By AIMEE MURILLO
By STEPHANIE ZACHAREK
By MATT COKER
By AIMEE MURILLO
By AMY NICHOLSON
By JONATHAN KIEFER
By INKOO KANG
See "Rachel Stein, Showgirl" (Edwards Westpark, Irvine)
See "Glittering Hunks of Trash" (Countywide)
ARE WE DONE YET?
One year (in movie time) on from the action of 2005's Are We There Yet?, sports memorabilia salesman Nick Persons (Ice Cube) has sold his business, launched a magazine, and moved his newlywed bride (Nia Long) and two pouty, foul-tempered stepkids into his cramped Portland apartment. Whereupon, the unexpected arrival of a bun in the oven prompts a relocation to the bucolic countryside and a too-good-to-be-true fixer-upper that quickly proves to be exactly that. Fans of the first film can rest assured that a change in the director's chair—Dr. Doolittle 2 auteur Steve Carr taking over for the presumably indisposed Brian Levant—has done little to curb the overall tone of slapstick desperation, as the game-faced Mr. Cube does battle with the forces of nature, power tools, and a raft of risible ethnic caricatures. Reportedly, this is all a remake of the popular 1948 Cary Grant comedy Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, though I'll be damned if I can remember the scene where Grant chased a CGI raccoon across his roof and crashed through to the porch below only to look up and see the little bugger waving back at him tittering, "Ha ha, sucker!" (Scott Foundas) (Countywide)
Not quite disturbingly forlorn, but forlorn (and overly literal) just the same, this latest entry in the doggy-acrobat subgenre of canine comedies has but one joke, and it comes early: In the Idol age, celebrity culture has gone to the dogs—literally. Pampered terrier Rexxx, star of Jurassic Bark et al., commands his own on-set trailer (not to mention the bitches), but falls from the top—again, literally—when a failed skydiving stunt lands him in rotten tomatoes (literally!). Then (ho-hum) Shane (Josh Hutcherson), a 12-year-old vid-gamer and skate kid whose unmarried dad (Bruce Greenwood) is a fire department captain, stumbles upon the "mutt from hell" with his terrible "mouth fart" and watches flabbergasted as the mongrel shows an amazing aptitude for hyper-obsessive housecleaning and rescuing people from burning buildings. (The cut-rate fire FX appear ported from Shane's trusty PSP.) "Bad to the Bone" gets spun, and Rexxx eventually makes his way down the fire pole, but the movie never goes off leash. Indeed, my 4-year-old, a far more forgiving dog film-lover than Dad, mustered not a single laugh. Page two of the press kit tellingly attributes the dour screenplay to a "dog movie mandate," presumably by Fox. Woo-hoo! Let's hear it for family entertainment! (Rob Nelson) (Countywide)
THE PAGE TURNER
Sure, The Page Turner looks and sounds like an NPR junkie's idea of thrill-crazy hothouse fare, but the title of Denis Dercourt's cold-to-the-touch suspenser nods wittily to the potboiler material and motivations snaking around under its elegant furnishings. Melanie, the 10-year-old daughter of a poor butcher—a tip of the deerstalker, perhaps, to papa Chabrol, whose icy exercises in genre mechanics are the movie's clear antecedent—flubs her one chance at a scholarship when the concert-pianist judge (Catherine Frot as Ariane) disrupts her audition to sign an autograph. Several years later, Ariane, beset by stage fright after a mysterious accident, prepares for her comeback. All she needs is someone to turn her sheet music for the concert—and there, handily enough, is her husband's strangely watchful new teenage intern (Déborah François). Anyone who remembers The Hand That Rocks the Cradle will see the instruments of revenge laid out like cutlery in a slasher movie's kitchen, and Dercourt's overbright visual scheme aims for a Michael Haneke-esque bourgeois chill that comes off instead as curiously bloodless. But the well-chosen classical selections ratchet up the tension—Shostakovich makes a mean Bernard Herrmann—and François, so affecting as the teenage mother of the Dardenne brothers' L'Enfant, proves equally effective as an opaque dose of pretty poison. (Jim Ridley) (Edwards Westpark, Irvine; Regency Lido, Newport Beach)
Those two age-old foes—science and blind faith—tango yet again in this noxious slice of biblical horror about a series of Old Testament plagues being visited upon a Louisiana bayou backwater. Hilary Swank stars as the resident non-believer, an ordained minister turned university professor recruited by a rural schoolteacher (David Morrissey) to convince the locals that there's a perfectly rational explanation (global warming?) for why their once-crystalline lake has turned into a crimson tide pool. In short order, frogs rain from the heavens, bad CGI cattle drop dead in their tracks, and hideous boils break out on human skin, until Swank starts to wonder if maybe she was wrong to turn her back on the Lord after her husband and daughter were killed on a missionary trip to the Sudan. (Cue overexposed flashbacks of ooga-booga tribesmen.) Two years ago, Paul Schrader's uneven but compelling Exorcist prequel used the trappings of a genre film to explore complex questions of belief (or lack thereof) in a seemingly godless world. For Reaping director Stephen Hopkins (Predator 2), the plight of post-Katrina Louisiana and war-torn Africa is just another special effect in a bag of shopworn tricks, and the only real curse is on anyone unlucky enough to buy a ticket. (Scott Foundas) (Countywide)
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