>> 9 (6.5/10)

9Shane Acker’s CG-animated 9 would have been a must-see when I was in my late teen’s/early 20’s.  The dark visuals (nothing says “I am sooo dark” like the discarded head of a baby doll), Tim Burton’s co-producing credit, and the Playstation-ready action sequences would have guaranteed my butt in a set on opening day.  Frankly, I’ve been surprised by my fully adult self’s disinterest in the film.  I can recognize that this is something that might’ve grabbed my attention during a different time in my life, and I wonder what it is that I’m missing now that causes me to be so indifferent.

9 is a shaky blend–an artistic triumph and a mediocre movie.  Acker’s screenplay (co-written by Pamela Pettler) lets down his amazing post-apocalyptic vision with a script that is too repetitive (when it’s not being nebulous).  The hero, 9 (voiced by Elijah Wood), wakes up in a world without organic life, where eight other burlap homunculi like himself hide away from killer patchwork robots fashioned from knives, old bones, and scraps of cloth.  9 is the only one of his kind with the curiosity to figure out just what their purpose is on this desolated Earth, inspiring some of the others (Jennifer Connelly as 7, John C. Reilly as 5) to follow his charge.  From there, the film follows a basic pattern for the bulk of its running time, wherein 9 discovers a kernal of information about his origin, then the heroes fight an evil machine, then repeat.

The ending just sort of happens, providing a dissastisfying touchy-feely metaphysical conclusion to an interesting science-fiction tale.  I thought the wrap-up was so abrupt and so ponderous that I felt like I’d missed a portion of the film.  9 gets more narratively wobbly as it rolls along, and it’s a shame that a film this unusual can’t cross the finish line without losing its wheels completely.

Granted, there’s never been a movie quite like 9, and I can applaud it for that.  It lacks the fairytale quality of something like Coraline, so it’s not exactly a kids’ flick, but it also doesn’t have the storytelling oomph that adults might be looking for in a thoughtful science-fiction piece.  What it does have going for it are appealing character designs, graceful animation, and enough artsy quirk to make it worth your time.  It’s a solid, unusual feature debut for Shane Acker, and I’m definitely interested to see what else he has to offer.  I just can’t muster up anymore enthusiasm than that.

Have I been desensitized, in the wake of Terminator and The Matrix, to portraits of a bleak future in which mankind is dominated, then exterminated by their own machines?  Probably so.  Acker obviously put a lot of work into 9, but not where it needed it the most–sacrificing the emotional depth he’s trying to acheive for just one more video-gamey action scene.  The younger me probably would’ve forgiven that.  The 33-year old me can’t.

6.5 on a 1 to 10 scale


>> All About Steve (4/10)

All About SteveThe makers of All About Steve want to present  Mary Magdalene Horowitz (played with tics and smiles by Sandra Bullock) as a desirable, attractive, brain-damaged idiot woman-child–the sexiest, smartest weirdo you’ve ever met–and in doing so, create one of the most insufferable characters Sandra Bullock has ever played.  The issue here is that she’s the heart and soul of All About Steve.  If she doesn’t win you over as a character, the movie fails completely.

Mary is an oversexed crossword puzzle writer who attempts to jump the bones of news cameraman Steve before they can leave the driveway on their first blind date together (Steve is played with the same bland second-fiddle charisma Bradley Cooper was known for, pre-Hangover).  This aggressiveness, and Mary’s remarkable inability to shut up, freak Steve out to the point that he fakes a phone call from work to get away from her.  Mary is oblivious to this and cooks up an “All About Steve” Steve-themed crossword puzzle for her Sacramento paper the next day, causing her to get fired from her job, but allowing her the opportunity to follow Steve’s news crew (played by Thomas Haden Church and Ken Jeong) all around the country.

Church, as boorish reporter Hartman Hughes, convinces Mary that Steve is in  love with her, and, in the kind of set-up that only happens on Planet Movie World, Mary needs to constantly ignore Steve’s fear and pleas for her to leave him alone.  Hartman’s never given a good reason to tell Mary to do this (professional ribbing seems to be the movie’s lousy excuse), but she does it with gusto.  To follow Steve, Mary tags along in a vintage 1970’s Gremlin with an apple sculptor played by DJ Qualls and a political activist played by bimbo brickhouse Katy Mixon.  You can imagine all the wacky antics that ensue as Mary travels from state-to-state, tragedy-to-tragedy (they are a news crew after all), stalking Steve and befriending everyone she comes into contact with through the sheer power of her irresistible quirkiness.  Yes, you can imagine wacky antics, but you won’t get any.

What you will get is Mary behaving, at times, genuinely disturbed and frightening.  There’s an unusual lack of jokes in All About Steve, replacing snappy banter and gags with the kind of stillborn casting that assumes that just because you cast funny people means they’re automatically going to be funny (Ken Jeong, in particular, is floundering here with nothing to do).  There’s a schmaltzy crossword-puzzle-as-life-lesson voice-over from Bullock that sounds like a last minute addition to counteract Mary’s unattractive lunacy, but it just makes things worse.  When it chimes in, it only reminds us that we’re watching this movie drown, struggling to find a comedic tone.

All About Steve never even comes close to finding that tone, no matter how many times they use Cake’s “Short Skirt, Long Jacket” as Mary’s entrance cue.  That right there is crime enough for me to tell you to avoid it, but if you’d like some more reasons, I’d point you to director Phil Traill’s general lack of energy and this movie’s cheap-looking, direct-to-video visual style.  All About Steve does a huge disservice to Bullock’s appeal, casting her as a character too pretty to be that unattractive, too old to play so young, and too smart to be this stupid.

4 on a 1 to 10 scale

>> Gamer (3/10)

Gamer“Is this bad?” asks Michael C. Hall as Gamer‘s Ken Castle, the villain of the new film from Crank auteurs Mark Neveldine and Bryan Taylor.  The answer is a loud and clear “YES!”  Gamer could be viewed as either an ADD-addled exercise in deplorable, violent garbage or an astoundingly  juvenille z-grade popcorn movie, but there can be no denying that it is very, very bad.  Neveldine and Taylor are back, ladies and gentlemen, blasting good taste (and filmmaking  fundamentals) in the face with an assault rifle of a movie.

Gamer is astonishingly bad.  Gerard Butler, wearing one facial expression for ninety minutes, plays Kable, a death row prisoner fighting for his freedom as part of the televised video game Slayers.  His every movement during the game is controlled by an arrogant teen (Logan Lerman as Simon), using nanotechnology Ken Castle originally developed  for a real-life version of Second Life called Society.  Kable knows that he was framed for a crime he didn’t exactly commit, and his plight (and totally awesome high-score) gets the attention of talk show host Gina Parker Smith (Kyra Sedgwick) and an underground group of “Humanz” (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Alison Lohman, and Aaron Yoo) dedicated to stopping Castle’s use of remote-controlled people as popular entertainment.  It’s as if Neveldine and Taylor watched Paul W.S. Anderson’s Death Race and WWE’s The Condemned and decided that those movies were way too brainy.

Frankly, as bad as it is, I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the screen.  Michael C. Hall seems to be playing the love child of Foghorn Leghorn and Rob Liefeld, and, in the film’s climax, leads a group of Slayers‘ contestants in a Sammy Davis Junior lip-synched dance sequence.  The Society subplot is both hilarious and irritating, filled with extras apparently cosplaying as incidental Fifth Element characters, constantly humping each other under the control of a sweaty, grey-skinned, naked fat guy eating waffles with his bare hands and making Amber Valleta crawl around a shag carpet on all fours (with the camera tastefully pointed directly at the parts of her where the sun don’t shine).

The action in Gamer is so spastically edited, so full of forced techno-glitches,  it makes Tony Scott look downright Kubrickian.  These aren’t action sequences so much as they are poorly-shot scenes of Butler running around objects that are exploding.  No rules to the game are ever established (a pretty big detail when your movie is about a game) and all of the gunfire serves to only break up the quick-edit views of the only things Neveldine and Taylor are actually interested in, namely sports and women’s breasts.

As a matter of fact, they get so distracted by basketball and girls flashing boobs, that they forget to fill in major logic gaps in their story.  Characters are introduced as important, then promptly dismissed when it comes time to explain their actual purpose to the plot (Terry Crews and John Leguizamo, specifically).  In this movie, no one ever has any motivation for any of the actions they take.

In one of the stupider moments in a film with more stupid moments than any other movie this year, Kable asks Simon to disconnect him and let him roam free in the game.  Simon obliges, but Kable doesn’t anticipate it, and downs an entire bottle of vodka before a firefght, nearly getting himself killed.  There’s no explanation as to why Simon would disconnect, or why Kable would get drunk before a game–it just happens.  (This idiotic sequence continues with Kable discovering the first truck he finds runs on ethanol, so he pukes and pisses in the gas tank to get the truck to run.)  When Kable finally makes it to the end of his journey, we never get an answer as to why he was framed in the first place.  He finds out the bad guy did it and he gets his revenge on the bad guy.  All of this is simple, sure, but it’s also completely retarded.

Everyone involved with Gamer should be embarrassed to have this on their resume.  To its credit, it’s never boring, but any fun I had (I laughed way too much) was at the expense of a movie that thinks that it’s being stylish and clever when it’s only being childish and abrasive.  I can imagine a small minority of folks defending the film as “dumb fun”, but, even then, the reality is that  Gamer is a scummy bottom feeder of an action movie, designed specifically to titillate emotionally stunted young males with unhealthy doses of blood splatter and leering sexuality.

3 on a 1 to 10 scale