New Reviews

Code Name: The Cleaner; Freedom Writers; Happily N'Ever After; Thr3e

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CODE NAME: THE CLEANER
A man who may or may not be a janitor wakes up in a fancy hotel next to a dead FBI agent with no memory of who he is or how he got there. Not a bad set-up, but unfortunately the man in question is played by Cedric the Entertainer, who has yet to actually do as his moniker suggests when placed in a leading role. The most entertaining thing about the film is its interspersing of grainy stock-footage of Seattle with what are clearly Vancouver locations. That, or the audacity with which plugs for Skittles and Quizno's are liberally sprinkled throughout the dialogue. But back to the plot: You wouldn't imagine that a man so overweight could elude his pursuers as easily as our hero does, and you also wouldn't imagine that he'd get help from a butt-kicking babe (Lucy Liu) who may or may not be his girlfriend. If you believe that pairing could plausibly occur in reality, you might be gullible enough to buy a ticket to this movie. (Luke Y. Thompson) (Countywide)


FREEDOM WRITERS
Neither Half Nelson nor all bad, this white-teacher-uplifts-poor-kids-of-color drama aims to favor the students' stories, which are based on those of real-life Long Beach high-schoolers who wrote their way out of oppression and anonymity in the mid-'90s. But those diary entries too often take a back seat to the film's "Ms. G." played by two-time Oscar-winner and Chad Lowe-survivor Hilary Swank, who makes instantly credible her character's preference of work over marriage to a boring man-behind-the-woman (Patrick Dempsey). Pearls around her neck, our eager-beaver heroine suffers the kids' sarcasm, fails to earn their respect by bringing in a Tupac tape, then wins them over in a crucial scene that, fact-based or not, rings as false as anything in Dangerous Minds. Reaction shots of the class' befuddled white boy are played for cheap laughs, but writer-director Richard LaGravenese otherwise keeps it real by recruiting cinematographer Jim Denault (Our Song) from Indieville High and Imelda Staunton—here playing Bitchy Old Department Head—from Vera Drake. And though an early field trip to the Simon Wiesenthal Center strains credibility for occurring on the weekend, it doesn't detract from the movie's most effective lesson: that teaching isn't just for teachers. (Rob Nelson) (Countywide)


HAPPILY N'EVER AFTER
With shtick as dull as it is ill-natured, this appallingly dumb and tasteless inversion of the Cinderella story features the voice of Sigourney Weaver as a generically shrieky wicked stepmother who discovers she can tinker with fairy-tale endings, notably that of Cinders (Sarah Michelle Gellar), who sports a short black Audrey Hepburn 'do and a mistaken crush on a narcissistic prince (Patrick Warburton) brazenly ripped off from Beauty and the Beast's Gaston. Remember those fabulously giddy bits in Shrek that riffed on just about every fairy-tale character known to Western man? Well, here director Paul J. Bolger and screenwriter Rob Moreland have drained the affectionate wit out of the Shrek franchise's satire, giving us instead a barely-sketched-out story line involving an inept fairy godmother, a sulky dishwasher (Freddie Prinze Jr.) headed straight for love interest, two run-of-the-mill critters with little to do but try to seize the attention of the under-fives by force, and quantities of unimaginative CGI. I spent the movie scratching my head over which audience Lionsgate is hoping to tap with this noisy rubbish. YouTubers? Tots with A.D.D.? (Ella Taylor) (Countywide)


HOME OF THE BRAVE
See "O Say Can You . . . What?" (Select LA theaters)


MISS POTTER
See "Miss Congeniality" (Edwards University, Irvine)


NEW YORK METROPOLITAN OPERA: BELLINI'S I PURITANI
Russian soprano Anna Netrebko, who one critic dubbed Audrey Hepburn with a voice, takes on the role of the fragile Elvira, who goes mad when abandoned at the altar in Bellini's opera that's presented in HD on the big screen. (10:30 p.m. Sat., Edwards "Big One" Megaplex, Spectrum, Irvine)


PERFUME: THE STORY OF A MURDERER
See "Scents and Sensibility" (Countywide)


THR3E
What happens when a thriller finds Jesus? It's bye-bye, blood and boobs. Thr3e, written by Left Behinder Alan B. McElroy, based on a Ted Dekker novel, and debuting as the first theatrical release from Fox's new Christian-friendly imprint Fox Faith, is on its dull surface the mystery of a psychopath/serial killer and his seminary-student prey—with God replacing gore. There are no dead bodies here, but perhaps filmgoers, tired of all those secular scares and heathen horrors, won't miss the aesthetic pleasure of a creative murder scene. Still, Marc Blucas as the hunted seminary student Kevin Parson might as well be dead for all his charisma, even with a backstory involving deceased parents and an unhinged, abusive Aunt Belinda (Priscilla Barnes, formerly Thr3e's Company's blonde no. 3 and currently looking like Courtney Love after a thr3e-week bender). Of course, Fox Faith wouldn't want you to trust our judgment; as the movie reminds us in its tidy moral, "We need the power of God to teach us good and evil." That awesome power has co-opted pop music and cornered the market on swearing-in ceremonies. Can't we at least have our cookie-cutter thrillers? (Jessica Grose) (Countywide)

 
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