Friday, July 30, 2010

The Kids Are All Right: Balancing Act

The Kids Are All Right (2010) • View trailer for The Kids Are All Right
Four stars (out of five). Rating: R, for profanity, nudity, sexual candor and drug references
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 7.30.10
Buy DVD: The Kids Are All Right • Buy Blu-Ray: The Kids Are All Right [Blu-ray]

Some relationship dramedies derive their humor neither from one-liners nor slapstick merriment, but what could be termed the "squirm factor."

Our chuckles are genuine but nervous; we find somebody's flustered behavior both amusing and embarrassing ... and wincingly familiar. We're constantly waiting for some ax to fall, and that also turns into jittery laughter. The closer the script cuts to the bone  the more these characters become persuasively real to us  the more we laugh at their foolish conduct.
Paul (Mark Ruffalo, right) isn't sure what to expect when he's invited to share a
meal with Nic (Annette Bening, left) and Jules (Julianne Moore), whose children
 he fathered, years ago, thanks to sperm donation. He has only just met the teens
in question -- Laser (Josh Hutcherson) and Joni (Mia Wasikowska) -- and shares
their desire that he become more involved with their lives. But long-established
family dynamics are tricky, and the guarded undercurrent present during
this dinner is bound to erupt, sooner or later. 

Mostly because it ain't us making such a blindingly idiotic mess of our lives.

Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids Are All Right cuts very close to the bone. It's therefore quite funny at times, and also heartbreaking at other moments. Cholodenko's script, co-written with Stuart Blumberg, is achingly, painfully credible; the set-up is reasonable, the dialogue and human responses pretty much as we'd expect from the folks next door, or down the street ... or in our own bedroom.

The film also is anchored by powerful, Academy Award-worthy performances, particularly those from stars Annette Bening and Julianne Moore. They truly inhabit their characters, to the degree that I frankly forgot I was watching actresses in a movie. As happens only rarely, the actresses completely vanish into their roles.

Nic (Bening) and Jules (Moore) have been together for years, and have fallen into patterns that'll be recognized by couples enduring middle-age ennui. They take each other for granted a bit too much, then over-compensate with ostentatious displays of affection ... often while others can watch and therefore validate the gesture.

Nic's the bread-winner: a control freak, somewhat hyper-critical and certainly hyper-sensitive, and prone to a few too many glasses of wine. Jules is loosie-goosie, more inclined to ride the shifting winds of fickle impulse. She probably absorbs more snarky remarks  delivered with waspish precision by Bening  than she dishes out.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Salt: Well-seasoned

Salt (2010) • View trailer for Salt
3.5 stars (out of five). Rating: PG-13, for action violence
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 7.29.10
Buy DVD: Salt (Deluxe Unrated Edition) • Buy Blu-RaySalt (Deluxe Unrated Edition) [Blu-ray]

Tom Cruise abandoned Salt during pre-production a few years ago, apparently in favor of Knight and Day.

Well, the joke's on him; Salt has all the suspenseful pep(per) that Cruise's incomprehensible summer vehicle lacked, not to mention a leading lady who knows how to sell this sort of popcorn action fare.
Although she's about to be late for a dinner date, Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie)
agrees to perform a snap assessment of a walk-in Russian defector claiming to
have good intel. Her boss, Ted Winter (Liev Schreiber, left), appreciates the
favor; the less generous Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor), the resident counter-
intelligence officer, figures such work is part of her job. Alas, Salt is about
to regret her compliance, when the defector's information cites her personally.

Indeed, pouty Angelina Jolie could turn this fast-paced thriller into a franchise, if she so desired; Phillip Noyce's slickly choreographed directorial control and Kurt Wimmer's twisty, engaging script give the actress ample opportunity to blossom in this femme fatale response to the "Bourne" series.

Yep, the action scenes have that sort of rugged, well edited pizzazz, starting with a stylish early chase scene that's every bit as breathtaking as Warren Beatty's frantic efforts to evade the bad guys at the end of 1972's $ (Dollars).

Better still, you won't be annoyed by Wimmer's screenplay, which opens with a clever premise, puts its resourceful leading lady into unexpected peril and then plays with us during the game-changing second and third acts. Espionage fans will be reminded of 1987's No Way Out, which is good company to keep.

Jolie stars as CIA operative Evelyn Salt, introduced while being tortured in a North Korean cell by interrogators convinced that she's a spy. (They're right, of course.)

Although resigned to her fate, Salt is surprised one day to be part of a prisoner exchange that restores her to American soil and the arms of her devoted lover, Mike (August Diehl), a mild-mannered spider researcher who kicked up such a public fuss that the CIA had no choice but to retrieve her, in order to shut him up.

Time passes. Evelyn and Mike marry, and she adjusts to the challenges of domestic bliss and CIA desk duty: no more field work, thank you very much. She demonstrates a talent for interrogation analysis, which one day prompts her boss and longtime friend Ted Winter (Liev Schreiber) to have her spot-check a newly arrived Russian defector.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Ramona and Beezus: Clearly Cleary

Ramona and Beezus (2010) • View trailer for Ramona and Beezus
Four stars (out of five). Rating: G, and suitable for all ages
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 7.23.10
Buy DVD: Ramona and Beezus • Buy Blu-Ray: Ramona & Beezus [Blu-ray]

Beverly Cleary, still with us at a spry 94 years old, must be quite pleased by Ramona and Beezus.

I was optimistic going in, because Walden Media has a solid reputation when it comes to respectful adaptations of beloved children's books; consider the track record that includes Holes, Because of Winn-Dixie, Hoot, Charlotte's Web and Bridge to Terabithia.
Ramona (Joey King, foreground) leads the charge when a backyard water fight
grows to include the folks next door, much to the delight of, from left, her
Aunt Bea (Ginnifer Goodwin), older sister Beezus (Selena Gomez) and mother
(Bridget Moynahan). And if neighborhood relations aren't this much fun in
real life, they should be!

And yes, director Elizabeth Allen and scripters Laurie Craig and Nick Pustay have done a marvelous job with Ramona and Beezus, lifting various incidents from books going all the way back to 1952's Henry and Beezus. (Consider Cleary's impressive literary longevity; Ramona's World was released in 1999 ... nearly half a century later!)

But the faithfulness of this adaptation goes beyond characters and incidents; Allen has captured the very tone and atmosphere of these cherished books. It's almost as if Louis Darling's original illustrations have come to life; indeed, young star Joey King looks very much like Darling's drawings of Ramona "the pest"  the sobriquet frequently included as part of the little girl's name  down to her favorite red rubber boots.

In many ways, this charming film will feel like the equivalent of time travel, particularly for older readers who grew up as Cleary was writing her books.

Which begs the key question, of course: Can a movie this sweet and wholesome survive amid the noisy flash of today's so-called "family films," which rely too frequently on slapstick humor and fart jokes?

Boy, I'd sure like to think so, because we need more movies like this one.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Micmacs: Payback is a treat

Micmacs (2010) • View trailer for Micmacs
Four stars (out of five). Rating: R, and quite stupidly, for brief violence and sexuality
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 7.22.10
Buy DVD: Micmacs • Buy Blu-Ray: Micmacs [Blu-ray]

Jean-Pierre Jeunet doesn't make mere movies; he uncorks richly imaginative and gleefully demented works of art.

In this country, he's best known for 2001's odd romantic fable, Amelie, which also brought actress Audrey Tautou to the world's attention. Some of us had already taken note of Jeunet years earlier, however, as a result of 1995's The City of Lost Children: a madcap dark fantasy that was anything but a simple kids' flick, instead deserving recognition as a memorably delirious Grimm's fairy tale.
The key element of the plan concocted by Bazil (Dany Boon, left) involves
some divide-and-conquer stratagems; to that end, he has Remington (Omar Sy)
impersonate the trusted associated of a venal arms manufacturer during a key
phone call, while an attentive Calculator (Marie-Julie Baup) watches and waits
to emply her own unique talents.

Jeunet's fever-dream creativity makes him the French equivalent of Terry Gilliam; both have been responsible for some of the most visually engaging  if also eccentric  films made during the past few decades. Both also take their time; Micmacs is Jeunet's first film since 2004's less stylized and much more melodramatic A Very Long Engagement.

Micmacs also is a giddy return to the form for which Jeunet has become best known: adult fables populated by misfits who are no less endearing for their shortcomings. Indeed, such failings define them.

The world in Jeunet's films is recognizably our own, but a little bit more so. The freshly scrubbed and oh-so-charming Paris of Amelie owed more to Gene Kelly's vision of that fabled city, in An American in Paris, than to the humdrum details of real life. Jeunet and longtime writing partner Guillaume Laurant have returned to that metropolis for this new story, which once again takes place in a dichotomous Paris that is both more attractive  and more harsh  than we're apt to encounter ourselves.

The juxtaposed settings are fascinating all by themselves: the skylight at Galeries Lafayette intercut with a display of Lycra sports clothes; the Musee d'Orsay seen adjacent to a contemporary coffee shop; the romance of the Crimee bridge along the Canal de l'Ourcq contrasted with towering Art Deco office buildings.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Inception: Bad dream

Inception (2010) • View trailer for Inception
Three stars (out of five). Rating: Pg-13, for unrelenting action violence
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 7.16.10
Buy DVD: Inception • Buy Blu-Ray: Inception (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Digital Copy)

This overcooked flick is a lot of fuss and bother, just to learn the identity of Rosebud.

Writer/director Christopher Nolan's brain-bending fantasy boasts a genuinely fascinating premise, but the execution is wanting; the self-indulgent running time (148 minutes) can't be justified by a storyline that isn't nearly as complex  or coherent  as Nolan would like us to believe.
"Draw me a maze in two minutes," Dom (Leonardo DiCaprio) tells Ariadne
(Ellen Page), shortly after meeting her, "that takes me at least a minute to
solve." After a couple of blown attempts, Ariadne adjusts to the complexity of
the test, at which point Dom acknowledges that she might be the perfect
"architect" for his team of dream-thieves. Goodie, goodie...!

Inception is the sort of film that results when an inventive and financially successful filmmaker, armed with a few box-office hits  in this case, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight  is let off the company leash for a long-gestating "dream project" (no pun intended) and granted unfettered access to the studio bank account. Inevitably, the outcome is runaway hubris.

We've seen it happen time and again, with talents as stellar as James Cameron (The Abyss) and Barry Levinson (Toys). The most famous example remains Michael Cimino, whose bloated production of Heaven's Gate literally bankrupted United Artists, back in 1980.

Inception won't bankrupt Warner Bros., but it also won't be the summer blockbuster we've been hoping for, given the film's ultra-top-secret production and tantalizingly vague advance publicity. The rewards remain few in this visually bombastic but emotionally barren drama.

I'm halfway persuaded that Nolan set out to create a film with a climax  running the entire final hour  that out-weirds the LSD-esque sequence that concluded 1968's 2001: A Space Odyssey. That sci-fi classic had its devoted acolytes at the time (and still does), but I can't help remembering, with a whimsical smile, that many (most?) of the warm bodies filling theater seats during the waning days of that hippy-dippy decade were, ah, chemically altered.

That stargate sequence was the ultimate head-trip, man.

So's the entire second half of Inception. And it'll definitely impress a lot of viewers.

An intriguing idea? Absolutely. Quite thought-provoking, at times. But only at times.

We hit the ground running, as Nolan introduces us to Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his unusual team of professional "dream thieves," as they try to extract a closely guarded secret while having invaded the sleeping mind of Saito (Ken Watanabe), a rich and powerful business magnate.

Dreamtime landscapes have their own logical illogic, and Dom is close to emptying the contents of Saito's mental safe when the mission goes awry, thanks to the intervention of Mal (Marion Cotillard), a mysterious woman able to interfere with Dom's subconscious sleuthing.

Once back in the waking world, Saito is unbothered by this most personal incursion, choosing to view the experience as an odd sort of audition. He offers Dom and longtime dream-thief partner Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) a rich assignment with a fresh target: Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy), who's about to inherit control of his dying father's multibillion-dollar empire. The Fischer family is the sole obstacle to Saito's desire to control the entire world's energy market, and he wants that obstacle removed.

The tantalizing solution: Invade Robert Fischer's mind and plant a suggestion  an "inception"  that he should break up his father's corporate monolith.

Ah, but uncovering deeply buried secrets is easy, Arthur objects, when compared to embedding a foreign idea. Apparently the host mind is quick to perceive the introduction of an alien thought, and will create mental defenses to repel and even destroy the invader, much the way white blood cells will overwhelm an infection site.

OK, fine, whatever...

Dom and Arthur assemble a team, much the way Peter Graves' Jim Phelps cherry-picked associates for each Mission: Impossible caper. Eames (Tom Hardy) can "forge" another identity in somebody else's dream, effectively becoming a trusted friend or family member. Yusuf (Dileep Rao) is an unorthodox pharmacologist who devises the drug cocktails that keep subjects  and invaders  in dream sleep, while allowing a means for controlled waking.

Saito insists on coming along for the ride, to protect his investment.

Ariadne (Ellen Page), finally, is a university architectural student given the opportunity to "build" the dream landscapes. It's necessary for such realms to appear real to the dreaming subject, again to maintain the necessary level of verisimilitude. As the team's token newbie, Ariadne is our conduit to all this crazy stuff: the person who asks the questions that force explanations from Dom, so that she  and we  can make sense of all this twaddle.

Funny thing, though: Ariadne also is a savvy psychologist, since she quickly perceives that bad things are rattling around in Dom's subconscious ... and that such distractions could have deadly consequences once the dream thieves infiltrate a host mind in order to do their thing.

About those deadly consequences: Dying in a dream can be a quick way to regain consciousness in the real world, but only in a surface dream. But Dom and his crew are planning to "incept" Robert Fischer by layering several levels of dreams within dreams, and dying within a deeper level results in the invading dreamer's banishment to a limbo-like purgatory, where years can pass during single minutes in the actual waking world.

Mostly, though, all this mumbo-jumbo is Nolan's excuse to populate these dream worlds with nifty visuals  buildings erupting like flowers from a barren landscape, or crashing down in noisy shards; city streets folding over on themselves, becoming Escher-like environments with cars traveling at vertical perpendiculars to each others  and gun-toting, car-chasing assassins.

Indeed, the deepest level of Ariadne's faux constructs resembles the ski-chasing battles from the James Bond film On Her Majesty's Secret Service: a pretty thin excuse for inserting action violence into the rarefied premise of dream sleep.

And in so doing, Nolan falls into the same trap that snared director/scripter Peter Jackson, when he recently adapted Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones. Jackson became so fixated by the dead Saoirse Ronan's afterlife landscape, in all its colorful weirdness, that he failed to pay sufficient attention to the necessary drama involving the living characters, most notably how a mother would react to the death of her daughter.

Nolan similarly glosses over the human element in this story, and spends far too much time with gunfire and chaotic vehicular pursuits. (It would seem that dreamscape bad guys can't hit a damn thing they shoot at, much like their waking-world counterparts in countless dumb action flicks.)

It's therefore impossible to care a jot about any of these characters  none of whom has a back-story, aside from Dom  or be concerned over their potential peril. Actual danger? In a dream? Where all rules of movement and behavior change from one moment to the next?

Page is a remarkably intelligent and gifted actress, and she does her best to give Ariadne legitimate reasons for caring about Dom, and for wanting to help him root out his psychoses. But it's an uphill struggle, and DiCaprio doesn't help much; his default handling of Dom is as a morose, exhausted, gaunt-eyed automaton whose extensive activities in the dream state have left him unable to properly process real-world concerns. As we're repeatedly told.

Similarly, it's difficult to get a bead on the complicated relationship between Dom and Mal. DiCaprio and Cotillard speak their lines with reasonable conviction, but the dynamic uniting these two simply doesn't resonate. (It doesn't help that we recently watched DiCaprio deal with similar mental phantasms earlier this year, in Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island.)

Gordon-Levitt and Hardy inject flickering moments of mordant humor, and Michael Caine does his usual commendable work at Dom's father-in-law, Miles. I'm hard-pressed to understand why Miles would be so sympathetic toward Dom, however, once necessary details are revealed to us.

Nolan apparently is striving for the sort of dual universe that made the first Matrix film such a marvelous gotcha, particularly when Keanu Reeves first tumbled out of his (our) humdrum illusory world, and woke in the gloppy brain scan chamber monitored by the sophisticated man-made computers and machines that had taken over the Earth and enslaved humanity. Now that was a head-trip.

It also made sense, to a point (much less so, in the two sequels).

Inception really doesn't make sense. Too many questions abound, starting with where all this dream-invasive tech came from in the first place. Who hired Dom to invade Saito's mind, and why? Who invented these suitcase-size mechanisms? Does anybody else have them except Dom and his team? Knowing of the existence of such tech, could anybody ever trust that any experience is real?

For that matter, what bloody year is it?

And the biggie: Why would anybody, for any length of time, knowingly place his or her vulnerable, unconscious body at the mercy of anybody wandering into the room ... not to mention trusting his or her mind to an unpredictable dream state manipulated by somebody with glaringly obvious but undiagnosed psychoses?

We're to swallow the notion that Page's Ariadne, an obviously intelligent young woman, would do this capriciously, with scarcely a second thought?

Only in your dreams, Christopher.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Sorcerer's Apprentice: Hocus-pocus, little focus

The Sorcere's Apprentice (2010) • View trailer for The Sorcerer's Apprentice
Three stars (out of five). Rating: PG, for fantasy violence
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 7.15.10
Buy DVD: The Sorcerer's Apprentice • Buy Blu-Ray: The Sorcerer's Apprentice (Three-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo+Digital Copy)

Taking note of the Disney logo embellishing the title credits, a fellow film critic at last week's preview screening idly wondered aloud if this new, live-action Sorcerer's Apprentice would in any way reference the famous Mickey Mouse sequence in 1940's Fantasia

Surely not, I protested, although the thought  along with my knowledge of the Mouse House's willingness to strip-mine its own heritage in misbegotten projects such as 2003's The Haunted Mansion  left me uneasy. 
At first, Dave (Jay Baruchel, right) finds it difficult to take Balthazar's
(Nicolas Cage) mystical pronouncements all that seriously, but the
college student's doubts vanish after he's nearly eaten by a huge
dragon, then nearly blasted into unconsciousness by a nasty
magician bent on destroying the world. Dave may be slow, but he
ain't stupid...

Then, horror of horrors, as young Dave Stutler (Jay Baruchel) eyed the mess left in his ludicrously opulent underground laboratory, and happened to glance in the direction of a mop, our worst fears were realized. Cue the familiar fanfare from composer Paul Dukas' "L'Apprenti Sorcier," and the mop came to life, along with every other scrubbing and cleaning utensil in evidence. 

That was pretty much the point at which this Sorcerer's Apprentice lost its way. 

Mind you, the road had been rocky even before this point. Light-hearted adventure films run the risk of becoming too frivolous, at which point malevolent villains lose most of their edge. Alfred Molina deserves considerable credit, throughout this somewhat scattered story, for maintaining his nasty side as the dread Maxim Horvath, but the script  credited to five (!) hands  undermines his performance at every opportunity. 

This Sorcerer's Apprentice is the sort of product that Disney concocts with considerable flair: a family-friendly romp that moves rapidly, looks pretty cool most of the time, and conceals its narrative deficiencies with engaging characters never at a loss for witty repartee. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer, director Jon Turteltaub and star Nicolas Cage are veterans of the National Treasure franchise; they know how to deliver a reasonably good time. 

But this narrative attempts to cover a lot of territory, with some highly visible missteps. Like Dave himself, a young man who suffers a ragged childhood as a result of his first encounter with Balthazar Blake (Cage), this film doesn't quite know what to be, when it grows up. Young children will be diverted by all the flash and bang, but teen and adult companions are apt to exchange glances laden with skeptically raised eyebrows. 

Friday, July 9, 2010

Despicable Me: Deliciously evil

Despicable Me (2010) • View trailer for Despicable Me
4.5 stars (out of five). Rating: PG, for mild rude humor
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 7.9.10
Buy DVD: Despicable Me (Single-Disc Edition)

Watch out, Pixar; there's a new kid in town. 

Despicable Me, producer Chris Meledandri's debut under his fledgling Illumination Entertainment banner, is a hilarious romp that fires on all the cylinders essential for an animated feature: solid premise, witty script, excellent voice talent and  best of all  the split-second directorial timing of the best Warner Bros. cartoon shorts. 

On top of which, this film is laden with so much background business that you'll need to see it two or three times, just to catch all the jokes and sight gags crammed in by directors Chris Renaud and Pierre Coffin, and scripters Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio (working from a story by Sergio Pablos). 
After bringing three little orphan girls into his home -- from left, Agnes,
Margo and Edith -- Gru warns them not to touch anything. Naturally,
the kids ignore this edict, and the feisty Edith is the first to find one of
Gru's many deadly ray guns. Gru is about to discover that life with
small children is harder to control than nefarious plots to steal the
Earth's moon.

Meledandri isn't new to the industry; he also served as producer for the Ice Age franchise, along with 2005's Robots and 2008's Horton Hears a Who. He appreciates the need to pay equal attention to all the ingredients of an animated feature, and shares Pixar's understanding that everything begins with story, story, story

The results speak for themselves. Despicable Me is an impressively delightful charmer that captivates from its very first scenes, as central character Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) is introduced, strutting like a three-piece-suited Grinch, in all his gleeful villainy. 

Gru's the sort of cad who cheerfully drives a rocket-fueled, tank-type vehicle on steroids, carbon footprint be damned, and scrunches other cars while parallel parking. He'll make a balloon animal to cheer up a small child upset over having dropped an ice cream cone, merely for the pleasure of popping it. 

And Gru's solution to a long line at the local coffee bar will be the envy of caffeine addicts around the world. 

All these merry pranks, orchestrated and timed perfectly to a terrific Pharrell Williams song aptly titled "Despicable Me," unfold much like the early contests of derring-do in 1965's The Great Race, or Christopher Reeve's night of Metropolis rescues in 1978's Superman. It's a great method of telling us all we need to know about a character. 

But that's not all: Once we enter Gru's deceptively ordinary home, nestled in quaint suburbia, the drollery keeps on coming. Gru belongs to a special class of villain: one who steals ever-grander objects solely for the sport ... and to then stuff the booty in his home, which includes a super-super-secret lab buried way below ground. Keep an eye out for various objets d'art throughout Gru's home, as this film proceeds: each more of a chuckle than the last. 

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Last Airbender: Total vacuum

The Last Airbender (2010) • View trailer for The Last Airbender
Zero stars (out of five). Rating: PG, for really silly action violence
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 7.8.10
Buy DVD: The Last Airbender • Buy Blu-Ray: The Last Airbender (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Digital Copy)

Goodness, my cup runneth over... 

The Last Airbender may not be the worst movie Hollywood is capable of unleashing, but it'll do until that one comes along. 

Although he possesses the power to create strong winds and harass
enemies with various atmospheric "weapons," Aang (Noah Ringer,
center) apparently prefers to whack at his foes with a stick ...
presumably because director M. Night Shyamalan believes it looks
cool. (It doesn't. It looks way-dumb.)

In my wildest imagination, I never would have believed that M. Night Shyamalan could have made a movie worse than 2006's Lady in the Water ... but he did. 


Paramount execs must've started a pool, with their competitors at Fox, Universal and all the rest, to see which studio could release the worst film of the summer. 

Paramount won. 

...or, finally, for folks who've been reading me for awhile... 

The Last Airbender is worse than the 2000 big-screen adaptation of Battlefield Earth, and I've been using that one as the ne plus ultra of bad filmmaking for the past decade. 

Adjectives fail me. 

This flick isn't merely bad; it's indescribably awful. It's atrociously written, laughably acted and "directed" by somebody who must have been drunk 24/7 or absent from the set every single day. It's also boring, boring, screamingly boring. Sitting through this mess is torture akin to root canal surgery. Watching paint dry would be more exciting. 

I knew we were in trouble, not even a minute into this flick, the moment young stars Nicola Peltz and Jackson Rathbone uttered their first lines: Rarely have we experienced such stiff, wooden, self-conscious line delivery. They're both bad actors in the manner of the talentless kids who pop up on the worst TV sitcoms. 

They're also visually wrong for this story: fresh-faced, clean-cut California beach kids who look wholly out of place in a saga that screams for Asian faces. Or at least European faces. Or  is it asking too much?  faces that know how to react to joy, fear or any of the other emotions these two are incapable of projecting. 

Shyamalan has taken sole authorship credit for this travesty, which is rather audacious, considering that this live-action film is based on a Nickelodeon cartoon series that has run for several years, during which its quite complex mythology was developed by all sorts of other writers who fail to get mentioned here.