Chris Bender

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Horrible Bosses 2 Review


Weak

Like The Hangover, Horrible Bosses was a movie no one really wanted to see a sequel to, but here it is anyway: the same film, but even more inane. It is also likely to make plenty of money from audiences looking for mindless entertainment on a Saturday night. Although "mindless" seems almost complimentary when a movie is as idiotic as this one is. There's so little to its plot that the whole film seems to evaporate before the end of the climactic chase scene.

It's been a couple of years since Nick, Kurt and Dale (Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day) tried to solve their problems by trying to kill their bosses. Instead, they've become inventors, and have just sold their Shower Buddy to a popular catalogue company owned by Bert (Christoph Waltz). They go all out to fill his order, putting their necks on the line, and Bert leaves them hanging there. Faced with the prospect of losing everything, they again consult their criminal pal Jones (Jamie Foxx), who helps them launch a "kidnaping". The idea is to grab Bert's son Rex (Chris Pine) and demand a ransom to cover their debts. But Rex takes over the operation, asking for a lot more cash and causing a lot more chaos. They also run into a couple of their old bosses: sex-crazed Julia (Jennifer Aniston) is still determined to sleep with Dale, while Harken (Kevin Spacey) can still freak them out from behind bars.

Director-writer Anders and cowriter Morris use almost the exact same formula this time, going for laughs in a carefully plotted caper in which everything that can go wrong does. Although instead of merely being inept, these people are all morons. Bateman's Nick is essentially the straight man in the movie, and even he fails to notice that they've borrowed and spent a vast sum of cash without even a simple contract with Bert. Meanwhile, Kurt and Dale are mind-achingly stupid, bungling every single moment so completely that it's hard to see them as functioning adults. Pine isn't much better, but at least we haven't seen this schtick from him before, and he's rather good at it.

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We're the Millers Review


OK

Consistently amusing but never uproariously funny, this comedy plays it relatively safely by gently subverting our expectations of Aniston and Roberts, while making rising-star Poulter the butt of most jokes. There's just enough rude humour to keep fans of adult-oriented comedies happy, even if the movie continually reveals a squidgy-soft underbelly of sentimentality. But it's fun while it lasts.

The chaos begins when happy small-time Denver pot dealer David (Sudeikis) is robbed, leaving him indebted to his supplier Brad (Helms). Then he's offered a way out: travel to Mexico and collect a "smidge" of weed to smuggle back across the border in an RV. To increase his chances of getting through without an inspection, he creates a fake family from his neighbours: desperate stripper Rose (Aniston), lonely geek Kenny (Poulter) and homeless tough-girl Casey (Roberts). And the fact that they struggle to act like a convincing family is the least of their problems as they're chased by two vicious goons (Sisley and Willig) and befriended by a too-friendly couple (Offerman and Hahn) along the road.

Yes, this is one of those road comedies in which something unexpected happens every step of the way. Sudeikis rides out the film relatively unruffled, while Aniston's big scene is a scorchingly over-the-top striptease performed to distract a drug kingpin. Roberts' only subplot is a silly liaison with a moronic skater (Young). These sequences are carefully calculated to be mildly funny but never embarrassing to the big American stars. On the other hand, acclaimed British actor Poulter (see Son of Rambow and Wild Bill) dives in to his humiliating scenarios with gusto, from an awkward romance with another girl (Quinn) to kissing practice with his "mother" and "sister" to a ghastly spider bite. In the process, he walks off with the whole film.

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The Incredible Burt Wonderstone Review


Good

While not the laugh riot it could have been, this comedy consistently amuses us with its pastiche characters and silly gags. It threatens to get bogged down in sentiment at a few points along the way, but manages to veer back into something witty just in time. And while none of the characters are quite as classic as Anchorman's Ron Burgundy, it's an entertaining addition to the affectionate-spoof genre, which includes Blades of Glory and Talladega Nights.

The events take place in the sequin-filled world of Las Vegas magicians, where childhood pals Burt and Anton (Carell and Buscemi) have packed out their theatre for 10 years. But their new assistant Jane (Wilde) is surprised to see that it's now performance by numbers for them, and they can barely stand the sight of each other. Meanwhile, the egomaniac Burt won't consider freshening the act even when faced with competition from attention-seeking street magician Steve (Carrey), who's stealing their audience. But the hotel owner (Gandolfini) urges them to try a big stunt themselves. Or maybe they should return to their roots with their old-school mentor Rance (Arkin).

Carell creates a remarkably believable idiot in Burt Wonderstone, an arrogant womaniser who clearly needs to be brought down a peg or two. What's impressive is how likeable he is, even opposite Buscemi's more sympathetic (but less interesting) Anton. Arkin delivers his usual dryly hilarious supporting turn, while Wilde and Gandolfini do little more than play gently with their usual images. By contrast, Carrey's performance is much more broadly comical. He's funny but far too clownish to ever be taken as a serious threat.

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Arthur Review


Weak
In a sea of unnecessary remakes, this rehash of the 1981 comedy seems particularly ill-timed, as it's no longer fun to laugh at irresponsible drunks, especially when they're billionaires. But it's just about watchable.

Pampered rich boy-man Arthur Bach (Brand) has finally pushed his mother (James) too far. Head of a multinational conglomerate, she tells him he'll lose his inheritance if he doesn't marry the shark-like Susan (Garner), daughter of a property tycoon (Nolte). In a perpetual state of womanising drunkenness, Arthur is propped up by the only two people who like him: long-suffering nanny Hobson (Mirren) and patient chauffer Bitterman (Guzman). Then as he agrees to marry Susan, he finds himself falling for quirky tour guide Naomi (Gerwig).

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Leap Year Review


Weak
Neither funny nor original enough to really register, this breezy little film will only really entertain those who haven't seen very many rom-coms, and therefore can't predict every single scene. Although the cast members just about emerge with their dignity intact.

Anna (Adams) is an energetic professional woman in Boston with the perfect heart-surgeon boyfriend in Jeremy (Scott). Except that he won't propose to her.

So when he heads for Dublin to attend a conference, she decides that, since it's a leap year, she'll surprise him there and ask him to marry her, a proposal that tradition says he can't refuse. But the journey goes all wrong, and she ends up on the road with scruffy, cantankerous, gorgeous Irishman Declan (Goode). Gosh, what could possibly happen?

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The Ruins Review


Good
Watch out, Martha Stewart! Not even your garden tools can stop the predators in The Ruins, a Hollywood adaptation of Scott Smith's novel. They aren't mummies, pharaohs, or cannibalistic tribesman, but killer flowers: They may seem innocent, but when reaching out to touch them, watch out for razor-sharp teeth and toxic venom.

No, this isn't a comedy like Little Shop of Horrors, but a shocking and disturbing experience that slaughters any comedic notions audiences may have after realizing they're watching a movie about killer flowers. Does the sight of a girl cutting herself open and pulling plants from her wounds make you cringe? Then prepare for one of the most unsettling horror films of the year.

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Just Friends Review


Weak
I like Ryan Reynolds. I like Anna Faris. I'm befuddled why Amy Smart hasn't become the 21st century version of Meg Ryan. All three star in Just Friends, and they are all likable, with Reynolds and Faris showing deft comic timing. It's too bad the script doesn't just let them down, it leaves them for dead.

The movie starts in 1995. Chris (Reynolds) and Jamie (Smart) are childhood friends, who have just graduated high school. Chris chooses the night of her graduation party to confess his love for her. Long story short, Chris's love for Jamie gets broadcast for everyone to hear, and she responds by telling Jamie that she loves him. Like a brother.

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Monster-in-Law Review


OK
Somebody help me - I'm turning into Roger Ebert. The household film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times typically grades on a curve when it comes to Jennifer Lopez and her on-screen endeavors, bestowing favorable grades on films that colleagues (and crowds) have panned. Granted, every critic is entitled to their opinion, but Ebert's grades for Jersey Girl (three stars), The Cell (a perfect four stars) and Anaconda (three-and-a-half stars) seem generous to a fault.

I'm nowhere near ready to join Mr. Ebert on the J-Lo bandwagon (with her entourage, there might not be room), but I will defend the starlet's turn in Monster-In-Law. The film embraces the traditional romantic comedy formula Lopez routinely gravitates toward, but it's skillfully guided to a predetermined finish by director Robert Luketic (Legally Blonde), who kneads the doughy concoction like a prize-winning baker preparing a four-layer cake.

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American Wedding Review


OK
That wacky American Pie crew is back -- er, a handful of them, anyway -- for a lackluster third and undoubtedly final outing with sex, pie, and ice cream. Okay, there's no pie or ice cream.

Picking up three years after American Pie 2, we find pastry-loving Jim (Jason Biggs) and band-camper Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) graduating from college and still in love. A wedding is deemed in order, which brings back Jim's pals Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas), Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas), and Stifler (Seann William Scott) to plan the blessed event. Of course, any married man knows that no wedding in history has ever been organized by three hapless guys, and when the crew drives three hours to Chicago to buy Michelle a wedding dress (huh!?) you know we're in for an old-fashioned round of Spot the Plot Device.

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Cheats Review


Weak
A bunch of rotten kids cheat their way through school, despite threats from principal Mary Tyler Moore(!) over the red marks on their permanent record.

Last year's Slackers proved this was tepid comedy ground at best, and thankfully Cheats improves on the formula a tad thanks to its younger and more engaging cast. It's still the usual stuff: stealing tests, making crib sheets, bribing teachers' children, all with virtually no remorse -- stuff that was done impressively in Animal House and hasn't gone very far since. This is 2003, man! Where's the technology!?

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Red Eye Review


OK
Horror director Wes Craven has had his share of hits and misses. His strongest work encompasses the iconic (A Nightmare on Elm Street) and the ironic (Scream). His weakest outings give the genre a bad name (Deadly Friend). Red Eye, his latest effort, shows that while he may not drive your fingernails into the armrest like he used to, he still knows how to grab your attention.

The film begins with Lisa (Rachel McAdams), a driven professional, on her way to board the eponymous flight from Dallas to Miami. When the flight is delayed, she meets Jackson (Cillian Murphy), who, after some clumsy flirting, gains her trust. By apparent coincidence, they end up seated together when the flight finally takes off. Unfortunately, Jackson turns out to be part of a conspiracy to kill a Homeland Security bigwig and Lisa is a key to their plans. Jackson tells her that if she doesn't help, a man is waiting outside her father's house, ready to kill him.

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A History Of Violence Review


Excellent
Those well schooled in the history of cinema (or who've just seen a movie or two in their time) cannot help but look at the scenes of idyllic content occupying most of the beginning of A History of Violence without knowing that something bad is coming to bust up this happy family unit. Of course, they're helped along by the fact that the film opens on a chillingly calm scene - composed almost entirely of one tracking shot - in which a pair of laconic crooks on the lam execute a number of people in a small motel with about as much emotion as they'd use to pick up their dry cleaning. While the killers and the happy family are obviously on a collision course, it's not the violent impact that matters so much as the almost more shocking aftermath, and the secrets it may uncover.

Viggo Mortensen (in a welcome return to acting after too much time barking orders in elvish and swinging a broadsword from horseback) plays Tom Stall, a family man who runs a diner in a small Indiana town. He's not originally from the town, but he's been there long enough that everyone has long ago accepted him as one of their own. It's a normal life, Tom's young daughter has nightmares and his geeky teenage son Jack gets picked on at school, but other than that, things are good. Then the killers come into the diner right before closing, and just as they're about to execute a waitress, Tom springs into action, gunning them both down in spectacular fashion. Tom becomes a local celebrity but seems traumatized by the whole affair, wishing it could just be put behind him.

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The Butterfly Effect Review


OK
Ashton Kutcher is a goofball. There are no two ways about it. From bumbling around as the clueless Kelso on That '70s Show to attacking his well-to-do friends on the ubiquitous Punk'd, this guy has made a hell of a living being wacky. Kutcher's noogie-giving persona does exude a confident charm, however, and that charm goes a long way in The Butterfly Effect, the heartthrob's first dramatic lead since he hit the cover of Tiger Beat.

With his innocent smirk and sincere delivery, Kutcher (who also executive produced) brings a fun simple honesty to this alternate-worlds thriller, and it's often necessary, as the subject matter ranges from heavy-duty to soap opera-sudsy. Kutcher is Evan Treborn, a college student who, after growing up suffering childhood blackouts, begins recalling lost memories. The effects are traumatic.

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