NATIONAL TREASURE: BOOK OF SECRETS
National Treasure: Book of Secrets, the follow-up to 2004's globe-trotting-archaeologist adventure, could generously be termed "perfunctory"; it gives (family) audiences exactly the formulaic, Indiana Jones-lite action, romance, and humor they adored in the original. It could also, less generously, be described as "crummy," as returning director Jon Turteltaub ensures that every remedially staged sequence has the same bland, going-through-the-motions tone as the one that came before. (At least its predecessor provided a few jokes.)
With Nicolas Cage, Jon Voight, Ed Harris, and Helen Mirren only there to cash what I hope were substantial paychecks, the whole experience would be annoying beyond belief if it didn't start so well, with a new Disney cartoon titled "How to Hook Up Your Home Theater." In the short, Goofy - at the mercy of a mega-sized (though tactfully unnamed) electronics chain - negotiates an encyclopedia of instructions, a dozen remotes, and enough video cord to circle the earth, and it offers more wit, hilarity, and even suspense in 10 minutes than Book of Secrets does in 120.
THE WATER HORSE: LEGEND OF THE DEEP
The little kids for whom The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep is targeted probably won't realize that this Jay Russell-directed fantasy is little more than a Scottish reworking of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Those of us who do realize it probably won't care. This sprightly, charming movie, wherein a lonely boy befriends the future Loch Ness Monster, stumbles when it tries too hard - the chase sequences are frenetic and insistently scored - but is one of 2007's few family films graced with something like magic. The clever effects are even more impressive for being so simply presented, the World War II-era settings are effortlessly realistic, and young Alex Etel (of Danny Boyle's Millions) is a wonderfully empathetic lead, more than holding his own with nuanced, grown-up actors Emily Watson and Ben Chaplin. Like its title character him(her?)self, The Water Horse is both sweeter and toothier than you might expect.
P.S. I LOVE YOU
Even though P.S. I Love You concerns a young widow (Hilary Swank) who Learns to Live Again through snail-mailed instructions/love letters from her deceased hubby (Gerard Butler), the movie, surprisingly, is neither morbid nor creepy. It's just eye-rollingly contrived and half-heartedly executed. (And I don't think this is a chromosomal thing - remember, I'm the guy who liked The Lake House.) The movie plays as an Elizabeth Kubler-Ross sit-com: I was angry that I spent two hours of my life viewing it; denied that such a weak movie was directed and co-written by the supremely talented Richard LaGravenese; bargained to have the film conclude 20 minutes before it actually did; was depressed at Lisa Kudrow and Kathy Bates not having nearly enough screen time; and accepted that it could've been a whole lot worse.
WALK HARD: THE DEWEY COX STORY
Based on the musical bio-pic parody Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, I've decided that there's no Hollywood figure I would rather hang out with than Jake Kasdan. Can you imagine the talent pool that might show up at one of his parties? Like all spoofy bastard children of Airplane!, Walk Hard - despite John C. Reilly's endearing star turn providing a solid anchor - is hit-or-miss throughout, and a majority of the better gags are smarter than they are funny; director Kasdan, working with co-screenwriter Judd Apatow, effectively sends up the genre's earnestness without, really, finding anything fresh to say about it. But I'd happily sit through the movie four or five more times for its relentless onslaught of hysterical cameos: Margo Martindale and Raymond J. Barry as Dewey's comically iconic parents; John Michael Higgins as his skeptical record producer; Jonah Hill as his understandably pissed-off younger brother; Frankie Muniz as a diminutive Buddy Holly; and, best of all, Jack Black, Paul Rudd, Justin Long, and Jason Schwartzman, who offer a brilliantly satirical deconstruction of the Beatles. The film's miserable box-office performance probably doesn't bode well for a sequel, but this particular fab four is absolutely deserving of a spin-off. Walk Hard: Day's Night, maybe?
AVPR: ALIENS VS. PREDATOR - REQUIEM
Loads of money were obviously spent on the effects for AVPR: Alien vs. Predator - Requiem. Did the filmmakers consequently run out of bucks to light the thing? As sequels to re-imaginings of beloved sci-fi franchises go, Colin and Greg Strause's offering isn't bad; the actors, though stuck with an unfortunate script, are considerably better than they were in 2004's AVP, and the movie has several satisfyingly nasty inspirations, particularly when one of the nightmarish goo-drippers, prone to orally impregnating humans, performs this service on an already-pregnant woman. But as most of the action takes place during a blackout - in the rain, no less - you spend less timing shrieking than squinting; the spasmodically-edited images might've been frightening if they didn't leave you in the literal dark about exactly which snarling beastie was doing what to whom. Early in a film, a mother returning from military service brings her young daughter a pair of infra-red goggles. I was totally envious.