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The Game Plan, In the Shadow of the Moon, 2 Days In Paris, others

New Releases

THE GAME PLAN After his film career began floundering, action star Vin Diesel turned to the family audience with The Pacifier and ended up with a $113 million hit. Along the same lines, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson now throws himself on the mercy of the small fry and their easy-to-please parental units with The Game Plan, an innocuous mediocrity whose biggest sin is its punishing running time. Rocky stars as Joe Kingman, a narcissistic quarterback who's blindsided when 8-year-old Peyton (Madison Pettis) shows up on his doorstep claiming to be his daughter. Livin' la vida loca with a lavishly designed bachelor pad, a European model for a girlfriend, and a flashy sports car to complement his lifestyle of the rich and famous, Joe (whose clunky gridiron nickname is "Never Say No Joe") learns that in order to become an effective parent (which he does so begrudgingly), he has to accept a pink tutu being placed on his bulldog, his football trophies getting BeDazzled, and his mode of transport getting downsized to a station wagon. Considering that The Game Plan holds next to no surprises for anyone who's ever seen a movie before, a 90-minute length would have been plenty; instead, this gets mercilessly stretched out to 110 minutes. The extra footage allows the mind to wander and mull over related topics; for instance, since Kingman plays quarterback for the fictitious Boston Rebels and has to contend with a child from a former lover, is this a dig at New England Patriots QB Tom Brady, whose double-dipping among women has led to out-of-wedlock woes? And was there ever a chance that Kingman's bulldog might have fallen into the hands of Michael Vick? And will a soggy comedy ever resist the slightly racist urge to include a muscular, fearsome black man (white America, lock your doors!) who turns out to be a softy by the end? (In addition to Kingman's teammate here, see also Ving Rhames in I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, Michael Clarke Duncan in See Spot Run, etc.). Pettis mostly relies on calculated precociousness, but Johnson actually proves to be Rock-solid as Kingman, displaying modest but sufficient amounts of charm and comic timing. **

IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON A riveting documentary that unfortunately tapers off significantly during its second hour, In the Shadow of the Moon is a timely film that instills a sense of American pride at a period in our history when the current administration has poisoned our reputation around the world and even among half of our own populace. Its focus is NASA's Apollo program that, between 1968 and 1972, sent nine rocketships to the moon. The spirit of John F. Kennedy hangs over the entire film, as it was his drive that largely inspired America to set its sights on outer space; one astronaut states that JFK was either a visionary, a dreamer or politically astute, before concluding that he was probably all three. Interviews with 10 Apollo astronauts provide the narrative thrust, combining with awe-inspiring shots taken from the various Apollo spacecraft as well as other little-seen NASA footage from history's archives. As expected, the bulk of the movie centers on the Apollo 11 mission manned by Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins -- it's a thrill to revisit the events surrounding the historic moment when Armstrong became the first person to set foot on the moon's surface. From there, the movie rushes through the other Apollo missions -- the ill-fated Apollo 13 voyage earns some extra minutes, but not enough (presumably, the makers figured everyone's seen the Ron Howard-Tim Hanks drama Apollo 13) -- and the film becomes progressively more scattershot as it tries to wrap up (comments by the astronauts about our planet's fragile environment feel like outtakes from The 11th Hour). And the decision to conclude the film with these heroes defending the missions against ludicrous conspiracy theories claiming they were all faked here on Earth was a major misstep, akin to if Steven Spielberg had ended Schindler's List with real-life survivors having to refute morons who claim there was no Holocaust. Overall, though, In the Shadow of the Moon is a rousing achievement that makes us wish we could once again reach for -- and touch -- the stars. ***

Current Releases

THE BRAVE ONE It was simpler back in 1974, when it was called Death Wish. After thugs murder his wife and rape his daughter, businessman Charles Bronson hits the streets with the purpose of blowing away all human vermin. As a film, it's unpretentious, straightforward and effective as hell. The Brave One is basically a retread of Death Wish, only with a sex change for its protagonist and, given the director (The Crying Game's Neil Jordan) and star (Jodie Foster), a more distinguished pedigree. It also purports to add dramatic heft to the moral implications of the situation, with an ad line that blares, "How Many Wrongs To Make It Right?" But the movie itself clearly doesn't believe in its own promotion, resulting in a finished product that works as exploitation but fails at anything more socially relevant. Still, the very setup of the piece -- radio host Erica Bain turns vigilante after street punks kill her fiancé (Naveen Andrews) -- makes it impossible not to line up firmly behind her, and on that primal level, this delivers the goods. Tempering the bloodshed is the relationship that develops between Erica and a sympathetic detective; Terrence Howard is effectively low-key as the cop, just as Foster brings everything to the table for her raw performance. I just wish she would accept a different sort of part; she's rarely less than excellent, but for years now, she's settled into making movies in which she portrays a largely desexed woman who's all business and no pleasure (Panic Room, Flightplan, Inside Man, etc.). Mind you, I'm not suggesting an insipid romantic comedy opposite Bruce Willis, but I'm sure there's a happy medium to be found somewhere. **1/2

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