Reel Critics: 'Cars 2' stalls out with few laughs

Disney and Pixar are known for high quality family films. "Wall-E," "Finding Nemo" and "The Incredibles" all generated more than $500 million in ticket sales. But the legendary "Toy Story" franchise may be the gold standard of this genre. These films have sweeping impact that cuts across generational lines and always get Oscar attention.

"Cars 2" comes from the same studio partnership, but it's a pale shadow of their greatest efforts. The animation and visuals are first rate. But the plot is tedious and repetitive with very few laughs to be found. The relentless racing action makes it a kiddie version of the "The Fast and the Furious."

There are international scenes and a James Bond plot with Michael Caine voicing the chief spy car. All the complex references might entertain some adults. But most of the jokes will be lost on youngsters. There's enough colorful noise to keep some children amused. But the real purpose of this film is clear: setting up our kids for the mass merchandising campaign coming to a Christmas near you.


'Bad Teacher' doesn't quite make the grade

As irreverent, misanthropic comedies go, "Bad Teacher" gets an A+ for trash and flash, and an "incomplete" for funny.

Cameron Diaz gleefully sheds her good-girl persona as easily as she sheds her lingerie as conniving, mean middle-school teacher Elizabeth Halsey (which rhymes with another aspect of her character). There's nothing she won't do to further her own self-serving schemes.

What's shocking is that the audience, and everyone in the movie, lets her get away with it. Elizabeth never has to suffer the consequences of her actions, possibly because she's prettier than everyone else. While it made me laugh at times for its sheer chutzpah, I also cringed at its mean-spiritedness toward everyone, and every bad deed gets a good reward.

Justin Timberlake and Lucy Punch (the aptly named Miss Squirrel) are funny, if stereotypical, "gung-ho" teachers who seem too good to be true. Jason Segel is a shaggy charmer who sees Elizabeth for exactly who she is, but is hot for teacher anyway.

Outside the theater, I couldn't help but notice a girl of about 10 waiting eagerly at the head of the line with her dad for "Bad Teacher." Next to it, the line for "Cars 2" was non-existent. Sitting through 90 minutes of drug and sex jokes, I felt embarrassed knowing this little girl was watching it, too. This is one student-teacher conference that should have been avoided.

JOHN DEPKO is a retired senior investigator for the Orange County public defender's office. He lives in Costa Mesa and works as a licensed private investigator.

SUSANNE PEREZ lives in Costa Mesa.

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