Just Go With It: Oh, the suspense over which Adam Sandler will show up to Just Go With It (in which he plays a guy who pretends to be married in order to get laid and then must pretend to be divorcing in order to get married, or something): the mischievous goofball who starred in You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, or the complacent which is to say extremely lazy family man of Grown Ups, Bedtime Stories, Click, etc.
Actually, the suspense is almost nil; Sandler has been coasting through his comedies more or less since Little Nicky flopped back in 2000, and to great financial effect. The few blips have consisted of his forays outside his Team Sandler comfort zone of college buddies and yes-men, into the auteur zone (Punch-Drunk Love; Funny People); the sweetness of his onscreen relationship with Drew Barrymore even if the comedy in 50 First Dates was pretty lame; and the aforementioned Zohan, a Sandler/Smigel/Apatow mind-meld that should inform more of his disposable comedies.
Just Go With It looks like another high-concept script retrofitted for (and by) Sandler and pals, marrying the logline cynicism of garden-variety bad comedies with the worst of his writing instincts (lazy chumminess, faux-populism). Yet I hold out hope for the guy, because his best comedies have a pleasingly ramshackle silliness; if this starred Drew Barrymore rather than the self-pitying proto-Heigel Jennifer Aniston, I might even have some cautious optimism. As is, I will probably see it out of Sandler near-completism (though that wasn’t enough for me to get through Chuck and Larry), and to find out what the hell is up with Nicole Kidman’s bit part. Her presence almost counteracts the fact that I’m pretty sure she’s acting opposite sadly explicable Sandler buddy Dave Matthews.
Cedar Rapids: Nearly as broad as some Sandler comedies but with a crucial warmth rather than cynical manipulation, Miguel Arteta’s comedy just played Sundance, and while it’s less nuanced and satirical than its obvious relatives—the films of Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, who produce here—it has the relaxed, observant rhythm he showed off, at differing speeds, in The Good Girl and Youth in Revolt. I’m usually an advocate for comedians riffing on a particular persona (really, is there a reason that Michael Cera should try to “stretch” and not act like Michael Cera?), but I admit that the Ed Helms routine—the boisterous yet uncomfortable, optimistic but uptight, sweet-souled fool—may be wearing a little with me, less for the repetition than the neediness of his characters starting to bleed through into the comedian.
Even so, playing a sheltered insurance agent who gets his first taste of living through a convention in Iowa, he anchors a strong cast including John C. Reilly as a charming vulgarian and Isiah Whitlock, Jr. as a genial dork. Cedar Rapids has any number of direct connections to its superior influences: the cringing-with-soul of the U.S. Office where Helms got a major career boost; the Midwestern insurance salesman waking up to a bigger world in Payne and Taylor’s About Schmidt; the naïve nerd coming out of his shell assayed by Helms’s Office co-worker in The 40-Year-Old Virgin. But Arteta’s film, despite some easy digs at Midwestern piety, likes its characters too much to serve as a condescending imitator. It’s more like an agreeable second-stringer.
The Eagle: Color me a little surprised that Kevin McDonald’s tedious-looking gladiator movie is getting some decent notices, but then, McDonald’s slick but half-empty State of Play and The Last King of Scotland garnered strangely accepting marks, too. Here, instead of past and future Oscar winners, McDonald directs Tatum Channing Tatum O’Channing as a soldier at least momentarily (perhaps, based on the trailers, as late as an hour into the movie) bossed around by Jamie Bell, which is as matters should be, but probably not as they will remain. [Channing Tatum is a gift. Let’s unwrap him. -Ed.]
Gnomeo & Juliet: Here’s what kind of straw-grasping mess of an ad campaign announces the existence of Gnomeo & Juliet, the type of movie that sounds exactly like it was commissioned based on its title: I was walking in Manhattan the other day, and I saw a Gnomeo ad on that triangular dealie on the top of a cab. Full text of the ad: “This cab is powered by gnomes!” with accompanying pictures of the lawn gnomes from the movie. Not to dissect a silly ad for a kid-movie programmer, but: what the hell? Unless a major facet of this movie is the conceit that gnomes secretly provide electricity or internal combustion to a variety of everyday processes (and if so, the other advertising materials have not done a good job of conveying this), joking that a cab is “powered by gnomes” makes absolutely no fucking sense to someone who’s not tripping balls. Also, if I thought that even one of these lovelorn gnomes might commit suicide in the end, I’d buy a ticket.
Justin Bieber: Never Say Never: I’m going to tread very carefully here. I’ve heard that a bunch of film critics were disinvited from screenings of this docu-bio-infomercial, but I’m pretty sure that was for their own safety. If those unsuspecting critics were to see the movie and go ahead with their already-half-written pans, the Bieber army would descend upon them with great force and terrible vengeance, ripping them limb from pasty limb, devouring them, spelling out “luv u justin” with their blood and devouring their brains, not to gain their knowledge, but to better eradicate the production of anti-Bieber thoughts. Even the slightest provocation of the Bieber army can result in this kind of ghoulish violence, or worse. It’s like that old maxim: if you can’t say anything nice, Justin Bieber’s prepubescent fans will liquefy and consume you. So Never Say Never certainly looks… intriguing. And… feature-length. Also: lucrative.