X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST: 4 STARS

Merging the young versions of Magneto and Professor X with their older counterparts is a cool idea, and certainly gives the movie a boost in the marquee department, but I felt the old timers were left with their own heightened sense of drama and not much else. It seems a shame to have McKellen and Stewart, the Martin and Lewis of mutants, on screen together and not give them much to do.

Based on a 1981 two-issue special of the X-Men comic series the new film begins in a post-apocalyptic future. "A dark and desolate world," according to the narration. "A world of war, suffering and loss on both sides-mutants and the humans who tried to help them."

The causing all the trouble are indestructible robot warriors called Sentinels. Able to adapt to any mutant power they've created chaos for the mutant race, bringing them to the edge of extinction.

In an effort to "change their fate" long time enemies Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) team up with Storm (Halle Berry), Blink (Fan Bingbing), Bishop (Omar Sy) and use Kitty Pryde's (Ellen Page) teleportation ability to send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back in time to change history and prevent the creation of the murderous automations. His first task is to convince the 1973 versions of Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and young Professor X (James McAvoy) that they are stronger together than apart.

The only things larger than the movie's lengthy list of stars are the big ideas contained within. Wrapped around a simple time travel story-the kind of thing "Family Guy" does once or twice a season-are timeless ideas about racism, tolerance, war and rebellion. Not usually the stuff of summer blockbusters, but the X-Men franchise has always been a bit brainier than most. At times it's a bit too ponderous, but I'll take that over the flash-and-trash of most CGI epics.

Not that it's a total head trip. It's a movie about time travel, mutants and serious actors like Michael Fassbender saying lines like, "We received a message from the future," so, of course, it's a little preposterous. That's part of the fun. It plays with the conventions of big time summer entertainment-check out the spectacular time-shredding sequence featuring the lightening-fast mutant Quicksilver (Evan Peters) that's both eye-popping and cheeky-but tempers the bombastic stuff with thought provoking notions.

In fact, it could be argued that the ideas are the stars of the film. Jennifer Lawrence is the a-listiest actress in Hollywood right now, but in her second outing as Mystique she almost gets cut adrift in a sea of characters. Ditto Peter Dinklage as the closest thing the film has to a villain.

They're all good, but Magneto, Professor and Wolverine are complex, cool characters that bring the film's themes to life; all the rest is set dressing, except for the Quicksilver scene. That was like The Matrix without Keanu's hangdog expression.

 

BLENDED: 3 STARS

"Blended" reunites "cinematic soul mates" Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore. Of course, this is a romantic comedy, so even though they hate one another in the first couple of reels, they end up thrown together on an exotic vacation to Africa. From the first time they mention the journey you know it is just a matter of time until they put their acrimonious feelings aside and someone says, "It's great we came on this trip."

So how do Sandler and Co. spice up a predictable story? Easy, they add a dash of "The Brady Bunch," some beautiful scenery and an all monkey show band.  

Sandler is Jim, a widower with three girls (Bella Thorne, Emma Fuhrmann and Alyvia Alyn Lind) who manages a sporting goods store when he's not missing his late wife. He's a guy's guy who named one of his daughters after his favorite network, ESPN.

Barrymore is Lauren, a single mom with two rambunctious boys (Braxton Beckham and Kyle Red Silverstein) who miss their deadbeat dad (Joel McHale). She's the buttoned-down owner of a closet reorganization company called Closet Queens.

A blind date brings them together but is so disastrous it almost keeps them apart forever. That is until circumstances conspire-it's too "meet cute" to detail here-to place them both at a ritzy African resort for a Blended Family retreat.

"Is this a sick dream?" Jim says when he first sees Lauren. "What is happening here?"

"We're here for the zero romance package," she informs anyone who'll listen.  

Feelings of disgust and hate between the two melt away as their kids do cute things and they learn not to rely on first impressions.

"Blended" is one of Sandler's sweet family comedies. Well, it's as sweet as a comedy with Tampax gags can be, but it is a step up from the gross out tone of "Jack and Jill" and "That's My Boy."  

A small step up, but a step nonetheless.   

It's a heartfelt dose of humor with slightly less vulgarity than Sandler's recent movies. Add in a few wide-eyed kids with mommy and daddy issues and you have a slightly off-kilter version of "With Six You Get Egg Roll" filtered through Sandler's juvenile sensibility. He's a bigger kid than the children in the film and never met a bathroom joke he didn't like, but he has good chemistry with Barrymore and "Wedding Singer" fans-I'm still trying to expel "50 First Dates" out of my memory-will enjoy seeing them reunited.  

The usual Sandler crowed also appears. Shaquille O'Neal brings some awkward charm to lines like, "When she gets flappin', things happen," and Kevin Nealon does some enjoyable double-speak, but the scene stealer here is Terry Crews as the leader of a singing group who acts as the Greek Chorus at the resort. His performance lends new meaning to the term over-the-top, but his brand of unbridled silliness is an antidote to the sentimentality the movie occasionally finds itself moving toward.     

Sandler has been hit-and-miss lately-mostly missing with big laugh-free comedies-but the goodwill he and Barrymore bring to "Blended" puts it a notch above his recent work. Although much of the humor is Sandler boilerplate stuff but a musical montage when Sandler realizes his daughter isn't just a tomboy anymore is funny and worth a look.

 

FADING GIGOLO: 2 STARS

It would be easy to mistake "Fading Gigolo" for a Woody Allen film. First there's the obvious stuff-it's set in New York, has a jazz score, younger women flirt with older men and, of course, Woody is in the center of it all cracking wise.

But it's not a Woody Allen film. It was written and directed by John Turturro, who is a formidably talented actor but as a director, suffers in comparison to his co-star and obvious inspiration.

Allen is Murray Schwartz, a New York bookseller-he sells "rare books for rare people"-is forced to close his store and let his single employee Fioravante (Turturro) go. Fioravante is a soulful jack-of-all trades, but master of none until he embarks in a new gig that suits him to a tee-gigolo. Murray becomes an unlikely pimp, setting Fioravante up with older, bored rich women (Sharon Stone and Sofía Vergara) who become smitten with his puppy dog eyes and sweltering sensuality. Trouble is, although his bank account is full, Fioravante finds the job personally unfulfilling. That changes when he falls for Avigal (Vanessa Paradis), the demure widow of a rabbi.  

"Fading Gigolo" attempts to find the balance of humour, pathos and romance that seems to come so easily to Allen, but is more "The Curse of the Jade Scorpion" than "Annie Hall." From the sexual shenanigans of the gigolo scenes to the more repressed romance of the Avigal storyline, the muddled story fails to generate any real heat. Add to that a subplot involving Liev Schreiber as a neighborhood ranger with feelings for the widow who reports Murray for breaking Jewish law and you have enough stories for two movies crammed into one.  

Performance wise, Turturro is so stoic it's as if he's planning the next shot in his head while also trying to act in the film, but Stone, Vergara, Paradis and Schreiber each have a moment to shine. Stone, playing a doctor with a philandering husband, becomes more than a stereotype as she quietly cries, from trepidation and nervousness the first time Fioravante stops by to ply his trade. It's a revealing moment in a movie that could have used a few more of them.  

Since this is a de facto Woody Allen movie it shouldn't come as a surprise that Allen walks away with the whole thing. There is a thrill that goes along when he

describes Fioravante as "disgusting, but in a very positive way." It's a Woody-ism that provides a whiff of nostalgia that makes the audience long for the good Woody Allen movies, not imitations like this one.