Movies: 'After Earth,' 'Now You See Me' & 'Epic'
Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters:
Nepotism always has been part of the Hollywood firmament, but it's sunk to a new low with Will Smith's vanity vehicle for his 14-year-old son Jaden, who appeared with him in "The Pursuit of Happyness" and starred in a remake of "The Karate Kid."
Beginning on a planet called Nova Prime, it's a survival adventure, featuring a confused, fearful cadet, Kitai (Jaden), who accompanies his heroic United Ranger Commander father, Cypher Raige (Will), on a spaceship mission that crashes on post-apocalyptic Earth, now a savage, primeval wilderness. Since Cypher is incapacitated with badly broken legs, it's up to Kitai to make a dangerous, four-day trek to find and ignite an emergency beacon.
Not only is the Earth's atmosphere toxic but a ferocious creature called an Ursa, which was on board, has escaped and is hunting Kitai, who is haunted by visions of a childhood incident in which an Ursa killed his older sister, Senshi (Zoe Kravitz).
Since the Ursa species is blind, it senses its prey by the pheromones humans release when they're afraid. Wounded warrior Cypher has mastered a fear-suppressing technique called "ghosting," which his son must now learn.
Working with screenwriter Gary Whitta ("Book of Eli"), writer/director M. Night Shyamalan fails once again. It's hard to believe that after his stunning "The Sixth Sense" debut in 1999, Shyamalan has floundered with one misfire after another: "Lady in the Water," "The Happening," "The Last Airbender." Not only is this father/son relationship plot blandly predictable, it's impersonal, devoid of emotion and filled with generic details that are plainly derivative of far better sci-fi.
Will Smith robotically plays the appropriately named Cypher with stern, scowling dispassion, while adolescent, charisma-devoid Jaden whines. And they both affect an odd, garbled mid-Atlantic accent that defies designation. Since the filmmakers purportedly wrote "1,000 years of backstory," their input must have gone into the inevitable video game spinoff.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "After Earth" is barely a boring 1 -- a travesty commendable only for its sweeping cinematography, feral CG animals and menacing atmosphere. Yawn.
"NOW YOU SEE ME"
If you enjoy David Copperfield-like illusions and are captivated by heist capers like "Ocean's Eleven," I'd recommend this magic-themed thriller.
An introduction pulls into partnership a slick hypnotist/mentalist (Woody Harrelson), a cocky card shark (Jesse Eisenberg), a rookie pickpocket/safecracker (Dave Franco, James' real-life younger brother) and a feisty escape artist (Isla Fisher). Each receives a cryptic tarot card, setting up a mysterious meeting at a Manhattan apartment where they're given a holographic blueprint for an incredible magic act.
Within a year, the quartet, known as The Four Horsemen, is performing in Las Vegas, bankrolled by a millionaire (Michael Caine). On opening night, they teleport an audience member into the vault of a Paris bank and cause three million Euros to flutter down on the enthusiastic audience. They're arrested by a frustrated FBI agent (Mark Ruffalo) and his Interpol partner (Melanie Laurent), who are unable to prove that they're guilty of the theft. Then they pull off another brazen robbery in New Orleans, distributing millions of dollars to hurricane victims. Observing their spectacular stunts is a cynical debunker (Morgan Freeman), who's built his reality show reputation by publicly exposing magicians' secrets. What the Horsemen are ultimately up to and why propels the suspense -- and I wouldn't dream of revealing it and ruining your good time.
Suffice it to say that screenwriters Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin and Edward Ricourt have concocted a far-fetched plot, which French director Louis Leterrier ("Transporter," "Clash of the Titans") stylishly propels at a fast pace. It's too bad more screen time isn't devoted to the magicians' characters, whose astonishing antics are far more interesting than FBI/Interpol jurisdictional bickering or cops `n' robbers chase scenes. Nevertheless, it's easy to be swept up in clever abracadabra as long as you're willing to suspend disbelief and not compare it to Christopher Nolan's far-better "The Prestige."
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Now You See Me" conjures up an entertaining 8, an intriguing escapade revolving around deliberate misdirection, as in "The more you look, the less you see."
Beautiful to behold but bewildering in its allegorical concept, this computer-animated fable from the creators of "Ice Age" and "Rio" revolves around a recently widowed, absent-minded scientist, Professor Bomba (Jason Sudekis), and his estranged 17-year-old daughter, Mary Katherine -- a.k.a. M.K. (Amanda Seyfried) -- living on the edge of a vast woodland.
One day, when their one-eyed, three-legged pug Ozzy runs off, feisty M.K. follows him, which leads her to a fateful encounter with dying Queen Tara (Beyonce Knowles), a tiny, Persephone-like creature who embodies the life force of the forest.
The queen entrusts now-miniaturized M.K. with her chosen Royal water-lily pod which will guide her people to crown their new queen -- but only if it blooms at midnight in the moonlight during the summer solstice.
On her perilous mission in the microscopic realm of Moonhaven, M.K. is guided by a veteran Leaf Man, warrior Ronin (Colin Farrell), and befriended by a rebellious Leaf teen, Nod (Josh Hutcherson). There are evil forces in opposition, including a ferocious Boggen named Mandrake (Christoph Waltz), who is determined to allow the endangered forest to rot and decay.
Based on William Joyce's illustrated children's book "The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs," the contrived, unfocused script by James V. Hart, William Joyce, Dan Shere, Tom J. Astle, Matt Ember and director Chris Wedge gets inspiration from "Alice in Wonderland," "The Wizard of Oz," "A Bug's Life," "The Secret World of Arrietty," "The Borrowers," even "Avatar." Yet the essential story of parents/children coping with loss gets muddled in magic and mysticism. Even the generic title is misleading.
On the plus side, Moonhaven's vividly exquisite, deeply textured animation is enchanting, making the 3-D choice worthwhile, particularly when the intrepid Leaf Men ride their hummingbirds and the Munchkin-like flower-people appear. Comic relief comes from the slug Mub (Aziz Ansari), the snail Grub (Chris O'Dowd), along with the guru/caterpillar Nim Galuu (Steven Tyler).
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Epic" is a sweet 6. It's an eye-popping, eco-friendly adventure, suitable for children of all ages.