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Film reviews: The Company Men | Hall Pass | The Resident | Norwegian Wood | Battle: Los Angeles

Our critics review the best and worst of this week's new releases...

The Company Men (15) ***

Directed by: John Wells

Starring: Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, Chris Cooper

CORPORATE downsizing gets a less glamorous spin in The Company Men than it did in last year's Up in the Air; this time the focus is very much on the lifers being chewed up, spat out and left to wonder: "What now?" As such it's a bleaker affair, but it at least makes an effort to get to grips with the far-reaching impact of the financial crisis, and it nails the fear that comes from suddenly facing an uncertain future as it follows three well-salaried men from the same Boston-based company as they're forced to grapple with their own sense of self-worth when their jobs are no longer viable. Ben Affleck is the high-achieving family man with a Porsche, a country club membership and an overextended mortgage; Chris Cooper is the exec approaching 60 who has worked his way up from the factory floor but has nothing beyond work in his life; Tommy Lee Jones, meanwhile, is the top-level company founder with millions in stock options who despises what his firm has become. All three sound contemptible, but the film gets us on side with a thoughtful, if sentimental, examination of what it takes to find dignity in tough times. AH

Hall Pass (15) **

Directed by: Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly

Starring: Owen Wilson, Jenna Fischer, Jason Sudeikis, Christina Applegate

THE inexplicable alchemy that made the Farrelly brothers' Dumb and Dumber, Kingpin and There's Something About Mary modern comedy classics continues to elude their later work with this weak high-concept comedy about a pair of juvenile suburban husbands (Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis) given a week off by their wives to get all their adolescent fantasies out of their system once and for all. Despite having the likes of Wilson, Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate to work with, the brothers try to up the gross-out quotient with set pieces involving a myriad of faecal matter-related obscenity, including a woman with exploding diarrhoea decorating a hotel bathroom, and a fat man taking a dump on a golf course. For those not won over by jokes about jobbies, there are the usual round of humiliating knob gags and oral sex jibes designed to distract attention from the lack of actual laughs and the absence of amusing characters. Over the course of 90 excruciating minutes, the only scene that really rings true features Wilson and Sudeikis slobbing around a hotel room eating ice-cream and watching action movies because they know, deep down, that trying to recapture their youth is sad and pointless. It's a shame the Farrelly brothers didn't have a similar level of self-awareness. AH

The Resident (15) **

Directed by: Antti Jokinen

Starring: Hilary Swank, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Christopher Lee

HORROR fans shouldn't get too excited at the prospect of seeing Christopher Lee in this latest effort from the re-launched Hammer Films; the Brit legend's turn as a doddery, possibly malevolent old man may be the best thing in this tepid psychological thriller, but he barely features and any possible menace he possesses has been art-directed out of him courtesy of Finnish promo director Antti Jokinen's slick visual style. Instead we're left with Hilary Swank as a heart-broken ER doctor who takes a too-good-to-be-true lease on a Brooklyn Bridge-view apartment newly renovated by her PS I Love You co-star Jeffrey Dean Morgan. He's a shy guy with a few intimacy issues, but she's feeling vulnerable and so gives him the come-on, even though she isn't over her previous relationship. She's also getting the creepy feeling that she's being watched at her most intimate moments. Is it the new guy in her life, his oddball grandfather (Lee) or perhaps her remorseful ex? The film gives the game away early on by revealing that nothing up until this point has been as it seems. Unfortunately it then proceeds in exactly the same lame tame stalk'n'slash direction you expect, with no inventive kills or outlandish gore to compensate for the absence of tension. AH

Norwegian Wood (15) **

Directed by: Tran Anh Hung

Starring: Rinko Kikuchi, Kenichi Matsuyama, Kengo Kora

I HAVEN'T read cult Japanese author Haruki Murakami's acclaimed novel Norwegian Wood, but this adaptation plays less like a movie in its own right and more like a beautiful, mood-enhancing slide show, the kind of thing you might play on an iPad while listening to the audio book. For maximum hipster effect, Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood supplies the score, if not much feeling, while French-Vietnamese director Tran Anh Hung fails to find a way to make the internalised story get into your head the way the titular Beatles song gets inside the head of the film's protagonist. This is Watanabe (Kenichi Matsuyama), a woman-fearing student dealing with the trauma of his best friend Kiziku's suicide in the summer of 1968. Drawing close to Kizuku's girlfriend Naoko (Babel's Rinko Kikuchi), he forges a strong emotional bond, born out of their shared grief but also, perhaps, out of his desire to save her in a way he couldn't save his friend. Though things are nominally complicated by the arrival of a more sexually voracious Midori (Kiko Mizuhara), the film keeps us at a distance with dreamy composition that is gorgeous to look at, but not very involving. AH

Battle: Los Angeles (12A) **

Directed by: Jonathan Liebesman

Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Michelle Rodriguez, Ne-Yo

THIS, presumably, is what event movies will have to be in our present age of austerity: purged of expensive stars, and with vast chunks of action conveyed by wobbling the camera Star Trek-style and having characters gawp at monitors showing CNN footage. The livelier, low-budget Skyline got here first; now Sony offer us aliens who resemble the old Smash robots on the scrounge for the Earth's water resources, quite possibly to whip up some instant potato mash. With their usual poor timing, the invaders show up just weeks before Staff Sergeant Eckhart's retirement, Corporal Ne-Yo's wedding, the birth of someone's first child…

The film sticks its dull humanoids with dialogue that's woeful even for the subgenre, and never really makes this particular LA – a place of remarkably resilient billboards advertising soft drinks, and collapsible freeways that coat everything else in a dismal greyness – seem worth fighting for. Overseas concerns, as ever, go under-represented: Liebesman's interest lies in Marine Corps firepower – the kind of fixation you'd hoped Team America had satirised beyond repair, and which may well leave you cheering for the extraterrestrial underdogs. The X-Box game this film wants to be would be ten times more involving, and wouldn't feature Ne-Yo. MM

 
 
 

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