Under the Radar: A small gem found in backlog of spring flicks
This spring has featured a barrage of movies that have low to middling expectations. Never has a spring featured so many movies that are shelf-sitters, no-name castoffs and knock-off horror flicks. Picking through the movie trash has been particularly uneventful. However, this week picked up the pace a bit.
I have a new moviegoing rule. Whenever actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars in an independent movie, I'm going to see it opening weekend. The former kid star of Third Rock From the Sun has become the new Johnny Depp. He looks for difficult, challenging roles and does brilliant work bringing them to life. In the past few years he played a gay hustler who befriends a fellow victim of a shared childhood sexual abuse in Mysterious Skin. Even better was Brick, a film that combined a '40s-style film noir with a River's Edge-style look at the ugly underbelly of modern high school and clueless parents.
The Lookout is a film that slipped into town under the radar several weeks back. Screenwriter Scott Frank (Get Shorty, Out of Sight) makes his directorial debut with this tale of a brain-damaged accident victim still angry and confused. His story is interesting enough, but Frank ups the stakes by having Gordon-Levitt's character, Chris, sucked into a bank heist.
Gordon-Levitt is spectacular as a young man who had it all until a teenage prank destroys his life and turns part of his brain to mush. Unfortunately, he still retains the ability to relive the accident in his dreams. What he hasn't retained is the ability to see through his new friends (Matthew Goode, Isla Fisher). His best buddy and roommate Lewis (Jeff Daniels) is blind, but he sees through their deception, just not soon enough to keep the dangerous heist scheme from playing out.
The Lookout is the kind of movie that often finds its biggest audience beyond the big screen. Do yourself a favor and check it out now before it slips away. (Editor's Note: The final shows are Thursday, April 26 at the Towne 16.)
The Shaun of the Dead gang is back with another genre spoof. Writer-director Edgar Wright, actor-writer Simon Pegg and actor Nick Frost do their take on a Joel Silver/Michael Bay-style bombastic cop flick. When the genteel gentry in a British village is exposed as being more Americanized than we suspected -- with guns blazing -- the contrast is extremely funny. However, it takes an awfully long time to get to the hilarity.
Before the movie breaks out of its confinement and delivers a generous amount of belly laughs, we have to put up with a lot of lame set-up. Pegg stars as London-based super cop Nicholas Angel, so good at his job that his colleagues are sick of looking like slackers in comparison. He is transferred to the country where his toughest job is capturing a wayward swan. His partner is the likable Danny (Frost), the son of the town's chief inspector (Jim Broadbent). Danny has spent more time watching action movies than actually doing his job, but that is about to change. This town is not nearly as nice as it seems and when the body count rises, Nick and Danny rise to the occasion.
Since a bit of the original Wicker Man bleeds into the plot, it was wonderful to see Edward Woodward on board, as well a former James Bond, Timothy Dalton, as a smarmy businessman, and the delightful Billie Whitelaw (the nanny in The Omen) as the innkeeper.
Minus 20 minutes of flab, this flick would be in tip-top comedy shape. However, even out of shape, it delivers enough laughs at the finish to qualify as a successful spoof.
As a stand-alone film, Retaliation is a mindless collection of action-set pieces, only one of which is visually interesting, a ninja battle that takes place with trapeze artists/soldiers flying across the face of a mountain.
There is something so sad about a movie that wants to be funny and isn’t. 'Dark Shadows' is exhibit one, another collaboration between director Tim Burton and actor Johnny Depp, a union that has produced excellent results in the past ('Edward Scissorhands,' 'Alice in Wonderland') and some misfires (Sweeney Todd).