Monday, March 7, 2011

New on DVD/Blu-ray: "Due Date," "Every Day," "Faster," "Love & Other Drugs," and "The Resident"



Due Date (2010)
95 min., rated R.
Grade: B -

Todd Phillips works the same mold with "Due Date" as his last hit "The Hangover," but even more than that, it's a down-market, uncredited retread of "Planes, Trains, & Automobiles." Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis are in the Steve Martin and John Candy type roles in this sporadically funny if uneven road-trip odd-couple comedy. 

After a misunderstanding on a flight from Atlanta, architect Peter Highman (Robert Downey Jr.) hesitantly hitches a ride to Los Angeles with wannabe actor Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis) in order to make it home in time to meet his pregnant wife's (Michelle Monaghan) due date. The both of them drive west with many of speed bumps (so to speak), including Peter's daddy-abandonment issues and Ethan carrying his late daddy's ashes in a coffee can to give the proper burial. Obviously, Downey Jr. is the angry straight-man and Galifianakis is still exposing his high-maintenance man-baby syndrome. Downey Jr.'s Peter understandably loses patience over Ethan, even when he becomes mean and short-tempered, and Galifianakis's Ethan is an annoying, socially inept idiot, falling asleep while driving and masturbating before he goes to sleep when both of them have to sleep in their rental car. Once we see a little humanity in Ethan, it still doesn't make him any less tolerable. But the verbal exchanges between the two characters are pretty funny, particularly in the first half, and Ethan has the cutest masturbating French bulldog of all cute, masturbating French bulldogs. Galifianakis's offbeat sight alone, outfitted with a scarf, a perm, and his vaguely effeminate walk, is hilarious. 

There are some funny cameos too, including Juliette Lewis and director Phillips as a couple of weed dealers, as well as cast members of the TV sitcom “Two and a Half Men.” A detour with Jamie Foxx, Peter's best friend who used to date his wife, is introduced but dropped, and Monaghan is thankfully not just a shrill she-devil like the ladies in The Hangover, even if she's mostly relegated to just answering Peter's phone calls. A highway car crash and a lot of pain don't make for good comedy gags, and a stop into Mexico and a chase by the border patrol isn't funny. Phillips and his three writers could've brought up a better comedy, but "Due Date" still has its moments wholly because of its two stars. 



Every Day (2010)
93 min., rated R.
Grade: C +

In case you thought we needed another dysfunctional-family film, Richard Levine's feature debut, "Every Day," is a relatably messy if depressing Sandwich Generation N.Y.C. dramedy. Liev Schreiber is the Mr. Mom dad, Ned, a scriptwriter for a ridiculous, sex-heavy TV series uncool about his gay, more-composed teenage son (Ezra Miller). His in-control wife, Jeannie (Helen Hunt), is spending all her time caring for her sick, crotchety, pee-stained father (Brian Dennehy), who dreams of his old band-playing days but wants to kill himself with pills. When Ned's scripts get poo-pooed by his gay boss (Eddie Izzard), he teams up with a sexy, uninhibited co-worker (Carla Gugino) who tempts him (going for a night swim/making out/getting high are her tactics for taking the edge off). 


The characters are written mostly as types, but the reliable cast approaches deeper ground. Ultimately, there's little modification to the obvious beats and neither the writing nor the acting can make you care enough. Whether or not it's intentional, Levine finds a witty visual gag in a pool sex scene between Schreiber and Gugino (“9 Inches Deep”) amidst this crisis-filled slog.





Faster (2010)
98 min., rated R.
Grade: B -

After playing with the tots in kiddo movies, such as "The Game Plan" and "The Tooth Fairy," Dwayne Johnson is finally back to busting skulls and taking names as The Rock in "Faster," a meat-and-potatoes action B-movie. Built like a brick shithouse, he plays Driver, an ex-con who did 10 years behind bars for a bank robbery. Go figure, he was the getaway driver, while his half-brother was killed. Now with vengeance on the brain, Driver goes down a hit list of people who deserve to die. Meanwhile, a slick, filthy rich software-engineer-turned-assassin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) and a troubled cop (Billy Bob Thornton) are hot on his tail. With less charisma here than what he's normally underrated for, Johnson is so grim and wounded here, but he's still watchable. Thornton is good as the near-retired junkie cop, who looks like he could be Bad Santa's brother, and Carla Gugino brings her usual no-nonsense attitude to her detective role. 

What looks geared as an over-the-top, fast-and-furious grindhouse flick, with its characters labeled on screen as archetypes (“Driver,” “Killer,” “Cop,”), has more character texture and soaked up in more dark misery than your average death-wish vigilante movie. Director George Tillman Jr. and the screenwriters Tony and Joe Gayton don't bring anything new to the empty moralism of the formula, the forgiveness themes are hammered home, and a predictable last-act plot reveal is a big “duh.” But "Faster" is lean, mean, and gritty, with the kills swift and brutally satisfying, and that might be good enough for a movie that's more about tortured souls than fast cars. 


Love & Other Drugs (2010)
112 min., rated R.
Grade: B

Hollywood must be on a happy-pill kick because they've finally made a refreshingly candid, bittersweet, and adult romantic-comedy in "Love & Other Drugs." Actually, it's not really a romantic-comedy, but more of a romance with humor, drama, and a bit of history (The Release of Viagra, circa 1996) from Jamie Reidy's nonfiction book “Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman.” All the elements are skillfully handled here in one film, without feeling like a muddle. It shouldn't be a hard sell with Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway in the leads. 

Gyllenhaal plays Jamie Randall, a superficial womanizer who's always gotten what he wanted and now works as a sales rep. He sells Prozac and Zoloft to healthcare professionals everywhere, where he then meets a patient named Maggie Murdock (Hathaway), a 26-year-old with Stage 1 Parkinson's. Their relationship starts out strictly as banging, as Maggie makes it clear she doesn't want any romantic attachments, but naturally, Jamie starts to have genuine feelings for her. As the relationship becomes the focus of "Love & Other Drugs," some of the Big Pharma stuff becomes distracting, but at least it's a fresh backdrop for a romance. And a few Viagra jokes never sink the weight of the story. 

Director Edward Zwick could have stripped all the scenes with Jamie's chubby millionaire brother, played by Josh Gad, probably because Jack Black and Jonah Hill were busy. This obnoxious comic-relief character just lives on Jamie's couch and in one instance is creepily caught masturbating to a sex tape of his brother and girlfriend. Gyllenhaal's Jamie takes time to warm up to, getting past the smarmy self-satisfaction, but Gyllenhaal nails the slick salesman charisma and puts forth emotional concern. And Hathaway has such a prickly personality and naked emotion that she makes Maggie interesting. After playing unhappily marrieds in "Brokeback Mountain," the sexy couple makes their bed scenes sizzle and the nudity's matter-of-fact and honest (you won't find Hathaway modestly wearing a bed sheet around her chest after sex). There's no denying that a romantic public announcement is a Hollywood cliché (at least there's no “slow clap”) and that a man chasing the woman he loves aboard a bus usually only happens in the movies, but "Love & Other Drugs" is still the creamier of the crop. 


The Resident (2011)
91 min., rated R.
Grade: C +

A good formula thriller is hard to come by, what with predictability and pacing. "The Resident," in spite of that bland title, at least gets the job done. It's easy to buy Hilary Swank in this role as a hard-working doctor rather than her turn in her last bomb thriller, "The Reaping." Shaking off the swampy plague and serving as executive producer on this project, Swank plays Dr. Juliet Dermer, who works long hard hours at the hospital and is just coming off a bad breakup (with Lee Pace). Time to move on, she's in luck when she finds a spacious, affordable apartment with the best Brooklyn view. It's so good to be true, so what's the catch? As the rugged but seemingly nice building owner, Max (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), tells her, utilities aren't included—and there's lousy cell phone service. Ding, ding, ding. Something's amiss right away. Could her apartment be haunted? Not quite. Once the camera lingers on Juliet stepping out of the tub and rubbing lotion all over her legs, we get the feeling someone's watching her. After mixed signals, Juliet kisses Max, but that darn breakup still has her down. 

Until the half-hour mark, "The Resident" gives us a rewind to Max contriving Juliet move-in and the fact that he's got her whole place rigged with two-sided mirrors, peep holes, and hidden wall spaces. The movie tips its hand early and doesn't pretend to have a mystery up its sleeve when another red herring might've helped. Now that we're one step ahead of Juliet, where to go now? Morgan turns up the nice-guy charm, then he's beyond creepy, like when Juliet's out of her place at work, he uses Juliet's toothbrush and does other twisted obsessed activities. And Christopher Lee's creepy turn as Max's tenant grandmother adds to the menacing atmosphere. Lots of rustles and increasing hum effects permeate the soundtrack that you feel might symbolize Max's mind cracking. 

More themes of voyeurism (and comparisons to that junky Sharon Stone thriller "Sliver" from 1993) are at work in "The Resident," but writer-director Antti J. Jokinen and co-writer Robert Orr gives this competent, straight-up thriller a jolt of sleaziness and uneasiness. Swank's Juliet may not know what we know, but her actions make more sense than most movie heroines in peril. And the penultimate scene where she watches her own surveillance camera is truly chilling and heartbreaking. When it finally gets going and the mystery is revealed, the movie gives a satisfying chase, although settles for the don't-kill-him-when-he's-down slasher clichés and does anyone else live in the building? No sweat, "The Resident" is a slickly well-crafted programmer with nothing really new in store. 


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