Sunday, May 09, 2010

This week's reviews

The Back-Up Plan (12A cert, 104 min) ★
A Nightmare on Elm St (18 cert, 95 min) ★

Here’s the way Hollywood careers work. Jennifer Lopez needs a comeback. She’s looking terrific – no problems there. She’s 41, just past what studios normally consider the romcom best-before date, but Sandra Bullock has earned an extension on that, so why can’t she? After all, she’s put Ben Affleck and Gigli behind her – so very 2003. Still, we don’t want to risk a failure that conspicuous, anything risky like a thriller, or anything with an actual plot. Something safe, then. Old tricks.

New spin? A baby, perhaps. She’s had one? Passé. She wants one. How about artificial insemination, so she’s pregnant before even meeting the man of her dreams? A premise! It’s new-ish, without being off-puttingly new. It’ll fit into an acceptable zone of mind-numbing, women’s-weekly-editorial, pseudo-zeitgeisty tedium. It’ll do.

Thus The Back-Up Plan was surely conceived, and it absolutely puts your back up. J.Lo’s new-found beau (Alex O’Loughlin) runs a goat farm and peddles cheese at a market stall. Of course he does. I won’t knock his shirtless tractor driving, but he exudes all the charisma of a boiled slug. Before their first dinner date, we get the inevitable comedy with home pregnancy tests. Her dog swallows one, then throws it up. During the date, he (that’s the beau, not the dog) lays on candlelit pizza for two in one of Manhattan’s obliging walled gardens, leans over for a kiss, and knocks over what must be the world’s only flammable bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape. A disaster, all round.

There’s further scintillating dialogue to come (“I’m your cheese muse”) and a grotesque parody of a single mothers’ support group, culminating in an entirely undelightful sequence with another mum’s polluted birthing pool, into which J.Lo obviously trips. The tick-tock of the biological clock might be a real enough subject, but actual parturition is the grossest thing this movie can imagine, except when Lopez herself gets round to it. D

There was always a high likelihood the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street wouldn’t work out. Freddy Krueger’s dream-murder tactics stop being scary the second they’re too familiar, and Samuel Bayer’s film is nothing if not that, rehashing plenty of sequences from Wes Craven’s 1984 original: Freddy’s finger-blades emerge from bathwater, his upper body bulges in the wallpaper above someone’s bed, and he slaughters the same sleep-deprived teens in pretty much the same order. Would novelty have cost them anything?

Jackie Earle Haley, inheriting the role, isn’t to blame, but he’s more stymied by the burn-victim cosmetics than Robert Englund was, and his half-baked performance feels mangled in the edit – it’s not imposing enough. This version is ghoulishly overt about Freddy being a lynched paedophile; where the murkiness of his back-story made him almost a fairytale figure in Craven’s script, here everything has to be depressingly literalised.

I’m not claiming Craven’s film was exactly a tour de force in the acting department, but at least Freddy’s victims had a modicum of personality, so that we cared on some level whether they lived or died. Bayer’s movie, which is garishly incompetent in basic areas like sound synching, assumes bad CGI is enough in itself to suggest slippage between nightmares and reality. There’s maybe some sense of how agonising it might be to stay awake for days on end, but the movie is so sluggish and feebly imagined you could soundly snooze through it and not miss a thing. D

Furry Vengeance (PG cert, 91 min)

Brendan Fraser, whose labours in the arena of family entertainment get more and more masochistic, stars as a land developer thrust into a turf war with imperilled forest critters. The whole movie feels extrapolated from the five-second clip of a scheming chipmunk on YouTube, bulked out with many, many shots of Fraser being thwacked with some generic foley crunch noise and falling backwards with his feet in the air. A diabolical raccoon masterminds the attack of the allegedly cute fauna, but they’re off-puttingly creepy and computer-generated, and ever-trashier director Roger Kumble (Cruel Intentions) severely overestimates both the comedy and eco-preaching value of being repeatedly skunk-sprayed. In fairness, there might be some silly fun for the kids here, and Ken Jeong has snappy timing in the role of Fraser’s Blackberry-pecking boss, whose lip-service to green principles never lasts more than a microsecond. But it’s needlessly lame and cardboard stuff. D+

Sus (15 cert, 91 min)

A cannily-timed release for Barrie Keeffe’s absorbing three-hander, set on election night 1979, and set almost wholly in a police interrogation room where a black Brit called Delroy (underrated Clint Dyer) is hauled up on suspicion of killing his wife. Dyer’s transition from cocky boredom to tear-streaked fury is powerfully handled, and Ralph Brown brings a credible menace to his covertly bigoted cop. Though it’s hard to see what Rafe Spall’s dawdling, lightweight deputy brings to the party, Keeffe’s play packs a solidly indignant punch on screen. B

A Room and a Half (12A cert, 130 min)

Flights of melancholic reverie and animated fancy pervade this imagined life of the exiled Russian poet Joseph Brodsky – at times self-conscious in its sepia-tinted nostalgia, at others glowing and magical. B

Psych:9 (15 cert, 97 min)

Hysteria and hysterectomies in a deserted hospital. You mainly fear for the mental health of the screenwriter. F

One Night in Turin (15 cert, 97 min)

Naggingly unnecessary doc about the Italia 90 World Cup. C