Bad Boys 2 bad news for moviegoers

Moviegoers will probably have no trouble accepting Miami as the stage for a major drug bust. But the methods of narcotics cops Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) and Marcus Bennett (Martin Lawrence), the "heroes" of Michael Bay's Bad Boys 2, are too outrageous to be believed. And what is more, as Lowery and Bennett follow the clues from one explosion to the next, trying to pin down the kingpin of illegal ecstasy, they are inspiring critics to respond with dismay, contempt, and even anger.

"Bad Boys II is the worst movie of the year," writes J. Robert Parks (Phantom Tollbooth), throwing in words like stinking and vile. He says the movie's "sole purposes are to entertain the already jaded and offend everyone else. Though it doesn't sink to the narrative incoherence of Anger Management or descend to the sheer stupidity of Dreamcatcher, it trumps both of those movies with its total contempt for its audience. How much does Bad Boys II hate its audience?" He goes on to answer that question in great detail.

Anne Navarro (Catholic News Service) says it "visually assaults the audience with its senseless, slow-motion gunplay and explosions. With careening shots and whiplash cuts, Bay throws out one action sequence after another until they are a blur on screen. The film stretches on and on as the body count rises and the strained plot resembles a patchwork of incoherent scenes stapled together."

Loren Eaton (Focus on the Family) adds, "The movie relishes heartless violence, leers at perverse sexuality, and delights in relentless obscenity."

Movieguide's critic says the movie "is overflowing with the usual action violence, but it adds a dimension of brutality to it with bodies used merely as props for the mayhem. The movie also contains extreme sexual content and some nudity." The writer objects not only to the film's excesses, but also to "references to Buddhism, the New Age, voodoo, and homosexuality. Furthermore, references to Jesus Christ are used for comical effect."

Mainstream critics are similarly incensed. Charles Taylor (Salon) rants, "Necrophilia, explosions, destroyed motor vehicles, gratuitous T&A, and Martin Lawrence and Will Smith doing their lame Abbott-and-Costello act. What's not to hate?"

Mike Clark (USA Today) calls it "appallingly mean-spirited."

Chris Vognar (Dallas Morning News) says, "Bad Boys II is enough to make a young person feel old, and an old person stop going to the movies."

Johnny Englishtakes lowbrow humor spy high

Critics were skeptical when Disney announced it would begin developing movies based on amusement park rides. But they changed their minds after seeing the surprising and delightful Pirates of the Caribbean. Does that mean the world is ready for a movie based on a series of British television credit card commercials?

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Some critics are indeed applauding Johnny English, the big-screen embellishment of a character from Barclay Bank promotions. The credit goes to Rowan Atkinson (Blackadder, Mr. Bean). Unfortunately, the first film that he headlined, simply titled Bean, was a lousy showcase for his work. This time, as the awkward antithesis of James Bond, he wins some laughs, but a fair number of complaints as well.

It was a project with promise, arriving under the direction of Robert Wade and Neal Purvis, the team responsible for The World is Not Enough and Die Another Day. Here's the premise: When other secret agents prove unavailable, the monarchy calls upon Johnny English to recapture the crown jewels and save the dignity of the throne. But his nemesis, a sour-faced entrepreneur named Pascal Sauvage (John Malkovich), has other plans. That's the basic framework of what amounts to a series of comedy sketches in which English botches one operation after another in spectacular fashion.

David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) argues, "The film is the cinematic equivalent of English cuisine: bland and unappetizing. It's full of crude toilet humor and doltish sight gags. Johnny English…may prove hilarious for a 30-second spot but when stretched over 90 minutes grows quickly stale."

Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) disagrees, impressed with the film's shortage of "gross tastelessness." He concludes, "It is likely that American audiences may find it a bit on the tame side. Atkinson…is something of a polarizing force. If you like Atkinson…you should like this film. If you don't…there's no other reason to see it."

Ted Baehr (Movieguide) calls it "a delightfully silly summer comedy. Fans of James Bond, Inspector Clouseau, and Maxwell Smart, and those who would like a cleaner Austin Powers movie, may love this genial spoof." But he also objects to the occasional "obscenities, brief toilet humor, and other light objectionable content."

Bob Smithouser (Focus on the Family) is not so impressed. "English is appealingly lightweight and often innocuous fun. The first half of the movie won me over. Had it stuck with that same formula for the duration, it would have been a harmless romp for families turned off by the offensive Austin Powers series. Unfortunately it turns a corner, employing gross-out bathroom humor, stepping up the profanity and adding disappointing, though not explicit, sexual dialogue."

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Perhaps most impressed is Michael Medved (Crosswalk), who stops just short of giving the film four stars. "The hilarity in the project comes from Atkinson's classic English understatement—he never overdoes the slapstick, so that his unceasing humiliation proves irresistibly funny. [Johnny English is] a rollicking romp…that children can enjoy along with their parents." He is especially pleased by the France-bashing humor, which he calls "a welcome and educational thematic plus." (Did he order "freedom fries" instead of popcorn?)

Joining the naysayers, D.J. Williams (Christian Spotlight), who admires the star's talents, says, "Not even Atkinson can save [English]. For a truly wonderful comedic evening, go out and rent some Mr. Bean TV episodes on video or DVD. Once you've got a taste of the hilarity of Mr. Bean, you'll realize that this isn't simply a kids movie that will fail to entertain the grownups, but a true waste of comic genius."

Mainstream critics are, for the most part, disappointed. Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times) argues, "Johnny English plays like a tired exercise, a spy spoof with no burning desire to be that, or anything else. The thing you have to credit Mike Myers for is that he loves to play Austin Powers and is willing to try anything for a laugh. Atkinson seems to have had Johnny English imposed upon him. And thus upon us."

CriticsDealout bad reviewsfor new Mandy Moore film

Teenage beauty Halley Martin (Mandy Moore) is completely disillusioned with the idea of love. Looking around at the relationships of her peers and her family, she has not seen a good example to inspire her toward a fulfilling relationship. But this new romantic comedy, aimed directly at teenagers, attempts to provide her with an awakening.

Christian press critics, however, are not impressed with the answers the film offers.

Lisa Rice (Movieguide) says, "With a highly relativistic, humanistic outlook, and foul language and sexual themes more fit for an R-rated movie, audiences will be wondering How to Deal with their depression after seeing this movie!"

Rice seems especially upset to find Moore portraying such a misguided character. Moore was the star of A Walk to Remember, a movie celebrated by many critics in the religious press. Rice, like other critics, sees Moore's latest as a serious personal stumble: "Remember how it felt to watch our beloved Julie Andrews—you know, Mary Poppins and Maria Von Trapp—playing a crass role in Victor/Victoria and falling headlong off our collective pedestals? Ever so regrettably, How to Deal gives audiences that same, sad letdown as they realize that Mandy Moore is no longer playing the sweet, relatable, godly Christian young lady she played in A Walk to Remember."

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Steven Isaac (Focus on the Family) says, "This is the kind of melodramatic mess we've come to expect when teenage pop stars make movies. While chock full of teen issues (sex, pregnancy, divorce, and death) and angst, it fails to flesh any of them out in a morally pure, or even satisfactorily coherent manner." Isaac also objects to the film's message. "How to Deal makes quite a point about learning to embrace life's little messes. And that's a good thing. Unless, as they do here, those messes include immoral and illegal behavior."

Most mainstream critics, unsurprised to see an actress trying a different sort of role, are nevertheless unimpressed by the film. Paula Nechak (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) says, "Moore…sulks through a story that's one big muddle of bad scripting and such arch mood swings the script needs an anti-depressant."

Moviegoers don 3-D glasses for third Spy Kidsouting

A few film critics in the religious press have already seen Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over, and are hailing it as another fine family film in director Robert Rodriguez's popular adventure series.

This episode follows the further adventures of the young brother-and-sister spy team, Juni (Daryl Sabara) and Carmen (Alexa Vega), as they are trapped inside a video game by the wicked Toymaker (Sylvester Stallone). As they work their way through various levels of the game, they discover connections between this villainous manipulator and their own grandfather (Ricardo Montalban). The high-spirited hyjinks are peppered with celebrity cameos, including appearances by George Clooney, Salma Hayek, and Bill Paxton.

Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) says, "The story is overly simplistic and often silly. The special effects are appreciated more for their budgetary restraints than for their 'wow' factor. What makes these films work is their attitude. They're fun."

Movieguide's critic claims, "Spy Kids 3-D has many spiritual parallels. First of all, it demonstrates the Christian, video game expression 'new level, new devil?' In our everyday lives as Christians, we will face many new devils, and some old ones, as we grow toward Christian maturity. The movie also extols family in that the boy calls his infirm grandfather into the game and draws on his wisdom at every turn. Especially noteworthy is Ricardo Montalban's great speech about forgiveness, humility, patience, and other virtues. His speech gives the movie its strong Christian premise at the end—that forgiveness conquers sin, or evil, and brings redemption."

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Next week, Film Forum will share more about what "jumped out" at critics in this 3-D adventure.

Tired of twist endings?

This week, Dan Buck (Relevant) investigates the current trend of movies that wallop audiences "with a plot twist or story revelation right at the end of the film that forces you to completely redefine everything you've just seen."

He concludes that the popularity of twist endings has something to do with the age of the filmmakers. Listing several examples, he says, "Every one of these films was made by someone 30-40 years of age. These are Gen-X'ers making films. While every film has its own objectives, I think it is fair to say that the movement on the whole is focusing on our own perceptions of reality. They are all pointing to the idea that we create our own truth."

Mel Gibson releases first look at The Passion

Reviews and speculation continue to proliferate on the Internet regarding Mel Gibson's new film about Jesus' Passion. But eager moviegoers can now download the first trailer for the film, which is set over the menacing tones of Peter Gabriel's soundtrack for Rabbit-Proof Fence. You can access the trailer at the following links: