Thursday, April 2, 2015

Get Hard, Man From Reno, A Wolf at the Door

Get Hard
Man From Reno

A Wolf at the Door

The thin line between mild dislike and grudging appreciation:

The toughest calls to make involve the films that fall between 2 stars (a mild discommendation) and 2.5 stars (a mild recommendation). The new Will Ferrell/Kevin Hart comedy "Get Hard" straddles that line, and I've gone back and forth several times on a rating. It's not worth paying first-run prices, but perfect for watching at home or on a mobile device, where you can fast-forward through the sophomoric hijinks. 

The premise is a funny one. James (Ferrell), a financier set up on white-collar criminal charges and facing ten years in San Quentin, hires the only black man he knows - his car washer, Darnell (Hart) - as a prison coach to get him hard enough to survive. While Ferrell excretes his usual random series of profanities, Hart, who in the past year or so has given us the superb comedies "About Last Night" and "The Wedding Ringer," earns the bulk of the laughs with reactions that recall Eddie Murphy's brilliant interplay with Judge Reinhold and John Ashton in the "Beverly Hills Cop" pictures. Ferrell always has to be center stage, so we experience the movie through Hart's eyes, and he proves again to be enormously personable.

Still, Ferrell doesn't strike out completely. There are moments in "Get Hard" that call to mind Jim Carrey's nonpareil sendup, in "Me, Myself & Irene," of white unease around and fear of blacks and simultaneous desire to imitate and be accepted by them. These are advanced comic concepts, so it's a shame that director Etan Cohen devotes so much of his film to the vulgar and the banal. The plot plays out predictably and at undue length. I'm torn even now, though. I don't recall a five-minute stretch of "Get Hard" without a laugh.

The clear pick of the week is Dave Boyle's neo-noir "Man From Reno," which tomorrow holds over for a second week at Laemmle's Royal. Here's a triumph of tone that opens with the densest fog I've ever seen in a movie and sustains its mood of enigmatic clarity and insouciant fear to an ending that leaves enough questions unanswered to last through several orders from the yakitori bar at Nanbankan. 

Aki Akahori (Ayako Fujitani), a Tokyo author whose "Inspector Takabe Investigates" has just been translated into English, arrives in an emptied-out San Francisco and takes a room at a one-off hotel, where a mysterious stranger from Nevada (Kazuki Kitamura) chats her up at the bar. They begin a sexual affair, but he disappears soon thereafter, leaving his suitcase (with…a head of lettuce?) in her room. Meanwhile, south in San Marco County, Sheriff Paul Del Moral (Pepe Serna) accidentally hits with his car a Japanese man who clandestinely checks himself out of the hospital.

"Man from Reno" is the kind of movie you give the Roger Ebert "Stormy Monday" review. What's it about? Opening a room door without unlocking it, or not opening it at all - or slamming it shut on a man's hand. Claiming to be a travel writer, or in town on both business and pleasure. A fat cat who donates the max to the sheriff and to his opponent. Bumping into a man at a bookstore. Turtles in the toilet. A matchbox with a phone number written inside. Answering the phone and hearing "It's you, isn't it?" A lovesick admirer you didn't know knew all your secrets, and kept them. A dresser drawer full of passports. A man on a houseboat. An empty car trunk. A silencer. So there's your review.

Fernando Coimbra's "A Wolf at the Door" is a would-be Brazilian "Fatal Attraction" with an ending so inhumane it makes boiling a pet rabbit seem saintly by comparison. The flick starts out mildly interestingly. Housewife and mother Sylvia (Fabiula Nascimento) arrives at school one afternoon to pick up Clara (Isabelle Ribas), but the teacher tells Sylvia her friend Sheila already came for her. One problem: Sylvia doesn't know anyone named Sheila. 

At the police station, the inspector (Antonio Saboia) quickly gets it out of Sylvia's husband Bernardo that he's been shtupping a fellow commuter named Rosa (Leandra Leal) he met at the train station. Rosa initially denies any involvement in Clara's disappearance but, at the first sign of intimidation by the inspector, laughably agrees to tell him everything.

What follows - and makes up most of the yawn-inducing 100-minute runtime - is not a mystery or a police procedural but a series of flashbacks to the encounters between Bernardo and Rosa, from the first, in which each expresses the same desire for an extended but uncommitted sexual relationship, to their increasingly tempestuous and angry trysts (one or two arguably cross the line into rape). Meanwhile, Rosa - calling herself Silvia (with an "i") - drops in on Sylvia during the day, feigning a common acquaintance and surprising Clara with a doll as a present.

All of which leads to the day when Rosa pays a woman to call Clara's school as Sylvia and tell them her friend Sheila will be picking up Clara - which she does, the child jumping into her arms. What happens after that is too vile to relate here, as we spend long, dreadful moments watching Rosa walk Clara to what we fear will be her doom. "A Wolf at the Door" clothes itself in the trappings of a character study, but by the end Coimbra has made Rosa a monster every bit as psychotic as Glenn Close's Alex Forrest, impenetrable except by a knife through her heart.

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