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Movies: 'This is 40,' 'The Guilt Trip' & 'Jack Reacher'

Updated 5:56 pm, Friday, December 21, 2012
  • Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann star in the new movie comedy, "This is 40," by director Judd Apatow. Photo: Contributed Photo / Westport News contributed
    Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann star in the new movie comedy, "This is 40," by director Judd Apatow. Photo: Contributed Photo

 

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Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters:

"THIS IS 40"

Reprising their supporting roles from "Knocked Up," Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann have morphed from Lifestyles of the Rich, Ribald and Rowdy into Lifestyles of the Selfish, Spoiled and Stressed. It's hard to believe that was really the intention of comedy writer/director Judd Apatow, who claims this is quasi-autobiographical.

In suburban Los Angeles, Pete (Rudd) and Debbie (Mann) are handling their respective 40th birthdays quite differently. Cupcake-loving Pete is celebrating, while Debbie, an angst-riddled sneaky-smoker/health-food addict, is into denial. During a visit to her ob/gyn, it's obvious that she's lied about her age so often that the exact number becomes a matter of conjecture, even in her own mind.

Not that Pete has much to rejoice about. His record label is in financial ruin, despite heroic efforts to make '70s star Graham Parker relevant again. And, unbeknownst to Debbie, Pete has been secretly slipping funds to his spendthrift father, Larry (Albert Brooks), who has a young wife and identical triplet toddlers.

Meanwhile, manicured Debbie realizes that her trendy clothing boutique is losing money. Thousands of dollars have suddenly gone missing and suspicions fall on her employees: Desi (Megan Fox) and Jodi (Charlyne Yi). To add to her aggravation, Debbie is coping with a tense reconciliation with her estranged father, Oliver (John Lithgow), who has also remarried and started a second family.

Many of the intimate marital squabbles take place in the overwhelmed couple's bathroom, where Pete hides to play games on his iPad. To call their biting, bickering relationship dysfunctional is a gross understatement.

Trivia notes: Leslie Mann is Judd Apatow's real-life wife and their two children, Maude and Iris Apatow, appear as Pete and Debbie's overindulged offspring, Sadie and Charlotte. Jason Segel, Chris O'Dowd, Lena Dunham and Melissa McCarthy -- Apatow's usual suspects -- lend support.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "This is 40" is a foul-mouthed, forced 4, proving that maniacally blatant vulgarity does not always come across as funny.

"THE GUILT TRIP"

While Barbra Streisand played supporting parts in "Meet the Fockers" (2004) and "Little Fockers" (2010), this is her first starring role since "The Mirror Has Two Faces" (1996).

Seventy-year-old Streisand plays Joyce Brewster, the widowed mother of organic chemist/inventor, Andy Brewster (Seth Rogen), who has a new product that he's trying to pitch to manufacturers/distributors across the United States. Sensitive to his mother's loneliness, Andy invites her to join him on a road trip, while he secretly schemes to reunite her with a lost love, a man she adored before she met and married Andy's father.

Leaving from New Jersey and heading toward San Francisco, they make several stops along the way, as Joyce not only delivers a running commentary about Andy's love life, but also offers suggestions about how he should pitch the totally organic cleaning liquid it took him five years to develop.

Originally titled "My Mother's Curse," the episodic screenplay was written by Dan Fogelman ("Tangled," "Crazy, Stupid Love"), who actually went on a road trip with his mother. During a stopover in Texas, the scene in which Joyce voraciously devours a huge steak, on-stage, during a 60-minute countdown, is taken from Fogelman's real-life experience.

"That scene was difficult and very uncomfortable," Streisand admits. "I had to eat a lot of meat. We came up with some substitutes but, when the camera is at all close, you have to really eat steak." What you don't see is the bucket hidden beneath her that she could spit mouthfuls into.

Blandly directed by Anne Fletcher ("27 Dresses," "The Proposal"), this comedy should be more amusing than it is. Unfortunately, Streisand never sings and usually rowdy Rogen seems intimidated by her. And why not?

An admitted perfectionist, Streisand is notoriously demanding, including insisting that the entire road trip be shot within 45 minutes of her Malibu home.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to10, "The Guilt Trip" is a mildly funny 5 -- with the biggest laughs coming from the improvisational banter in the "outtakes" during the final credits.

"JACK REACHER"

Tom Cruise stars in this fast-paced, action-packed thriller, based on "One Shot," the ninth in the series of Lee Child's best-selling novels revolving around a cool character named Jack Reacher. And before going any further, here's full disclosure: My son, Don Granger, produced this movie.

Lee Child specifically wanted Cruise to play quirky Jack Reacher, a former military policeman who drifts around the country, usually by bus or hitchhiking, carrying only a foldable toothbrush, expired passport and ATM card. Homeless by choice, living off the grid, he wears clothing for a couple of days, then discards it, buying what he needs at stores like Goodwill.

A tough, self-sufficient loner who speaks in staccato rhythm, Reacher is a man of few words and occasional dry wit. Since he specializes in homicide investigations, when a sniper positions himself in a parking garage across from Pittsburgh's baseball stadium and shoots what appears to be five random people on the riverfront promenade, Reacher suspects there's more to the mysterious murders, particularly when the accused gunman, James Barr (Joseph Sikora), asks for his help. Sikora and Reacher served together in Iraq.

That arouses the suspicion of Detective Emerson (David Oyelowo), who made the arrest; determined District Attorney Alex Rodin (Richard Jenkins); and the suspect's criminal defense lawyer, Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike), who happens to be the DA's daughter. Then there are five, ill-fated thugs who challenge Reacher to a bone-crunching fight outside a bar, not to mention other deceptive characters played by Robert Duvall and director/actor Werner Herzog.

Suspense writer/director Christopher McQuarrie ("The Usual Suspects") and cinematographer Caleb Deschanel stage compelling car chases and a treacherous shoot-out in a gravel quarry. But what's most surprising is how adroitly Tom Cruise masks his trademark charisma and becomes completely convincing as the terse, ruthless vigilante, known for his mental and physical dexterity.

FYI: Lee Child fans can glimpse the novelist as the officer giving back his toothbrush to Reacher in the police precinct.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Jack Reacher" is an enigmatic 8. It's escapist entertainment.