By Kevin Jagernauth | The Playlist September 13, 2011 at 1:00AM
Births, funerals, marriage, anniversaries and even annual vacations have all served as plot devices in the reunion film, a genre that usually finds middle-aged or older characters dealing with a crisis that is exacerbated by seeing old family and friends. And while "Ten Year" certainly isn't breaking new territory, producer and star Channing Tatum, along with writer/director Jamie Linden ("Dear John"), do take an interesting approach. Wisely not going far beyond their own age bracket, this film brings together a pretty solid ensemble cast of some of the best up-and-coming actors working right now for a tale that catches up with a gaggle of friends for a reunion -- you guessed it -- ten years after their graduation from high school. Taking on a bunch of characters as they leave their twenties is definitely a smart concept but instead of offering what could have been an honest look at contemporary soon-to-be thirtysomethings and the challenges, fears and triumphs they have endured, "Ten Year" delivers a mixed bag of CW plots that at worst are cliché and predictable, with a very few that do stand out.
While the characters are all joined by the fact they graduated together, they have also mostly lived apart since then and started their independent lives separately, so logically, very few of the storylines presented in the film overlap. What we get instead are continual snapshots interspersed throughout the film's running time, as we also follow the assorted reunion attendees throughout the evening. The movie really has only three locations, with most of the picture taking place in and around the hotel where the festivities are taking place, but full credit to Linden, "Ten Year" never feels claustrophobic or static. Certainly having nearly a dozen folks to keep track of helps in keeping the camera and the story going, but we just wish more of them were worth caring about.
A lot of this film is just too frothy, light and only mildy amusing to pay it much mind. Chris Pratt and Ari Graynor play Cully and Sam, a married couple with kids, who are eager for a night away from home, particularly Cully who plans to do some serious drinking, and apologize to nerds he bullied in high school. Of course the former activity crosses over into the latter goal, and as Pratt gets more shitfaced the more aggressively earnest he becomes, leaving Graynor to spend most of the movie rolling her eyes. Yes, Pratt is funny, but playing boorish and drunk is something he can do in his sleep and that thread quickly runs thin. Brian Geraghty and Aubrey Plaza fare much better as Garrity and Olivia, with the latter learning to her surprise that her husband was a wigger back in the day. Yes, it's another insubstantial subplot but both actors take their barely-there characters and have fun with them. And speaking of barely there, Anthony Mackie as Andre spends most of the film hitting on two women and reminding Garrity of the good old days when they rolled together in their teenage crew. And as for Scott Porter, his character who has fallen in love with a woman from Japan and now lives there could easily have been cut out entirely.
Curiously, the weakest element of the whole film is the entire central storyline with Channing Tatum and Rosario Dawson, playing Jake and Mary, who were together in high school, but are with different partners now. Linden spents much of the movie seemingly building up to reveal the big reason why this once very close couple eventually broke up and didn't speak to each other for eight years. But when it finally does come to the fore, we were shocked at how flimsy, underdeveloped and inconsequential it all was, and their climatic final moment, supposed to be the big emotional heart to the movie, is quite hollow. So good thing the always excellent Oscar Isaac is here to pick up the slack. He plays Reeves, who has become a musician and star (and yes, Isaac does co-write a song and sing it in the film), and his subplot with Elise (Kate Mara) is easily the best of the film. While it does go a bit cheeseball by the end, Isaac and Mara's depiction of two classmates who clearly had a thing for each other, but never quite connected, operates at a level of subtlety, authenticity and true character chemistry the rest of the stories don't have -- except perhaps that between Marty (Justin Long) and AJ (Max Minghella), two friends who obsess over the popular hottie Anna (Lynn Collins). This storyline starts as comic relief then takes some very predictable, though interesting, changes, to blossom into something that's surprisingly moving later on.
Our biggest issue with "Ten Year" is simply that it's a disappointment and a missed opportunity. Linden collects a fine cast, some of the most promising actors of their generation, and most of them are tossed into slightly amusing but fairly uneventful and overly familiar side plots. There is nothing that happens to anybody in this movie you won't see coming from a mile away, and if half the characters were junked and just two or three stories focused on, it might have made a world of difference. The story of Jake and Mary alone could have been its own movie entirely with the duo re-connecting after so many years and learning and/or discovering how teenage love and real life sometimes intersect in painful ways. It also might've given their respective partners -- Jenna Dewan-Tatum and Ron Livingston -- something more to do in the movie than patiently wait for Jake and Mary to talk to each other and address their troubled past.
However, even if their parts are small and underwritten, the entire cast -- and yes, that includes Tatum -- are very good, investing themselves fully in their roles, which prevents "Ten Year" from feeling like a cameo fest. Their performances often fill in things the script doesn't, and while for the most part the roles are secondary to Jake and Mary's journey, the cast brings their A-game anyway, delivering some moments throughout the film that are amusing and occasionally laugh-out-loud hilarious (this is a polite way to say not all of it lands, despite best efforts). And when it comes to the more dramatic turns of the second half they are equally on point as well.
Linden, behind the camera, is workmanlike, preferring to remain unobtrusive and allowing the stories to unfold without any stylistic fussy flourishes. And while the movie does boast some songs by The Pharcyde, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Rogue Wave, Passion Pit, Bibio, Fatboy Slim and Jamiroquai it's not the musical trip back in time you might hope for. Most of the appearances of these songs are brief at best and we would wager the low budget prevented the movie from truly putting together a playlist from their final year of high school.
"Ten Year" suffers from the curious problem of being both overstuffed and empty. There are a lot of stories and arcs we follow over the course of one evening but for the most part, the film is not as insightful or incisive as it sets out to be. As someone mentions in the movie, prom night is never meant to good, but more serves as a rite of passage and we would put that comparison to "Ten Year" as well. Serving as Tatum's feature film debut as a producer and Linden's first time behind the camera, "Ten Year" will also likely serve as a professional transition -- one that is a bit uneven and unsuccessful -- but also displays enough promise that we'll be curious to see what stories they want to tell next. [C]