Capsule reviews of films playing the week of Feb. 2 | Film Clips | Creative Loafing Charlotte
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Capsule reviews of films playing the week of Feb. 2 

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THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER On the sliding scale of Narnia adaptations, 2008's Prince Caspian was slightly better than 2005's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but any hope for continued ascendancy in this franchise ends with The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. A costly tentpole that switched studios midstream, the Narnia series (based, of course, on C.S. Lewis' books) has always come across as timid fantasy fare, squeezing out all the danger and intrigue inherent in the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings film cycles. Such an overly cautious approach especially nullifies the content of this torpid installment and renders it toothless — just the opposite of what we should expect from a series featuring a lion as its most powerful character. The protagonists — returning siblings Lucy and Edmund Pevensie (Georgie Henley and Skandar Keynes) and obnoxious newcomer Eustace (Will Poulter) — are bruisingly boring (paging the Potter kids!), and their adventures aboard the title seafaring vessel are only slightly less moldy than their skirmishes on land. Forget the Titanic: The Dawn Treader is the real sinking ship. *1/2

COUNTRY STRONG Jeff Bridges won an Oscar this past year for playing a boozy country singer in Crazy Heart, but don't expect Gwyneth Paltrow to win even so much as a People's Choice Award for playing a similar part in Country Strong. It's not that Paltrow is bad — she does a valiant job trying to overcome the role's predictable arcs through sheer force of tears and slurred words — but it's unlikely many folks will remember a movie that may well be "country strong" but is most assuredly cinematically weak. The film is basically a soap-opera version of musical chairs, as superstar Kelly Canter (Paltrow), her husband-manager James (Tim McGraw), hunky up-and-comer Beau Hutton (Garrett Hedlund) and aspiring singer Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester) all attempt to commence and/or rekindle relationships. Consistency is hardly the strong suit of writer-director Shana Feste, but at least the unlikely character transitions allow the actors to provide some shadings to their portrayals. Yet at almost two hours, the film is criminally overlong and has as many false endings as The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. The soundtrack includes mostly new tunes, but the only country song that kept racing through my increasingly bored mind was Willie Nelson's "Wake Me When It's Over." **

DUE DATE A painful comedy in the lowest-common-denominator mold, this finds Robert Downey Jr. cast as Peter Highman, an architect trying to get from Atlanta to Los Angeles before his wife (a wasted Michelle Monaghan) gives birth. But once he bumps into aspiring actor Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis), that's not going to be easy: After Ethan's bumbling lands both of them on the "no-fly" list, Peter is forced to drive cross-country with this eccentric imbecile. Unlike its antecedent Planes, Trains and Automobiles, in which John Candy somehow managed to make his character both annoying and endearing, this never allows us to warm up to Galifianakis' insufferable character, although that has as much to do with the actor's sandpaper personality as it does with a sloppy script credited to four writers. The screenplay presents Ethan as such a buffoon — and spends most of its time mocking him — that it's embarrassing in those moments when it makes a play for audience sympathy. In the midst of all this horse manure, it's almost amazing that Downey manages to concentrate enough to deliver a fine performance. It's disheartening to see him squandering his talents in such a dud, but his professionalism at least prevents the entire picture from devolving into a complete circle jerk. *1/2

THE FIGHTER True to form for controversial director David O. Russell (Three Kings), The Fighter takes a real-life story and turns it into a scrappy, hard-edged motion picture. Its focus is the relationship between Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), a boxer with real potential, and his brother-trainer Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale), a boxing has-been and crack addict holding his sibling back. Micky's manager-mom (Melissa Leo) isn't much better in looking out for her pugilist son's welfare, leaving it to his new girlfriend (Amy Adams) to properly guide him. The Fighter is initially so raw in its approach that it's a shame when it becomes less Raging Bull and more Rocky IV just in time for a conventional fadeout. And while the oversized theatrics of Bale and Leo have already generated Oscar buzz, I actually prefer the more subtle earnestness of Wahlberg and especially Adams (shucking her usual sunshine beaming for an unexpected toughness). Still, all four actors (plus Jack McGee as Micky's sympathetic father) work well in tandem, and Russell and his scripters make the shifting dynamics among the family members ring true. The Fighter doesn't quite go the distance, but it's good enough to last several rounds. ***

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