Reviews of American Son, Fighting, Adventureland and The Informers
Plot: 96 hours before he’s shipped off to Iraq, a young Marine (Nick Cannon) returns to his hometown of Bakersfield, CA to reconnect with his family and friends.
Opinion: Until Katherine Bigelow’s deservedly acclaimed The Hurt Locker came along, it seemed like every movie made about the Iraq War couldn’t actually take place in Iraq. Instead, the stories focused largely on the homefront, chronicling what happened before or after the soldiers embarked on their tour of duty. In this post-Hurt Locker world though, movies like Home of the Brave, In the Valley of Elah and now American Son-which premiered at Sundance in 2008 and is just now arriving on DVD after bypassing theaters almost entirely-can’t help but feel irrelevant at best, forced and phony at worst. The movie’s one saving grace is its star; although he remains best known for his Nickelodeon comedy shows (and being married to Mariah Carey), Cannon actually delivers a credible low-key dramatic turn here. His natural performance stands in marked contrast to the contrived screenplay, which forces him into an unlikely romance with a girl he meets on a bus (Melonie Diaz). While the film does deserve some credit for avoiding the usual happy ending, the overriding feeling one takes away from American Son is “been there, done that.”
Bonus Features: A self-congratulatory commentary track with the movie’s director and producers, two deleted scenes and ten-minutes worth of behind the scenes footage.
Verdict: Skip It
Plot: An ex-high school wrestler-turned-NYC sidewalk salesman (Channing Tatum) enters the world of underground fight clubs with the help of a small-time hustler (Terrence Howard).
Opinion: It’s safe to say that most moviegoers are going to go into a movie called Fighting expecting to see some good…well, fighting. And I’m happy to report that the movie delivers on that level. Director Dito Montiel eschews the overly choreographed rumbles of street-fighting flicks like Lionheart and Never Back Down for rough and tumble brawls filled with cheap shots, wild punches and narrow escapes. This makes the actual battles much more exciting than if the hero suddenly morphed into a young Muhammad Ali or Jet Li during each bout. Too bad the rest of the movie is such a bore. Still, those fight sequences are so creative, so well-executed, so much fun to watch, it’s hard to dismiss the movie entirely. The nice thing about DVD is that you can chapter skip every time Tatum stops fighting and starts talking.
Bonus Features: The disc includes both the theatrical and unrated cuts of the movie as well as a batch of deleted scenes.
Verdict: Rent It
Plot: When his affluent family falls on hard times, on overeducated college grad (Jesse Eisenberg) takes a low-paying job at a local amusement park, where he falls for a gorgeous fellow wage slave (Kristen Stewart) with a screwed-up personal life.
Opinion: Greg Mottola’s follow-up to Superbad is less riotously hilarious than that modern comedy classic, but at least it has its heart in the right place. Unlike a lot of contemporary comedies about young adults, Adventureland actually seems to like its characters and wants viewers to like them-flaws and all-as well. And even though the ending is never really in doubt, the likable cast (particularly scene-stealers Martin Starr, Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig) make it a smooth ride.
Bonus Features: Mottola, who based the movie on his own experiences growing up, reminisces on a lively commentary track and a featurette and deleted scenes offer a few hi-jinks left on the cutting room floor.
Verdict: Buy It
Plot: A group of wealthy power players live it up, get it on and in general do horrible things to each other in late-’80s LA at the height of the city’s cocaine-fueled hedonism.
Opinion: The novels of Bret Easton Ellis have been notoriously difficult to bring to the screen. And even when they do result in good movies (like Mary Harron’s clever adaptation of American Psycho) they remain cult curiosities instead of mainstream hits. The same fate will no doubt befall The Informers, Gregor Jordan’s adaptation of Ellis’ 1994 short-story anthology. Co-written by the novelist (the first time he’s been directly involved in an adaptation of his work) The Informers is strangely compelling viewing, filled with bizarre bits of deadpan comedy and moments of “I-can’t-believe-he/she-did-that!” shock and awe. The film wears out its welcome well before the final credits roll, but as Ellis adaptations go, this is one of the few to capture the dark, diseased spirit of the author’s words.
Bonus Features: A commentary track with the cast and director Gregor Jordan and a 15-minute making-of featurette.
Verdict: Rent It
Also on DVD:
Critics raved about the Clive Owen/Julia Roberts romantic heist flick Duplicity (Universal, $30) when it was released in March, but moviegoers largely stayed away. Hopefully the movie will attract a wider audience now that its on DVD and viewers can use the rewind button to keep up with its tricky plot. Eight years after their first on-screen pairing in Y Tu Mama Tambien, Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna teamed up again for Rudo y Cursi (Sony, $29) a surprisingly hilarious comedy about a pair of soccer-playing half-brothers who catapult to overnight stardom and then begin the equally quick descent to obscurity. Ramin Bahrani’s third feature Goodbye Solo (Lionsgate, $28) takes the director back to his home state of North Carolina, where he spins a yarn about the odd friendship that develops between an African cab driver and the elderly man he ferries around. That ’70s Show vet Mila Kunish stars in the direct-to-DVD horror title Boot Camp (MGM, $27), which sounds an awful lot like the Japanese cult classic Battle Royale minus the awesome teen-on-teen ultraviolence. Speaking of ultraviolence, Oliver Stone’s controversial 1994 serial killer flick Natural Born Killers (Warner Bros., $30) makes the leap to Blu-ray with all its psychadelic imagery intact and enhanced in glorious Blu.