MOVIES: 'Cars 2,' 'Bad Teacher,' & 'The Trip'
Following are Susan Granger's latest reviews of movies playing in area theaters.
Perhaps the "Cars" franchise is so inexorably tied to Paul Newman that it should have been part of Newman's Own.
In the original, Newman's Doc Hudson was the mentor to Owen Wilson's Lightning McQueen in Radiator Springs, and his death has left a big emotional hole in Carburetor County that cannot be filled. Instead, there's lots of sound and fury, signifying very little.
The plot revolves around the friendship between the race car McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) and a battered, buck-toothed tow-truck named Mater (voiced by Larry the Cable Guy) who travel to Tokyo, Paris and London to compete in the inaugural World Grand Prix after a taunting challenge from Italian Formula One Speedster Francesco Bernoulli (voiced by John Turturro). En route, they're intercepted by a debonair, James Bond-inspired Aston Martin, Finn McMissile (voiced by Michael Caine), and his assistant Holly Shiftwell (voiced by Emily Mortimer), who mistakenly think Mater is their American agent contact. Meanwhile, there's an environmental subplot involving an eccentric oil billionaire, Sir Miles Axlerod (voiced by Eddie Izzard), who has invented a new alternative fuel called Allinol.
Written by Ben Queen and directed by Pixar CEO John Lasseter, this sensory-overloaded sequel revs up to a confusing, high-octane frenzy, never forging any emotional connection with the audience. Not that the kids seem to care that it's stuck in neutral. They enjoy the cleverly caricatured talking cars and video arcade-like speedway crashes. Perhaps their parents will appreciate details like Notre Dame's "car-goyles" and London's Big Ben clock refitted as "Big Bentley." But paying extra for 3-D is quite unnecessary.
At a cost of $200 million, this 'toon has the potential to do bigger merchandising business abroad than its predecessor, along with plans to open a 12-acre Cars Land at Disney's California Adventure Park.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Cars 2" accelerates to a spy-driven 6. Far more inventive is "Toy Story Hawaiian Vacation," a delightful accompanying short in which the familiar toys console Barbie and Ken when they're left behind after Bonnie goes to Hawaii. My advice? Keep the short -- can the feature.
"Bad Santa" was funny. "Bad Lieutenant" was fierce. But "Bad Teacher" is just offensive.
At John Adams Middle School in suburban Illinois, lazy, foul-mouthed Elizabeth Halsey (Cameron Diaz) is a frustrated seventh-grade teacher whose rich fiance dumps her when he realizes she's just after his money. So she sets her sights on a new substitute teacher, Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake), whose family got wealthy making watches. Problem is: geeky Scott goes for big-breasted women. So svelte Elizabeth is determined to get $10,000 for surgical implants, a decision that leads her to steal proceeds from a class car wash, solicit tutoring bribes from unsuspecting parents, and seduce a state official (Thomas Lennon) to get a copy of a standardized test so that she can earn a cash bonus. In addition, she blatantly drinks booze in the classroom and smokes pot in the parking lot.
Her irresponsible antics infuriate a righteous, ultra-perky, rival teacher, Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch), who squeals on her to the principal (John Michael Higgins). Then there's the sarcastic gym teacher, Russell Gettis (Jason Segal), who's smitten with gold-digging Elizabeth, who spurns him until the final reel when the schlub gets the slut -- in what passes for a happy ending.
Written by Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky and directed by Jake Kasdan ("Walk Hard, The Dewey Cox Story"), it's crude, sloppily unstructured and totally devoid of charm or comedy. Selfish, self-absorbed Elizabeth fosters derision and dislike. She's caustic, cynically ruthless and casually racist. She verbally humiliates her students and one scene, in which she sadistically throws a ball at a boy's unprotected groin, urging classmates to hold his arms behind his back, is tantamount to criminal child abuse.
Don't sell Cameron Diaz short. Her resume includes "Being John Malkovich" and "Gangs of New York," along with "Shrek" and "There's Something About Mary." But in skimpy Daisy Dukes in a rub-a-dub car-wash scene, she's a crass, aging Jessica Simpson imitator.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Bad Teacher" fails with a foul 3 -- and it's not even funny.
Fans of comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon will appreciate this reprising of their freewheeling dramatized roles from "Tristam Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story" (2005) in this road trip mockumentary.
Hired by "The Observer" newspaper in London to rank and review upscale restaurants throughout the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales in rural northern England, Steve Coogan discovers to his dismay that he needs a companion after his girlfriend Mischa (Margo Stilley) bows out at the last minute. In desperation, since everyone else has turned him down, he invites Rob Brydon. Traveling together in a Range Rover, they not only drive and dine, but also randomly impersonate celebrities like Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Woody Allen, Hugh Grant, Richard Burton, Al Pacino, Ian McKellan, Alec Guinness and Liam Neeson, among others. And as they dig into six different meals at six diverse establishments, the bantering, bickering and philosophizing, particularly about the exquisite agony of fame, never ceases.
Or as Coogan's (fictional) father dryly observes, "It's really exhausting, keeping all of this going all the time, isn't it?"
Helmed by British director Michael Winterbottom, who previously collaborated with Coogan and Brydon on "24 Hour Party People" (2002), it's rambling, episodic and uneven -- while the persistent whining, one-upmanship and quasi-camaraderie of these two middle-aged men drags on quite a bit longer than required, becoming quite tiresome. That's not surprising since the goofy, improvisational concept was originally broadcast as a popular six-part BBC2 series, which was wisely divided into half-hour -- or bite-sized -- segments. Apparently, the theatrical release is the compilation version.
For those who are curious or planning a similar gastronomic journey, here's the list of fine restaurants they rate: The Inn at Whitewell (www.theinnatwhitewell.com), L'Enclume (www.lenclume.co.uk), Holbeck Ghyll (www.holbeckghyll.com), Hipping Hall (www.hippinghall.com), The Yorke Arms (www.yorke-arms.co.uk) and The Angel at Hetton (www.angelhetton.co.uk). And it's at L'Enclume that they sample those lollipops made of morsels of duck fat with peanuts.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Trip" is a silly, self-indulgent 6, a leisurely, yet competitive, culinary tour de farce.