Reel Critics: 1950s storylines relived in 'Ramona and Beezus'

"Ramona and Beezus" is the sort of film that rarely gets made anymore. It's a clear throwback to the kinder, gentler style of family stories that were common in TV shows and movies of the 1950s. It's a genuine G-rated tale that centers on the life and times of Ramona, a rambunctious 9-year-old girl.

Based on the popular book, it deals with familiar themes of childhood and growing up in a mostly happy home. So many modern movies for kids deal with plots that are fantastic, outrageous or ridiculous. This one focuses on the everyday events of school, play, friendship and family interactions.

Thankfully, no talking animals, wizards or superheroes are involved.

Little Joey King is cute and clever as Ramona. Disney star Selena Gomez is her thoughtful teenage sister, Beezus. Their story is mostly played for fun, but drama enters when their dad suddenly loses his job. In the end, the resolution is appropriately sweet and simple. It's all so wholesome that every character would be right at home in an episode of "Father Knows Best" or "Leave It to Beaver."

"Schmucks" runs amok

Nice guys and mean guys all finish last in "Dinner for Schmucks," a comedy that feels like a desperate attempt at zany mixed in with a lotta schmaltz and a little schmutz.

In this remake of the far superior 1998 French farce, Tim (Paul Rudd) is invited to an annual dinner by his smarmy boss in hopes it will get him a promotion from the lowly sixth floor that "smells like dead dreams."

Turns out, the office ain't the only thing that stinks.

Each guest must bring a prize idiot for the amusement of the "regulars." Tim wants to back out, but then runs — literally — into Barry (Steve Carell), who seems like a sure bet to win first place.

Barry is sweet but incredibly clueless, and triggers events that land Tim in trouble with his girlfriend, boss, prospective client, former lover, and the IRS.

Some gags work here; others land like a bug on a windshield. Rudd again plays a blandly likeable straight man, as Carell and Zach Galifianakis ("The Hangover") go beyond "Looney Tunes" antics.

The climactic dinner itself is so cartoonish, I kept expecting Daffy Duck to spring out and declare "Wabbit Season!"

The true delight of the movie comes from Barry's "Mousterpieces" — tiny dioramas of famous scenes using stuffed mice. They have all the wit and charm that this "Dinner" does not.

JOHN DEPKO is a Costa Mesa resident and a senior investigator for the Orange County public defender's office.

SUSANNE PEREZ lives in Costa Mesa and is an executive assistant for a financial services company.

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