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Friday movie roundup: A tale of Hoffman
It's a week where Philip Seymour Hoffman's last work, Roger Ebert's last days, Michael Douglas' worst mugging, and one of Scarlett Johansson's weirder movies all hit theaters at the same time.
Let's start with the good stuff: "A Most Wanted Man" is a low-key spy thriller, smart and tense, and featuring the final starring role of Philip Seymour Hoffman. He plays Gunther Bachmann, a chain-smoking, hard-drinking, righteously jaded head of a secret German counter-intelligence unit that's trying to roll a Chechen refugee (Grigoriy Dobrygin) to see to which Islamic terrorist groups he'll lead them. To do this, Bachmann eventually must muscle a shady banker (Willem Dafoe) and a naive human-rights attorney (Rachel McAdams), while dancing past his fellow German law officials and a CIA operative (Robin Wright) working her own agenda. Director Anton Corbijn pulls plenty of quiet menace from this John LeCarré adaptation, but it's Hoffman's ruggedly lived-in performance that resonates.
The other standout this week is "Life Itself," in which "Hoop Dreams" director Steve James profiles the life — and captures the final months — of film critic Roger Ebert. It's a warm and touching look at Ebert's love of the movies, his shared romance with his wife Chaz, and a beautiful meditation on facing death with grace.
"Wish I Was Here" is Zach Braff's directorial follow-up to his 2005 romantic comedy-drama "Garden State," which is enough to turn off a lot of people right there. Braff plays a struggling actor whose attempts to live his dream run up against the realities of being a family man — with a wife (Kate Hudson) hating her job, his kids (Joey King and Pierce Gagnon) in need of schooling, a reclusive brother (Josh Gad), and a cancer-stricken father (Mandy Patinkin). When the movie works, it's sweet and engaging. When it doesn't, it's grating and infurating. Thankfully, it works more than it doesn't.
Luc Besson's action thriller "Lucy" isn't as action-packed as its advertising suggests, but it's twice as crazy. Scarlett Johansson plays an American student in Taiwan who is dragooned into becoming a drug mule, and when the drug pouch that's been surgically inserted in her torso breaks, the drug gives her incredible brain capacity. Besson doesn't let Johansson kick butt as much as you'd expect, and he pumps in a weird amount of "Tree of Life"-like visuals. That said, The Cricket came away wishing the movie would be even more gonzo than it is.
Rob Reiner's comedy "And So It Goes" may finally displace "North" as the worst thing on the director's filmography. It's a desperately unfunny tale of Oren Little (Michael Douglas), a bigoted and unlikeable real-estate agent who learns he has a granddaughter (Sterling Jerins), for whom he must care — with the reluctant help of his neighbor Leah (Diane Keaton, played in full dithering mode). The laughs are scarce, and Douglas' hammy performance kills the movie's intended effect of making the curmudgeonly Oren lovable.
Two more movies arrive in Utah theaters today without benefit of critics' screenings: "Hercules," director Brett Ratner's muscular take on the Greek demigod (played by Dwayne Johnson); and "The Fluffy Movie," a concert film featuring comedian Gabriel Iglesias.