“The Bourne Legacy”

Richard’s Review:  3 stars

The real legacy of Bourne, apparently, lies in frenetic action and wild hand held camera moves. That’s the only thing passed down from the first three movies. The new film, “The Bourne Legacy,” features a new star in Jeremy Renner, a new director in Tony Gilroy and a new, simpler structure.  Dovetailing the story from “The Bourne Ultimatum,” the film begins with Jason Bourne’s arrival in Manhattan, although Matt Damon who made the character famous is nowhere to be seen.

Bourne’s appearance has outed the CIA's Treadstone/Operation Outcome unit head honcho Eric Byer (Edward Norton) orders all agents neutralized, i.e., assassinated, before a Senate committee can unearth information on the genetic experiments they conducted on their agents.

Among the targets is Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), a highly skilled operative who requires chemical enhancement to stay in peak killing form. On the run, he picks up genetic scientist Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz) who he hopes can lessen his reliance on his daily dose of “chems.” 

Why they didn’t call this movie Bourne Again, I’ll never know. Jason Bourne may not make an appearance, but it feels like a movie we’ve seen before -- the same shaky camera and over-the-top action. The only thing that’s changed is that while there’s a fair amount of CIA superspy gobbledygook, it is surprisingly light on plot. For a movie about the deepest, darkest workings of secret government agencies the story is really rather simple.  Gilroy, who has written all four Bourne movies, is much more deliberate in his storytelling now that he is behind the camera as well. He’s brought the franchise’s trademarks along for the ride, but story wise it almost feels like one of the Pierce Brosnan “James Bond” movies.

The ones they were making just before Daniel Craig stepped into the picture to revitalize the tired 007 series. There are gadgets, a Bond girl (ironically played by Craig’s wife Rachel Weisz) and even an unstoppable Energizer Bunny of a super villain.  It’s not bad, just familiar and not as blood-pumping as the Paul Greengrass directed “Bournes” of yore.  The action is wild and frequent, although there is nothing as memorable as the old rolled up magazine in the toaster trick from “The Bourne Supremacy.”  Renner, however, holds his own. He can run, jump and shoot with the best of them, but I was hoping for more charisma. When he’s not in motion chasing after a bad guy or wrestling a wolf, I found him kind of flat. I was more on side with him in the beginning when he played Cross like a junkie who needed to score. After that he becomes a bland Bond wannabe.  “The Bourne Legacy” isn’t an improvement on the movies that came before, but it doesn’t embarrass it self either. Sure, Weisz could have been given more to do than tag along with Renner in his quest and the Bourne Free ending could use some finessing to make it seem less like a door slamming shut on the story. But there are enough tense moments and thrills to make it worth your dollar. It just doesn’t add much to the legacy of the Bourne franchise.

“Hope Springs”

Richard’s Review:  4 stars

The trailer for “Hope Springs” make it look like an elderomcom. That is, a romantic comedy for the old age pension set. Instead, it is a touching look at a couple who have forgotten how to b a couple. Add to that a performance from Meryl Streep that could be at acting classes and you have an unexpectedly engaging adult movie released during the silly summer season.

The movie opens on the occasion of Kay (Streep) and Arnold’s (Tommy Lee Jones thirty-first anniversary. “It isn’t anything special,” says Kay, “just an off year.”

The Nebraska couple has raised their kids, they sleep in separate rooms and enjoy a comfortable, but disconnected life. When Kay finds a book titled “You Can Have the Marriage You Want” she decides it’s time to have a real marriage again.  She books an intensive week of couple’s therapy with the book’s author Dr. Feld (Steve Carell) even though Arnold is uninterested and thinks it is a waste of time.  Travelling to Maine they check into the local Econolodge and begin to explore their marriage… and one another. 

There is something touching about watching these two characters remembering and reliving their thirty-one years together. Even though the script doesn’t dig too deep -- unusual for a movie with therapy as a central plot device -- the performances are so rich with meaning the script’s vagueness isn’t a hindrance. 

Streep is masterful as a woman who has suppressed her real feelings and is now ready to assert herself, no matter how painful the result. “To be with somebody,” she says, “but not really be with them is worse than being alone.” In a commanding performance she steals every scene she’s in, even when she is silent. Her reactions to Arnold’s behavior are subtle, but heartfelt and heartbreaking. 

Tommy Lee Jones has playing a grumpy old coot down pat, but here he brings something more to the table. He’s a plain-spoken accountant who waits just a bit too long to understand that there is trouble at home. Where Streep’s performance is external -- she’s a reactor who talks about her feeling -- his is internal. It’s his body language and facial expressions that help us understand the character, and understand we do.  Carell is the most understated of the three, in a role that requires him to do little more than ask questions and bring his warm, compassionate side.  There aren’t many big surprises in “Hope Springs,” but what the story lacks in twists it more than makes up for in emotional depth.  

“The Campaign”

Richard’s Review: 2 1/2 stars

Movies like “The Candidate” and “The Great McGinty” have set the bar pretty high in terms of political comedy. Both are satires about ambition, greed and corruption but neither features a candidate who punches a baby. That’s just one reason “The Campaign,” the new comedy starring Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis, gets the vote for the most outrageous political parody of all time.   

Ferrell is political party animal Cam Brady, a slick four-term North Carolina congressman. When a drunken dial results in an Anthony Weiner-style scandal just before an election, two conniving and ultra-rich CEOs, Glen and Wade Motch (John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd) back a rival candidate they think they can control. Marty Huggins (Galifianakis) is the naïve operator of a small town tourist center who is suddenly thrust into the spotlight. The race turns ugly and soon mud is being slung faster than you can say Mitt Romney. 

“The Candidate” begins with a quote from former presidential hopeful Ross Perot: “War has rules. Mud wrestling has rules. Politics has no rules.” Neither does the movie; no rules or boundaries. These candidates go beyond the usual name-calling -- “He’s a communist.” “He looks like Osama Bin Laden.” -- to dirty tricks that would make Tricky Dick blush.  

It’s an exaggerated version of real life on the campaign trail, a through-the-looking glass-vision of how politics works.  Brady is the charismatic contender whose “America, Jesus and Freedom” mantra usually precedes a shout of “support our troops!” He knows what people want to hear and gives it to them.  

You can’t help but see some of Ferrell’s famous George W. impression in the role, but that in take-off Bush was portrayed as bumbling and cocky. Brady, on the other hand is played as bumbling, cocky and desperate; desperate to win, to be liked, to be successful. It’s a fine line, but unlike Tina Fey and her bang-on impression of Sarah Palin, Ferrell lets go of the finer points and goes for a broader characterization of a dirty politician and not a mirror image of the former commander in chief.  Huggins is a Beltway outsider who polls say is perceived as “odd, clammy and looks like the Travelocity Gnome.”

Soon, however, he learns the game. Galifianakis is an old hand at playing these unconventional characters, and brings a strange sweetness to Huggins. There’s a sense of character déjà vu here -- the annoying but essentially goodhearted guy -- is something we’ve seen him do before, so it’s not a game changer for him, but he is a good foil for the more physically imposing Ferrell.

“The Campaign” has its share of fun and funny commentary. The plan to create “insourcing” -- moving Chinese factories and workers to America to save on shipping costs -- is funny, just so long as it doesn’t inspire any real-life industrialists.  It’s almost worth the price of admission to hear Chris Matthews report that Brady has lost support from “any group who opposes baby punching.”  But this isn’t “The Candidate” or “The Great McGinty.”.

“Red Lights”

Richard’s Review: 1 stars

“Red Lights,” a new paranormal thriller starring Signourney Weaver, Robert DeNiro and Cillian Murphy, is review proof. I saw this because I can’t tell you the plot twist that pushes this movie from the realm of the ridiculous into the land of the ludicrous without spoiling the whole premise.   

Dr. Margaret Matheson (Weaver) and Dr. Tom Buckley (Murphy) are college professors who specialize in debunking psychic phenomenon. Faith healers are sent to prison and séances are demystified but their orderly, science based world is turned upside down when celebrity psychic Simon Silver (DeNiro) comes out of retirement.

Imagine Uri Gellar with dark side and you get the picture. Silver was a huge star in the 70s but retired when it was suggested his powers caused a massive heart that killed one of his harshest critics. Matheson wants nothing to do with Silver but Buckley becomes obsessed with getting to the truth of the matter and discovering, once and for all, if Silver has extraordinary powers or is simply a talented magician who takes advantage of the gullible. 

“Red Lights” doesn’t make much sense. Writer/director Rodrigo Cortés tries to play both sides of the psychic debate, simultaneously debunking and supporting the idea of extrasensory ability to an extent where the film loses any point of view it might have had. Straddling the fence on the subject at the heart of the story only serves to impale the tale on a mushy middle fence post, nullifying the story’s power.  You’ll only notice the wishy-washy statement of purpose, however, if you can get past the uneven performances.

Murphy, a talented actor who delivered a powerhouse performance in “The Wind That Shakes the Barley,” flounders here. His off-balance performance simmers one second and boils the next. It’s strange, (and largely ineffective), work, which I suppose, was meant to add to the otherworldly feel of the film but instead only seems as nonsensical as the story. 

Weaver and Elzabeth Olsen emerge largely unscathed because their roles are underwritten and underplayed, but DeNiro has the opposite problem. Theatrical and pretentious, the only uncanny thing about his portrayal of psychic Silver is that he took the role at all.  With its reliance on old-school narrative tricks -- explaining the story through news broadcasts -- and a muddy point-of-view, “Red Lights” is a movie that is as confounding as the subject it portrays.