Kevin Carr’s Weekly Report Card: August 27, 2010

This week, Fat Guy Kevin Carr puts on his preachin’ suit and heads out to the multiplex to exorcise the demons of bad movies. Sadly, this won’t be the last exorcism of this kind because January and February are just around the corner. In the wake of the money grab re-release of Avatar: The Big Blue Sex Scene Edition, Kevin takes aim at Takers and The Last Exorcism.

Want to hear what Kevin has to say on the Fat Guys at the Movies podcast? Take a listen below as Kevin and special guest Tim Buel from The Golden Briefcase meet up in the Magical Studio in the Sky to take a look at this week’s slate of new releases.

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Studio: Screen GemsTakers

Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, a sexual situation/partial nudity and some language

Starring: Matt Dillon, Paul Walker, Idris Elba, Jay Hernandez and Tip “T.I.” Harris

Directed by: John Luessenhop

What it’s about: A group of high-end criminals are tempted into a big armored car heist with a former partner who has just gotten out of the joint. As they plan this too-good-to-be-true robbery, an overly-zealous detective and his partner start putting together a case against them.

What I liked: It is at times like these that I often throw out a pithy comment like, “It was in focus.” But this isn’t even the case with Takers. Sure, the cinematography isn’t impossibly bad, but it isn’t actually in focus all the time.

I will say that there are some decent action scenes, including the actual robbery of the armored car and a neat foot chase that overstays its welcome but had a bit of excitement to it. Sadly, the normally compelling Zoe Saldana could have raised the appeal of the film… if she were in it for more than three minutes. Maybe she was afraid she’d get bitch-slapped by Chris Brown and split the set.

What I didn’t: Almost every part of this film fails to achieve what it attempts. The biggest attempt is to make a kick-ass heist movie, something like a hipper version of Oceans Eleven. And while the elements are there – an ensemble cast, an impossible heist, a complex plan – it never quite comes together. Part of this is because the guys planning the heist leave so much to chance, hope and luck (e.g., in their first heist of the film, they hijack a news helicopter as their only means of escape).

And the said ensemble cast just isn’t up to snuff. I don’t have a problem with Idris Elba or Michael Ealy or even Matt Dillon. But when you round out your roster with Paul Walker and Hayden Christensen, you’re not exactly employing a powerhouse cast. Then the biggest name of them all, Zoe Saldana, is given a forgettable and scant part. With a team this big, there’s no main character and no focus. I suppose that’s okay since no one in the movie is likeable in the least. And don’t get me started on rapper-turned-actor/producer T.I., whose acting is as irritating as a UTI.

Finally, the cinematography is overdone to the point of Paul Greengrass. The shots shake around like a drunk epileptic is behind the lens. Seriously, The Last Exorcism has a steadier hand behind it.

Who is gonna like this movie: Fans of the stars of the film and anyone who can stomach a low-rent Oceans rip-off.

Grade: D+

Studio: Lionsgate The Last Exorcism

Rated: PG-13 for disturbing violent content and terror, some sexual references and thematic material

Starring: Patrick Fabian, Iris Bahr, Louis Herthum, Ashley Bell and Jamie Alyson Caudle

Directed by: Daniel Stamm

What it’s about: Reverend Cotton Marcus has been performing exorcisms since he became a preacher as a child. But now he wants to expose the fraud of the modern exorcism by taking a documentary crew with him along for the ride. However, when he visits a teenage farmer’s daughter who is supposedly possessed by the Devil, he uncovers some scary truths.

What I liked: I’ve been a big fan of demonic possession movies and general 70s-era demon movies (including The Exorcist and The Omen), so naturally I was drawn to this movie. Of course, we’re going over a lot of familiar territory with a girl who is possessed and a man of faith struggling with his own beliefs as the protagonist. However, the found footage approach to this movie gave it a bit of a unique spin. And with the popularity of television shows like Ghost Hunters, this documentary style lent itself to the realism.

There’s a lot more going on in this film that just a preacher and a possessed kid. There’s an examination of modern evangelical Christianity, there’s a look at the history of demonic possession and there’s a more human angle as the characters start to find themselves in a dangerous situation.

Like last year’s Paranormal Activity, this is a slow burn with minimal special effects and only a tad too much digital manipulation. But on the whole, it works as a documentary POV film even better than something like The Blair Witch Project, to which I’ve heard this film compared several times.

About 60% of what this film does works perfectly. It builds suspense. It has plenty of jump moments. It also gives a fantastic sense of foreboding, and there are some genuinely creepy and scary scenes. Another 25% of the film is done well enough but has a certain amateur feel to it. That leaves only 10% that doesn’t quite work. And those are better numbers than what you’d have for many other releases.

What I didn’t: I can’t go into too much detail about which parts of the film comprise that 10% that doesn’t quite work, especially since a good chunk of that comes in the movie’s payoff. Let’s just say that the movie ends up violating its own novelty a bit, but it’s not really a cop out or anything.

The only other problems come when the film paints itself in the corner and has to make certain artistic choices that aren’t the best so it doesn’t come off as being imitative. In particular, when the demon speaks through the girl, you expect a gravely, ominous voice… but in doing so, you’d end up with a rip-off of Mercedes McCambridge’s brilliant demon voice from The Exorcist. What they end up with works, and it’s not imitative… but it’s also not as scary as it could have been.

Who is gonna like this movie: People who want to be scared.

Grade: B+

Want to see what Kevin had to say about these films on TV? Click here to check out his interview on FOX…

Kevin Carr crawled from the primordial ooze in the early 1970s. He grew up watching movies to the point of irritation for his friends and was a font of useless movie knowledge until he decided to put that knowledge to good use. Now, Kevin is a nationally syndicated critic, heard on dozens of radio stations around the country, and his reviews appear in a variety of online outlets. Kevin is also a proud member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Central Ohio Film Critics Association (COFCA).

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