L'ENFANT (THE CHILD)
See Film feature. (Edwards South Coast Village, Santa Ana)
See Film feature. (Countywide)
The first entry in the Crash subgenre sweepstakes, Newport Beach filmmaker Aric Avelino's ambitious dependie follows the Paul Haggis award magnet's business plan pretty slavishly: Take on a contemporary social crisis (here, gun control) by way of multiple story lines, each illuminating different perspectives on the problem, and each juiced with frustration, melodrama, and mid-level-cast acting fireworks. An angsty breeze in the tradition of old Playhouse 90 issue dramas, Avelino's film occupies three states, but holds its ground best in Oregon, where a Columbine-like massacre still plagues a town several years later. In a structural gambit that's easy to underestimate, the protagonists there are a working-class mother (Marcia Gay Harden) of one of the dead shooters and his younger brother (a teen–John Cusack–mopey Chris Marquette), both of whom bristle with misplaced guilt in a social whorl that considers them somehow responsible. The film's crescendo happens out of nowhere: A passing activist plants a black flag in Harden's lawn, precipitating a spitting word-fight in the street with her brutally accusatory neighbors. Otherwise, Avelino seems timid about conflict, and not all of his concepts (co-written with Steve Bagatourian) are eloquent. The other tangents (Linda Cardellini's Virginian coed getting edgy after a friend is date-raped, Forest Whitaker's Chicago principal losing his grip on his job) are aimless, seemingly de-ruddered by Avelino's desire to belie story expectations; you're buckling up for an Inspirational Death once promising but streetwise student Arlen Escarpeta resorts to painting a toy gun black to defend himself, but it's a feint. All of the stories are conceived as ongoing plights, and have no third act. Which would be an improvement on Haggis's hyperbolic civics lesson if Avelino had the chops to master realism and embrace ambivalence. The acting is pro enough to keep your blood up, but the reverb is minimal. (Michael Atkinson) (Regency Lido, Newport Beach)
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LARRY THE CABLE GUY: HEALTH INSPECTOR
In the vernacular of the Bush era, Larry The Cable Guy: Health Inspector can be thought of as unabashedly "playing to its base." Sort of a cracker variation on the Tyler Perry films, it'll give fans exactly what they expect while passing unseen by anyone else. Nothing sums up the movie quite so well as knowing that within the first minute-and-a-half there is a view of Larry's butt crack—and a guy gets racked in the nuts. The logical knot of how a character known as Larry the Cable Guy comes to work as a restaurant health inspector is perhaps best left to bigger minds, though it does guarantee ample fart jokes and the obligatory "Larry on the toilet" scene. Curiously, the script is credited to Jonathan Bernstein and James Greer, two former Spin writers (Greer recently wrote a book on Guided By Voices), but there's no sense of meta-sophistication here, and the low road always wins out. Great pains are made to show Larry being friendly to the proprietors of a sushi house, an Indian joint and a soul food place, but he still refers to it all as "immigrant food" and certainly doesn't much like the stuff (except the fried chicken). He also has a curious fascination with whether characters are or aren't gay. The intriguing tension which lies just beneath the whole film—how does an essentially good-natured good ol' boy come to terms with the complications of a contemporary polyglot, Prius-driving, internet-wired culture—is left almost entirely unexplored. (Mark Olsen) (Countywide)
Disney is reportedly using Stay Alive to revive its Hollywood Pictures division—what better lifeblood than a brain-dead teens-in-peril thriller? This one takes The Ring and replaces the cursed videotape with an underground video game, the players of which inadvertently resurrect the spirit of murderous Transylvanian countess Elizabeth Bathory, and subsequently—after being terrorized by self-breaking mirrors, self-opening doors, self-collapsing desks, and hordes of kabuki zombies—get slaughtered. Strapped with a PG-13 rating, Stay Alive is death porn without the porn: Director William Brent Bell's pre-gore cutaways should enrage even those horror buffs for whom suspense is irrelevant, to say nothing of the fact that the movie's only real scare tactic is playing what sounds like a reverbed electric razor on the soundtrack. The banter ("The problem with your mouth is that stupid insensitive shit comes out of it") is on a level appropriate for star Frankie Muniz's Malcolm in the Middle crowd, although the setting for this celebration of slaughter—New Orleans—now seems tacky enough to begin with. Picked off roughly in order from most annoying to least, the movie's semi-professional gamers (led by Jon Foster) aren't the sharpest tools in the shed, with penchants for wandering into abandoned construction sites—will she get it with a nailgun? a falling ladder? a . . . chain mail?—and illuminating darkened hallways with Zippos, even when the electricity is presumably working. Maybe video games really do rot the mind; the kids should have long ago hung up Castlevania IV in favor of Videodrome and eXistenZ. (Ben Kenigsberg) (Countywide)
Summer, 1969: Brian Jones (Leo Gregory), iconic hippie cavalier and founder of the Rolling Stones, moves into a beautiful country house and hires uptight builder Frank Thorogood (Paddy Considine) to patch it up. The relationship is tense, with Jones, soon to be expelled from his band, swanning around the house in a ladies' bathrobe as Frank's brickies sneer at his feyness, his pasha-like sexual mores and his wealth. Repelled at first, Frank eventually finds himself seduced into the manipulative, fragile and contrary rock star's orbit, evolving from salaried workman to gofer, joint roller, partner in crime and prank victim, until the night Jones' lifeless body is fished from his own pool, with Frank's role in the matter highly questionable. This half-forgotten '60s controversy can't sustain a whole movie, so director Steven Woolley and writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade pad things out with unrevealing flashbacks to the Stones' rise, and Jones' abusive relationship with Anita Pallenberg (Monet Mazur, sporting an anachronistic boob job). The filmmakers wrongly flatter themselves by thinking that the Brian-Frank relationship is as interesting as the one between Mick Jagger's has-been rocker and James Fox's gangster on the lam in Nicolas Roeg and Donald Cammell's Performance, a film whose garish look and elliptical editing style are here plundered without remorse. Despite good performances from Gregory, Considine and especially David Morrissey (as a shady Stones fixer), the movie's true merits are all on the surface: its uncannily authentic period reconstruction and its successful use of stressed and textured film stocks. The filmmakers care more about this than about their characters, and it's hard for us not to feel the same. (John Patterson) (Edwards University, Irvine)