Film Openings

Week of December 22, 2005

Dec 21, 2005 at 4:00 am
Cheaper by the Dozen 2. (PG) The whole gang — Mom (Bonnie Hunt), Dad (Steve Martin), 12 kids, and the family dog — is back in this so-so sequel to the surprisingly successful 2003 comedy (which was, itself, a remake of a 1950 film). Truth be told, this version looks an awful lot like its predecessor. First time around, chaos ensued when a pet frog escaped; here, equal havoc is caused by an uninvited rodent. First time: The family dog attacked a guest whose underpants had been soaked in raw hamburger meat (don't ask). This time: The dog attacks Dad, who is unwittingly sitting on a cushion that's been stuffed with raw hamburger meat. The sequel manages a new story line — a childish rivalry between Dad and his grade-school nemesis — but everything that happens proves just as predictable as before. That will be fine with fans of the first film, who make up the only possible audience here anyway. (Jean Oppenheimer) ARN, CGX, CW10, CC12, DP, GL, J14, MR, OF, RON, STCH, STCL, WO

Fun With Dick and Jane. (PG-13) Reviewed in this issue. ARN, CGX, CW10, CC12, DP, EQ, GL, J14, MR, OF, RON, STCH, STCL, WO

Memoirs of a Geisha. (PG-13) Memoirs of a Geisha began life as a novel by Arthur Golden, who meticulously researched the topic and sucks the reader into his world with all the little details and nuances of the geisha trade — which is analogous to the escort business, though not quite the same. But those nuances, almost by definition, are the sort of things that get lost when a 500-page book is adapted into a far shorter screenplay. Director Rob Marshall, as he did in Chicago, plays the movie as though it's all an embellished memory inside the head of geisha Sayuri (Ziyi Zhang), but why would she remember everyone speaking in choppy English? It's hard to tell, at least for the movie's first half, whether the mostly Chinese actresses are deliberately doing bad broken-Engrish Japanese accents. Gong Li excels as the perpetually drunken villain, but Sayuri's romantic pursuit of an older man (Ken Watanabe) who was kind to her as a child feels a little creepy — like one of the Olsen twins dreaming of boffing Bob Saget. (Luke Y. Thompson) ARN, CPP, CGX, CC12, DP, KEN, MR, OF, RON, STCH, WO

Munich. (R) Those who will sit around wondering whether Munich is the work of an anti-Israeli or just a self-hating Jew — which is to say, Steven Spielberg, who has been branded both by Israeli officials and newspaper columnists recently — give the movie and its maker far too much credit. The story of how the Israeli government retaliated for the murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games is less a treatise on the history of Middle East violence than an inert, overlong thriller that has more in common with Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's Eleven than Costa-Gavras' Z. As a thriller, it barely thrills; as a lecture, it has nothing at all new to say. That's especially true since the movie, written by Tony Kushner and Eric Roth, is a remake of the 1986 HBO movie Sword of Gideon, from which whole scenes and even dialogue have merely been rephrased. It stars Eric Bana as Avner, an Israeli soldier appointed by Prime Minister Golda Meir to the task of killing Arabs responsible for the massacre. (Robert Wilonsky) CPP, PF, RON, WO

The Ringer. (PG-13) Desperate for money to help a friend, and hoping to call in a favor from his compulsive-gambler uncle Gary (Brian Cox), office drone Steve (Johnny Knoxville) finds that his uncle is woefully in debt to a loan shark who has a soft spot for the Special Olympics — especially the reigning champion, Jimmy (Leonard Flowers), "the Deion Sanders of retards." So Gary ropes Steve into a plan that'll pay both their debts — bet against Jimmy and have Steve, a former amateur track champion, enter the contest pretending to be mentally handicapped. Steve's fellow athletes quickly see through the ruse, and while initially hostile, they decide to help him win because they all hate the arrogant Jimmy. Knoxville isn't a great leading man, but the actors and athletes who play his Olympian friends (especially Jed Rees) are hilarious, and most viewers would be surprised to learn which ones are "challenged" in real life and which are not. (Thompson) ARN, CGX, CC12, DP, EQ, J14, KEN, MR, OF, RON, STCH, STCL, WO

Rumor Has It . . .. (PG-13) In Robert Altman's 1992 film The Player, Buck Henry walks into a studio boss' office and pitches a sequel to The Graduate, which was written by Henry. Altman knows this kind of bullshit gets spoken in studio meetings, and he abhors the people who would even consider such an abominable act as franchising The Graduate; it was a sick, stinging joke. So where does that leave director Rob Reiner and screenwriter Ted Griffin, who have done that very thing? Rumor Has It . . . pretends to offer up the real-life inspiration behind The Graduate, but it's just a lesser version with smaller stars, a hijacking of the audience's goodwill for an icon in order to sell its shoddy knock-off. Stay away: Everything about the movie is rinky-dink, from its phony, lifeless dialogue to its drab, shabby sitcom look to its choppy editing, all of which can wear on you after 95 minutes that come to feel like an eternity. (Wilonsky) CW10, CC12, EQ, WO

Wolf Creek. (R) Three tourists head into the Australian outback for a crater called Wolf Creek, which appears to generate electromagnetic pulses that cause everybody's watches to stop and their car to die. Nobody's around for miles, until up drives Mick (Picnic at Hanging Rock's John Jarratt), a wisecracking type who might be right at home assisting Steve Irwin in a crocodile wrestling match. He seems very endearing, so our three vacationers take him up on his offer for a tow and repair. Back at his place, they get to drinking and telling tales around the campfire. When they wake up the next day, they're bound and gagged — and events go way downhill from there. It's an hour into the film, our heroes are screwed, and you've been suckered into caring about them. Let the carnage begin. Writer-director Greg McLean makes a significant feature debut here, with unapologetic horror that doesn't compromise. (Thompson) CW10, CC12, EQ, WO