The people have spoken, and there is still good in the world, as those people roundly rejected the new Smurfs movie last week. It’s only a momentary reprieve though, because those same people are likely to justify Disney’s latest cash grab this weekend as the kids get in their last laughs before being dragged back to school. Fortunately, the grown-ups have something to look forward to as well.
But that something is not We’re the Millers. “Grown-up” doesn’t seem to be a word that applies to this film, despite giving us Jennifer Aniston as a stripper. You know you’re on shaky ground when your director’s last hit was nine years ago, and that hit was DodgeBall. It was a modest hit, but Rawson Marshall Thurber sure didn’t capitalize on it; he only wrote and directed one film between that and Millers, and that grossed all of $80,000. That probably didn’t cover a day of craft services on his current film. Millers seems to be taking the easy raunchy route, which will likely draw in some less-discerning viewers for whom shock still works as a substitute for humor. The only shock here for me is how Aniston keeps getting wrapped up in this stuff.
Planes is Disney’s newest effort at using big shiny metal machines to sell tons of little shiny metal machines. It’s a sort-of-sequel to the Cars films, set in the same world but without any Pixar influence whatsoever. That may be a good and bad thing; it won’t have Pixar’s usual level of polish, but it means they won’t be getting their hands dirty with this one either. Whoever had the idea of casting Dane Cook as the lead voice in this seems like they’re trapped somewhere back in the mid-2000s, when Cook was still somewhat relevant. Even if he was still on the radar, he’s an odd choice to head up a kid’s film. Maybe they got confused and thought they were getting Ryan Reynolds. Of course, it’s not like there’s a bunch of other A-listers on hand here, with Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards, Teri Hatcher, and Sinbad giving the whole thing the feel of someone feeling sorry for some folks who haven’t had work in a while. But the same wide-eyed little tykes who made Cars and Cars 2 a success will beg and plead to see this, regardless of whose voices are coming out from under those propellers.
The desperate search for the next Harry Potter has already claimed its fair share of victims. The film version of The Golden Compass pretty much doomed that series, Inkheart and Cirque du Freak crashed hard, and even the campily enjoyable Beautiful Creatures couldn’t crack $20 million domestic. So while greenlighting a sequel to a film that only managed a shade over $200 million worldwide might seem foolhardy, compared to the competition, that’s almost a sure thing. So along comes Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, trying to pull the book series kicking and screaming into film franchise territory whether we’re having it or not. This entry looks like goofy fun, but I think people are getting a little fatigued with the seemingly endless parade of teenagers finding their mystical natures just in time to save the world from evil. Still, stuff like this is as close as we’re getting to modern-day Harryhausen films, and there are worse things than a few hours of mythological splendor to inspire the kiddies.
But all this junk food gives way to what is hopefully this weekend’s truly substantial meal, Elysium. Director Neill Blomkamp last gave us District 9, the surprise hit from 2009 that improbably found itself a Best Picture nominee. Granted, that was in the new 10-picture field, but still an impressive feat for a $30 million sci-fi film from a first-time feature director. Elysium seems to have the same grimy futuristic aesthetic District 9 did, where tomorrow isn’t bright and shiny but covered in dust and generally not making things much better for anyone. It looks to have a similar social agenda as its predecessor as well, which might be a turn off for those looking for nothing more than a generic sci-fi action film. But I’m glad someone is trying to use science fiction to get out a heftier message than, “Hey, spaceships and robots are really cool!” while still being able to deliver on the action. Of course, there are probably going to be people who get the title confused with Oblivion and think they’ve seen it already. You can lead a horse to a smart movie, but you can’t make them think.