Capsule reviews of films opening this week:
"Cedar Rapids" — An afternoon sex romp with Sigourney Weaver exhorting her companion to "Bring it!" is precisely how one expects an Alexander Payne film to begin. But "Cedar Rapids" was directed by Miguel Arteta ("Youth in Revolt") who, instead of injecting the darkness that executive producer Payne would have, unfolds a charming, conventional coming-of-age comedy. Ed Helms is the 34-year-old Tim Lippe, a woefully earnest Wisconsin insurance salesman who — notwithstanding his weekly meet-ups with his former 7th grade teacher (Weaver) — has seen so little of life that Cedar Rapids might as well be Las Vegas to him. He's dispatched to the Iowa city for an important insurance conference, where he befriends partying colleagues, experiments with drugs and has a life-changing moral crisis. He's taken in by three veteran salesmen (John C. Reilly, Anne Heche, Isiah Whitlock Jr.). Particularly memorable is Reilly's "Deanzie," a hard-drinking, joke-spewing hotel bar hero. R for crude and sexual content, language and drug use. 87 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.
— Jake Coyle, AP Entertainment Writer
"The Eagle" — The gladiatorial thumbs-up or thumbs-down is a key plot point in this ancient Roman adventure. The movie itself merits more of a thumb wriggling horizontally, nudging upward for its precise detail and gorgeous landscapes but downward for its somewhat hollow characters and their admirable but monotonous sense of honor. Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell deliver solid though unremarkable performances as a former Roman soldier and a British slave on a quest beyond the edge of the known world to retrieve the standard of a lost legion that vanished in the wilds of 2nd- century Scotland. Director Kevin Macdonald ("The Last King of Scotland") crafts a technically sumptuous epic, glorious to the eye though often dry and uninvolving to the ear. The movie is based on Rosemary Sutcliff's 1954 novel, "The Eagle of the Ninth," a tale written for young readers that simply does not ripen well for the modern grown-up audience at which the film is aimed. The intense skirmishes and images are suited for adult crowds, yet the ideals and emotions that bond the main characters are boyish and stunted, leaving the movie caught between mature action and shallow characterizations. PG-13 for battle sequences and some disturbing images. 114 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.
— David Germain, AP Movie Writer
"Gnomeo & Juliet" — This animated riff on "Romeo and Juliet," with yard gnomes standing in for our star-crossed lovers, doesn't have a single original idea in its pointy, ceramic head. Spirited and brisk as this family film can be, its energy cannot disguise the fact that it's an awkward mash-up of Shakespeare puns, hackneyed pop culture references and familiar Elton John songs, with one of those everything-but-the-k itchen-sink scripts cobbled together by committee. The concept is clever enough — I mean, come on, who doesn't like yard gnomes? — but that's pretty much all this film from director Kelly Asbury ("Shrek 2") is. Like "Snakes on a Plane," the title is the gag, and it tells you all you need to know. And of course, "Gnomeo & Juliet" is in 3-D. While adding a third dimension can provide an inspired sense of perspective and makes some of the details pop in a tactile way — the chips in the gnomes' paint, the smudges of dirt on their faces — it is, as always, unnecessary. "Gnomeo & Juliet" does feature a strong voice cast, though, led by James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Michael Caine and Maggie Smith, with cameos from the likes of Dolly Parton, Hulk Hogan and Ozzy Osbourne. Some of the one-liners and visual bits hit their targets, but for the most part, reheated gags and sequences that recall earlier, better animated films are the norm. G. 84 minutes. Two stars out of four.
— Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic
"Just Go With It" — Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston's romantic comedy, idiotic even by their usually low big-screen standards, is stuffed with unpleasant narcissists saying and doing the dumbest, often cruelest things in hope of cheap laughs. They fail; there's barely a titter's worth of humor in this bloated mess that drones on for nearly two hours. Based on Walter Matthau, Ingrid Bergman and Goldie Hawn's 1969 comedy "Cactus Flower," the movie casts Sandler as a plastic surgeon and supposedly nice guy who has spent two decades pretending to be a mistreated husband so he can score with sympathetic women (yeah, real nice guy). When he finally falls for somebody (Sports Illustrated swimsuit goddess Brooklyn Decker), he enlists his assistant (Aniston) to pose as the wife he's divorcing. And the lamebrained lies build from there. Director Dennis Dugan, whose collaborations with Sandler include "Big Daddy" and "Grown Ups," lets scene after unfunny scene linger painfully. Nicole Kidman somehow got roped into a supporting role in this dreadful affair, but don't you make the same mistake. Just run from it. PG-13 for frequent crude and sexual content, partial nudity, brief drug references and language. 116 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.
— David Germain, AP Movie Writer
"Justin Bieber: Never Say Never" — Part biopic, part concert film and all crowd pleaser, this celebration of the pop phenom knows exactly what it needs to do to send its target audience of tween girls into a tizzy of giddy screams. That includes an effective use of 3-D from director Jon M. Chu ("Step Up 3D"), so get ready for plenty of shots of Bieber looking longingly into the camera, reaching out to grab your hand while singing one of his infectious tunes. Bieber would be an easy target for anyone who's graduated from junior high school: He's 16, smooth and pretty, with an androgynous look that recalls Hilary Swank in "Boys Don't Cry" and a playful, non-threatening way about him. But as Chu's film reveals through home movies from Bieber's small town outside Toronto, early YouTube clips and interviews with the people who discovered him, he's preternaturally gifted, freakishly poised and incessantly hardworking. And he genuinely seems like a good kid — it's hard not to like him. Sure, "Never Say Never" plays like an extended infomercial for Bieber, similar to recent 3-D movies about Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers. We get no real sense of who Bieber is, whether he has any fears, if he misses normal-kid stuff, what he thinks about the hordes of girls who tremble and sob at the very mention of his name. But along those lines, Chu does an excellent job of conveying the incomparable thrill of being young and bursting with love for your first idol crush. G. 105 minutes. Three stars out of four.
— Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic
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