Reel Critics: Sci-fi that hits close to home

Ancient Greeks believed Elysium to be "a dwelling place for those who lived a righteous life."

Writer-director Neill Blomkamp depicts his "Elysium" as a pristine space station, where the elite have escaped from the hellhole that is Earth. In this serene paradise, every home is equipped with a medical chamber that can cure every ailment from hangnails to leukemia.

Meanwhile, the 99% live in diseased, overcrowded squalor on Earth, and most are Latino or black. Los Angeles is a Third World slum and police state. There's a vast underground movement trying to enter Elysium illegally for needed healthcare or a better way of life.

Sound familiar? Blomkamp, who created the Oscar-nominated "District 9," has again made pointed references to cultural and class distinctions. The action and special effects are again gritty and frenzied, with some great droid-human battle sequences.

Matt Damon is solid as Max, the accidental rebel leader implanted with a metal backbone to give him needed strength, his skull wired to download vital data from an Elysium citizen's brain. Max is part robo-soldier, part human laptop, part protector to a childhood friend (Alice Braga) and her stricken daughter.

Sharlto Copley (also in "District 9") is a standout as Kruger, a snarling filthy mercenary. Jodie Foster (with a confusing, clipped accent) has a surprisingly small role as Elysium's secretary, who uses Kruger to carry out her less-than-righteous deeds.

"Elysium" is exciting first-rate action with a conscience.


'We're the Millers' and who cares

"We're the Millers" is a so-so raunchy comedy with better concept than execution. Except for a drug lord's pet orca, there's not much in the way of surprises here.

"Saturday Night Live" vet Jason Sudeikis plays a small-time marijuana dealer forced into smuggling a "smidge" of pot across the Mexico border. He rents a huge RV and a ready-made family as his cover: a geeky teen, a goth street girl and a stripper. They make themselves over to look squeaky clean and, supposedly, comedy ensues.

I think the main goal of making this movie was to showcase Jennifer Aniston as the stripper. Her toned, tanned talents notwithstanding, even her comedy skills (so wonderful in "Horrible Bosses") cannot save a mediocre and appallingly predictable script.

Ed Helms, who was so fun in the "Hangover" trilogy (which seems like "The Godfather" by comparison), is embarrassingly cartoonish with his big choppers and broad delivery.

Like those endless Mexican desert roads, "We're the Millers" has a plot that drones on and on and you can see for miles ahead. Save your money unless you really, really like Jennifer Aniston.

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

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