April 25, 2014

Movie reviews: "The Other Woman" and "Brick Mansions"

By Carl Kozlowski *

These days, women can do just about anything men can in movies – including starring in gross-out comedies. Ever since “Bridesmaids” was a smash in theatres three years ago, there has been a steady stream of other female-driven movies which have tried to out-gross that film both in actual content and box-office earnings.

Most of those movies are so poorly made and tasteless that they go straight to DVD or Video On Demand release, but this weekend the new movie “The Other Woman” has an actual shot at theatrical success thanks to its dynamic duo of stars: Cameron Diaz and Leslie Mann. While it will make audiences laugh, there are several moments that will make them squirm just as much, although it does have some positive elements to offer about the destructiveness of adultery and the importance to forgive and forget and help others achieve their potential.

“Woman” stars Diaz as Carly, a tough-as-nails New York lawyer with a strict set of rules when comes to men and relationships, although it is implied that she has several affairs going at once. When she meets a rich and hopelessly handsome guy named Mark (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), she breaks all her rules and falls for him, but then discovers he’s married when she attempts to surprise him at his Connecticut home and instead finds his wife Kate (Leslie Mann) answering the door.

While Carly wants to just leave in shame and get on with her lonely life, making it clear that the one thing she won’t intentionally do is commit adultery, Kate won’t let her off the hook. She shows up at Carly’s law firm and has a very funny panic attack that convinces Carly to leave the office and speak with her in-depth. Bonding over way too many drinks and the fact that they’ve been two-timed by the same guy, they start forming a friendship that at first merely helps them forgive and forget.

But then they find out about Amber (Kate Upton), yet another mistress of Mark’s, who doesn’t realize she’s also being cheated on by the Mark.  They convince Amber to join them in exacting revenge on Mark, leading to a string of humorous but morally questionable episodes that range from gross-out moments – slipping him laxatives, to name just one – to clever ones that involve taking him down as a dirty businessman by exposing his empire built on fraud.

“Woman” is better than its terrible TV ads would indicate, and its lead trio of actresses are spot-on comedically throughout, with Mann particularly impressive with both her physical comedy and wildly elastic facial expressions.  Diaz has long been a master physical comic and also has some moments to shine here.

Coster-Waldau must be an incredibly good sport, because his character Mark endures an unbelievable string of humiliations from our heroines. Yet the movie does have its weak moments, with a couple too many sappy scenes of the women moping and hugging as soft-pop songs play in the background, and a couple of the physical-comedy scenes going a little too far to work without inducing audience eyerolls.

Morally, there’s not much favorable to say about “The Other Woman” in terms of its casual attitudes towards sex. Carly may have the standard of not committing adultery, but is shown in the closing moments as being pregnant in a happily out-of-wedlock relationship. But adults who are aware of properly moral relationships can likely handle that and still have a few laughs on the film.

On the other hand, “Brick Mansions” is just depressingly violent garbage from start to finish. A violence-packed thriller about an undercover cop and an acrobatic vigilante who team up to take down a vicious drug lord in a Detroit housing project before discovering that the real problem is entirely different (and utterly ludicrous), it doesn’t have much of a plot between the wall to wall mayhem.

What little story there is follows a cop named Damien (Paul Walker) who believes his father – also a policeman – was killed by a vigilante named Lino (David Belle).  When 20 kilos of heroin are stolen from a gang led by Tremaine (RZA) and destroyed by Lino, Damien volunteers to enter the Brick Mansions housing project that the drugs were destined for and to make up for the lost shipment.

Damien uses this ploy to build trust from the criminals surrounding him, but jumps too quickly to capture their crime lord and botches the arrest. Tremaine kidnaps Damien’s girlfriend and tries to use her as bait for Damien to bring a fresh 20 kilos of drugs to the Brick Mansions, a set up that leads to Damien teaming up with Lino against the gang even though he believes Lino killed his father.

But both these reluctant partners eventually learn that the real problem is a neutron bomb that has wound up inside Brick Mansions, and is in danger of exploding within 10 hours. Damien has to figure out how to stop it, leading to ludicrous twists that up-end his entire investigation.

“Brick Mansions” has a very sloppy plot that gets ever more ludicrous as it hurtles towards its finale. The characters – and the actors playing them – barely get a chance to stand out as individuals, and the lazy and generic dialogue (which is also filled with mid-level foul language such as S- and B-words) doesn’t help matters.

Instead, brutality is the order of the day, with nonstop vehicular and foot chases, plus punching, kicking and shooting. Eventually it becomes tiresome and even depressing, as the filmmakers pointlessly make one woman villain a scantily-clad lesbian who enjoys threatening Damien’s girlfriend with a knife while making sexual comments.

While some of the stuntwork is fun, “Brick Mansions” is a tedious enterprise overall. It is a shame that millions were spent to make and market a movie this shallow and pointlessly violent, and that this is the last film Walker managed to complete before being killed in a racing accident during a weekend break from his latest “Fast & Furious” movie.
 But most distressing of all is the fact that these two films underscore how debased our film-ratings system usually is. “Woman” fought off an R rating despite having no nudity, a bare amount of comic violence, an average level of midlevel profanity and most of its raunchy moments being gross rather than sexual, plus having a positive message of forgiveness. Meanwhile, “Mansions” is nonstop fighting and killing with a weird homosexual undertone in scenes where a villainess sexually taunts the hero cop’s girlfriend, and gets a PG-13. Reforms are needed.

Carl Kozlowski has been a professional film critic and essayist for the past five years at Pasadena Weekly, in addition to the Christian movie site Movieguide.org, the conservative pop culture site Breitbart.coms Big Hollywood, the Christian pop culture magazine Relevant and New City newspaper in Chicago. He also writes in-depth celebrity interviews for Esquire.com and The Progressive. He is owner of the podcasting site www.radiotitans.com, which was named one of the Frontier Fifty in 2013 as one of the 50 best talk-radio outlets in the nation by www.talkers.com and will be relaunching it in January 2014 after a five-month sabbatical. He lives in Los Angeles.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.


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