Until the Sports Illustrated subscription runs out at the Walt Disney Studios offices, I expect audiences will continue to be privy to cookie-cutter yarns centered around notable achievements in the sports world. Secretariat is the latest from the studio stable, and it relates the truly remarkable story of the magnificent racehorse that set records while winning the Triple Crown in 1973 (and simultaneously appeared on the covers of Time, Newsweek and Sports Illustrated while doing so). The races are exciting, but to get to these sequences, we're forced to wade through a lot of vanilla material about the difficulties faced by Secretariat's determined owner (typically reliable Diane Lane) and flamboyant trainer (John Malkovich, taking neither his role nor the movie seriously). Despite these tepidly staged interludes, the overall picture isn't quite as bland as, say, The Rookie or Miracle. Still, the staidness made me long for the studio's earlier sports flick Alive -- at least that one had rugby players munching down on each other.
WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS
Michael Douglas won the Best Actor Oscar for his sly turn as uber-capitalist Gordon Gekko in 1987's Wall Street, but the majority of the film's running time was commandeered by Charlie Sheen as his gullible protégé Bud Fox. That timeshare worked for that picture, but with the 23-years-after-the-fact Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, it's no secret that we're all here for Douglas. But aside from a quick glimpse of him in the prologue, he doesn't return for a full half-hour, meaning that it's Shia LaBeouf calling the shots. He's passable as a financial whiz kid who's in love with Gordon's daughter (Carey Mulligan) but finds himself turning to her estranged dad to help take down a corporate nemesis (Josh Brolin). But it's Douglas' continuing commitment to his iconic role that sporadically gooses the proceedings, at least until a mawkish conclusion that resembles nothing so much as a Wall Street -- and Wall Street -- crash.
IT'S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY
Art (or entertainment) doesn't exist in a vacuum, which makes It's Kind of a Funny Story appear even more puny upon continuous reflection. Screened before the recent spate of teen suicides, the film (based on Ned Vizzini's novel) seems even more trivial and pretentious in their wake, a fuzzy drama about a privileged New York teen (inert Keir Gilchrist) who checks himself into a mental health ward. Why, you ask? Because he thinks about jumping off a bridge due to -- well, there's this cute girl, you see, and, oh, yeah, the world situation is pretty bad, and, uh, homework sucks. But all it takes to set him right is a grotesque fantasy sequence set to "Under Pressure" (David Bowie should sue), a dour mentor (The Hangover's Zach Galifianakis) dealing with his own issues, and all the sitcom-ready patients parading around the hospital corridors. Where's Nurse Ratched when you really need her?
NEVER LET ME GO
A fairly good movie that had greatness within its grasp, Never Let Me Go, based on the acclaimed novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, uses softcore science fiction to jump-start its tale of an Earth in which cloning became a reality decades ago. The result is that people are now being produced specifically for the purpose of donating as many organs as possible before death takes them away; three of the young adults facing this dreadful fate are imperturbable Kathy (Carey Mulligan), impetuous Ruth (Keira Knightley) and impressionable Tommy (Andrew Garfield). Perhaps mindful of its British setting, director Mark Romanek outfits the entire picture with a stiff upper lip, never allowing for any variations of tone and counting on the material to jolt the audience into emotional awareness. It's an interesting gambit that's only partly successful, respecting the viewers' intelligence but too often reducing the capable actors to blank slates and the storyline to a glass that's only half full.