August 22, 2008

Culture: Reluctant Hero is Back



(1hr 50mins)

Certificate: 12A

Starring: Steve Carell, Anne Hathaway, Terence Stamp

Director: Peter Segal

Star rating: ***

BASED on a madcap 60s television series created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, Get Smart is a comic caper about an accident-prone yet sensitive secret agent.

James Bond and Jason Bourne need not fear: if Maxwell Smart (Steve Carell) does save the world, it is the result of good fortune rather than a perfectly conceived and executed plan.

Carell embraces the film's brand of unabashed silliness without restraint and catalyses a pleasing screen chemistry with the willowy Anne Hathaway, who has nothing to do except try to keep a straight face as her co-star goofs into and out of trouble.

Maxwell Smart is a surveillance expert for secret US agency CONTROL. He is keen to prove his worth in the field, but the Chief (Alan Arkin) values his talents too much to let him stray from headquarters.

When the secret identities of CONTROL's operatives are compromised, the Chief has little choice but to dispatch Smart to Russia under the guidance of Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway) to track down Terence Stamp's lifeless, pantomime villain Siegfried.

With buff Agent 23 (Dwayne Johnson) providing additional muscle, Agents 86 and 99 uncover a dastardly plot to kill the American president (James Caan).

Get Smart incorporates many characters and gizmos from the TV series, including Max's shoe phone and Cone Of Silence, which both malfunction with predictably embarrassing consequences.

However, director Peter Segal focuses too intently on the big action scenes rather than the slapstick, burdening the film with something of a split personality.

Supporting performances are largely forgettable, although Bill Murray shines in a cameo as stir crazy Agent 13, who is stuck inside a tree. Barking mad - pity the rest of the film doesn't follow suit.



(1hr 23mins)

Certificate: u

Starring: Martin Lawrence, Raven-Symone, Donny Osmond

Director: Roger Kumble

Star rating: *

IN College Road Trip, a father's inability to let go of his flesh and blood is merely a starting point for a tiresome and achingly predictable journey of self-discovery.

James Porter (Martin Lawrence) is a control freak, who has always wrapped his daughter Melanie (Raven-Symone) in cotton wool.

Ever since his baby girl was born, he has earmarked nearby Northwestern for her university education.

But 17-year-old Melanie has her heart set on Georgetown, hundreds of miles away in Washington D.C.

She lands an interview and James insists on driving his daughter to the campus.

When the wheels quite literally come off their road trip, the Porters rely on maniacally cheerful Doug Greenhut (Donny Osmond) and his ultra-perky daughter Wendy (Molly Ephraim) to complete their grand adventure.

College Road Trip continues Lawrence's unbroken run of flops, contriving some truly ridiculous situations to force the inevitable father-daughter reconciliation.

Lawrence alternates between smug and outraged while Raven-Symone squeals her lines at increasingly high frequencies.

"This is cruelty," shrieks Melanie, referring to her father's reluctance to grant her independence.

The same could be said of Kumble's picture.



(1hr 59mins)

Certificate: 12A

Starring: Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Luke Goss

Director: Guillermo del Toro

Star rating: ****

THE sequel to Guillermo del Toro's 2004 fantasy, based on Mike Mignola's comics series, is every bit as fast and furious as its predecessor, melding dazzling production design with wry humour and explosive action sequences.

Having sketched the origins of the characters in the first film, del Toro is given free rein here to let his imagination run amok, concocting a dark and bloody fairytale full of trolls, goblins and a nine feet tall Angel Of Death.

The writer-director's distinctive visual style, celebrated with three Academy Awards for Pan's Labyrinth, is very much in evidence, including a swarm of voracious tooth fairies, who crave calcium and eagerly devour human flesh to extract tasty molars from gums.

The clandestine Bureau for Paranormal Research and Development (B.P.R.D.) is struggling to keep Hellboy (Ron Perlman) hidden from prying eyes.

After a visit to an Upper East Side auction house, Hellboy and his cohorts Liz Sherman (Selma Blair) and Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) are propelled into the media spotlight to the chagrin of B.P.R.D. chief Tom Manning (Jeffrey Tambor).

Meanwhile, disgruntled prince of the underworld, Nuada Silverlance (Luke Goss), grows resentful of the wasteful humans.

He spearheads a revolution, searching for three shards of his father's ancient gold crown, which controls The Golden Army - unstoppable fighting machines created by the goblins.

The final piece of the crown is in the possession of Nuada's twin, Princess Nuala, but she does not share his thirst for world domination.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army is a triumph of design.

The Troll Market, secreted beneath the Brooklyn Bridge, is festooned with weird and wonderful creatures and there is a jaw- dropping fight between the horny hero and a gargantuan Elemental forest creature on a Manhattan street corner.

Yet there is much more to del Toro's film than impeccable style.

Perlman carries off his role with gusto, bringing out the humour of his reluctant saviour as Hellboy contends with so-called domestic bliss ("I would die for her...but she wants me to do the dishes!")

The relationship between the cigar-chomping, kitten-loving hero and girlfriend Liz moves in unexpected directions, culminating in a life or death choice that poses tantalising questions for the future.

"It is his destiny to bring about the destruction of the Earth. Not now, not tomorrow, but soon enough. Knowing that, you still want him to live?" wonders The Angel Of Death.


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