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Summer Is Dead 

Three solid film openings signal an end to moron season

Another Asian remake hits the local screens on Friday, Sept. 5, but this time Thai directors Oxide and Danny Pang remake their own film Bangkok Dangerous. The film stars Nicolas Cage as a hit man whose hard edge is threatened by his feelings for a local shopgirl and doubts about his assignment. Rated R for violence, language and some sexuality. 100m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

On a different note, Gonzo: The Life and work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson is a documentary written (from Thompson’s writings) and directed by Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room) that focuses primarily on the journalist’s life between 1965 and 1975. Johnny Depp narrates. Rated R for drug and sexual content, language and some nudity. 118m. At the Minor.

Another documentary, American Teen, takes a look at the social cliques at a Warsaw, Ind., high school. Writer/director Nanette Burstein helpfully labels the standard high school types, presumably for the geezer who mistakenly wanders into the film, such as the princess, jock, geek, rebel, etc. that commonly populate teen films. Rated PG-13 for some strong language, sexual material, some drinking and brief smoking-all involving teens. 95m. At The Movies.

Reviews

TRAITOR: It's always good to be pleasantly surprised by a genre film. In the case of Traitor, firmly in the political thriller mode, the film proved to be a nicely accomplished, low-key thriller whose politics were more sophisticated than is traditional for a Hollywood film. Also surprising is that the film features a devout Muslim as its protagonist.

The reliable Don Cheadle is Samir Horn, who has an American mother and a Sudanese father. He is also a former Army Special Forces member, and he finds himself trapped between the worlds of Middle Eastern extremists, American blind patriotism and his faith. In fact, one of the interesting aspects of the film is the question of not just who is a traitor, but what world(s) Samir might have to betray in the course of his activities.

The American side is represented by “good” F.B.I. agent Roy Clayton (a convincing Guy Pearce) and “bad” agent Max Archer (Neal McDonough); the extremists, by the nasty and venal Fareed (Aly Khan) and the more intelligent and religiously committed Omar (Said Taghmaoui), who befriends Samir in jail. On the personal level, in addition to Samir’s faith, is his former girlfriend in the States, Chandra (Archie Panjabi), who refuses to believe that Samir is a terrorist.

The story is suspenseful and effectively wrapped up. If you’re looking for a James Bond-type black-and-white non-stop action thriller, this film may not be for you. For me, it was a good start for the coming fall season. If it has a weakness, it may be that it tries too hard to be balanced. Rated PG-13 for intense violent sequences, thematic material and brief language. 114m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

HAMLET 2: The idea of a “sequel” to what is probably Shakespeare’s best-known drama may seem a travesty to some. In addition to the belief in some quarters that masterpieces should never be tampered with, there is the inconvenient fact that almost everyone in Hamlet is dead by the end of Act V, except of course for the shadowy Norwegian Fortinbras, who will presumably set things right again in blood-soaked Denmark.

But travesty is exactly what Hamlet 2 has in mind, and like many deliberately heavy-handed farcical satires, the film is uneven, with significant flat spots strewn among the genuinely comic moments. The effective parts of the film, though, outweigh the misses.

The film stars British comic Steve Coogan as Dana Merschz, a washed-up never-been actor whose career pinnacle was appearing in a few dumb commercials. In desperation, he has taken a job as a high school drama teacher in Tucson (negative gags about Tucson run through the entire film). His productions have been total failures, a fact acerbically noted by the school paper’s diminutive critic (Shea Pepe).

His latest class, which meets initially in the cafeteria, is populated by students whose other arts classes have been canceled. Things aren’t going very well at home either, with his sarcastic wife Brie (nicely portrayed by Catherine Keener) casually dismissing him.

The core narrative is centered on Dana’s script for a Hamlet sequel. Everyone dead? Easy, introduce a time machine. And why not make it into a musical? The best parts of the film center on the rehearsals and concluding production of Dana’s play. Along the way, the film sends up the “stand and deliver” films, the “let’s put on a show” genre and the “save the arts from the Philistines” movies.

The young cast is energetic and mostly effective, and the high point of the show for me was the “Rock Me Sexy Jesus” number with Coogan as Jesus. Elizabeth Shue (Dana’s favorite actress) appears as herself, and reminded me that I’ve missed seeing her recently. Mindless fun. Rated R for language including sexual references, brief nudity and some drug content. 92m. At the Broadway.

THE WACKNESS: Now, here’s a stoner comedy that I can get behind. I don’t want to mislead anyone, though. While drugs play a major and persistent part in the story, The Wackness is a nicely offbeat coming-of-age tale set in Manhattan in 1994.

Written and directed by Jonathan Levine, the film follows Luke Shapiro (a very good Josh Peck) as he deals with an uncertain post-high school life by seeing a therapist for his depression and dealing dope for money. His philosophical outlook on life is not hopeful: graduation means change, then you get older and die. The major source of his bleak outlook may be that he’s never “officially” had sex, not to mention been in love.

His therapy sessions with Dr. Squires (a very funny Ben Kingsley) don’t help either. He pays for the sessions with drugs, and it’s hard to tell whether Squires or Luke is getting the therapy. Hope rears its head in the form of Dr. Squires’ comely and experienced step-daughter Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby from Juno, who shows she’s ready for a major role), and their fledging relationship represents the film’s core. The viewer perceives immediately that the relationship is not an equal one, but the naïve and lonely Luke is just in thrall to his first romantic experience and makes the “mistake” of uttering the L word.

Luke’s tale is nicely written and directed by Levine, as we witness his summer of drugs, parental bankruptcy and exile to the boonies of New Jersey, unusual friendship (in this case with his “therapist”), heartbreak and, finally, a measure of self-understanding.

The cast is solid all around, but Peck is especially good with both the humor and serious aspects of his character. For those fascinated by such tidbits, Mary-Kate Olsen of the Olsen twins plays Union, a drugged-out musician who has a make-out scene with Kingsley. A hit at Sundance this year, The Wackness should please fans of independent films, but judging by the turnout at the screening I attended (3, 2 non-paying), there aren’t many of us around. That’s too bad because this is a worthwhile film. Rated R for pervasive drug use, language and some sexuality. 95m. At the Minor. Ends Thursday Sept. 4.

Continuing

BABYLON A.D. The future holds a war torn world and sexy mercenaries that save the day. Rated PG-13. 90 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

BOTTLE SHOCK. Chronicle of events leading to famous “Judgement of Paris” wine tastings; based on true story. Rated PG-13. 103 m. At The Movies.

COLLEGE. Rowdiest fraternity on campus recruits high school seniors to subject to endless humiliation. Rated R. 94 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, the Minor and Fortuna.

DARK KNIGHT. Batman walks the line between hero and vigilante when he faces the Joker to save Gotham once again. Rated PG-13. 152 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

DEATH RACE. Global TV audience gets pumped up on adrenalized prisoners driving weapon-loaded monster cars. Rated R. 105 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

DISASTER MOVIE. Ridiculously attractive 20-somethings encounter every catastrophe known to man. Rated PG-13. 90 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

FLY ME TO THE MOON. First ever 3D animated film follows houseflies that stow away on the Apollo 11 flight to the moon. Rated G. 125 m. At Fortuna.

HANCOCK. Hard-living superhero who has fallen from grace gets help from a public relations pro. Rated PG-13. 93 m. At The Movies.

HOUSE BUNNY. Playboy Bunny teaches an awkward sorority about the opposite sex. Rated PG-13. 97 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH. Adaptation of Jules Verne's classic novel packs in comedy, fantasy, action and adventure. Rated PG. 93 m. At The Movies.

MAMMA MIA! Film adaptation of musical uses the jams of ’70s supergroup ABBA to tell the story of a bride-to-be searching for her real father. Rated PG-13. 109 m. At the Broadway.

MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR. Family battles against China’s ruthless tyrant Dragon Emperor. Rated PG-13. 113 m. At the Broadway.

PINEAPPLE EXPRESS. Two dudes in the pot business get wrapped up in some bad juju. Rated R. 112 m. At The Movies and the Minor.

STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS. Yet another epic Star Wars movie, but this time it’s animated. Rated PG. 133 m. At The Movies.

TROPIC THUNDER. Self-absorbed actors working on epic war film find themselves caught up in real life combat. Rated R. 108 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, the Minor and Fortuna.

WALL-E. Robot love/adventure story from the director of Finding Nemo. Rated G. 98 m. At The Movies.

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