Rio: After Shrek (and, ok, some lackluster Disney song scores) banned musical numbers in animation only to welcome them back with the now-de-rigueur practice of movie-ending pop-song singalongs full of canned raucousness, the fact that Rio almost has the (minimal) guts to proceed as an actual non-Disney musical is almost endearing. Similarly, it almost doesn’t matter that the songs feature will.i.am (doing supporting voice work) and knock off the premises of better tunes like “Kiss the Girl” or “Under the Sea”—this birdy take on the standard sheltered-pets-in-peril story could use the music, and the Rio de Janeiro setting isn’t a bad excuse. Jemaine Clement, playing a villainous cockatoo, scores the most satisfyingly silly moment of the whole movie during his brief bad-guy song, a goofy-flowing cross between Flight of the Conchords and “Be Prepared.”
But, perhaps still cautious after the DreamWorks doctrine, the songs of Rio stay at the periphery in favor of a lot of jabbering and limp kid-movie sarcasm. The voice cast has plenty of actors who can also sing—no, I wouldn’t qualify will.i.am as either, but Jamie Foxx and Anne Hathaway suffice—but they only have a chance to trade verses here and there. Similarly, the wonderfully fussy tones of Jesse Eisenberg are mostly wasted with him voicing Blu, a, yes, mildly fussy and, yes, limply sarcastic blue macaw far away from home and expected to mate with the only female blue macaw in sight (Hathaway, doing her feisty-killjoy act from Get Smart, among others). Yes, computer animation is now officially advanced enough to create images that no one would’ve thought possible or, for that matter, ever wanted to see, like photorealistic bird beaks pressed together for an unconvincing (and frankly kind of creepy-looking) kiss. Rio isn’t a total pain to sit through, but it is something to sit through, rather than drink in like Rango or a Pixar movie. The animation is bright and cute and far too busy; the filmmakers ignore no opportunity for clattering chases. “I would love to go five minutes without almost getting killed,” Blu says at one point. Hey, not a bad idea.
Scream 4: As The L’s Justin Stewart points out in his review, one of the troubles with Scream sequels is that the first film teetered, cleverly, on the notion of “rules” of a horror movie. You can wring some additional jokes about “sequel rules” for Scream 2, but by the time they got to the funnier-less-scary Scream 3, well, as Justin points out, what are those famous trilogy rules again? Actually, I can think of one: part four will come later and suck more. I don’t know if that’s the case for Scream 4, and frankly, if it’s even as good as the other Screamquels, it’ll be a lot more fun than eighty percent of the horror movies out there. But the thing about long-replicating horror sequels is that there aren’t really many rules; once you’re past two or three installments, things like “rules” and “continuity” and “stories you might care about even a little” tend to go out the window, giving way to pure hucksterism (Jason Goes to Hell sounds awesome until you find out that the title only describes the last thirty seconds of the movie). The Scream movies have an advantage in that they’re nonsupernatural slashers that depend on different people donning the ghostface mask each time, not rising from the dead; it seems ghoulishly close to plausible, really. They’re also some of the most purely enjoyable “audience” horror movies I’ve ever enjoyed, which is probably why I don’t think I’ve ever seen any of them straight through since those first shriek-and-giggle-laden viewings.
The Conspirator: Or, The Lincoln-Related Lawyer. Robert Redford has convinced a stellar cast—Robin Wright Penn, Tom Wilkinson, Kevin Kline, James McAvoy, Evan Rachel Wood—as well as Alexis Bledel to appear in his soft-focus vision of history, specifically the trial of the only woman charged as a co-conspirator in the Lincoln assassination. Redford stumbled when attempting to interpret current events with Lions for Lambs; hopefully The Conspirator is a little more Quiz Show, though it looks more likely to be his Amistad (wait, does that mean I’m going to like it more than most people? I don’t have too many problems with Amistad).