Kevin Carr’s Weekly Report Card: July 29, 2011

This week, Fat Guy Kevin Carr runs screaming from little blue people invading his life and seeks refuge in the old west, hoping that James Bond and Indiana Jones will protect him. When he returns home, he has a fight with his wife and uses the events of Crazy, Stupid, Love to put his relationship back together. What a godsend Hollywood can be for marriage woes. Finally, Kevin curls up for a long nap after an exhausting summer movie season with many more arrests than he ever thought he’d incur.

Want to hear what Kevin has to say on the Fat Guys at the Movies podcast? Click here to listen as Dame Elisabeth Rappe joins him in the Magical Studio in the Sky.

Studio: Universal

Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of western and sci-fi action and violence, some partial nudity and a brief crude reference

Starring: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell and Adam Beach

Directed by: Jon Favreau

What it’s about: Based on a graphic novel, Iron Man director Jon Favreau takes charge of this mash-up of westerns and science fiction. Daniel Craig plays Jake Lonergan, a man who wakes up in the middle of the desert with no memory of how he got there. After Lonergan finds his way back into town, mysterious ships descend on main street and abduct anyone in the open. Lonergan then teams up with the acerbic Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) to track down the things behind the abduction and save his town.

What I liked: With a name like Cowboys & Aliens, this is one of the most accurately named films of the summer. It also has the potential to be fantastic or terrible. On the whole, I think Favreau did a fine job putting things together, if you can go with the old-school western feel. I’m not talking about post-Unforgiven westerns that contemplate morality and redemption. I’m talking about older westerns that featured simple stories about steely-eyed strangers coming to town to defeat the bad guys. In this film, the bad guys just happen to be aliens.

The film felt very similar in tone and pacing to me as both Iron Man films did. It has its slow moments – especially in the middle – and it has some great action sequences. It was fun to watch, if you enjoy both westerns and sci-fi.

The cast is fun, with Craig and Ford playing stock characters but doing it well. And then there’s Olivia Wilde, who is very easy on the eyes and holds her own, though as an actor she’s not necessarily as iconic as her co-stars.

In the end, I enjoyed Cowboys & Aliens for the scope, the feel and the action. It’s not perfect, but you could do worse than this as your cap tot he big summer movies of 2011.

What I didn’t: It’s hard to make any movie without falling into cliche territory, and dealing with a double-genre mash-up like this, it’s pretty much impossible to do so. Some of the cliches (like the mysterious stranger and the romance with a prostitute with a heart of gold) seem to be thrown in deliberately to pay homage to the genre. However, others (like a kid and a dog coming along for the ride) just seemed to be thrown in for cheap marketing to a younger audience.

Of course, I never read the original books, so there is the possibility that Favreau was just staying true to his source material.

Still, once I made it through the plot slump in the middle of the film, which is tedious at points, I enjoyed the ending.

Who is gonna like this movie: People who like both western and sci-fi genres but weren’t too excited for this movie to get overhyped about it.

Grade: B+

Studio: Warner Bros.

Rated: PG-13 for coarse humor, sexual content and language

Starring: Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone and Marisa Tomei

Directed by: John Requa and Glenn Ficarra

What it’s about: Cal (Steve Carell) and Emily (Julianne Moore) are a middle-aged couple getting a divorce. When he moves out, Cal befriends Jacob (Ryan Gosling), a young playboy who teaches him the ways of dating women. However, Cal still believes that Emily is his soul mate, and he still wants to reconcile. Meanwhile, Cal’s son has relationship issues of his own, namely that he’s in love with his babysitter four years his senior.

What I liked: There are some funny moments in this film. Too bad most of them are in the trailer.

What I didn’t: Crazy, Stupid, Love is one of those films, which we’ve had a lot of lately, that tries to redefine the romantic comedy genre. Instead of following a single couple with the world keeping them apart, it focuses on a middle-aged man trying to get his life straight. In this way, it reminds me of Dan in Real Life, in which Carell plays a very similar character only with more sex for him and a dead wife instead of a soon-to-be-divorced one.

Like last week’s Friends with Benefits, Crazy, Stupid, Love tries to be a different rom com but ultimately becomes a bigger cliche than the films it’s distancing itself from. In particular, this movie is overwritten with forced scenes that feel half-baked or overly contrived. It tries to be like last year’s Valentine’s Day but could only muster three stories instead of the dozen or so in that film. The characters are all whiney little girls with no gumption and no dignity, and I felt nothing for any of them.

But the greatest sin that Crazy, Stupid, Love commits is it preaches incessantly at the audience about true love and soul mates. Now, I’m all for optimism in relationships, but when Hollywood – which is notorious for cranking out dysfunctional, abusive, fleeting and sometimes dangerous relationships – preaches at me about these concepts, I lose my patients.

Who is gonna like this movie: People who don’t want to see the typical rom com but end up wanting to see a more-than-typical rom com.

Grade: D+

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Rated: PG for some mild rude humor and action

Starring: Hank Azaria, Neil Patrick Harris, Jayma Mays and Sofia Vergara

Directed by: Raja Gosnell

What it’s about: When the Smurfs – a group of tiny blue creatures living in a mushroom village – accidentally travel to New York while being chased by the evil wizard Gargamel, they find themselves trapped. If they don’t open the portal back home before the window of opportunity passes, they’ll be stuck in our world forever.

What I liked: I was in grade school when the Smurfs cartoon started airing, so there’s quite a bit of nostalgia in the source material for me. I was actually okay with the CGI Smurfs, the goofy version of Azreal the Cat, the weird prosthetics on Hank Azaria as Gargamel and the unending use of the word “smurf” to mean… well, almost anything.

So the first fifteen minutes of the movie were actually kind of enjoyable for me. It was cute, and it brought to life these characters I had followed on Saturday mornings 30 years ago. And Hank Azaria, who always gives a great performance, was pretty fun to watch. However, because Hollywood has a hard time making a movie that emulates its source material, things got bad soon…

What I didn’t: Why is it that moviemakers always think they have to improve a property when bringing it to the big screen. What would have been so horrible about an entire film in the magical world of the Smurfs? Why couldn’t we just stay in the mushroom village?

No, we had to move to New York. Like so many other films, in a feeble attempt to modernize a story and make it relateable to people, it goes to the big city. Here’s where the entire thing falls apart, resorting to cheap jokes with Smurfs falling in the toilet and hiding out in FAO Schwartz.

It is these NYC moments were the film completely unravels. Rather than telling the story, the film becomes a loosely-assembled string of scenes that don’t really flow or even make sense from one to another. And yes, what summertime marketing blitz would be complete without a Guitar Hero scene?

In the end, this movie wasn’t good. In fact, it was a steaming pile of smurf.

Who is gonna like this movie: Kids six and under.

Grade: D

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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