Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Critical Week: Of men and manliness

On holiday in Los Angeles in the wake of the Oscars, I've caught up with two films that take very different approaches to masculinity - one from a comically human perspective and the other virtually bereft of all humour. But each is watchable in it's own way...

dir David Wain; with Paul Rudd, Jennifer Aniston 12/US ****
An unusually sharp script makes this silly comedy thoroughly enjoyable, even when it tips over the top. And it helps that there's terrific chemistry between Rudd and Aniston as a New York couple that loses everything and decides to try life on a free-living countryside commune for a change. Yes, there's some lesson-learning involved, but the filmmakers never preach at us, instead keeping us entertained with a continual procession of hilariously wacky characters who grow on us thanks to the solid cast. (Notable scene-stealers include Justin Theroux, Kerri Kenney-Silver and a rather brave Joe LoTriglio.) And the genuinely riotous humour keeps us warching even if some gags don't work at all, such as Rudd's appalling dirty-talk. It's also refreshing that the script never quite gives into its trite save-the-ranch plotting. Thankfully the director steps it back, allowing the actors to ad-lib and run with the characters.

Act of Valor
dir Waugh/McCoy; with Roselyn Sanchez, Nestor Serrano 12/US ***

A simplistic script nearly undoes this energetic doc-style thriller starring real US Navy Seals as, well, US Navy Seals who take on an ambitious mission to stop a cataclysmic terrorist attack on America that "would make 9/11 seem like a walk in the park". The film is especially well-shot and sharply edited to make the most of the action sequences, which bristle with tension and vividly show off the finely honed skills of the Seals. On the other hand, the dialog scenes are almost ludicrously earnest, neary defeating the largely non-actor cast. Although the two leads - Dave and Rorke - come across nicely, and help us connect to their emotive family side-plots. But even the film's slick sense of urgency can't make up for the dubious premise in which self-proclaimed good guys are justified in shooting anyone who moves (except unarmed women of course). And this assumption that America's holy war is more honourable than anyone else's might be too much for international audiences to swallow.

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