Mr. Movie

Street Kings an all-around disappointment

Street Kings casts Keanu Reeves as a maverick cop who does away with low-life druggies, child kidnappers and other street vermin.

Slogging through the dregs of humanity, Reeves’ character shoots first and asks questions later.

That methodology puts him in the crosshairs of internal affairs officials who really ratchet up the pressure when an ex-partner is murdered.

Street Kings is a disappointment. Co-writer and story creator James Ellroy is one of the best crime drama writers on the planet. Team him with director David Ayers, who penned Training Day and who is no writing slouch himself, and Street Kings should be one of the year’s best movies.

It’s not.

Ayers is a great writer but has no clue how to direct. What little story there is ends up told in incoherent chunks. Sound is critical to storytelling. Ayers does a lousy job of recording his film. Much of the dialogue from a great cast that includes Forest Whitaker, Hugh Laurie (TV’s House), Cedric the Entertainer, Chris Evans (Fantastic Four) and Jay Mohr is unintelligible.

The whole corrupt cop concept is overdone. The only cliche Ayers and Ellroy don’t throw into their script is the dutiful trip to a strip club. And I’m not so sure one wasn’t done, but if it was, it ended up on the editing room floor to keep the film at a reasonable length.

But when a movie is this bad, no length is reasonable.

Mr. Movie rating: 2 stars.

Rated R for mature themes, language, extreme violence. Opens today at the Carmike 12 and at Fairchild Cinemas.

Smart People

The characters and circumstances change, but dysfunctional family films do not. They always bing-bong through predictable peaks and valleys before landing somewhere near a happy ending. Determining whether you want to make the awkward journey with the characters depends on the acting and how it gets from the beginning to the obvious end.

Smart People has Dennis Quaid as a widowed literature professor. Unable to deal with the loss, he happily spreads unhappiness to his two kids, an adopted brother, the university staff and students and finally, a woman willing to look past his pathetic, shallow persona and see the deeper human inside. Sarah Jessica Parker (Sex and the City) gets the call as his new but often impatient squeeze.

Though the movie wobbles in places, you aren’t totally bored as Quaid’s character comes to terms with life, death and love. The most fascinating facet of the film is found in a May-December relationship involving the professor’s daughter and the goofball brother.

Ellen Page does as a darker version of her Juno character. She’s totally intrigued by Thomas Haden Church’s (Sideways) goofball brother. Freshman writer Mark Poirier and first time director Noam Murro should have spent more time there. Page’s snarky performance isn’t that special, but Church brings the film its only life.

In the long stretches where he’s absent, Smart People drags and doesn’t seem quite so smart.

Mr. Movie rating: 4 stars.

Rated R for mature themes, language. Opens today at the Carmike 12.

Caramel

Caramel is a subtitled treat from Lebanon. Done by actress and director Nadine Labaki, Caramel is centered in a Beirut beauty shop.

Unlike its neighbors, Labaki’s Lebanon is in a peaceful culture clash as East meets West, where tradition tangles with modern movements, and women and men redefine their roles.

Labaki creates deep, rich characters to define the contrasts. Her superb storytelling hooks you with vivid, multi-layered portraits of women struggling with marriage, sexuality, infidelity and old age. In another brilliant contrast, her characters are unique to their culture yet not unique in struggles faced by women everywhere.

There is much laughter, much irony and much sadness in a movie as sweet as the candy it’s named after.

Mr. Movie rating: 5 stars.

Rated PG for mature themes. Opens today at the Carmike 12.

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