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Films I Neglected To Review: I Don't Know How He Watched Them
by Peter Sobczynski

Can a dolphin survive without her tail? Can Taylor Lautner's career survive a film in which he doesn't play a lovestruck werewolf? Can Sarah Jessica Parker retain her alleged box-office clout in a film that doesn't contain the words "sex," "and," "the" or "city" in the title? Well, read on and find out for yourself.

After becoming a slam-book favorite as the blandest leg of the vampire-werewolf-mope romantic triangle at the heart of the "Twlight" film saga, "Abduction" marks non-threatening hunk Taylor Lautner's first bid for solo screen success and while the film comes advertised as a thriller, the only people likely to be on the edge of their seats and biting their nails are the studio heads who cheerfully threw obscene amounts of money to employ the services of a would-be star who appears to be so lacking in actual star quality that he makes Christopher Atkins look like Sean Penn by comparison, even the Sean Penn of "We're No Angels." In the film, he plays a dreamy-dopey high schooler who finds his picture on a missing kids website and discovers that the people who raised him (Jason Isaacs and Maria Bello) aren't his real parents. When his ersatz elders are gunned down by unknown attackers before they can explain, he hits the road, along with platonic-but-cute pal Lily Collins, and tries to uncover the mystery of who he is and why he is being so fervently pursued by both a gang of Chechnyan baddies and a group of CIA agents led by Alfred Molina. Borrowing wholesale from the Jason Bourne films (which the screenplay cheekily admits by comparing Lautner to Matt Damon at one point), the James Bond films (especially in a train compartment brawl right out of "From Russia with Love" and "North by Northwest"--though without a spark of the wit or cleverness of any of those titles, the screenplay simply piles on cliche after cliche and quickly becomes too preposterous to believe even by the fairly lax logical standards of the genre--at the climax, for example, people are being gunned down outside a crowded baseball park on Opening Day and no one seems to notice. (Granted, it is Pittsburgh, but still. . .) For his part, director John Singleton, finally pissing away whatever trace amounts of goodwill that he still maintained among some people for his overrated 1991 debut "Boyz N The Hood," handles the proceedings in a lazy and perfunctory manner that blatantly suggests his evident contempt for the material. As for Lautner, he is so terrible here that even the most devoted members of his tween fan base will be hard-pressed to mount much of a defense for his work here--he is singularly unconvincing as an action hero, whiny and unappealing during the more dramatic moments and the scenes in which he is acting opposite his far more talented co-stars are so embarrassing that I found myself feeling bad for all involved. Despite the chasing and intrigue and double-crosses and whatnot, the only actual mystery of note on display in "Abduction" is how the filmmakers were able to lure actors as strong as Molina, Bello, Isaacs and Sigourney Weaver--Sigourney Weaver--to appear in a film containing both the dramatic depth and shelf life of an old issue of "Tiger Beat." The only thing I can think of is that they all had teenage relatives who they wanted to impress by working with their #1 crush and maybe getting them to meet him at the cast wrap party--if that is the case, I hope those kids appreciated it because I can pretty much guarantee that they will be the only ones to appreciate anything regarding "Abduction."

Even as a little kid, I was never especially taken with films involving cute kids and cute animals bonding and whatnot--with the rare exception of something like the magnificent "The Black Stallion," the combination of my fear of most animals and my discomfort with overly sentimental material pretty much kept me from embracing the adventures of Lassie, Benji, Flipper and the like. (Now Cujo, on the other hand. . .) Therefore, I am probably not the best person in the world to analyze "Dolphin Tale," which tells the story of a dolphin who, after losing his tail as the result of an unfortunate encounter with a crab trap, learns to swim again with the support of the troubled-but-plucky kid (Nathan Gamble) who helped rescue him from certain death and the assistance of an artificial tail devised by a crusty-but-plucky prosthetics expert (Morgan Freeman). This may sound like an exceptionally unbelievable premise for a movie but in this case, it is more or less true and in fact, Winter, the actual dolphin at the heart of the story, plays himself and during the end credits, we see actual documentary footage of some of the events that had previously been dramatized. That end credits stuff is actually kind of interesting and I found myself wishing afterwards that the whole thing had been a straightforward documentary instead of the increasingly overwrought narrative that has instead been presented. To be honest, I don't know for certain how much of the events chronicled here actually occurred and how many were invented to maximize the dramatic impact but there are so many additional elements on display--a failing marine hospital, summer school, absent fathers, wounded war veterans, hurricanes, an avuncular grandpa (Kris Kristofferson), a stern-but-loving mom (Ashley Judd) and a comic-relief pelican to name a few--that they wind up distracting from the basic story involving the dolphin and, to a lesser extent, the boy. Although it is perhaps a little better than I feared it was going to be going into it--I would certainly take it over any of the "Free Willy" films in a heartbeat, not to mention "Shark Night 3D"--it is largely forgettable and unless you have little kids who adore dolphins, there is no particular reason to sit through "Dolphin Tale" because it is a tale that you most certainly heard many times before.

Take "Sex and the City," take away both the sex and the three co-stars that could possibly steal even the slightest focus away from Sarah Jessica Parker and set it in a city that isn't New York but which is close enough to warrant a few field trips to the Big Apple and you have "I Don't Know How She Does It," an odious and insufferable piece of dreck that appropriately debuted in theaters a few days after the 10th anniversary of 9/11 to serve as a new reminder of just why large portions of the rest of the world hate us so much. In this adaptation of the chick-lit best-seller, Parker plays a modern woman trying to juggle the demands of marriage, motherhood and career with nothing to help her but a well-meaning husband (Greg Kinnear), two adorable kids, a high-paying job as a financial analyst, a home in Boston that appears to be large enough to be reconverted into a Home Depot if need be, a nanny who is always around except for when her absence helps to conveniently create dramatic tension and a cadre of friends and associates who offer testimonials as to what a truly amazing and extraordinary person she truly is. Right from the start, the film is so trite and smug that I at first thought that it was meant to be an extremely straight-faced satire of unchecked self-absorption but after a few minutes, I began to realize with dawning horror that director Douglas McGrath genuinely wanted me to take the proceedings seriously. Between the trite and pseudo-profound dialogue ("Motherhood is like being a movie star in a world without critics"), the ridiculous plot developments (not only is our heroine forced to abandon Thanksgiving dinner to make a one-time-only business pitch, she comes out of the meeting to discover that one of her kids has been hospitalized in the interim) and Parker's painful and resoundingly one-note performance, the movie is so bad in so many ways that the only possible way that it could have possibly had a happy resolution would have been if it had somehow turned into "Contagion" in the second half. Alas, that doesn't happen here as "I Don't Know How She Does It" clomps along to its predictable conclusion--Spoiler Alert! Our heroine gets everything she wants without doing much of anything on her own part--it becomes one of the very worst films of a year that has hardly been wanting for such things. Of course, some people might suggest that because I am a male bashing a film of this sort, I must somehow be sexist at my core. Well, even if that were to be true, that doesn't take away from the fact that this cartoonish catastrophe is about as genuinely proto-feminist as a pack of Virginia Slims and the end result is just as deadly.

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originally posted: 09/25/11 05:33:07
last updated: 09/25/11 07:34:30
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