Man, it kinda seems like the studios under-programmed July, huh? It's as if everyone is rolling over and playing dead for the sake of Harry Potter, only those Potter movies never really dominate the box office after the first weekend; they make a massive killing, and then drop sixty percent even if they're well-liked. But for whatever reason, no one is bringing out anything big or splashy this weekend; instead, a couple of niches get hit hard with familiarity.
G-Force: Oh, how I wish this movie was not an example of familiarity. How I pine for the days when animals could only talk via clunky voiceover unmatched to any actual mouth movement. But now the technology exists to create creepy CG imitations of life, only with creepier mouths that move and speak and sound like celebrities and it's awful. So here's a Disney movie about wisecracking crimefighting guinea pigs. Given the semi-eclectic voice cast (Nic Cage, Sam Rockwell, Tracy Morgan, Penelope Cruz, Steve Buscemi) and the alt-comedy live-action cast (Zach Galifianakis, Will Arnett), I might, might, might be capable of forming the thought: "maybe it's smarter than it looks." But not only are guinea pigs vaguely disgusting (they're like rats who don't know that they're bottom-feeders), they seem to be caught up in all manner of x-treeeeeme behavior here, since they're spies, and, you know, most spies resemble daredevil skateboarders and such. Basically, it's That Part in Scooby-Doo Where the Dog Rides the Four-Wheeler: The Movie.
Orphan: Wait a minute... a creepy-child horror movie? I think I've seen this one. No, seriously, I'm not talking about The Bad Seed or even The Good Son... I think I saw this movie like, just a couple of years ago. I know, all of these horror movies start to look alike after awhile, but I'm pretty sure this is different. I mean, the same. I'm almost willing to bet money. Well, I don't know, $10,000 is a lot of money, but... wait, look, yes, there's Vera Farmiga! OK, fuck it, I'm in, let's shake on it. Yeah, I totally remember this movie. Vera Farmiga is the menaced wife, and the husband is indie mainstay Sam Rockwell! Right? Pay up! Wait, what? No, I'm pretty sure it's Sam Rockwell, not Peter Sarsgaard. I believe you have your indie mainstays confused! God, I can't wait to get that ten grand; I'm finally gonna buy that life-size replica of the Alien Queen from Aliens. Gonna be so fucking awesome... wait, what? Rewind that. OK. That is Sarsgaard. Huh. And the kid is a girl, not a little boy? Fuck. Maybe it is a different movie. Maybe. Possibly. Crap. If I find out that Renny Harlin directed it on the sly, I'm kicking both of your asses. Can I pay you in installments?
The Ugly Truth: Katherine Heigl: the new Jennifer Aniston? She's got the TV roots, the faux-relatable imitation of sass, and the ability to undermine her supposed honesty with terrible, terrible taste in material. It takes a special kind of actorly hubris to follow up a complaint about sexism in Knocked Up with the one-two punch of 27 Dresses and The Ugly Truth, unless the latter is, at minimum, about sixty times better than it looks. You see, the deal with men is, they like revealing outfits and nice bodies! And women, you know women, they believe in true love! Can these two hilarious points of view ever be reconciled? Perhaps with smooching? Only woo-girl screenwriters Kirsten Smith and Karen McCullah Lutz (Legally Blonde; She's the Man; The House Bunny) know for sure.
In the Loop: This is the only movie opening this weekend that I've seen, but I think it's safe to say that it's probably the best of the lot. Spun off from the Brit TV series The Thick of It (unseen by me), the film follows assorted U.K. and U.S. politicians, assistants, and handlers in the run-up to a new (unnamed) Middle Eastern war. The comedy style smashes together several familiar Britcom techniques: there's a bit of faux-documentary awkwardness from The Office, the cultural references of Spaced, as well as the satirical/farcical line fancied by Monty Python and others. The filmmakers mix these elements into their own quick-delivery language; the angriest spin-masters insult via both creative swears and oddly withering cultural put-downs (one poor git is referred to as Love Actually). In the Loop is often very funny — minute for minute, one of the funnier movies I've seen this year — but it's a little exhausting, too: the spin machine never stops rat-a-tatting, the relatively good guys are too incompetent to get ahead, and the movie just sort of runs until it can't run anymore. This is probably more reflective of actual foreign policies than we'd like to believe, but that doesn't stop the tension from draining away; by the end, I was thinking "that's funny" more often than I was actually laughing aloud, and I was left unaware of the fates of several of the more interesting characters. Still, it's enjoyable to keep up with the sharp dialogue; some of the silliness carries a bit of a sting.
The Answer Man/Shrink: I smirked a little when these two trailers ran back-to-back at a recent visit to the Landmark Sunshine; little did I know that these respected-actor-plays-professional-in-acerbic-midlife-crisis movies are actually coming out on the same damn day. In The Answer Man, it's Jeff Daniels aping As Good As It Gets as a writer; in Shrink it's Kevin Spacey aping, well, maybe American Beauty as, uh, a shrink; either way, we're dealing with some hardcore Caucasian blues played in the key of fame (Daniels' author is a popular recluse; Spacey is a shrink to the stars). Answer Man looks a bit mawkish, like it'll labor way too hard with Daniels' cynicism on the way to his touching breakthrough, but it's got a cool cast: Daniels, Lauren Graham, Tony Hale, and the semi-inappropriate-crush dream-team of Olivia Thirlby and Kat Dennings. Shrink, meanwhile, has a trailer puzzling in its thorough flatness; halfway through I started thinking, oh lord, this movie doesn't even have some cheap trailer moments to pony up. I can only imagine the tedium of the real thing. If someone could merge these movies into a single ninety-minute feature, I might get on board.