'Amelia' veers off Swank's course
Photo courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox, Two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank plays pioneering flyer Amelia Earhart in "Amelia."

Associated Press


Rated PG for some sensuality, language, thematic elements and smoking. 111 min. Two stars out of four.

Considering the risks Amelia Earhart took, losing her life in the call of aviation, Hilary Swank and director Mira Nair don't put much on the line in their film biography of the pioneering flyer.

This is a biopic on autopilot, providing the facts but not the passions of Earhart's achievements, her marriage to her promoter (Richard Gere) and her fling with a fellow pilot (Ewan McGregor).

Swank's Earhart repeatedly tells people how she has to fly or die. Yet when she's in the air, she's as stiff and closed-off as a passenger stuck in a middle coach seat on a trans-Atlantic flight.

As Earhart, Swank exposes what could be her prime limitation: She doesn't have much range. Swank can tear up the screen in raw street drama such as "Boys Don't Cry” and "Million Dollar Baby,” for which she earned Academy Awards.

She's miserably out of her skin as the stately Earhart, though — drab, distant, utterly uninvolving. In choppy fashion, the movie intercuts between Earhart's doomed last flight around the world in 1937 and the achievements leading up to it over the previous decade — her Atlantic and Pacific crossings, her mentoring of female flyers, her efforts to establish regional passenger shuttle service.

Lovely aerial images, lush landscapes and rich sets and costumes are the film's lone strengths. In almost every other regard, "Amelia” veers off course.

'Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant'

Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense supernatural violence and action, disturbing images, thematic elements and some language. 108 min. One and a half stars out of four.

It's getting downright batty trying to keep all these vampires straight. The latest entry to the overcrowded trend is "Cirque du Freak,” adapted from a 12-book series, and with quixotic dreams of a movie franchise of its own.

The film characterizes itself from other vampire fare in its outlandishness. Here, vampires are no longer enough; we now get a freak show complete with a bearded Salma Hayek, a super-tall Ken Watanabe and a vampire John C. Reilly.

Two high school kids (Chris Massoglia, Josh Hutcherson) stumble upon the group. With remarkably little thought, they cast their lot as vampires, each taking different sides in the war between vampires (who merely sedate their prey) and vampaneze (who kill).

Reilly (a fine actor out of place here) takes being a vampire seriously, but his best bits are his amusing scoffing at conventional vampire traits. He pronounces, "Vampires don't need cell phones!” Director Paul Weitz ("In Good Company,” "About a Boy”) should have known that's what this should have been: an out-an-out comedy.

Instead, "Cirque du Freak” might be the single most overstuffed film of the year: a high school film crossed with a vampire film crossed with a mutant film crossed with Willem Dafoe cameos.

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