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Entries in Movie Reviews (79)

Friday
Dec212012

Movie Review: "This Is 40"

Universal(NEW YORK) -- It’s the sequel we never asked for, regarding two characters we didn’t really care much about, even when we saw and liked Knocked Up.  At least, we didn’t care enough to see an entire movie based on them.
 
Welcome to This Is 40, starring the talented, affable, entertaining and funny Paul Rudd and writer/director Judd Apatow’s talented, affable, entertaining and funny wife, Leslie Mann.  Also starring in This Is 40 are Apatow’s funny, talented and affable children, Maude and Iris Apatow, who play Rudd and Mann’s daughters. In other words, this is a movie Judd Apatow gets to make because he’s Judd Apatow, and because of his track record as a purveyor of successful comedies he can pretty much produce whatever and employ whomever he wants.  As a fan, I’m cool with that -- but not enough to give him a free pass.
 
Rudd and Mann are Pete and Debbie. Both are about to turn 40 but one of them is in denial. I’ll give you a hint:  it’s Debbie. Even though Pete and Debbie's birthdays occur the same week, they’re only celebrating Pete’s because Debbie wants everybody to think she’s 38.  By the way, Debbie and Pete are loaded -- or at least, that's what we’re led to believe, since Pete owns his own record label and Debbie owns a clothing boutique that employs Megan Fox, or a character played by Megan Fox.  Either way, she looks like Megan Fox, so everybody wins.
 
Pete and Debbie also are struggling a bit with their marriage, something that's perfectly relatable if you're married or have been in a long relationship.  Whether it’s financial issues, sex, boredom, kids, dishonesty or all of the above, Apatow’s brand of blunt and perverse humor with a heart will ring true for many, and that’s when This Is 40 is at its best.  Its at its worst when it asks the average movie audience to have empathy for what essentially amounts to rich people's problems, especially given the screen time it takes to resolve those problems.  A more accurate title might be This Is 40...Minutes Too Long.
 
While we might appreciate Pete’s struggle to keep his record company afloat, it’s hard to have empathy for a guy who drives a fancy car, who's married to a wife who drives a fancy car, who lives in a house in Beverly Hills with a kid who complains about not being able to watch Lost on her iPad (although her obsession with Lost is one of the film’s best jokes).  Maybe Apatow thinks we’ll identify with the humanity in Pete and Debbie’s issues and not be put off by their obvious affluence, but Apatow’s most successful movies have included characters who were relatable and quirky on every level.  And as likeable as Pete, Debbie and their kids are, they're also superficial and cloying.
 
While This Is 40 is enjoyable and amusing, it's also a bit disappointing.  A common piece of advice to writers is “write what you know,” and clearly some of this movie is gleaned from Apatow’s life, but that life puts this story out of touch with the average person.  That’s not going to stop you from laughing heartily at the movie's strongest and universally relatable bits -- in particular Pete and Debbie’s taboo but truthful feelings about each other, and Debbie’s willingness to do whatever it takes to protect her daughter. It will, however, prevent you from thinking that This Is 40 is one of Apatow’s better movies.  And it doesn’t help that those strong, relatable bits only come about once every 20 minutes.
 
Three-and-a-half out of five stars.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Nov212012

Movie Review: "Red Dawn" 

Comstock/Thinkstock (NEW YORK) -- Red Dawn is a remake of a mediocre film from 1984 that played on our fear of the Cold War possibly turning into a real war.
 
How do you translate that to 2012? Well, you don’t. This movie was supposed to come out in 2010 and back then it seemed like a bad idea, too.
 
In this iteration of Red Dawn, the bad guys are the North Koreans, who paratroop their way into the U.S. For our purposes, they happen to land in the Pacific Northwest, where Matt Eckert (Josh Peck) is the quarterback for his high school football team, The Wolverines. Matt’s older brother, Jed (Chris Hemsworth, pre-Thor), is home on leave from the Marines.  They’re not terribly fond of each other as Jed joined the Marines soon after their mother died, which left a bad impression on Matt. He felt abandoned by his big bro!
 
Well, nothing a little invasion by the North Koreans can’t fix. Jed leads Matt and several of his high school buddies into skirmishes with the North Koreans and not one of them is believable.
 
Give Hemsworth and the likes of The Hunger Games’ Josh Hutcherson credit, because every actor in this movie did their best to execute the dialogue and direction they were given, but nothing they could do would prevent this film from seeming absolutely ridiculous.
 
One and a half out of five stars.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Nov212012

Movie Review: "Rise of the Guardians"

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- What do One Direction and Justin Bieber have in common? Their fashion sense and various hairstyles were clearly influenced by Jack Frost!
 
Really. Just check out Rise Of The Guardians and it’s clear the boy responsible for ice,  snow, blizzards, etc. is more than just a guy who is “nipping at your nose” -- he’s a tastemaker!
 
Santa Claus (Alec Baldwin), by the way, isn’t as jolly as you think. Sure, he’s a nice guy with a strange accent, but he’s also tatted up! I mean, Santa has sleeves. One forearm says, “naughty,” the other says, “nice.” He’s more Henry Rollins than the good ol’ Saint Nick we’ve become accustomed to.
 
FYI, the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman) is a boomerang-wielding, 6’1” Australian tough guy while The Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher) is more of a human-sized exotic pixie.
 
Together, they are the Guardians of children’s imaginations and beliefs. Each child who believes is represented by a light on Santa’s special globe. When a child stops believing, the light goes out.
 
Sweet, right? The Bogeyman doesn’t think so and he’s going to do everything in his power to snuff out all of the lights.
 
Did we mention that all of these characters received their powers from The Man In The Moon?
 
As for Jack, well, he can’t be seen by children because when we first meet him, kids don’t believe in him and that’s where The Man In The Moon comes in. He wants Jack to become a Guardian. Jack would rather hang out with the kids who don’t see him and facilitate snowball fights and renegade sleigh rides.
 
Rise of the Guardians is clearly derivative of many great holiday stories with a touch of The Avengers thrown in. Really, though, it’s more about the power of belief and contributing to the world around us through imagination and trust. Wrap those themes in an adorable package such as Rise of the Guardians, and you have yourself a nice holiday movie for the whole family.

Three and a half out of five stars.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Nov162012

Movie Review: "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn -- Part 2"

Summit Pictures(NEW YORK) -- To callously belittle the Twilight franchise is to insult thousands of people who have truly invested their hearts and souls into a movie franchise that, in many ways, has had a very real and profound impact on their lives.

So what if Bella Swan served as a poor role model?  So what if the actors seemed so uncomfortable on screen you thought they might actually jump off it, run down the aisle and leave the theater?  Sometimes, poor role models are the easiest to relate to.  They usually have issues, and who among us doesn’t?  As for the acting: if you have a few days, I can tell you all about the movies I love that feature some of the worst performances you’ll ever see.

In other words, it’s OK to like bad movies.  Which brings me to The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn -- Part 2, a Twilight movie that is NOT BAD.  Not bad at all!  

Well, maybe a little bad.

When we last left Kristen Stewart’s Bella Swan, her true love, Edward Cullen, had turned her into a vampire to save her life.  Giving birth to their demon child, Renesmee, killed Bella Swan the human but birthed Bella Swan, the vampire.  It also, thank god, killed Bella Swan the boring, whiny, lightning rod for monster love and birthed Bella Swan, the kick-ass, lightning-fast, I can-now-beat-Kellan-Lutz-at-arm-wrestling vampire.

When Bella wakes up as a vampire, she’s actually waking up for the very first time in her life -- or in this case, afterlife.  Our heroine quickly discovers she has tremendous strength and speed and incredibly keen senses, especially her ability to smell human blood.  Unfortunately, this is when we experience our first of several CGI effects fails in the film.  It’s Bella and Edward running through the forest as Bella hunts for blood (animal blood, of course) for the very first time.  Wow, we are talking serious second-rate, high cholesterol cheese.  Awful?  Yes, but, sure to please everyone who's blinded by their love for these characters.  Besides, Bella’s new attitude is so intriguing, we can forgive this kind of neglect. 

That is, until Bella meets her half-blood baby, which is a complete CGI bobble-headed freak.  Like Kenan Thompson’s character on Saturday Night Live would say, “What’s up with that?”  Even so, it's when Bella meets her baby that she really starts to impress.

See, Bella had no idea that Renesmee is being protected by Jacob following that moment in the last movie when he, as a werewolf, imprinted on Renesmee.  I know what you’re thinking: “Ewww.”  However, as Jacob explains to Bella, “It’s not what you think.”  With her new-found strength, Bella slaps Jacob around and gets some laughs in the process.

And with that, we have finally moved on from the bizarre love triangle that was Bella, Edward and Jacob.  It’s now Edward and Bella forever, while Jacob will devote his life to the half-blood princess.  The End.  Right!

Renesmee is growing fast; 15 minutes into the movie she’s the size of an 8-year-old girl, and of course, this girl has special powers.  She can touch your cheek and make you see the truth (a potential presidential debate moderator for 2016?).  She can also float in the air.  When one of the Cullens' cousins sees Renesmee floating and catching snowflakes, she assumes Edward and Bella have turned a child into a vampire and, according to vampire law, that's illegal.  Who knew?  So she runs to Italy and tells Aro (Michael Sheen), head of the Volturi, which gives him and all of his delightfully beautiful, creepy underlings something to do -- kill the Cullens!   By the way, Sheen is so fantastic in this role, it's obvious he enjoys playing it.

I’ll stop with the plot details here.  Instead, I’m going to tell you that The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn -- Part 2 contains about the best 20 minutes of the entire franchise.  It's content so surprising, so thrilling and so shocking that it’s completely incongruous with the rest of the franchise and is, quite frankly, did-not-see-that-coming awesome.  My jaw literally dropped.  Suddenly, the sanitized, teen emo porn that had been the Twilight franchise turns into a Robert Rodriguez-inspired climax rich with excitement and an emotional depth previously unseen in these films.

It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish, and the final moments of the Twilight franchise finish very well.  Bella, although she had to die and become a vampire to do it, changes for the better and morphs into an admirable metaphor and role model.

Three-and-a-half out of five stars.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Nov092012

Movie Review: "Skyfall"

MGM/Columbia Pictures(NEW YORK) -- It only took three movies to get it absolutely right.
 
In Casino Royale, Daniel Craig established himself as the new James Bond.  A different and sort of exciting Bond, yes, but he did nothing to convince the world he was going to be an indelible 007, mentioned in the same breath as Sean Connery and exciting us about the future prospects of a franchise that, with his debut, was clearly going in a different direction.  If you’re like me, you instead thought Craig was an excellent actor who was half Jason Bourne, part Timothy Dalton with a dash of Roger Moore. In other words, an entertaining hybrid but not necessarily a game-changer.
 
Then Quantum of Solace comes along.  While there were many good things to take from it, the film almost seemed like a step backward into a different franchise that had very little to do with James Bond. Once again, Craig’s acting was brilliant but the film did little to whet my appetite for another Bond film.
 
Now we have Skyfall, Daniel Craig's third outing as James Bond.  What makes us clamor for this new Bond film is the promise of a celebration -- a movie marking the 50th anniversary of the film debut of the world’s most famous and, on occasion, most lovable super spy.  There's also the addition of Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes (American Beauty), Oscar-winner Javier Bardem as the Bond baddie, the return of Oscar-winner Dame Judi Dench as Bond's boss, M, and the debut of two-time Oscar nominee Ralph Fiennes as M’s successor.  That’s a lot of Oscar hardware.  What a colossal failure this would be if it didn’t work.
 
From the opening sequence, it's apparent that Skyfall is a very different James Bond film. We are treated to, for my money, one of the best chase sequences any Bond film has ever offered. In an effort to steer away from spoilers, the only thing I’m going to tell you is it creatively utilizes a motorcycle, the rooftops of Istanbul (a recent trend for action movies; see Taken 2.), and a train.
 
We also meet Eve, played by the underrated Naomie Harris who, from this moment forth, will be underrated no more.
 
Let’s just say, James disappears for a while and in his absence, MI6 sustains a devastating attack that calls M’s leadership into question. Bond and M’s loyalty to one another also is tested, forcing them into the kind of self-reflection we haven’t before seen in a Bond film -- at least not played this convincingly.
 
This James Bond is far from perfect, and Craig is at his best when he's vulnerable, allowing us to see a tired, older Bond. A Bond with both physical and emotional mileage.  While we see the wrinkles and dark circles under his eyes, we also see the damage to his soul. This Bond is a man who isn’t so sure he can do his job anymore but has to, because it's all he knows. He is a killer in a dark place.
 
Here is the brilliance of Skyfall. The bad guy, Javier Bardem’s beguiling Silva, is very much like Bond -- except he’s embraced his inner killer. Silva is motivated by revenge (again, no spoilers here) but although he acts from the other side of that often shifting moral line, his reasons for doing so might well make sense to James.
 
Silva also intrigues because his specialty is cyber warfare, a very nice way to keep the Bond franchise current.  Also keeping the franchise and MI6 current is 32-year-old Ben Whishaw as the new Q -- a kid, if you will, who also specializes in cyber warfare, as well as tech-based gadgetry.
 
If there’s anything in Skyfall to complain about it’s the underutilization of Bond girl Bérénice Marlohe.  Her relationship with James isn't entirely convincing but a stunning scene with Marlohe that's loaded with bravado, sexuality and suspense quickly makes you forget the shortcomings of her character development.
 
In the realm of James Bond, Skyfall is a masterpiece.  This is a finely tuned, gorgeous, unpredictable film with more artistic merit than the previous 20+ James Bond films combined. If that's not enough to endear Bond fans, the film is also loaded with clever yet organic tributes and references to past Bond films.
 
Skyfall marks a pivotal moment in the James Bond canon.  This is the true reboot of the franchise, the film in which, three movies into his tenure, Daniel Craig becomes the best James Bond there ever was, and in which a vaunted character celebrating his 50th anniversary once again becomes an original.
 
Four-and-a-half out of five stars.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Oct052012

Movie Review: "Taken 2"

20th Century Fox(NEW YORK) -- To quote Liam Neeson's now-famous line from Taken, Taken 2 has a particular set of skills.  And it’s no good at any of them.
 
Neeson is back in the sequel as former government super-agent Bryan Mills.  When we first met him four years ago in Taken, he went after a bunch of Albanians who kidnapped his daughter, drugged her and tried to sell her into slavery. It was an impressive, albeit quite unbelievable, display of action gaudiness that did well at the box office.
 
So, remember all those Albanians?  Remember how Bryan killed them?  Guess what?  They all have families, and those families aren't happy about what happened.  As it turns out, all of the dead guys were from the same village, and the father of one of them hatches a plot to exact revenge on Bryan, by kidnapping him while he’s doing some security work in Istanbul.
 
It's here that Taken 2 becomes a holey mess. And I do mean h-o-l-e-y, not h-o-l-y, because it's so full of holes.
 
The henchmen are given strict orders to capture Bryan alive so they can take him back to the village, where the families can enjoy the satisfaction of torturing him to death.  But in the very first car chase scene, they're aiming kill shots right at Bryan’s windshield.  Why aren’t they aiming at the car's tires?  They spent a lot of time and money planning and paying off various people around Istanbul to capture this guy, and now they're trying to kill him?
 
Then Bryan’s ex-wife (Famke Janssen) and daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace), surprise him in Istanbul.  The bad guys, though, act as if they knew the women were going to be there.  Huh?  Then consider that Kim doesn't yet have her driver's license -- in fact, the movie's opening features Bryan tracking Kim down at her boyfriend's house when she fails to show for a scheduled driving lesson.  Yet later in the film, Kim's able to drive a stick shift through the narrow Istanbul streets like Jimmie Johnson driving a modified Chevy through the desert.  The culmination of this car chase is one of the top five most ridiculous film scenes of the year.
 
Even so, plot holes in a mindless action film can be forgiven if the film's entertaining, but Taken 2 is barely that.  While the presentation is slick and the cast does exactly what they're asked, there's more entertainment value, and logic, in an episode of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.
 
One-and-a-half out of five stars.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Sep212012

Movie Review: "End of Watch"

Open Road Films(NEW YORK) -- Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena are very good at what they do. I’m not talking about their characters in End of Watch.  I’m talking about their vocation.  Gyllenhaal has had both critical and popular success, and while Pena has had the critical acclaim, he hasn’t yet enjoyed the fame he so rightfully deserves.  End of Watch may change that.
 
Gyllenhaal and Pena are LAPD officers Brian Taylor and Mike Zavala.  In our opening scene they're in their police cruiser, chasing a couple of gang-banging perps. We see things from the point of view of the cruiser -- moving in out of narrow alleys, traversing the narrow streets of east L.A. while Gyllenhaal’s Taylor treats the audience to a compelling voiceover narration-slash-lecture of what it means to be a cop, how cops approach their job and why they do what they do.
 
I'm no fan of voiceovers, especially when the first thing you hear is a voiceover matched to the action on the screen.  There are, however, always exceptions to this rule, and the opening of End of Watch is one of them.
 
Taylor is a former Marine and Zavala, who meets Taylor at the police academy, is a high school stoner with no direction but who's compelled to seek a career by the love of his high school sweetheart and wife, Gabby.  Zavala’s Mexican heritage is a badge of honor as pronounced as the LAPD shield he wears on his chest, while Taylor is confident and handsome, a whip-smart thrill seeker. In many ways they're opposites, in others they're exactly alike.  Whatever the equation, they're best friends and brothers in every sense of the word.
 
If all of this sounds a little clichéd, it gets worse. Writer-director David Ayer (Training Day) employs the “found footage” technique, as much of what we see comes from cameras Taylor is using for a film class.  Seriously.  At first, the idea was bothersome and quite frustrating -- a tired genre (the buddy cop movie) utilizing an overused, abused style.  But good storytelling and great acting will always overcome clichés, even when the plot itself -- our cops ultimately find themselves the targets of a drug cartel -- is a cliché.
 
Even with those usual conceits, End of Watch is an unusual cop drama. While it puffs out its chest with plenty of grit, action and salty language, beneath that chest is a huge heart, bursting with warmth and humor. More than anything else, this is a love story between two men who care deeply for each other, their families, their significant others and their community. In the history of great cop movies, you’ll be hard-pressed to find better chemistry between two actors than Gyllenhaal and Pena (a big statement, I know).  Director David Ayer's Training Day, which he wrote, helped guide Denzel Washington to an Oscar.  With End of Watch, perhaps he’ll guide Gyllenhaal and Pena to nominations, too.
 
Four-and-a-half out of five stars.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Sep212012

Movie Review: "The Master"

The Weinstein Company(NEW YORK) -- In The Master, writer/director P.T. Anderson uses the founding of Scientology as the backdrop for his story.  But this is not a film about Scientology, nor does it ever refer to Scientology.  Instead, it is simply known as "the Cause.”
 
At the head of the Cause is Lancaster Dodd, clearly based on Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard and played, masterfully, by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who at this point should be everybody’s favorite actor.  We’ll get to him in a minute.
 
The catalyst for The Master is Freddy Quell, played by Joaquin Phoenix.  Freddy is an alcoholic World War II Navy vet who's having trouble assimilating back into society after the war.  He takes a job as a department store photographer in 1950s San Francisco, a setting and scene that shows Anderson and Phoenix at their very best. The department store is so authentic you don’t think you’re watching a movie -- you believe you might be in the store, witnessing a hung-over portrait photographer lose his mind.  It is a beautiful sequence, one of many.
 
After losing his job, Freddy drifts in and out of jobs in a drunken haze as quickly as he drifts in and out of reality.  That is, until he stumbles upon a festive boat, a beacon of light cutting through a misty night on the San Francisco docks.  We're treated to a shot that has already become The Master’s calling card, as the boat dreamily heads towards the Golden Gate Bridge. If you love aesthetically pleasing visuals heavy with meaning, well, here you go.
 
Freddy stows away on the New York-bound boat, which is commanded by Lancaster Dodd -- a man of many talents, so he says, among them author, philosopher, nuclear physicist, etc.  He takes a liking to Freddy, especially when he discovers Freddy has a talent for distilling alcohol from just about anything, including Lysol.  But there's more to Dodd's affection for Freddy, and I’m not entirely convinced even Anderson knows exactly what it is. Perhaps Freddy is Dodd’s alter ego, or the son he never had -- even though Dodd does indeed have a son. Whatever the reason, our budding religious leader believes he's met Freddy before, and since the Cause believes in past life regression and time travel, who knows in which life, dimension or era their earlier acquaintance may have been.
 
Believe me when I tell you, there is a scene in The Master that features some of the best acting you will ever see. It's when Dodd “processes” Freddy.  Processing would be similar to what Scientologists call “auditing,” in which case we should thank Scientology for being indirectly responsible for a scene that will inspire actors and filmmakers for years to come.  Hoffman and Phoenix create two of the better characters we've seen on film in a long time.
 
As if the heavyweight championship performances by Phoenix and Hoffman weren’t enough, let’s throw in Amy Adams as Dodd’s wife, who may very well be the brains and brawn behind the Cause.  In The Master, Adams delivers the most vulnerable and powerful performance of her career.
 
All of this makes for an incredible 90-minute affair.  The Master, though, is two hours and 16 minutes long, and comes dangerously close to collapsing under its own weight. There are many great and gorgeous moments in this film but as noted earlier, it gave me the feeling that Anderson doesn't really know what his own movie is about. That’s not a crime, but when it’s obvious it seems just a tad lazy, despite the clear effort and brilliance underlying most of the film.
 
Three-and-a-half out of five stars.
 
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Sep072012

Movie Review: "The Words" 

Jonathan Wenk/CBS Films(NEW YORK) -- Hard work pays off, or so we’re told.  But for Bradley Cooper’s Rory Jansen, spending three years of his life writing a novel he’s sure is going to lead to success doesn’t pay off at all.
 
That's one of the stories within a story, within a story, in The Words. Sound confusing? Not really -- just perhaps not as interesting as it should be.
 
Jansen is the main character in a book titled The Words, written by world-renowned author Clay Hammond, who's played by Dennis Quaid. We learn about Rory’s life as Hammond reads select passages from his book to an adoring audience in a rather large auditorium. There is, however, a member of the audience who seems to adore him more than everyone else: a grad student played by Olivia Wilde.  Later, she'll have her own significant part to play in Hammond's narrative.
 
The film’s ambitious but not completely original narrative switches between three stories: Rory’s story; the story of the man whose life Rory plagiarized; and the real world -- at least, what I think we're supposed to believe is the real world -- of Clay Hammond.
 
When Clay introduces us to his story's protagonist, Rory is already a success.  Then Clay tells the audience Rory’s backstory, including his romance with Dora, played by Zoe Saldana.  The couple honeymoons in Paris, where Rory is quite taken with an old leather satchel they discover in a consignment shop, which Dora gifts to her new husband.  Back in the States, when Rory fails to sell the novel over which he's slaved for three years, he discovers in the satchel an old manuscript written so beautifully, it could’ve been the work of Ernest Hemingway himself.
 
Can you guess what happens next?  Of course, Rory passes off the found manuscript as his own, gets an agent, becomes a best-selling author and apparently forgets about that moral line he obliterated when he decided to completely rip off, word for word, somebody else’s work.
 
That will change when an old man, played by Jeremy Irons, tracks down Rory in New York's Central Park and tells him a story -- his story -- slowly, like peeling an onion layer by layer. It's a painful story, one that's at the heart of The Words, but Irons's performance isn't painful to watch. In fact, it's one of the film's bright spots.  I just wish there were more.
 
The way in which the narrative for The Words is executed makes it nearly impossible to develop an emotional connection to either Clay or Rory and without that connection, every story within a story within this particular story has very little impact. It’s clear that co-writers/directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal put lots of hard work into The Words.  It just didn’t pay off.
 
Two-and-a-half out of five stars.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Aug312012

Movie Review: "Lawless"

The Weinstein Company(NEW YORK) -- If you put an 'F' in front of Lawless, you get flawless, and while I really like this movie, flawless it is not.
 
Lawless is based on Matt Bondurant's book The Wettest County in the World, the fictionalized story of his grandfather Jack, and Jack’s brothers, all of whom were moonshiners living in the mountains of Virginia during the Prohibition era.
 
Shia LeBeouf is Jack, the youngest and wimpiest of the three brothers.  As his unnecessary voiceover tells us at the beginning, his brothers seem to be indestructible. Case in point: Forrest, a World War I vet played by Tom Hardy, was the only survivor of an attack on his platoon. Hardy, as usual, is a force. Forrest doesn’t talk a lot, but his eyes and guttural grunts are worth a page of dialogue.  He’s so tough, his stare has the same physical impact as the brass knuckles he likes to employ in the worst of circumstances.
 
The Bondurant boys have a good thing going until Guy Pearce’s Charlie Rakes comes along -- an egomaniacal, eccentric, crooked law enforcement officer from Chicago who makes instant enemies of the Bondurants. Rakes is fastidious about his appearance: perfectly manicured, hair slicked back, nary a fold or crease out of place. He carefully dons gloves before handling a gun or beating Jack Bondurant, then just as carefully removes them.  Pearce excels in this role.  I'm not sure if it was intentional, but his appearance is remarkably similar to Bob Geldof's in 1982’s The Wall, after he shaved off his eyebrows and became “Comfortably Numb.”
 
Shia LeBeouf is equally as terrific as Jack. He’s truly weak when Rakes beats him down to send a message to his brothers, truly bold when making his first moonshine run to prove he has value to his brothers, and truly in love when he courts the preacher’s daughter, Bertha, played by Mia Wasikowska.
 
Worth honorable mentions are Jason Clark as Howard Bondurant and Jessica Chastain, who plays Maggie, a big-city dancer who moves to the mountains to get away from the big-city violence. Her story line is one of the film’s weaknesses, but Chastain's performance makes up for the poor and somewhat implausible character development.
 
At times, Lawless feels like you’re watching the second coming of The Godfather, then it suddenly transitions to The A-Team (the TV show, not the underrated movie based on the TV show).  Some of you may think that’s fine and in a sense I do, too, because The A-Team had entertainment value.  As for Lawless, it’s a little frustrating to wrangle this kind of talent with these kinds of performances, and yet wind up with a movie that’s entertaining but not nearly as special as it should’ve been.
 
Three-and-a-half out of five stars.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio