NIGHT WATCH (NOCHNOI DOZOR)
See This Week in Russkie Fangs. (Edwards University, Irvine)
SOPHIE SCHOLL: THE FINAL DAYS
See Film feature. (Regency Lido, Newport Beach)
It's a pleasant surprise, at a time when so many of Bollywood's hip, Westernized auteurs are insisting on going songless, to see star John Abraham (Zinda) open his mouth and lip-synch in a fully-staged nightclub song-and-dance number in Milan Lutharia's tightly crafted comedy about an urban chance encounter between a seething middle-aged cab driver and the sleek rich kid who hops into his hack on a steamy hot day in Mumbai. The driver (the wonderful character actor Nana Patekar—an expert at playing lumpen soreheads) is a downtrodden jitterbug who gets his own back only on those occasions when his slow-burn temper randomly erupts. We can see the steam pressure building toward an explosion as the cabbie is bullied into speeding into an accident by his desperate passenger, whose fed-up father has written the kid out of his will in order to teach him a lesson in self-reliance. Crisp, fast editing and some expert sound effects goose this clash of social opposites as it escalates into a slapstick battle of wits in which cars, cell phones, and the keys to a safe deposit box become unlikely weapons. (David Chute) (Naz 8, Artesia)
See Film feature. (Edwards South Coast Village, Santa Ana)
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Considering the stock quality of the insights that the cop drama Dirty has to offer us about Los Angeles (e.g., "This fucking city, I never could make sense of it"), it could easily have been shot in Vancouver without any sacrifice in verisimilitude. If writer-director Chris Fisher, a Southern California native, insisted on staying local, he might at least have saved some money by renting that backlot used for a downtown intersection in Crash. No less than Crash or Training Day, its more obvious model, this post-Rampart study of LAPD corruption takes place in a movie-set Los Angeles where people bellow didactically about race. Cuba Gooding Jr. and Clifton Collins Jr. (excellent as Perry Smith in Capote) habitually rise above their clichd roles as shady narc partners—a "nigger" and a "bean"—dreading their 6 p.m. appointment with internal affairs. But Fisher, who has a penchant for area serial killers (The Nightstalker and the forthcoming Rampage: The Hillside Strangler Murders), appears fixated on Los Angeles as a nihilistic phantasmagoria. For all its nominal grit, Dirty lamentably has more in common with L.A. Story than Boyz n the Hood. (Benjamin Strong) (AMC at the Block, Orange; AMC Fullerton; Century Stadium, Orange)
Hot on the heels of Hoodwinked comes another animated film from the Weinstein Company: Did anyone think that when Bob 'n Harvey finally freed themselves from Disney, they would become regular purveyors of straight-up kiddie flicks? Doogal is one of those pickup-and-redub jobs, the original version having been made by European studio Path based on a 1960s British children's show, The Magic Roundabout. And lacking even the minimal pop-cultural pizzazz of Hoodwinked, the story, dialogue and animation here really are for-kids-only. An evil wizard is accidentally released from his prison inside a roundabout (that's a merry-go-round to us Yanks), sending the rag-tag team of a dog, a snail, a cow, a rabbit and a talking train off on a race to retrieve a trio of magical diamonds before the wizard can use them to freeze the sun. If your head isn't already swimming, just know that the feature (not screened in advance for critics) was preceded by at least 5 trailers for other animated talking-animal stories from as many distributors. If your tykes like this sort of thing, it's going to be a long year for you. For the rest of us, it's kind of fun to play fantasy voiceover league, imagining the American voice talent against the British cast they replaced. William H. Macy for Jim Broadbent? Fair enough. Whoopi Goldberg for Joannna Lumely? Well, alright. Jimmy Fallon for Bill Nighy? Hey now. But of course there was no replacing Dame Judi Dench, Sir Ian McKellen or Kylie Minougue. (Mark Olsen) (Countywide)
After a bad drug deal results in the death of a crooked New Jersey cop, Mafia errand boy Joey Gazelle (Paul Walker) takes the incriminating revolver home, where it promptly falls into the hands of his son's best friend, Oleg (Cameron Bright), who uses it to shoot his abusive crackhead Russian stepfather. Oleg flees, and, during the long night ahead, Joey must track down the kid and the gun, all the while dodging brutish henchmen, a crazed pimp and his own pissed-off wife (Vera Farmiga), whose 3 a.m. encounter with child pornographers is this self-consciously frenetic film's most sustained and satisfying sequence. This is the kind of movie where the bad guys make long-winded speeches while holding knives or guns to their enemies' heads, and while such bits are consistent with the noir storytelling being saluted here, it's unfortunate that writer-director Wayne Kramer has followed his silver-tongued 2003 hit, The Cooler, with a film so reliant on witless profanity and trite melodrama. Worse yet—and especially dismaying from a filmmaker born and raised in South Africa—is the indiscriminate use, by hero and villains alike, of the N word as an emasculating slur, in a film where there's not a black character in sight. Running Scared is decently acted and divertingly brutal, but it's also a giant step backward for its maker. (Chuck Wilson) (Countywide)