Basic. John McTiernan. It looks like The General's Daughter (another movie about a murder on a military base in which John Travolta plays the investigator getting to the truth) but plays like Battlefield Earth; just when you think Travolta has fallen to the bottom of the barrel, he pulls out a shovel and dons his miner's helmet to see what lies beneath. Sony would have done wise to market Basic as a comedy; audiences lured by its ominous trailer will find themselves laughing for all the wrong reasons. James Vanderbilt has concocted a screenplay that chokes to death on a tangle of inexplicable twists and cheap tricks, and director McTiernan, still trying to wash the stink of Rollerball out of his clothes, tumbles further into the abyss of lost filmmakers. The man who made Die Hard doesn't even try hard anymore. And no Vincent-Jules reunion for you: Travolta and Sam Jackson have one scene together, at the end, by which point you'll be too outraged -- or sleepy -- to see it. Opens Friday, March 28, at multiple locations. (Robert Wilonsky)
The Core. John Amiel. From its tagline ("The only way out is in" -- Scientology, anyone?) to its utterly absurd tunneling action (resembling a metallic sperm-ship accosting a molten egg), director Amiel's subterranean thrill ride isn't intended to be taken seriously. The crux -- that Earth's molten core has stopped spinning, spelling short-order electromagnetic doomsday -- is quite ridiculous but doesn't hamper enjoyment of the movie on its goofy sci-fi level: As we all know, the best way to save the planet is to drive into the middle of it and set off a bunch of nuclear warheads. Chicago-based geophysics professor Dr. Keyes (Aaron Eckhart, wry) teams up with precocious rookie space shuttle pilot Major Childs (Hilary Swank, humorless) to get the job done. They're joined by colorful scientists (Delroy Lindo, Tcheky Karyo, Stanley Tucci) and assisted up top by mission-control leader Alfre Woodard and superhacker DJ Qualls. Sometimes the laughs here seem unintentional, but most giggles are properly earned, and the movie's fun and exciting if you can accept its inherent camp factor. Opens Friday, March 28, at multiple locations. (Gregory Weinkauf)
Gerry. Gus Van Sant. Written by Casey Affleck, Matt Damon and Van Sant. Starring Affleck and Damon. Opens Friday, March 28, at the Tivoli. Reviewed this issue.
Head of State. Chris Rock. Chris Rock gets to direct himself and, as a result, is finally starring in a laugh-out-loud-funny movie. Mays Gilliam (Rock) is a Washington, D.C., alderman who gets the call to run for president when one major party's presidential and vice presidential candidates are on planes that crash into each other. He's actually being set up to fail, but once he takes control of his campaign, victory becomes a possibility (sounds a little like Rock's Hollywood career!). His influences as a director and co-writer (with longtime collaborator Ali LeRoi) are sometimes blatant but perhaps not what you'd expect -- echoes of Pee-wee Herman and Louis C.K. (Pootie Tang) abound in the story's heightened absurdism. The film doesn't take place in anything like the real world, so the minimal references to actual politics are almost beside the point, save for one possibly unintentional nod to Bowling for Columbine. The narrative starts to flag about two-thirds in, but then Rock brings in Bernie Mac, and all becomes right with the world. Opens Friday, March 28, at multiple locations. (Luke Y. Thompson)
Irréversible. Gaspar Noé. Opens Friday, March 28, at the Tivoli. Reviewed this issue.
Love Liza. Todd Louiso. Philip Seymour Hoffman, who's among the handful of Great American Actors, carries his grief in his gut, on his slumped shoulders, behind his dead-to-the-world eyes; his is the limping strut of a man walking to the gallows of his own volition. Such is the performance he brings to Love Liza, written by his brother Gordy and directed by Louiso (Jack Black's pal in High Fidelity), in which Hoffman plays Wilson, a Web-site designer whose wife committed suicide and left behind a note he refuses to open, either because he doesn't want to know why she permanently parked in the garage or because he knows it will be the last time they'll, you know, communicate. Wilson takes to sleeping on the floor, ignores his mother-in-law (Kathy Bates), starts huffing gasoline for the dizzying escape and begins tinkering with remote-controlled planes to mask his addiction. Louiso wrings all he can from performers and audience alike; your reward for suffering alongside Wilson, affable even in his self-destruction, is complete devastation. Opens Friday, March 28, at the Plaza Frontenac. (Robert Wilonsky)
The Way Home. Lee Jeong-hyang. A single mother (Dong Hyo-hee) temporarily dumps her seven-year-old son (Yoo Seung-ho) on her ancient mother (Kim Eul-boon), who lives in a tiny shack in the middle of nowhere. Grandma is also mute, illiterate and apparently retarded, so the whole deal is sheer hell for the kid, who manages, nonetheless, to respond even more negatively than the situation calls for. In short, he is a truly insufferable brat who will -- anyone can predict -- eventually come around and realize he loves Granny and mend his ways. It would have been nice if Korean writer-director Lee Jeong-hyang had shown us why the boy changes in some comprehensible linear way. But she doesn't, which reduces the film from a good, honest tearjerker that earns its tears to a dishonest tearjerker that merely manipulates stock sentimental elements. Opens Friday, March 28, at the Plaza Frontenac. (Andy Klein)