Thursday, January 14, 2010

Jackie Chan deserves better care in Hollywood than he gives these kids

Rated PG for sequences of action violence and some mild rude humor.
92 minutes
** ½ out of 5

While the New Year ushered in with a groan as “Leap Year” was unleashed upon us, the good news kept on coming for James Cameron’s mega-blockbuster, “Avatar.” This week doesn’t fare any better as Jackie Chan himself continues to go Hollywood with awfully lackluster results in his latest American paycheck, “The Spy Next Door.”

Leave it to director Brian Levant, he of such family-oriented films such as “Problem Child 2,” “Beethoven,” both “Flintstones” films, “Jingle All the Way,” “Snow Dogs,” “Are We There Yet?” and the straight-to-video prequel “Scooby Doo! The Mystery Begins” to take Chan and pit him up against some of the worst stereotypes ranging from an inappropriately sexualized thirteen-year-old to Russian terrorists.

While Chan has definitely been in some bad films and thankfully this is not the worst thing he’s been in. It’s a huge step up from “The Forbidden Kingdom” and gives him far more to do than his minimal lines in “Kung Fu Panda.” I would even go so far as to say that if I was channel surfing and came across this film, all for the sake of Chan himself I would much rather sit through this film again before either of the “Rush Hour” sequels (the original still remains competent in my book).

CIA spy Bob Ho (Chan) is on loan from the Chinese government and has just brought down uber-villain Boris… er, Poldark (Magnús Scheving), who has just found a substance that literally eats oil. All Bob wants to do now is settle down with next-door neighbor Gillian (Amber Valletta) against his boss (George Lopez) and co-worker’s (Billy Ray Cyrus) best interests, and in spite of the fact that they’ve only been dating for three months and her three children hate him.

When Gillian’s grandmother winds up in the hospital, she calls upon Bob to look after her trio of youngsters Farren (Madeline Carroll), Ian (Will Shadley) and Nora (Alina Foley). Farren just wants to be left alone to date college boys, Ian keeps getting in inexplicable trouble at school for getting himself thrown in trash cans while receiving wedgies and Nora just wants some chicken fingers.

After Ian accidentally downloads a super secret file off Bob’s computer, sent to him by the thugs arrive to cause chaos and complications for Bob and the little tikes. Now Bob has to rescue the kids, find the file and save the day against his own best wishes. Not to mention that through all this, Gillian has no idea whether her kids are even still in the house or out joining Bob in fisticuffs.

Thankfully, Levant surprisingly knows how to film a believable fight scene and Chan still has far more moves left in him than Milla Jovovich could ever dream no matter how much editing she receives. While far too much of the fights rely on extremely obvious wire effects, the scenes where Chan goes mano-a-mano shine through and steal what otherwise could be one of the worst family friendly action hybrids.

No one may ever know why writers Jonathan Bernstein and James Greer (who gave us the likes of “Max Keeble’s Big Move,” “Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector” and “Just My Luck”) along with Gregory Poirier (“Gossip,” “Tomcats,” “A Sound of Thunder,” “National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets”) thought this was all a great idea. Imagine if you will a cross between a scrapped Boris & Natasha script with your standard z-grade action film shaken and not stirred then poured over the icy premise of next-door neighbor lover baby-sits children to win them over relying on spy tactics to control their actions.

Plot is excessively in the forefront while the so-called action gets in the way with Chan never given enough one-liners. While Chan’s English may still not be great, it’s more than adequate and lends much in the way of his ever-reliable charm. “The Pacifier” this is not. Chan also needs better sidekicks. Even Chris Tucker is nowhere nearly as awful as listening to George Lopez and Billy Ray Cyrus trade barbs of dialogue so horrendous it seems like parts of the gag reel were spliced into the final cut.

Anyone who doesn’t know what happens when Jackie Chan is in an abandoned warehouse where random folding chairs lie about and one of the children arrives on the scene on a bicycle and thugs show up are in the wrong theater. Chan also deserves at least one more outing with Owen Wilson in a third “Shanghai” film to round out a rather great trilogy possibility. Do I smell “Shanghai Hollywood?” Nope, it’s just another dropping on the dung heap of January family fare.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Only The Audience Suffers More Than Amy Adams' Character In The Supposed Rom-Com "Leap Year"

Rated PG for sensuality and language.
100 minutes
Universal Pictures
** out of 5

In a weird sort of “time travel,” one can be whisked away into the New Year via film. Screening a film in December that’s not scheduled for release until January could lead you to assume that a studio believes it may have wings to stand on based on a celebrities status and think they can screen a film far enough in advance that you wouldn’t suspect it to be one of the worst films of the new year. You’d be sorely mistaken.

Amy Adams is probably more recognizable by face than by name. But, this is not keeping Universal Pictures from escorting the atrocious piece of filmmaking, “Leap Year,” head first into the wastelands of January – March releases. With her infectious attitude and bright red head of hair they also probably think that she can be thrust into a star vehicle and glide it to safety no matter how dismal the material.

While some found her side of last year’s “Julie & Julia” to be less than a satisfying whole, Adams was still able to bring more to her character than probably most leading actresses having to hold their own in a battle for screen time against the legendary Meryl Streep’s portrayal of Julia Childs. In “Night at the Museum: Battle for the Smithsonian” she was also able to escape far less scathed than anyone else and also made you wish that casting directors had made her the lead in the Amelia Earhart biopic.

Anand Tucker, in his sophomore big studio release, has gone from one of the better romantic comedies of past years, 2005’s underrated “Shopgirl” to one of the worst. So much so that even the advertising gives away the entirety of the film. When you see Amy Adams standing in front of co-star Matthew Goode and the film’s tagline reads, “Anna planned to propose to her boyfriend on February 29th. This is not her boyfriend.” you would have to be the absolute most ignorant filmgoer to not know how this film will wrap up its loose ends.

Anna (Adams) has a very professional relationship with her long term boyfriend, Jeremy (Adam Scott). While he is a successful cardiologist, she decorates places in need of rent or purchase. One night at dinner Anna thinks that Jeremy is going to propose after an exchange with her best friend Libby (“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s” own Sweet Dee herself, Kaitlin Olson, limited to two scenes and completely underused). Instead of a proposal, Jeremy gives Anna a new set of earrings and then gets called away to Ireland for a convention.

After Anna meets her father Jack (John Lithgow) at a bar he drunkenly tells her about a fifth century Irish tradition where a woman would propose to her boyfriend on February 29th. Whatever year this film takes place happens to be a leap year and Anna gets beside herself and jumps on a plane to surprise Jeremy in Ireland and propose. It’s only after the usual weather hiccups that she winds up not flying into Dublin but Wales and is forced to take a fishing boat to Dingle, Ireland.

In Dingle, Anna meets bar owner and taxi driver Declan (Goode) who finally agrees to drive Anna to Dublin after she destroys her hotel room and knocks out the power of the entire town. The next day they begin their journey of self discovery together where in so much as five minutes, Anna’s path is crossed by a black cat, the road is littered with a herd of cows, she steps in manure, manages to send Declan’s car into a wreck and her suitcase is stolen by passersby. As you can see, “wackiness” ensues.

The whole enterprise seems suspect when the plot revolves around a character bound and determined to make it to Dublin and then only two scenes even take place there. It could all be forgiven if everything in the movie wasn’t played to the most obvious and situations weren’t downplayed to the point that it’s almost as if nothing is happening while everything is way over the top. Not all blame should be placed entirely on director Tucker, however. He’s working from an incoherent script from two of Hollywood’s top hack screenwriters, Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont.

Admittedly, these two have what I consider to be a few guilty pleasures under their belt (“A Very Brady Sequel,” “Can’t Hardly Wait” and yes, even “Josie and the Pussycats”). Nevertheless, they also have brought forth the likes of “The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas,” Ben Affleck’s “Surviving Christmas” and one of 2008’s lamest flicks, “Made of Honor.”

Having been to Ireland myself, in late spring 2008, “Leap Year” also rings even more false if you have a lay for the land. This film is what I am deeming “geographically insulting.” Through oh-so-many mishaps and side trips it takes Anna about three days to make the trip from Dingle to Dublin. While visiting Ireland myself with family, we managed to make a round trip from Dublin to Cork (to visit the sadly closed for the morning “Crackpots” ceramic restaurant and wine bar) continuing up to Shannon and back west to Dublin all in one day.

The fact that Aer Lingus didn’t allow their official name to be associated with this mess should allow for a small moment of applause. If only everyone else were as smart as they were then the New Year wouldn’t be ringing in with such a horrendous hodgepodge of shenanigans. Thankfully, Amy Adams brings her trademark sense of whimsy to the proceedings as she manages to with every role starting all the way back to her Oscar nomination in “Junebug.”

Hopefully lessons were learned by everyone involved and the cast and crew can distance themselves from this muck of celluloid purgatory. While my hopes are high for Adams the same can’t be shared for all. Too bad we can’t all travel back in time and band together to make a proposal of our own to the filmmakers and stop them from unleashing another bland entry to the already wallowing genre of chick flicks.