Inspired by the 1975 thriller Death Race 2000, writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson's Death Race isn't much of a movie. But you don't go to it expecting a movie; you go expecting a bone-crunching, brain-splattering, ass-kicking cinematic video game, and that's exactly what you get.
Death Race concerns a group of maximum-security prisoners forced to participate (for a bloodthirsty pay-per-view audience) in a savage, three-round automotive competition - the victor of five races earns his freedom, while his challengers are left as literal roadkill - and it's all just as brutal and mindlessly neolithic as can be. (Any remaining claims to "realism" are abandoned when the prisoner played by the great, gravelly Ian McShane turns to the camera and directly addresses the audience.) It's also, however, an almost embarrassingly good time. The races are loud, frenetic, vicious, and surprisingly coherent, and the cast is smart enough to not even try to transcend cartoonishness; Jason Statham - so impossibly buff that he seems computer-generated - is a grimly enjoyable he-man action figure, and Joan Allen (!) plays the villainous warden with such comedically controlled, icy venom that she's utterly irresistible. (Allen's character suggests an updated Nurse Ratched with a smarter wardrobe.) Barring the exceptionally nasty death of Tyrese Gibson's passenger-seat navigator, I probably won't recall much about Death Race in a week's time. But I've sat through far more memorable, less shameful entertainments that weren't nearly this much fun.
THE HOUSE BUNNY
I adore Anna Faris so much that I'd happily watch a 90-minute loop of her reciting the state capitals in alphabetical order, an experience that would no doubt be more satisfying than The House Bunny, which finds the Scary Movie star portraying an ousted Playboy playmate who becomes den mother to a septet of boy-phobic sorority geeks. Director Fred Wolf's comedy is basically just a female spin on Revenge of the Nerds, which is either belated progression or depressing regression, and you pretty much know what you're in for as soon as Adam Sandler's Happy Madison production logo appears on the screen: witless plotting, humiliating obviousness, unconvincing sentiment, and gags that most eighth-graders would find lame. (Beverly D'Angelo's house-mother nemesis is named Mrs. Hagstrom. Seriously.) Add a generically uninspired supporting cast - excepting Kat Dennings and Emma Stone, who exude some personality - and the painful sight of Hugh Hefner trying (and failing) to play Hugh Hefner, and The House Bunny is hard to stand ... or, at least, would be if Anna Faris weren't so damned good in it. In a movie that gets almost nothing right, Faris, with her wide-eyed, open-mouthed guilelessness and delayed reaction time, plays her bubble-headed dipstick with wickedly knowing intelligence, and she's so cheerful and funny and fearless that she almost single-handedly redeems a mostly worthless endeavor. She deserves better, of course (as do we), but if The House Bunny is what it takes to finally make Faris an above-the-title star, it's a small price to pay.
In contrast, its star is the only really disappointing thing about the goofball comedy The Rocker. Considering that star is Rainn Wilson, though, it's hard to be too disappointed. The film's concept is every bit the high-concept hooey that The House Bunny's is - here, Wilson's flabby, middle-aged drummer leads a trio of struggling high-school musicians to pop-music success - but the difference is that The Rocker is so chock-full of hysterical, inventive comedians that you barely notice the movie. Temperamentally, The Office's Dwight is all wrong for his role as a hard-partying hair-band relic - Wilson's precise diction alone pretty much guarantees that - and with one film, he's already rivaling Will Ferrell in the for-God's-sake-put-some-clothes-on department. (To be fair, Wilson's near- and rear nudity may have been less the actor's idea than director Peter Cattaneo's, as the helmer did receive an Oscar nomination for The Full Monty.) Yet his rudely frank comedy style is still fresh enough to score a few laughs despite his miscasting, and in The Rocker, he's surrounded by performers who continually score more than a few: Christina Applegate, Jeff Garlin, Jane Lynch, Josh Gad (whose every reading is funny), Will Arnett, Emma Stone (her again!), and, best of all, Jason Sudeikis, who makes a crack involving John Lennon that's practically worth the admission price, and who describes one of the musicians as so cool he's "like Vin Diesel wrapped in a Jeremy Piven pie." Dig in.
FLY ME TO THE MOON
On the minus side, Fly Me to the Moon is a mostly unimaginative and deadly dull family endeavor. The 3D visuals are first-rate, especially during an unexpectedly poetic stretch on the moon's surface, but the accomplishment is nullified by the stale puns ("Oh my lord of the flies!"), logy storytelling, and requisite booger and fart jokes, and you could easily nod off during the awkward pauses that occur during the characters' conversations and at the tail ends of scenes - the whole movie seems to be taking place in a state of zero-gravity. On the plus side, thanks to Star Wars: The Clone Wars, it's only the second-worst animated release of the month.