Hey, fellow film geeks. Today, I take a look at three of this week’s big movies, and no, the “Heathers”-like “Vampire Academy” is not one of them. It would appear as though the studio thought so highly of this “Twilight Goes to College” teen thriller that they worried critics might praise it so highly it’ll eclipse “The LEGO Movie” at the box office! (Fat chance.) Anyway, here’s what opens this week:
THE LEGO MOVIE (PG) — Yikes! Looks like I’m in the minority on this one. Not since “Toy Story 3” has a movie gotten such high acclaim on the Tomatometer, and boy do I feel like a bit of a curmudgeon by admitting that, as much fun as “The Lego Movie” looks in the ads, I found much of it to be a virtually non-stop, overcaffeinated headache with visuals and jokes that, while clever, are enough to make one long for aspirin rather than popcorn.
The big joke in “The Lego Movie” is that everything — including water, puffs of smoke and even the Warner Bros. logo in the beginning — is made out of Legos. “The Lego Movie” imagines a world that can be built and torn apart at will, and one where it is not uncommon to run into the likes of many Lego characters such as Lego Superman, Lego Dumbledore, Lego Robin Hood and, quite surprisingly, even Lego Milhouse.
But the movie mostly centers on Emmett, an average Joe construction worker voiced by Chris Pratt. Emmett accidentally stumbles upon a device that threatens the world domination plot of President Business (Will Ferrell), who wants to cover the Lego world in some sort of adhesive that turns out to be Krazy Glue, one of the movie’s more knowing touches. Several key characters, including Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), a spaceman (Charlie Day), a prophet (Morgan Freeman), Lego Batman (Will Arnett) and a “weird kitty thing” (Alison Brie), aid Emmett in his quest to end Business’ reign, and there are plenty of major surprises along the way.
So why am I not embracing “The Lego Movie” as much as the rest of the world? The problem for me is that it’s just so frenetic. Watching the movie is akin to being stuck in a pinball machine, which could be fun (“Lego” comes from the same team who made the first “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs,” which has a similar energy) but that I found exhaustive after awhile. Then, just as the movie is on the brink of running too long, “Lego” breaks the fourth wall in a sequence that is meant to be touching but that does not work one bit.
In my bio, I wrote that I have no problem telling you that a movie sucks even if it has a 95% rating on the highly-touted Tomatometer. Well, “The Lego Movie” does not necessarily suck, but it is a bit of a letdown all things considered. But hey, I am man enough to admit I may be wrong. Just because “The Lego Movie” didn’t work for me doesn’t mean this 100-minute long advertisement for Legos isn’t going to do gangbusters at the box office. ★★ out of ★★★★
THE MONUMENTS MEN (PG-13) — George Clooney rounds up another all-star cast for another caper in this World War II-set adventure loosely based on true events. But, instead of knocking over casinos in Las Vegas, this troupe is after works of art lifted by the Nazis to be added to Adolf Hitler’s private collection during the destruction of Europe.
Clooney assembles a team of experts that include Matt Damon, John Goodman, Bill Murray, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban and “Downton Abbey’s” Hugh Bonneville, a group of preservationists who want to ensure every painting by Picasso and every sculpture by Michelangelo is returned to their respective owner once the Nazis fall from power. “The Monuments Men” chases them all over Europe as they dig through bunkers and caves trying to find the art before Hitler can torch them forever.
When “The Monuments Men” was pushed back from its original December 2013 release, it was Clooney who claimed it was to finish the movie’s special effects. Well, now that the film is finally out, it still doesn’t feel like a completed film. The movie is a bit of a mess, to put it frankly, only occasionally delving into the dangers of art preservation in the midst of a war and bouncing erratically from scene to scene rather than gracefully gliding from one to the next. Several elements are quite confusing, even after watching the entire movie, and while “The Monuments Men” is handsomely made, the muddied storytelling fails to give us a sense of how important the real Monuments Men were to world history and why they couldn’t get a less slight telling of their story than this. ★★
WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE (Not rated) — Jean-Claude Van Damme gets comical for once, and this time it’s intentional. In “Welcome to the Jungle” (now available on VOD as well as a handful of theaters), he’s the tour guide on an island retreat, where the employees of a packaging firm are sent by their boss (Dennis Haysbert) to learn how to get along with one another. The joke here is that the pilot dies and Van Damme is mauled by a tiger, leaving only former Eagle Scout Chris (Adam Brody, far more appealing when he downplays the smarminess) to lead the workers away from the obnoxious Rob Huebel, who has fed everyone hallucinogens and tricked them into thinking he is their tribal leader.
“Jungle” is not without laughs, however there are not very many, and it is worth noting that most of what does work in due to the participation of Van Damme, who is slyly self-deprecating as this Rambo-style inspirational guru. But, as the movie delves deeper into the business with the warring factions and what not, “Welcome to the Jungle” quickly begins to make the audience feel like the ones who are stranded — in a dumb movie that’ll be on Comedy Central in a week. ★★