where the real comedy lies in this scenario. The finished product, while often funny enough, lacks the bite and potency suggested in some of its scenes. It feels compromised, a de-clawed version of itself made safe for a wider audience. R. 118m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS. I almost didn't see this. You can ask my editor about my knock-kneed, mid-weekend text messages and lame attempts at avoidance. And before you bring out the torches and pitchforks — I, too, love Star Wars. Of course I do. I spent many a Christmas vacation watching the originals on loop on one of the Turner networks. I bristled at the re-releases, with their superfluous digital additions. I foolishly waited in long lines for the prequels. So yeah, I'm right there with you. And I think J.J. Abrams is a fine popular-artist, a genuine fan of the material — an excellent choice to rejuvenate the franchise.

In the last couple of weeks, though, Disney's marketing blitzkrieg has put me off. Even without cable, I've already seen enough Star Wars tie-in commercials to erode my sanity. (What do Fiats have to do with a galaxy far, far away?) That, the maniacal super-fan furor and the buzz about it possibly becoming the biggest grossing movie of all time kind of made we want to just stay home. Part of the reason we love Star Wars so much is because it's a scrappy under-dog, a Western romance set in space that, on paper, never should have become what it did. It defied the same odds that Disney has now wielded its considerable power to rig. It bought the goddamn casino.

As much as the advertising onslaught made me resist the allure of The Force Awakens, I have to admit it has a few significant things going for it. Abrams' script (co-written with OG Lawrence Kasdan) is nimble and funny and offers some fun surprises. The writing and visual style of the piece are almost too faithful to the original trilogy, but that serves as a welcome break from the hand-held, digitally dressed norm of contemporary science fiction. And the cast, particularly leads John Boyega and Daisy Ridley, give compelling, sympathetic performances. Plus Han and Chewbacca (I'm not a monster). PG-13. 135m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, FORTUNA, MINOR.

— John J. Bennett

For showtimes, see the Journal's listings at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456.

Previews

CONCUSSION. Will Smith plays a real-life forensic pathologist who discovers, to the NFL's chagrin, how hits and tackles are messing with football players' heads. PG-13. 123m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

DADDY'S HOME. Will Ferrell plays a stepdad battling bio-dad from Hell Mark Wahlberg for his kids' affections. PG-13. 96m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

THE DANISH GIRL. Eddie Redmayne is generating award-season buzz for his portrayal of a transgender man in 1920s Europe. R. 172m.

JOY. Jennifer Lawrence as the woman who launched a thousand mops in David O. Russell's family/entrepreneurial saga. With Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro. PG-13. 124m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

POINT BREAK. We live in a post-Swayze world, brah. Édgar Ramírez dons surfer/bank robber Bodhi's neoprene and bromances Luke Brace as undercover Fed Johnny Utah. PG-13. 113m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, FORTUNA.

Continuing

ALVIN & THE CHIPMUNKS: ROAD CHIP. The singing rodents you can either stand or you can't are out to thwart the romance of their handler Dave (Jason Lee) and keep the band together. PG. 86m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, FORTUNA.

CREED. Not just a bum from the neighborhood. The franchise makes a comeback with fine performances from Michael B. Jordan and a touching Sylvester Stallone. R. 101m. BROADWAY.

THE GOOD DINOSAUR. Animated interspecies buddy movie set in an alternate universe in which dinosaurs and humans coexist. With Jeffrey Wright and Frances McDormand. PG. 100m. BROADWAY.

HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY PART 2. The last nail in the franchise's coffin is so dull you may have to fight your way to the exits. PG-13. 136m. BROADWAY.

IN THE HEART OF THE SEA. Ron Howard's Melville moment has Chris Hemsworth as first mate on a ship beset by an angry whale. It's visually thrilling but the rest is the same old fish story. PG-13. 121m. BROADWAY.

KRAMPUS. An entertaining holiday horror with the Christmas spirit and a spirited cast. Toni Colette and Adam Scott star. PG-13. 98m. BROADWAY.

— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

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John J. Bennett

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