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John Carter

Friday, March 9th, 2012

John Carter is a fucking mess. Let me rephrase that: With all due respect to Andrew Stanton, writer and director of Pixar gems such as Finding Nemo and WALL*E, John Carter is a fucking mess.

Taylor Kitsch (Friday Night Lights) flatlines as the title character, a military captain in 1881 who somehow gets transported to Mars to battle aliens. (You’d think there couldn’t be anything worse in the comedy/action genre than last summer’s Cowboys & Aliens. You’d be wrong.) But Mars is known as Barsoom, and its territories and its aliens are known by a whole bunch of hard-to-grasp names, and the only thing that’s clear is that Carter can leap like Superman and the aliens look like green, four-armed Jar Jar Binkses. And their leader thinks Carter’s name is Virginia, which is actually where he’s from! It’s not hilarious.

There are also weird, pudgy alien babies whose purpose is unclear, and an alien dog for further comic nonrelief. And a princess — there’s gotta be a princess — named Dejah (Lynn Collins), who wants out of her arranged marriage to…some evil guy. So John fights everyone, with no obvious indication of who’s bad, who’s good, if there’s a civil war going on, or what. Too many unfamiliar names and a murky deluge of a plot will do that to a movie. While watching it, you long for clarity and excitement of The Phantom Menace. (Star Wars was clearly influenced by the Edgar Rice Burroughs novel on which the film is based.)

And audiences willing to shell out extra bucks get the privilege of seeing this all in murky and completely unimpressive 3D! John Carter was converted, not shot in 3D, and it shows. Try taking off those damn glasses. Only a handful of scenes actually have more than two dimensions; the rest are blissfully bright and clear. So: especial waste of money.

Throughout the who-knows-what’s-going-on story is an intrusive score that telegraphs every mood you’re supposed to feel. Wonder! Adventure! Menace! Romance! The music is by Michael Giacchino, who magnificently scored Up, so this overkill is a puzzler. Also head-scratching: That this script was co-written by Stanton and Michael Chabon. (And Mark Andrews, but his track record is unproven.) The clearest dialogue that’s spoken is a line by Kitsch, who at one point mumbles, “Good God, I’m on Mars.” Yes, you are. You don’t know what you’re doing there, neither do we, and chances are sleep will grip us before the movie will.

Cowboys & Aliens

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

With Indiana Jones, James Bond, and the man behind Iron Man, you might expect Cowboys & Aliens to be the most entertaining of mash-ups, part True Grit, part Super 8. What you get instead is closer to a disaster flick in the worst sense of the term.

It required an astonishing five screenwriters and director Jon Favreau to take this Platinum Studios comic and almost immediately pack up its promise and ride it into the sunset. The story’s in the title: It’s 1873, and a strong-and-silent stranger, Jake (Daniel Craig), has just arrived in a dusty town, claiming to not know his name or his past but wearing some fancy metal wristband that comes in explosive handy when the area is then attacked by…well, they’re not sure what they are, but “demons” is one guess. Brightly lit spaceships swoop down to blow the place up and lasso its citizens. Why? To study our weaknesses, a battle-ready lady (Olivia Wilde, with the whitest teeth in the West) tells us. They also want our gold. And then they’ll wipe us out. OK.

Helping Jake and the lass take on the E.T.s is another alpha male named Woodrow (Harrison Ford, more grizzled expression than character), along with a ragtag group of cowboys, plain ol’ citizens (including Sam Rockwell), and, eventually, Indians. (See how they learn to get along!) To oomph the aw! factor, we learn that the aliens have taken Jake’s girlfriend and that Woodrow regards his Indian sidekick as more of a son than his actual kid (Paul Dano, barely a presence). But mostly, a lot of stuff blows up, with the appropriately fugly aliens occasionally touching ground to roar and act menacing to our heroes’ faces.

Cowboys & Aliens is not without its charms. It offers a fair dose of humor (particularly how ridiculously ass-kicking Craig’s Jake is) and some exciting action sequences. But the lack of a solid story turns it all into a bunch of (often repetitive) noise and bluster, weakly punctuated by flashbacks or mouthsful of exposition. (A particularly eye-rolling speech extols the gruff Woodrow’s softer side.) At 118 minutes, the title’s former half will bore you long before the latter makes their inevitable exit.