Cooling trend.... Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Tim Burton's consolation prize for losing out on the Lemony Snicket concession (surely that had his name written on it), is a remake of the fractured fairy tale by Roald Dahl, a spindly little framework freighted with production values, CG imagery, and dark dense bordello color, like some scrawny four-foot scrub of a Christmas tree adorned with enough ornaments, lights, and tinsel for Rockefeller Center. (Proposed name change: Tim Burden.) The plot premise seems to combine the theme park and the reality show: an elimination game in Candy Land. Five lucky children, all of them horrid but one, win an opportunity to tour Willy Wonka's top-secret chocolate factory, in competition for an unspecified Grand Prize. Every time one of the horrid ones is bounced out (by some nonlethal but nauseating method), a chorus line of Munchkin-like midgets known as the Oompa Loompas comes out and does a musical number, combining Busby Berkeley and David Lynch. Further combinations: the reclusive chocolatier, in Johnny Depp's peculiar rendition, combines Mr. Rogers (mincing cadence) and Michael Jackson (pancake makeup), among others; and the titular little hero, the truly adorable Freddie Highmore, who played opposite Depp in Finding Neverland as well, combines Tiny Tim (poverty-line pathos) and perhaps Frodo the Hobbit (rodenty cuteness). All of these combinations and others (the "teleportation" of a candy bar into a TV set combines 2001 and The Fly, more specifically the sixtieth humorous usage of the opening notes of Also Sprach Zarathustra and the fortieth humorous usage of a high-pitched "Help me!") pile up, two by two, to produce an unsubsiding groan, arising either from the overtaxed framework or the overtaxed viewer. Even a halfway charming idea, like the staffing of the nut-sorting room by squirrels, will immediately be followed with a groaner: "Little girl, don't touch that squirrel's nuts!" And the only respite from the ugly vulgarity of the décor comes from the prying impoliteness of the bulbous closeups. The total effect, to look on the bright side, promises to speed the rate at which people finally get fed up with Tim Burton. Assuming, that is, there remain some people who haven't yet gotten there.
Wedding Crashers, directed by David Dobkin, starts out as a men-behaving-badly skit about a couple of skirt-chasing cads who drop in on weddings to pick up susceptible girls and promptly drop them. After a frenetic montage of their modus operandi, however, the action settles into a perfectly conventional romantic comedy, hitting all the expected spots at all the expected times, as our two cads -- the equally expected Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, who earlier worked with the director on Clay Pigeons and Shanghai Knights, respectively -- discover their true soul mates, two sisters for added convenience, a phony virgin slash nymphomaniac slash bondage girl (Isla Fisher) and a save-the-planet altruist (Rachel McAdams) who reveals her superior sensibility by giggling uncontrollably at the self-written vows of their older sister and new brother-in-law. The funny business, in what amounts merely to a newer convention, is pushed to such extremes of crassness and grossness that you feel as if the laughs are being extracted not by feather tickler but by thumbscrew. E.g., the ancient matriarch of one of America's leading political families will pepper her dinner-party conversation with epithets like "asshole," "homo" (of her own grandson), and "rug muncher" (of Eleanor Roosevelt), while her granddaughter administers a hand job beneath the tablecloth. Audiences do laugh at this sort of thing. Don't ask me why. There's a late-arriving Surprise Guest Star in the role of the legendary pioneer of wedding crashing, now blazing a new trail in the field of funeral crashing. I won't be the one to give away his identity, but if I gave you three guesses, I think you could get him. He, too, is to be expected.
The Island opens in the vicinity of an Orwellian dystopia, where a closely monitored populace ("Sodium Excess Detected," reads out a urinal at a morning pee) must live in regimented drudgery and sterile isolation, under stricter rules against intergender "proximity" than at a Catholic-school dance, and with the desperate hope to hit the lottery and a free pass to the titular paradise, "nature's last remaining pathogen-free zone." Roughly forty-five minutes into the movie (or mere seconds into the coming-attractions trailer), the Island will turn out to be, along with much else, a mirage, a figment. Further revelations trickle out, but the main business of the next hour and a half is a chase, in gaudy music-video visuals, with low angles and wide angles, flash pans and smash cuts, shafts of light and blasts of glare, plumes of steam and showers of sparks. The installation of Michael Bay in the director's chair is your assurance that the slow start will not bar you from repulsively overscaled action à la Bad Boys and Bad Boys II, only bigger, and with more miraculous, or more slapsticky, strokes of luck. Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson are the two fugitives whose ostensible goal is to hang on to their humanity. But both of them had to let go of that, together with their "indie" credentials, at the front gate.
Hustle and Flow is an article of nouveau blaxploitation, a throwback even as to the chintziness of the production, centered around a small-time Memphis pimp and pusher, too cool to enunciate, who agrees to accept a kiddie keyboard as payment for a quarter bag, and sets out from there down the path of artistic self-expression ("I got this flow I need to spit"), shedding a tear along the way at a gospel recording session in church, owning up to "one of those midlife crises," and trying to follow in the footsteps of the neighborhood success story, Skinny Black (Memphis Skinny?). Et voilà, the hip-hop pimp: "Whup dat trick, get'm! Whup dat trick, get'm!" Terrence Howard plays the role with an openness and unguardedness that offer no defense against the blunt-force poignance, a bit like a ball on a batting tee. Writer-director Craig Brewer, who likes to get two or more people talking or yelling at once, mixes in four parts grit for every one part goop, a recipe for mud pie.