New Film Reviews

Bluffmaster, Wolf Creek, Cheaper by the Dozen 2, Fun With Dick and Jane, Mrs. Henderson Presents, The Ringer, Rumor Has It, The White Countess

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BLUFFMASTER
This glossy Bollywood crime thriller, directed by Rohan Sippy (Kuch Naa Kaho), is an enjoyable romantic comedy (with hip-hop–flavored song-and-dance numbers) about a dashing con artist pulling off the biggest sting of his career—and getting stung right back. Recent attempts at this sort of thing in the West, such as Confidence and the Argentine Nine Queens, were weighed down by their angst-ridden neo-noir poses. Maybe only a Bollywood ace like Sippy would be comfortable enough with frivolity these days to work an elaborate con on the audience and make them enjoy it. The carefully crafted screenplay leads us by the nose through a series of surprises that peel away the layers of disguise in which master trickster Roy (Abishek Bachchan) has shrouded himself, and the reversals never let up. As the beautiful girl who realizes early on that her fiancé is no stockbroker, and whose departure precipitates a moral crisis, Priyanka Chopra is an actress ravishing enough to make all this seem plausible. The reprobates who furnish comic relief, Riteish Deshmukh and Boman Irani, really are the funniest second bananas available, and Nana Patekar's tightly wound thug, Chandru, is a surprisingly realistic (and scary) villain, as tightly wound sociopaths go. Yet despite the excellence of its large ensemble, Bluffmaster still feels like a star vehicle, and a solidly convincing one at that—a measure of the extent to which the younger Bachchan has come out from under the shadow of his legendary father, Amitabh. In this performance, he actually seems to be channeling John Travolta rather than his old man, right down to the trademark strut. (David Chute) (Naz 8, Artesia)

CACHÉ
See Film feature. (Edwards University, Irvine)

WOLF CREEK

 

Writer-director Greg McLean's queasily unsettling debut works from the well-worn Texas Chainsaw Massacre template: a long intro in which suspense is slowly cranked up through the use of jittery digital camerawork and an alienating soundscape, followed by an agonizingly unpleasant final half-hour of torture, sexual menace and female resourcefulness, plus a very bleak coda. British tourists Liz (Cassandra Magrath) and Kristy (Kestie Morassi) and their Aussie traveling companion, Ben (Nathan Phillips), head into western Australia's barren hinterland, only to find, come nighttime, that their car won't start. Along comes a white bushman called Mick (John Jarrett)—a Crocodile Dundee figure explicitly depicted as an obsolete national stereotype—who tows them to his compound, an isolated mining outpost, for a seemingly amiable night of drinking before repairing their vehicle. The nightmare itself commences at dawn when, waking up inexplicably drugged and bound, Liz must somehow find her companions and flee, even as she deduces from a shedful of cars, camcorders and camping equipment that Mick has been playing this game—kidnap, torture, release, recapture and kill—for a very long time. Full of clever reversals, brief triumphs and bitter setbacks, Wolf Creek is consummately well-crafted, unapologetically vicious and leavened with moments of humor that merely intensify the horror. Be warned: The second time a character rehashes Paul Hogan's "That's not a knife, this is a knife" quip, you'll want to avert your eyes. (John Patterson) (Countywide)

Also opening:

BREAKFAST ON PLUTO
Neil "The Crying Game" Jordan's latest foray into transvestism was reviewed in our Holiday Film Guide. (Edwards University, Irvine)

CASANOVA
See Film feature. (Opens Dec. 25 at Edwards Newport, Newport Beach)

CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN 2
Near the beginning of Cheaper by the Dozen 2, Steve Martin's character is urged by his wife (played by Bonnie Hunt) to change outfits—to which he responds: "Every dad is entitled to one hideous shirt." Perhaps, but is every successful family comedy entitled to one hideous sequel? In contrast to many overproduced sequels (like, say, Father of the Bride Part II), CBTD 2 never becomes outright embarrassing or offensive; the story of the supersize Baker clan's trip to Lake Winnetka and their rivalry with the Murtaugh family is simply a choppy collection of stagy slapstick set pieces and ersatz Kodak moments. Every scene ends with someone either falling into the lake or learning a "valuable life lesson." What keeps the film afloat (barely) is the sheer charisma of Eugene Levy (as the Murtaugh paterfamilias) and the young Alyson Stoner (as Sarah Baker, a tomboy in the midst of her first crush), who manage to find emotion and laughs in the tritest of dialogue and the flimsiest of scenarios. The movie may play better on video screens in the back of minivans, but I suspect even seat-belted children will remain unimpressed. (James C. Taylor) (Countywide)

FUN WITH DICK AND JANE
The title holds true for about 20 minutes or so in the middle of director Dean Parisot's loose remake of the 1977 Jane Fonda-George Segal vehicle, when the eponymous protagonists turn to armed robbery as a means of maintaining their upper-middle-class existence. He (Jim Carrey) is the fall guy for an imploding, Enron-like corporation, she (Téa Leoni) is a former travel agent turned stay-at-home mom, and as they don rubber Bill and Hillary masks and start knocking over sushi bars and high-end coffee shops, the movie hums with the promise of becoming a sharp-edged satire of success and prosperity (or lack thereof) in the Bush II era—a reverse Robin Hood story in which the rich steal from each other and give nothing to the poor. But Fun lacks the courage of its convictions. Though it never degenerates into one of those self-serving fantasies (like The Family Man) about the virtues of learning how "the other half" lives, it still wants us to find Dick and Jane heroic (as opposed to comically pathetic) as they wreak all manner of havoc so that their BMWs and big-screen TVs won't get repossessed. This is satire made from the inside of the ivory tower, and when, late in the third act, Fun With Dick and Jane decides to come on strong with platitudes about how the petit bourgeois really can stick it to the haute bourgeois, it goes from bad to worse. Carrey (who also produced) has spared himself no slapstick indulgence—he sings, dances, turns cartwheels and even shocks himself with an electrified dog collar—while the gifted Leoni is made only a tad less shrewish here than she was in the equally lamentable Spanglish. (Scott Foundas) (Countywide)

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