Movies: 'Men in Black 3,' 'The Dictator' & 'What to Expect When You're Expecting'
Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters:
"MEN IN BLACK 3"
Brace yourself! Agents J (Will Smith) and K (Tommy Lee Jones) are back, and this time they're time-traveling not only to save the planet, but also to discover some uncanny revelations about their relationship.
The story begins in Manhattan, where curious Agent J realizes how little he really knows about his taciturn partner, Agent K -- and that coincides with the escape of a ferocious alien, Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement), whom K incarcerated 40 years earlier. Since Boris has managed to time-travel back to wreak revenge on Agent K in 1969, Agent J must jump off the Chrysler Building to join him in the past. At first, it's not easy for smooth-talking Agent J to convince affable young Agent K (Josh Brolin) that he's back from the future, but when he does, they're off on an incredible retro-adventure that takes them from Coney Island to the Mets' historic game at Shea Stadium to Cape Canaveral for the Apollo 11 moon launch.
Shrewdly reconceived by Etan Cohen as a prequel to reveal the origin of the black-suited buddies' friendship, it's sharply directed by Barry Sonnenfeld ("Men in Black I & II," "Addams Family"). While Smith and Jones are an iconic duo, it takes an adroit actor to interpret, as opposed to impersonate, and Brolin meets the caricature challenge, multiplying the agents' chemistry times three.
As the menacing, maniacal villain, Jemaine Clement embodies Boris the Animal, the last of the Boglodites, whose hand contains a hideous symbiotic henchman who fires deadly harpoons. There's Michael Stuhbarg as Griffin, a soft-spoken, prophetic alien, who visualizes multiple realities; Emma Thompson as O, the new MIB chief; Bill Hader as artist Andy Warhol in his fabled Factory; plus Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber cameos.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Men in Black 3" is an engrossing, entertaining 8, sizzling with comedy, suspense and intrigue.
Cheeky Sasha Baron Cohen has carved out an eccentric cinematic career by shocking audiences -- first in "Borat," then in "Bruno" -- by mercilessly tweaking our socio-political sensibilities. But this time, his attempt at across-the-board cultural offensiveness falls flat.
As General Admiral Haffaz Aladeen, he's an amoral, greedy, corrupt dictator, ruling the isolated, oil-rich North African state of Wadiya. At his side is his trusted advisor, Uncle Tamir (Ben Kingsley), who serves as chief of security, head of the secret police and procurer of compliant women (like Megan Fox). But, recently, Aladeen's been pestered by the United Nations to allow a Security Council inspector into his top-secret nuclear weapons facility. So Aladeen and his entourage travel to address this issue at the U.N. General Assembly, settling into the Lancaster Hotel, where he is given a less-than-cordial reception by exiled Wadiyans. A betrayal from within strips Aladeen of his identity, forcing him onto the streets of Manhattan to fend for himself -- until he's rescued by a conscientious political protestor, Zoey (Anna Faris), who takes him to Brooklyn, where she runs an eco-friendly, natural-food cooperative. Meanwhile, Uncle Tamir has disguised an addled goatherd double as Aladeen and is ready to declare democracy in Wadiya.
Written by Baron Cohen and three other scripters and directed by Larry Charles, the humor is hit-and-miss. Some sight-gags are hilarious, like Aladeen's Wall of Shame, filled with photographs of paid sexual conquests culled from the highest Hollywood echelons, and Aladeen's surveillance helicopter ride over Manhattan on which he and his crony (Jason Mantzoukas) terrify fellow passengers who think they're plotting another 9/11. But most are not -- although Aladeen's final satirical speech about democracy is diabolically perceptive.
As he proved in Martin Scorsese's fable "Hugo," talented Sasha Baron Cohen can meld his persona into an acting ensemble, so perhaps it's time to try that kind of performing again.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Dictator" is a dumb, infantile 3, proving that even the most audacious, belligerent vulgarities get boring when you repeat them often enough.
"WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU'RE EXPECTING"
Inspired by Heidi Murkoff's best-selling pregnancy advice manual, which made its debut in 1984, this is an ensemble comedy about five disparate couples whose paths crisscross as they're starting a family.
There's Holly (Jennifer Lopez), an Atlanta freelance photographer who is far more excited about adopting a baby from Africa than her anxious music-producer mate Alex (Rodrigo Santoro), so she suggests that he meet with a friend's husband who is part of the macho "daddy dudes" support quartet, wheeling strollers through the park, led by Vic (comedian Chris Rock, who provokes the picture's biggest laughs).
Meanwhile, self-centered Jules (Cameron Diaz) is a high-octane television fitness coach, while Evan (Matthew Morrison from TV's "Glee") is a celebrity dance show star -- and they're in crisis mode about the concept of circumcision, among other things. Former high-school classmates-turned-competitive food-truck vendors, flirtatious chefs Marco (Chace Crawford) and Rosie (Anna Kendrick), are stunned to discover she's got a `bun-in-the-oven' -- after only one hook-up. Then there's stressed-out Wendy (Elizabeth Banks), who owns Breast Choice, a maternity/lactation shop, and has written a militant book extolling the joys of breast-feeding. After trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant for two years, when she and her mild-mannered husband Gary (Ben Falcone) finally conceive, Gary's hypercompetitive, retired car-racing dad, Ramsey (Dennis Quaid), announces at a family brunch that he's having twins with his much younger trophy wife, Skyler (Brooklyn Decker), a beautiful blonde still doing Pilates while pregnant.
Traditionally scripted by Shauna Cross ("Whip It") and Heather Hach ("Freaky Friday") and directed by Kirk Jones ("Waking Ned Devine," "Nanny McPhee"), it's not only contrived, redundant and cliche-laden but it's also loaded with obvious product placement plugs, particularly for Delta Airlines. And although unpredictable hormones are raging, don't look for any brave single mothers or adventurous same-sex couples, because nothing even superficially challenging is allowed in this slickly packaged obstetrics production.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "What to Expect When You're Expecting" is a feeble 4, a floundering mom-com that gives short-shrift to the `expectant' experience.