Film Openings

Week of August 31, 2006

 Crank. This movie's kind of like Speed, but instead of a bus, it's some dude's heart that can't drop below a certain rate or he will die a horrible death. Hey, wait a minute: crank, speed...it's all making sense now. Sorta. (NR) ARN, CGX, DP, EG, J14, MR, OF, RON, SP, STCH, STCL

Crossover. (PG-13) Cruise (Wesley Jonathan) is an aspiring medical student with a full scholarship to UCLA and mad skillz on the basketball court. His best friend Tech (Anthony Mackie) is good at underground streetball, but has yet to get his GED and occasionally lets his temper get the better of him. In pursuit of their goals, no movie cliché is left unturned. The streetball scenes offer some nifty trick plays, but the rest of the movie features poorly dressed sets, cheap-looking costumes and locations, and silly histrionics — particularly (and unintentionally) amusing is the part where Tech films a commercial on the Sony Pictures lot, only to get in a fight, hurt his woman, and head back to the hotel where he promptly gets drunk on two beers and spills his emotional secrets. America's Next Top Model winner Eva Pigford shows up as a screeching gold-digger who latches on to Cruise, while Wayne Brady almost adds some respectability as an unscrupulous agent. Alas, no hot tunes on the soundtrack. (Luke Y. Thompson) J14, RON, STCH, STCL

Factotum. (R) Bent Hamer's deadpan adaptation of the Charles Bukowski novel has an appealing listnessness, but it begs the question: Is there anything left to learn from this material? The man who made an art of debauchery and a romance of the picaresque had few other subjects, and there's not much new in his alter ego's endless cycle of drink, cigarettes, sex, and fiction. As Hank Chinaski, Matt Dillon adopts a Brando brow and hang-dog eyes, then thrusts his lower lip into his upper one to create Bukowski's salmon frown. The pose captures the author's apathetic bemusement with humor and grace, but to what end? He gets a job, loses it, drinks, writes, fucks, and then repeats the cycle. Nor is there much redemption in Lili Taylor and Marisa Tomei, playing women sinking on the same ship as Chinaski. Taylor's sweetness bubbles up into a fine performance, extravagantly depraved, and Tomei surprises with a rich take on a woman who is neither young nor coy. But none of it goes anywhere. It's just stylized alcoholism with a tired wink. (Melissa Levine) TV

The Illusionist. (PG-13) Set in Vienna — the city of Sigmund Freud — in the late 1890s, Neil Burger's eerie and sumptuous melodrama (from a Steven Millhauser short story) is an intriguing meditation on the seductions of power and the power of magic. Edward Norton, who always gives off a mysterious vibe, stars as a gifted stage illusionist called Eisenheim, whose most crucial feat is bringing back from the dead the woman he loves. Philip Glass' adventurous score enriches the dark mood, and fine performances — by Jessica Biel as Eisenheim's lost love, Paul Giammati as the skeptical police inspector who serves as our narrator and guide, and Rufus Sewell as an arrogant crown prince — serve well this resolutely old-fashioned period piece. The great sleight-of-hand artist and historian of magic Ricky Jay served as consultant. (Bill Gallo) (Bill Gallo) CGX, DP, HP, OF, RON, SP, STCH

The Puffy Chair. (R) Reviewed in this issue. (Levine) TV

The Quiet. (R) What if it's not cell phones, iPods, MySpace, and whatever that's keeping the teen demographic out of movie theaters? What if, instead, it's the movies' endless reduction of their complex, muddled, and — gasp — occasionally enjoyable lives to a bunch of recycled social-problem clichés? Directed by Jamie Babbit from a capable but glib screenplay by Abdi Nazemian and Micah Schraft, this emotionally loaded melodrama turns on the lives of two adolescent girls (sharply played by Elisha Cuthbert and Camilla Belle), at once divided and united by dark family secrets. Before you can say "Child Welfare Services," sexual abuse, pill popping, cruel peer groups, and (to gild the lily once and for all) physical disability rain down on these two unfortunates, with homicidal tendencies lurking in the wings. The Quiet has an excellent supporting cast in Edie Falco, Martin Donovan, and Katy Mixon in a minor but interesting role as the school vixen, and is competently, even lyrically, directed in high definition by Babbit (with input from students at the University of Texas). But thematically the movie never reaches beyond the ready-for-prime-time mentality that specializes in psychological shorthand. (Ella Taylor) CGX, RON, STCH, TV

Trust the Man. (R) David Duchovny and Julianne Moore play a married couple on the downside of their vows. His Tom is a former ad man who's switched to being a stay-at-home daddy, and her Rebecca's a movie actress stooping to conquer the Lincoln Center stage. She's lost all sexual interest in Tom, to the point where she flinches if he so much as touches her. How has it gotten this way? No idea. Writer-director Bart Freundlich (Moore's husband) has nothing to say and nowhere to go with this material, except to the most contrived ending this side of a Will & Grace episode. His characters — including Rebecca's brother Tobey (Billy Crudup), a remote-control slacker locked in a seven-year go-nowhere relationship with Elaine (Maggie Gyllenhaal), an aspiring children's-book writer with so little faith in her abilities or instincts that she's charmed by Tobey's worthless ways — don't mean anything, because they don't say anything or do anything that feels rooted in the nitty-gritty of the everyday. They're stock schmucks and little more — unlikable twerps who don't earn or deserve their happily-ever-afters. (Robert Wilonsky) CPP, CGX, PF, RON

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