Film reviews: Jack the Giant Slayer | The Croods | Identity Thief

ALISTAIR Harkness reviews the rest of this week’s cinema releases.

Jack the Giant Slayer (12A)

Directed by: Bryan Singer

Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Eleanor Tomlinson

* *

A SPECIAL effects display in search of a story, X-Men director Bryan Singer’s take on Jack and the Beanstalk seems more interested in using digital technology to render hordes of rampaging giants on screen than finding a way to make the fairytale genuinely compelling for a new audience. Thus, while it mercifully eschews the glumness of recent fairytale re-imaginings such as Snow White and the Huntsmen, there’s none of the wit or playfulness of The Princess Bride, still the gold standard for these types of movies. That’s a shame, because as the titular Jack, Nicholas Hoult is likeable enough. A poor farmboy with a gallant heart, he sells his horse to a monk for some sacred beans that – wouldn’t you know it – results in a massive foliage overgrowth that whisks the errant, adventure-seeking princess (Eleanor Tomlinson), upon whom he has a crush, to a cloud-based land full of giants. The subsequent search-and-rescue mission (involving a reliably awful Ewan McGregor as a caddish knight) is complicated by scheming villain Stanley Tucci’s determination to bring the giants back to Earth to wreak havoc on Ian McShane’s ye olde kingdom – but it’s all just filler for a big rampaging finale that rarely engages.

Identity Thief (15)

Directed by: Seth Gordon

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Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Jason Bateman, Amanda Peet, Robert Patrick

* *

ONE of the many great things about Bridesmaids was the way Melissa McCarthy’s character was allowed to score gross-out laughs while having an interior life of her own that subverted the stereotypical hate-myself angst usually given to plus-sized characters. Delicate at being indelicate, McCarthy seized the opportunity and emerged from the film a fully-fledged movie star. It’s too bad, then, that her first star vehicle isn’t similarly subversive. Cast as a manic, throat-punching fraudster who steals the identity of Jason Bateman’s uptight financial controller, her character’s garish appearance – big hair, caked-on make-up – and penchant for retail therapy shopping sprees is merely a front for laugh-free jokes rooted in that spurious Hollywood belief that anyone over a certain size is secretly yearning for the acceptance of thin people. That’s not the only problem with this odd-couple-on-the-run road-trip comedy, though; apparently the very concept of a man having a unisex name such as Sandy (the moniker given to Bateman’s character) is so incongruous in 2013 we’re supposed to laugh uproariously every time someone points it out. Sadly, that’s also about as good as the jokes get in a film that, somewhat ironically, seems determined to be a hybrid of Midnight Run and Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

The Croods (PG)

Directed by: Kirk de Micco, Chris Sanders

Voices: Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, Catherine Keener

* * *

BEGINNING life as an enticing, stop-motion collaboration between John Cleese and Aardman Animation, this tale of a prehistoric family facing up to its potential demise instead arrives on the big screen as an energetic, if rather more run-of-the-mill, DreamWorks CG-animated adventure. Directed by Chris Sanders, who made Disney’s lovingly riotous Lilo & Stitch a decade ago, as well as DreamWorks’ own rather magnificent How to Train Your Dragon, the film pops in all the right places visually, with a scene-and-theme-setting opening establishing the titular family’s arid, apocalyptic environs in high style, and the animators letting rip with some fairly trippy visuals after the characters decide to risk leaving the safety of their cave and end up in a verdant ecosystem straight out of Avatar. But if the animation looks cutting edge, the storytelling is cave-painting basic, with the free-spirited Eep (Emma Stone) torn between obeying her over-protective father Crugg (Nicolas Cage), and running off with the adventure-seeking, fire-harnessing caveboy Guy (Ryan Reynolds). Along the way, the rest of the family – including Eep’s caring mother (Catherine Keener) and her salty Gran (Cloris Leachman) – get into various scrapes that occasionally amuse, but mostly service a story intent on delivering Ice Age-style life lessons.

Stolen (15)

Directed by: Simon West

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Josh Lucas, Danny Huston, Malin Akerman

* * *

IN THE second Nicholas Cage movie out this week, the crazy one re-teams with Con Air director Simon West for a cornball action movie about a newly released ex-con (Cage) who has 12 hours to get his hands on $10 million if he ever wants to see his just-kidnapped daughter alive again. She’s in the trunk of a cab being driven angrily around New Orleans by Cage’s former partner (Josh Lucas), an embittered, one-legged psycho who wants his share of a non-existent score that went wrong eight years previously. Given Cage’s low-rent form of late, the goofiness of the Taken/Buried/Collateral plotting, and the fact that Danny Huston’s cop insists on wearing a Popeye Doyle-style hat in some sort of naff homage to The French Connection, Stolen isn’t terrible. In fact, it’s surprisingly watchable, with Cage delivering a few winks to Con Air (the “stuffed toy” routine gets a slight reprise) and West hitting the predictable action beats of David Guggenheim’s script with enough energy to keep things entertaining. Some ridiculous reversals and betrayals have to be glossed over for enjoyment to be maximized, but the upside is you get to see Cage talk about Carebears, deliver lines in Swedish, and pull off a bank heist with a blow-torch.

Post Tenebras Lux (18)

Directed by: Carlos Reygadas

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Starring: Adolfo Jiménez Castro, Nathalia Acevedo, Willebaldo Torres, Rut Reygadas, Eleazar Reygadas

* *

PURVEYOR of demanding, poetic provocations such as Japón (about a suicidal man preparing for death), Battle in Heaven (about a poverty stricken limo driver guilt-ridden over the death of a baby he’s kidnapped) and Silent Light (about the spiritual crisis of an adulterous Mennonite farmer), Mexican auteur Carlos Reygadas abandons narrative altogether for his latest. Post Tenebras Lux – the title is a Latin phrase meaning “light after darkness” – feels more like an art installation than a film, one in which a fractured series of beautifully framed vignettes puts us in the headspace of a prosperous middle-class family living in the Mexican countryside. Childhood nightmares, domestic disputes, violent encounters, explicit sexual fantasies and a rugby match at an English public school are among the sequences Reygadas strings together, often with little explication beyond perhaps suggesting that family patriarch Juan (Adolfo Jiménez Castro) is a bad man and the world he’s created for his family is some kind of failed Eden. There’s no denying that Reygadas – clearly frustrated by the strictures of traditional filmmaking – has the ability to create forceful images, but that’s not the same thing as creating a persuasive work of art.