Ludicrously named hitman Chev Chelios (Jason Statham) awakens to the news that he's been injected with a deadly poison, the effects of which can be staved off by cranking his adrenaline up to insanely high levels. Naturally, his reaction is to turn the city of Los Angeles into his own personal Grand Theft Auto game while searching for the culprit (Jose Pablo Cantillo). Property is destroyed, racial prejudices are indulged, and Chev even delivers a very public doggy-style sex scene with his doofus stoner girlfriend (Amy Smart). First-time feature directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor play with speed and sound to effectively recreate the buzz of an over-caffeinated all-nighter, delivering one of the year's best pure junk-food entertainments. They get that a stimulant high isn't just about fast-motion, but induces weird periods of slowness and distortion into the mix too. If you stop to think too hard about any aspect of the story, things might fall apart; but stopping is something the movie never lets you do. (Luke Y. Thompson) (Countywide)
British writer-director Charles Sturridge makes beautiful, stubbornly unhurried movies about the best and worst in human, animal, and even otherworldly nature. Set in World War II England, Sturridge's Lassie reaches back to the original 1943 movie and to Eric Knight's 1940 novel about the famously determined collie's obstacle-ridden trek through the North Country to rejoin the bereft young master, whose down-on-their-luck parents were forced to sell his best friend to pay for food. Deploying a stellar cast to mine the evergreen potential of poker-faced British proletarian waifs (Jonathan Mason), honest-to-God mums and dads (Samantha Morton and John Lynch), crusty old bluebloods (a happily mugging Peter O'Toole), blustery retainers (a very good Steve Pemberton), and kindly traveling players (Peter Dinklage), Sturridge spins a warm but persuasively unsparing tale of war's multiple displacements and the redeeming power of loyalty and love. Lassie puts its trust in kids to be grown up, and appeals honestly (minus the usual knowing winks) to grown-ups by returning them to a state of childlike wonderment. (Ella Taylor) (Countywide)
Cruise (Wesley Jonathan) is an aspiring medical student with a full scholarship to UCLA and mad skillz on the basketball court. His best friend Tech (Anthony Mackie) is good at underground streetball, but has yet to get his GED and occasionally lets his temper get the better of him. In pursuit of their goals, no movie clich is left unturned. The streetball scenes offer some nifty trick plays, but the rest of the movie features poorly dressed sets, cheap-looking costumes and locations, and silly histrionics—particularly (and unintentionally) amusing is the part where Tech films a commercial on the Sony Pictures lot, only to get in a fight, hurt his woman, and head back to the hotel where he promptly gets drunk on two beers and spills his emotional secrets. America's Next Top Model winner Eva Pigford shows up as a screeching gold-digger who latches on to Cruise, while Wayne Brady almost adds some respectability as an unscrupulous agent. Alas, no hot tunes on the soundtrack. (Luke Y. Thompson) (Countywide)
The strange irony of Fox off-loading the new (yet long-completed) Mike Judge comedy without screenings, trailers, posters, or marketing is that in the IQ-obliterated future Judge's movie envisions, the biggest evil in the collective sanding of our brains is arguably advertising. Luke Wilson plays a present-day average joe experimentally frozen by the Army and forgotten about until he's accidentally awakened in 2505, where he discovers a slovenly, sophomoric, masturbatory, junk food-engorged world of mental midgets who first imprison him, then make him Secretary of the Interior once they realize he's probably the smartest man in the world. It's an eat-your-cake-and-have-it-too concept—stupid humor as dystopian satire—but this low-boil affair from the Office Space auteur wears out its dumb-and-dumbest playbook early on. When we see CGI cityscapes of neglected, barren skyscrapers and monuments tilting, it's somehow appropriate: the movie just feels off. If you crave a lively and funny trek through the farcical possibilities of unchecked dimwit power, Judge is still your guy. Just go rent Beavis and Butt-Head Do America instead. (Robert Abele) (Countywide)
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RIDING ALONE FOR THOUSANDS OF MILES
See Film feature. (Edwards South Coast Village, Santa Ana)
What if it's not cell phones, iPods, MySpace and whatever that's keeping the teen demographic out of movie theaters? What if, instead, it's the movies' endless reduction of their complex, muddled, and—gasp—occasionally enjoyable lives to a bunch of recycled social-problem clichs? Directed by Jamie Babbit from a capable but glib screenplay by Abdi Nazemian and Micah Schraft, this emotionally loaded melodrama turns on the lives of two adolescent girls (sharply played by Elisha Cuthbert and Camilla Belle), at once divided and united by dark family secrets in common. Before you can say "Child Welfare Services," sexual abuse, pill popping, cruel peer groups, and (to gild the lily once and for all) physical disability rain down on these two unfortunates, with homicidal tendencies lurking in the wings. The Quiet has an excellent supporting cast in Edie Falco, Martin Donovan, and Katy Mixon in a minor but interesting role as the school vixen, and is competently, even lyrically, directed in high definition by Babbit (with input from students at the University of Texas). But thematically the movie never reaches beyond the ready-for-prime-time mentality that specializes in psychological shorthand. (Ella Taylor) (Countywide)
Gender-combar provocateur Neil LaBute remakes the cult 1973 British film, and its something of a muddy, methodical slog, and as overwritten as you'd expect, with plenty of the-past-was-no-accident ploys and character traits (a bee allergy, for instance) that—surprise!—emerge as plot functions. Faithful to his own prejudices, LaBute has reinvented the generalized Celtic pagans of Anthony Shaffer's original screenplay as a mother-goddess-worshipping matriarchy whose main product is honey, and whose men are all mysteriously mute and subservient. Now, the mainland officer (Nicolas Cage), haunted by a highway wreck and in search of a missing girl, has only the quasi-Amish colony's irrationally antiquated ways to infuriate him. Given its origins, the film is curiously sexless—curious, that is, until you realize how LaBute is shaping the material, unleashing his particular brand of savage-sympathetic woman hating. The film boils down to Cage's hangdog investigator barking at implacable and gorgeously forbidding women and, eventually, punching the shit out of several, as the story's timer ticks down to a murderous fertility ritual. This wasn't a horror film the first time around, and LaBute makes sorry feints at effective creepiness, letting the story roam in circles just like Cage. (Michael Atkinson) (Countywide)