Movies in Theaters February 24, 2012
This weekend brings us real-life Navy SEALs doing their Navy SEAL thing in Act of Valor, Amanda Seyfried looking dirty and pretty and she chases down a serial killer in Gone, Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston in their birthday suits in Wanderlust and an Australian remix of Red Dawn (sort of) poignantly titled Tomorrow, When the War Began. Wrap up February accordingly.
A blend of “real-life heroism and original filmmaking,” Act of Valor (allegedly) stars a group of real-life active-duty Navy SEALs as‚ well, a group of active-duty Navy SEALs who embark on a dangerous rescue mission involving a kidnapped CIA agent — and, in the process, uncover a large-scale terrorist plot against the U.S. Having real-life military professionals play “action movie” versions of themselves is definitely an intriguing concept, but the casting gimmick comes with some dubious elements as well; one can’t help thinking that Act of Valor might be little more than an attempt to capitalize on the back of the Osama bin Laden mission and SEAL Team Six (an operation that will be explored in director Kathryn Bigelows upcoming drama that’s currently shooting under the working title of Kill Bin Laden), and it’s a little hard to get behind the film’s “authenticity” when the trailer ends with an ad for the Battlefield 3 video game. Whatever “agendas” might be going on behind the curtain of Act of Valor, it remains to be seen whether it’s actually good filmmaking, no matter the circumstances — and if these military men can, indeed, “act.”
Is it bad to say that this kind of looks like last year’s way too earnest missing persons thriller, Abduction, but with Amanda Seyfried instead of Taylor Lautner? Amanda’s cute and a pretty good actress, to boot (she completely stole Jennifer’s Body from Megan Fox), but she definitely needs a new agent — her up-and-coming career should involve doing a lot more than just somehow keeping her dignity in movies that don’t deserve her (such as Red Riding Hood and In Time). For now, we’ve got Gone, which features Seyfried as a young woman who managed to escape after being kidnapped by an unidentified man and thrown into a hole with a bunch of human remains; a year later, the sick bastard comes back for her and kidnaps her sister instead, which puts her on a mission of both rescue and revenge. This is the kind of movie where every person in the hero’s life — friends, family, cops, you name it — are completely incompetent and worthless in every possible way, forcing the hero to become a lone vigilante who takes on the high-stakes task herself. Amanda’s probably got the chops to come out of this silliness unscathed (and to keep things lively and interesting, for the most part), but when a movie’s trailer features a cutaway to a scowling Wes Bentley, don’t get your hopes up too high.
Or, Red Dawn on the Barbie. Actually, Tomorrow, When the War Began is based on the first book in the popular “Tomorrow Series” by John Marsden, a “young adult invasion novel” that you have to give credit to for not being about yet another supernatural teenage romance (a nice way of saying “Twilight rip-off”). Tomorrow follows a group of young ‘uns whose idyllic getaway in the Australian outback turns into a battle of survival (and later retaliation) when an unidentified military force takes over the mainland; inspired by the fact that they know the lay of the land better than the invaders, they transform themselves into a vigilante hit-and-run group specializing in sneak attacks that succeed in rattling the enemy. Like Red Dawn before it, Tomorrow, When the War Began takes its outrageous fantasy premise completely seriously as it turns a bunch of boys and girls who just want to have fun into hardened, savvy soldiers; it might be best to just go with it, as the movie certainly seems to be going with itself. There are six more books in the series, so if this first movie does well, get ready to lock and load for the long run.
While the premise is a bit slight and the comedy potentially a bit limited (we figure most of the laughs will come from the uptight city folk coming to terms with all the groovy naked people), Wanderlust does have the benefit of having Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston playing Manhattan yuppies who are suddenly inspired to head south to pursue a less expensive lifestyle and end up at a nudist commune; Rudd has proven himself time and time again to be a go-to comedy powerhouse, and Aniston finally proved she could transcend so-so material with her pitch-perfect turn as a raving nympho dentist-lady in last summer’s Horrible Bosses — ultimately, you could probably put these two in whatever half-assed comedy premise someone might come up with and they’d find a way to mine it for all the laughs it’s worth. You also get Justin Theroux (Aniston’s latest real-life beau and the one good thing about last year’s Your Highness) and Malin Akerman (no stranger to the comedy/nudity combo after appearing in The Heartbreak Kid) in the supporting cast and even Alan Alda as who we’re assuming is the patriarch of this little commune; top it all off with the fact that it’s directed and co-written by Rudd’s frequent collaborator David Wain (Role Models, The Ten, Wet Hot American Summer) and this could indeed end up being a first-rate raunchy summer comedy that arrived early.