Critics’ Roundup 2/17/12

Claudine Zap
Movie Talk

This weekend there's action, there's animation, and there's a sequel to choose from. As always, critics have their say.

This Means War
Couples may actually agree that this movie has something for everyone: an action thriller directed by McG but starring comedy darling Reese Witherspoon. The story stars Tom Hardy and Chris Pine as two (hot) covert CIA agents who are competing for the same woman. Mayhem ensues. Wesley Morris of the Boston Globe remained unenthused and upset for all women, noting, "This version of Witherspoon might be the most dismaying of all since she's not even a woman. She's a place to plant a flag."

Betsy Sharkey of the Los Angeles Times says don't come expecting some lovey-dovey romance, adding, "If you are in the mood for action, there is a whole lot of it here. If you're in the mood for love, of the swooning, weak-in-the knees sort, there's not so much."

Over at the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert suggests an alternative role for Witherspoon for what's really a relationship between Pine and Hardy: "Although Reese is not convincing as the woman they go to war over, she would be ideally cast as a straight roommate giving them advice about their romance. Because surely they're gay." (It's called a bromance, Ebert.)

Claudia Puig of USA Today agrees that the movie seems confused. "Director McG ("Charlie's Angels") can't seem to decide whether he's making a spy action flick with romance interspersed or a rom-com peppered with action."

The Secret World of Arrietty
This animated story from Japan is translated into English for Disney. The make-believe world is based on the classic book "The Borrowers" by Hayao Miyazaki ("Spirited Away"), about a four-inch-high family living below the floorboards of a house. Arrietty is voiced by Bridgit Mendler, and her parents are voiced by Amy Poehler and Will Arnett, who are married in real life.

Ty Burr for the Boston Globe is not fully on board, writing, "The Secret World of Arrietty'' offers a curious and mostly congenial case of cinematic fusion cuisine," and adds that while it is "borrowed time," it's still "time well spent."

The review from the Los Angeles Times is much more glowing. Kenneth Turan gushes, "This impeccable animated film puts its complete trust in the spirit of make-believe. Beautiful, gentle and pure -- but not without elements of genuine menace -- it will make believers out of adults and children alike."

USA Today's Claudia Puig agrees, writing "With its lush colors, imaginative view of ordinary objects and meticulously crafted miniature civilization, it transports viewers to an enchanting alternate storybook reality."

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengence
Finally, the sequel. The plot centers around Nicolas Cage back in his role as Johnny Blaze, a motorcycle stuntman and bounty hunter of evil demons. He's been in hiding but comes out of retirement to help protect a mother and son. The blog Ugo reports that the second time is not the charm: "It isn't the ridiculous, over-the-top celebration of grindhouse goofiness that the poster pretends it to be. It is, in fact, merely an inept movie."

But the movie blog IGN disagrees, saying that Nicolas Cage is in on the joke, calling it "cartoonishly insane" and adding, "The new film brings … the concept of the Ghost Rider, a burning skeleton in leather who rides an equally fiery motorcycle. It's a match made in, er, hell."

Screen Daily also gives a nod to Nicolas Cage, writing, "Nicolas Cage's bug-eyed theatrics provide the only spark in Ghost Rider Spirit Of Vengeance, a disappointingly stale sequel."

The Hollywood Reporter didn't think the few Cage moments justified the sequel, noting, "Nicolas Cage spends stretches of the film on autopilot while waiting for scenes he deems worthy of his particular brand of crazy."