Jonathan Kasdan becomes the second son of Lawrence Kasdan, after Jake, to have followed his father into the director's chair. His feature debut, In the Land of Women, is a relationship thing at about the Cameron Crowe level of wit and wisdom, although perhaps that name offers itself as a reference point because of the way in which every significant mood or moment is swept up, and along, by a pop song on the soundtrack. The "heartsick" hero -- a twenty-six-year-old Hollywood screenwriter (soft porn but bigger ambitions) who has just been dumped by his gamine girlfriend, an up-and-coming actress and Levi's model -- slinks out of L.A. and off to suburban Michigan to stay with his demented grandmother and to work on that long-brewing "personal" project about his high-school days. In nineteen movies out of twenty, he could be expected, there, to encounter a viable alternative or two, but even though he's surrounded by females, none is really viable as an alternative. Apart from his cranky, crotchety, foul-mouthed, bird-flipping, thoroughly stereotyped grandmother (Olympia Dukakis), the house across the street contains three other females, as well as the mostly absent man of the house. The mother, patently, is too old for him and has breast cancer (we can judge how serious the movie is from the fact that Meg Ryan shaves off her hair, or appears to have shaved off her hair, and throws up on the rug), and the angry Abstract Expressionist teenage daughter (Kristen Stewart) is much too young for him, and the precocious yoga-practicing French-speaking preteen daughter (Makenzie Vega) is still younger. They all, in any event, have something to learn and to teach. His uncertain relationships with each of them, as confidant, advisor, whatever, are fairly absorbing in their development and evolvement; and the film is plainly aiming for the human, the real, the true, even if the whole thing has been fastidiously planed and sanded and varnished to glide along like a sailboat on a glassy lake. And Adam Brody, with his sleepy slurry manner of speech and slouchy burdened posture, makes a sympathetic and a likable hero. And I suppose, if you can view him from that angle, a cute one. He looks as though he could still be playing collegians and even high-schoolers.
Hot Fuzz, a British cop spoof, benefits from its proximity to Reno 911!: Miami. Everything, as we are repeatedly reminded, is relative, and there are cop spoofs and cop spoofs. This one comes from the team -- Edgar Wright, director and co-writer together with the star, Simon Pegg -- who brought you Shaun of the Dead, a zombie spoof, and it constitutes neither an advance nor a reverse. It holds its ground. If the laughter tends to be spotty and unlusty, the labor is always energetic, conscientious, attentive to detail, limitedly resourceful. Pegg, with a head like a handball, small and hard and perfectly round, stays commendably in character as a stick-up-the-butt straight arrow (beverage of choice, on duty or off: cranberry juice) who has shamed his big-city colleagues with his four-hundred-percent higher arrest rate ("You can't be Sheriff of London!"), and has accordingly been reassigned to a cozy little hamlet that's "statistically" the safest place in the kingdom. (Telling detail: the completely bare Evidence Room at police headquarters.) The statistics, however, prove to be skewed by the peculiar policy of filing suspicious deaths under "accidents." A serial killer would seem to be afoot, and some of the slayings are sufficiently gruesome to kill the laughs, if any were struggling into existence. And the endless climaxes, down the homestretch, are extremely taxing even as a spoof of the action-film cliché of endless climaxes. Still, one wouldn't have wanted them to stop before the fistfight in the miniature village, an optical illusion of a literal Battle of the Titans, Godzilla-scale human figures in a kiddie theme park. Then again, one might have wanted them to stop, or turn aside, before the fistfight's gruesome conclusion.
After the Wedding, directed by Susanne Bier, was the Danish also-ran for the most recent foreign-film Oscar. In it, a fair-haired do-gooder at an insolvent Bombay orphanage is summoned against his will to his native Copenhagen on a hat-in-hand fundraising mission, and upon arrival is summoned additionally to the wedding of Mr. Moneybags's daughter. To our surprise (and who else's?), Mrs. Moneybags turns out to be an old flame of the do-gooder, and the bride turns out (clearly to the do-gooder's surprise) to be his biological daughter. Despite the credible if sometimes histrionic acting of the unknown faces (plus the newly known one of the Casino Royale villain, Mads Mikkelsen), despite the vérité camerawork and jaggedy jump cuts, despite the Third World social consciousness, this is basic soap opera. To say so is not to denigrate it, but perhaps is just to wish that it had a bit more polish, a bit more shine. It is not pure soap opera; it is impure soap opera. The digital video looks pretty decent, compared, anyway, to what we got used to seeing in the Dogma 95 days of the Danish cinema. Still, it's a far cry from Universal Pictures in the Technicolor Fifties, and its grittiness and griminess stubbornly resist the suds.
Perfect Stranger has been designed for the perfect fool. Apparently built backwards from its final Surprise Twist, it looks until then to be a deluxe edition of a Lifetime Original, directed by the reputable James Foley (At Close Range, Glengarry Glen Ross, among other gravities), with an Oscar-winning star (the perennially underemployed Halle Berry) as a muckraking investigative reporter under a male pseudonym. When her lifelong girlfriend turns up on a slab at the morgue with belladonna in her system, she resolves to take a closer look at the departed's latest Internet liaison, a married Madison Avenue mover-and-shaker (Bruce Willis, using his smirk for sinister purposes), and lands a temp job at his ad agency (key clients: Victoria's Secret and recently acquired Reebok, thanks for the plugs), where he quickly rises to the bait, checking her up and down in slow-motion as they pass on the carpet. Tucked away in the background, she has a stock computer geek as a helper (Giovanni Ribisi, with his patented stuffy-nose delivery and demeanor), and the screen is often taken up by computer screen, an albatross of the contemporary cinema. Inasmuch as the scene in which the boss's Amazonian leather-clad lesbian assistant admonishes the temp not to speak to the boss directly -- a scene on view in the coming-attractions trailer -- has been snipped from the finished print, the events unfold facilely and undemandingly until the tangle of that Surprise Twist. Only the willing fool will be (1) fooled and (2) fulfilled.