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Films I Neglected To Review: "You Want To See It Opened As Well As I"
by Peter Sobczynski

Please enjoy short reviews of "The American Side," "Central Intelligence," "Clown," "Genius" and "Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made."

In the neo-noir thriller "The American Side," low-rent private detective Charlie Paczynski (Greg Stuhr, who also co-wrote the screenplay with director Jenna Ricker) is determined to track down the person responsible for the death of a colleague, a journey that leads him through the shadowy byways of upstate New York and finds him crossing paths with such characters as a rich and shady pair of siblings (Matthew Broderick and Camilla Belle), an energy tycoon (Robert Forster), a possible federal agent (Janeane Garofalo) and a beautiful brainiac (Alicja Bachleda) who may hold the secret to deciphering long-lost technical designs supposedly crafted by Nikola Tesla that could be extraordinarily dangerous in the wrong hands. As an homage to one of the greatest of cinematic genres, the film is sort of fun for a while - the supporting cast (which also includes Harris Yulin, Grant Shaud and Robert Vaughn) is entertaining to watch and there are individual moments and lines of dialogue that score as well (at one point, our hero admits that he always preferred Mike Hammer to Philip Marlowe and is told "Even your idols are second-rate"). However, as our anti-hero, Stuhr just doesn't have the kind of personality that a film of this sort needs at its center - it needs to have a Sam Spade but Stuhr is, at his best, barley Miles Archer - and the storyline bogs down into pure confusion without providing enough other compensations to allow us to forgive the lack of coherence. Unless you have been pining to see this generation's "The Blue Iguana," you will most likely find that "The American Side," for all of what it seems to have going for it, is most certainly not the thing that dreams are made of after all.

As "Central Intelligence" begins, Bob, an overweight and bullied high school student is humiliated in front of the entire student body until Calvin, the popular kid destined for greatness takes pity on him by showing kindness. Twenty years later, the one-time BMOC (Kevin Hart) is an accountant who feels that he has failed to live up to his promise and the one-time outcast (Dwayne Johnson) has become. . . well, you saw who plays him. The two reunite before their 20-year high school reunion where, it eventually transpires, Bob is a CIA agent who needs Calvin's help with a mission involving the fate of the free world. Then again, there is the possibility that Bob himself is a rogue agent being pursued by his former colleagues (including Amy Ryan, in one of the most thankless roles for an actress to come along in a while) for his treasonous activities. Whatever the outcome, it means all sorts of overblown action set pieces in which Bob sails through the explosions in a carefree manner while Calvin screams and panics before eventually tapping into his long-lost confidence in order to help - Spoiler Alert! - save the day.

Little more than an amalgamation of "The In-Laws," "Grosse Pointe Blank" and half the buddy comedies in your Netflix queue, "Central Intelligence" is a film that contains one potentially amusing idea - the creepy and borderline stalker-like degree to which Bob clings to his supposed friendship with Calvin as the thing that defines him despite the degree to which he has changed and improved himself over the past two decades - but quickly disposes of it so as to concentrate on the usual action-comedy inanities and a plot that no one can possibly be expected to care about in the slightest. As for the leads, Johnson is easily the best thing here - he fully commits to the weirder and creepier aspects of his character in a way that makes you even more annoyed that the screenplay didn't supply a proper follow-through. Hart, on the other hand, is pretty much just going through the motions here, though there are a few moments here and there when he and Johnson do manage to push the inanities of the screenplay aside and find a nice comedic rhythm. Sadly, these moments are ultimately few and far between and "Central Intelligence" winds up being nothing more than an instantly forgettable waste of time and talent.

Co-produced by Eli Roth - whose name on the credits of anything should probably be deemed a warning sign at this point - the horror film "Clown" has been sitting on the shelf for a couple of years now and while watching it, the question isn't so much why it landed there as much as it is why anyone bothered to actually release it. To be fair, the premise is somewhat intriguing - when the entertainment for his kid's birthday party bails at the last second, a harried dad (Andy Powers) puts on a clown suit that he finds in a house he is trying to sell and discovers too late that it is a demonic skin that increasingly fuses to his own body as it transforms him into a monster hell-bent on eating children. However, instead of using the concept as a way of explaining the weird fear that most people seem to harbor towards something that was once considered to be a source of childhood fun, director/co-writer Jon Watts is more content to engage in substandard riffs on familiar genre tropes that never manage to catch fire - the only disturbing thing on display here is how Watts gleefully presents scenes featuring young children in peril as a way of demonstrating his alleged edginess (a conceit he continued in his followup film, "Cop Car"). Put it this way - I have seen "Killer Klowns from Outer Space" and believe me, this film is no "Killer Klowns from Outer Space."

If you ever wanted a crystal-clear example of how a potentially good movie can be completely scuttled through bad casting, "Genius" is the movie for you.The idea of making a film examining the career of famed book editor Maxwell Perkins through his relationships with some of the best-known authors under his purview, including Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and, most significantly, Thomas Wolfe, sounds interesting enough, especially for those with an interest in the nuts and bolts of the publishing world. However, neither director Michael Grandage nor screenwriter John Logan seem particularly interested in presenting that - if you think it is hard enough to make the sight of someone writing cinematically exciting, imagine trying to bring some verve to scenes of a guy drawing red pencil lines through overwritten paragraphs. Instead, it focuses more on the relationships between Perkins and his personal and professional families and that is where things go sideways. As Perkins, Colin Firth is perfectly adequate but as Fitzgerald and Hemingway, Guy Pearce and Dominic West are pretty much one-note creations and, as Perkins' long-suffering wife, Laura Linney has even less to do here than she did in "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles." They are all kind of forgettable, which is perhaps the one word that cannot be used to describe Jude Law's ludicrous turn as Thomas Wolfe, a performance that is so overblown that you have to wonder what he could have possibly been thinking when he was delivering it. Whether arguing with Perkins over the cuts to his books or bickering with his long-suffering mistress Aline Bernstein (an equally miscast Nicole Kidman), Law is not believable for a second and since his relationship with Perkins ends up forming the center of the narrative, he winds up sinking the entire thing. There is a good movie to be made about Maxwell Perkins but "Genius" is not it.

Like most kids back in the summer of 1981, three young boys from Mississippi - Chris Strompolis, Eric Zala and Jayson Lamb - were enthralled by Steven Spielberg's action classic "Raiders of the Lost Ark." Unlike most of them, those three embarked on a crazy plan to put together their own scene-by-scene remake of the film utilizing a home video camera, a few friends and a lot of sheer nerve and foolhardiness. Over the next several summers, they continued the project and eventually managed to recreate everything except for the big fight at the airplane hanger that ended with a Nazi being chopped up in a propeller and a plane exploding. The film was then set aside and the kids went their separate ways and the whole thing might have been forgotten until it somehow landed on the underground film circuit and began attracting its own fan base. With the renewed interest in the project, the guys decide to come together to finally shoot that missing scene and complete the project to which they dedicated such a huge part of their youths.

"Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made" is a documentary about the project that has two purposes - to show the history of the project and the often-insane and frequently painful lengths that the kids went through in the pursuit of their dream project and to chronicle their reunion and their efforts to finally stage that final scene. Perhaps not surprisingly, the former turns out to be a lot more interesting than the latter. The kids themselves are engaging and watching them recreating the best-known scenes from the original with nothing but ingenuity on their side is a blast, even if a "Do Not Attempt This At Home!" subtitle should be on constant display throughout.. The contemporary stuff, on the other hand, is nowhere near as interesting - watching Chris and Eric raising enough money to afford to build a replica airplane and hire a cameraman and special effect technicians is nowhere near as interesting as watching them trying to figure it out on their own (and the fact that Jayson, who served as cameraman and special effects guy back in the day is essentially drummed out as a result leaves a bad taste in the mouth). The stakes just aren't as high in the modern scenes, a feeling that is further accentuated by the arrival of a number of crises that frankly feel as if they had been contrived in order to make their efforts seem heroic instead of simply being a waste of time. However, the stuff about the original production - including the lengthy excerpts from their adaptation - is fascinating enough to warrant a recommendation for anyone who has ever come out of a movie thinking "I want to do that!"[br]

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originally posted: 06/17/16 06:32:10
last updated: 06/18/16 00:15:57
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