Sony / Columbia(NEW YORK) — It’s a busy weekend at the box office. Several movies with big-name stars are opening, but it seems studios are using the time between box office champ Furious 7‘s release and the May 1 opening of The Avengers: Age of Ultron to dump some duds.
First up, the drama True Story, which has so much star power that on paper, it looks like an Oscar contender: Academy Award nominees Jonah Hill, James Franco, and Felicity Jones head the cast, and Brad Pitt is a producer. But once you see it, you realize why it’s being burned off in mid-April and not opening later in the year, where most awards contenders debut.
As the title declares, True Story is based on a true story, about disgraced journalist Michael Finkel and his discovery that an accused murderer was assuming his identity. Hill plays the former writer for The New York Times, who gets drawn into the mind of Christian Longo (Franco), on trial for killing his wife and three kids in 2001. It’s a fascinating story, ripe for a film adaptation and probably a slam-dunk in the right hands, but here it’s not nearly as juicy or as gripping as you want it to be.
The acting and directing are solid — Franco knows his way around a creep, Hill is serviceable but forgettable, and Jones does a lot with little to chew on as Hill’s long-suffering wife. The script appears to be the weak link here: at times boring, at time just ridiculous, with one jailhouse speech given by Jones that’s meant to be chilling, but just comes off as absurd.
Then again, it’s no more absurd than Child 44, another star-packed film that fails to deliver. Tom Hardy stars as a Stalin-era Soviet soldier hunting down a child murderer. The main problem with this movie is its lack of focus: it starts out as a gripping thriller about the destructive nature of communism, and by the end it’s basically an episode of Law & Order: Moscow. With mud wrestling. Seriously.
Again, there are solid performances from the big names involved, including Hardy, Gary Oldman, Noomi Rapace and Joel Kinnaman. But you have to wonder if they burst out laughing after each take — some of the lines are just that silly.
Speaking of silly, there’s Kevin James’s return as the title character in Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, which actually may not be silly. I have no idea — the studio didn’t screen it for review, which is never a good sign. So why did Sony feel the need to make a sequel to the 2009 comedy? Because it made over $180 million on a budget of just $26 million, numbers no studio is going to ignore.
Which bring us to our final wide release of the week — the horror film Unfriended. If you’d told me before I saw it that a movie filmed almost entirely on Skype, and starring five little-known actors, was going to be a whole lot more enjoyable than movies starring James Franco, Jonah Hill, Felicity Jones, Tom Hardy, et. al., I would have suspected you’d smoked too much of Jonah Hill’s stash. And I’d have been way wrong.
Unfriended is basically a scary version of that Modern Family episode from February that took place entirely on mobile devices. You’re watching five of the most annoying teens in the world having an inane conversation, and then they satisfyingly get killed off one by one. It drags a little here and there and could have actually used more gore, but in the end, Unfriended‘s moral of “bullying people online leads to stupid teens getting dead” should be mandatory high school viewing.
Unfriended (R): Three-and-a-half out of five stars.
Child 44 (R): Two out of five stars.
True Story (R): Two out of five stars.
Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 (PG): ?
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