Originally created 11/27/05

At the Movies: capsule reviews of new films



Capsule reviews of films opening this week:

"The Ice Harvest" - John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton star in a dark comedy of theft, betrayal and murder whose frosty felons seem like castaways from the actors' earlier crime romps, including "The Grifters" and "A Simple Plan." Directed by Harold Ramis, the movie comes off as an overly familiar caper with unlikable, often uninteresting, characters. Cusack plays a mob attorney and Thornton his sleazy accomplice who have embezzled $2 million from a crime lord (Randy Quaid) on Christmas Eve and plan to skip town the next day. Connie Nielsen co-stars as a strip-club manager for whom Cusack pines. Other than Oliver Platt, a scene-stealer as Cusack's boozy buddy, the players are superficial, greedy scum too dumb to see what's obvious to the audience - that they have only their own interests in mind and their partners in crime are expendable. R for violence, language and sexuality/nudity. 88 min. Two stars out of four.

- David Germain, AP Movie Writer

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"In the Mix" - One of Usher's biggest hits is the insanely catchy dance tune "Yeah." The response to his new movie, however, is much more likely to be, "No thanks." (Or, as distributor Lions Gate Films seemed to be saying by refusing to show the movie to critics before opening day, "Why bother?") "In the Mix" seems to exist solely to showcase the gorgeous R&B star in an array of stylish, flawlessly tailored suits - and, more importantly, out of them. Barely five minutes pass before we first see Usher with his shirt off, allowing the self-professed gym rat to brandish his six-pack abs. (But who's counting?) While he does have a certain undeniable charisma, what he's doing in his first starring role can't exactly be called acting. Then again, he certainly doesn't have much to work with. The movie, from Ron Underwood (who also directed "City Slickers" and, far less successfully, "The Adventures of Pluto Nash") is painfully stiff, filled with mob stereotypes and music cliches. PG-13 for sexual content, violence and language. 97 min. One and a half stars out of four.

- Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic

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"Just Friends" - The movie's posters, featuring the boy-next-door handsome Ryan Reynolds smothered in a fat suit, suggest a male turn on "Shallow Hal," or perhaps a white cousin of The Klumps. But the movie is actually a surprisingly observant comedy, with an insane, propulsive energy that keeps it endearing even when the film threatens to spiral out of control toward the end. Reynolds does the hilariously cocky, smooth-talking shtick that has become his trademark, but director Roger Kumble lets him dial it down a bit and show some vulnerability, too, as a formerly tubby geek turned slick record exec. Returning to his New Jersey hometown after 10 years, he finds he's still smitten by the best friend he secretly loved in high school (Amy Smart). Anna Faris nearly hijacks the whole movie as a volatile, self-absorbed pop star who's a thinly veiled version of Ashlee Simpson. PG-13 for sexual content including some dialogue. 94 min. Three stars out of four.

- Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic

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"The Libertine" - "Allow me to be frank at the commencement," Johnny Depp warns in a seductive British purr in the film's first few seconds, his fine features partially shrouded in candlelight. "You will not like me." But truly, how could we help ourselves? As John Wilmot, the 2nd Earl of Rochester, Depp plays the archetypal bad boy, a guy who partied like it was 1999 back in the 1670s. Wine, women, song - name it, he was into it, and fiercely so. It's as if his flamboyant character from the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies had let himself go, physically and psychologically - given into all his darkest inclinations and lapsed into a deep, cynical state of debauchery. Depp brings all his usual subtleties and nuance to the role - he does more with one eyebrow than most actors can do with their entire bodies - but after a while it feels a bit one-note and becomes overbearing. Then again, so does the entire film from Laurence Dunmore, working from Stephen Jeffreys' script and play and making his directing debut. Samantha Morton and John Malkovich co-star. Not rated, but contains nudity, sex, language, violence and the hideously disturbing effects of syphilis. 115 min. Two stars out of four.

- Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic

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"Rent" - As he showed with the first two "Harry Potter" movies, director Chris Columbus has a knack for making big movies that are far less interesting than their source material. With "Rent," Columbus delivers an elaborately constructed yet unimaginative rendering of the Broadway musical smash about lovers and friends coping with poverty, AIDS and addiction. While the movie takes some of the action to the streets and balconies, alleys and sidewalks, it still feels cloistered, with no strong sense that the story truly has moved off the stage and into the real world. The film reassembles much of the original stage cast, including Taye Diggs, Adam Pascal, Jesse L. Martin and Tony winner Wilson Jermaine Heredia, the movie's show-stopper as a drag queen dying of AIDS. Rosario Dawson joins the cast as an HIV-positive junkie, and while she and her co-stars sing playwright Jonathan Larson's songs with gusto, the tunes are sharply diminished by thin, mechanical hard-rock arrangements. PG-13 for mature thematic material involving drugs and sexuality, and for some strong language. 135 min. Two stars out of four.

- David Germain, AP Movie Writer

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"Syriana" - Anyone who grouses that Hollywood dumbs everything down should check out this fiercely intelligent thriller that puts audiences through a challenging mental workout to decipher and digest its intricate ideas and dialogue. In the manner of "Traffic," which earned Stephen Gaghan a screenplay Academy Award, the writer-director applies multiple story lines, far-flung locations and a detached-observer perspective to oil-industry machinations and corruption. It's impossible to absorb it all in a single viewing, and so much is packed into such a tight space that the film occasionally feels truncated. Still, Gaghan injects so much personality into his characters - and the cast led by George Clooney, Matt Damon, Jeffrey Wright, Chris Cooper and Amanda Peet embodies them so richly - that a great deal of humanity shines through in what otherwise could have been an academic exercise. R for violence and language. 128 min. Three and a half stars out of four.

- David Germain, AP Movie Writer

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"Yours, Mine & Ours" - If ever there was a compelling argument for birth control, this is it. This remake of the 1968 Lucille Ball-Henry Fonda comedy about a widower with eight kids who marries a widow with 10 telegraphs its slapstick gags from a mile away. It's already a sitcommy premise - although amazingly based on a book about a real-life family - but director Raja Gosnell (of the "Scooby-Doo" movies) can't resist going for the easy (and usually shrill) physical prank every time. Children in the audience will laugh hysterically at how the characters humiliate themselves; their parents will just be bored. Dennis Quaid and Rene Russo look great together, though, and have an easy chemistry as an uptight Coast Guard admiral and a hippie-chick purse designer whose marriage merges their 18 kids. PG for some mild, crude humor. 88 min. One and a half stars out of four.

- Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic