Movies in Theaters February 17, 2012
This weekend brings us director McG returning to more familiar Charlie's Angels kind of territory after surviving the would-be franchise reboot Terminator: Salvation with the tale of Captain Kirk and Bane fighting over Johnny Cash's wife (This Means War), cursed motorcycle daredevil Johnny Blaze returning with directors who might actual "get" him this time (Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance), the umpteenth take on how cold-weather crime doesn't pay (Thin Ice) and an admittedly terrific-looking high school football documentary (Undefeated). Get some.
This is probably the closest we'll ever get to something resembling an at least in-spirit companion piece to James Cameron's still-amazing romantic spy comedy, True Lies, so it might be best to just smile and go with it. Chris Pine and Tom Hardy play BFF CIA agents who end up waging war on each other when they find out they're dating the same gal (Reese Witherspoon, who's maybe getting a little too old for roles like this); romantic rivalry can certainly get deadly when the players are trained killers and weapons specialists who aren't beyond drugging each other with blow darts before one of them gets busy in bed with the blonde. This Means War will probably be little more than a live-action cartoon as Pine and Hardy constantly try to one-up each other in increasingly destructive and dangerous ways, though the fact that it's Pine and Hardy engaging in these shenanigans means it will at least be a charming live-action cartoon, with Reese being called upon to once again look alternately cute and confused. Directed by McG, who can do this kind of movie in his sleep after the two Charlie's Angels movies -- and who is probably more than willing to after the mess that was Terminator: Salvation.
Now this is more like it! If you're going to make a movie about one of Marvel's most bizarre and over-the-top characters, you don't bring in Mark Steven Johnson, the guy who managed to make even Daredevil boring, to direct it -- you bring in the gonzo filmmaking team of Neveldine/Taylor, the crazy Hollywood tricksters behind the Crank movies. The first teaser for the Ghost Rider sequel featured the flame-headed avenger pissing fire -- if the Crank boys keep up that kind of inspired B-movie madness for the entire film (which they probably will), we might get the truly inspired freak show this character deserves (and, admittedly, kind of demands). Really, Ghost Rider has the advantage of being that rare Marvel property that the studio isn't worried about fitting into the damn Avengers, so really is has license to just go completely insane as a stand-alone piece of rogue cinema -- kudos for bringing in this unique directing team and giving them license to just do whatever the hell they want with it. Bring it!
We hate to say it, 'cause we kinda like the guy (how can you not?), but if a movie stars Greg Kinnear, that's almost a sure sign of cinematic mediocrity -- especially if that movie looks like yet another variation on the oft-imitated Fargo brand of wintry crime comedies (even the poster has the same kind of hand-knitted artwork). Really, it's not Kinnear's fault -- the man's a decent actor, but his bland put-upon everyman persona has been milked dry by this point; at least Billy Crudup looks like he might bring some twitchy loose-cannon energy to this tired-looking crime-doesn't-pay tale. The plot follows an insurance agent (Kinnear) who's blackmailed by an unstable locksmith (Crudup) in the theft of a valuable violin belonging to a retired farmer, who's played by Kinnear's Little Miss Sunshine co-star, Alan Arkin, who thankfully can really do no wrong, no matter how subgrade the material. This is Jill Sprecher's first feature directing gig in ten years, following Thirteen Conversations About One Thing (which also starred Arkin); she also called the shots on the great '90s indie valentine to office temps, Clockwatchers.
Not to be confused with the 2003 HBO boxing movie starring John Leguizamo (or with The Undefeated, the Sarah Palin documentary also released in 2011), Undefeated tells the story of the Monassas Tigers, a severely underfunded and underprivileged Memphis, TN high school football team that's had to deal with years of constant losses and even the humiliation of being hired out as a practice team for more successful schools -- and how things started to take a turn for the better during the 2009 season under the direction of coach Bill Courtney, a fiercely dedicated disciplinarian who turned a team of misfits, underachievers and potential future criminals into an athletic force to be reckoned with. It's hard to screw up a documentary like this; any story of underdogs finally getting their day usually makes for an inspiring crowd-pleaser, and all the more so if you also throw high school sports into the mix. Undefeated will go the distance, even if that 113-minute running time might slow it down some; it's also currently a nominee for the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature.