More decolletage than homage
The festival of green screen that is “Bitch Slap” is surely intended to be a fond tribute to any number of hot-women-in-peril movies. Think Zack Snyder meets Roger Corman. Meets Christopher Nolan. Seriously. But when it offers only scant humor (and costumes) and interminable girl-fighting, isn’t that actually just another entry in the genre?
There is a plot, for those who look beyond the belles and whistling, but it has something to do with buried treasure and the CIA and other stuff like that, in a structure borrowed from “Memento,” so the less said, the better. This movie’s raison d'être bursts forth in close-up after close-up lovingly caressing the assets of its actresses. And they are appropriately cast as the three stupefyingly sexed-up conspirators/combatants/abrupt make-out session participants.
There are moments of enjoyment -- the oh-so-gratuitous water fight, the lusty sadism of the most unhinged of the three, and did I mention the abrupt make-out session? There’s plenty not to enjoy as well, including a surfeit of fistfights. The target audience must be that awfully precise niche that never tires of women punching each other. The film also suffers from the lack of Zoë Bell; it’s the latest film to underuse the most memorable aspect of Quentin Tarantino’s “Death Proof” -- flinch and you’ll miss her, but she does coordinate the stunts.
Despite its obsession with décolletage, “Bitch Slap” is surprisingly puritanical (much teasing, no pleasing), substituting plentiful violence and a howlingly predictable “shock” ending for the payoff it promises.
-- Michael Ordoña “Bitch Slap.” MPAA rating: R for brutal violence, strong sexual content and language throughout, and brief drug use. Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes. At the Landmark Nuart Theatre, West L.A.
Auto fixation in ‘Daybreakers’
It can’t be a good sign for a vampire movie when its most memorable trait is how desperate Chrysler’s product placement appears.
Sans teen angst or coifs, “Daybreakers” is set a decade after a vampire plague has swept the globe, the remaining human population no more than rapidly dwindling food stock. To grab life by the horns in the daytime, the well-heeled undead tool around in sunshield-bedecked Chryslers. Meanwhile, a crusading hematologist played by Ethan Hawke searches for a blood substitute to save the vampires from starvation -- and humans from extinction.
Riding to the possible rescue in a modified muscle car is Willem Dafoe as a lapsed vampire whose re-humanizing could mean a cure, killing two bats with one stone. The corporate villains, led by Sam Neill, would rather cling to their upper-class status than address the problems. Hence, some chasing, some soul-searching, some excellent cranial explosions and spontaneous combustions (vampires apparently have hellacious allergies to splinters).
“Daybreakers” may be harboring a message under the eruptions of gore: It depicts the exhaustion of resources by the powerful, who are even more addicted to profits and cars than blood. And the “cure,” for the curious, can be rephrased as a Louis Brandeis commonplace for speaking political truths. Any higher intentions are brought crashing down by predictability, wooden characters, giggle-inducing attempts at scares (shrieking bats, anyone?) and cinematography so gloomy it should be checked for serotonin deficiency.
This isn’t the film to relieve our collective vampire fatigue. But perhaps it’s nothing a spin in a brand-new Chrysler couldn’t cure.
-- Michael Ordoña “Daybreakers.” MPAA rating: R for strong bloody violence, language and brief nudity. Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes. In general release.
Worlds collide in ‘Wonderful’
What happened to Matthew Broderick? Maybe the question, and even its answer, is now obvious, but when and why did he go from the very picture of reedy, goofy, energetic youthfulness in films such as “War Games” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” to the puffy, downbeat and browbeaten exemplar of unhappiness and bitter ennui that he has been in pretty much everything since “Election”? Is adulthood that dreary? Is there something else we should know?
In “Wonderful World,” Broderick plays Ben Singer, a once moderately successful performer of children’s music who has retreated from the world, becoming a self-styled, self-hating curmudgeon. His ex-wife now lives in a huge mansion with her new husband, and Singer’s teenage daughter rarely wants to see him. He works as a proofreader in a law office, making a long-term career of a job most people use as a temporary landing pad. His only solace comes from smoking pot and playing chess with his Senegalese roommate Ibou (Michael Kenneth Williams). When Ibou goes into a diabetic coma, Ben finds himself with a new roommate in Ibou’s sister ( Sanaa Lathan).
It’s presumably just a quirk of timing that “Wonderful World” traffics in many of the same motions as 2007’s “The Visitor,” both films using immigrants to open the eyes of closed-off main characters. Yet where “The Visitor” had at least a passing interest in the underlying political ramifications of its crossed-cultures story line, in “Wonderful World” the focus is strictly on the personal, in getting this Singer to sing again.
Josh Goldin, a longtime screenwriter whose credits include “Darkman” and “Out on a Limb” -- and whose wife is a writer at the L.A. Times -- makes his debut as a writer-director with “Wonderful World.” The results of Goldin’s dual efforts are promising but uneven. The story never fully blends the idea of Singer’s rediscovery of his artistic voice -- and even something as simple as why he was a children’s performer in the first place is never addressed -- with his personal renewal. Why can’t he be a kids’ singer onstage and a jerk offstage?
Broderick’s sad-sack misanthropy is often taken as a given -- one look at the guy and he seems miserable -- and so the film never quite explores the hidden corners of his character’s psyche. In a brief scene in the backroom of a guitar shop, Broderick’s character jams with musician Dan Zanes, genuine leader of the movement to make kids’ music hip, and guitar legend James Burton, sideman for Elvis Presley, Gram Parsons and Elvis Costello.
In those moments, there is a simple buoyancy, a lifting of burden, that the rest of the film never quite reclaims.
-- Mark Olsen “Wonderful World.” MPAA rating: R for language, some drug use and sexual content. Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes. At the Laemmle Music Hall in Beverly Hills.