'The Book of Eli'
Rated R for some brutal violence and language. 118 minutes. Two stars out of four.
In the future, according to "The Book of Eli," we'll all dress like we're in a Nine Inch Nails video.
A meteorite and a subsequent war 30 years earlier has scorched the earth and the population, who outfit themselves in goggles and leather.
Across this charred land strides our Christian cowboy, Eli (Denzel Washington), a mysterious, solitary man who carries the last remaining Bible in his backpack, along with a knife and a shotgun. Eli is a prophet carrying The Word, and "The Book of Eli" suggests mankind will be saved by it.
The Christian theme notwithstanding, "The Book of Eli" is really only a sepia-colored, shoot-'em-up Western. The Hughes brothers ("Menace II Society") let nary a bullet or arrow fly without sending their cameras behind to track it in slow-motion.
Washington and Gary Oldman (as a frustrated dictator trying to steal the Bible) create sparks and help drive the film forward. With Mila Kunis in post-apocalyptic chic and Tom Waits as a paranoid shopkeeper.
Unrated, but contains scenes of sexuality, sex involving a minor and teen drinking and smoking. 122 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four.
Writer-director Andrea Arnold has created something so real and raw with this British teen drama, you may come away with a twinge of guilty voyeurism, a sense of peering too closely and impolitely into other people's lives.
Arnold made a remarkable find with her teen lead, Katie Jarvis, who had not acted before but proves a natural, at least for the sort of honest intensity needed to anchor the story. Jarvis plays Mia, a 15-year-old alienated from friends, her mom (Kierston Wareing) and everything else around her bleak home in a crumbling industrial town east of London.
Her mother's new boyfriend (Michael Fassbender) becomes both someone new to confront and an intriguing mix of father figure and dream suitor to Mia. Extreme things happen, yet it all feels genuine, even inevitable, thanks to the devoted, fearless cast and Arnold's attention to detail, which helps the film unfold like actual lives playing out on screen.
'44 Inch Chest'
Rated R for pervasive strong language including sexual references, and some violence. Running time: 94 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.
Profane, irreverent bluster by five loud men might carry a choice scene, but it cannot carry an entire movie.
The makers of this British drama needn't have bothered trying without the supremely talented crew they rounded up.
Ray Winstone, Ian McShane, John Hurt, Tom Wilkinson and Stephen Dillane manage to make a passable time out of this densely packed but ultimately slight exercise in extreme manliness. Reuniting with "Sexy Beast" writers Louis Mellis and David Scinto, Winstone stars as a manly man reduced to heartsick puppy after his wife (Joanne Whalley) says she's met someone else.
McShane, Hurt, Wilkinson and Dillane play Winstone's buddies, who step in with bad intent toward their pal's rival. Throw these five guys in a room to cuss and bellow — and that's mainly all first-time director Malcolm Venville does — and some sparks will fly. Despite the dark story, it's fitfully fun to watch the actors trade turns as alpha male of the moment.
'The Spy Next Door'
Rated PG for sequences of action violence and some mild rude humor. 94 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.
Jackie Chan. Boring pen salesman. But really an ace CIA agent who's retiring from the spy game to marry the single mom (Amber Valletta) next door. Only her kids (Madeline Carroll, Will Shadley and Alina Foley) can't stand him because they think he's a boring pen salesman.
So she goes away and he volunteers to baby-sit to win over the little ones. Except these Russian spies come after him and the children … You buying any of this? Neither are we.
Like many action stars, Chan is looking for a piece of the lucrative family market. He'll need to keep looking after this latest from director Brian Levant, who specializes in awful family fare ("Jingle All the Way," "Are We There Yet?").
This sad little movie is built entirely to set up Chan's stunt and fight sequences, the action more tolerable than the movie's lame jokes, but barely. With Billy Ray Cyrus and George Lopez.