Short Cuts

Eagle vs. Shark

Written and directed by Taika Waititi. Starring Loren Horsley, Jemaine Clement and Craig Hall. Opens Friday.

Napoleon Dynamite looks like Cary Grant next to the hero of this Kiwi quirk-a-thon: a hulking, sullen creep named Jarrod (Jemaine Clement, co-star of HBO's new Flight of the Conchords) whose goony sulking, petulant selfishness and dweeby videogame obsession somehow work like Spanish fly on mousy burger-flipper Lily (Loren Horsley). If the intent were to have Lily's unconditional love redeem Jarrod, who plots half-assed revenge on the bully who thumped him a decade ago in high school, no such luck. Her regard for the insufferable prick comes off more as sodden masochism, or maybe brain damage. You can't see the forest for the twee in writer-director Taika Waititi's thicket of cutesy conceits, from the stunted supporting characters to the precious animated interludes. But Jarrod's strident ugliness definitely serves as a critique of geek-chic narcissism. Maybe Judd Apatow's comedies also flatter the maturity-impaired by making their 10th-grade hang-ups lovable, but Apatow doesn't leave you thinking less of the women who abide them—or wanting to gnaw the cup holder off your armrest in impatience. Jim Ridley

Mean geek: If nerds aren't charming, they're just a pain: Jemaine Clement and Loren Horsley in Eagle vs. Shark
Mean geek: If nerds aren't charming, they're just a pain: Jemaine Clement and Loren Horsley in Eagle vs. Shark

Hollywood Dreams

Written and directed by Henry Jaglom. Starring Tanna Frederick, Justin Kirk and Zack Norman. Opens Friday.

The 15th film in 35 years written and directed by Henry Jaglom, that love-him-or-hate-him iconoclast of American independent filmmaking, is also one of his warmest and most inviting, despite the potential for cynicism inherent in its premise—that old saw about a would-be starlet (newcomer Tanna Frederick) living out of her car and scrounging for a gig. (In one hilarious scene, she's refused a role in an amateur video being made by schoolchildren!) The movie buzzes with the quirky rhythms of Jaglom's patented improvisational shooting style, and those of Frederick herself, whose go-for-broke zaniness recalls that of a former Jaglom ingénue, Karen Black. By the time Black appears here, as an actress musing with a mix of melancholy and acceptance about her former stardom, it's clear that Hollywood Dreams is something of a walk down memory lane for its own maker, stuffed with references to earlier Jaglom films and appearances by many members of his stock company. Consider it a wistful contemplation of the fickle nature of movie success. Scott Foundas

License to Wed

Directed by Ken Kwapis. Screenplay by Kim Barker, Tim Rasmussen and Vince Di Meglio based on a story by Barker and Wayne Lloyd. Starring Robin Williams, Mandy Moore and John Krasinski. Now playing.

A blitzed-looking man stumbling out of a screening of this dreadful excuse for unromantic comedy volunteered that the best part of the movie was when Robin Williams got socked in the jaw. Couldn't agree more, but if you like your Williams spewing rat-a-tat gags and substituting stand-up for acting, you'll love him as an obsessive priest bearing down on a dewy-eyed engaged couple (Mandy Moore and The Office's John Krasinski) in Ken Kwapis' high-concept, low-minded riff on the current vogue for marriage-prep classes. Mistaking sadism for satire, sight gags for physical comedy and stupidity for good nature, the movie has the Rev drive a wedge between the happy couple by spying on them, banning them from sex and equipping them with animatronic babies emitting blue poop—all designed to bring them the shocking news that weddings may be fun, but marriage is serious business. Moore, who made a great high school meanie in The Princess Diaries and Saved!, is nothing more than a series of toothy reaction shots here. The lone saving grace in this mean-spirited rubbish, with a morsel of rote good will tacked on as an afterthought, is Krasinski, serenely refusing to chew scenery with the rest. Ella Taylor

You Kill Me

Directed by John Dahl. Screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. Starring Ben Kingsley, Téa Leoni and Luke Wilson. Opens Friday.

Back in the late '80s and early '90s, the Montana-born director John Dahl made a name for himself with a series of nifty, darkly comic neo-noirs bearing wonderfully hardboiled titles such as Kill Me Again, Red Rock West and The Last Seduction. The past decade has been less kind to Dahl, who's foundered with a series of bigger-budget studio assignments and only sporadically (as in 2001's Joy Ride) shown signs of his old B-movie mojo. Called You Kill Me, Dahl's latest has the outward appearance of a return to form but in fact may be the worst thing he's ever done—an inert, tone-deaf mélange of The Sopranosand Six Feet Under, about an alcoholic assassin (Ben Kingsley) in the New York Polish mafia who becomes a better man (and a better hit man) by joining AA and going to work in a San Francisco mortuary. The script supposedly kicked around Hollywood for years before attracting Sir Ben's interest, and its age shows in the torrent of rimshot-worthy gay and Polack jokes, the gay-but-not-gay-seeming AA sponsor (Luke Wilson) and the submissive love interest (Téa Leoni, a far cry from Dahl's usual steely dames) who doesn't mind that Kingsley's a killer as long as he's not, you know, gay. —S.F.

 
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