DVD 2/3/09: Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist, The Secret Life of Bees, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, AmericanEast, Space Buddies, Killer Movie

Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist (PG-13, 2008, Sony Pictures)
Try though he may, Nick (Michael Cera) can’t quite get over his ex (Alexis Dziena). And by “can’t quite,” we really mean, “has made her 12 mix CDs, complete with elaborate cover and interior art, and is prepared to make 12 more.” Semi-fortunately, while Tris finds the gestures appropriately creepy, her not-quite friend and classmate Norah (Kat Dennings) does not, if for no other reason than because Nick’s taste in music jives explicitly well with hers. As you might anticipate, “Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist” tells the story of how these two forces of good musical taste finally clash. And as you might also anticipate, it’s a portrayal of two people clicking that’s built upon impossible chance and unimaginable ease. But where’s the crime in that? Though “Playlist” certainly isn’t too proud to go where most Michael Cera movies go — including a vomit scene that ranks among the most horrifying of our time — it functions overwhelmingly as a piece of genuinely funny, feel-good escapism that, infeasible though it absolutely is, feels just buyable enough to credibly tug a heartstring or two before it wraps up its business and harmlessly gets out of the way. Rafi Gavron, Ari Graynor, Jay Baruchel and Jonathan Bradford Wright also star.
Extras: Cast/director commentary, writers/director commentary, deleted scenes, outtakes, puppet show, video diary, storyboards, interviews, photo gallery, music video.

The Secret Life of Bees (PG-13, 2008, Fox)
The fierce first two minutes of “The Secret Life if Bees” are an act unto themselves, and they’re also something of a problem for the remaining 108 minutes, which nobly attempt to adapt the Sue Monk Kidd book about a guilt-riddled 14-year-old girl (Dakota Fanning as Lily Owens) who, with the help of her caregiver (Jennfier Hudson), flees her abusive father (Paul Bettany) in search of answers about her late mother. This being the period piece it is — racially segregated South Carolina, 1964 — and with Lily’s journey leading her straight through the front door and into the mostly welcoming arms of a black family (Queen Latifah, Alicia Keys, Sophie Okonedo), it’s somewhat clear where, among other places, “Bees” is headed. But while the film does take those issues on, it treats them as devices rather than destinations, concentrating the bulk of its energy on the singular lives of its characters rather than some meandering examination of societal shortcomings. That individualization, in turn, makes those shortcomings resonate that much more. “Bees” has neither the time nor room to give the book its full due, but a terrific assortment of performances close the gap quite admirably. Tristan Wilds and Nate Parker also star.
Extras: Cast/crew commentary, writer/director/editor commentary, deleted scenes, five behind-the-scenes features.

Zack and Miri Make a Porno (R, 2008, The Weinstein Company)
Lifelong friends Zack (Seth Rogen) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks) are too poor to pay for running water, much less cover their next rent check. One series of unexpected events later, the solution becomes clear: Make a porno. Ta-da, we have a title. Think you can figure out the rest? Smart money says yes: While the title and premise are certainly unique, “Zack and Miri Make a Porno’s” devices are another matter, and it doesn’t take a crystal ball to predict the precise moments in which the central dilemma comes up, the mood turns, the serious stuff kicks in, and things right themselves in time for the ending that sends everyone home happy. That’s forgivable, because between those moments is where “Porno” shines brightest anyway. Zack and Miri’s saga alternates between clever and stupid comedy with less seams showing than your typical Kevin Smith project, and it balances moments of obscene grossology and sincere sweetness in ways that would make most comedies’ heads spin. Most importantly, though, it gives lots of screen time to Craig Robinson (as Zack’s coworker-turned-producer), who — like Rogen a few years ago — more than deserves a starring vehicle of his own at this point. As usual, he steals scenes without hesitation. Smith staples Jason Mewes and Jeff Anderson, along with Katie Morgan, Traci Lords, Justin Long and Brandon Routh, also star.
Extras: Deleted scenes, making-of feature, Comic-Con 2008 feature, Webisodes, outtakes, bloopers, Seth vs. Justin: Battle for Improvisational Supremacy.

AmericanEast (R, 2007, MGM)
Have you heard the one about the Middle Eastern guy who raises his voice in an airport and finds himself on a one-way flight to Guantanamo an hour later? Don’t worry: This, regardless of first impressions, isn’t that film. If “AmericanEast” has a real problem, in fact, it’s that it isn’t any one film, but several films (comedy, drama, slice of life) touching on more topics than one movie should take on about the plight of the Middle Eastern American. The time constraint rings some characters more hollow than others, and one of “AmericanEast’s” more graphically potent storylines — perhaps in a frantic attempt to garner extra heat as time winds down — goes farther than it needed to in the heaviness department. The sum total sure sounds like a mess, and it very well might have been one had all these genres and storylines not revolved around Mustafa (Sayed Badreya), a father and friend to all whose struggle to turn an empty diner into a thriving eatery is as American as American gets. Badreya isn’t working alone: Erick Avari, Anthony Azizi, Tony Shalhoub, Kais Nashif and Sarah Shahi, among others, also give life to great characters. But his presence gives “East” the stability, perspective and occasional levity it needs to keep its myriad moods in order. No extras.

Space Buddies (G, 2008, Disney)
Yes, it’s completely out of hand now. The series that began as “Air Bud” — a simple story of a dog who can play organized basketball — has now found itself telling a tale about five puppies who accidentally find themselves on an experimental space shuttle destined for the moon while grownups with advanced degrees bumble around on Earth trying to figure out how it happened. But there’s a reason this franchise has stuck around for more than 11 years and through umpteen increasingly absurd movies: It sort of works. Kids love puppies, kids love space, and “Space Buddies” is a sweet, stupid but completely harmless story about adorable talking puppies in space. It’s also a film in which real-life puppies find themselves wearing ridiculous outfits and look completely and genuinely puzzled by the circumstances that have led to a level of fame their innocent little minds cannot even comprehend. The fourth-wall absurdity of it all — and the fun that comes from imagining what the little dogs must be thinking as they run around Hollywood sets like four-legged Buzz Aldrins — makes “Buddies” fun in a whole other way for those of us who elect (or have) to watch along. Bill Fagerbakke, Diedrich Bader, Ali Hillis star on the human side.
Extras: Bloopers (some real, some not so much), space travel Disneypedia, Buddy facts, music video.

Killer Movie (R, 2008, Peace Arch)
Using reality television as the underlying plot device for a horror film is, at this point, a little tired. So that’s strike two against “Killer Movie,” which gets its first strike from the wholly uninspired title. Strike two and a half? Try a handful of trite characters, including a Hollywood has-been-in-the-making (Paul Wesley), a societal princess overtly based on Paris Hilton (Kaley Cuoco), and a gaggle of Hollywood types who invade a small town full of equally objectionable “aw shucks” small-town stereotypes. But a funny thing happens on the way to strike three: “Movie” weaves together a solid, old-fashioned slasher tale that, despite some reliance on cliché and a few predictable details, is genuinely engaging instead of just another vehicle for superfluous gore. The trite characters develop just enough dimension to maintain interest, and while the sum total of the story and its cast don’t elevate “Movie” to any kind of greatness, it definitely keeps things entertaining until the credits come. Even if you figure out the who in this whodunit before the movie pulls back the curtain, “Movie” still saves one somewhat clever surprise for the very end.
Extras: Behind-the-scenes feature, photo gallery, digital copy.