November 27, 2009 in Features

‘Angels & Demons’ needs deciphering

Washington Post
 

Coming up

Among upcoming DVD releases (schedule subject to change):

Tuesday: “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian”; “Terminator Salvation”; “Paper Heart.”

Dec. 8: “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”; “Julie & Julia”; “Public Enemies”; “The Cove.”

Dec. 15: “Inglourious Basterds”; “G-Force”; “The Hangover.”

Dec. 22: “All About Steve”; “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt”; “District 9”; “(500) Days of Summer”; “It Might Get Loud.”

‘Angels & Demons’

Praying for another $750 million absolution at the global box office, the fairly unholy trinity of Tom Hanks, director Ron Howard and “The Da Vinci Code” author Dan Brown reteam on Brown’s earlier novel and manage to be more obscure than a Latin Mass.

As Robert Langdon, Hanks is recruited by a mysterious emissary of a mysterious biotech firm to help explain the mysterious death of a mysterious scientist whose chest was branded by his killer with the word “Illuminati,” an ancient league of science-minded elites. The killer was seeking antimatter, which he promises will be used to level St. Peter’s Basilica.

As he embarks on a mission to save Roman Catholicism, Langdon encounters a young papal assistant (Ewan McGregor), a churlish Vatican policeman (Stellan Skarsgard) and an imperious cardinal (Armin Mueller-Stahl).

The filmmakers may have faith, but they also know that God helps those who help themselves. (2:18; PG-13 for violence and gore)

‘Four Christmases’

There’s a good movie buried here, underneath the layers of baloney and ham, but we never get much of a taste.

Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn play San Francisco lovebirds who avoid Christmas with their divorced parents by planning vacations disguised as volunteer expeditions. But this year, a thick fog grounds all the flights. Before Christmas Day is out, the pair has to make four stops, one for each divorced parent.

Vaughn and Witherspoon, both peppy and likable, have before them four scenarios in which to preen, riff, jab and yuk it up. And get a load of their parents: Robert Duvall, Mary Steenburgen, Sissy Spacek and Jon Voight – all Oscar winners.

Unfortunately, the actors are fancy window dressing in this movie, which rushes from scene to scene before bad gags have time to land their bad punch lines. (1:22; PG-13 for sexual humor and language)

‘Funny People’

As the film opens, comic superstar George Simmons (Adam Sandler) gets the news that he has a probably fatal form of leukemia.

Meanwhile, Ira Wright (Seth Rogen) works the unpaid L.A. comedy club circuit by night. George catches Ira’s act and asks him to be his writing assistant and, it turns out, one-man entourage.

Writer-director Judd Apatow’s alert, crude and compassionate film takes digressive, thoroughly unexpected turns as George takes stock of his life, reconnecting with family, friends and his ex-fiancee (played by Apatow’s wife, the sublime Leslie Mann).

At nearly 2 1/2 hours, the film is arguably too long, but in the final analysis it earns that running time, if only because it’s that rare mainstream Hollywood movie that feels genuinely spontaneous. (2:26; R for profanity and crude sexual humor throughout, and sexuality)

‘Imagine That’

Evan Danielson (Eddie Murphy) is an investment banker redeemed by fatherhood and fantasy.

As he struggles to maintain clients, Danielson discovers a quick path to happiness: In his daughter’s fantasy world there are princesses who can make winning stock predictions.

Little Yara Shahidi is beautiful and natural as Danielson’s daughter, Olivia; Thomas Haden Church is inspired as an inspired character, Johnny Whitefeather, a faux mystic who parlays Native American spirituality into snake-oil salesmanship.

Audiences will make do with a movie that takes a major step toward reasserting Murphy’s place as the comic heir not just to Richard Pryor, but to Groucho Marx. (1:47; PG for mild language and questionable behavior)

‘Shorts’

Toby “Toe” Thompson (Jimmy Bennett) lives in the company town of Black Falls, where both his parents (Leslie Mann and Jon Cryer) work for Black Box Industries, which makes a device that can do everything from placing a phone call to brushing your teeth.

While Mom and Dad Thompson desperately try to find a way to improve the Black Box lest they be fired, Toe finds a rainbow-colored “wishing rock” that will grant his every stated desire.

The poor kid’s first request is for friends: The rock provides him with a flotilla of little E.T.s that promptly whip up a gourmet meal while Toe’s parents obliviously dine on ramen noodles and type away at their PDAs.

Director Robert Rodriguez remains in perfect sync with viewers who, when presented with a giant, goopy piece of nasal effluvia, think: that’s entertainment! (1:29; PG for mild action and rude humor)

Also available: “The Golden Age of Television”; “Gomorrah: Criterion Collection”; “Hogan’s Heroes: The Komplete Series, Kommandant’s Kollection”; “The Jerry Lewis Show Collection”; “Life on Mars: Series 2”; “Santa Buddies.”


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