Movie DopeMovies

Movie Dope

21 JUMP STREET (R) 2012’s biggest surprise to date has to be this brilliantly dumb comedy from star-producer-story contributor Jonah Hill. A pair of pathetic new cops, Schmidt and Jenko (Hill and comedy revelation Channing Tatum), blow their first bust. As a result, they are transferred to a special undercover unit that sends fresh-faced policemen into local schools to nab drug dealers and the like. Their angry black captain (played with perfect apoplexy by Ice Cube) tasks the duo with finding the supplier of a new synthetic drug. Schmidt and Jenko hilariously discover that today’s high school flips their previous experiences. Former cool kid Jenko is banished with the nerds, while Schmidt experiences what it’s like to be popular. What should not work in this remake of the late ’80s/early ’90s Fox program, most famous as a launching pad for Johnny Depp, does with surprising comic force. The mission that Hill’s The Sitter half-accomplished is successfully completed by this flick, thanks to Scott Pilgrim scripter Michael Bacall’s smart riffs on ’80s action movies and two perfectly in sync leads. Could Hill/Tatum be a new comic duo or is this a one-time, lightning in a bottle deal?

AMERICAN REUNION (R) Sometimes reuniting with old friends isn’t all that bad, and American Reunion is much more entertaining than the last two times we hung out with Jim (Jason Biggs), Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas), Oz (Chris Klein), Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) and Stifler (Seann William Scott). At their 13-year reunion, the old gang—plus Michelle (Alison Hannigan), Vicky (Tara Reid), Heather (Mena Suvari), Jim’s Dad (Eugene Levy), Stifler’s Mom (Jennifer Coolidge), Nadia (a brief, unnecessary appearance from Shannon Elizabeth) and the rest (Natasha Lyonne, John Cho)—get up to their old antics. Once they were randy teens trying to get laid; now they’re randy adults with the same objective. Still, the scenarios (the hot girl Jim used to babysit, Oz’s celebrity dance show appearance, etc.) are funny, and the characters have aged well (some better than their actors). Biggs and Hannigan deserve a sitcom-y showcase, and Levy enjoys his dive into the raunchy end of the pool more than some of his paycheck-seeking costars. Yet Scott’s Stifler, forever stuck in his high school glory days, supplies the movie with its bounce and biggest laughs. Without the Stifmeister, the gang, including the audience, would have had a pretty boring reunion.

THE BRAVE LITTLE TOASTER (NR) 1987. Several household items—a toaster named Toaster (v. Deanna Oliver), a blanket named Blanky (v. Timothy E. Day), a lamp named Lampy (v. Tim Stack), a radio named Radio (v. Jon Lovitz) and a vacuum cleaner named Kirby (v. Thurl Ravenscroft)—go on an incredible journey to find their master in the city. I lack the appropriate childhood nostalgia to wax on and on about the greatness of The Brave Little Toaster. To the proper audience, this movie’s late-’80s melancholy is like a drug or an old friend or something else people like a whole lot.

THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (R) Horror movies do not come much more perfect than The Cabin in the Woods, written by geek god Joss Whedon and one of his strongest protégés, Drew Goddard. A sublime tweaking of the entire slasher genre, Cabin’s deconstruction may be less meta than Scream, but its elaborate mythology—a staple of the Whedonverse—is transferable and adds a brand new reading to nearly every modern horror film. Five college friends (the most familiar face is the beardless one of Chris “Thor†Hemsworth, soon to be seen in Whedon’s The Avengers) take a weekend trip to the woods that ends in a bloodbath. The setup may be threadbare, but rest assured the twisty execution, hinted at in the trailers and established from the first scene between the excellent, seemingly out of place duo of Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins, hits its mark with every bloody, brilliant shot. I dare not say more without ruining the surprise. The Cabin in the Woods deserves its considerable genre hype and is the best horror movie of the year. It’s not going out on too weak of a limb to say it’s the best (written) horror movie since Scream.

• CHIMPANZEE (G) Disneynature releases their most stunning Earth Day documentary yet. Too bad they did not include an alternate narration to substitute for Tim Allen’s; the sitcom giant is no Morgan Freeman. Nevertheless, the Bambi-like story of chimpanzee Oscar unfolds with some of the most unbelievable footage ever witnessed in a nature doc, and that’s not just me saying that; Jane Goodall, Ms. Chimpanzee herself, agrees. After tragedy strikes Oscar at the age of three, he is fully adopted by the alpha male of his group. “Planet Earth†documentarians Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield luckily catch this extremely rare event, which makes for a tremendously human narrative, while filming in the middle of the rainforest. The last few years I have appreciated but not really cared for Disneynature’s films. The sheer dynamism of the imagery of this year’s entry easily overwhelms any flaws. Plus, that little Oscar fellow is pretty darn cute.

DR. SEUSS’ THE LORAX (PG) Released on Dr. Seuss’ 108th birthday, this pleasant animated adaptation of the beloved children’s author’s environmental fable fails to utterly charm like the filmmakers’ previous animated smash, Despicable Me. The Lorax may visually stun you, and Danny DeVito’s brief time as voice of the Lorax could stand as his greatest role, one that will go unrecognized by any professional awards outside of the Annies. Unfortunately, the movie spends a lot less time with the fascinating, entertaining forest fighter than it does with Ed Helms’ The Once-ler (I’m usually a big Helms fan but his zany naïf felt incongruously calculated here) and bland Zac Efron’s bland protagonist, Ted. On the bright side, the film excels as a traditional movie musical, where characters naturally transition into songs that deepen their character or advance the plot without some silly justification via subjective dream sequences or glee club memberships. The songs they sing could be more memorable; I cannot recall a single one a day later. The Lorax is not the year’s best animated feature (imagine what Pixar could do with Seuss), but the childishly funny film does not pander to its audience, young and old, even if it does preach a bit.

THE FIVE-YEAR ENGAGEMENT (R) The ups and downs of engagement are charted in this reunion of Forgetting Sarah Marshall star/writer Jason Segel and director Nicholas Stoller. I like the idea of Segel and Emily Blunt as a couple, and anywhere Chris Pratt (from Everwood, Colorado to Pawnee, Indiana) shows up, I’m there. The super funny cast includes Allison Brie (“Communityâ€), Rhys Ifans (I’ll always remember him in Notting Hill), Kevin Hart, Chris Parnell, Mindy Kaling (“The Officeâ€) and more.

GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE (PG-13) Marvel’s Neveldine/Taylor experiment might have gone better had the company had the guts to release another R-rated flick a la their two Punisher flops. The Crank duo brings their frenetic, non-stop visual style, but those wicked paeans to hedonism had a narrative need to never slow down (its lead character would die). Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance must pump the brakes occasionally to let the “story†catch up, and Neveldine/Taylor never seem as comfortable when the movie’s not rocketing along at 100 miles an hour. They also don’t keep a tight enough rein on their star; Nic Cage is allowed to unleash every one of his worst acting instincts as Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider, tasked with saving a young boy from the Devil (Ciaran Hinds). A handful of my favorite actors (Hinds, Idris Elba, Anthony Head) cannot save this merrily daft movie. Not even the Highlander himself, Christopher Lambert, who makes the most of his pitifully small screen time, is a match for the movie’s voracious, unhinged lead. Nonetheless, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is a step up from its tremendously awful predecessor (Neveldine/Taylor > Mark Steven Johnson).

THE HUNGER GAMES (PG-13) While a successful adaptation of a difficult book that near everyone has read, The Hunger Games has little cinematic spark. It’s a visual book report that merely summarizes the plot. It’s a well-written book report, but it’s still a book report. Seabiscuit director Gary Ross was not the most obvious choice to direct this dystopian adventure in which 24 teenagers are randomly selected for a contest in which only one will survive. That bleak premise was handled with more appropriately bloody violence in the Japanese film, Battle Royale, and America’s version of the game needed more of a visceral gut-punch to look less like “Survivor: Teen Island.†The book’s R-rated violence was deliberately shot with near incomprehensibility so as to retain a PG-13 rating. Seeing these popular characters brought to life proved most of the controversial casting choices were successful. Jennifer Lawrence has Katniss’ steely beauty, and Josh Hutcherson has Peeta’s magnetism. The jury is still out on Liam Hemsworth’s Gale. Woody Harrelson nails the obviously less alcoholic Haymitch. More time spent in the Capitol with Lenny Kravitz’s Cinna will be a boon for the sequel. All critiques aside, I was left with one question: How long until Catching Fire?

INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (R) 2009. The hyperbolic trailers were right. You’ve never seen war until you’ve seen it through the eyes of Quentin Tarantino. Anyone only exposed to the previews will be shocked to hear that Basterds is QT’s most mature film, despite its graphic, gratuitous violence and howling hilarity. How he saw this multi-faceted film in Enzo Castellari’s blah 1978 spaghetti war movie demonstrates the depth of his cinematic love and moviemaking talent. Basterds owes more to The Dirty Dozen, especially the theatrical climax, whose set bears more than a passing resemblance to Dozen’s chateau.

JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME (R) Jeff, Who Lives at Home is the better entrée into mainstream cinema for the filmmaking Duplass brothers, Jay and Mark (“The Leagueâ€â€™s Pete), than their previous film, Cyrus. Jeff is a simple, sweet, comedic character study about a 30-year-old slacker (the eminently likable Jason Segel has never seemed like so much of a giant) who lives in his mother’s basement. After watching Signs one too many times, Jeff begins to look for signs in everything, and one fateful day, those perceived signs lead him on a bit of an adventure with his brother, Pat (Ed Helms). Pat, as played by Helms, really wants to be a Danny McBride character, but at heart, he’s just too nice. The largest criticism one could level at Jeff is that the movie is too nice. It lacks a harsh bone in its sweet, man-child body. Otherwise, the film is easily the most complete, the most traditional of the Duplass’ four features.

JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI (PG) Considered by many to be the world’s greatest sushi chef, 85-year-old sushi master Jiro Ono works tirelessly in his legendary restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro, which includes all of 10 seats in a Tokyo subway station. Meanwhile, his son, Yoshikazu, struggles with the unenviable task of filling his father’s sushi chef coat. Before he turns his knife over to his son, Jiro longs to construct the perfect piece of sushi. Director David Gelb makes his feature film debut.

JOURNEY 2: THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (PG) Journey 2: The Mysterious Island’s biggest problem might be time. Many of the young people who enjoyed its 2008 forebear, Journey to the Center of the Earth, might have outgrown the Brendan Fraser/Dwayne “The Rock†Johnson brand of family adventure movie. Sean (Josh Hutcherson, soon to be Peeta in The Hunger Games) and his future stepdad, Hank (the always appealing Johnson), travel to the mysterious island to find Sean’s granddad (Michael Caine). Along for the ride are a goofy helicopter pilot (Luis Guzman, being as Guzman-y as ever) and his gorgeous daughter (Vanessa Hudgens). The island’s giant, 3D-tastic flora and fauna make for a movie that’s fun to look at for an hour and a half, especially on the big screen, but does not create the sort of lasting impression needed to survive in today’s oversaturated entertainment market.

LOCKOUT (PG-13) Lockout has a lot of things going against it from the opening credits, which may contain the year’s biggest laugh. “Based on an original story by Luc Besson?†Sure, an original story Besson had while watching a double-bill of John Carpenter’s Escape from New York and L.A. Let’s compare. A disgraced government operative, whose one word nom de cool begins with the letters SN, must sneak into a prison filled with lowlifes to rescue a high profile presidential hostage. You tell me which movie I just summarized. The answer is all three of them. And Lockout, despite its highly derivative concept that would have starred Christopher Lambert (sigh) had it been released in the mid-’90s, and the most infuriatingly idiotic setup of the past 10 years (grr) and the utterly frustrating character motivations/plot devices totally achieves its gung-ho, sci-fi/action objectives thanks to Guy Pearce’s wickedly amusing badass, Snow. The videogame influences on first-time feature directors, Stephen St. Leger and James Mather, are overt, and the flick should have gone for the R-rated jugular. Nonetheless, it’s more fun than most of the genre-mashup dreck Hollywood cobbles together these days. I’d have rather had a new Escape entry, but Lockout scratches the itch.

• THE LUCKY ONE (PG-13) The Notebook it is not, but The Lucky One will not disappoint Nicholas Sparks’ fans looking for some sappy romance and a shirtless Zac Efron. A Marine named Logan (Efron) survives several incidents after finding a picture of a woman. When he returns to the states, he seeks out this woman, whom he learns is named Beth (Taylor Schilling, still recovering from Atlas Shrugged: Part I) to thank her for saving his life. But things get complicated when he falls for her and her young son, Ben (Riley Thomas Stewart), and runs afoul of her ex/Ben’s dad (Jay R. Ferguson, who excels at clueless d-bags), a deputy sheriff and son of big-time local judge/prospective mayor. The war scenes are thankfully short, making me wonder how much worse they could have been on the page, and director Scott Hicks (some fine films like Shine and Snow Falling on Cedars) illustrates this romance with some gorgeous, magazine spread cinematography (word to Alar Kivilo, whose work to date has never betrayed this artistic an eye). Will love conquer all or is this another one of Sparks’ tearjerkers? Only 141 minutes of your life stand between you and the answer.

MIRROR MIRROR (PG) Not much clicks in 2012’s first reimaging of Snow White (the darker Snow White and the Huntsman drops in June). Julia Roberts does not an Evil Queen make; the anachronistic dialogue is wincingly unfunny and the live action cartoon, overflowing with Stooge-y slapstick, is a tonal decision only pleasing to undiscriminating children, many of whom found Mirror Mirror to be rousingly delightful. It’s not. The classic Grimm’s fairy tale remains largely the same. When the king (Sean Bean) dies, his evil queen (Roberts) takes over and hatches a plan to take his rightful heir, Snow White (Lily “Daughter of Phil†Collins), out of the picture. Instead of dying, Snow meets up with a band of dwarves, meets a charming prince (Armie Hammer) and winds up happily ever after. Pretty much all that happens in the new version, but Snow is more proactive heroine and less distressed damsel. Naturally, Tarsem stages the silliness with the lush, visual wizardry one expects from the Immortals director, but the returns are diminishing. His amazing visions need to be matched with material that can equal them, and to date, they have not.

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE—GHOST PROTOCOL (PG-13) 2011. Mission: Impossible is that rare franchise that has actually gotten better with each new installment and in inverse proportion to its megastar’s popularity. What sets the Mission: Impossible franchise apart from any other existing action series is its star-producer’s knack for finding the best, new behind the camera talent. First-time live-action feature director Brad Bird is known to be an animation auteur (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles), and he apparently doesn’t realize action of the live variety has limitations. Now he’s the guy who can still make a Tom Cruise stunt spectacular stand out like it’s the late ’90s. From Moscow to Dubai to Mumbai, the action doesn’t let up from scene one.

THE PIRATES! BAND OF MISFITS (PG) The creators of Chicken Run (all new animation must be judged by its creators’ previous works) set sail with Pirate Captain (v. Hugh Grant), who seeks to best his foes, Black Bellamy (v. Jeremy Piven) and Cutlass Liz (v. Salma Hayek), for the Pirate of the Year award. This blessedly British cartoon boasts a voice cast that includes former Doctor Who David Tennant as Charles Darwin and Harry Potter villain Imelda Staunton as Queen Victoria. I can’t remember being this excited for a non-Pixar animated feature.

PROJECT X (R) This teen “greatest party ever filmed†flick could use a more descriptive title, preferably one that doesn’t get as many children of the ’80s’ hearts racing at the thought of a remake of the Matthew Broderick, Helen Hunt and a monkey movie. As a former teenager, I wish I’d been invited. As a responsible adult, I lament how this teen comedy, produced by The Hangover’s Todd Phillips, condones the Internet era’s hedonism as teenage rite of passage. Three unpopular high schoolers—Thomas (Thomas Mann), Costa (Oliver Cooper) and JB (Jonathan Daniel Brown)—throw a party so wild (sex, drugs, alcohol, fire, a midget; it’s like the boys go to Bret Easton Ellis High) that not even the cops can stop it, a conceit that play rights into teenagers’ already overinflated egos. The appeal of Project X truly depends on the perspective—adult or teen—from which you view it as the party supplies few surprising acts of debauchery. It does add a novel running gag about two overzealous, overmatched teen security guards. Their misadventures had a sense of freshness from which the rest of this slightly tired party flick could have benefited.

THE RAID: REDEMPTION (R) You must forgive me. I’m not used to watching foreign action flicks outside of the comfort of my living room and Netflix. Subtitled violence doesn’t make it to Athens’ big screens very often, as they don’t fill the multiplex seats (violence is the universal language, but subtitles don’t go over well with The Raid’s target demo) and are not Ciné’s jam (that is not a criticism of our beloved arthouse, merely an accepted understanding that genre films are an extremely exotic sighting there). The actioner, directed by Welshman Gareth Evans, has been hailed by many as the best action movie of (insert time period), and they’re right. It’s a tough, ultraviolent hail of bullets and body blows from beginning to end. A rookie SWAT office, Rama (Iko Uwais), and his team infiltrate the maximum security, high-rise sanctuary of Jakarta’s top thug. When the mission goes belly up, Rama must escape with his life and the lives of any other officers he can save. Fists fly as the film showcases the Indonesian martial art, Pencak Silat. In one hallway-set piece, Rama takes down 13-plus criminal soldiers all by himself. It’s a thing of violent beauty, if one can stomach the carnage.

THE RAVEN (R) American acting institution John Cusack stars as American literary institution Edgar Allan Poe in this fictionalized version of the poet’s final days, spent hunting a serial killer that is recreating the deaths from Poe’s own stories. V for Vendetta director James McTeigue helms this entertaining sounding historical thriller. Ironically, this Poe flick is cowritten by a woman with the last name Shakespeare. With Alice Eve (She’s Out of My League), Luke Evans and Brendan Gleeson.

RED TAILS (PG-13) Red Tails, a pet project of Star Wars creator George Lucas, succeeds everywhere it should and fails nowhere that should surprise anyone. The valor of the Tuskegee Airmen is every bit as worthy of patriotic, big screen fanfare as the flyers of Pearl Harbor and the WWI-era Lafayette Escadrille in Flyboys, and their movie is every bit the equal of dramatic lightweight and action heavyweight. These three aviation-centered war movies are near interchangeable, besides their single major hooks (Pearl Harbor, World War I and African-American pilots). A crew of attractive young black men (including Nate Parker, David Oleyowo, Tristan Wilds and Ne-Yo) are led into combat by stalwart veterans Cuba Gooding Jr. and Terrence Howard and must battle racism on the ground and in the air. (The Luftwaffe knew they were dogfighting with black men.) The dialogue is tin-eared as previous Lucas films (the prequels come to mind) and does not benefit the actors at all. Still, exciting, jingoistic fervor can sometimes wear down any foe, even an enemy script. By Red Tails end, it’s near impossible to root against these great American underdogs.

SAFE (R) This Jason Statham action movie sounds a lot like every other Jason Statham action movie; still, it does star Jason Statham. A former elite agent battles the Triads for a kidnapped Chinese girl before using a combination (to a safe, like the title; get it?) to best those same Triads, a corrupt New York City government and the Russian mafia. Director Boaz Yakin is best known for Remember the Titans. With Chris “Prince Humperdinck†Sarandon and James “Lo Pan†Hong.

SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN (PG-13) A fisheries expert (Ewan McGregor) attempts to make a sheik’s dream of bringing fly fishing to Yemen a reality. The newest film from multiple Academy Award nominee Lasse Hallstrom (My Life as a Dog and The Cider House Rules) sounds like the sort of feel good, crowd pleaser at which he excels (think Chocolat). A script by Slumdog Millionaire’s Academy Award winning screenwriter Simon Beaufoy should not hurt. With Emily Blunt, Kristin Scott Thomas and Amr Waked.

THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETTY (G) In an era when most animated features are brash, loud commercials for action figures with fast food tie-ins, Studio Ghibli releases a quiet, thoughtful, humorous cartoon adaptation of Mary Norton’s The Borrowers. A young boy, Shawn (v. David Henrie), is sent to recuperate in the solitude of his aunt’s home. There he meets a tiny family of “Borrowersâ€â€”father Pod (v. Will Arnett, who does surprisingly well in a non-comedic role), mother Homily (v. Amy Poehler) and Arrietty (v. Bridgit Mendler)—and protects them from the nosy housekeeper, Hara (v. Carol Burnett). How refreshing it was to hear the few children in the theater laugh at an animated film that did not feature jokes about bodily functions, silly voices (I’m looking at you, Mater) or cute, talking animals! The Secret World of Arrietty may not have been directed by Hayao Miyazaki (he is credited as writer and executive producer), yet it retains the creative and artistic hallmarks of his greatest works. The attention to detail paid to Arrietty’s miniature world simply stuns. The ill-chosen musical interludes are the film’s single misstep.

THE SEPTEMBER ISSUE (PG-13) 2009. The hot doc of the moment, The September Issue chronicles the production of Vogue’s 2007 fall fashion issue, which, weighing in at a whopping five pounds, was the largest issue of a magazine ever published. The Devil Wears Prada fans should be excited to see editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, the alleged inspiration for Miranda Priestly, in action. Director R.J. Cutler won an Emmy for “American High.†Winner of the Cinematography Award and a Grand Jury Prize nomination from Sundance.

• THINK LIKE A MAN (PG-13) Anything I wanted to like about Think Like a Man is tainted by the casual homophobia, sexism and racism the movie attempts to pass off as comedy, and that’s a shame for the hilarious Kevin Hart, who is finally, smartly given a showcase role. Based on Steve Harvey’s romantic self-help tome, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, the movie, written by the scripters of Friends with Benefits, sometimes feels like a late night infomercial for Harvey’s patented way to win a man. We have six unbelievably mismatched buddies—Hart’s divorced dude, Romany Malco’s “playa,†Michael Ealy’s “dreamer,†Jerry “Turtle†Ferrara’s noncommittal white dude, Terrence J’s “mama’s boy†and some other white married guy—and the women (Gabrielle Union, Taraji P. Henson, Meagan Good and Regina Hall) who want them to settle down. Begin the chapter scenarios. Woody Allen attempted something like this to funnier results when he adapted Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex; a more relevant and even less successful adaptation would be 2009’s He’s Just Not That Into You. If you really want to take romantic advice from Steve Harvey, filtered through Turtle, it’s your love life.

THE THREE STOOGES (PG) Apparently, a modern update of Three Stooges is not an idea as utterly bereft of laughs as one would imagine. As staged by the Farrelly Brothers, the violent misadventures of Moe (Chris Diamantopoulos), Larry (Sean Hayes, “Will & Graceâ€) and Curly (Will Sasso, “MADtvâ€) now involve a murder plot, a reality TV show and saving an orphanage at which Larry David entertainingly plays a nun. Fans of the Stooges should be pleased as the chosen trio and their younger counterparts—Skyler Gisondo, Lance Chantiles-Wertz and Robert Capron—are swell stand-ins for the originals. Their performances may simply be long-form impressions, but they stand up to scrutiny. If anyone could be knocked for shallow, sketch-level work, it is “MADtv†alum Sasso; however, Curly’s mannerisms and catchphrases have so long been repeated, it is hard to imagine his “nyuck, nyucks†not seeming mere imitation. Boo to the Farrellys for splitting up the Stooges in the last episode (the movie is segmented in three) AND including an unwanted “Jersey Shore†gag. It’s been a long time since I’ve watched the Stooges (I was always a Moe fan); this movie reminded me how much fun those three could be.

TITANIC (PG-13) 1997. One of the biggest hits of all-time and the winner of 11 Academy Awards (including Best Picture and Best Director) gets even bigger with the addition of a third dimension. The shocking maritime disaster that took 1,514 lives becomes the backdrop for the love story of Jack and Rose (Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet) in King of the World James Cameron’s old-fashioned, blockbuster epic. I scoffed at the rerelease, but a recent trailer left me surprisingly interested to rewatch the film for the first time in years.

THE VOW (PG-13) Nicholas Sparks has to be kicking himself for not coming up with this plot first. A young couple, Paige and Leo Collins (Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum), struggle to fall in love again after a car accident erases all of Paige’s memories of Leo and their marriage. As these plots are wont to do, Paige’s rich parents (Sam Neill and Jessica Lange) and her ex-lover (Scott Speedman) use her tabula rasa to rewrite their past wrongs, while Leo must cope with the realization that his wife might never remember him. The Vow climbs out of the romantic drama pits mostly due to its two charming leads, McAdams and Tatum, who must overcome some spotty dialogue, obvious plot developments and weak supporting players (not a lot of recognizable faces outside of those five already mentioned). Director Michael Sucsy, who won an Emmy and a Golden Globe for Grey Gardens, transitions to the big screen with surprising success considering the tear-soaked tissue of a true story with which he had to work. The Vow won’t make romance fans forget The Notebook, but it is better than most of the fake (and genuine) Sparks Hollywood’s been peddling.

WRATH OF THE TITANS (PG-13) Is the problem that they don’t make them like they used to or that they make them too much like they used to? Wrath of the Titans, the tedious sequel to the boring remake of Clash of the Titans, is fully stocked on seen-that-before moments. Demigod Perseus (former next big thing Sam Worthington) is asked by his godly pops, Zeus (Liam Neeson), to help save humanity again. Apparently, Zeus’ bro, Hades (Ralph Fiennes), and Zeus’ other kid, Ares (Edgar Ramirez), are scheming with Zeus’ Titan dad, Cronos, to stage a monstrously large prison break, and the half-god is the only person who can stop it. Battle: Los Angeles director Jonathan Liebesman brings the exact same bag of shaky action tricks to ancient Greece, but believe it or not, Battle: LA is more exciting.