Clint Eastwood's Changeling finds John Malkovich giving a thoughtful, restrained performance as a righteous pastor, and Michael Kelly giving an exceptional one as a dogged detective. Oh, and the period design for the film's 1928 Los Angeles setting is quite good. Having gotten that out of the way, the rest of the movie is so awful - so maddeningly phony and contrived - that I wanted to hurl things at the screen.
From its balefully tedious piano score (an Eastwood specialty) to its stagnant composition to its Marat/Sade-esque loony-bin scenes, this missing-child drama is almost stunningly oppressive and one-dimensional, and features more rotten acting in the guise of great acting than I'd have thought possible from the director of Unforgiven, Mystic River, and Million Dollar Baby. With its moustache-twirling villains and lacquered, selflessly heroic lead, almost no scene in the film's entire 140 minutes rings the slightest bit true. (You may have heard that Angelina Jolie - staring down the camera as if daring the Oscar voters not to genuflect - is magnificent in it. You've heard wrong.) I've seen worse movies this year, but none that angered me so much as Changeling; it turns a horrific true-life story into a shamelessly manipulative and obvious "prestige" tearjerker without a whiff of spontaneity or surprise. Not that the movie doesn't smell of something.
RocknRolla is the latest comedy/thriller by Guy Ritchie, which means (1) you'll immediately be thrown into a complicated morass of double-dealings among a group of erudite, well-dressed British scoundrels with names such as One Two, Mumbles, and Handsome Bob; (2) you'll be expected to laugh at the brutal violence at least as often as you recoil from it; and (3) you'll realize that, in the end, hardly a lick of it makes any sense. None of this, though, is necessarily a terrible thing. RocknRolla may be old news from the creator of Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, but Ritchie at least writes grimly entertaining tough-guy dialogue, gets uniformly enjoyable performances from the likes of Tom Wilkinson, Idris Elba, Ludacris, Jeremy Piven, and a never-better Gerard Butler, and delivers several set pieces that are wonderfully funny and strange - a scene of Butler and Thandie Newton planning a heist (through subtitles) while dancing may be the best Tarantino sequence Tarantino never shot. And since Ritchie has never really shown any cinematic ambitions beyond giving audiences exactly what they expect of him, RocknRolla, even at its most retrograde, is certainly a less dispiriting experience than...
ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO
Like Guy Ritchie, Kevin Smith merely spins his wheels with Zack and Miri Make a Porno, and that might be enough to satisfy some fans. Yet aside from a few bits by the adorable Elizabeth Banks and the brilliantly weird Jason Mewes, this fan found almost nothing to laugh at. 2006's wildly underrated Clerks II hinted that Smith, that dirty-minded Peter Pan, might be growing up after all, but Zack and Miri is a mostly depressing backwards slide; routine profanities are treated as the zenith in comedy, characters incessantly brainstorm "hilarious" porn-movie titles (didn't those stop being funny in, like, eleventh grade?), and the money shot finds a dim-witted actress defecating in poor Jeff Anderson's face. This relentless, regressive juvenilia (and god-awful staging and editing) might've been less bothersome if the film just moved a little, but long minutes are devoted to pointless routines - a Star Whores costume show, a mugging-for-the-camera dance break, Justin Long and Brandon Routh ad-libbing a bitchy squabble - and Banks' romance with the ever-more-irritating Seth Rogen feels half-hearted, a sentimental bone thrown in as a respite from all the boning. The movie's full title has been notoriously shortened in its TV spots, but advertisers shouldn't have fretted - Zack and Miri Make a Porno is totally limp.
THE HAUNTING OF MOLLY HARTLEY
Since The Haunting of Molly Hartley had no purpose beyond raking in Halloween dough from audiences too young for Saw V, there's probably no harm in giving away the Big Twist: When 17-year-old Molly was an infant, her parents sold her soul to Satan. Granted, you probably knew that from the trailers. It takes Haley Bennett's Molly, though, 75 of the film's 85 minutes to figure this out, and prior to its "shocking" climax, there's absolutely nothing going on here but lame hallucinations, vaguely sinister chit-chat, and a teary-eyed Bennett insisting that something horrible is going to happen - it's basically a tween-flick take on Rosemary's Baby in which Molly is cast as Rosemary and the baby (and 38-year-old Nina Siemaszko plays the Ruth Gordon role). It's also a witless, laborious waste of time, with a soundtrack that never stops shrieking even though nothing remotely scary, or even coherent, is happening. After several panic attacks lead to her hospitalization, Molly's doctor tells her not to fear, as a CAT scan has revealed the problem - "a little massive blood clot" in her brain. The Haunting of Molly Hartley is a little massive piece of crap.