The Dilemma | The Rite | Sanctum

The Dilemma | The Rite | Sanctum

The Dilemma
Rating:

Directed by Ron Howard. Starring Vince Vaughn, Kevin James, Jennifer Connelly, Winona Ryder, Channing Tatum, Queen Latifah, Amy Morton, Chelcie Ross, Eduardo N. Martinez, Rance Howard, Clint Howard. Written by Allan Loeb.



Overlong and aggravating, there´s just no dilemma in Ron Howard´s The Dilemma, a rarely funny bromance that tries to make a movie out of the following concept: you see your buddy´s wife with another man; do you tell him?

Of course you tell him. And you tell him immediately; once you keep the information from him, you risk keeping it indefinitely or having to explain why you held out. There is so obviously a right thing to do in The Dilemma that it becomes an interminable experience watching the protagonist struggle with his faux moral weight. Just spit it out, and end this film.

The protagonist is Ronny Valentine (Vince Vaughn), who operates a specialty auto company with his friend Nick (Kevin James). They put electric engines in classic muscle cars, complete with authentic sound and vibration. Ronny´s pitch to the big auto manufacturer: “Electric cars are gay.” That line caused some outcry when featured in the trailer, but in fits in context of the rest of the film, which clearly defines the character as an idiot.

So Ronny sees Nick´s wife Geneva (Winona Ryder) sharing a public kiss with tattooed hunk Zip (Channing Tatum). Should he tell his best friend? No…they need to produce an engine in the next few days/weeks, this might distract him. Instead, he confronts Geneva (this produces another, very similar bit of information that really strains our sympathy towards Ronny), and then Zip, all the while hiding his adventures from girlfriend Beth (Jennifer Connelly), who could very well get him out of this. But no, he keeps the information from her in order to protect her, like a secret agent or something, damaging his own relationship in the progress.

There are a few good bits here and there; I liked the scene where Ronny attempts to explain his rash, with flashbacks that change and become more detailed with each lie, and the exchange between Ronny and a stranger on the train, who he keeps nervously glancing past while trailing Nick: “I´m not a pervert.” “Too bad…”

But there´s not nearly enough to make up for the rest of the film, which reaches the bar of quality set by costar James´ collaborations with Adam Sandler, Grown Ups and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. There´s barely a premise here to begin with, and then it´s padded out to nearly two hours, while straddling the line between comedy and drama and satisfying neither genre. It´s an aggressively uncomfortable, twitch-in-your-seat negative experience.

That´s downright shocking coming from director Howard, who has previously made Frost/Nixon, Cinderella Man, Apollo 13, and the Oscar-winning A Beautiful Mind. He began his directing career with bright, loopy comedies like Night Watch, Splash, and Parenthood, and also produced one of the funniest shows on TV, Arrested Development. What happened here? Howard has misstepped before (EdTV, The Da Vinci Code), but this is clearly his worst film.

A (mostly) good cast is wasted. Vaughn tries his best, with a manic, motormouthed performance that recalls better, earlier roles, but his character is such a snide, rude, self-centered idiot that we feel nothing but contempt for him. James barely registers as the friend, while Connelly is completely wasted as the girlfriend. Ryder and Tatum come off best; at least their characters have real issues to be concerned about. The director´s father, Rance, and his brother, Clint, turn up in small roles.

***


 

The Rite
Rating:

Directed by Mikael Håfström. Starring Anthony Hopkins, Colin O’Donoghue, Alice Braga, Ciarán Hinds, Toby Jones, Rutger Hauer, Marta Gastini, Maria Grazia Cucinotta, Arianna Veronesi, Andrea Calligari, Chris Marquette, Torrey DeVitto. Written by Michael Petroni, from the book by Matt Baglio.

“What follows is inspired by true events,” the opening credits tell us, and then, minutes later, “suggested by the by book by Matt Baglio.” That´s the biggest problem with Mikael Håfström´s The Rite, an exorcist drama with some strong thematic elements; the basis of something real, thought-provoking, and discussion-worthy is here, but its only been used to inspire/suggest a conventional Hollywood product.

Looking to get away from his mortician father (Rutger Hauer) and the family business, young Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donoghue ) turns to the seminary, despite a lack of faith or even, it sometimes seems, a belief in God. After completing his education, he turns in a letter of resignation. “You could have run in any direction,” Father Matthew (Toby Jones) tells him, unwilling to lose this student, “but you ran here. Why?”

Under the threat of converting his scholarship into a student loan, Matthew sends Michael to Rome to study exorcism under Father Xavier (Ciarán Hinds). Yeah, exorcism; possession is apparently making a comeback, and every diocese needs an exorcist. In Rome, Xavier notes Michael´s lack of faith as well, and sends him to see Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins), an actual exorcist who is currently treating young pregnant woman possessed by the devil.

Now, Michael doesn´t believe in any of this stuff; despite some pretty convincing possession experiences, he also finds ways of explaining things away. But for a commendable length of time the film doesn´t take any sides; this ambiguity is the best thing The Rite has to offer, and for a good three-quarters of the way it´s moody and atmospheric, and tackles the controversial subject with surprising intellect.

By the end, however, it´s all for naught: with all the cards out on the table, the film coarsely hammers home its message as it devolves into a generic thrill fest. Aside from the conventionality, it also rings false, with violently external forces replacing all ambiguity and demanding what should have been a quiet, reflective internal change.

Hopkins just about saves the film with a florid and even funny performance; anything but the typical priest, he´s curt and witty and even answers his mobile in the middle of an exorcism. Relative newcomer O’Donoghue is bland, but likable, in the lead. The supporting cast, which includes Alice Braga as a reporter trying to get an interview with the Father, has little to do, but Marta Gastini is extremely effective as the possessed young girl.

Director Håfström´s previous film was the legitimately scary 1408; this one has been miscategorized as a horror film – it´s more of a slow-burn that effectively builds a sense a dread. It´s occasionally creepy stuff, with evocative cinematography by Ben Davis, but the scare elements have been haphazardly tacked on, and include the usual boo! moments and the it-was-only-a-cat reprieve.

***


 

Sanctum
Rating:

Directed by Alister Grierson. Starring Richard Roxburgh, Ioan Gruffudd, Rhys Wakefield, Alice Parkinson, Dan Wyllie, Christopher Baker, Nicole Downs, Allison Cratchley, Cramer Cain, Andrew Hansen, John Garvin. Written by John Garvin, Andrew Wight.

 

Sanctum looks great in crisp, clean James Cameron-approved 3D, but that´s about the best that can be said for it; while more-than-competently put together on the technical side, what we see in front of the camera is strictly amateur hour, with poor portrayals of underwritten characters filing out a by-the-numbers disaster movie plot. All that separates this from a Z-grade SyFy original is a CGI Sharktopus.

It´s not quite that bad – and it is sufficiently entertaining in a campy, just-go-with-it way – but I was nevertheless shocked to see James Cameron´s name attached to the film as executive producer. That name alone garnered the film a theatrical release, though his involvement was likely limited to the 3D and underwater cinematography; still, he´s typically been more careful about his projects, even as producer.

In a massive, unexplored cave system in Papua New Guinea, cave explorer and expert diver Frank McGuire (Richard Roxburgh) is leading a partially-underwater cave exploration. About to join him and his team are brash son Josh (Rhys Wakefield), gung-ho billionaire funder Carl (Ioan Gruffudd), and Carl´s inexperienced girlfriend Victoria (Alice Parkinson).

Before they arrive, we´re treated to our first death scene: diver Judes (Allison Cratchley), who wasn´t feeling very well, goes out on a dive with Frank, minus a backup tank. Her hose suddenly snaps, and she panics as Frank tries to share his face mask with her, so he wrestles it back and watches her drown in front of him. Tough guy. Still to come: two more ridiculous “mercy drownings,” in which characters are put out of their misery by being forced underwater in some of the most unpleasant deaths imaginable.

I´m getting ahead of myself; the rest of the characters are perfectly fine…unless it rains. But it won´t rain for two more days. So one group is on their way out of the cave when suddenly, the horror, it starts to rain. The cave is flooded, and a boulder conveniently washes against the only exit. Frank, Josh, Carl, Victoria, and Crazy George (Dan Wyllie), who hasn´t dived in years, are trapped. “The only way out is down.”

From this point, you´ll know exactly what happens; each actor is not portraying a character, but rather a well-worn stereotype, the kind that was well-worn back in the days of The Poseidon Adventure and Airport ´77. Beyond that, there´s little thought given to any of the performances – each is unusually bland. Unlikely plot turns draw laughs and guffaws; they´re compounded with the sheer stupidity of the characters, each pushed to their stereotypical extreme, with no logic involved.

But yes, the film does look good – too good, maybe, as the crisp, sanitized style betrays the gritty nature of the cave system. Still, it´s one of the better-looking 3D projects, shot in a 3D that adds true depth and never cheap thrills; the shot composition and editing, however, render many scenes difficult to follow.

Alternative fare: Danny Boyle´s 127 Hours for a true-life survival tale, Neil Marshall´s The Descent for thrilling, claustrophobic cave exploration horror, and the ”Caves” episode of the BBC´s Planet Earth for a truly dazzling look at the subject.

***

Also opening: Autopohádky (showtimes), an animated anthology of fairy tales from directors Břetislav Pojar, Michal Žabka, Libor Pixa, and Jakub Kohák. Screening in Czech.


Jason Pirodsky

Hailing from Syracuse, New York, Jason Pirodsky made his way to Prague via Miami and has stuck around, for better and worse, since 2004. A member of the Online Film Critics Society (www.ofcs.org), some of his favorite movies include O Lucky Man!, El Topo, Berlin Alexanderplatz, and Hellzapoppin'. Follow him on Twitter for some (slightly) more concise reviews.

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