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Films I Neglected To Review: Ain't Love Grand?
by Peter Sobczynski

A roundup of capsule reviews of films featuring the glamourous star pairing of Angelina Jolie & Johnny Depp, Jim Carrey & Ewan McGregor and Christina Aguilera & Cher.

“Burlesque” offers us the sight of pop tart Christina Aguilera as a small town girl who leaves the dusty confines of Iowa to pursue fame and fortune in Hollywood, becomes the star performer at a nearly bankrupt neo-burlesque club run by Cher, fends off the advances of a sleazy real estate developer (Eric Dane) who has his own designs on the club, falls for a hunky bartender (Cam Gigadent) who just happens to be a songwriter on the side, fends off the catty former star of the show (Kristen Bell) and manages to save the club from ruin with her cunning business acumen. In other words, the film is complete gibberish from start to finish. The screenplay, much like at least one of its stars, contains not a single original part--the whole thing is an amalgam of “Flashdance,” “Coyote Ugly,” the edited-for-television version of “Showgirls” and practically every vanity film made by a singer hoping that their talents would transfer from the studio to the screen--and if there was a scene that didn’t contain at least one inadvertent laugh, I must have missed it. Even more problematic is that it is a film designed as a star vehicle for someone who, although an undeniably talented singer, simply cannot act--in terms of dramatic range, she ranks somewhere between Britney Spears and a McRib sandwich. And yet, while “Burlesque” is undeniably terrible in every possible way and should be avoided by all rational people, I can’t help but feel some strange form of affection for its campy charms. The plot is so goofy, the dialogue is so gauche and the musical numbers are so wildly overstated that I found myself embracing them--it has been a long time since a movie this blatantly ridiculous has made it to the screen and whatever its sins (and they are numerous), it is never boring. Best of all, it contains a performance from Cher that it perfectly suited to the material--unlike Aguilera, who seems convinced that she is in a genuinely serious movie and comes off as all the more ludicrous as a result, she knows that she is in a gaudy goof and responds accordingly with a turn that is just as flamboyant and she winds up stealing every scene that she is in and even some that she isn’t. Like I said, there is no real reason for any normal person to drop good money on this one but if you are looking for a film that is nothing more than two hours of pure processed cheese, “Burlesque” more than fits the bill.

Considering the fact that it has been sitting on a shelf for a long time and is now only being dribbled out into a few theaters by indie distributor Roadside Attractions despite the presence of one of the biggest box-office draws on the planet, some may suspect that “I Love You, Phillip Morris” (which has nothing to do with cigarettes, by the way) is some kind of disaster but while I can understand why the subject matter might have caused some of the more timid distributors to shy away, it is a better-than-average film (based on a true story, if you can believe it) that is wild, frequently hilarious and surprisingly touching in some spots. In one of the most inventive and energetic performances of his career, Jim Carrey plays Steven Russell, a happily married family man who, following a car accident, decides to be honest with himself, announces his homosexuality to one and all and embarks on a flamboyant and expensive lifestyle funded by a string of elaborate cons and frauds that eventually land him in prison. While there, he meets fellow convict Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor) and the two fall madly in love, inspiring Steven to pull even more elaborate stunts and tricks once they are released in order to keep them together, including numerous prison escapes when his tricks catch up with him and even going so far as faking his own death at one point. The film marks the directorial debuts of Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, best known for writing the cheerfully depraved “Bad Santa” and while this film never quite reaches the levels of outrageousness achieved by that one, there are plenty of amusingly off-color bits to suffice. As directors, the two are a bit on the shaky side--there isn’t much in the way of cinematic craft on display here and it sometimes feels like a collection of individual scenes than a fully realized story--but on the other hand, it could be argued that the rough-and-tumble style is a better fit for the material than a smoother and cleaner approach might have afforded. It doesn’t really matter though because whenever Jim Carrey is on the screen, which is practically every scene, his performance is so mesmerizing that few people will notice the filmmaking craft or lack thereof. His performance is a wild high-wire act that is as bold and energetic as any that he has ever given before but with a subtle control that keeps it from spinning in scenery-chewing overkill. Rude, crude and occasionally tender, this may not be the ideal movie to watch with the entire family but if you are the mood for something strange and always surprising, this will more than fit the bill.

“The Tourist” is a film that has nothing to offer viewers than the sight of two of the most attractive actors in the world gamboling through one of the most attractive cities in the world in the service of a screenplay that could not be more preposterous is it tried. In it, Johnny Depp stars as a not-so-ugly American on vacation in Europe who is bewitched, bothered and bewildered when he is befriended on the train by gorgeous stranger Angelina Jolie. What he doesn’t realize is that her actual lover is on the run after having stolen millions of dollars from a brutal British gangster and that she is using him as a dupe to distract the police, who don’t know what the other guy looks like, and the hoods, who are under the impression that he has had plastic surgery to disguise his looks. At least that is more or less what I think it is about--the storyline is one of those contrivances that doesn’t make a lick of sense if one thinks about it for even a second and the most surprising thing about it is the fact that it was cobbled together by no fewer than three Oscar winners. Under normal circumstances, this could have been the kind of high-priced frivolity that offers viewers nothing more than the increasingly irritating sight of a bunch of movie stars being paid huge amounts of money to screw around. (See “Knight & Day”--better yet, don’t). This one never quite gets annoying for a couple of reasons. For starters, while those who deeply admired director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck previous effort, the powerhouse drama “The Lives of Others,” may find it distressing to see him following that triumph with an anonymous piece of product like this, he does keep things humming along at a decent pace and occasionally comes up with an arresting visual moment or two. Then there is the fact that both Depp and Jolie realized early on just how ridiculous the entire enterprise was and decided to just kick back and have fun with it--Depp invests his Everyman character with some off-beat touches (such as spending the film puffing away on an electric cigarette) and Jolie struts through virtually the entire film with a smirk on her face. “The Tourist” is no masterpiece and there is no reason to bother with it if you haven’t yet seen such superior current releases as “Black Swan,” “127 Hours” or “True Grit” but if you have and you are in the mood for 90 minutes of reasonably entertaining and eminently disposable silliness, it is more or less worth the trip.

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originally posted: 12/14/10 06:38:49
last updated: 12/14/10 10:49:45
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