Wild Target (PG-13, 2010, Fox)
It’s something of a long story, but a scam to the tune of nearly $1 million has resulted in a job for decorated assassin Victor Maynard (Bill Nighy), whose next task is to put the scammer (Emily Blunt as Rose) to rest. But what happens next is an even longer story, and without spoiling the specifics, Victor transforms from Rose’s assassin into her employee while a frightened innocent bystander (Rupert Grint as Tony) joins up because he accidentally changed everything and doesn’t know what else to do. You can probably sort of guess how this is going to go forward, and “Wild Target” doesn’t shy away from predictability in terms of its big picture. But the ability to guess “Target’s” big twists isn’t a big deal when it becomes apparent that the plot is mostly just a vehicle in which our three heroes can bicker, fumble over each other and demonstrate three uniquely flawed approaches to escaping considerable danger. For every turn “Target’s” script telegraphs, there exist a dozen or two lines that are funnier than most comedies’ top five. And while Victor, Rose and Tony gel about as naturally as three dogs in a room with one food bowl, the actors playing them are a whole other story. Eileen Atkins also stars, without spoiling the specifics, as Victor’s mom.
Extra: Behind-the-scenes feature.
It’s Kind of a Funny Story (PG-13, 2010, Focus/Universal)
Stressed teenager Craig (Keir Gilchrist) had one suicidal dream too many, and after impulsively checking into a mental hospital in hopes of getting a quick prescription, he’s a bit flustered to discover he can’t check out for at least five days. Unfortunately, his wish for his parents (Jim Gaffigan and Lauren Graham) to find out, freak out and break him out simply backfires when they offer him their full support. So it’s time to make the most of a five-day vacation and perhaps tell a little coming-of-age story in the process. “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” earns its name, because quite frankly, it is kind of funny. Neither Craig’s problems nor those of the people he meets (Zach Galifianakis, Emma Roberts and Jeremy Davies, among others) become a platform for cheap laughs, nor does “Story” stack the baggage deck for some tear-jerking monologue in act three. Even the absolute weirdest of “Story’s” characters have some twinkle of accessibility to them, and while Craig and his new friends may be unable to sort themselves out without professional intervention, the stuff they’re sorting out is the same stuff we all have to endure. “Story” maintains an ideal energy throughout — thoughtful without over-thinking, amusing on a relatable level, just dryly funny enough to laugh with and at itself simultaneously — and the mix allows it to be strangely life-affirming without cloying its way to that level.
Extras: Deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes feature, outtakes, premiere footage.
America America (NR, 1963, Warner Bros.)
You likely saw your share of commercials this past Sunday for movies that almost certainly will creep well north of the two-hour runtime mark, but it’s a safe bet that none of them will look remotely like this. “America America” is the 168-minute voyage of Stavros Topouzoglou (Stathis Giallelis), who dreams of leaving Turkey and bypassing his family’s plans for him in favor of making a run for the United States. It’s a journey that drops him into isolation, alongside schemers and wanderers, through the grasping arms of opportunists, and even into the lap of another family with plans for him. It’s also a journey that treats us to some hammy acting, the occasional character who feels like a prop or means to an end, and some late-game scenes that feel like remixes of earlier scenes. Give “America” to armchair editors, and they could effortlessly cut an hour-plus out of what one could just as easily argue is a lot of self-indulgent sizzle and not much steak. But that’s only one perspective. The other is to enjoy “America” for what it is — an unapologetic, massively grandiose epic devoted to a human being’s turn of age instead of the same old aliens, Na’vi, wizards and other computer-animated phenomena. “America” is shamelessly proud and wholly deficient in terms of time management. But it’s a flavor of unabashed entertainment that we almost never witness anymore, so the overindulgence is entirely forgiven.
Extra: Commentary with historian Foster Hirsch.
See You in September (NR, 2010, Maya Entertainment)
“See You in September” is a reasonably enjoyable comedy — and yes, that’s high praise, because on premise and characters alone, it should be a grating mess. “September” begins with Lindsay (Estella Warren) dumping her perfectly good boyfriend because his marriage proposal activated her commitment-phobia alarm, and it continues with her panicking after her therapist (Whoopi Goldberg pulling cameo duty) dumps her for a monthlong vacation. Lindsay takes to the Internet, discovers numerous Manhattanites who share her plight, and a few scenes later, we’re at a meet-up that’s not only spearheaded by a character who up to now is pretty annoying, but whose guest list includes eight more of her. That’s entirely too strong a current for “September” to swim against in the name of greatness or lovability. But with all that said, the movie makes an admirable effort, and the more we get to know these people, the more bearable they become. A few even break out as likable, and the notion of strangers becoming friends by supporting each other without an hourly rate is certainly an idea the anti-therapist crowd can champion. “September” never really soars beyond being amusing (instead of outright funny) and enjoyable (instead of cathartic), and the way Lindsay wraps her story is polarizing enough to make some despise her all over again by film’s end. But given the parameters, this could have been so, so much worse. No extras.
My Soul to Take (R, 2010, Rogue/Universal)
There’s a terrifically entertaining scene in “My Soul to Take” involving a class bully, a tormented victim, a condor costume, fake vomit and public humiliation that’s impossible to explain or fully justify without context. But the scene bears mentioning anyway, because it so significantly outclasses the rest of “Take” that one might wonder if writer/director Wes Craven thought of it first and scrambled to slap together any kind of movie he could around it. Delivered the right way, “Take’s” outlandish premise — a dead serial killer remains a local obsession 16 years after his death because legend holds that his soul lives on in the seven teens born the day he died — could go somewhere. But when the script isn’t under siege by a hailstorm of abysmal dialogue and characters ranging from unlikable to comically archetypical, it’s tripping all over itself in an absolutely woeful attempt to make sense and still maintain some sliver of suspense — an impossible proposition after it all but spills the ending halfway through. Even if “Take” were remotely scary and didn’t completely telegraph its twists, the story is a cataclysmic mess, and when it reveals its visual and aural representation of evil, the gut reaction is to smirk instead of gasp.
Extras: Cast/Craven commentary, alternate opening/endings, deleted/extended scenes.
Paranormal Activity 2: Unrated Director’s Cut (NR, 2010, Paramount)
“Paranormal Activity” received far more horror movie cachet than it deserved, and it was nowhere near the year’s scariest movie. But it told a strong story, and the complete reliance on cameras installed by the characters themselves was a clever angle for an otherwise pedestrian ghost story. Problem is, a gimmick can only be clever once. And of the many problems “PA2” has, its inability to recognize this is the primary offender. “PA2” gives us a new family (Sprague Grayden, Brian Boland, Molly Ephrai
m) and throws in a dog and baby to bump up the helplessness factor that was high enough when only adults were in play. But beyond that, it doesn’t even try to outdo its predecessor. The gimmick that made the original unique is asked to do it again here, but it’s powerless to do so when there’s far less storytelling going on and a mostly unlikable family tasked with fixing that. The plot arcs the same way, the surveillance cameras cycle the same angles ad nauseam, and “PA2’s” only scare factor comes from a neatly-arranged collection of the kind of jump scares the first movie avoided in favor of something more genuinely creepy. A couple of them work, but the vast majority of them don’t, and the whole thing amounts to nothing but a lousy and deliberate cash-in on a first film that railed against everything this sequel does.
Extras: Theatrical and extended versions of the film, behind-the-scenes feature.