Surrogates/Pandorum/Zombieland/Whip It/Couples Retreat

Surrogates – 1.5 stars

Bruce Willis headlines this otherwise no-star cast in an entirely forgettable sci-fi film, set in a futuristic psuedo-utopian society where people have been replaced by robotic versions of themselves, all in an effort to create a safer society. And then it becomes not so safe, so robot Bruce Willis must solve the first murder in 15 years so society can become safe again.

I don’t know about you, but I’m growing tired of these films about unattainable utopias being deconstructed by their own gloriousness. There’s no imagination to destroying perceived perfection.

And as entertaining as Bruce Willis [always] is, even he couldn’t save this mess of a film. It was clearly a “paycheck” film. He walked through his role as if he was saying “Yeah, whatever, I’m a cop who has to save the world, where’s craft services?” But he is the only engaging part of the film.

Pandorum – 3 stars

Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster are two deep space astronauts who wake up to a deserted ship, and are left to figure out what went wrong on their 100+ year mission of colonizing a new-found Earth-like planet, while trying to battle crazed genetic mutations who have since overtaken their ship.

This is a truly confounding film, as I loved it and hated it at the same time. Mostly I loved one half of it, and strongly disliked the other half. The unfortunate thing of it is, is that it’s not a “first half/second half” type of thing. It’s the two plots that ran concurrently. This would have been a much better film had they left out the monsters running around the ship, and made it an isolation thriller. It was trying to be ‘Alien,’ but it failed miserably.

Plot points aside, Ben Foster is one of the most fascinating young actors working today. I will (and do) watch anything he’s in, and you should to. He’s one of those actors that is right on the verge of breaking out into mega-star status, he just needs to find that right part, that right project, to push him over the edge. This could have been it, but it came just short.

Zombieland – 5 stars

I know what you’re thinking, “Of course Brodie’s gonna give the zombie flick 5 stars.” Well, a) you’re right and b) it totally deserves every star.

We join our hero, Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), post outbreak, in a world over run with zombies, and he’s just doing his best to survive (so far it’s clearly working). Columbus meets up with Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) and form an odd partnership that will do them well just enough to survive. After they get hoodwinked by a pair of sisters, Wichita and Little Rock (Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin, respectively), they join them to find a zombie free paradise, which is apparently at an amusement park in L.A.

This, is quite possibly, the perfect movie. It is exquisitely crafted from beginning to end, and keeps you laughing all the way through, but never skimps on the horror action. The ensemble cast works so well together that you hope they do more films together. Preferably more Zombieland films (it was originally written as a TV show).

What makes it work is that everything works. There is never a wasted joke, or a wasted scare. Every aspect of the film was brought together to be the best it could be. And the best was damn good. Zombieland is the movie of October, though as of this writing, I have yet to see Where The Wild Things Are.

Whip It – 3 stars

Drew Barrymore makes her directorial debut with this girl power roller derby flick starring Ellen Page, Juliette Lewis and Kristin Wiig. It’s got the heart, it’s got the laughs, it’s got the sports action, but it’s ultimately forgettable.

Page stars as Bliss Cavender, a high schooler in small town Texas looking for her place in life (aren’t they all), and she doesn’t think it’s the life of studies and beauty pageants her parents (Marcia Gay Harden and Daniel Stern) have set for her, so she looks to the all women Roller Derby in near by Austin for guidance. And that’s where, under the careless tutelage of derby stars, she finds what she loves and ultimately, her place.

It’s a fun, heartwarming teen flick, and definitely one of the modern good ones (there hasn’t been a great one in 15 years). Wiig, Harden and Stern all turn in outstanding performances. Page continues her reign as the poster girl for the indie-youth. And Barrymore takes a backseat to the rest of the stars, yet still turns in a memorable comic relief performance.

But while it may be a good teen flick, it’s still just a good one. I was entertained by it, but it didn’t leave much of an impression on me. And I think that could be unfortunately attributed to rookie director Drew Barrymore. I say unfortunately because she really does show great promise as a filmmaker, and I for one am looking forward to more work from her. But the film suffered greatly from pacing problems, and that is the key to it’s downfall. So, Drew, noble effort, it was entertaining, but just not quite there. Keep trying.

Couples Retreat – 1.5 stars

Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn back together? With a script they wrote? Also featuring Jason Bateman, Kristen Bell, Pete Serafinowicz and rising star Malin Ackerman? How could this miss? With a poorly written script filled with cheap, obvious jokes and relationship cliches, rounded out by a stereotypical ending that you could pretty much see coming once the opening credits are done.

Favreau, Vaughn, Bateman and Faizon Love head to a couples skill building retreat with their respective partners played by Kristen Davis, Ackerman, Bell and Kali Hawk. They each discover something about their relationships in order to make them stronger, and walk away more in love than when they got there. And we get some laughs along the way.

It’s a one joke concept, spread across two hours and four sets of characters. And while the combined talents are enough to make you think this is a surefire hit, when they aren’t given much to do, other than make the most basic and obvious of jokes at their marriage’s expense, it will fall flat and be mostly boring by the second act.

I’d like to see them re-do this film, with the same cast, but this time, try just a little bit harder.

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