The mediocre releases continue this week, and first up was 21 & Over, a Hangover-esque coming of age movie starring Miles Teller, Skylar Astin, and Justin Chon (The Twilight Saga). Opening on the morning after, the film then flashes back to explain just how Miller and Casey (Teller and Astin) have ended up walking naked, branded, through the university campus. As it transpires, it has something to do with copious amounts of alcohol imbibed to celebrate their friend Jeff Chang’s twenty-first.
21 & Over is crude and often juvenile, but the initially obnoxious characters become rather likeable, and the scrapes they get into are daft, but not overly so – like exaggerated examples of real student life. With Miller desperately trying to cling onto his youth and Casey embracing adult responsibilities too quickly, the message is that there is a balance somewhere in the middle; of course, carnage must ensue before this epiphany happens. Despite the ridiculous situations the three get themselves into, however, the laugh-out-loud moments are rare, though each actor plays their role gamely. There are some surprisingly dark undertones running throughout – the reason Jeff Chang has a gun in his pocket, for example – but really this is a rather harmless, forgettable tale of friendship and growing up.
Presumably attempting to replicate the success of Street Dance 3D, a British sleeper hit starring a number of reality competition winners, All Stars takes all the conventions of a dance movie, waters them down for a prepubescent audience, throws in a number of comedians who should know better, and creates a tedious, cliched, irritatingly twee film that makes some serious errors in narrative judgement.
So You Think You Can Dance‘s first winner Akai is Jaden, whose parents won’t let him dance despite his age and his obvious talents, because they want him to concentrate on his schooling. Ethan (Theo Stevenson) is a resourceful chancer who pedals North Korean chocolate to the kids in school, but he really just wants to impress his absentee dad. Ethan spots a (much older) girl one day, and decides to impress her by starting a dance crew; coincidentally, their youth centre is also due to be closed down and turned into a car park. Thus the wonderful idea of a talent show is born. Cue a group of misfits uniting, despite their diversity, to save the day.
All Stars is tripe, tied up with a saccharine bow and, with the exception of Akai, almost entirely devoid of any actual talent. For a dance movie, there is almost no dancing; three dream sequences showcase the most impressive routines, but they feel forced and reveal sloppy, lacklustre choreography. The plot is formulaic, but also worryingly careless – John Barrowman cameos as a father who has had a nervous breakdown, leaving pre-teen Amy fending for herself – this situation is never resolved, for some bizarre reason. Underwhelming, uninspiring, and insipid, All Stars is a sad reminder of how mindless kids’ films can be.
Dead Man Down
The first English language film by Niels Arden Oplev, Dead Man Down reunites the director with his Girl with the Dragon Tattoo star Noomi Rapace. She is Beatrice, a woman seeking revenge after a car accident left her permanently scarred; her neighbour is Victor (Colin Farrell), who is also hell bent on vengeance following the murder of his wife and child. As a friendship, and possible romance, develops between the two, Beatrice is further dragged into Victors’ world of gangs and criminality.
Expertly shot, Dead Man Down‘s biggest successes are its two leads. Farrell is taciturn but charismatic as Victor, while Rapace displays a vulnerability that is engaging and believable. Her scars, however, hardly warrant her self-imposed isolation or the insults hurled at her by local kids; nor do they necessarily justify her desire to kill the man responsible. Unrepentantly serious in tone, the plot that brings the two leads together is more tenuous and riddled with holes – how did Victor survive the initial attack, for instance? Why does he need to infiltrate the criminal gang when he could just shoot them all from a rooftop? More disappointingly, the script opts to reveal its mystery to the audience early on, leaving the characters to catch up; while this adds some initial tension, it does little to maintain suspense or intrigue.
Dead Man Down seems confused at times, unsure as to whether it is a straight up action film (as the opening scenes and the finale suggest) or a more considered, slow-burning psychological examination of revenge, consequences, and salvation; it even delves into detective mystery on occasion. An atmospheric, well acted film, it is let down by its wavering tone and unnecessarily convoluted concepts.
Narrated by Tim Allen, this Disney documentary is squarely aimed at children; it is also so careful to conceal any human involvement that it strains believability. With all efforts made to present the events in narrative form, it feels scripted and forced, to the film’s detriment. More problematically, the voice-over opts to emote rather than inform, weakening impressive sequences by stating the obvious, including weak jokes, and speaking on behalf of the chimps. It is also unapologetically subjective, forcing the viewer to think in human terms.
Following newborn Oscar and his family, Chimpanzee captures some incredible moments – the chimps using rocks to break open nuts, creating ant-lollypops to avoid being bitten by the insects, making hammocks out of young branches high in the trees – all of which are over-emphasised by Allen’s inane narration. Lead chimp Freddy’s group is always described as a “family” in contrast to the rival group of chimps, led by Scar (yes, really), which are invariably called an “army.” Clearly designed to distinguish one group as the heroes and one as the villains, the film forgets, or chooses not to mention, that this anthropomorphism is wholly as a result of human decisions, rather than anything “real” captured on camera. In truth, neither group are good or bad; both are simply trying to survive.
It is only in the credits that we see the documentary crew, and it is in these final minutes that the film becomes impressive – without any evidence of them before, it is too difficult to remember that they existed at all. Their achievements are underplayed in favour of storytelling, and the all-too-obvious attempts to tug at heart strings and make the audience consider the chimps in human terms are irritating and tiresome.