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The Kid Kicks Ass 

A-Team, not so much while Splice barely cuts it

click to enlarge A-Team
  • A-Team

Previews:

The big opening this weekend is Toy Story 3, the three-quel (in 3D) in the über-successful Pixar/Disney franchise. At this point the boy, Andy, is going off to college and Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen) and the other toys end up (accidentally) donated to a daycare center ruled by a stuffed bear (Ned Beatty) who sounds like a character from Cool Hand Luke. Rated G. Opening Friday at the Broadway, Mill Creek (2D only) and the Fortuna.

Jonah Hex is another in the new tradition of movies based on comic books, this one a Western. Josh Brolin has the title role as the scarred antihero, a bounty hunter with a price on his head, pitted against an old enemy (John Malkovich), a terrorist who's ready to unleash Hell. Think Tarantino spaghetti western. While this is a live action film, director Jimmy Hayward comes from the animation world having worked on Toy Story, Finding Nemo and other Pixar hits. Rated PG-13. Opening Friday at the Broadway and Mill Creek.

What could be cuter than a baby? How about four of them? French director Thomas Balmès' documentary Babies, aka Bébé(s), shows us the first year of life for babes from Tokyo, Namibia, Mongolia and San Francisco. Aww. Rated PG for cultural and maternal nudity throughout. Starts Friday at the Minor.

The Arcata Theatre Lounge looks to the future with a pair of neo-classics. Thursday it's Luc Besson's brilliant The Fifth Element with Bruce Willis and Milla Jovovich fighting the forces of evil embodied by Gary Oldman. On Friday, George Miller's Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome stars Mel Gibson in the last installment in the post-apocalyptic action franchise. Tina Turner shines as Aunty Entity, ruler of Bartertown.

-- Bob Doran

Reviews:

THE KARATE KID. It's always a good feeling to be pleasantly surprised by a film. Such is the case with the remake of The Karate Kid, which I approached with little expectation, but ended up seduced by its sweetness and non-jaded approach to the coming-of-age/underdog narrative. Some of that feeling was due to my fondness for stories about young people on the verge of discovering themselves -- some was due to the presence of young actors Jaden Smith and Han Wenwen.

The original 1984 film featured a high school student moving from Jersey to San Fernando Valley where he is bullied by a karate student. The remake follows the same basic plot, but lowers the age of its main character and sets the action in China (where it was shot as this is a U.S./China co-production).

When Sherry Parker (Taraji P. Henson, Date Night) relocates from Detroit to Beijing for a job, her 12-year-old son Dre (Smith) is unwillingly dragged along. Although he quickly makes a friend (and a crush) in classmate Mei Ying (Wenwen), a budding violinist, he just as quickly acquires an enemy in Cheng (Wang Zhenwei), leader of a group of kung fu students taught a form of vicious fighting by unethical teacher Master Li (Yu Rongguang) who is only interested in winning tournaments.

Dre is no match for the unmerciful bully Cheng, but a savior appears in the form of unassuming handyman Mr. Han (Jackie Chan). Confronting Li, Mr. Han says Dre will meet his students one-on-one at an upcoming kung fu tournament. The rest of the film plays out just as you'd expect, climaxing with the tournament.

The likable Smith and Wenwen nicely enact the friendship between Dre and Mei Ying, who are such opposites in many ways. Chan mostly approaches his role with broad strokes, but he's such a sympathetic (and, of course, wise) character that I fell under his spell. And just when the film threatens to sink into the sappiness muck, the hard-edged Henson saves the day. Maybe I've rediscovered a bit of the child in me after all. Rated PG for bullying, martial arts action violence and some mild language. 139m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

THE A-TEAM. Having suffered through a female version of the "dick flick"/ugly American film with Sex and the City 2, I thought I might as well see the real thing. Happily, however, although The A-Team is not a very good film, it does attempt a send-up of the genre much as in the 1980s TV series upon which it's based. Not taking itself too seriously is probably the film's biggest single virtue -- if not its only one.

The film opens in Mexico, replete with the usual tired stereotypes (or "iconic images" if you wish to be more positive) where Col. John "Hannibal" Smith (Liam Neeson) is held captive by two corrupt Mexican officers (are there any other kind?). His escape and the subsequent rescue of Lt. Templeton "Faceman" Peck (Bradley Cooper) from a cuckolded general quickly get the film into its primary mode: non-stop explosive action.

On the way to the rescue, Hannibal joins up with B.A. Baracus (Quinton "Rampage" Jackson) and the three subsequently spring "Howling Mad" Murdock (Sharlto Copley) from a hospital. Skipping ahead eight years, the four are a respected combat unit serving in Iraq. But when they are enlisted by C.I.A. operative Lynch (Patrick Wilson) to recover billions in counterfeit cash and the plates that printed them, the mission goes awry and the four are arrested, stripped of their ranks and imprisoned. Worse, Face's former lover Capt. Charissa Sosa (Jessica Biel) shows up to assist in the arrest.

The second part of the film involves multiple prison escapes and the now rogue team seeking revenge. Unfortunately, more often than not, the tongue-in-cheek humor just becomes silly and the action tediously repetitive. I'm not sure what Biel is doing here except perhaps providing an intermittent female touch to an otherwise all-guy film. It wasn't enough. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence throughout, language and smoking. 117m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, the Minor and Fortuna

SPLICE. As horror/sci-fi films go these days, Splice is not half bad. It is the latest example of the popular sub-genre involving a scientist, often arrogant, who experiments with things about which he or she only has limited knowledge. Loosely based on the Prometheus myth, the genre often has religious connotations: Man is mucking around with things that are in God's purview and he must be punished. As with Prometheus, the end is not pleasant. In film history, Splice's movie progenitor is Frankenstein.

Among the positive things Splice has going for it is the quirky casting of the two leads. Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley are both offbeat in their own way, and their acting is several levels above that normally found in this class of film.

The story involves gene-splicing experiments by geneticists Clive and Elsa (Brody and Polley), who are also romantic partners. The company financing their expensive experiments only wants to synthesize a commercial protein, but Clive and Elsa want more. They have produced two blob-like but cute creatures by combining the DNA of various animals and wish to introduce human DNA in their experiments (The Fly comes to mind).

Going behind the company's back, they secretly produce a creature that looks like a fetus when "born" but develops into a female with very special abilities. The scientists' attempt to secretly bond with "Dren" (nerd spelled backwards) is nicely handled, as is the whole careful development of the splicing. Viewers know, however, that the edifice has to come tumbling down. Sadly, the last section of the film degenerates into the sort of horror film genre fans probably want, and the twist is telegraphed. Still, Brody and Polley make you care. Rated R for disturbing elements including strong sexuality, nudity, sci-fi violence and language. 104m. At the Broadway.

Continuing:

GET HIM TO THE GREEK. Sex + drugs + rock ‘n' roll = hilarity! Rated R. 109m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. A determined uncle hires a team to investigate the 40-year-old disappearance of his niece. In Swedish with English subtitles. Not rated. 152m. At the Minor.

IRON MAN 2. Now with twice the iron! Rated PG-13. 124m. At the Broadway.

KILLERS. Ashton Kutcher plays a former assassin trying to live a domestic life with new wife Katherine Heigl. One of the most critically panned films of the year! Rated PG-13. 100m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

MARMADUKE. Yup. The comic strip dog. You aren't seeing things. Rated PG. 88m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

PRINCE OF PERSIA. THE SANDS OF TIME. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as the heroic, royal video game icon. Rated PG-13. 116m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

SEX AND THE CITY 2. The girls travel to Abu Dhabi... or was it Dubai... Morocco? Whatever. They have sex. Rated R. 147m. At the Broadway.

SHREK FOREVER AFTER. Shrek endures a midlife crisis. Bring the kids! Rated PG. 93m. At the Broadway, Garberville, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

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