|Need for Speed|
Capsules on the week's new releases:
“Need for Speed” falls well short of the bar set by the “Fast & Furious” series – the best action franchise in movies – with a storyline too ludicrous for words, but it’s a perfectly passable way to kill two hours, and much more fun than lots of higher-aiming actioners. “Breaking Bad’s” Aaron Paul, in his first major lead, turns out to be the weakest link: largely a blank, with no particular presence or charisma. The supporting cast is far more appealing: Imogen Poots as Paul’s cross-country chaperone, always smarter than he (and the script) gives her credit for; the fine Dominic Cooper, convincingly sneering as Paul’s nemesis; and, as a couple of his teammates, Rami Malek (adorable in last year’s “Short Term 12,” stripped-down and sexy here) and Scott Mescudi (singer Kid Cudi of “Pursuit of Happiness” fame), Paul's wisecracking eye in the sky. Michael Keaton teleports in from obscurity to play Monarch, the mysterious podcasting superstar who organizes the multimillion-dollar demolition derby that sets these wheels in nonstop motion.
There’s an ersatz quality to “Bad Words” that keeps it from attaining the heights of hilarity to which it obviously aspires. Jason Bateman – still yet to make his mark on the big screen – stars as Guy Trilby, a misanthrope of 40 who exploits a loophole in the rules to compete in the national spelling bee against kids more than a quarter-century his junior (technically, he hasn’t graduated from eighth grade either). Guy’s vituperations smack of script, as does his eventual warming to his primary obstacle, 10-year-old Chaitanya Chopra (Rohan Chand), whom Guy calls “Chai Latte.” Philip Baker Hall and Alison Janney play the bee’s president and gamemaster, respectively – but Bateman (who also directed) hasn’t given them any laugh lines, and Janney in particular (in the world’s ugliest wig) watches helplessly as Guy verbally pummels her again and again. Only Kathryn Hahn manages to inject real life into “Bad Words,” as the journalist fronting Guy’s entry fees and lodging costs in exchange for exclusive story rights (and certain favors of a more personal nature). Hahn just keeps stealing movie after movie. She’s the shit.
I truly deplore false advertising for movies, and the trailer for “Notting Hill” director Roger Michell’s new “Le Week-End” is as misleading as they come. What’s presented as an older English couple’s rejuvenating adventures through a deltiologist’s Paris on the occasion of their thirtieth anniversary turns out to be a mean-spirited, genuinely unpleasant portrait of Nick (Jim Broadbent), a sniveling wuss lately canned from his philosophy professorship, and Meg (Lindsay Duncan), a deeply unsatisfied wife and mother who takes out her frustrations on Nick in the form of nearly constant verbal and even physical abuse. A word must also be said about Jeff Goldblum as Morgan, one of Nick’s former protégés, now a successful author on world economics, who bumps into Nick and Meg after they’ve snuck out of yet another expensive restaurant without paying the bill (we’re supposed to find this charming). Morgan, still worshipful of Nick, basically invites them to come live in his pied-à-terre gratis, which his young fiancée might not like so much. Goldblum’s performance – one of the most annoying in recent memory – cycles ceaselessly from eating to chewing to yammering.
Easily the pick of the week is Valeria Golino’s Italian import “Miele” (“Honey”), with Jasmine Trinca in one of the best performances of the early movie year. Golino, best known for third billing in “Rain Man,” announces herself with this debut as a director to watch, while Trinca, here wiry and close-cropped, commands the screen as Honey, a registered student who spends most of her time helping terminally ill individuals end their own lives. She flies to Mexico, where she procures a potent veterinary barbiturate that causes death within a few minutes of ingestion. Much of the film is devoted to several of these assisted suicides. Little details – Honey’s instruction to an elderly patient’s husband not to touch the drinking glasses once they’ve hit his wife’s nightstand, the manila envelopes in which her customers place her cash (and their statements that she wasn’t involved) – put us at ease, assured that Golino and screenwriter Angela Del Fabbro know their subject matter. The second half involves Grimaldi, a mature gentleman who purchases the drug from Honey but turns out to be healthy as a horse, just suicidal. Her attempts to find the drug and take it back – to keep him from killing himself – evolve into a relationship (not sexual) unlike any in memory, as each allows doubts to cloud the clear worldview they’d brought to their original transaction. Golino conveys the uncertainty in their minds with fascinating oblique angles and the play of faces on glass, a recurring motif. Seek this one out.