In Theaters: Tyler Perry Did a Bad Bad Thing

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    Reviews of I Can Do Bad All By Myself and Whiteout

    I Can Do Bad All By Myself
    Directed by Tyler Perry
    Starring Taraji P. Henson, Adam Rodriguez, Brian White, Mary J. Blige
    **1/2

    As a piece of storytelling, there’s little that separates Tyler Perry’s latest film from the previous batch of comedy-laced melodramas that he’s written, directed and starred in.  All of the familiar Perry elements are on display here again, from the fallen woman who can only be healed through the love of a good man (as well as some good old fashioned Bible-learning) to the no-good tomcatting boyfriend to the specter of child abuse that still haunts one of the characters.  But there are two things that distinguish I Can Do Bad All By Myself from Perry’s usual fare.  The first is the ferocious lead performance by recent Oscar-nominee Taraji P. Henson, cast here as April, a boozy blues singer at an Atlanta nightclub who drinks too much, smokes too much and carries on a guilt-free affair with a married man (Brian White).

    April’s comfortably sordid life is upended by the unexpected arrival of her sister’s three kids, who have been living with their grandmother since their mom passed away from a drug overdose many years ago.  Now Grandma has gone missing too and the only person they have left to turn to is their wayward aunt.  Naturally, the last thing April wants is to become a surrogate mother and, truth be told, the kids aren’t that eager to live with her either, particularly the eldest Jennifer (Hope Olaide Wilson), who has had to carry more responsibility on her sixteen-year-old shoulder than she can bear.  Not long after the kids arrive, April takes in another houseguest against her will, a homeless Mexican handyman named Sandino (Adam Rodriguez) referred to her by the kind pastor (real-life preacher Marvin L. Winans) at her former church.

    You’ve probably already guessed where this story is going–April will come to accept these children and the studly Sandino successfully captures her heart away from Mr. Wrong.  All of that indeed does come to pass and while the plot is as improbable as it sounds, Henson makes you buy almost every cliche Perry tosses her way.  Rather than try to run from the script’s melodrama, thus letting the audience know she’s aware of how silly the narrative is, she embraces it and fully commits to every emotional beat.  Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich and the other stars of those ’30s-era women-in-trouble melodramas would approve of and applaud the performance Henson delivers here.

    The other thing that gives the movie some juice is the music; in fact, this is more or less Perry’s first attempt at a Hollywood musical, albeit without any flashy Broadway-style dance moves.  In addition to the big musical numbers that open and close the movie, I Can Do Bad… contains three show-stopping performances from Winans and world-famous divas Gladys Knight and Mary J. Blige.  You don’t even have to be a longtime fan of R&B or gospel to be impressed by the power and passion of these performers.  If Perry continues to surround himself with great talent like this, maybe it’ll force him to step up his own game and make a movie that departs from his increasingly tired formula.

    Verdict: Rent It

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    whiteout_movie_posterWhiteout
    Directed by Dominic Sena
    Starring Kate Beckinsale, Gabriel Macht, Tom Skerritt, Columbus Short
    *

    You’d think that a movie that opens with a gratuitous Kate Beckinsale shower scene (complete with, sorry guys, PG-13 friendly nudity) couldn’t be all bad.  But you’d be wrong-Whiteout is absolutely terrible.  Originally shot almost three years ago and wisely kept out of sight since then, this would-be thriller is built on a dumb story that’s made even worse by awful execution.

    Adapted from a graphic novel by the usually reliable comic-book writer Greg Rucka (he penned the acclaimed series Queen & Country and has had well-received runs on Batman and Spider-Man), Whiteout takes place in Antarctica two days before the harsh six-month winter sets in.  After spending a chilly tour of duty at a remote science station, U.S. Marshal Carrie Stetko (Beckinsale) can’t wait to get back stateside.  Unfortunately, the unexpected discovery of a dead body puts her plans in jeopardy, especially once the station’s kindly doctor (Tom Skerritt) rules the death a homicide.  Now Carrie has to solve this murder mystery before the last plane departs or risk being stuck at the South Pole for six more months.  Luckily, the bad guys are completely incompetent, which means she doesn’t have to work all that hard to figure out their identities.

    As settings for thrillers go, Antarctica is certainly unique, but the filmmakers have no idea how to exploit the location.  Too much of the action takes place indoors and whenever the characters do venture outside, director Dominic Sena keeps the camerawork tight and jerky, making it difficult to get a sense of the basic geography of the scene.  But Whiteout‘s biggest sin is that it is just flat-out boring, a hodge-podge of too-familiar genre clichés and jarringly edited action sequences.  If you do choose to sit through this movie, rest assured it will be whited out from your memory immediately after leaving the theater.

    Verdict: Skip It

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    White on Rice
    Directed by Dave Boyle

    Starring Hiroshi Watanabe, Nae, Mio Takada, Lynn Chen
    **

    So few American movies deal with the contemporary lives of Asian Americans, it’s tempting to overrate the rare titles that do come along in the hope that it will inspire more and better films that tackle this fertile subject matter.  Too bad that I can’t in good conscience endorse White on Rice, a well-meaning, but largely unfunny comedy about Jimmy, an emotionally stunted Japanese man (Hiroshi Watanabe) living under the same Bay Area roof as his sister, her stern (and significantly older) husband and their attention-starved son.  Still reeling from his recent divorce, Jimmy finds himself falling for his sister’s niece (an attraction that’s more creepy than hilarious) while trying to sort out what it is he wants to do with the rest of his life.  To his credit, Watanabe seems to recognize that his character has some deep-seated emotional problems, but co-writer/director Dave Boyle is all too happy to treat Jimmy as a cutesy idiot savant.                 
    Verdict: Skip It

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