CLASH OF THE TITANS
For pure, unadulterated pop kitsch, it's hard to top 1981's Clash of the Titans, in which a blow-dried Harry Hamlin, as Perseus, waged war against the Greek gods while a glowering Laurence Olivier, as Zeus, gnashed his teeth from high atop Mount Olympus. And while I'm not suggesting that director Louis Leterrier's remake of this legendary swords-and-sandals extravaganza actually does top it, the not-so-guilty delight of his new version is that it stays remarkably faithful to the original's spirit; it, too, seems content merely to serve up a tasty helping of cinematic junk food - trash wrapped in cheese. With its blend of legitimately spectacular encounters and (I hope) intentionally retrograde visuals, this Clash of the Titans never pretends that it's anything other than a silly, instantly disposable good time, and consequently, can be easily enjoyed on its own, happily unpretentious terms.
It's also to the movie's benefit that Leterrier's Titans is being shown, on many screens, in 3D, as that's at least one more dimension than leading man Sam Worthington possesses. (The actor was similarly fortunate when starring in Avatar.) Taking on Hamlin's role, and not improving on his predecessor in any noticeable way, Worthington's Perseus - the demigod son of Zeus - sets forth on a danger-laden trek to the underworld, in the hopes of thwarting the gods and avenging the deaths of his adoptive parents. (Both perished at the hands of the malevolent Hades, whom Ralph Fiennes plays with a viciously throaty, insinuating whisper.) Clash of the Titans' star, though, appears to embrace the film's insouciance all too readily; when he's on-screen, absolutely nothing seems to be at stake. Employing the same expression of dead-eyed grimness whether besting an enormous scorpion or flirting with Gemma Arterton's tag-along Io, the performer is a somnolent blank where a charismatic star should be, and he continually dulls your interest in the proceedings. If a tree stump could emote, a little, it'd act like Sam Worthington.
Thankfully, though, there's so much giddy, goofy activity swirling around him that he's easy enough to forget about. (And some of that swirling is quite literal; the shrieking, winged creatures that zip through the air emitting trails of smoke are like B-grade versions of the Dementors in the Harry Potter movies.) Fans of the original Clash of the Titans will be glad to know that the trio of entertainingly loathsome witches, sharing one eyeball between them, survive this updating, as does Perseus' non-literal face-to-face with Medusa, whose faraway cackles and slithering menace are unnerving and funny in equal measure. As for our hero's climactic battle against the Kraken - a city-sized monstrosity with an expanse of tentacles and the toothy mug of H.R. Giger's Alien - it provides a great, giggly rush, and serves as a truly awe-inspiring sequence amidst a number of less epically scaled, though no less amusing, visual treats: the winged stallion Pegasus soaring through the heavens, as majestic as an airborne Seabiscuit; a goo-covered Perseus emerging from a scorpion's insides, like a presenter getting slimed on Nickelodeon's Kids' Choice Awards.
Plus, in a nice reversal of expectations, there are even several first-rate contributions from the film's human/god characters, among them Polly Walker's haughty (and intimidatingly chesty) Cassiopeia, Alexa Davalos' tremulous Andromeda, and Liam Neeson's satisfyingly imperious Zeus. (I'm somewhat embarrassed that I didn't properly register, as a friend did, the on-screen reunion of Schindler's List co-stars Neeson and Fiennes - Schindler, now, firmly seated in heaven while Nazi Amon Goeth remains forever in hell.) Worthington's excepted, the portrayals here are a significant upgrade on those in the original Clash of the Titans, but in the end, the charm of this new work still lies in how it delivers modern-blockbuster pleasure without jettisoning the original's campy appeal. Even the 1981 movie's über-annoying mechanical owl - Titans' ridiculous answer to R2D2 - shows up, and his appearance elicits both a chuckle and a sigh of relief: Perseus finds the robotic bird in a pile of junk, and is immediately told to leave him there.
THE LAST SONG
After tackling cancer, autism, 9/11/01, and the war in Iraq in the recent tearjerker Dear John, it feels downright lazy of author Nicholas Sparks, in The Last Song, to only attempt his tear-jerking through cancer, teenage sullenness, and potentially untrustworthy boyfriends. Then again, everything about this latest Sparks adaptation feels almost unbearably lazy - there's a scene here in which a bunch of newly hatched sea turtles amble from the beach to the ocean, and they actually move a helluva lot faster than the film does. Director Julie Anne Robinson's lightly downbeat melodrama opens with divorced mom Kelly Preston dropping her two kids (Miley Cyrus and Bobby Coleman) off at ex-hubby Greg Kinnear's for the summer, and never in my life have I so yearned for the return of Kelly Preston; what with being forced to watch Cyrus mope, mug, twinkle, and weep through her daddy issues and a chaste love affair with Liam Hemsworth's beach bum, the season's end couldn't possibly come quickly enough.
Although, as ever, Sparks seems incapable of writing even one fresh or interesting sentence (he shares The Last Song's co-screenwriting duties with Jeff Van Wie), I'll admit that the dialogue here isn't as laughably clumsy as it has been in past adaptations, and Kinnear, against considerable odds, comes through with a surprisingly graceful and touching performance. But the film is still a stiff, filled with maddening, only-in-the-movies cutesiness and contrivances, and the leads are a deadening bore together. It's a close call, but of the two, Cyrus is the slightly more engaging presence, as there's occasionally some emotional shading to her open-mouthed petulance. Hemsworth, though, is a total dud. Running into him in town after a couple of oceanfront encounters, Cyrus tells the grinning, empty-headed doofus, "I almost didn't recognize you with your shirt on." Actually, none of us did.