In order of bearability ...
BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA
Works such as Bridge to Terabithia are the reason I love reviewing movies. Prior to seeing director Gabor Csupo's film, all I knew about Terabithia was that it was based on an award-winning children's novel by Katherine Paterson, which I hadn't read, and that it was a magical, family-friendly adventure with CGI effects, which I generally can't stand. If I didn't have a professional interest in seeing the film there's probably no way you'd be able to drag me to it ... and that would've been my loss, because Bridge to Terabithia is actually quite wonderful. In the movie, two young outsiders (beautifully played by Josh Hutcherson and AnnaSophia Robb) escape their dispiriting home lives by creating (and ruling) a fantasy world in their backyards, but the computer-generated visuals only account for about 20 minutes of screen time; the rest of the film is a touching, unexpectedly thoughtful exploration of childhood loneliness, handled with insight and barely a whiff of sentimentality. It's sharply edited and filled with lovely details - the crush that Hutcherson develops on his guitar-playing teacher, played by a bewitchingly centered Zooey Deschanel, feels exactly right - and, in what qualifies as an almost shocking surprise, it espouses Christian values without playing like a sermon. Bridge to Terabithia, in its small-scale way, is something of a Hollywood miracle: a family film that audiences on both the Right and Left should find entrancing.
On a purely technical level, director/co-writer Billy Ray's Breach is probably the most impressive American film of 2007 thus far. I wish that was higher praise. The movie, which graphs the downfall of FBI counterintelligence agent - and convicted spy - Robert Hanssen (played here by Chris Cooper), is made with intelligence and conviction, and there are several well-crafted sequences involving Hanssen's tail (Ryan Phillippe) coming this close to having his cover blown. Breach is sturdy, professional, and admirable. It's also pretty damned dull. Phillippe, as he showed in Flags of Our Fathers, is a hard-working but desperately uninteresting actor - he only comes alive in untrustworthy character roles, as in Gosford Park and Igby Goes Down - but I'm not sure what any performer could do to enliven this script's mundane, procedural blandness. (Cooper and Laura Linney vie for the title of Breach's Most Humorless Character, but really, all of the performers would be in the running.) And by the film's end, we're as in the dark about the characters' motivations as we were at the start; were the filmmakers somehow afraid of compromising national security by giving information to their audience?
MUSIC & LYRICS
For a formulaic romantic comedy that strives for nothing but affability, Music & Lyrics isn't bad. Hugh Grant, as a fading pop icon, manages to make standard sitcom dialogue borderline witty through offhand self-deprecation, and Drew Barrymore is an endearing flake; you won't necessarily buy them as a couple, but they're certainly convincing as really good friends. Director Marc Lawrence shows some inventiveness in his lampooning of early-'80s music videos, and the movie's stock, scene-stealing Best Friend role is played by Kristen Johnston, whose comic fearlessness provides a few belly laughs. Everything's in place for a pleasant, harmless diversion, but allow me to ask: Where's the conflict? Romantic comedies require some obstacle to keep our leads apart - an unwanted finacé, a meddling family member, the fact that one of the leads is actually a ghost. But for well over an hour, there is literally nothing getting in the way of Grant's and Barrymore's courtship, and when the screenwriters finally do get around to disrupting the leads' happy union, what they come up with is so trifling that it barely qualifies as an obstacle. (The only things turning a minor hiccup into a full-fledged relationship crisis are Barrymore's tears and the treacly music on the soundtrack.) Music & Lyrics is moderately charming, but there's no meat to it; it's like a pop song that forgot to include verses with its choruses.
RENO 911!: MIAMI
Amazingly, before Reno 911!: Miami, I hadn't seen even five minutes of the long-running Comedy Central show the film derives from. Having now experienced the movie, I have no plans to. I guess I can see how this Cops parody could work on the small screen, with eight-minute skits sandwiched between commercials, but director Robert Ben Garant's movie spin-off is maddeningly unfunny; like a particularly weak episode of Saturday Night Live, all of the jokes are in the setups, and the punchlines seem like afterthoughts. (Even the more promising gags, such as the one that finds the force having to dispose of a beached whale, are executed disappointingly; this being a Hollywood movie, the gang simply blows the whale up.) And are Reno's cast members this bland on television? With the exception of Thomas Lennon's short-shorts-wearing Jim Dangle, the octet of improvisers appears devoid of personality, though at least they look more comfortable than guest stars Danny DeVito, Paul Rudd, and The Rock. Reno 911!: Miami is cheerfully crude, but it'll no doubt play better on DVD, when you can walk in and out every eight minutes and know you haven't missed a thing.
THE NUMBER 23
In Joel Schumacher's The Number 23, Jim Carrey's character becomes a paranoid wreck when he discovers that this prime number may be responsible for all the world's evils. It's kind of like A Beautiful Mind as a horror movie, but despite the director's typically frenzied editing rhythms and a plethora of ominous flashbacks, the movie is laboriously asinine, because it seems blithely unaware that, as a film subject, math is not scary. (About halfway through the film, Carrey's son notices a few 23-based coincidences of his own, and says to his pop-eyed pop, "Spooky, huh?" Well ... no.) Apparently what it can be, though, is pretty damned funny; Carrey may be in Serious Actor mode here, but in The Number 23, his hambone "intensity" provides more laughs than he delivered in Fun with Dick & Jane. Does anyone else miss the days when Carrey was content simply to talk out of his ass?
Ghost Rider would have plenty of problems even without Nicolas Cage's somnolent performance. In what feels like this decade's 4,174th underwhelming comic-book adventure, the effects are forgettable, the dialogue ludicrous, the storyline moronic, and poor Eva Mendes winds up looking like the most amateurish performer to ever score a major motion picture. (Mendes' cleavage should receive higher billing than Mendes.) But I'm more than fine with unleashing my Ghost Rider hostility solely on Cage, because he really is the most maddening actor; every time he has a run of interesting career choices - such as the recent Adaptation, Lord of War, and The Weather Man - he follows them by walking through Empty-Headed Action Lunkhead roles in witless flicks that make a bundle. (With a $52-million opening weekend for Ghost Rider, why should he stop?) Cage is forever trashing his talent for action-adventure-icon status, and sadly, in Ghost Rider, he's all-too-well-cast as a hotshot who sells his soul to the devil.