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The latest and least effective of Disney’s inspirational sports movies, “The Greatest Game Ever Played” tells the strikingly similar tales of British golfing great Harry Vardon (Stephen Dillane) and upstart 20-year-old American amateur Francis Ouimet (Shia LaBeouf) and their meeting at the 1913 U.S. Open in Brookline, Mass. “Remember the Titans,” “The Rookie” and “Miracle” all projected a level of respect for the sports they portrayed (football, baseball and hockey, respectively), but “Greatest Game” double bogeys, making last year’s rather staid golf drama “Bobby Jones -- Stroke of Genius” seem like a winner by comparison.

Director Bill Paxton, working from Mark Frost’s adaptation of his own book, spins an old-fashioned tale as Vardon and Ouimet battle aristocratic twits in their struggle to break down the barriers of class to play the game they love.

Dillane and LaBeouf are fine, but they’re surrounded by such underwritten stereotypes as Ouimet’s disapproving father (Elias Koteas) and the pretty little rich girl (Peyton List) who gives him the time of day despite her family’s objections. Paxton and Frost lay the schmaltz on thickly, but the deal-breaker is the overuse of special effects, which make the game in question look more like pinball than golf.

Josh Flitter, as Ouimet’s cherubic, 10-year-old caddy, steals his scenes, spouting such lyrical, can-do axioms as “Read it. Roll it. Hole it” and “Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.”

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-- Kevin Crust

“The Greatest Game Ever Played,” PG for some brief mild language. Running time: 2 hours. In general release.

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‘Into the Blue’ is low on oxygen

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Paul Walker can hold his breath a really long time, or at least his character in the insipid “Into the Blue” can. However, that’s nothing compared to how long you’ll be waiting for something remotely interesting to happen in this logic-challenged dive-bum thriller directed by John Stockwell, who did the equally silly surf movie “Blue Crush.”

Walker, Jessica Alba, Scott Caan and Ashley Scott play friends who discover what might be buried treasure on the ocean floor in Bahamian waters. Nearby lies the wreckage of a plane containing a whole lot of cocaine creating that dreaded ethical conundrum: whom do you root for when everyone is sleazy?

The dialogue credited to Matt Johnson consists mainly of “We’re outta here” and declarations of intent are usually punctuated by the endearment “Bro.” There are also plenty of man-hugs and big-ups (the fist-to-fist greeting of the islands) to keep the testosterone at sufficiently brain-dead levels. Alba and Scott are reduced to eye candy as the camera nuzzles their derrieres from peculiar angles in and out of the water.

-- Kevin Crust

“Into the Blue,” PG-13 for intense sequences of action violence, drug material, some sexual content and language. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes. In general release.

*

Reunited, and what a ‘Reception’

John G. Young’s “The Reception” is a gratifyingly subtle and sophisticated chamber drama set on a 300-acre snow-covered estate in upstate New York. Bitter divorcee Jeanette (Pamela Holden Stewart), a beautiful but alcoholic Frenchwoman of perhaps 40, has retreated from the world in her elegant and spacious Victorian, which she has shared for the past six years with the devoted Martin (Wayne Lamont Sims), a gay African American painter who has fled the New York dating scene.

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Disrupting their world, Jeanette’s estranged daughter Sierra (Margaret Burkwit) arrives unannounced to introduce her new husband, Andrew (Darien Sills-Evans), and claim her inheritance, which she is to receive upon her marriage. Sierra’s French grandmother, still very much alive, has bypassed her daughter, because of her drinking, in favor of her granddaughter. Jeanette insists the newlyweds stay for her birthday party the next evening and several more days so that she can hold a proper wedding reception. Jeanette and Sierra get on better than either might have imagined, but as the title suggests, events take a dramatic turn at the party.

Handsome and perceptive, “The Reception” serves as a reminder that it is possible to make a polished, worldly and witty adult entertainment on a modest budget.

-- Kevin Thomas

“The Reception,” unrated. Adult themes, situations, some language, sexuality. Running time: 1 hour, 18 minutes. Exclusively at the Fairfax Cinemas, 7907 Beverly Blvd. (at Fairfax Avenue), L.A. (323) 655-4010.

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Nope, not ready for the ‘Big’ league

“My Big Fat Independent Movie” is a big fast bust -- and one would have thought co-writer/producer Chris Gore, founder of the website Film Threat and author of “The Ultimate Film Festival Survival Guide,” would have been involved with something a lot funnier than this lame spoof of a plethora of ‘90s indie films, directed in ham-fisted fashion by Philip Zlotorynski.

The plot Gore concocted with co-writer Adam Schwartz finds two L.A. hit men (Neil Barton, Eric Hoffman) assigned to stage a “botched robbery” in a Las Vegas warehouse for undisclosed reasons. They mistakenly pick up a forlorn trombonist (Darren Keefe), thinking he’s a member of their gang, and eventually a sex-starved convenience store cashier (Paget Brewster) tags along with them.

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What’s most amusing about “My Big Fat Independent Movie,” billed optimistically as “a lowbrow comedy for the highbrow crowd,” is that its promotional materials audaciously place it in the same league of spoofery as “Blazing Saddles,” “Airplane!” and “Scary Movie.” Now that’s a laugh.

-- Kevin Thomas

“My Big Fat Independent Movie,” R for crude and sexual humor, language and violent content. Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes. Exclusively at the Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 848-3500.


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