It's a commonly held belief, mostly because it's generally true, that no worthwhile movies open on either the last weekend of August or Labor Day weekend. So I hope I wasn't alone, among reviewers, in feeling trepidation about my most recent cineplex duties, given that this year, in a calendar rarity, those weekends were one and the same. (Would the films be twice as bad as usual? Would there be twice as many bad films to contend with?) But I'm pleased, and somewhat shocked, to report that my latest movie-going experiences weren't relentlessly grim. They were just relentlessly weird, especially considering I had the best time at the weekend's worst picture, and the lineup's most professionally rendered offering made me fall dead asleep.
My big-screen sedative was director John Crowley's Closed Circuit, which casts Eric Bana and Rebecca Hall as sparring lawyers (and - surprise! - former lovers) who mutually defend a Turkish immigrant accused of terrorism, and uncover a conspiracy reaching the highest levels of London surveillance. It is, in short, a British thriller, and about as stereotypical a British thriller as you could imagine, complete with endless gray skies, clipped and hushed conversations in dimly lit rooms, and Jim Broadbent's attorney general revealing his deviousness while smiling beatifically and dining on jam on bread. It's also a total snooze-fest. The portrayals, particularly by Hall and Riz Ahmed, are impressive, and the film opens with expertly edited hidden-camera footage leading to a scary explosion. But the rest is so understated and, even at 90 minutes, so lethargically paced that it's practically anesthetizing, which I discover after I wake from a completely unplanned-for nap. I'd ask anyone who stayed fully conscious during the movie to let me know what happened with Julia Stiles, whose journalist showed up mid-film and never returned after my brief attack of narcolepsy, but that would imply that I care.
I wanted to care about the subtitled Instructions Not Included, director/star Eugenio Derbez's sentimental comedy about a Mexican lothario who becomes an upstanding single dad, because foreign-language titles in our area are about as rare as good movies released over Labor Day weekend. Well, I guess one out of two ain't bad. In fairness, there are some mild laughs, plus a wonderfully touching bilingual performance by the young cutie Loreto Peralta. Yet the film, with its violin-heavy score forever shoving its poignancy down our throats, has been so manipulatively, shamelessly devised as a sitcom telenova - one that becomes actively offensive with the reveal of a leading character's fatal (and conveniently unnamed) disease - that I wound up growing quite hostile toward it. As for Derbez, he's charming enough, but his moon-faced mugging and telegraphed sensitivity also suggest the emergence of a Mexican Roberto Benigni. You've been warned.
The weekend's screenings weren't, however, wholly disappointing, primarily due to my catching one title nine days into its national release. In outline, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, based on the first entry in Cassandra Clare's YA-lit series, is almost a parody of its Harry Potter/Twilight forebears - an action- and romance-heavy supernatural adventure boasting witches, werewolves, vampires, demons, a de facto Dumbledore, and an androgynous figure named "the high warlock of Brooklyn." Against all expectation, though, the movie holds my interest. Director Harald Zwart's outing may be exhaustingly (if understandably) overloaded with exposition and dewy, Tiger Beat-pin-up posturing, but it's spirited and oftentimes funny, lead Lily Collins offers a lovely, naturalistic turn, and Jared Harris, C.C.H. Pounder, and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers lend welcome camp appeal.
And for its chief demographic of teenage and tween-age girls - though many of them will no doubt disagree - I'd pray that City of Bones would prove more satisfying than One Direction: This Is Us, director Morgan Spurlock's concert-doc love letter to the wildly popular British/Irish boy band. Depending on your age, you'll either be embarrassed or relieved to learn that I knew literally nothing about the group prior to seeing the film. Having seen it, I still don't; the behind-the-scenes footage in between the vacuously peppy songs is so sycophantic and squeaky-clean, and reads as so false, that it makes Justin Bieber: Never Say Never look like freakin' Woodstock. Still, there's no point in working up any outrage over this cinematic thank-you card so clearly Not Meant for Me. The fans love their boys. The boys love their fans. May they all be happy together.
Connoisseurs of crap movies, meanwhile, should be less happy than positively ecstatic at the release of director Courtney Solomon's Getaway, because seriously, this one should go in a time capsule alongside Showgirls and Starship Troopers; I recently explained the plot to a friend, and couldn't even get through my synopsis without crying with laughter. In the movie, an unseen psychopath kidnaps Ethan Hawke's wife, calls the stupefied hubby, and forces him to drive really fast in Bulgaria and - as actually stated in the script - "Smash everything you can!" And between Hawke's unintentionally hilarious Bale-as-Batman voice, the hysterically senseless narrative, and a pissy, petulant Selena Gomez showing up as an apple-cheeked carjacker with encyclopedic computer knowledge, I think I had more fun at this wretched endeavor than I've had at 80 percent of the year's other releases. Still, you shouldn't bother rewarding its idiocy with your cineplex allowance. Save that for the inevitable RiffTrax version.