Craig Baumgarten

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Never Back Down Review


Terrible
As Jake has an emotional breakdown and reveals his inner demons, his mentor listens with an attentive ear... as he browses the shelves for lettuce. That's right, the pivotal scene of Never Back Down takes place in the produce aisle of a grocery store. Did the filmmakers think audiences would take this movie seriously when the drama peaks as the characters are shopping for spinach and romaine?

Effective drama can happen in a grocery store. Many priceless movie moments have taken place in unexpected locations. But Never Back Down doesn't bring earnestness and truth to this scene; it just feels awkward and clueless. There's also a scene where Jake breaks out his newly learned karate moves when a car behind him honks at a stop sign. And the music video-esque scene in which Jake's mother charges through the house and dramatically, um, does the laundry.

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Universal Soldier: The Return Review


Grim
Jean-Claude's best days are behind him. Way behind him. The former martial arts champion is now graying at the temples, and he still hasn't improved on his English accent. Of course, his acting skills -- in the traditional sense of dialogue and mannerisms -- have never given us sufficient reason to watch his movies, but when his physical capabilities start to deteriorate, you know he's in trouble.

So what do you do when your star loses his signature appeal? Universal Soldier: The Return attempts to turn him into a sort of James Bond, allowing him to rely on high tech stunts and clever intuition rather than pure power. The problem is that nobody wants Van Damme when we've already got Arnold, Pierce Brosnan, and even Sly Stallone as kings of the one-liner action flicks. So the formula is set: a limited budget, a fallible star, and Goldberg, the WCW wrestler, as your ominous villain. The result is a predictably lackluster flick.

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Love Stinks Review


Terrible
How could anyone produce this a film like this, and think it would be a hit? I can't understand how film's like these continue to be made. Needless to say, I was not especially impressed with Love Stinks. Yes, it stunk.

Seth (French Stewart), a TV sitcom writer, meets a wonderful girl named Chelsea (Bridgette Wilson). She's beautiful, sweet, kind and completely psycho. When she starts pressuring him towards marriage, Seth tries to distance himself. To Seth's surprise, (the audiences forethought) she won't take no for an answer. Conflict swells and the two become enemies. Here begins a trail of predictable sequences, showing the two getting even with one another.

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Jade Review


Grim
A few short weeks ago I posed the question, "What is Joe Eszterhas going to do next (after Showgirls)?" Well, this is it, and it ain't Disneyland: Jade, a horrid little thriller about a whole bunch of obsessive-compulsive crazies, some of whom may be murderers.

Actually, I wish it was that simple. Perennial bad-girl Linda Fiorentino plays Trina Gavin, a sultry psychologist with a questionable past. Chazz Palminteri is her sicko attorney husband Matt, and David Caruso plays assistant D.A. David Corelli, who is assigned to look into the murder of a wealthy art collector to whom everyone seems to be linked...especially Trina.

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Shattered Glass Review


Good
The need to get the best story first has always been an inherent part of the news business. But when a journalist crosses the line into the realm of fictional the whole integrity of the news business is thrown out the window.

This is in essence what happened to The New Republic magazine in 1998 when a writer of theirs named Stephen Glass fabricated a story about a computer hacker to such an extent that nothing in it was true including - sorry to say - the allegation that the hacker left his mark with an appealingly humorous alliterative caption: "THE BIG BAD BIONIC BOY HAS BEEN HERE BABY." (This of course has been overshadowed by the recent Jayson Blair/New York Times scandal, which shook out nearly identically but with much greater fanfare earlier this year.)

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The Order Review


Terrible
The Brian Helgeland repertory company of Heath Ledger, Shannyn Sossamon, and Mark Addy returns in The Order, following their 2001 feature A Knight's Tale. Helgeland has reassembled his crew for the crappy supernatural thriller some talented directors seem to need to get out of their system. Roman Polanski had to do The Ninth Gate before he could grab as Oscar for The Pianist; earlier this year, Lawrence Kasdan exorcised Dreamcatcher. Helgeland has written some good films (L.A. Confidential, Blood Work) and directed one of the better Mel Gibson vehicles (Payback). Making one bad horror movie isn't so bad; in fact, good career horror directors can find themselves mired in shlock for years. Doubtless Helgeland will move on to better projects.

Perhaps he should seek to expand his cast of players before that time comes. As nice as it is to see a writer-director and group of actors getting along so swimmingly, one reason The Order never quite makes it out of the gate is a stunningly inert ensemble. Heath Ledger is a member of a new class of young actors handsome enough to be mistaken for leading man, when, really, they would be better served by character parts (Josh Hartnett and Vin Diesel, feel free to jot this down). Ledger, despite his grizzle here, looks too young to play a rogue priest investigating the death of a member of his obscure order. His character is given a complicated, traumatic past, but he looks more tired and bored than haunted. Mark Addy contributes a dash of levity as another member of the order, but his character disappears for long stretches, only to materialize for the occasional dire injury.

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