Déjà re-vu

Reviewing the previews for Hollywood’s mixed bag of early 2014 releases

More robotic movie-making in 2014.

More robotic movie-making in 2014.

Over the past couple of years, my taste for the Hollywood output has waned consid-erably. Seems like every movie I see is based on the same handful of templates: vigilantes running around in spandex fighting crime; stoner comedians ad-libbing until they have enough footage to cut a movie for other stoners; ex-special forces/CIA/cops drawn back in the game to avenge a dead lover/mentor with all sorts of big guns; families sticking around in haunted houses despite common sense; two-hour toy commercials; and sequels, reboots and remakes (see RoboCop, Feb. 12).

And so it goes. Even the beats are the same from movie to movie. I can easily predict at which points I can duck out for a ciggie and know that I won’t miss anything of narrative importance. Of course, it doesn’t help that the trailers for these films are essentially the entire movie condensed into a two-minute cut using all the best parts or jokes. Two hours later, I’m usually left with the feeling that I could have saved myself eight bucks and reviewed the movie based on the trailer. So, that that’s exactly what I’m going to do—preview/review the first few weeks of major releases by trailers alone. (Ratings are based on a one-to-five-popcorn-boxes scale.)

The Legend of Hercules (Jan. 10): Gawd, this looks awful, like some straight-to-DVD knockoff of Gladiator and 300, without the talent that made those two movies work. Throw in crappy CGI and plumy dialects straight off the boards of a community-college Shakespeare production, and you have what looks like two hours of intolerable. I’ll give it a solid score of two, because while director Renny Harlin is a hack, Deep Blue Sea and Die Hard 2 showed he has potential to be an entertaining hack.

One Chance (Jan. 10): Well, it’s produced by the Weinsteins (among others, including Simon Cowell)—loathsome human beings, from what I understand, but they have a reliable eye for solid entertainment (although they have this unholy tendency to trim down foreign films and homogenize them for middle-American tastes—see Shaolin Soccer). This one is about some fat kid who grows up to be validated by Britain’s Got Talent (one of the American Idol knockoffs, right?). Definitely not my bag, but looks like it’ll deliver with its endearing underdog story. Looks like a score of three.

Ride Along (Jan. 17): I’m sort of poleaxed by the fact that this mismatched buddy film looks like the pick of the litter, but on the other hand, it’s really nice to see Ice Cube pulled back from the kiddie-film abyss. A sad-sack mall cop goes on a ride-along with a real cop to prove himself worthy of marrying the dude’s sister. The gags in the trailer deliver and the mayhem seems polished. This looks like a solid three.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (Jan. 17): More special-op nonsense with a new mouth-breather (Chris Pine) taking on Tom Clancy’s iconic character. The trailer at least conveys that no trope will remain untouched. On the other hand, it’s directed by Kenneth Branagh, so it’ll at least look like a real movie. Unfortunately, I’ve seen this movie plenty of times in the wake of The Bourne Identity. Score: two.

Devil’s Due (Jan. 17): Rosemary’s Baby gets the found-footage treatment. A couple of dudes from the cult-sleeper horror anthology V/H/S get a shot at making a feature, and this one looks to hold some potential. An easy three.

The Nut Job (Jan. 17): It’s an animated family film (Ice Age-style, but more Blu-ray friendly) about a squirrel and loopy friends joining forces for a heist of a nut store … or something. Doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad, it’s a kid’s film. That’s the price you pay for having kids. Sucker. Two popcorn boxes.

I, Frankenstein (Jan. 24): So, the fairly basic concept of Frankenstein’s monster is given the CGI-happy superhero origin-story approach. But it is by the usually reliable Lakeshore Entertainment, the folks behind the stupid-but-fun Underworld franchise, and features Aaron Eckhart and Bill Effin’ Nighy, so I’m getting the vibe that this one will probably deliver. Three popcorn boxes.

Labor Day (Jan. 31): While this one looks like nothing more than a high-gloss Lifetime movie, it’s also from Jason Reitman (Juno, Thank You for Smoking) and features Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet. A single mom and her son are coerced into sheltering an escaped con and, along the way, learn his true being. Seems like a safe three.

That Awkward Moment (Jan. 31): Zac Efron and his douchebag friends try to figure out who they’re gonna hook up with. One crushed popcorn box.