The Golden Boys
You can feel yourself growing older in the 90 minutes it takes to watch this horrid piece of filmed dinner theater starring Rip Torn, Bruce Dern, and David Carradine as a trio of crusty former sea captains living under the same roof in 1905 Cape Cod. Based on a novel by Joseph C. Lincoln, the story turns — at about the pace of an arthritic hip — on the old coots' efforts to recruit a "good woman" to cook and clean for them, but mostly, they sit around kvetching and kibitzing about nor'easters, clam fritters, and whose turn it is to do the dishes. The actors (who also include John Savage as a billiards hall owner and Charles Durning as a temperance-minded zealot) read their lines with the minimum energy required to keep up their SAG health benefits; only Mariel Hemingway (as the prospective woman of the house) impresses as something more than a reanimated corpse. Directed by Daniel Adams, a straight-to-video vet whose credits include the forlorn Judd Nelson vehicle Primary Motive, the movie itself exudes all the period atmosphere of a Restoration Hardware knickknack. Even the Ladies in Lavender crowd at whom it is so shamelessly targeted may storm the box office, shaking their canes in revolt.
Assault by relentless accordion-playing, Paris 36 proves that sometimes, imitation is the highest form of flatulence. Christophe Barratier follows up his equally pandering The Chorus (2004) with an aggressively nostalgic, tinny homage to French musicals of the 1930s and '40s. To distract viewers from the film's shallowness and the fact that his honey-haired ingénue (Nora Arnezeder) has no charisma, Barratier, who also wrote the screenplay, frantically shifts from one subplot to the next: A tatty music hall operated by mugging Parisian proles closes and reopens twice; Popular Front-era strike organizers contend with anti-Semitic thugs and the rise of fascism; a moppet is taken from his father; the comely chanteuse must whore herself to the gangster kingpin; and the show must go on — but when it does, you want the curtain to come down immediately. Though Paris 36 looks pretty (it was lensed by frequent Eastwood cinematographer Tom Stern), Barratier's version of "Frenchness" is non-site-specific, Euro playground; 90 percent of the film was shot in the Czech Republic. Like Amélie's scrubbed-up City of Lights, Paris 36 is an antiseptic art-house trifle, so eager to soothe that it only numbs.
The fact that chaste, metrosexual teen idol Zac Efron has been allowed to grow a phallus for his latest role — a 1980s high school basketball phenom whose girlfriend's unplanned pregnancy derails his hopes of a college scholarship — is the only novel touch to be found in 17 Again, a reverse-engineered Big in which the present-day version of Efron's Mike O'Donnell (played by Matthew Perry) gets a chance to revisit his adolescent glory days in his glorious, adolescent body. This isn't the first time that director Burr Steers has plumbed the depths of post-pubescent awkwardness on screen. But whereas his 2002 debut feature, the insipid Catcher in the Rye knockoff Igby Goes Down, aimed for art-house credibility, 17 Again finds Steers embracing his inner sitcom director. The aesthetic crassness is a natural fit for Jason Filardi's screenplay, which fastens together scraps of many a duly forgotten 1980s body-switching comedy with reams of below-grade-level dialogue. All this is but the window dressing, however, for 17 Again's squirm-inducing coup de grace — the teen Mike's courtship of his 30-something soon-to-be ex-wife (Leslie Mann), the smarminess of which is less about the intimations of statutory rape than the humiliating way Mann (in keeping with the movie's generally hateful attitude toward women) is made to prowl around Efron as though he were a fresh piece of loin.
Before setting pen to paper, Sin Nombre writer-director Cary Joji Fukunaga purportedly rode the rails in the company of real illegal immigrants traveling from Mexico to the United States. But from the looks of it, he spent even more time studying Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles' slicked-up slum porn City of God: diminutive kids with guns — check; carefully lit and art-directed shantytowns — check; doomed teen romance — yep, that too. In fairness, Fukunaga's film isn't quite as ostentatiously vulgar as Meirelles': Its loftier aspirations are obvious from the opening shot of El Casper (Edgar Flores), a young initiate in the fact-based Mara Salvatrucha gang, staring fixedly at a photo enlargement of a leafy wooded landscape — a signal flare (along with his teardrop tattoo) that he's really a soulful poet/dreamer trapped in a violent existence. After his girlfriend is raped and murdered by the gang's more elaborately tattooed leader, Casper makes a break for it, hopping the same U.S.-bound freight train on which Honduran teen Sayra (Paulina Gaitan) and her father are heading to the promised land. Meanwhile, Casper's best friend, Smiley (pint-sized Kristian Ferrer), is dispatched to track the fugitive down — hmmm, do you think these two amigos will find their personal loyalty tested by obeisance to La Mara? Lushly photographed and meticulously sound-designed, Sin Nombre is visceral without being vital, researched without ever seeming lived-in. The best that can be said is that it's a more honest film on the subject of immigration than the recent Crossing Over — but then again, so is Beverly Hills Chihuahua.