Family Filmgoer: 'I Love You, Beth Cooper,' 'Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs'
I Love You, Beth Cooper (PG-13, 101 minutes)
An awkward mix of fresh ideas and teen movie cliches, this losing-one's-virginity-after-high-school comedy (screenplay by Larry Doyle, based on his novel) feels like it's about to end several times then lumbers along some more. It lacks charm in a comedy-killing way.
The movie has a promising opening, though, when valedictorian Denis Cooverman (Paul Rust) gives his graduation speech. A nerdy, shy fellow, Denis bares his soul from the podium and tells cheerleader Beth Cooper (Hayden Panettiere of TV's "Heroes") he has loved her for years. He eyes other kids in the audience and urges them to confess to eating disorders, childhood sexual abuse and low self-esteem. This does not make him popular.
Beth's boyfriend, Kevin (Shawn Roberts), tries to beat up Denis repeatedly. Beth and her gal pals take pity and hang out with Denis and his buddy Rich (Jack Carpenter) on graduation night, drinking, flirting, driving recklessly and harassing poor Rich about his vague sexual orientation. All this with Kevin and his goons in pursuit.
Veteran director Chris Columbus relies too heavily on slapstick mayhem, and it detracts from the film's poignant examination of young love, sexual confusion and uncertainty about life. There is much bawdy sexual innuendo that pushes the PG-13 rating well into R territory, profanity, crude toilet humor, a couple of implied sexual situations (including a threesome), teen drinking, bribery (with sexual favors) of a convenience store clerk to sell them beer, fairly explicit jokes about erections and condoms, parents in partial undress, a drug reference and teens in underwear. Not for middle-schoolers.
8 and Older
"Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" (PG). Prehistoric critters use 21st-century slang and ageless slapstick in this third "Ice Age" feature. Like the first two, "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" is funny, but not Pixar-transcendent. It's in 3-D, so kids may jump when an angry T. rex chases the heroes or when a flesh-eating plant briefly swallows two of them. The old friends are still here -- Manny the mammoth (voice of Ray Romano), his pregnant mate, Ellie (Queen Latifah), Sid the Sloth (John Leguizamo), Diego the saber-toothed tiger (Denis Leary) and Ellie's possum foster brothers, Crash (Seann William Scott) and Eddie (Josh Peck). Sid finds three large eggs that hatch into toothy dinosaur babies, and he, a vegetarian, can't handle them. (They eat other baby animals but are forced to spit them back up.) The dino-babies' real mom arrives, snatching them and Sid. His pals follow, and an even larger T. rex comes after them. The motley crew meets Buck (Simon Pegg), a swashbuckling weasel who offers to help. Scampering behind them is Scrat, the non-speaking squirrel-rat, still chasing the perfect acorn. This time he tangles with a seductive female, Scratte, over the precious nut. There's a creepy skeleton graveyard, occasional semi-crude humor and mild sexual jokes (about a butterfly "coming out," and turning "a T. rex into a T. rachel").
"Whatever Works." Star Larry David's ("Curb Your Enthusiasm") lack of acting skill hobbles Woody Allen's latest, moderately amusing, film. David plays one-time physicist and Nobel Prize also-ran Boris Yellnikoff, a depressive New Yorker who insults everyone and has tried suicide. Then he meets Melodie (Evan Rachel Wood), an uneducated but sweet, 20-ish Southerner stranded in Manhattan. She develops an affection for the curmudgeonly Boris. Soon her horrified mother (Patricia Clarkson) and father (Ed Begley Jr.) arrive, and Allen's New York changes them all for the better. Although fine for most high-schoolers, "Whatever Works" won't engage many of them, as its wit and wisdom are aimed at adult sensibilities. The movie includes midrange profanity, implied sexual trysts, including a menage a trois, discussion of sex, a tasteless line about an abortion clinic, implied drug use and drinking.
"Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen." In this endless, agonizing sequel, director Michael Bay puts all the emphasis on battles between the good Autobots and evil Decepticons. He lets a first-rate cast play second fiddle to special effects. The plot is incomprehensible except to Transformers superfans. In addition to relatively bloodless but intense battles, the movie contains warfare and enough crude sexual innuendo to make it iffy for middle-schoolers. The hero, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf), nearly has his skull cut open so Decepticons can probe his brain. There is some profanity, a gag about an adult getting high on marijuana brownies and toilet humor. Sam is starting college and hopes his romance with free-spirited Mikaela (Megan Fox) will survive. Then the Decepticons attack Earth, and the action moves from suburbia to Egypt.
"My Sister's Keeper." What nearly saves this turgid weeper (based on the novel by Jodi Picoult) is its excellent cast. Their unfussy, deeply felt performances cut through all the syrupy montages. High-schoolers and mature middle-schoolers may be moved by the story, since key characters are young. There is a pretty graphic portrayal of leukemia and its treatment. When Sara (Cameron Diaz) learns that her toddler, Kate, has a virulent type of leukemia, she and husband Brian (Jason Patric) have their next baby, Anna, genetically engineered so her blood and organs match Kate's. At 15, Kate (Sofia Vassilieva) needs Anna's (Abigail Breslin) kidney and Anna, 11, gets a lawyer (Alec Baldwin) to sue for her "medical freedom." The movie includes comic sexual innuendo and a subtly implied sexual situation between two terminally ill teens (cuddling on a bed, bare backs), profanity, beer-drinking, prostitutes on a street and an adult having a seizure.
"Bruno." The Motion Picture Association's explanation for the R rating says it all: "pervasive strong and crude sexual content, graphic nudity and language." Comedian/performance artist/risk-taker Sacha Baron Cohen sheds his crude, Central Asian "Borat" persona and becomes Bruno, a gay Austrian fashionista of dubious intellect and frightening taste who offends so many people in his home town that he and his assistant, Lutz (Gustaf Hammarsten), move to Los Angeles in search of any sort of fame Bruno can get. He tries celebrity reality-punking (Bruno tries to seduce former presidential candidate Ron Paul). He tries to broker Middle East peace, nearly getting himself killed. He goes hunting with rednecks and tries to crawl into their tents naked. "Borat" (R, 2006) was wildly crude and almost ceaselessly hilarious. "Bruno" is wildly crude and only fitfully hilarious. This film is often just squirm-inducing and desperate to shock. It is not for anyone younger than 17, nor for the irony-challenged or the easily offended.
"Public Enemies." Handsome and deep-delving with moments of shattering violence, this film chronicles how bank robber/folk hero John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) finally met his end at the hands (or triggers) of dogged FBI agent Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) and his team. In director Michael Mann's elegant crime flick, there's barely a difference between untethered lawmen and criminals. The head of the new FBI, J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup), as much as tells Purvis to use fascist methods in rounding up Dillinger. The actors are all vivid, including Marion Cotillard as Billie Frechette, Dillinger's love. In addition to loud, darkly bloody shootouts, the film has a nongraphic sexual situation, verbal sexual innuendo, implied nudity, rare profanity, drinking and smoking. Okay for high-schoolers.