They don’t call them the dog days for nothing. Blockbusters are all behind us. Here’s what’s before us.
The Switch. Thin-ice romantic comedy tolerable only insofar as you can tolerate the greased wheels of contrivance as a source of entertainment in itself. The filmmakers, co-directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck and screenwriter Allan Loeb, first must contrive an explanation as to why a couple of comely heterosexuals of opposite sexes can be BFFs but strictly platonic, and along with that an explanation of why even the man’s sperm is deemed unsuitable when the woman, mid-thirties, elects to take the route of artificial insemination to her dream state of single motherhood. Next they must contrive a way for him, without sacrificing all sympathy, to substitute his own sperm for that of the chosen donor, a blond Adonis who teaches Feminist Literature at Columbia University. (Sexual stimulation from Diane Sawyer on the cover of New York magazine more than justifies this particular contrivance.) And along with that they must contrive to erase from his memory all trace of his deception. Then they must contrive a seven-year absence at the end of which time neither of the principal parties will be entangled in a relationship, and they must contrive to transmute the presumed father, married at the time of his donation, into an available romantic rival. And they must also contrive the actual biological father’s recovery of his memory yet postponement of his confession. There’s more.
You have to admire it on some level and to some degree. Not least for sustaining a fluffiness that won’t overstress the thin ice. (Nor least for ruffling Bill O’Reilly on the subject of nontraditional families.) Jennifer Aniston, looking a bit facelifty, a bit packed and pursed, inhabits her customary realm well above comic competence, a shade below bona fide charm. But she, for all that, resignedly plays second fiddle to a blossoming Jason Bateman, dry in addition to light as the neurotic, pessimistic, hypochondriacal Gloomy Gus, a romantic antihero, who has passed along his entire mental complex, undiluted, to his sullen little son. (Too-cute hobby: collecting picture frames in order to make up “family” stories about the photographic models prepackaged therein.) Juliette Lewis and Jeff Goldblum, no sweat, shoulder the featherweight responsibilities of respective female and male confidants.
Mesrine: Killer Instinct. Long chronology of very violent criminal activity, reaching back (for possible extenuating circumstances) to Algeria in 1959, a half appalling, half gloating, four-fifths unconvincing biography of France’s Most Wanted. Directed by Jean-François Richet (of the Assault on Precinct 13 remake), it starts badly, with an unchronological credits sequence of pointlessly tricksy split-screen effects to avoid any tough editing decisions (in matching side-by-side shots, the foreground figure is in focus and the background figure out of focus, while next to it the same foreground figure is out of focus and same background figure is in), and it doesn’t really end, simply stops, to be continued in Mesrine: Public Enemy No. 1. Kind of like Kill Bill. The interminable in-between is slick and sensationalistic (“Mommy!” cries little baby Bruno as Daddy inserts a gun in her mouth), and played with relish, and with mustard, by Vincent Cassel. Whether his hair in the credits sequence, not to mention Ludivine Sagnier’s, is supposed to be hilariously in period or a ludicrous disguise will have to await clarification in Part Two.
Lebanon. Sledgehammer antiwar film from the claustrophobic confines of an Israeli tank at the start of the Lebanon War, 1982. The noise and vibration of the machine in motion are horrific, the sweat and piss (copious excretions of the four occupants) can just about be smelled, and the gunsight provides, through its crosshairs, telephoto views of constant pitiful appeals from the world outside: an innocent chicken peddler crying “Peace! Peace!” after his arms and legs have been blown off, a reproduction of Madonna and Child askew on the wall of a bombarded private home. Every now and then the infantry commander, commandingly played by Zohar Shtrauss (if I caught his name correctly), drops through the hatch of the tank to breathe some strength into his men and into the movie. The first-hand experience of the war by writer and director Samuel Maoz gives him the unquestioned weight of authority, and he freely throws it around.
The Last Exorcism. Pseudodocumentary horror in the Blair Witch tradition, far below the high-water mark of Cloverfield and even the not as high one of Paranormal Activity, the premise of which has a fast-talking, Bible-thumping charlatan (Patrick Fabian) intending to “expose exorcism for the scam it really is” but encountering, with a film crew in tow, more than he bargained for in backwoods Louisiana. The digital Unsteadi-Cam of director Daniel Stamm increases the role of chance and accident in the generation of frights, or in other words decreases the actual production of frights, at the same time as it increases the probability of mere annoyances. The ending ascends to a climax of complete exasperation. Ashley Bell as the possessed girl shows a nice range from demure young lady to convulsive contortionist.
Piranha. Underwater earthquake releases computer-generated prehistoric caribe by the thousands into Lake Victoria, AZ, during Spring Break. In 3-D, to add a certain je ne sais quoi to the projectile vomit, the surgically enhanced hooters, the severed penis, etc. Well, it’s a living. If this is living. (Alexandre Aja, director. Elisabeth Shue, top-billed.) Richard Dreyfuss is around only long enough to remind us of Jaws, unwisely.
Vampires Suck. Jason Friedberg’s and Aaron Seltzer’s spoof of the Twilight series, solely for those who need remedial help in seeing its silliness. Anyone else would get more snickers out of the straight version. More, that is, than none.
Nanny McPhee Returns. I didn’t.
One of the year’s better films, The Square, is evidently now out on DVD, because it will be shown next Monday evening, 6:30, at the downtown public library, where you can see it for free. ■