4-star film capsules --Week of March 28

Associated Press Published:

"Admission" -- What should be a hilarious, long-overdue pairing of two hugely likable, superstar comedians ends up being a major disappointment. As much film and television work as they do individually, Tina Fey and Paul Rudd surprisingly never have worked together. In theory, her smart, zingy persona should mesh beautifully with his easygoing goofiness -- or their shared dynamic should bounce, or snap, or have some sort of life to it. Instead, Paul Weitz's direction of Karen Croner's script is tonally erratic: too fast in spots and too much of a slog in others. It certainly doesn't help that the characters feel like types without much nuance. Even reliable comic veterans like Fey and Rudd can't find much that's new or fresh in these people, and as a result they have zero chemistry with each other. Fey, as a Princeton University admissions officer, is always uptight, precise and emotionally closed-off. Rudd, as the do-gooder founder of an alternative New England high school, is always free-spirited, adventurous and open-minded. Even in the fantasy world of romantic comedies where opposites attract and sparks fly, these two have no business being together. Nat Wolff plays the odd, brilliant student who may be the son Fey's character put up for adoption as a newborn and Lily Tomlin provides the film's few moments of joy as Fey's maverick feminist mother. PG-13 for language and some sexual material. 100 minutes.

H-1/2 stars.

"The Croods" -- Cavemen -- they're just like us! -- or so "The Croods" seems to be saying with its familiar mix of generational clashes, coming-of-age milestones and generally relatable laughs. The animated adventure features a strong, star-studded cast and dazzles visually in wondrously colorful, vibrant 3-D, but the script doesn't pop off the screen quite so effectively. The simplistic message here is: Trying new things is good. It's a useful notion for kids in the crowd to chew on, but their older companions may be longing for something more substantive. Still, "The Croods" is both brisk and beautiful, and should be sufficiently entertaining for family audiences for whom few such options exist these days. And it might be especially resonant with young female viewers, with a strong, resourceful teenage girl at its center named Eep (voiced by Emma Stone in her usual charming rasp). It's the prehistoric era, and while the rest of Eep's family prefers the comforting safety of hiding fearfully inside a cave, with only sporadic outings for group hunts, she longs to see what's outside those stone walls. Her dad, Grug (Nicolas Cage), is especially protective, neurotically worrying about every possible unknown and urging the same sort of apprehension in everyone else. But everything changes when Eep escapes and meets a guy named Guy (Ryan Reynolds). Catherine Keener and Cloris Leachman co-star. PG for some scary action. 92 minutes.

HH-1/2 stars.

"The Sapphires" -- This Aussie hodgepodge is missing a lot -- detailed characters, a unique narrative arc, half-plausible scenes of the Vietnam War -- but it's got two uncommon things going for it: warm-hearted charm and Chris O'Dowd. They are not mutually exclusive. O'Dowd, the Irish comedic actor, has no proper business being in this film about four Aboriginal sisters in rural '60s Australia who set out to make it as a pop singing group. But this is the same actor who managed to play a Milwaukee police officer with his natural brogue in "Bridesmaids." His passport, thankfully, has some peculiar powers. Bowled over at a rinky-dink local talent show, he becomes the manager of the singing quartet (Deborah Mailman, Miranda Tapsell, Jessica Mauboy and Shari Sebbens). He shapes them into a Supremes-like foursome and soon they're off to entertain U.S. troops in Vietnam. There's a historical backdrop of Australia's discrimination against its Aboriginal natives, but first-time director Wayne Blair keeps the tone light. When the story moves to Vietnam, its less-than-expert filmmaking and threadbare, inauthentic settings get harder to forgive. But even at its most unpolished and cheesiest, O'Dowd and the film's bright spirit make it a tune hard to resist. PG-13 for sexuality, a scene of war violence, some language, thematic elements and smoking. 99 minutes.

HH-1/2 stars.

"The Call" -- Long a bit player in movies, the 911 dispatcher finally gets a starring role. It would seem long overdue, since Halle Berry is apparently among their ranks. She's an emergency operator in Los Angeles, where the trauma of a first kidnapping case has forced her to hang up the headset. But, having shifted to a trainer position, she's lured back for a second kidnapping call when a rookie dispatcher can't handle the frightening pleas from a taken teenager (Abigail Breslin) trapped in a car's trunk. Director Brad Anderson ("Transsiberian") working from the simple, high concept screenplay by Richard D'Ovidio, ably cuts between the fraught strategizing at the call center and the frantic police pursuit of the kidnapper (Michael Eklund). The film dials up a shallow thrill ride, but one efficiently peppered with your typical "don't go in there!" moments. But what once was usual for Hollywood -- reliable, popcorn-eating genre frights -- isn't so much anymore. A rudimentary, almost old-fashioned 90-minute escape, the film achieves its low ambitions. R for violence, disturbing content and some language. Running time: 95 minutes.

HH-stars.

"The Incredible Burt Wonderstone" -- The only incredible thing here is the way this comedy makes Steve Carell so thoroughly and irreparably unlikable. In a film about magic tricks, this is the most difficult feat of all. Even when Carell is playing characters who are nerdy ("The 40-Year-Old Virgin") or needy ("Crazy, Stupid, Love") or clueless (TV's "The Office") or just plain odd ("Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy"), there's usually an inherent decency that shines through and makes him seem relatable, vulnerable, human. None of those qualities exists within Burt Wonderstone, a selfish and flashy Las Vegas magician who once ruled the Strip alongside his longtime friend and partner, Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi), but now finds his act has grown outdated and unpopular. Even within the confines of a comedy sketch, where he probably belongs, Burt would seem one-dimensional and underdeveloped with his hacky jokes and tacky clothes. Stretched out to feature length, the shtick becomes nearly unbearable -- until, of course, the movie doles out its obligatory comeuppance, followed by redemption, and goes all soft and nice. By then it's too little, too late. Jim Carrey gives it his all, as always, as the up-and-coming gonzo street magician who threatens Burt's career, but Olivia Wilde gets little more to do than serve as the supportive "girl" as Burt's assistant. PG-13 for sexual content, dangerous stunts, a drug-related incident and language. 101 minutes.

H-1/2 stars.

"Spring Breakers" -- Harmony Korine seems to want it both ways, all day, in this superstylized descent into a sunbaked hell where bikini-clad, gun-toting college babes serve as our guides. As writer and director, Korine wants us to be appalled and aroused, hypnotized and titillated. He wants to satirize the debauchery of girls gone wild while simultaneously reveling in it. And damned if he doesn't pull it off. This is the rare movie that I actually found myself liking the more time I spent away from it. In the moment, I found it numbingly repetitive, even boring at times: an obvious juxtaposition of sex and violence, of dreamlike aesthetics within a nightmare scenario. And it is all those things. But it stuck with me, and it made me realize the genius of his approach. There is a great deal of genuine artistry in this film, which is the most polished and mainstream to date from the maker of indies like "Trash Humpers," but "Spring Breakers" is also provocative in various ways, depending on the viewer. The corruption of formerly squeaky-clean Disney superstars Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens may be Korine's cleverest trick of all: They get to show some range, we get to gawk. But James Franco steals the whole movie away when he arrives about halfway through as a cornrowed, wanna-be gangster rapper named Alien. It's a showy, wonderfully weird performance, but Franco also finds the vulnerability beneath the bravado. R for strong sexual content, language, nudity, drug use and violence throughout. 92 minutes.

HH-1/2 stars.

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