REVIEW: Just Friends

I’ve got a love/hate relationship with “angry” romantic comedies, and I’m betting some of you do to. Am I right?

Here’s what I’m talking about: I love when a movie embraces a bitter, cynical or even at least “slapstick” take on the subject of all things romantic. What I hate is that, in such movies, you know that the fun will only be short-lived. No rom-com wants to be angry all the way through, so enjoyment of such fare is always bittersweet; you know going in that by the 3rd act all the fun will be over and the film will quickly turn into a “love conquers all” indictment of it’s own premise. It happened to “Wedding Crashers,” it happened to the lesser Farelly Brothers movies, and it happens to “Just Friends.”

The premise is killer: Ryan Reynolds (who seems made for the part) is Chris Brander, who back in 1995 lived the nightmare life of a chubby nerd who was the best friend of the hottest girl in High School. Years of watching her ignore him sexually in favor of a succession of dumb jocks drove him to the point of insanity, and when his graduation night attempt to confess his love went about as disasterously wrong as it could have he fled town and never looked back.

Ten years later, Chris has transformed himself into a super-rich, super-handsome LA music exec who’s through the model/singer/actress population with a womanizing cruelty which we’re to understand as vengeance on the entire female species for what best-friend Jamie did (or rather didn’t do) to him in High School. Assigned to escort mentally-unstable pop princess Samantha (Anna Faris) to Paris, the pair find themselves unexpectedly stranded in Chris’ old hometown, where a renunion with Jamie sets his gears spinning: He’ll coldly seduce her just to prove that he can, and for final vindication he’ll do it as a “jerk” just like all the guys she originally overlooked him for.

So you see, immediately we know where this is going: Chris will try and hillariously fail, over and over, to implement his evil scheme. It’ll be fun following the exploits of this despicable (but not wholly without justification) cad, right up until the 3rd act when he’ll discover he really does still love Jamie and that he has to do the right thing. We know, by instinct, that even if the film did have the requisite cojones to have Chris “win,” riding triumphant back to LA singing a sonet to the fallacy of romance with Samantha as his prize and the ruins of New Jersey in his rear-view mirror, that most wouldn’t want it to.

But oh well, it’s fun while it lasts. Reynolds remains a gifted comic leading man in search of a great role, and he turns whats really a pretty shallow script into something workable and frequently hillarious. I’m inclined to sympahtize with Chris to begin with, (long story) sure, but Reynolds timing and sharp wit is what makes this character worth following around for most of a movie.

Amy Smart is slightly less enthralling as Jamie, only partially because the film doesn’t give her much of a role to work with. The audience never quite falls as hard for her as Chris does, and thats a problem.

Running away with the movie and securing her reign as current Hollywood’s sexiest comedy dynamo is Anna Faris. Samantha exists as the probable offspring of the frequently-dreamt-of-by-me coupling of Paris Hilton and Christina Aguilera, and she’s the funniest thing in the movie at any given time that she’s in the movie. Faris is making a name for herself by being hysterical, which is impressive considering she’s good-looking enough to have made a name with much less effort.

It’s too bad that it doesn’t last, but the plain fact is that “Just Friends” stops working the moment Chris decides he needs to change his evil ways. Reynolds plays the role so well as an understandably-tweaked self-made-man on a mission that the audience isn’t given enough reason to support his change of heart. It’s as though the movie wants to follow all the way through to the cynical end but lacks the will to go for it, and just half-asses a “hooray for people!” ending instead.

But while it lasts, it’s funny. It’s not enough, but thats what it is.


REVIEW: Rent (2005)

What sin have we committed, O gods of The Movies?

I understand… American filmgoers have been naughty lately. We’ve put the industry in a slump by consorting with TV and DVD and TV-as-collected-on-DVD. We’ve been spending scads and scads of cash on “Chicken Little.” I get it, we’ve been bad.

But please, please tell me what we did… what we possibly could have done… that you would deem it necessary to inflict “Rent” upon us.

Here is the kind of movie that, when it introduces a waifish Latino streetwise-saviour by the name of Angel, you just know that he’s a life-affirming, superhumanly-flamboyant jack-of-all-trades drag queen AND the film’s idealized moral center before such is ever revealed.

Yes, this is going to be a negative review. A really negative review. Some of you who deduced that before I told you and are among the “Rent” faithful are already livid at me. Furious, in fact. So angry that you won’t even finish the review, preferring to curse my name to the heavens and blow off some steam reading “Gilmore Girls” fan-fiction. My loss, I guess.

I’ll confess right here up front that I’ve never seen “Rent” performed live, and thus cannot comment as to whether or not it, like most musicals, works better in person where the experience of being sung-to can improve the perception of just about any song. I WAS readily familiar with it’s songs, characters, premise and mythology, owing to the fact that I was an Art major in College and listening to the infrequently-hummable “Rent” soundtrack accompanied vegan cuisine, “Dogme95” and quasi-Marxist political philosophy on the checklist of things one was expected to endure if one hoped to keep company with the alluring young ladies of the Theater department.

It’s been my perception, unchanged since I first became aware of this play, that while it indeed offers a collection of rousing musical moments and a finely-chosen cast hither and dither, the “Rent” phenomenon has more to do with WHAT the play is than HOW it is. WHAT it is is a musical shriek of “resist the man!” defiance on behalf of New York City’s AIDS-decimated gay/straight/bi/trans urban wannabe-bohemians circa-1989, framed as a loose reworking of Puccini’s “La Boheme.” Of equal importance is that the work’s author, one Johnathan Larson, died suddenly at 36 before it ever opened, a tragic fate that none the less propelled both his name and his play instantly onto the Bruce Lee/Elvis/Hendrix/Marilyn immortality superhighway.

In other words, I understand why people want to love “Rent.” What I don’t understand, having now experienced it’s story, characters and music in the form of a film, is why they actually do once they’ve seen it.

The story follows a group of best-friends, united as dwellers of a decaying artist-tennament on the lower East Side. A burnout rocker and an aspiring filmmaker live upstairs, below them lives a vivacious stripper, below her lives a frustrated professor and the above-mentioned drag queen.

The filmmaker is pining for his ex girlfriend, a performance artist who left him for a lesbian and is mounting a protest show against developers who want to turn the local homeless encampment into a cyber studio. The rocker is being pursued by the stripper, but his demons keep pushing her away. Both rocker and filmmaker are approached by an ex-buddy, (Taye Diggs) who’s gone over to the dark side by marrying into the rich family behind the cyber studio, with an ultimatum: Help shut down the protest and rent will be a non-issue.

Oh, and most of them either have AIDS, are in love with someone who has AIDS or both; and the same is true for even more of the peripheral cast. You will not be surprised that ONE of them dies of it in order to usher in the 3rd act, nor will you be surprised which one though I won’t reveal it here.

I hope that you believe, because it’s the honest truth, that I went in wanting to like this movie. I wanted, very, much, to understand the tremendous love and devotion that fans have to this material. The wet-eyed exhilaration I see from “Rent” acolytes when the trailer for this would kick up is the kind of feeling I got watching “LOTR” unfold the first time, or “Spider-Man” even, and I could always use more sources for that feeling. I wanted to walk out of this humming the songs. I didn’t. I’m really sorry, but I didn’t.

The BIG chunk of my problem is in the characters. I’m very sad that Larson died so young, and it’s nice that his play was a posthumous hit… but these people are just too thinkly sketched as characters and there’s no way I can deny it. I can’t bring myself to care about them because there’s no way to know them, and the film makes no real effort toward helping me know them. It feels as if they are just “types,” designed to draw instant likability from people pre-inclined to like them anyway. And speaking only for myself, I’m not going to fall in love with a character on the basis of his being an acrobatic Latino transvestite or an angsty guitar-strumming songwriter, there needs to be some element either in the screenplay or in the performance to MAKE them likable, and it’s not here. Strike one.

The story and setting become problematic as well. In it’s time (1996) “Rent” had the benefit of being of-it’s-moment. The tropes and the iconography… smock-clad art-chicks on the streets of NYC, AIDS-ravaged urban poor, the looming spectre of urban renewal, the cultural vogue of omnisexual/omniracial makeshift families, the halcyon pre-9/11 sense of there being no bigger worldwide crisis than Presidential blowjobs… gave it a sense of immediacy and connection especially to the off-broadway New York audiences it premiered to. It’s cast (90% recreated here) was young and vibrant. Now it merely reads as a dated relic of the past, the same as any modern performance of “Hair” is going to. There’s no real deeper place it ever goes beyond “this is just so NOW!,” and thats a problem now that “NOW!” has aged into “then.” The cast, too, while earnest and sincere, look more than a little phony playing a crew of supposed 20-somethings when they have the faces, voices and physiques of people pushing their mid-30s. Strike-two.

And then there’s the songs. Look, folks… it’s not that it’s BAD music. It’s that… look, I just don’t think it works. Something like 95% of this show is all in song, forming everything from inner-monologues to group conversations to dance numbers… and it’s all just so thematically indistinguishable. All of these different people are singing; gay people, straights, lesbians, trannies, landlords, rockers, blacks, whites; but with rare exception (Diggs throws himself into his truncated role as “the baddie”) they don’t ever feel like their singing “their” songs. They sound instead as though merely reading songs all written in the same exacty voice… and it’s the voice of a sullen, petulant teenaged girl furiously scrawling poetic love letters to an imagined ideal of NYC faux-hemian bliss into her journal, every “i” dotted with a heart and every margin stuffed with doodled rainbows. But, then… maybe thats the point? Foul ball.

There’s one big scene that illustrates what’s not working here, the dramatization of Maureen the street-performer’s epic one-woman multimedia show staged in protest of urban renewal. Her act is lame, her voice is shrill, her symbolism is nonsensical, it involves assuming the persona of a talking cow and leading the audience in a protest of mooing… it’s disasterously silly, pretentious and self-indulgent, and that seems to be the hook of the scene; a comedic deflation of the mythically-magnetic person Maureen has been built up as by her male and female admirers previously in the film. Problem is, it’s not that much MORE silly, pretentious and self-indulgent than every other performance in the movie! Heck, until she bends over backwards to mime suckling at the teat of a magical moo-cow I didn’t understand that the movie was KIDDING. The movie doesn’t seem to understand that it IS the exact sort of masturbatory art student self-promotion it here tries to mock. Strike-three.

I really do feel badly that the alleged magic of “Rent” didn’t work on me. I wanted to find myself among the converted, guys, I really truly did. But I didn’t, and so must honestly say to you here that watching “Rent” must be placed on the list of bewildering and disheartening experiences I’ve had at the movies this year.


Mel Gibson battles the Religious "Right." No, seriously.

My feelings on the subject of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of The Christ” have been pretty well stated in the past, so let’s not dwell on them. Straight to the point: Mad Mel and his Jesus movie are back in the news, and back stirring up the so-called “religious right.” But this time it’s different.

Here’s the deal: There’s this nutball in Utah named Ray Lines. Ray Lines operates an outfit called “Cleanflicks.” Here’s their website:

Basically, “Cleanflicks” creates unauthorized “christian family-friendly” edits of popular movies and sells/rents them to people. As you may expect, Mr. Lines sees himself as an activist on behalf of God fearing American families. As you may also expect, the people who own the copyrights on the films he’s editing are unhappy with him. In fact, the DGA has been suing him for three years.

Here’s why it’s hard to shut this guy down: While he’s technically violating copyright law, he’s not actually making any money doing this because he purchases a copy for every copy he edits. U.S. laws protecting the right of artists to control how their work is presented to the public are vastly less rigid than elsewhere in the world, which means that Cleanflicks can use this gray-area loophole to render prosecution murky… so far.

It hasn’t helped matters that the DGA is constrained by a (comparitively) limited amount of member-contributed funds and by the edict to keep things like this quiet and low-key. Litigating a philosophical and political opponent into submission over legal nuance can make you look like a bully, even when you’re in the right like the DGA certainly is. THIS, in other words, is a job for another sort of plaintiff. Y’know, like an obsessive self-financed millionaire/maverick/nut-bunny/zealot. One of those would do GREAT…

…enter you-know-who.

Mel’s “Passion,” you might recall, is a pretty damn violent movie. The christian-right critics, you might recall, put their usual disdain for Hollywood bloodletting on hold for the film because they valued it’s potential as a recruiting vehicle. Gibson, you might recall, made some pretty friendly gestures in their direction, and they in his.

And then Ray Lines and Cleanflicks performed one of the dissections on “Passion.” And Mel Gibson found out. And he wasn’t happy. How unhappy?

He’s SUING THEM. To make them stop cutting his movie and infringing on his copyright. And if he’s successful, it’s judgement-day for Cleanflicks. Remember: If Mel stops Cleanflicks from cutting HIS movie, anyone else can run with the same suit from the same angle, it’s called precedent.

I have three things to say about this.

1.) My review of “Passion” still stands. I still find it to be anti-semetic, homoerotic torture porn, and not a well made equivalent thereof to boot. I also still find Gibson to be getting progressively creepier. BUT he’s still otherwise a good filmmaker and actor who’s made a number of movies I’ve liked, and in this issue he’s RIGHT.

2.) The one thing you can say about Gibson and Ray Lines is that both are, at least, men of their word. Unlike the other religious critics, Lines isn’t flipping on “Passion” just because it’s a Jesus movie, he’s treating it with the same rusty chainsaw he treats every other film with. And Gibson isn’t going soft on Cleanflicks just because they share lots of buddies in the christian extremist camp.

3.) This begs the question: Who will Brent Bozell, James Dobson, etc. support? They can’t be on both sides of this, their going to have to pick one or the other. Do they back up the filmmaker who made the Jesus movie they adored, or the film editor who takes the knife to the GOOD movies they hated? So far they aren’t talking.

THIS will be one to watch.

REVIEW: Walk The Line

Somewhere out there, in the annals of recent musical history, there has to be a megastar singer with a different life story than this. Someone who’s music is just as legendary as Johnny Cash, who’s circumstances were just as unusual as Ray Charles… and yet who’s life didn’t follow this same rigid, mythic arc of “rotten childhood, meteoric rise, drug-addiction, rescue-by-love-of-one-true-love.” The question is, do we really WANT to hear it?

What I mean is, isn’t the reason we keep telling THIS true story, over and over with new real-life people, that it’s the story we WANT to hear? It’s reassuring, I think, to hear that those posessed of a creative genius that most of us could only dream of having will have to suffer psychologically in order to maintain it… that true love and family are ultimately more worthy and fulfilling than the artistic fulfillment they had sought before. Isn’t this the same appeal that celebrity-glamour-stripping reality TV has? Isn’t this what Ayn Rand was talking about… the instinctive need for the average-and-below masses to see their above average “superiors” (of intellect, of art, of athletics, of whatever…) dragged down to their level rather than working to make themselves among the superior?

Or it could also be that the story keeps working. It worked in “Ray” and it certainly works here. In telling the story of Johnny Cash’s rise, fall and rise, “Walk The Line” does more or less play as “The Redneck ‘Ray”, but that doesn’t make it an unworthy movie.

As I said above, the story you already know: Johnny Cash (Joaquin Pheonix) grows up dirt-poor with a hard-drinkin’ daddy and a superhumanly loving mama. He’s got a beloved brother who’s early death haunts and traumatizes him, just like Elvis and Ray. He forges a new sound in the early days of rock, meets his childhood dream girl in June Carter (Reese Witherspoon), wrecks his own marriage, pushes too far, gets into drugs, falls all the way down and then gets dragged back to life. In between this, he performs famous songs and meets famous people, (Elvis, Waylon Jennings, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and others pop up in cameo) and the movie-proper caps off with Cash’s famous live performance at Folsom prison.

Yes, originality was Cash’s strong suit… not so much so this movie’s. The actors are in charge of carrying it, and they prove up to the task. Pheonix and Witherspoon strike a proper chemistry, and that they do their own singing is an impressive feat. Their turns are the kind that tend to (and should, really) dominate the film, but they get backup in a big way from Robert Patrick as Cash’s dissaproving father.

In a way, Patrick’s performance grounds the film in a kind of greater reality than it would otherwise have. The dad-who-doesn’t-understand is a mandatory trope of the rise-of-a-genius movie, but “Walk” takes a different approach than normal: It’s important that, while Cash’s father is indeed abusive, he’s not evil and also not without a certain perspective. His biting, laconic critiques of his son are harsh-as-intended, but he’s seldom actually “wrong.” Late in the film, when he returns one of Johnny’s assaults on his drinking days, he rightly points out that he gave alcohol up while Johnny is still a drug addict. By the end, it can be inferred that the two men have come to undestand eachother, instead of the expected “you were right, son.”

It helps to be a fan of Cash’s music to get into the film full-bore, but beyond that it works as more than just another rock biopic. I’m reccomeding it.


REVIEW: Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire

I like the “Harry Potter” movies.

I liked this “Harry Potter” movie.

But I need to be a pill for just a minute and pose a bit of a geek-question about the whole thing, okay? Okay…

Thus far, every “Potter” film has broken down as follows: Harry comes to Hogwarts amid some kind of brewing unseemliness. The adult cast is fully aware that said unseemliness has everything to do with him, but allows him to blunder through it on his own anyway. Eventually, mysteries are solved, re-emerging peices of the evil entity to which Harry owes his fame are revealed, and Harry learns a new scrap of his own backstory… which apparently the entire adult cast is fully aware of but remains a traumatizing mystery to him.

So here’s my question: After four years of this now, is it too much to ask for someone at Hogwarts to sit this poor kid down and just tell him everything and everyone he might need to know about in regards to Voldemort, his parents and everything else? So that maybe he DOESN’T have to nearly get himself killed the next time some new face with important connections to him shows up and starts to stir things up? Or at least let him Lexis-Nexis search “voldemort” on the crystal ball? Just asking.

But whatever. Here we go again, having now reached the midpoint of what’s beginning to feel like the theatrical equivalent of a comfortably-entrenched TV show. This year’s A-plot: Hogwarts is playing host to the Triwizard Tournament, a spellcasting olympics, and Harry finds himself drafted without having signed up to play. This year’s B-plot: The kids are growing up, Harry’s stealing glances at girls, Hermoine is suddenly intimidating her male pals in an entirely new way and Ron Weasley is becoming aware of how Jimmy Olsen must feel. This year’s new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher: Mad-Eye Moody (Brendan Gleeson,) a half-bionic, half-mad hardcase. This year’s continuation of the Big Arc: Voldemort is back in flesh-and-blood, played by Ralph Feinnes and looking like a “Close Encounters” alien in a black robe.

Dropped in among the usual action scenes, wacky background magic and spellcasting is a bulky middle third that mines to amusing effect the juxtaposition of Hogwart’s fantasy realm with the teenaged romance themes of John Hughes-style comedies. Racing dragons and fighting Voldemort is easy… compared to asking a girl to the dance! Har har har. You can see where this is all going, which is part of the point of doing these gags, but they work because the cast sells it and, yes, after four films worth of character building the series has earned the right to go to the “it’s cut because so-and-so is dancing with such-and-such” well.

With so much attention on teen angst this go-around, the series’ reliable cast of British character-acting giants gets largely pushed to the margins, but they’re still having their fun: Gary Oldman’s Sirius Black gets only a cameo, but in circumstances that render it singularly odd even among Gary Oldman cameos. And Alan Rickman’s Professor Snape, previously best used for acid-tongued rebuking of the younger cast, has less to say but stars in a standout scene of physical comedy.

The bottom line is, the series still works, and it may even still be getting better. You like “Harry Potter,” you’re going to like this.


REVIEW: Zathura

This past weekend, Americans (that would be most of you, though Sitemeter helpfully informs me that a good deal of my visitors are from Europe and Asia, nifty!) largely overlooked to mega-hyped 50 Cent epic “Get Rich or Die Tryin”, allowing it to open pathetically in 4th place. An explanation has not been found for this, but from where I sit it suggests a dangerous dip in our national surplus of suburban white teens looking to tee off mom and dad. Making a surprising STRONG showing, despite a (relatively) smaller advertising campaign, was “Zathura,” a vibrantly clever and joyfully geeked-out family/scifi adventure.

Well done, guys.

“Zathura” has been touted as a followup (more like thematic cousin, really) to “Jumanji,” a functional but unremarkable FX showcase starring Robin Williams you might remember from a few years back. Both were based on Chris Van Allsburg books, and they share the same basic setup: Children discover an enchanted (cursed?) board game which, when played, causes it’s “imaginary” perils to manifest into reality. “Jumanji,” you’ll recall, conjured up the animal-and-otherwise threats of a 30s-style jungle adventure serial; while “Zathura” throws it’s players into a circa-1950s pulp-scifi space quest. “Zathura” is the superior film.

The heroes here are a pair of kids, one older, bitter and sports-obsessed; the other younger, energetic and imaginative. They don’t get along in the usual fightin-brothers way, and the older boy can just barely conceal the fact that he blames everything wrong with his life on the existence of his brother… including the divorce of their parents. Home alone save for a snoozing older sister, the littler bro finds “Zathura” and harraunges big bro into a game. Apparently too young to have seen “Jumanji,” both are surprised when the house blasts off for deep space and they are assaulted by meteors, black holes, robots and, yes, a race of man-eating alien lizards. There’s also a rescued astronaut and some ultra Star Trek-ish business about “time sphincters.”

I live for this stuff.

The film just works, nose-to-toes, as a series of good decisions adding up to a whole: The WHOLE story plays out from the perspective (and usually the eye-level as well) of it’s young leads, capable actors who REALLY seem to be the age they’re playing. There’s no winking pop-cultural nods, no inside jokes or “older” humor dropped in for the grownups. The FX, while up to snuff, are used to achieve a gorgeously archaic representation of “the future” as imagined pre-NASA. The bad guys, including the killer robot and space-pirate reptilian “Zorgons,” are GREAT looking monsters and come off as a real menace… especially for a pair of kids.

It doesn’t FORCE it’s message of brotherly love, in fact it doesn’t force much of anything at all. It just goes about it’s way at the leisurely-rapid pace of a Disneyland roller coaster, supremely confident in the knowledge that as long as there are little boys there will always be a need for slimey aliens, jet-packs and deadly (but not TOO deadly) meteor showers.

There can now be very little doubt that Jon Favreau is the real deal as a director. He’s currently getting a good going-over under the geek culture microscope as the latest would-be director of the Mars-based “John Carter” adaptation, a job which “Zathura” seems to emminently qualify him for.

Get out there, see this movie and take the kids.


REVIEW: Chicken Little (2005)

The most interesting thing about “Chicken Little” are the circumstances of it’s release and inception. When an animated children’s film not only features a full-scale alien invasion, a baseball game and the inspired vocal-casting of Don Knotts as a turkey politician, that the Variety B-stories about the dealmaking of it’s producers are of greater interest is a sign of serious malfunction.

In any case, the backstory here has been the how and the why of this property’s journey from odd, jokey little project to Disney’s megahyped and ballyhooed attempt to “prove” their ability to survive if and when the Pixar animation company strikes out on it’s own. Now that the film can be seen, the results are indeed of some intrigue: Disney’s solution to the problem of “how do we equal Pixar?” turns out to be… “we don’t. Instead, we aim a little lower and just try to be “Shrek.”

Honestly, aping Dreamworks Animation’s VH1-ready cash-cow is more the Mouse House’s speed at this point. The richness of story and character that Pixar is fueled by is an abstract, whereas “name-actor voicecast, top-40 pop tunes, winking jokes for the grownups” is something they can quantify numerically. Trouble is, for all their little irritations (reality TV humor, Ricky Martin tracks, etc.) the “Shrek” cycle so far has had a real humanity and sense of depth to it and Disney’s films, for years now, have not. “Chicken Little” is no exception.

Storywise, the film is an almost surgically-precise gutting and reversing of the fable for which it’s named. You’ll recall that the story of Chicken Little involves a titular character who whips his animal friends into a frenzy in the belief that “the sky is falling,” which leads to disaster. The moral is one of temperance and reason, a warning to it’s young audience to be both wary of overreager doomsayers and careful not to become one themselves. There’s not much room in there, of course, for Disney’s mandatory slapstick and PC message-mongering, of course, so it had to go…

The movie’s story goes like this: Chicken Little turns his town of Oakey Oaks upside down with his emergency warning that the sky is falling, but when no evidence is found to support him he becomes a ridiculed outcast. The hook (initially not a bad one at that) is that CL might be able to deal with this status, as we’re told he was among the “nerd” set at school to begin with, but the fact that his father Buck Cluck did not rise in his support has crippled the poor kid’s confidence and filled him with zeal to win back his father’s affection. Complicating matters is that CL’s mother has recently passed away, and the two men have been unable to fill the emotional gap a wife and mother’s absence has left them. CL’s pal Abby “Ugly Duckling” Mallard, a devotee of pop-psychobabble, “knows” that all will be solved if Buck and CL just open up to one another but… y’know, their men.

“You need to get closure” is hardly a quest to hang a movie on, granted, but this is at least character-oriented storytelling, so it’ll do for a start. CL opts for the quick-fix of impressing his father, a former baseball champ, by joining the team himself. This works, in that it gets the two men talking… about baseball, yes, but at least talking. But then… another peice of the sky falls, and it looks like it’s got friends. Thus begins a “surprise third act twist” thats been spoiled for you by all the trailers: The sky is falling, and it’s the precursor to an alien invasion. Would this, I wonder, be the sort of circumstances that could… oh, I dunno… finally get CL and Buck to get “closure?” Cuz that would be sumthin’…

It’s not a full loss. Some of the comedy works, and CL’s troupe of friends in Abby, Runt and Fish-Out-Of-Water (read: geeky girl, fat kid, foreign kid, get it?) have their moments and theres cute touches going on in the art design (Buck and CL live in a two-story house… with a chicken-wire fence and sheet-metal roof) but theres not much to hold your interest. The gags aren’t THAT funny, the character aren’t very fleshed out… all the usual Disney issues of late. I wound up concentrating on the little things, like the novelty of the film’s nominal non-alien baddie, a bully named Foxy Loxy, being a girl; or the sweet-natured evolution of Abby’s romantic designs on CL (which he is, of course, oblivious to… or is he?)

But taken as a whole, it doesn’t add up. This is a collection is sketches, vignettes and half-formed ideas, not a movie.