RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
WETA-created and PETA-approved, Rise of the Planet of the Apes stands at the center of a campaign that boasts about how the film employed the Oscar-winning team behind Avatar and the Lord of the Rings trilogy to invent its photorealistic primates. Others have been prone to highlight the "realistic" part; I tend to accentuate the "photo" portion.
In this prequel to (I guess) Tim Burton's 2001 Planet of the Apes - certainly not a prequel to the classic 1968 original, which numbered 1971's Escape from the Planet of the Apes (similar in some ways to Rise) among its sequels - kindly scientist Will Rodman (James Franco) ends up "adopting" a baby chimp that's been made super-smart by a drug initially created by Will to combat Alzheimer's in humans (including his own dad, played by John Lithgow). Named Caesar, the chimp goes from cuddly infant to questioning teen to, finally, betrayed and embittered adult.
Along the way, Caesar crosses paths with a vicious zookeeper (Tom "Draco Malfoy" Felton, playing the anti-Kevin James), Will finds love with a vet (Freida Pinto) who's his match in dullness, and Caesar engages in risible sign-language conversations with an orangutan (suddenly, I had a real hankering for Every Which Way But Loose). Created by Peter Jackson's WETA Digital outfit and "played" by Andy Serkis, Caesar is a CGI triumph, although there's still an artificiality about the look that keeps the figure at a distance (personally, I found Serkis's "performance" as the title character in Jackson's King Kong remake to be more effective).
Still, the film proves to be a reasonably entertaining experience, culminating in an all-out battle between apes and humans on the Golden Gate Bridge. But for all of its technical prowess, the picture never stirs the soul like the '68 model, which dovetailed its allusions to real-life civil unease with its muscular handling of a surefire sci-fi hook. When the original's Charlton Heston bellows, "Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!" it's a clarion call to humanity; when a character in this new picture says it, it feels like an unearned co-option.
Hollywood's latest men-will-be-boys bit of buffoonery, The Change-Up opens with a baby projectile-pooping straight into his father's mouth. It's a sensation that won't be entirely unfamiliar to audiences members who subject themselves to this cinematic cesspool's frontal assault.
Part of a subgenre that seems to be growing more witless as it grows more raunchy, this "man-child" feature also brings back that popular 1980s staple: the body switch comedy. Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds respectively portray workaholic family man Dave and slacker pothead Mitch, who drunkenly wish they had each other's lives while urinating into a magic fountain (stay with me, people). Waking up the next morning occupying the other's body, Dave and Mitch desperately try to reverse the situation. But first, they must spend a few days as the other fellow, meaning that the uptight Dave has to perform Mitch's duties in a softcore porn flick while the irresponsible Mitch has to dole parental advice to Dave's oldest daughter (Sydney Rouviere) and share the matrimonial bed with Dave's wife Jamie (Leslie Mann).
A chaotic scene in which Mitch fails to properly supervise Dave's twin infants, resulting in near-accidents with a blender and an electrical outlet, will infuriate many adults, but truth be told, it's about the only gag that's even remotely fresh in this stale endeavor (if anything, it reminded me of Baby Herman's dangerous exploits in those Roger Rabbit cartoons). The rest is the usual mix of anus-and-penis-fixated gags, ritual female humiliation (Mann, as usual, deserves far better), and insincere, late-inning attempts to show us that all of these wacky shenanigans turned Dave and Mitch into better people.
I'm more likely to believe that Rick Santorum will be the keynote speaker at the upcoming Democratic National Convention.
FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS
Well, at least it's better than No Strings Attached. Other than that, there's not much to say about Friends with Benefits, the calendar year's second film about a guy and a gal attempting to be nothing more than "f--- buddies" but ending up emotionally entangled anyway. Whereas before we had a coasting Natalie Portman working against deadwood Ashton Kutcher, here we find Mila Kunis matching up nicely with Justin Timberlake. Their chemistry is the best thing about this often smug film centering on the relationship between a New York headhunter (Mila as Jamie) and an Angeleno (Justin as Dylan) who moves to the Big Apple to accept a lofty G.Q. gig.
Kunis and Timberlake sparkle in each other's presence, and they manage to outshine their more seasoned co-stars: Woody Harrelson is scarcely believable as a gay sports editor who suggests to Dylan that they "troll for cock" together, while Patricia Clarkson and Richard Jenkins figure in ungainly subplots as, respectively, Jamie's hippie mom and Dylan's Alzheimer's-afflicted dad.
Helmer Will Gluck (Easy A) and his co-writers originally feign in the direction of mocking formulaic romantic comedies, but by the end, they've surrendered to the genre's worst impulses. So while I agree with Kunis's character that Katherine Heigl rom-coms are awful, I also think a film needs to be a lot better than Friends with Benefits if it wants to engage in the activity of bashing rival multiplex fillers.