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Catch-Up Capsule Reviews for Films Released the Weekend of 4/11/08:

Prom Night



Rated PG-13 | 88 mins


     Prom Night is technically a remake of a 1980 Jamie Lee Curtis feature of the same name but, in truth, the only two traits that it bears in common with that film are its high school-prom setting and its membership-card to the slasher-horror genre. In fact, the movie is far more similar to another recent re-imagining of a Curtis picture: Rob Zombie’s Halloween. While director Nelson McCormick and writer J.S. Cardone don’t take body-count here to the offensive height that Zombie did in his film, Prom Night follows exactly the same structure as Zombie’s effort: 1) a teenage girl will be endangered if a certain bad man who wants to do bad things to her escapes from jail, 2) the bad man unexpectedly does escape from jail and, 3) the girl must do everything that her illogical, ditzy brain will allow to stay alive as the bad man chases after her. Oh, wait, did I just summarize the plot of nearly every teen-targeted horror picture released in recent years? Perhaps I was a little short-sighted in making the aforementioned Halloween comparison: Prom Night is just like every other recent entry into its genre. Sure, the movie is too benign and predictable in its delivery for the viewer to find it even the least bit objectionable. And sure, it has a few good qualities, Brittany Snow’s sympathetic lead performance being the best of them. But who really cares? We’ve all seen this movie before and we’ll surely see it again. Unless you’re a thirteen-year-old girl who will be scared by and involved in drivel of the utmost tepidity, there’s absolutely no reason for you to see Prom Night.

Smart People



Rated R | 95 mins


     The rising popularity of the Independent Film has done a whole lot of good for the cause of providing thoughtful alternatives to mainstream cinema, but it has also taken its toll on the indie filmmaker’s sense of creativity. Instead of looking for new ways to invent, mold, and rework the conventions of the medium of film as we know it—this is the whole purpose of working without a studio, it seems to me—a growing percentage of independent writers and directors have begun to copy the practices of the studio-system by regurgitating the plots and characters of popular indies that have come before. Case in point is Smart People, a movie that desperately wants to be like Little Miss Sunshine and Sideways but doesn’t have half of the brains of either film. Yes, Smart People makes some attempts to mock the success of those pictures by creating a dysfunctional family-based story and employing a cast of actors who boast big names but are fond of tackling small projects—Dennis Quaid, Thomas Haden Church, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Ellen Page—but it fails on nearly every count. The characterizations found in Smart People are muddled and the dialogue isn’t particularly special. In fact, many of the film’s story threads seem to have been made intentionally vague simply because they could then later be deemed “edgy” or “up for interpretation” by amateur critics whose comments could in turn appear on promotional materials. In fact, the only real remnant of good to be found in the picture is Page’s performance, which does back-flips around the work of the rest of the cast-members, who appear to be sleepwalking through their roles for most of the duration. One thing’s for sure: Smart People is nowhere near as intelligent as its title would like to suggest.

Street Kings



Rated R | 109 mins


     As often as life in the American ghetto is irrationally glamorized by contemporary filmmakers, there remains a rugged, bleak form of visual poetry to be found in the setting. Filmmaker David Ayer depicted this with stunning authenticity in his script for the 2001 cop-drama, Training Day, and has since returned for second-helpings with Street Kings, this time in the director’s chair. Unfortunately, he sacrifices all of the drama, fear, corruptness, and community found in his South Central L.A.-backdrop during this outing in order to mold it into a routine cop-drama. Street Kings may contain many of the same locales as Training Day, but you wouldn’t know it based on the generic manner in which they are depicted. Ayer’s screenplay could’ve been slapped into any location—even the rich, near-crime-free zone of Los Angeles’ Beverly Hills—and retained the same daytime-television-level of tension that it boasts now. Yes, there are some interesting twists and turns made by the plot of Ayer’s tale of L.A.P.D. corruption, but there’s not much of a reason for the viewer to care about these when they belong to a soulless, underdeveloped whole. Perhaps the greatest sin committed by Street Kings is that it wastes the talents of its all-star cast—headlined by Keanu Reeves, Forest Whitaker, Hugh Laurie, Chris Evans, and Cedric the Entertainer—on such a manufactured story and one-dimensional set of characters. Skip it.


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