Wednesday, November 23, 2011

DVD/Blu-ray Reviews of "Super 8," "Spy Kids: All the Time in the World," and "Conan the Barbarian"


Super 8 (2011)




Spy Kids: All the Time in the World (2011) 
89 min., rated PG.
Grade: C +

Multi-hyphenate filmmaker Robert Rodriguez engineered some fun, witty, imaginative kids' films with 2001's "Spy Kids" and 2002's "Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams," and less so in 2003's "Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over." It might've been game over for Rodriguez's kiddie-action "Spy Kids" movies after the second sequel, but after nearly a decade has passed, "Spy Kids: All the Time in the World" is just a painless, occasionally fun time-killer. Surpassing extremely low expectations, this fourth one doesn't stink; it's just goofy and nutty enough to achieve pleasant watchability. 

Very pregnant secret agent Marissa Cortez (Jessica Alba) is tracking the super-evil criminal Tick Tock (munchkin-voiced Jeremy Piven), but before the mission is over, her water breaks and she puts her spy games on hold. One year later, she's struggling with the life of being a full-time mom, raising a food-flinging baby girl and two step-children, Cecil (Mason Cook) and Rebecca (Rowan Blanchard), who loves playing pranks on Marissa and making sure she knows that she's just their step-mom. Dad, Wilbur Wilson (Joel McHale), has his own dilemma: he plays a spy-catching superhero on a TV show called "Spy Hunters," but hasn't caught a spy yet—or caught onto the fact that his own wife was never really an interior decorator. Meanwhile, a new villain called the Time Master threatens to speed up time and bring the world to Armageddon, so Marissa's boss, OSS director Danger D'Amo (again played by Piven), calls her back into action. Once Rebecca and Cecil realize they're in danger and that their house is installed with a panic room under the fireplace, they become the new spy kids. 

If slapsticky silliness doesn't annoy you, "Spy Kids: All the Time in the World" is enjoyable and innocuous enough, when it's not shooting a machine-gun of poop and puke jokes your way. (The movie was theatrically released in "4-D" with an "Aroma-Scope" gimmick, so you could scratch your sticker and sniff baby poop.) Rodriguez goes overboard on the time puns in his script, which sometimes hit and sometimes fall flat. But the platitudes about family togetherness, which have always been a wise constant in Rodriguez's "Spy Kids" films, don't fail here. The cast is clearly having a lark: Alba, oddly always showing more likability and less stiff acting ability when working with Rodriguez; McHale goofing off more than he does hosting TV's "The Soup" with some eyebrow-raising sound effects; and Piven getting to ham it up in multiple roles. Cook and Blanchard are brattier than the original "spy kids" but are cute enough. Speaking of the original, Carmen and Juni (Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara) return mid-story, introduced as Marissa's niece and nephew. But it's Ricky Gervais who gets all the laughs and kills it every time as talking, wisecracking dog Argonaut, who even poops out an oil slick and butt bombs when bad guys are on their trail. 

It could've merely been a chintzy, DVD-bin cash-grab, but reluctantly, this fourth "Spy Kids" still squeezes out some dizzy charm and more cool gadgets. You could do a lot worse, like schlep through Rodriguez's lamer "The Adventures of Shark Boy & Lava Girl in 3-D."





Conan the Barbarian (2011)
113 min., rated R. 
Grade: C -

Music-video-trained director Marcus Nispel has slicked up two pretty decent remakes of horror-slasher pics ("The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" and "Friday the 13th"). Lots of slick style but not an ounce of humor. Which initially sounds fitting for a pulpy re-imagining of Robert E. Howard's sword-and-sorcery comics and a quasi-reboot of 1982's "Conan the Barbarian," since Nispel is a vulgarian of style and violence. But it hasn't any fun, especially when we already have the ridiculously cheesy, epic-scaled Arnold Schwarzenegger version. Who really wants a self-serious "Conan the Barbarian"? 

It all starts with a pregnant woman in battle being stabbed and then her husband (Ron Perlman) giving her a C-section. And Conan, the Cimmerian warrior, is born! The young barbarian (played at youth by Leo Howard) learns the way of the sword from Father, right before evil warlord Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang) shows up to slaughter the whole village except Conan. Some fifteen years later, Conan (taken over by Jason Momoa) has a thirst for revenge, going after Zym and his witch daughter, Marique (Rose McGowan), who both desire the Mask of Acheron (which resembles a face-hugging octopus). But the mask will only provide power to the wearer with the drops of a pure-blooded sacrifice. Lucky for them, the innocent Tamara (Rachel Nichols) has such blood, but they'll have to get through Conan first. "I live, I love, I slay, I am content" is his motto after all. 

Baywatch hunk Momoa is all glower, grunts, chiseled abs, and long-flowing, romance-novel cover hair, but his total lack of charisma makes for a boring Conan. Perlman is killed off in the first 30 minutes, which is a dirty rotten waste of his wit. Nichols, as the damsel-in-distress, is pretty and pretty tough, but also pretty bland when it comes to her character. He keeps calling her a "harlot," but they end up in bed together anyway. Lang is just a one-dimensional bug-eyed baddie, much like the one he played in "Avatar." McGowan seems to be having the only fun here as the hissable villainess, camping it up with her Freddy Krueger nails, receding hair line, and "Babylon 5"-inspired wardrobe. And Morgan Freeman narrates the first half, sounding like Morgan Freeman usually does, but he can't even bring any life to this story. The action is often muddy and chaotically staged but pretty workmanlike as these things go. Especially cool are two set pieces: an attack scene with mummy soldiers that rise up from the sand, and another with underwater serpents in a torture chamber. 

Slavishly violent and mostly joyless, this "Conan" never achieves enough camp to be a guilty pleasure. Sliced-off noses and bloody beheadings should be fun! When it's laughable, it doesn't try to be. If Conan only learned he should laugh at himself more often, this would've been a schlocky good time. 

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