Film Openings

Week of August 10, 2005

The Aristocrats. (Not Rated) Reviewed in this issue.

Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo. (R) After indirectly causing a school of dolphins to eat a group of blind senior citizens, Deuce (Rob Schneider) flees to Amsterdam, where his pimp friend T.J. (Eddie Griffin) is living on a tricked-out barge that bounces up and down like a hip-hop car. Business is bad for T.J., as an unknown vigilante is killing off his "man-whores." When T.J. himself gets fingered for one of the murders -- and even worse, is suspected of being extremely gay ("Can't a brother stick his hands down a man's pants without settin' off the faggot alarm?") -- Deuce must go back into the role of male prostitute to figure out which regular gigolo client is the most likely suspect. It's been a while since we've seen a big-time gross-out comedy, and Deuce 2 definitely merits its R rating with a fearless approach that will earn genuine laughs as it turns a few stomachs. Yes, a Rob Schneider movie that's funny. Strange but true. (Luke Y. Thompson)

5x2. (R) For the first 30 minutes of this film about a failed relationship, director François Ozon seems well on his way to a magnum opus. In two fiercely lucid scenes (of the title's five), he creates a work of indelible cinema, attuned so sharply to the cadences of human relationship as to feel shockingly, bracingly alive. And then, piece by piece, Ozon (director of Under the Sand and Swimming Pool) undermines his own work. 5x2 travels backward through milestones in a relationship between Marion (Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi) and Gilles (Stéphane Freiss). We open with their divorce and proceed through an important evening with Gilles' brother (Antoine Chappey), the birth of the couple's child, their wedding night, and so on. The problem is that Gilles is an aggressive, childish asshole. The film could have examined where relationships falter, but instead it merely shows what happens when a good woman marries the wrong man. For anyone who believes in the gorgeously messy truth of French social drama, it's a grave disappointment. (Melissa Levine)

Four Brothers. (R) John Singleton's violent, jokey rehash of The Sons of Katie Elder is now a war between good and evil on the mean streets of Detroit, and the four siblings who set out to avenge the murder of their sainted mother -- their adoptive mother, that is -- now come in two colors. Mark Wahlberg's the single-minded vigilante, Tyrese Gibson the suave ladies' man; OutKast's André Benjamin plays the settled family man whose head's been turned by rage, and Garrett Hedlund is the baby of the family, the butt of everyone's jokes but a cool dude in his own right. Just beneath the slick surface of the relentless action, Singleton (Boyz N the Hood, the Shaft remake) and writers David Elliot and Paul Lovett have planted a nice little essay about bonding and breaking down racial barriers. The movie's not great, but Mom might like it. (Bill Gallo)

The Great Raid. (R) When it comes to World War II movies, you may never have seen one like this before -- if only because it's like three different movies at the same time. In the main story, Captain Prince (James Franco) and Lieutenant Colonel Mucci (Benjamin Bratt) plan to liberate the American POWs in a Japanese prison camp, as it is believed -- with good reason -- that the Japanese will execute every last one before retreating. Meanwhile, we also follow the story of those in the camp, who don't know that imminent death awaits -- in fact, they assume that imminent rescue is coming. The question is whether or not that will be soon enough to save the life of malaria-stricken Major Gibson (Joseph Fiennes), who survives on small doses of quinine smuggled into camp by an underground resistance force based in the Philippines. One of their most crucial agents is Margaret Utinsky (Connie Nielsen); her tale is the most interesting of the three, but it's dropped about halfway through. The rest plays like a war video game. (Thompson)

Saraband. (R) This uneven new film, a series of dialogues from the legendary Ingmar Bergman, is assembled like movements of a concerto. It opens with Marianne (Liv Ullmann) and Johan (Erland Josephson), the stars of Bergman's Scenes From a Marriage (1973), in the same roles. But the film is largely about another couple, engaged in a duel: Henrik (Börje Ahlstedt), Johan's unstable son, and Karin (Julia Dufvenius), Henrik's daughter. Henrik has mapped out Karin's future; Karin yearns to break free, but she stays with her father out of loyalty and grief. Both are mourning the loss of Anna, Karin's mother and Henrik's wife, who died two years before. Scenes From a Marriage suffered from a certain degree of suffocation, and it's a pleasure to add new characters to the mix. But Henrik is a brute, entrenched in his pain and inflicting it upon others. For Karin, the question of whether or not to leave her father is dire; for us it's a no-brainer. (Levine)

The Skeleton Key. (PG-13) Kate Hudson, looking more like mama Goldie Hawn with each passing paycheck, plays a nurse named Caroline who takes care of a coma-stricken man (John Hurt) living with his cranky missus (Gena Rowlands) on a decrepit plantation in the swamps of Louisiana. The lady gives Caroline a key that opens every room in the house, save one: a hidden door in the attic. As it turns out, Caroline's a pretty lousy caregiver, more Nancy Drew than Mother Teresa, as she suspects that the man isn't in a coma, but the victim of some hoodoo spell placed upon him by his wife. She has no good reason for thinking this but does anyway, because if she were to act at all like a normal person and, ya know, flee the creepy house and its creepier caretakers, there would be no movie. Ultimately, the filmmakers build toward a reasonably satisfying Twilight Zone climax, only they crawl toward the ho-hum ending; the movie appears to have been written and edited in a swamp too. (Wilonsky)

 
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