If ever a movie came equipped with a built-in "thumbs up," it's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. It only takes about five minutes of screen time before our average joe hero, Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman), gets whisked away with from his disappointing life by an interstellar hitchhiker (Mos Def) and launched into close encounters of the ridiculous kind.
Director Garth Jennings' kaleidoscopic film is jam-packed with special effects, both of the cutting-edge digital variety and of the old-fashioned Jim Henson Creature Shop variety (wait until you meet the brilliantly grotesque bureaucrats called the Vogons), resulting in a sensational visual experience that is also populated with the liveliest, most comical sci-fi misfits since Galaxy Quest. There are laughs aplenty, many of them provoked by Stephen Fry, who plays the voice of the infamously handy pocket guide to space travel, and the smirking spontaneity of Sam Rockwell as the fashion-challenged President of the Galaxy.
But unlike Galaxy Quest, which became an audience favorite on the strength of its story as much as its stars and effects, Hitchhiker's feels more like a long, disjointed string of skits linked by awkward transitions. Things move so erratically and quickly that there's little chance to appreciate performances, identify themes, or care about the rather arbitrary plot.
But don't panic: As entertainment, the movie is "mostly harmless." It's never ponderous, and it never arrives at a "moral to the story." Occasional flashes of comic brilliance and high-spirited frivolity give us something of a sugar-rush. Ultimately, however, the emptiness at the film's core makes it a rather hollow moviegoing experience.
My full review is at Looking Closer.
Religious press critics disagree over three issues: Is the film funny? Is it faithful to Adams' style? Is it offensive?
Russ Breimeier (Christianity Today Movies) declares, "This is all intended to be a fun and playful romp through space laced with action, satire, and humor … smart and silly—visually impressive while still maintaining the wit of the book. Whether you prefer sight gags or satire, you're bound to laugh at something in this movie."
He points out that Christian audiences may take offense at "a sacrilegious church parody … as well as casual references to the Big Bang, evolution, and the question of whether or not God exists." But he sees these things as available to interpretation. "To get worked up over this film would be to miss the point. After all, how seriously can you take a story with singing dolphins, depressed robots, and multi-functional towels?"
Annabelle Robertson (Crosswalk) takes an entirely different tone with the film. "It's been a long time since I fell asleep in a movie. However, I sure had a good snooze during this one. And maybe I'm just not cool, but somehow, when the only people excited about seeing this film are all former potheads, it definitely makes you wonder. Having seen it, I'm now convinced that unless you are a super geek on an acid trip, it would be difficult to appreciate this film."
Steven Isaac (Plugged In) was concerned about how the film would represent the books. "When it comes to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, tone is everything. [The movie's] not perfect, and it's sure to leave Adams' many diehard fans split on how well it captures the author's simultaneously sly and over-the-top wit. But no one's going to get very far arguing that this movie fails to entertain, or that it's not good-natured. It's certainly adoring of its source material."
And about the content that could offend Christians? Isaac says, "Not even for a millisecond while watching The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy did I feel as if it was trying to dis God's miraculous creation of life, the universe, and everything. Instead, while too saturated with silliness to come out and say so, it makes moviegoers think about the real meaning of life. And if one has any sense at all of God's role in our existence, it triggers the thought that without Him, nothing much makes sense."
David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) makes similar comparisons, saying it's an "entertaining, if occasionally disjointed, potpourri of space adventure, absurdist philosophy and rib-tickling satire. Adams was an avowed atheist, but beyond the film's absurdist underpinnings—which could be interpreted as suggesting that the universe is ultimately meaningless—little of his personal disbelief leaks onto the screen."
Steven D. Greydanus (Decent Films) finds it somewhat unsatisfying. "What it's missing is the subversive commentary, the razor-edged deconstruction of human foibles. We get Adams the absurdist, but not Adams the provocateur." He concludes, "For moderate Adams fans who know enough to get the jokes but aren't emotionally invested enough to be outraged by the film's shortcomings, this Hitchhiker's is a worthwhile tour of Adams's riotous world."
But Josh Hurst (Reveal) finds it a perfect representation of Adams' personality. "It perfectly captures and preserves the spirit and the humor of its source material, ensuring that you won't see a crazier, more bizarre movie all year. Christian moviegoers may … be troubled by the film's empty philosophizing about life, the universe, and the meaning of it all, though, then again, such scenes could provoke some healthy questioning and discussion. These unfortunate storytelling lapses mean that, as a film Hitchhiker's Guide is at best mediocre, and the dry humor and strange plot keep its appeal rather limited."
Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) finds that the adaptation falls short. "What the film lacks is Adams' near giddiness when it comes to language. His books were delightful reads because of the way words or phrases were unexpectedly twisted and used. The film offers a bit of the same but relies too heavily on the visual elements which are nothing special."
Michael Karounos (Christian Spotlight) sums it up as "stupid acting, stupid writing, and stupid directing."
Mainstream critics are debating the Guide's merits as well.
First of all, XXX: State of the Union is lacking the charismatic star of the original XXX installment—Vin Diesel. In his place is Ice Cube, a talented but far less compelling big screen star.
Second, this action-packed sequel doesn't just defy plausibility … it may actually hurt your brain with its lunacy.
And third, critics are wincing when they see such formidable actors as Samuel L. Jackson and Willem Dafoe wasted on such material.
Stefan Ulstein (Christianity Today Movies) says, "XXX is no more or less ridiculous than Sahara, in which a Confederate ironclad warship is discovered in the desert. But at least Sahara diverted our attention from its idiotic plot with lush scenes of sun-bleached plains and shifting sand dunes. XXX is no fun to look at. The characters are unengaging at best, and insulting at worst. What could have been high irony comes across as a nihilistic video game."
David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) calls it "odiously overwrought. It is a pity that director Lee Tamahori, whose career started off so promisingly with his brutal but emotionally riveting debut film, Once Were Warriors, should find himself enmeshed in such smash-and-crash fare. Though packed with slickly edited, if utterly ridiculous, action sequences, the testosterone-revved but plot-deficient sequel is twice as violent, twice as tedious and twice as pointless as the original."
Adam R. Holz (Plugged In) writes, "Sequence after sequence strained my credulity." He adds that the violence and profanity "combined with obligatory cleavage shots had me ready to write this state of union on XXX2 long before the final explosion."
Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) says, "This film is for people who like their movies explosive, loud and dumb."
Mainstream critics agree. One wrote, "This flashy atrocity, clearly a lost cause from the first five minutes, offers viewers no option but to assume crash position and brace themselves for the worst."
More reviews of recent releases
Dear Frankie: Peter T. Chattaway's review (Christianity Today Movies) begins in a most persuasive manner: "Dear Frankie is such a charming little film, and it grows on the viewer so gradually and has some nice little surprises to boot, that I am almost inclined to say, 'Just see it first, and then we'll talk.' However, that wouldn't satisfy my editors, so review it I shall." He concludes, "Thanks to some wonderfully open-ended, even mysterious writing and acting, and thanks to [director Shona] Auerbach's fine attention to detail, Dear Frankie is one of those rare films that rewards repeat viewing."
The Interpeter: Kevin Miller (Relevant) says: "The Interpreter is that rare film that is not afraid to tackle adult topics in an adult manner. The fact that it does so within the confines of a highly commercial, political-thriller formula makes its achievement even more amazing and delightful. Part message-movie, part big-budget thriller, The Interpreter is … an excellent example of how even a highly commercial film can impact hearts and minds for good, even if all you are looking for is a good night's entertainment."
Andrew Coffin (World) writes, "It's not that the film becomes especially didactic—it's that it lazily takes its underlying assumptions for granted. How well Silvia and Tobin's relationship and, really, the climax of the film resonates with viewers will depend largely on how closely they identify with Silvia's faith in the idealized international community represented at the UN." But he admires "some well-constructed action scenes" and "attractive cinematography."
Melinda and Melinda: Josh Hurst (Reveal) says, "It's watching the twists and turns of the two-pronged plot that makes Melinda and Melinda such a delight. As these two tales of mysterious strangers, fractured relationships, and infidelity unfold, it's often startling and surprising to see how the two compare and contrast. [Director Woody Allen's] skills as a storyteller come dangerously close to genius territory here."
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