Fantastic Four    (It Is What It Is)
          If I were to review comic books for a living (and my God, I should dare to dream), I would probably always rank The Fantastic Four as a "Read If You Want."   So we can say the movie is true to the comic.
          Not that the original Stan Lee-Jack Kirby creation doesn't deserve its place in comic book history. If you'll indulge a moment of fanboy talk, The Fantastic Four is the book responsible for the Marvel Age Of Comics, which launched names you know like Spider-Man and The Hulk. Writer Lee and artist Kirby created the team as a response to DC Comics' popular Justice League Of America. But this was a different kind of team-- they got their super powers at the same time and became a team together. They were friends and family first, super heroes second. Their identities were public, so everybody knew that "Mr. Fantastic" was in fact scientist Reed Richards. In fact, you read the name "Reed Richards" more than you did "Mr. Fantastic."
          In the modern age of celebrity, the idea of super heroes becoming stars is a good one. The media name them "The Fantastic Four" after catching them rescuing people on a bridge-- and it's the public who begins calling them super heroes. They are reluctant. Only Johnny Storm embraces his new role. He's played by Chris Evans, who is a standout as the cocky, womanizing and most of all funny Human Torch.
          Just like in the comic, the heart of the Fantastic Four though is the tragic figure Ben Grimm, dubbed The Thing after he's mutated into a creature made of orange rocks. He's a funny and sad character who's always been the most popular of the Four, and he's played just right by The Shield's Michael Chiklis. He is funny, likable and despite being well-- a thing-- very charming.  Best of all-- he's real. OK, he's in a costume, but unlike the recent Hulk or even Scooby Doo, he's not a CGI'd character.  He's a real actor working his suit.  (Although something happens at the end that I think ruins the spirit of the character).
          They get the Invisible Woman and Mr. Fantastic pretty close to the original too. Like in the comics, Sue Storm (Jessica Alba) is the object of every man's desire, although in the series she's more a "mother I'd like to... know type" as opposed to the Jessica Alba-type. But this is the first of the series, so Alba can grow into it. Ioan Gruffudd is Reed Richards and like the comic... he's boring. It's not his fault, I just never though Reed was all that interesting. There's a reason Spider-Man and the X-Men became more popular even though the FF were first.
          Reed's not nearly as boring as our villain-- Dr. Doom. In the move that most outraged us fanboys, they've made Doom a businessman who is with the FF when they get their powers, as opposed to the evil dictator who rules the nation of Latveria.
          And that leads to the biggest problem with the movie-- not enough super heroing. Instead of getting out there and fighting crime, they're arguing with each other. They're arguing with Dr. Doom. A selling point of Marvel Comics has always been that these are people with real-life problems working them out, but they work them out while doing their super hero duties.
          There's some promise toward the end. The uniforms are put on, Doom finally becomes Doom, and we get us some fighting. All of which by the way is fun. We've had three big super hero/sci fi movies open this summer, and each time we've talked about how they're too dark for little kids. Fantastic Four is much lighter, and when it succeeds, it's a lot of fun. Fantastic Four One is a so-so start to the franchise, but it shows a lot of promise for Fantastic Four Two and Three.

Fast Food Nation   (Kept Checking My Watch)
         
I never read the book ahead of time, so I didn’t know a lot about what to expect from Fast Food Nation, based on Eric Schlosser’s best-seller. I knew it would be something of an expose of the fast food industry, but thought it might have a funny, satirical take.  You throw the words “fast food” into a title and you might expect quick, cheap entertainment.  What you get instead from Fast Food Nation is a dull movie served to us painfully slow.
          Greg Kinnear plays a marketing executive for fictional fast food giant “Mickey’s” (boy, that’s subtle) who is sent to a Colorado packing plant to figure out how cow excrement is getting into the burgers.  And he finds—well, a lot of bull. 
          We see what Kinnear doesn’t.  According to Nation, the problem with meat in the fast food industry is illegal immigration.  Seriously.  Our flawed immigration policy means thousands of illegals are getting across the border and finding jobs in meat packing plants.  Apparently the supervisor jobs are given to sex-starved bullies who give drugs to all the women there and that causes them not to focus and to let contaminated meat slip by.  That’s what I got out of it.
          Bruce Willis, in an extended cameo as a restaurant owner and executive, asks what the problem is.  He knows a percentage of fecal matter is going to stay on the meat and says the dangerous stuff will be cooked away.  It sounds logical.  Now, I’m sure it’s not a good thing to have meat with fecal matter on it, but I would have liked this movie to explain to me why.  Because honestly, Bruce Willis kind of made sense. 
           Amber Johnson (who I swear was Willis and Demi Moore’s daughter) is the focus of a subplot that takes up too much main plot as a Mickey’s employee caught up in the animal rights movement.  She’s also your typical teen who feels like she’s trapped in a dead-end job and dreams of bigger things beyond her small town.  The implication might be that places like Mickey’s keep these kids down.  Again, it might be.  Otherwise, I’m not sure what this plot was doing here.  There are just too many plots that at times, are only tangential to the fast food industry and at all times, move way too slow.
          The use of a fictional fast food chain does make one wonder: how much of this is true? What’s it all based on?  And the most important thing:  what’s the deal with the fecal matter in the meat?


Flags Of Our Fathers     (Tremendous)
          For a couple of years now, we've heard troops serving in Iraq and their families come on WHAM saying they just wish people back home knew "the good they're doing over there."
          Of course, there are many reasons why "the message" doesn't get out, but among them has to be laziness. The media could do in-depth features or find a single memorable image and show it to us again and again. Audiences, for their part, could watch the in-depth features that do exist or could save themselves time and just focus on that single image. That single image could be a toppling Saddam statue or a "Mission Accomplished" banner; 60 years ago it was the planting of the flag at Iwo Jima.  Six men planted an American flag after winning a series of battles there, and Americans adopted that image as a symbol of victory and made the men who planted it heroes.
          Flags Of Our Fathers is an adaptation of the 2001 novel and was brought to the screen by producer Steven Spielberg, who knows a thing or two about making reverential World War II films. He asked Clint Eastwood to direct;  Eastwood himself knows quite a bit about war movies.  Then, the two superstars cast relatively lesser known actors as the leads, to give us heroes who are as relatable as the men they portryaed. ( You should stay through the credits to see just how good the casting is.  The actors look astonishingly like the real men.  You should also stay for some stunning photos of the real events at Iwo Jima)
          John Bradley (Ryan Phillippe), Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford) and Ira Hayes (Adam Beach) are pulled from duty in Japan to serve as public relations figures. They're in that famous photo, and the Army wants to use their fame to encourage people to buy bonds. Gagnon is at first pretty eager to smile for the cameras; Bradley and Hayes-- not so much. They're suffering survivor's guilt, having lost comrades in the battle. They also know the truth about the photo: that was the second flag raised at Iwo Jima, it was not planted immediately after victory, and worst, the Army has misidentified some of the other men there.
          Misidentified or not, everyone on the battlefield is a hero of course, and Eastwood has put together a thoughtful film on what it means to be one. They can be as obvious as Gagnon, as reserved as Bradley or as tortured as Hayes (who faces an extra personal conflict: as an American Indian in the '40s, he's discriminated against yet still treated as a hero).
          The film also looks at why we want and need heroes. You don't blame anyone for latching onto the people they do, and even while we are bothered by the government's playing with the facts, you almost don't blame them for giving us what we want. (But repeating for emphasis: almost). 
           It's hard not to draw comparisons to what's happening in 2006. We are at war after all. So while looking for heroes, you'll see sad themes that still hold true in our current conflicts. Government manipulation is just one of them. It's also interesting to see who quickly we can move on to new heroes, returning the older ones to regular life.
          Flags is as stirring as any "traditional" World War II movie without sugar coating the realities of war. One incident haunts John Bradley long after the war, and it's a very jarring image. The war scenes are almost as harrowing and dramatic as what Spielberg gave us in Saving Private Ryan. A scene with a literal battle over the flag is especially tense.
          Flags falls a little short of Private Ryan or Schindler's List or even a couple of Eastwood's other directorial works, but it doesn't rank too far behind them. It also ranks not too far behind this year's best movies, which have included tributes to heroes in the War on Terror. Actually, when you think it, we've had a nice run of patriotic movies about the everyday American rising to the occasion-- whatever the facts. 
 
Flyboys   (It Is What It Is)

          Maybe in 1916, they weren't cliches.
          But 90 years later, what we're seeing in Flyboys is pretty standard stuff for any war movie, be it a classic serial, Top Gun or even Star Wars.
          That's too bad, because Flyboys has two plot elements that could have been turned into an effective historical drama. 1) The flyboys from the title are Americans who, for different reasons, fight World War I alongside the French before the U.S. enters the conflict. 2) They are the very first fighter pilots: in 1916, these things called "planes" hadn't been around all that long.
          It is interesting to think about what the first fighter pilots went through, especially compared to the fantastic machines they fly today. These guys have to spin their own propellers when they're in a hurry, establish visual contact with their enemies to fight them (looking them right in the eyes in midair!) and keep a handgun nearby in case their planes go down and they'd rather go out quickly.
          Sadly, the too-long movie is bogged down with the same old flyboy stuff. You'll know right away that James Franco's Maverick... er... Blaine Rawlings... will be a hotshot that has trouble with authority but will eventually be the hero. You'll figure out which members of the ragtag group are trouble but will learn some valuable lessons. You'll recognize the romance Rawlings has with a local girl (the key to her heart of course: play with the kids!). And you'll know who dies and how he'll be honored.
          The real life guys this movie was based on probably deserved a better honor.


Four Brothers (Tremendous)
          This is a favorable review, but if you're going to enjoy this movie, you have to do what I did and look past one problem.
          Here's what we've got:  the four brothers in Four Brothers were all foster children adopted by a sainted mother.  She is murdered in what looks like a convenience store holdup, but the boys realize there's more to the story and take the law into their own hands. 
          While these guys are beating the crap out of the suspects, I have to think their sainted mother up in Heaven might have been thinking, "Uh, boys, I didn't raise you that way."   It's especially shocking after the movie's opening where we see the familial bond these four adopted brothers of different races have with each other.  You think "these guys were raised right."  
          Then boom-- they get really violent, and the movie changes.  They hunt two guys down in a car chase and take care of them. 
          But man, what a cool car chase that was.  The way the cars skidded around in the snow the way they would if they were in a Rochester, NY car chase was thrilling.  So put the complaint aside.
          Boyz N The Hood director John Singleton has transitioned from his earlier grittier (and violent) work to a slam-bang, car chase, shoot-em-up.  The shootouts are well-staged, and the suspense level is high any time the shots ring out.  It's a pretty decent script, with a couple of red herrings thrown in that had me thinking, "Ah, that's why mom got shot." 
          As for the four brothers, they're all very good.  Most important, they're very good together.  They had to have camaraderie for us to believe they were a family, and they do.  They're convincing as they settle into their old habits as they reconvene in their boyhood house.
          Mark Wahlberg acts like-- well, Marky Mark-- but this is an urban drama so it works.  Also impressive is OutKast's Andre Benjamin, who was one of the best things about the very mediocre Be Cool earlier this year

 

 




Ghost Rider  (It Is What It Is)

           As a comic book series, Ghost Rider never really took off.  But as a comic book figure, he’s one of the more memorable super heroes.
           Why wouldn’t he be?  He’s a leather-bound stunt cyclist with a flaming skullhead.  That is cool.  That’s the kind of thing people get tattooed on themselves.
           How stunt rider Johnny Blaze became Ghost Rider is a little convoluted, as is his mission in life (death?).  The hard-to-explain concept is probably the reason why Marvel Comics hasn’t published Ghost Rider on a regular basis, but the cool look is probably the reason they keep trying.
           Now Hollywood is giving Ghost Rider a shot, with a big-time star in the title role.  Nicolas Cage, a long-time comic book fan finally gets a shot at playing a super hero  (Cage took his stage name from Marvel Comics’ Luke Cage, he gave his son Superman’s Krytonian name and he has owned some of the most sought after comics ever printed), and obviously is having fun.
           Ghost Rider could be a dark, goth kind of film with its concept:  Blaze sells his soul to The Devil, who collects on the deal by recruiting Blaze to become his bounty hunter.  In the presence of evil, Blaze becomes Ghost Rider and forces evil-doers to confront what they’ve done.  Now, if you say that out loud, it’s pretty ludicrous, and to the movie maker’s credit, they don’t take it too seriously.   This is a comic book movie if there ever was one.
           Cage is a lot of fun as Blaze, a tortured soul sure, but he adds a lot of humor to his character.  It’s more of a deadpan kind of torture.  Sure, he feels guilty he sold his soul to the devil, but he never forgets he loves the Carpenters and anything on TV featuring monkeys.
           Sadly, the movie lost me when Blaze actually does become Ghost Rider, which happens in our second half.  Ghost Rider looks cool, but he’s a complete CGI creation with no personality.  I’m not entirely sure that’s even Cage’s voice anymore.  And as the fights get underway, things happen that seem to contradict the explanation of who Ghost Rider is and how he got that way.  The concept shouldn’t matter too much if you’re just trying to have fun, but it becomes so ludicrous, it’s hard to care.
           I really liked one nice touch:  casting Peter Fonda as The Devil.  When you think about it, that would be Easy Rider helping create Ghost Rider.  (And a quiz to see if anyone’s really reading:  why else is it cool to have Peter Fonda in the role?  Hint:  it has to do with Marvel Comics)
           Ghost Rider’s limitations as a comic book series translated to the screen, which probably means we won’t have a new franchise here.  That would explain why this is a February release and not a summer blockbuster.  But before Ghost Rider I saw two previews Ghost Rider fans will like:  Spider-Man 3 and Fantastic Four:  Rise Of The Silver Surfer.    So consider Ghost Rider an appetizer for now.

The Golden Compass  (Kept Checking My Watch)
          Conservative Christians and atheists are both complaining about The Golden Compass.  The Christians say it promotes atheism; some atheists are saying it doesn’t do enough to do so.
          I came out with a prayer of my own:  “Dear God, they aren’t really going to make another one of these, are they?”
          The long and senseless movie goes on forever and leads to no real conclusion, but then throughout, I never really knew what the characters were trying to do.  Still, it’s clearly set up for a sequel.  Golden Compass:  you are no Harry Potter
          And Harry’s success is the reason they’re making movies like this nowadays.  It has nothing to do with God, atheists, wizards or what have you.  It’s about marketing, and by the end of The Golden Compass, I’d had my fill.  Actually, I realized I’d had my fill when I saw all the Potter-inspired films in the previews.  I think every one of them featured talking animals, gold lettering in its titles, an announcer using the words “magical” and “adventure,” and one special little kid who is “the chosen one.”
         The Golden Compass had all the above too.  It’s the story of a special little girl who will somehow lead us to the truth about “dust.”  Dust are particles that let people see the truth about other worlds—but the priests in power don’t want her to uncover that truth because they’ll lose their power.  All people in her world have demons (spelled “daemons” for fanciful effect) that are actually living, morphing animals walking beside them.  The priests capture her friends, and she goes off on a quest to free them, aided by a group of Egyptians (I think they said Egyptians.  It was probably some variation of the word to make it more “subtle” that the anti-Christians were being helped by Muslims). 
         There’s a weird sidebar involving polar bears that makes no sense at all.  It looks very cool (most of the movie does), but all I could think is it looks like a Christmas Coca Cola commercial gone wrong.
         I didn’t get it, so Christians don’t worry:  I don’t think kids will either.  Maybe they got the messages in Philip Pullman’s books, maybe they didn’t.  But among the special effects and medieval babbling in the film, I would think they’ll be as lost as I was.  I’m all for subversive stories, but as an adult, it’s cooler to look back and discover something you didn’t realize was subversive… like when you realize Alice In Wonderland is a big long drug trip.  The lack of subtlety here just made me roll my eyes.

 Good Luck Chuck   (Kept Checking My Watch)
          Decision time:  do I want this site to be R-rated?  Because there are words that rhyme with Luck and Chuck that would fit nicely into this review.
          If you saw the commercials, you’ll think Good Luck Chuck is about Dane Cook falling in love with Jessica Alba and struggling to get through day-to-day life with her since she’s such a klutz.  She is, but perhaps the creators realized Jessica Alba isn’t that great a physical actress and abandoned that.  The real premise of the movie is that Cook’s Chuck is a good luck charm for women seeking their true love.  If they sleep with him, the next person they date is their soul mate and eventual husband. 
          So before Chuck hooks up with Alba, he sleeps with a lot of women to make the most of this “gift.”  He’s egged on by a best friend, who is the epitome of the “guy best friend” in a romantic comedy – an immature lout who thinks about nothing but partying and sex even though he has no game himself.  He’s played by a guy with no charisma whose name I’d mention, but I don’t feel like looking him up, and since he’s so bad, it’s just not worth it.
          The ludicrous premise reaches its ridiculous peak when Chuck does get involved with Alba… and is fearful he’ll lose her to the next guy she meets.  Since the idea is so vague, it’s hard to know the rules of this curse.  I’ll travel back in time now and address Chuck:  “Dude, just break up with her.  Then get back together with her, and you’re all set.”
          There are a couple of funny moments when Chuck becomes something of a Jessica Alba stalker, but they’re negated by the unfunny moments.  Looking back, the curse left a bad taste in my mouth, particularly when Chuck hooks up with one woman to “do her a favor” so she will meet her true love.  It’s supposed to be nice, but it comes off as exploitive and cruel.




Good Night, And Good Luck/Capote
(reviewed together for WHAM Radio -- both ranked "Tremendous")
          I'm lumping both movies together because each has been out for a few weeks already (look, I can't do everything), and because both are real stories about powerful and charismatic figures who symbolize the changing face of their mediums.
          First up: Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote in Capote. He's been creepy (Happiness), funny (Along Came Polly), and has played charismatic real-life figures (Almost Famous) before. The Fairport native does all three here, pulling off the best performance of his career and maybe the best performance by anyone this year.  As of this writing, I stand by that.  David Stathairn (see below) and Joaquin Phoenix are both being mentioned as Oscar contenders. Both would be well-deserved, but Hoffman is better. Hoffman's going to face a challenge though. Strathairn and Phoenix play icons, and affection for who they play may persuade voters.
          The film covers Capote writing his most infamous work:   In Cold Blood. Already a celebrity journalist (one who covers celebrities and becomes one himself) in the 1960s, Capote would gain major fame with the unprecedented success of In Cold Blood. (An author becomes a major star, without wizards!)  He never wrote again after Blood, likely because of what we see in the movie. The flamboyant writer goes to smalltown Kansas to cover the murder of an entire family. He's drawn to one of the killers and even helps his defense-- until he realizes not helping will ensure his book has a better ending.
          It cannot be easy to play someone like Truman Capote and be convincing. His small stature, his speech patterns and his blatant homosexuality would make Capote easy to parody (and he has been parodied many times), but Hoffman hits everything that made the late writer such a charismatic, imposing and tortured person.
          In Cold Blood itself was made into a movie, ironically starring future murder suspect Robert Blake as killer Perry Smith. Smith's story became a book, but had it happened now, it would have been exactly the type of tabloid story that the Blake story did.
          Which leads to my now-telegraphed segue to Good Night, And Good Luck, covering the battle between legendary broadcaster Edward R. Murrow and Sen. Joseph McCarthy.
          It's a very good movie with a very narrow target audience. You know McCarthy was a bad guy (He had an "ism" named after him. That tends to make you either really good or really bad). Anyone interested in this movie already knows that. Still, director George Clooney and the actor playing McCarthy do a very good job reminding us what a nutcase the guy was.
          That's because the actor playing McCarthy is McCarthy himself. When he's onscreen, it's actual footage. Now, one could try and argue Clooney manipulates the footage to prove his point, but this movie takes place in the early days of TV journalism when interviews weren't chopped up into ten second soundbites. The movie is in black and white because that's what TV was like back then, and the footage speaks for itself, because that's what it did back then.
          Clooney is something of an activist in the real world, the kind that listeners to right-wing talk radio often shout: "Shut up and make a movie." So he did. Clooney does lecture, but I didn't sit there and think: "Take that McCarthy and all you modern day McCarthys." I thought: "Man, he's being harsh on the media." If you're one of the aforementioned right-wing radio listeners (and I talk to you people everyday), you may enjoy a movie that tells you what you often tell me: the media doesn't do a good enough job today getting to the facts and to what's important. Our perspectives on what's important may be different, but good journalism would let us make up our own minds.
          David Strathairn is a convincing Murrow-- a powerful journalist with the integrity to stand up to McCarthy. My peers and I would bow down if such a man came into our newsrooms, but Good Night doesn't make Murrow perfect. He argues with his boss about whether he's too biased in his take on McCarthy, and admittedly, his boss has a point. His network wants him to cover what people care about-- so for every expose on McCarthy, Murrow has to do an interview with a celebrity like Liberace.
          Kudos to Clooney for his supporting role in the movie as TV news producer Fred Friendly. (Cue the corny music)  News producers are complex individuals who juggle many tasks. They are often invisible to the public. You don't see or hear what they do, but if they stopped doing it, you'd notice.
          But before I get too full of myself and how much I've learned from Good Night, And Good Luck, I'd better hit "save" so I can get on the air and talk about Lindsay Lohan and who got voted off Survivor.  I appreciate the lesson George, and I will encourage my peers to take it seriously. But sometimes you do have to give people what they want too.


The Good Shepherd   (It Is What It Is)
         
We may never know the real identities of the people who founded the CIA, so director Robert DeNiro has given us a fictional spy to take us through the early days of the organization.  This "good shepherd" is Edward Wilson (Matt Damon), a member of the mysterious Skull and Bones society at Yale.  He's recruited into intelligence at the onset of World War II and is eventually a key figure in the new Central Intelligence Agency.
          Not all of the immediate events that happen around Wilson happened, but many did:  the War, the fall of Berlin, the election of President Kennedy and the Bay of Pigs.  The failure at the Bay of Pigs is one of the central mysteries of the movie: someone with inside information connected to Wilson is responsible for leaking crucial intelligence on the invasion.  Wilson investigates, and as his investigation unfolds, the movie flashes back through more than 20 years of his life-- all ties to his mysterious and dangerous career.  Wilson's life parallels the CIA as it gets more complex and arguably more corrupt and morally questionable.
          Damon, who continues to impress, does a solid job of playing a young man at Yale and an older man with a grown son.  I didn't think I could buy the former Good Will Hunting star as a man in his 40's, but he pulls off a maturity we haven't seen from him before.  Angelina Jolie does an alright job as his wife, but her role is so small compared to Damon's that it's hard to judge her on an equal basis. 
          DeNiro (who plays a small role himself) is certainly ambitious with how much ground he tries to cover, and it's fascinating to speculate on what may have been going on "behind the scenes" of history.  Unfortunately, the movie's big mystery doesn't have a satisfying payoff.  The solution becomes obvious at one point, and then we have to wait a long time for the big reveal.    
          Then again, we wait a long time for the end too.  At nearly 170 minutes, the movie feels like it's almost an hour longer than it needs to be.  So many scenes could get to the point much sooner than they do, and just when you think it's over, DeNiro tacks on an overly dramatic and unnecessary plot twist to drive home a point we already got. 

The Greatest Game Ever Played    (It Is What It Is)
          It's a funny thing about The Greatest Game Ever Played.  I'm not a sports fan, and I find golf deadly dull.  Most of The Greatest Game is about as exciting as golf, except for, oddly enough, the big game at the end.
          Actor Bill Paxton is the director for this film about the 1913 U.S. Open, when a middle class teenager named Francis Ouimet (Shia LeBeouf) competed as an amateur against top-ranked pros, including British champion Harry Vardon.  It's a little like Cinderella Man-- an average working class stiff captures the imagination of the country facing off against a seasoned champion.  Like Cinderella Man, I didn't know my sports history enough to know how it all turns out.  The Open is edited at a good brisk pace, making it an exciting game to watch.
          Until then, we've seen it all before.  It was called Caddyshack.  It's a story about a caddie with talent who inspires the rich guys enough that they sponsor him in a big tournament.  (I'd call it Caddyshack without the laughs, if I didn't think Caddyshack was one fo the most overrated comedies ever, but that's a topic for another day). 
          The character of Vardon is not the snob that Ted Knight was.  In fact, I think we were supposed to feel sorry for him because as a child, some odd-looking men wouldn't let him play golf.  It's an odd flashback he keeps having through the movie that I think was supposed to make him as sympathetic as Ouimet.  But I don't know, is not being able to play golf the worst thing that could happen to someone in 1913?
          But if you care about that-- or if you child does-- The Greatest Game might be worth a try.  It is a traditional Disney family film, and I could see a kid who's interested in golf taking an interest here.   


Grindhouse   (Tremendous)
          It’s a shame the DVD for Grindhouse will be split in two, since it's really designed to be a 3-hour experience.  Of course, it’s probably an experience that should be had in a movie theater and if people aren't going,  at least the DVD plan could get more people to watch these two very entertaining stories.
          Let me explain for anyone who isn’t a die-hard Robert Rodriguez or Quentin Tarantino fan.  Grindhouse is a double feature homage to the trashy exploitation films of the early 70s.  It is two-movies-in-one, with pseudo-trailers at the beginning and in between.  While both stories take place now, the film looks like it hasn’t been taken out of its canister since 1974.  The audio breaks up, an occasional hair will move across the screen, and there are even reels “missing.”  Grindhouse even includes a “Now Our Feature Presentation” reel with graphics that guys in sideburns and leisure suits once thought were very slick looking.  It’s a whole lot of fun.
          Actually, it’s a whole lot of sick fun.
          The more entertaining movie is the first, Rodriguez’s Planet Terror.    The plot isn’t as important as the images and the goofy dialogue.  Zombies are taking over a small town, and it’s only hope is a drifter with a dark secret, an amazing proficiency with weapons and an ex-girlfriend with a gun for a leg (Rose McGowan providing the iconic image of the film).  Limb, blood and puss fly everywhere in this epic battle.  It’s gloriously ridiculous.
           Death Proof almost made me try a little stunt.  As I watched, I thought I might have to put Planet Terror under “Go See” and Death Proof under “See If You Want.”  Death Proof isn’t as action-packed as Planet Terror, but it’s very interesting, especially if you’re a fan of Tarantino and his dialogue.  We follow a never-better Kurt Russell as he follows groups of young women.  His “Stuntman Mike” is a serial killer with an intriguing method of operations.  It’s mesmerizing watching him stalk his prey.
          Unfortunately, some of his prey are the centerpiece of an excruciatingly long diner scene that comes nowhere close to the superior diner scenes in Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction.  So take this advice:  when you see Rosario Dawson sit down, take the bathroom break you’ll want during this three hour plus experience.
          But get back in time for the car chase, which is just fantastic.  It was so good, Death Proof moved back into the “Go See” category.  The stunt work is great, as is Russell’s acting through the whole thing.
          I refuse to give away the ending, but I’ll say this:  it’s perfect.  By that, I don’t mean it’s a clever plot resolution.  I mean the exact final second of film is great.
          The real highlights of Grindhouse are the fake trailers before and between Planet Terror and Death Proof.  I would love to see Grindhouse 2, made up of a double feature of Thanksgiving and Werewolf Women of the S.S.  Sadly, Grindhouse’s initial box office take will mean no sequel, but I urge you to get this experience in at a theater while you can.  If you like this stuff, you’ll love a stop at the Grindhouse. 

 Guess Who   (Kept Checking My Watch)
          Ashton Kucher and Bernie Mac are no Sidney Poitier and Spencer Tracy.  They're not even Ben Stiller and Robert DeNiro.
          I think it's fantastic that there can be a movie where a white man is engaged to a black woman, meets her family, and there's no problem.  It shows how far we've come.  Ashton Kucher as the fiancee says at one point that the only way to deal with differences is to confront them.  Sadly, the movie doesn't. 
          He could have been a white kid.  He could have been a fat kid.  He could have had long hair.  That doesn't matter-- Bernie Mac's father wasn't going to like the kid no matter what.  In the previews, we're made to think we're going to have a comedy that tackles the issue of race.  Its title of course is a play on the classic Guess Who's Coming To Dinner.  But aside from Kucher telling an inappropriate joke at dinner and a bit about NASCAR being a white man's sport, race is not really an issue in this movie.  The characters are interchangeable.  Again, that's fantastic.  What it means is this movie didn't need making.
          What we get instead is a watered-down Meet The Parents.  Mac intimidates, Kucher gets nervous, but if you've seen the previews, you've seen the funniest moments.   (Speaking of which, you may have seen the preview where they listen to "Ebony and Ivory" on the radio.  I challenge you to find a radio station that's actually playing that song.)
          This by the way would be the third movie in the last few weeks to end with the characters dancing at a reception.  If you're keeping track, the sequence is best in Hitch, Guess Who is second, The Wedding Date is last.

The Guardian   (Tremendous)
          Fresh from seeing Flyboys and even Gridiron Gang, I thought I'd be a little more jaded about the cliche relationship between grizzled veteran coaches and brash young hotshots.
          The Guardian has many familiar elements from your typical military movie: the guy past his prime forced to train the newbies, the hotshot with an attitude, the hotshot's romance with the hottest girl at the bar, the trainee who cracks under pressure.... heck, it even has a familiar title (Kevin Costner is now both a bodyguard and a guardian).
          But The Guardian takes those overdone elements and moves them into new territory: a film about the Coast Guard and its rescue swimmers. I don't remember any prominent Coast Guard movies off the top of my head, so the scenes we're used to seeing involving ground troops or fighter pilots or troubled athletes become fresh again when the trainees are in the pool or in the ocean.
          In fact, the movie is best when the action is in the water. The rescue scenes are action-packed and at times absolutely harrowing. The training scenes are also pretty effective since while the relationships aren't that new to audiences, what they do in them is. We see cadets trying to swim with weights over their heads, drag heavy items on the floor, and physically fight with their trainers who are simulating panic-stricken victims.
          Costner has the grizzled veteran trainer part down by now-- it's really not that far off from his Bull Durham character, although the situations here are obviously much more serious. Ashton Kutcher as the brash hotshot may be the best I've seen him. He may never mature enough to play the Costner role in a movie like this, but he does bring some layers to his own part. He has enough of a babyface to be convincingly humble when it's time for his hotshot to get taken down a notch.
          I'm recommending you see The Guardian, but if you're interested in it, let me warn you away from the ad campaign. A colleague figured out something big that happens in this movie because it was in the TV commercial. If you know the cast and who they're each playing, one part of the movie is given away by what happens in the spot. I saw the movie and I'll be darned, she was right. Still, for awhile there, I thought she might be wrong, since the offending moment was actually taken out of the final product!  I appreciate their wanting to do something about spoilers, but they got it backwards.

 Hannibal Rising  (Kept Checking My Watch)
          I know Thomas Harris wrote a series of Hannibal Lecter books, but doesn’t he know how perfect a movie Silence Of The Lambs is?  It had this guy Hannibal Lecter locked up in a cage with a grisly past we could only imagine.  And at the end, he was off to do more horrible deeds that again, we could only imagine.
          But Harris wanted more of his books to make it to the big screen, so he gave us sequels that well… didn’t live up to that final shot in Silence of the Lambs (but I’ll admit—seeing Ray Liotta’s brain exposed was more horrible than I could imagine).  Now he’s written the screenplay based on his novel Hannibal Rising, a look at the cannibal’s formative years—a look at what in his childhood turned him into the movie’s most famous cannibal.
          Why would I want to know that?  Why would I want to have the grisly past I could only imagine spelled out for me?  And why would I ever want to feel sorry for Hannibal Lecter?
          The story begins in Lithuania during World War II, when Nazis invade the childhood home of Hannibal and his family.  The group is snowed in, and the horrors Hannibal witnesses make a big impression on him.  For the heck of it, I won’t give it all away, but my advice to Harris:  repressed memories are only interesting as plot devices if the audience isn’t in on them from the beginning.  It kind of ruins “the big reveal.”
          In the years that follow his ordeal, Hannibal the young man journeys through Europe, attending medical school, moving in with his uncle’s exotic wife (Gong Li of Memoirs of a Geisha) and becoming the man he does.  In one ludicrous part, he even goes through some samurai training.  Then—what a happy coincidence—the very Nazis who scarred him pretty much land right in his jaws for him to take revenge and whet his appetite.  It’s like a sadistic Batman Begins. 
          Gaspard Ulleil as the young Hannibal does an adequate Sir Anthony Hopkins impression, but he looks too much like Crispin Glover to imagine he’ll become that guy Jodie Foster eventually comes to for advice.
          Note to Thomas Harris:  the lambs stopped screaming.  Please no more.

 

Harry Potter & The Goblet Of Fire   (It Is What It Is)
          I'll be upfront. I haven't seen all the Harry Potter movies and have never cracked open a Potter book.
          I was curious about the first movie back when it came out, so I saw it and thought it was... well... competent. It had great special effects and a talented cast of young and veterans actors, but somehow I could tell it was just taking the book and doing a scene-by-scene recreation. The book probably had the real magic I was looking for. After that, well, I wasn't getting paid to watch movies so I missed the next couple.
          Which brings us to Harry Potter & The Goblet Of Fire and the reason for the above disclaimer. Goblet is a very good movie, with an engaging story, excitement, magic, amazing special effects... and then something happens that forced this Potter-novice to look around the theater for help from the real Potter fans. Those Potter fans already know what I'm talking about. They've asked me: "So what did you think about __________?" And I have to tell them that's the point when the movie lost me.
          Until then: great movie. Harry, buddies Ron Weasley and Hermione and the rest of Hogwarts are closely watching the Triwizard Tournament, an event pitting the best student from different schools against each other in a series of dangerous tasks. The tournament is for the most experienced young wizards (about age 17), but for some mysterious reason, 14 year old Harry has been put in there.
          The challenges are the best part of the movie. There is an underwater sequence that is great to look at, as Harry and his Triwizard rivals battle underwater creatures and try to rescue their captured friends from the deep (In the real world, parents would sue if their kid's football helmet isn't on tight enough. Imagine a tournament where they risk drowning.)
          The games and the monsters they're up against are intense, and that is likely how the series has earned its first-ever PG-13 rating. Still, if your kids are sophisitcated enough to read the Potter books and handle the imagery, they should be able to handle the scarier moments.
          Goblet Of Fire also tackles real scary moments-- puberty and asking the girl you like to the big dance. Harry, Ron and Hermione all have crushes on somebody and want to take the right person to the ball that coincides with the big tournament. The scenes at the dance are funny and honest-- especially I would bet for the Potter-fans (what do you call them-- Potheads?) who have grown up right along with these characters and are going through the same awkward phase.
          Those same readers are the ones who will most love Goblet Of Fire.  It was made for them (not a bad strategy really considering the size of the Potter fanbase).  The big moment I don't know if I can talk about-- and if you're one of those people you know exactly what I'm talking about-- is confusing for the uninitiated.  That's why this otherwise great movie is a "See If You Want."  The many fans are going to see it no matter what.  The rest of us need to start at the beginning to appreciate it.

Herbie: Fully Loaded   (Kept Checking My Watch)
          OK, Disney didn't make Herbie: Fully Loaded for me, so I shouldn't trash it too much, I guess.
          But I'd guess I'm an adult writing a column for adults. There are kids' movies I can't put in the "See If You Want" column, because you probably don't want to. If your kids want to see Herbie, go ahead and take them, it won't do you any harm.
          I thought there might be something for me at first-- nostalgia at least. This isn't a remake of the original Herbie The Love Bug, it's the latest Herbie adventure. The movie opens with headlines covering where Herbie's been the last few years, accompanied by some shots from the original films. No Dean Jones though, which makes me wonder if he and Disney had a falling out.
          The living car (or magic, or whatever he is... they don't explain it and I forgot if there ever was an explanation) has been in a junkyard since his glory days, and Lindsay Lohan and her race car driving family are getting him back on the road.
          In the junkyard, I started to think this is going to be a Disney movie like I remember them. There are slapstick moments between the guy who runs the junkyard and Herbie, with Herbie messing with him behind his back.
          Then Lindsay Lohan shows up.
          Not that there's anything wrong with Lindsay, it's just that the movie becomes more about her and less about Herbie. She establishes her relationship with Herbie too quickly-- aside from some screaming, she seems to just accept the fact that "OK, I have a magic car." Then we focus on her love life, her family life and her dream of driving for her father's NASCAR team. Along the way, other people encounter Herbie, and it's not even made clear just who's in on Herbie's secret and who isn't.
          Little kids won't notice some of the flaws in logic, but once I started disliking the movie, I started looking for them. If Herbie was as famous as the opening sequence suggests, how come nobody-- including all the NASCAR drivers who are up on their history-- recognize him? If Lindsay is a last-minute addition to the big race, how does ESPN have a graphic of her ready to put onscreen? Why doesn't Herbie have to have a sponsor? (The real sponsor is Disney's ESPN network, which gets mentioned plenty.)
          I'm not saying every sports movie has to be Cinderella Man, but I wish there was more of a message here. The big goal of the movie seemed to be Linsday proving to her dad (Michael Keaton, who must hate that a great Batman movie is out and he's in this) that she could do it. It seemed like kind of a superficial goal. The family didn't seem to be in any financial crisis-- it's not like they were going to lose their home if she didn't race. Instead it was all about Lindsay getting what she wants. There's your message for the kids.
          (Sidenote: It's nice to see Lindsay Lohan acting like a young girl and not be all tarted up. She is only 18 after all, and whenever she makes news it's for who she's dating, how much weight she's lost or whether or not "they're real." She has her hair straight and simply looks like an 18 year old girl. Of course, Herbie casts her as a college graduate, meaning she'd be about 21. And for some reason her father still tells her what to do.  Ironically, she's acting her age, but not her character's age.)
          (Sidenote 2: Kudos to Herbie for at one point being able to tune in a Van Halen song on his AM-only radio. My guess is he managed to tune in some WHAM bumper music from 5-9 a.m. or 11-2 weekdays)

High Tension   (It Is What It Is)
          It's French, but don't be fooled into thinking it's high art.  It's French director Alexandre Aja trying to break into the American market.  Aja can't even decide how to present it to an American audience, alternating seemingly at random between dubbed-in English and English subtitles.
          High Tension has one of the most basic horror concepts.  A college student is staying with her friend's family when a guy bursts in overnight and kills everybody.  She fights back. 
          That's really about it.  So basically:  if you like gore, you'll like this.  If you don't, stay away, this isn't for you.  I will say High Tension finds fairly clever ways to get to that gore.  And there is a twist ending, but I figured it out early.  (Given how it ends, I do want to rewatch just to see if maybe the alternating dubbing/subtitles actually have a purpose.)

Hitch   (It Is What It Is)
            Opening in time for Valentine’s Day, Will Smith is a “date doctor” nicknamed “Hitch”, a guy men come to for advice on getting together with their true love.  If you think Smith is charming and funny (which he is), you’ll no doubt like Hitch.
           It’s nice that Hitch isn’t actually a cad who deep down hates women.   It’s not about sex, it’s about love—he refuses to take clients who are just out to hook up.  He knows what women are looking for in relationships—he helps men make the first few moves but then leaves them on their own.  How they make the relationship work is up to them.  He’s not manipulating anybody.
          Unfortunately, the relationship he’s in doesn’t work that well—for him or for the audience.  With Hitch’s charm and expertise with women, he could have pursued a less  superficial leading lady than Eva Mendes’ gossip columnist.  She’s given some dialogue and a profession to try and make her a match for Smith, but they’re in no way equals onscreen.  She tells a story about her childhood that’s supposed to give her some depth, but it comes off as forced.
          The more interesting duo is actually Smith and Kevin James (The King Of Queens).  James plays an awkward accountant trying to get together with an heiress.  While Smith provides some chuckles, it’s James who gives the movie its laugh-out-loud moments.  The best parts of the movie are watching Hitch at work.  It’s about 70% Hitch’s romance, 30% Hitch “at work.”  A 50-50 split would have been better.  It's not that Hitch doesn't deserve happiness-- it's just more fun to watch him make other couples happy.

The Holiday   (It Is What It Is)

          Either of the two movies that team up for The Holiday would be a “Go See,” but since it’s melded into one, it can’t earn a full recommendation.
          Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz play women who live, respectively, in L.A. and a little village near London.  Each has her own man problems and needs a getaway, so they swap houses and vacation in each other’s locales for a couple of weeks.  They of course take on new romantic complications with Jude Law, Jack Black and in a way, Eli Wallach.
          It might sound a little like Trading Places or even an episode of Wife Swap, except there is no real reason for these women to have traded places with each other. They don’t really swap lives, and the locales mean nothing to the plot.  The exact same things could probably have happened to them in their own homes.  The swapping makes the movie that much longer, since time could have been saved by taking out the unnecessary “fish-out-of-water” scenes.
          Individually though, the stories are pretty good.  Diaz’ is just a little better.  She’s a movie trailer producer who hears the voiceover guy narrate her own life like it was a trailer (they use the guy who voices trailers.  As a movie nerd, I loved that and would have loved to have had more of it) and gets involved with Winslet’s brother, played by Jude Law.  They hop into bed early and then have to decide where they go from there.  Law is the best he’s been in a while, playing a charmer and not a cad. 
          Winslet’s storyline is also decent, although not as sexy.  She ends up restoring the confidence and health of an elderly screenwriting legend (Wallach) while striking up a flirtatious relationship with Jack Black.  I feel a little bad for Black and Winslet, who might have been told they aren’t the sexier couple.
 Sexy or not, they’re all attractive people who it’s not all that bad to spend a little time with-- just not too much time.

The Honeymooners   (It Is What It Is)
          My fellow critics are being a little hard on The Honeymooners.
          OK, it's not the funniest movie I've ever seen, but-- and maybe this is sacrilege-- The Honeymooners TV show wasn't the funniest TV show ever either.  Still, it's held on a pedestal by many, so you know anyone comparing the two isn't going to hold them in equal regard. 
          And they did call their movie The Honeymooners-- so they're asking for it.
          Pointing out the obvious, you'll notice the cast of the update is African-Amercian.  To their credit, race is not an issue in the movie.   It's the "Modern Honeymooners"-- not the "Black Honeymooners."
          So in this modern update, we still have a guy named Ralph Kramden (Cedric The Entertainer) and his buddy Ed Norton (Mike Epps), always out to score in some kind of get-rich-quick scheme.  The 1950's Honeymooners TV series always took place in the confines of the Kramdens' apartment, but a 2005 feature film doesn't have those limitations.  So this time, we see those schemes played out-- we see Ralph and Norton at auctions, in the subway, on Ralph's bus and at the dog track.  By going on location, it means we get more physical humor than we ever did on the series. 
          It also means we get less of the two characters I'd assume are "the honeymooners"-- Ralph and his wife Alice (Gabrielle Union).  The show was really about Jackie Gleason and Audrey Meadows-- that's why it almost always ended with Ralph telling her "Baby, you're the greatest."  (Never mind the implied beatings from earlier in the episode).  This movie ends with a shot of Ralph and Norton, because the story of two guys and their schemes is easier to do than a story about a couple coping with their financial woes.
          Really, I think the only harm this movie does to The Honeymooners is the appropriation of the name.  It may not be hysterical, but it doesn't harm the name by going lowbrow or crude.  I chuckled a few times, even if I didn't laugh out loud.
          Which leads me back to the inevitable comparisons.  It probably needed the name to get our attention, but it is possible to do a comedy inspired by The Honeymooners that isn't called The Honeymooners.  It worked for The Flintstones.

Into The Blue  (It Is What It Is)
           Into The Blue is what it is, and it doesn't try to be anything else. It's good looking people in bathing suits who live in the Bahamas and search for buried treasure. 
          Paul Walker (The Fast And The Furious) used to work with a group that searched for treasure in the ocean and found it.  He sets off on his own, and of course, things aren't going his way.  He can barely afford to keep his boat afloat, and his former colleagues are taking everything.  All he has going for him is his angelic girlfriend (Jessica Alba).
          They find a lost treasure and have a chance at striking it rich.  But wouldn't you know it?  They also find drugs, and if they're going to get their fortune, they're going to have to deal with some unsavory types.
          It's not high art on the high seas, but it's a pleasant way to pass an evening.  There are enough twists to keep you interested but not too many to stretch credibility.  If you just want to eat your popcorn and not think too much, Into The Blue is a good choice.
          (And since we aren't getting too much into deep thought here, I'll talk about Jessica Alba's bikini.  If you see the trailer for Into The Blue, you'll think she wears it the whole time.  You'd be right.  Unlike The Dukes Of Hazzard where another Jessica didn't wear the bikini all that much, this movie makes the most of its Jessica.  Ladies, the movie makes the most of Paul Walker too.)  

The Interpreter   (Tremendous)
          Director Sydney Pollack interprets the script for The Interpreter just right. 
          He's got a United Nations interpreter (Nicole Kidman) who hears a murder plot being discussed somewhere on the floor of the General Assembly-- in a language few other people understand.   He's got Sean Penn as a Secret Service agent assigned to protect the target-- an African dictator who is going to speak to the U.N., trying to keep from being brought up on charged of genocide.  He's got the stage of the United Nations itself.  And he's got two Academy Award winning actors as his leads.
          So many other things could have happened with this movie.  The leads could have overacted trying to live up to their Oscar reputations.  Sean Penn's character could have gotten in some precarious situations and pulled off amazing feats, rescuing Kidman from impossible situations.  And of course, the two could have fallen in love.
          I'm happy to say The Interpreter stays focused.  It's a political mystery that stays right in that realm.  Penn is a competent Secret Service agent working his case.  He's attracted to Nicole Kidman because-- well, she's Nicole Kidman-- but Pollack knows a romance would have been too much.  He stays with the mystery and suspense (a scene on a city bus where many of the principals come together is particularly good). 
          The script would make a good episode of Law & Order.  Throw in top-notch talent like Pollack, Penn and Kidman, and it's a very good movie.

Jarhead   (Tremendous)
          You couldn't do this, and you probably wouldn't want to.
          OK, maybe you could, but I'm playing the odds and going along with the whole "The Few, The Proud, The Marines" thing and guessing you wouldn't want to go through boot camp or endure life in the desert during Operations Desert Shield and Storm.
          Jarhead is a frank look at what life was like for the Marines then. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Marine Anthony Swofford in this adaptation of his Gulf War memoir. We see his reality-- the brutal training with its real risks, a wall of shame of girlfriends and wives who have been unfaithful.... and the boredom. There's really not a lot for a group of young men to do when they're living in the desert, on guard, waiting for a war to start.
          So we see some guys go insane in a situation where it's hard to blame them.  Gyllenhaal and his brothers-in-arms (including Lucas Black, the kid from Sling Blade all grown up) do some pretty immature and irresponsible things (they are very young), that maybe at first viewing aren't a great tribute to the Marines. They're all fired up and ready to fight-- maybe too ready (they watch Apocalypse Now before heading off to Kuwait and totally miss the point).  Still, the "career" Marines played by Jamie Foxx and Peter Sarsgaard I would think do the Corps proud. The point would be that the Marines are each real people, each having their own real reactions.
          The action and the violence manages to be both real and surreal. There's not a lot of slow motion action sequences;  it's done in real time. It's matter of fact in the beginning, but like the aforementioned Apocalypse Now, it gets trippy. The desert would do that to you. It had to be bizarre to be otu there and see burned up bodies and oil wells on fire.
          Jarhead is a tribute to these guys without overdoing it. There's not a lot of flag-waving (to be honest, I'm trying to think if I saw a flag.) One guy gets political, and Foxx tells him to stuff the politics. They're there, and that's it.
          There are some moments of dark humor in Jarhead. If you're the guy going nose-to-nose with a drill sergeant, you wouldn't be laughing. Watching it-- and listening to the slew of profanities and x-rated stories coming out of his mouth-- is pretty funny.
          This is a "guys'" movie. Not that women couldn't see it, but it's all guys. Women are seen in photos and flashbacks, but that's it. (They of course did serve;  I'm curious why we don't even see one).
          It will be interesting to see how the public reacts to Jarhead. The TV series Over There, about the Iraq War, will not be back on due to low ratings. It may have been too much for audiences to see what their loved ones are going through right now. Jarhead gives us just a little more distance because of its time frame and may be an easier (if only slightly easier) way to see what these guys go through.

Just Friends   (It Is What It Is)
          We've all heard the F word. Oh, they mean it in a nice way, but it's not what you want to hear. You and that someone you think is the special someone are just "friends."
          It was really stinging back in high school, when a crush could be all-consuming. That's what Ryan Reynolds is up against at the beginning of Just Friends, as he gets ready to declare his love to his best friend, played by Amy Smart. (He gets ready by lip-synching "I Swear" by All-4-One. 90s nostalgia. Too soon, too soon.)   He tries to make his move, but she utters the f word and his dreams are shattered.
          Ten years later, he's a music business big shot, who's lost weight and now knows how to pick up women. He ends up back home for the holidays, and tries to put his new skills to work on his old friend. He's up against Chris Klein, who also knew her back in the day and who's had a similar life.
          I guess I'm "just friends" with this movie. There's nothing too wrong with it. It follows the themes of some classic romantic comedies, but to paraphrase Amy Smart and some girls and boys we all remember, I just don't like it that way.
          It explores the old idea of whether men and women can be friends, but it's not as sophisticated as When Harry Met Sally. It follows a couple of obsessed guys after their dream girl, but it's not nearly as funny as There's Something About Mary.
          There were some real laughs to be had (I loved a sledding scene and got a kick out of Reynolds and his brother getting in slapping fights), but it's not on Mary's level. Reynolds, Smart, Klein and Amy Faris as Reynolds' psycho client are all ok actors, but they're at a different level than your Billy Crystals or Meg Ryans and will probably find themselves always working with each other. You end up rooting for Reynolds to win his dream girl, even though she's not really that deep a character.
          Still, it's not bad and is probably an ok date movie.
          Just Friends and I are friends, but I wouldn't buy the DVD.