Monday, May 2, 2016

Keanu, The Man Who Knew Infinity, Mother's Day, Rio I Love You

The Man Who Knew Infinity

Mother's Day
Rio, I Love You

Hoping for better movies as the calendar flips to May:

Best of the week is the hit-and-miss, overly plotted Key & Peele comedy “Keanu,” starring the team of Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele as best friends on a quest to reclaim the lost cat of the title. It escapes from its gangbanger owner during an ambush and lands on the doorstep of go-nowhere Rell (Peele), who’s instantly smitten. Key is Rell’s bestie, the tightly wound and white-acting Clarence, to whom Rell complains that his girlfriend has just dumped him: “She said I don’t have a clear direction in life,” Rell whines, slouching down on his couch and toking on a bong the size of a jeroboam. Rell’s dealer, Hulka (a dreadlocked and hilarious Will Forte), lives just across the way (how conveeenient), and when the “17th Street Blips” come looking for Hulka, their leader, Cheddar (Method Man), catnaps Keanu, renaming him “New Jack.” Clarence and Rell pose as gangsters to try to get close to Cheddar. (I told you it was overly plotted.) The movie’s raison d’être is the interplay between Key and Peele, just enough of which is fresh and funny to see it over the line. I also liked veteran Luis Guzman as a kingpin who wants Keanu as a memento of his late brother, and relative newcomers Tiffany Haddish (as Hi-C, Cheddar’s right hand, who doubts K&P’s bona fides) and Darrell Britt-Gibson (as Trunk, one of the crew, who buys everything they’re selling). A scene in which Cheddar and Hi-C deliver weed to three white partyers, one of whom happens to be a self-satirizing Anna Faris, feels destined for cult status.

In the paint-by-numbers prestige picture “The Man Who Knew Infinity,” Dev Patel plays the autodidact Indian mathematician Srinivasa (“S.”) Ramanujan, whose insights are still used today in the study of the behavior of black holes. S. leaves his wife and child to travel to Cambridge for the purpose of having his works published. But as his new friend G.H. Hardy (Jeremy Irons) explains, his peers demand proofs, not merely assertions of their correctness. That’s the central conflict of the movie, though there are a few scenes of overt bias. (While undoubtedly based on truth, these feel perfunctory and self-satisfied; we’re far past the point when discrimination by itself made for compelling cinema.) If that sounds thin, you’re onto something; and when the shit hits the fan and Ramanujan does write out a number of proofs in a fit of necessity, we’re left to wonder what the big deal was. (Demanding proofs is not a pretext for animus; it’s simple application of the scientific method.) As a math major, it bothered me that the movie’s math is a salmagundi of mismatched concepts and disciplines. Much of it involves actual numbers, which are not often to be found in pure mathematics. Patel, sad to say, still hasn’t learned to act; his screen presence is a mix of mugging, hyperactivity and earnest expression. Irons – and Toby Jones, as another affable colleague – have little to do but pretend to be gobsmacked by S.’s formulae. Ramanujan died of tuberculosis in his early thirties, a death prolonged here only slightly less than Mimi’s in “La Bohème.” In movie dramas, whenever someone coughs, he’s a goner.

Last and least, two self-styled film franchises whose latest dismal offerings should sound their death knells: Garry Marshall’s holiday-themed romcoms (represented by the new “Mother’s Day”) and the so-called “Cities of Love” (“Rio, I Love You”). Cities of Love – anthologies of short films, each somehow related to love and set in the title city – kicked off in style with “Paris, je t’aime” (2007), which featured strong and memorable work by, inter alia, Gus Van Sant and Alexander Payne. Even Marshall’s 2010 “Valentine’s Day,” in which Ashton Kutcher spent an inordinate amount of time in his underwear, had its moments. The dialogue in “Mother’s Day,” by comparison, is so on-the-nose and devoid of nuance you don’t know whether you’re in lobotomy pre-op or post-op. “Rio, I Love You” opens with dozens of title cards listing its “sponsors,” one of which is the automaker Fiat. Guess what cars they’re driving around. Its dialogue is so generic and inscrutable you could be watching an SNL spoof of an ad for Calvin Klein’s Obsession. Only the great Margo Martindale and Indian actress Anoush Nevart jolt “Mother’s Day” into something remotely resembling real life, as the clucking mothers of a culture-clash couple. Fernanda Montenegro – an Oscar nominee for 1998’s charmer “Central Station” – does the same for “Rio” as a former schoolteacher who now lives on the streets by choice. “Rio” is the kind of movie you can walk in and out of, or lapse in and out of consciousness. In one segment, John Turturro tells Vanessa Paradis, “What is love? Love is a good thing. I don’t know how to express myself.” Sure don’t, buddy, and neither does anyone else in this fakakta movie.

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