Facing one's mortality always is a difficult thing to deal with in real life. It's a little easier if you're in the movies, where the plot almost always saves the day.
For action heroes, staring death in the face is about as common as changing underwear. In dramas, death propels the storyline forward. Even in comedies, there are some hairy situations that may force the hero to wonder, “What’s next?”
Judd Apatow has been wildly successful in creating his own genre of film, a mix of the ribald and sweet that has helped create a new breed of comedy stars.
In FUNNY PEOPLE (R, ** 1/2 * *), Apatow mines familiar territory, although the comedy aspect of the film works far better than the pathos. In fact, the movie feels like two distinct films – an insightful look at fame and the process of being a comedian, and a romantic comedy between two former lovers.
The former works much better than the latter, which serves little purpose other than to drag the running time to an interminable 150 minutes, a cardinal sin for a comedy.
Seth Rogen stars as Ira, a struggling comedian who, frankly, isn’t all that funny. But he catches a big break when Hollywood star George Simmons (Adam Sandler) sees his set and invites him to write a few jokes for a corporate function.
George is facing an uncertain future after he is diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia and decides to take stock of his life, including dealing with his biggest regret, cheating on his longtime love (Leslie Mann).
For the first half, Apatow focuses on George and Ira’s budding friendship, the ins and outs of comedy and George’s mortality, all of which provide that mix that Apatow has mastered. Sandler and Rogen have great chemistry, and you can actually believe the mentor-trainee relationship.
But when the film shifts to George visiting his former flame and her family, the film screeches to a halt. Rogen fades into the background, and Sandler is left to carry an awkward love triangle that also includes Eric Bana.
If the film wasn’t so schizophrenic, it could have ranked as one of Apatow’s best. Instead, I’d say watch the first hour or so and then switch to the copious bonus features – including episodes of the “Yo! Teach” TV show Ira’s roommates star in – to keep it a strictly comic experience.
ALL THE ACTION YOU NEED
Our man James T. Kirk has stared death in the face so many times over the years it became second nature. But what about the first time?
Well, that’s what the STAR TREK (PG-13, * * *) remake purports to tell us, focusing on the early days of Kirk and the rest of the U.S.S. Enterprise.
Now, going back to the well of this beloved franchise was a risky step for TV impresario J.J. Abrams, but I was impressed by his deft handling of the big-budget production. He managed to move the story forward for today’s audience without alienating longtime Trekkies.
He’s helped from a star-making turn by Chris Pine as Kirk, who plays the captain as a rebellious youth still smarting from the death of his father by Romulan warriors. Kirk wants to prove his superiority, even if it means alienating other members at Starfleet Academy and risking a spot on a ship of his own.
We also get to meet the young Spock (Zachary Quinto), who is as analytical as we recall, but with some surprising layers as well, including a relationship with Uhura (Zoe Saldana) that goes beyond the holodeck.
Our young crew comes together on the Enterprise when the same crew of Romulan miners (led by Eric Bana), attacks Vulcan and turns it into a black hole as recourse for a tragedy that befell their planet years earlier.
Now, I must admit, if there is a flaw in this reboot, it’s the overly convoluted plot, which starts incorporating elements of time travel and alternate realities. This felt less like critical aspects of the film and more like finding a way to bring back Leonard Nimoy as old Spock.
That said, if you focus on the film from a pure entertainment standpoint, it’s everything you could ask for – nonstop action, a few doses of humor and the origin of some classic lines. More importantly, it leaves you wanting more.
INTRIGUING ETHICAL DILEMMA
The Video Guy is most assuredly not the target audience for novelist Jodi Picoult’s weepers, nor the adaptation of one of her most popular novels, MY SISTER’S KEEPER (PG-13, * * *).
I found myself strangely intrigued by the film, which arguably outclasses the source material thanks to solid acting and firm direction. On the page, I probably couldn’t make it far, but on film, I was embarrassingly into it.
Abigail Breslin stars as Anna, a young woman who makes the controversial decision to sue her parents. Why? Because Anna was born for the sole purpose to provide genetic assistance to her sister Kate, who is dying of cancer.
After years of donating blood, marrow and other bodily fluids for her sister, Anna decides to draw the line when it comes to donating a kidney to her sister, arguing that it would impact her quality of life. She pools her money together and hires a lawyer (Alec Baldwin) to take her case.
This does not sit well with her overbearing mother (Cameron Diaz), who feels it her daughter’s duty to help her sister avoid death. The girls’ father (Jason Patric), understands both sides, and tries to play peacemaker.
The movie differs from the book in several major ways, including the relationship between Kate and a fellow patient playing a bigger role, and the finale, of which some fans of Picoult’s novel were upset.
It is a little strange to see a seemingly young actress like Diaz in a motherly role, but she does a good job with tricky material, balancing a mother’s love with stubborn determination to keep her daughter alive.
Vets such as Baldwin and Joan Cusack also provide heft, sidestepping the clichés their characters could have easily become to create three-dimensional characters.
It’s Breslin who does most of the heavy lifting because she is dealing with the ethical issue herself. The young actress does a fine job. Yes, this movie is manipulative, but if done well, it can bring a cynical dude like The Video Guy around.
Elliott Smith is a former Olympian reporter who lives in Seattle. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.