The Haunting in Rhode Island

Matthew McConaughey is scary bad in one of four new releases.

Two weeks after jowly Matthew Perry transformed into pretty Zac Efron to relive his adolescence in 17 Again, Warner Bros. releases Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, another backward and backward-looking child-is-father-to-the-man rom-com. Matthew McConaughey stars as NYC celebrity photographer Connor Mead, a horndog who tries to convince his kid brother, about to tie the knot in Newport, Rhode Island, that marriage is an oppressive institution. One of the bridesmaids is Jenny (Jennifer Garner), a childhood friend of the roué with a maddening tendency to psychologize him. The man-whore will be redeemed, of course, guided by the apparitions of his Uncle Wayne (Michael Douglas), who home-schooled Connor in piggy behavior and his first conquest, Allison (Emma Stone). Mark Waters, who directed the excellent Lindsay Lohan vehicles Freaky Friday and Mean Girls, helms Ghosts of Girlfriends Past like a wedding video shot by a drunken cousin. His task isn't made any easier with the risible script by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, which is full of nuggets like "Pain eats regret every day of the week and twice on Sunday." The cast fares no better: The absolute null that is McConaughey seems to be channeling Jim Morrison's Lizard King persona. And Garner just looks embarrassed in her scenes with the leading man, hoping, perhaps, that she can disappear into her own dimples.


Battle for Terra 

A spiritual sequel to the equally hapless Delgo — which sold pacifism in animated form to an empty theater — Battle for Terra pits alien creatures against invading Earthlings in a detail-poor CGI landscape. Terra, to be fair, looks fairly clean, and the 3-D is totally passable, but watching it will be no fun for either kids or adults. The creatures of Terra resemble nothing so much as myopic earthworms, the backs of their heads ripped off from The Fifth Element's alien opera singer. Into their drab, hippie-esque world enters a fleet of invading humans — having destroyed Earth, Mars, and Venus, they need a new pad. Inevitably, the human military wants to wipe the natives out and colonize while dissenting voices call for peaceful interaction. It's up to young alien Mala (Evan Rachel Wood) to bond with downed soldier Jim (Luke Wilson) and convince him that her species has value, etc. Battle for Terra harps on pacifism so tirelessly that it's enough to make the most die-hard U.N. supporter long for some irresponsible asskicking. And the alien dialogue ("Inventions that are against our teachings are not approved"; "Then maybe our teachings are wrong!") makes a good case for wiping the suckers out.


Is Anybody There?

Director John Crowley's lighter follow-up to the anguished Boy A features a standard teaming of reluctant oldster and troubled youngster — both residents of a down-at-the-heels family-run rest home. Besides the blokeish star playing retired magician Clarence (Michael Caine, who could twinkly-tearily confide with bobbing accent in his sleep), one charming difference is that the ornery kid (Bill Milner) gets as tetchy and self-pitying as his curmudgeonly pal. Milner was the Calvin and Hobbesian fantasist in Son of Rambow, and he again displays a headlong sense of enterprise as the mouthy junior-ghosthunter son of the home's overworked owners (Anne-Marie Duff and David Morrissey). The requisite gallery of eccentric pensioners, played by British TV and stage vets, are like furniture to him. TV writer Peter Harness' script finds a good macabre turning point for "The Amazing" Clarence's precipitous decline into senility, but even Crowley, who seems to have a knack with overloaded material, can't quite bring the thing in for a safe landing in all the slush. Action is set in the '80s, allowing for an insta-fade palette — and also apparently so that the young hero can still be bored.


Shall We Kiss?

If they're French, even dweebs get to lounge around tastefully beige Paris interiors clutching long-stemmed glasses of Merlot while discussing the potential collateral damage of an exploratory kiss on the lips. In Emmanuel Mouret's comedie d'amour, the writer/director plays a skinny, cow-eyed math teacher who asks his best friend, a skinny, sloe-eyed, and very married scientist played by Virginie Ledoyen, to kick-start his dormant libido. She agrees with misgivings, the two rationalists fall helplessly in love, and from that moment on in this more masturbatory than carnal folie, they never shut up. The interesting question buried in all this gassing on about whether we want what's forbidden because it's forbidden and whether it's all worth the bother and who will get hurt hinges on the battle between desire and — is it ethics or etiquette? I couldn't quite tell. To Mouret's credit, he doesn't dismiss the question as trivial or bourgeois. But despite the tale-within-a-tale structure that spells out what's at stake, the director is so much more reluctant than his fastidious characters to play the moralist, which means that Shall We Kiss? (a title that implies a different line of inquiry from the more assertive French, Un Baiser S'il Vous Plait) bogs down in the philosophical shallow end and never quite recovers from what's clearly meant to be a deceptively light tone.

 
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