Dictators, hitmen, and navy officers – oh my! It’s a big weekend for the dudes, the professional advantages mentioned above notwithstanding, and we can expect screens clogged with manly men doing male things. Even the invention of a sex toy (by a man, duh) and male grooming get sweet turns in the theaters. If only the powerful sight of pregnant women was enough to combat the male-dominated market. Ah well, perhaps another weekend. Let’s jump into the testosterone-fueled fray, shall we?
Political satire, social comedy, and gross-out humor each take their turn in the Larry Charles-directed “The Dictator,” which opened Wednesday. Sacha Baron Cohen is Admiral General Aladeen, the universal and undisputed leader of the fictional North African nation of Wadiya. Running (or perhaps “scaring” is a better word choice here) a nation with a sexist, racist, iron fist, threatening nuclear warfare while hoarding oil reserves, Aladeen is unsurprisingly called to a review by the U.N. at their headquarters in Manhattan. Once there, however, the admiral finds himself just as quickly tossed out into Gotham’s streets, searching the foreign city for an ally in reclaiming his Wadiyan throne. Anna Faris, Jason Mantzoukas, Ben Kingsley, Chris Parnell, and Kevin Corrigan co-star in the resulting stranger-in-a-strange-land antics. Our review says, “once the movie really finds its groove, Cohen's latest character creation easily stands up with his best work. Frequently laugh out loud funny, button pushing, and the rare comedy that actually gets more enjoyable as it goes on, ‘The Dictator’ delivers the goods.” Rotten Tomatoes: 63% Metacritic: 60
This week’s totally improbable blockbuster is Peter Berg’s “Battleship,” written by Jon and Erich Hoeber and based on – you know you know it – the children’s board game. Though there is a homage scene dedicated to using a simple grid to locate enemy ships, the token competitive 8-year-old peeking around the divide is sadly absent. Taylor Kitsch and Alexander Skarsgård play brothers and naval officers, each going about his own unremarkable, but remarkably poorly acted, business when Earth is overrun with hostile extraterrestrial ships. And then the movie starts, CGI and action sequences being the order of the day/season/year. Explosions ensue, along with some charmless dialogue and token patriotism (they are in the military, after all). And Liam Neeson, Brooklyn Decker, and Rihanna make appearances. Our review charges, “the filmmaker is channeling Michael Bay at every possible opportunity” and says, “very occasionally, the film seems to realize its own ridiculousness…but otherwise, it turns out that the jokes about the blockbuster movie based on a board game over the last two or three years were entirely justified.” Up next: “Candyland: The Movie.” Watch out for Lord Licorice! RT: 41% MC: 41
Based on the pregnancy self-help book that’s brought knowledge and terror of pregnancy and early infanthood to women (and probably men) for generations, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” from Kirk Jones hits theaters this weekend. It’s not as though the rough material was ripe with potential storylines or comedic moments, but the filmic adaptation of the book isn’t exactly what we’d call instructional. Rather, it’s the ensemble romantic comedy taken a step beyond the usual credits, after true love has bludgeoned the audience across its pretty skull, and now they’re all pregnant! Storylines about various women – Cameron Diaz, Elizabeth Banks, Anna Kendrick, Jennifer Lopez, and Brooklyn Decker – who wind up with a bun in the oven intertwine and overlap toward a crescendo of a birthing moment in the maternity ward. Though pregnancies come expected and unexpected, in committed relationships or in situations where parents are flying solo, among the gay and straight alike, the romantic comedy generator requires its females to have male counterparts. They include Matthew Morrison, Rodrigo Santoro, Dennis Quaid, Chris Rock, and Chace Crawford. It’s probably best to avoid this one if you’re already suffering from morning sickness. Or just prone to nausea in general. RT: 29% MC: 43
In this weekend’s “The Samaritan,” directed by David Weaver (who also co-wrote the script with Elan Mastal), Samuel L. Jackson plays Foley, an ex-con exiting jail after a 25-year imprisonment for killing his partner. He tries to steer clear of trouble, but Foley finds himself cornered all too quickly by his associate’s son, Ethan (Luke Kirby). The equally shady offspring comes bearing job offers, absolution for the crime against his father. Though initially full of refusals, Foley is finally coerced into collaborating with the unlikely Ethan when he, working with another convict known as The Samaritan, makes a startling revelation about Foley’s past. (Yup, I though Jackson would be our Samaritan too. No dice.) Oddly, this plot twist seems directly lifted from another thriller, from an era not that long ago. Our review says of Jackson’s character, “a whole lot happens to this hapless ex-con, and while Foley radiates a humorless, old-fashioned intelligence, his character is written to be both a skilled tough guy and a kind-hearted patsy. Sadly, Jackson can't seem to find the middle ground, reducing ‘The Samaritan’ from a serviceable thriller into a Canadian cheapie that rips off a major contemporary classic.” RT: 37% MC: 44
“Polisse,” from director Maiwenn busts down the doors on the Parisian police department’s Child Protection Unit, examining its cases and officers at length. Based on a documentary about the unit, the film adopts a very loose, documentary-inspired structure, avoiding linearity in favor of the realism of popping in and out of various cases. Both “Polisse” and its director work very hard to balance truth with emotional resonance and dramatic draw, and the story of the day-to-day operation is given just as much space as the characters are given to develop. Unfortunately, with a long string of officers to introduce, none get their due, and most are poorly sketched poor souls that generate pity, but not attachment. Moreover, the soap opera quality of certain cases and certain characters gets the best of the film’s realness, upsetting its roots in actual stories. Our review says, “the immediacy of the film lends itself powerfully to the sequences focusing on the myriad of cases” and admits that “when the film is true to itself it works wonderfully.” However, the reviewer ultimately calls it “a film that is largely one note and runs completely out of steam with still thirty minutes left to go. One can't help but feel that ‘Polisse’ is, at least half of the time, the work of a filmmaker who isn't confident in what they have on the page, or simply isn't aware.” RT: 88% MC: 66
I bet you’ve been wondering about the invention of the vibrator recently, it being a common Trivial Pursuit question and everything. Well, guess no further, as Tanya Wexler’s “Hysteria” has all the answers you’ve been, um, aching for. After being fired from a hospital for believing in germs, of all things, Dr. Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) joins Dr. Robert Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce) in his revolutionary practice, and begins treating diagnoses of hysteria by inducing orgasms in women patients. Quite quickly, Mortimer begins to experience symptoms of carpal tunnel, and develops a machine to act as a stand-in, reducing the impact on his body while, of course, helping legions of women increase the impact on theirs. Maggie Gyllenhaal and Felicity Jones co-star as Dalrymple’s daughters and Mortimer’s love interests, while Rupert Everett plays his scene-stealing wealthy dandy of a friend. Our review calls the film “inoffensively pleasant,” and says, “the story, though slightly meandering, is enjoyable enough but totally predictable, and really, it's like a better-than-average airplane movie. It's diverting without getting annoying and while you won't regret the time you spend with it, you likely won't remember much either.” Ultimately, “it's the vibrator comedy movie you could watch with your mom.” The weirdest part of all of this: it’s “based on true events.” RT: 44% MC: 55
And finally, SXSW 2011 favorite "Natural Selection" finally makes it to theaters, opening in L.A. today. The film, starring comic Rachael Harris, John Diehl and Matt O'Leary, won prizes at the fest last year, and is the story of a mousy, religious housewife setting out to find the sperm-donor offspring of her late husband. It sounds like it could be Quirksville USA, but according to our review, it has "lean, mean, efficient and unpredictable storytelling" and is ultimately "a fine debut from a new director." So certainly worth your time and cash if you happen to live in the Los Angeles area. RT: 81% MC: 60