FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL
Director Nicholas Stoller's Forgetting Sarah Marshall is a happy movie about misery, but during its first half hour or so, the film's rhythms are so unusual that you might not be sure what it is.
Produced by Judd Apatow (so know going in that you will see a penis) and written by its star, Jason Segel, the movie finds young composer Peter Bretter escaping to Hawaii after being dumped by his TV-star girlfriend (Kristin Bell), and winding up at ... get this ... the exact same hotel that she's staying at with her new beau (Russell Brand). Add a potential new love interest (Mila Kunis), some nutty, familiar supporting goofs (Paul Rudd, Jonah Hill, Bill Hader ... ) and presto - Apatow-authenticated hilarity ensues!
Except it doesn't, exactly; once Segel's bruised, morose Peter arrives at his island resort, the entire tone of the movie shifts, and not to Forgetting Sarah Marshall's detriment. The film appears to take its cue from its new landscape, and presents its comedic humiliations and romantic encounters with a more contemplative, thoughtful ease than you may be expecting; everything from the confrontations between the romantic rivals to the lead's comic despair is treated seriously, but nothing turns out to be that big a deal. It takes a bit of time to get on Forgetting Sarah Marshall's wistful, occasionally melancholy wavelength, but it's always subtly, inventively performed - That '70s Show's Kunis is positively revelatory - and you end up enjoying the movie more and more as it progresses. One of the film's great running gags finds Peter working on a puppet-theatre musical of Dracula, and when we finally see a snippet of the finished product, it's surprisingly great. The movie is, too.
After 105 minutes of the torture thriller 88 Minutes (and don't get me started on that unfortunate piece of false hope ... ), a title card pops onscreen that reads: "Directed by Jon Avnet." Three title cards later, we get this one: "A film by Jon Avnet." Is it possible that the man is actually proud of this repugnant piece of crap?
Al Pacino plays a forensic scientist for the FBI who receives a threatening phone call in which he's told he has 88 minutes to live. Five minutes later, after much narrative ludicrousness, he gets a call telling him he has 83 minutes to live. Four minutes later ... . And so it goes for the rest of the movie's it-sure-felt-longer-than-88-minutes running length. Although I'm happy to report that we actually do occasionally get 20 or so uninterrupted minutes of respite from this irritating narrative device, after a while you're kind of hoping that Pacino's damned cell phone would ring, if only to put a momentary halt to the sounds of good actors giving really bad performances (Alicia Witt, Leelee Sobieski, Amy Brenneman, and Neal McDonough all hit career lows), and the score trying desperately to create tension even though it's obvious that nothing really interesting is gonna happen 'til the clock runs up. (And even then it isn't interesting. Inane, yes. Interesting, no.)
But with Pacino in the lead, 88 Minutes is actually worse than your ordinary crummy thriller; it's a miserably depressing one. Was it really less than five years ago that the actor delivered that stunning Roy Cohn in Angels in America? Pacino, here, isn't delivering a performance so much as an outsize Pacino impression; he desperately overplays the rhythms and cadences that have made him a staple of a million amateur impersonators, and his gravelly braying of "What?!?" is louder than the screams of the women being hog-tied and slaughtered for the audience's delectation. The actor employed his too-familiar qualities to fine effect in Two for the Money and Ocean's Thirteen, but he may be impossible to cast in anything other than comedies now; I would've laughed at him in 88 Minutes if I didn't feel this close to crying.
EXPELLED: NO INTELLIGENCE ALLOWED
On my way to a screening of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, I experienced one of those drives in which every traffic light seemed conspiratorially aligned to turn red just as I was approaching it, causing me to enter the movie five minutes late. Having seen the remainder of the film, I'm a little sorry that I wasn't ninety-five minutes late, if only because I didn't feel particularly welcome at it. The movie is a tacky, patronizing documentary on the presumed worldwide attack against intelligent-design theorists, yet it isn't without enjoyment; Ben Stein, in a business suit and sneakers, shlumphs his way through the film in endearing fashion, and for a while, it's sort of fun watching the liberal intelligentsia getting the Michael Moore treatment. (One scientist says he longs for the day when religion is treated "like knitting" and "something fun to do on the weekends." Boo! Hiss!) I'm sorry, though - once Expelled started connecting the teaching of evolution to Nazism, eugenics, and (gasp!) the horrors of Planned Parenthood, and once that woman in our auditorium began vocalizing her pleasure at Expelled's childish tactics, I wanted nothing more than to get the hell out of there.