Squeezed between the Latino film festival and the NCAA basketball tournament:
Shooter. A new Rambo for a new millennium. Marine Gunnery Sergeant Bob Lee Swagger (a compact, tense, stoic, unswaggering Mark Wahlberg), already abandoned once in the field in Ethiopia, is lured out of mountaintop retirement ostensibly to use his sniper know-how to foil a plot to assassinate the President but in reality to be fitted for a frame. The film, slickly fashioned by Antoine Fuqua, feeds off contradictory pieties of post-9/11: the righteousness of the fighting man (Support Our Troops) and the rottenness of the government (Bring Our Troops Home). "Don't really like the President much," the taciturn hero volunteers, and then broadening the political point, "Didn't like the one before him much, either." (Grunts, good; Commanders-in-Chief, bad.) The frightening efficiency, nay, invincibility, of the fighting man is liable to rally less consensus; and as our One-Man Army mows down more foes than you've got fingers and toes, he taxes your credulity if not your patience: two busy hours, action-packed, -crammed, -laden, -clogged. Still, there's sufficient pause for good character bits from Levon Helm as a bluegrass gunsmith and Ned Beatty as a Senatorial slimeball, and there's strong steady support from Michael Peña as a disarmed and disgraced FBI rookie who doggedly stays on the hunt and, alone among his colleagues, gets a clue.
Premonition. Time-tripping thriller wherein a normal, average, earthbound housewife and mother, whose parenting skills seem to consist solely of addressing her two daughters as "Baby," wakes up on alternate days to find that her husband is dead, not yet dead, again dead, not yet dead, and so forth. "Something," she intuits, "is seriously fucked up with this situation." At one point, she attempts to sort out the scrambled events on a hand-drawn calendar grid, but this doesn't clear up all confusion. Key question: will her advance knowledge of the fatal car crash allow her somehow to prevent it? Next question: will her additional knowledge of her husband's amorous dalliance at the office prevent her from wanting to prevent it? Your curiosity may be aroused (if never satisfied), but just as likely it may not. One potential impediment is Sandra Bullock's strange sedation, and another is director Mennan Yapo's preference for romantic goop over psychic tingle.
I Think I Love My Wife. Into a complacent marriage comes temptation, the wet-lipped Kerry Washington, a Platonic old friend with vertiginous décolletage. Chris Rock is the star, albeit no actor, and he's also the director and co-writer, nominally inspired by the last of Eric Rohmer's "Six Moral Tales," Chloe in the Afternoon, 1972. (The "Fin" in place of "The End" is perhaps the strongest evidence.) The first-person narration, however, sets the tone closer to a stand-up routine: "Going to the Auto Show and looking at the minivans was like going to the strip club and looking at the deejay," rat-a-tat. And even as the torrent of voice-over tapers off, whatever is left on screen seems mere illustration of a comic monologue, mere visual embellishment. Somehow the toil of "dramatic re-enactment" takes the edge off the individual voice, dulls it.
Reign over Me. Adam Sandler drama, maybe "dramedy," definitely not comedy, stretching the comedian in the role of a 9/11 widower with PTSD, an impudent excuse for him to act like a Problem Child, hanging his Dylan-haired head, ignoring direct questions, immersing himself in video games, hiding inside his headphones, banging on a set of drums, throwing public tantrums, distracting attention from the more involving troubles and better performance of Don Cheadle as an old dental-school roommate, all to the purpose of putting off the dreaded moment of "opening up" and turning on the waterworks. Writer-director Mike Binder, intent on not making the struggle easy, succeeds in making it tedious.
Pride. Sports pep fest, or pap fest, centered around the new employee at the obsolete rec center, a former college athlete who whips the young neighborhood layabouts into a competitive swim team, and rewrites the acronym PDR from Philadelphia Department of Recreation to "Pride, Determination, Resilience." Terrence Howard, playing a real man named Jim Ellis, pitches the message very hard, but the rah-rah roteness teaches nothing so much as embarrassment.
The Namesake. Soggy, sloggy family saga, adapted from the novel by Jhumpa Lahiri, spanning from Calcutta 1977 to New York City present day, and for the title figure, christened Gogol after the 19th-century Russian writer, spanning from mere gleam-in-the-eye to aspiring architect, engagement-breaker, husband and then cuckold. The passage of time, so effortless on the page, is rather a strain on the cast, although Irrfan Khan and Tabu as the father and mother handle it better than the young and younger actors who, at different times, play the protagonist and his eventual bride. (Inasmuch as I never saw Kal Penn in Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, Van Wilder, or Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj, I could be neither distracted nor amazed by his "serious" turn in the central role.) All of the main characters are decently individualized, but the meat-and-potatoes theme, or possibly curry-and-rice theme, of Indian traditionalism vs. progressivism, especially as regards choosing a mate, drags them into the commonplace. Director Mira Nair has trod this ground before, in Monsoon Wedding, with a livelier step.
Color Me Kubrick. "A true...ish story" about a British con man, name of Alan Conway, whose gimmick of passing himself off as the reclusive director of 2001, A Clockwork Orange, Dr. Strangelove, etc., proved to be an effective method of cadging drinks, cruising gay bedmates, eliciting cash. At any rate it proved effective until he tried passing himself off to the then New York Times drama critic, Frank Rich, after which the net tightened. John Malkovich, not quite trusting the inherent funniness of the situation, seeks to punch it up with funny voices and funny pants and funny hats, the vaudevillian's stock-in-trade. These devices tend to raise your doubts more than your spirits. Jim Davidson, however, looking rather like a blond William Shatner (past-prime but pre-grotesque), helps greatly with the funniness as a self-deluding singer-comedian who believes that this "Kubrick" will pave the way to Vegas. We can measure the delusion for ourselves in his rendition of "Viva Las Vegas," the barrel-chested belter padding flat-footed across the stage as if over thin ice. Director Brian Cook and screenwriter Anthony Frewin, both long-time assistants to the real Kubrick, see to it that the film buff is well fed (the faux-Kubrick will be accompanied by the opening strains of Also Sprach Zarathustra on a half-block walk to the laundromat, past the Bleu Danube bar), but there's little to be gained from this diet beyond a fat head.