DVD 11/25/08: Paris, je t'aime LCE, The Nutty Professor Animated, Orthodox Stance, Hancock, Space Chimps, Meet Dave, 24: Redemption, Colbert Christmas, The Ron Howard Spotlight Collection

Paris, je t’aime: Two-Disc Limited Collector’s Edition (R, 2006, First Look)
Even if “Paris, je t’aime” doesn’t wish to be a complete disaster, it should, at the very least, be a mess. Cobbling together five or six loosely-connected short stories in the space of a single film usually leads to unpleasant results, and “t’aime” crams in 18 — each helmed by a different director and starring a wildly expansive collection of American and European talent — in exactly two hours. Beyond the Paris connection, which takes us to vastly different (and starkly underappreciated) corners of the city, the stories share little in common. A heartbreaking tale of a nanny who spends her workday away from her own child gives way to something straight out of a fever dream. Two shorts enjoy the presence of a narrator, while another contains not a single spoken word. Physical comedy gives way to tragedy, tragedy gives way to sweetness, sweetness gives way to escapism, and none of this is to say anything about the mime, the vampire or the boy with the ridiculous backpack. The only defense for such madness is competence, but “t’aime,” to its extreme credit, leaps miles beyond competence and lands squarely on magnificence. Just about every story is an overwhelming hit for reasons entirely its own. Pleasant surprises continually blossom, and even the wrinkles you see coming often manage to surprise in their method of arrival. Ultimately, the small tales in “t’aime” move and impress more in minutes than most whole films can in hours. If this gem passed you by in theaters and during its first DVD go-round, let this time be the charm.
Extras: Making-of documentary, 18 behind-the-scenes features, storyboards.

The Nutty Professor (PG, 2008, Weinstein Company)
The most inventive thing about this computer-animated reimagining of “The Nutty Professor” is, in fact, the medium, which allows Jerry Lewis to reprise his role 45 years later without his character losing nearly as many steps as his real-life counterpart would have. Storywise, “Professor” basically recycles itself, trotting out a fresh-faced nerd (voiced by Drake Bell) who, just like his renowned grandfather (Lewis), devises a potion that gives him an alter ego capable of landing his dream girl. Once again, there are side effects, and really, you can spell this one out every step of the way. But this “Professor” exists for a generation of eyeballs that haven’t seem Lewis’ original or even Eddie Murphy’s update, and taken on its own merits, it’s surprisingly well-written and gifted with an extremely likeable (and often admirable) group of characters. The animated approach allows “Professor” to go a bit overboard toward the end, but it’s pretty visually impressive, and the characters have long since earned your affections by that point. Perhaps best of all, Lewis doesn’t phone his performance in. Praising an actor for that is akin to throwing a party for a six-year-old who just graduated Kindergarten, but considering all that could have gone wrong with this concept, it’s worth noting nonetheless.
Extras: Behind-the-scenes feature, storyboards.

Orthodox Stance (NR, 2007, Indiepix)
There’s nothing terribly unusual about Jewish boxer and Russian import Dmitriy Salita’s professional boxing aspirations … until you discover (a) Salita observes the Sabbath every week without fail and (b) most fight cards take place during that exact window of time. Is Salita’s talent enough to warrant special circumstances, and just how creative need he and his handlers be to make this career choice make any sense? Sets the table for a pretty novel story, no? It does, and as such, “Orthodox Stance,” which follows Salita over a three-year journey from the amateur ranks onto the professional threshold, need only roll camera and glue the thing together to make for a compelling piece of work in its own right. It doesn’t hurt that Salita stands out without help: He’s an interesting, well-spoken guy who just so happens to be doing something very few before him have dared even bother to attempt. With him in tow, “Stance” need not trade on novelty despite its wide availability. The special circumstances provide a fascinating backdrop, but this, more than anything, is a great story about a guy trying to make it in a business that eats people alive without discrimination. If you’ve ever found yourself facing similar odds and fears in your own life, regardless of specifics, “Stance” may provide more value in this respect than in any other.
Extras: Director commentary, deleted scenes, Salita update (current as of October 2008), director radio interview.

Hancock: Unrated Edition (NR, 2008, Sony Pictures)
It’s rather amazing it took this long for Hollywood to give us “Hancock,” which tells the tragicomic story of an entirely human superhero (Will Smith) whose sloppy heroics have him in the public’s dog house and have left him a bitter, lonely drunk. The Superhero genre is beyond ripe for a smart send-up grounded in reality, and there certainly exists no shortage of fun ways this could go. Problem is, “Hancock wants all those ways for itself. During its 102-minute runtime — brisk by genre standards — “Hancock” crams in roughly three films’ worth of story arcs. One development crashes into another, and the film overcompensates the lack of time by stuffing it full of in-your-face attitude that grates more than engages. But even with lousy writing devouring it from all sides, “Hancock” remains watchable at worst and reluctantly fun in spite of itself at best. That’s a testament to the cast’s and special effects crew’s talent, but it particularly speaks to the built-in novelty that accompanies the concept. It’s a shame a better script didn’t take the first crack, but that doesn’t mean someone else can’t still try. Charlize Theron and Jason Bateman also star.
Extras: Five behind-the-scenes features.

Space Chimps (G, 2008, Fox)
At around minute 41, “Space Chimps” introduces us to Kilowatt, a tiny but ample-headed space creature who resembles a cross between a Martian and a talking baby. Kilowatt’s head glows like a bulb when she’s nervous, and she lets out an amusing chirp whenever those oft-unnecessary fears subside. Only with this introduction, roughly halfway in, does “Chimps” finally begin to show it has any heart at all. The preceding 40 minutes are textbook animation-by-numbers: Crazy slacker chimp scoffs at chance to be a space hero like his grandfather, decides to go for it after seeing one of his female would-be crewmates, and spends who knows how many scenes acting like an obnoxious slacker with zero endearing qualities and even less going for him on the originality scale. Toss in some “zany” antics, a little faux-attitude and a handful of pop culture gags that only fans of the Dancing Judge Itos will still find clever, and we’re on the fast track to top-shelf pointlessness. Only when little Kilowatt shows up does “Chimps” give us something to finally root for, and while that’s not nearly enough to make the movie worth a rave or even recommendation, it does make it briefly watchable if your children or younger siblings absolutely insist on making you watch it with them. Should Fox get any ideas and greenlight a sequel, here’s hoping our big-headed friend gets the star turn and our completely forgettable chimp non-hero stays home like he wanted to in the first place.
Extras: Behind-the-scenes feature, stills gallery.

Meet Dave (PG, 2008, Fox)
Dave (Eddie Murphy) may look like a normal person walking around New York City, but he is actually an alien spacecraft operating under the control of tiny, human-like aliens (Murphy again, plus Gabrielle Union, Scott Caan and Ed Helms) on a mission to wring Earth dry of its resources. All goes according to plan until our vessel is forced to contend with humanity — an experience so pleasant, it gives tiny Dave a serious moral quandary to figure out. Nice message, and a little Hollywood magic goes a long way toward giving “Meet Dave” all kinds of imaginative, family-friendly possibilities. Shame the script doesn’t play along, coasting by on a wave of tired stereotypes and lukewarm jokes that will send kids mixed messages and bore the rest of us. “Dave” repeatedly speaks of the merits of human kindness and tolerance, but what it shows continually runs counter to what it tells, making it just another preachy family film that lacks the knowhow to follow its own sermon.
Extras: Crew confessions.

Worth a Mention
— “24: Redemption” (NR, 2008, Fox) and “A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All!” (NR, 2008, Comedy Central): Just in case (a) your DVR is broken or (b) you dearly enjoyed these the first time around, DVD versions of two specials that aired only this past weekend are now available for purchase. Naturally, the special features are the real selling point. “Colbert” features three alternate endings, a book-burning video Yule log and an interactive Advent calendar. “Redemption,” meanwhile, contains an extended cut of the film, cast/crew commentary, a making-of documentary, a feature about real-life child soldiers a season six recap and the first 16 minutes of the first episode of season seven, which kicks off in January.
— “The Ron Howard Spotlight Collection” (PG-R, various years, Universal): Contains four films: “A Beautiful Mind,” “Apollo 13,” “Cinderella Man” and “Backdraft.” Each film gets two discs’ worth of content. Extras include commentary on all but “Backdraft,” as well as behind-the-scenes features and deleted scenes.