The Fourth Kind is Second Rate Sci-Fi

The Fourth Kind features Milla Jovovich (The Fifth Element) as Dr. Abigal Tyler, a psychologist who moves to the secluded town of Nome, Alaska to take up her murdered husband’s study on the natives’ sleeping habits. Many of the townspeople report an owl keeping them awake by staring into their bedroom windows late at night. When Dr. Tyler begins hypnotizing victims to get a better idea of what’s really keeping the citizens of Nome awake, her husband’s study takes a terrifying turn into the realm of science fiction.

Cut with “real” footage of the Nome study, The Fourth Kind is presented in a rather unique documentary style. The film as a whole is presented like a super high-budget episode of Unsolved Mysteries, with “real” footage and audio of the events at Nome interspersed with scenes of actors and actresses reenacting a dramatic narrative. With an introduction by actress Milla Jovovich and centered around a filmed interview between director Olatunde Osunsanmi and the “real” Abigail Tyler, the movie goes out of its way to bring that based-on-a-true-story feeling home.

While it seemed cheesy at first, I was surprised to find this format both effective and engaging. Whereas films with a strict actual footage approach, like the recent Paranormal Activity, can be either bought into or not; The Fourth Kind’s admitted mix of fact and fiction leaves the viewer more room to doubt. Since the director admits up front that the majority of the film is acted fiction, the file footage is automatically set apart as fact. Whether or not anything like these events ever happened in Nome (hint: they didn’t), it sure seems like they could have.

But these “real” excerpts contribute more than just an air of believability. Osunsanmi’s (and editor Paul Covington’s) masterful use of split screen during key scenes keeps the viewer’s eyes darting around the screen, cranking up the audience tension in some already suspenseful situations. The audio and video excerpts, as well, provide some of the film’s legitimately chilling moments. One audio clip, in particular, gave me some pretty serious goosebumps.

It’s a surprise, then, that despite having a format encouraging believability, The Fourth Kind’s most notable flaw is its lack of realism. By the film’s halfway point, some legitimately freaky stuff has gone down, and characters start to fill stereotype roles (the expert, the skeptic, etc.) rather than react like real humans. It’s frustrating when characters hold back important, potentially life-saving information, seemingly just so the director can squeeze a few more drops of drama out of the story.

The Verdict: If you’re a fan of cheesy, In Search Of…-style science fiction, you’ll love The Fourth Kind. Its unique take on the recent documentary fiction trend is, in a lot of ways, the most believable of them all. It’s unfortunate, then, that its characters are the least realistic. Their horrible choices, plus some less than stellar dialogue, will be sure to drive some viewers away.

Still, if the subject matter piques your interest, The Fourth Kind is one of the better recent films in the genre. If you’re unsure, you can’t go wrong with a rental in a few months.

2.0 stars (out of 4)


Paranormal Activity

Paranormal Activity is about Katie and Micah, a young, well-off couple who are haunted by a supernatural being in their San Diego home. Since it has followed Katie her entire life, she just wants to leave it alone. Micah, however, brings a camera into their bedroom to document the haunting.

Any more plot detail would spoil the movie (there are more than enough spoilers in the trailer), so I’ll say only that things get worse for Katie and Micah before they get better. Luckily, the camera is there to capture it all, and it’s from the camera’s point of view (think The Blair Witch Project) that their story is told.

Paranormal Activity benefits from its stripped-down approach in more ways than just marketing. Though some of character development scenes between Katie and Micah are repetitive and long, the scenes where Micah leaves the camera running on a tripod in the bedroom while they sleep are worth the wait.

When that clock at the bottom of the screen stops, everyone in the theater knows something creepy is about to happen. Your eyes dart from the dark hallway to the shadowy staircase, looking for any sign of the haunting. These moments of carefully crafted tension will have you holding your breath on the edge of your seat every time.

The Verdict:
Yes, Katie and Micah are kind of annoying. It quickly gets old watching them bicker about the same things over and over again. Without the minimal character and plot development in the boring daytime scenes, though, we wouldn’t have the bedroom scenes; and boy are they ever worth it. No, this movie isn’t nearly as terrifying as some would claim, but during those few moments when the lighting and tone are absolutely horror-perfect, it’s easy to see why Paranormal Activity is the defining film of this Halloween season.

2.5 stars (out of 4)


Not Inventive Enough

The Invention of Lying takes place in a world where everyone tells the whole truth all of the time. Ricky Gervais (of the U.K.’s The Office) stars as Mark Bellison, an unsuccessful writer who is frequently called varying combinations of “fat” and “loser”. After a failed date with the beautiful Anna McDoogles (Jennifer Garner) knocks his self-esteem down a peg, Mark is fired from his job and $500 short on rent.

Mark, ready to take what little money he has and give up his apartment, arrives at the bank only to find that the computer systems are down. When the bank teller asks him how much money is in his account, the spark of ingenuity leads him to request more than he actually has. The teller, never having encountered a lie, gives him the full amount. Just like that, Mark invents lying, and he soon learns he can get anything he wants with even the most unbelievable fib.

The Invention of Lying is a perfect example what good casting can do for a movie. Not only does it have the unstoppably hilarious Ricky Gervais in both its starring role and behind the director’s chair (along with Matthew Robinson), the film also features Jonah Hill, Louis C.K., Rob Lowe, Jeffrey Tambor, and Tina Fey as a smorgasbord of brutally honest supporting characters.

Filling the romantic comedy with actual comedians rather than the usual Hollywood hunks and starlets proves to be The Invention of Lying’s biggest asset. Gervais and crew unflinchingly deliver on the laughs. Mark’s interactions with his friends, neighbors, and coworkers couldn’t get any funnier without losing the family-friendly PG-13 rating.

But while the comedic elements of The Invention of Lying go off without a hitch, the romantic subplot is less than memorable. We’ve already seen chubby everymen trick beautiful women into falling for them in countless romcoms this year alone, so why pay for it again? The movie is more than funny enough to stand on its own as a comedy, but falls flat by dragging an unconvincing romantic subplot along.

The predictable romance is made all the more frustrating by an entirely unnecessary third-reel development that serves only to muddle the film’s floundering finale. Wrapping up one storyline by starting a new one is never a good idea after more than an hour and a half, especially in a comedy. You’ll be ready to go home long before the movie’s 99 minutes are up.

The Verdict:
The Invention of Lying has a three-part story when only two parts are needed. It’s disappointing to enjoy a movie so much at first, only to find yourself checking your watch through the last 20 minutes. This film could definitely have benefited from some liberal editing. The beginning may be a blast, but the film’s last reel is a sappy drag, so unless you’re a Ricky Gervais superfan or a hopeless romantic looking to lure your significant other to the theater, you may want to save your money.

1.5 stars (out of 4)


Zombies Ate My Review

Get ready, everybody, because it’s finally here. The Big One. The Zombie Apocalypse. Most of Earth’s human population is either dead or infected with a horrible disease that makes them fast, ferocious, and hungry for flesh. Those still alive think they’re alone. The only thing left to do is survive.

Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg, fresh from Adventureland, playing pretty much the same character), a college student from Texas, has come up with a list of rules to make surviving just a little bit safer. On his way to Ohio to see if his parents are alright, he runs into Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), whose knack for zombie killing is surpassed only by his love of Twinkies. When they meet two girls, Wichita (Superbad’s Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Little Miss Sunshine’s Abigail Breslin), they find out a California amusement park may be the last zombie-free place on the planet. Can they trust each other enough to get there alive together?

Such is the basic premise of Zombieland, the latest film to cash in on the immense popularity of zombie fiction. These aren’t your average, mindlessly shuffling undead masses, though. Zombieland’s epidemic is the result of a disease, and the infected become tirelessly energetic (living) zombies filled with cannibalistic rage.

This sets the stage for some of funniest and most entertaining zombie kills to hit screens since 2004’s Shaun of the Dead. Shotguns, baseball bats, grand pianos, and more are used, often to hilarious effect, to take out the ravenous trash. Woody Harrelson’s Tallahassee, sure to be a horror fan-favorite for years to come, is especially notable for his twisted, zombie killing ingenuity.

The zombie killing hijinks get so crazy that if it weren’t for Ruben Fleischer’s skillful use of slow motion and computer generated special effects, Zombieland might be little more than absolutely ridiculous. Fleischer masterfully uses these effects to accentuate every cracked zombie skull and bloody shotgun blast, though, and it looks and sounds as good as a zombie can. From the gorgeous opening credits sequence to the very last zombie splat, this movie will impress your eyeballs.

Zombieland gets by on more than just pretty blood and breaking glass, though. The film’s small cast brings its characters to life and brings likability to the table in a genre that desperately needs relatable characters to work. Emma Stone and Jesse Eisenberg nail the post-apocalyptic chemistry between their two characters; and although I would have liked to see Eisenberg in a departure from his usual character type, I have to admit he plays the scrawny, sarcastic kid well.

And Woody Harrelson doesn’t miss a beat as Tallahasse, Zombieland's lovable Zed-ender. It’s impossible to miss how much fun Harrelson, who personally arranged his character’s wardrobe, has in this role as he spits out one-liners and takes time to “enjoy the little things,” smirking the whole time. Surprisingly, there’s more heart behind the Twinkie-obsessed zombie stomper than all the other characters combined. Just look out for his banjo.

Unfortunately, a few loose strings keep Zombieland from reaching its full potential. At the beginning of the film, we are given a set of characters with different goals and different ideas about survival. Without spoiling anything, I can say that a number of these goals are either forgotten or ignored by the time it’s all over. This won’t keep you from enjoying the movie at all, but it may leave a bad taste in your mouth after it’s done. Still, Zombieland is one film that seems perfect for repeat viewings, and in a world where PG-13 popcorn flicks spawn week after week, that makes it a valuable rarity.

The Verdict: There are no two ways about it. This movie is an absolute blast. From comedy and cursing to horror and gore, Zombieland has everything you could love about R rated movies. Zombies have rarely been this funny. See it twice, then start saving for the DVD.

3.5 stars (out of 4)


Not Worth Rushing

These days, few months seem to pass without the release of a new remake of a cheesy, decades-old horror movie. Now, just in time for rush week, we have Sorority Row. This remake of the 1983 slasher movie, The House on Sorority Row, was obviously tailor made for a college crowd, but is it worth the price of even a student discount ticket?

Sorority Row tells the story of six Theta Pi sisters who, despite the wishes of their house mother (Star Wars’ Carrie Fisher), throw fantastically wild parties filled with sex, drugs, and alcohol. When the girls catch a cheating boyfriend, they decide to pull a ‘Serious and Permanent Psychological Damage’-level prank to get him back. To everyone but the audience’s surprise, their little joke takes a mortal wrong turn right around the time the creepy music kicks in.

Eight months later, during a graduation party, the creepy music comes back and the remaining sisters start dropping dead. With so many lives on the line and a twist around each corner, everyone quickly becomes suspect.

The only proof of innocence Sorority Row offers any of its characters is a bloody and violent death at the hands of its hooded killer, and that is by far its strongest point. Some seriously satisfying slasher film deaths are offered here for fans of the genre. I won’t dish on any of them here- there aren’t enough of them in the movie to lose even one to a spoiler- but I’m sure horror fans can imagine a number of things a tire iron with knives on it can do to a sorority girl.

The problem, however, is that director Stewart Hendler seems to think the only way an audience can enjoy a good horror movie kill is if it already hates the doomed characters. This fills Sorority Row with some of the least sympathetic characters in recent history to bloody the silver screen. Ellie (Rumer Willis), the only sister who doesn’t spend more than 80% of her screen time arguing or acting catty (with a capital B), spends 98% of her time screaming. What is once genuinely alarming becomes something of a joke before annoying everyone in the theater, and that’s just in the first half hour.

On top of being annoying and unlikeable, the Theta Pi sisters seem to exclusively make bad decisions. It’s as if they all got together on the morning of the big party and decided to see what it would be like to act like horror movie victims for a day or two. You go from excitedly yelling, “Don’t go in there!” to resentfully grumbling, “She’s going to go in there” long before the film’s 101 minutes are up, and that’s why Sorority Row loses its charter.

The Verdict: Even with its cringe-inducing college kid kills, Sorority Row can’t save itself from horror remake mediocrity. Sure, the blood flows almost as freely as the alcohol at Theta Pi’s graduation party, but all the fun of a good slasher is lost when the audience spends the whole movie thinking about how dumb its characters are. Were a few of the sisters as likeable as Fisher’s crotchety Mrs. Crenshaw, this movie might have stood out. As it stands, Sorority Row will wash out faster than the chalk the Greeks covered campus with this week.

1 star (out of 4) Skip it.


Love this movie

I Love You, Man features Paul Rudd as Peter Klaven, a sorry sap of a real estate agent who realizes after proposing to his girlfriend (Rashida Jones) that he literally has no male friends to call on to be best man in his impending wedding. After a number of unsuccessful and hilarious “man dates,” he meets Sydney Fife, played by Jason Segel, and the two hit it off immediately. Klaven, just a few months away from his wedding, only has a short time to determine whether Fife is really “the one.”

I Love You, Man is an uproariously funny bromantic comedy. It follows nearly every convention of a romantic comedy, making the basic storyline predictable and formulaic, only instead of comically telling the story of a budding romance, it hilariously tells the story of a budding “bromance” between two everyday dudes.

Luckily, Paul Rudd and Jason Segel, who are excellent in their roles as Klaven and Fife, play those two everyday dudes. Rudd plays a much different character here than in his other recent films, and it’s refreshing to watch him act outside his box. Segel, who only recently broke into mainstream Hollywood, is hilarious and honest. After seeing this movie, you’ll wish you had a friend like Fife.

But what really separates I Love You, Man from the countless other Judd Apatow-laced comedies flooding the screen these days is its stellar supporting cast. Rashida Jones is perpetually lovable as Klaven’s fiancĂ©, Zooey; a role that would absolutely have ruined the film were the character even the least bit unlikable. Jaime Pressley and Sarah Burns are also great as Zooey’s close friends and business partners. Even Iron Man director Jon Favreau brings the funny home as the insufferable Barry.

Some of the movie’s funniest moments, however, come from Robbie (SNL’s Andy Samberg), Peter’s gay younger brother. His earnest desire to find his brother a suitable man-friend is responsible for a lot of the film’s best jokes, and his gym trainer masculinity serves as an ironically perfect counterpoint to its constant homosexual overtones. And while I’m on the topic (but without spoiling anything), Reno 911’s Thomas Lennon as Doug is definitely something you won’t want to miss.

The Verdict: I Love You, Man is a downright hilarious film that, without its impressive cast, might have been nothing more than a predictable and formulaic comedy with a slight twist. The characters are likable and unlikable in all the right places, and with such a large number of them (I didn’t even have time to mention how great J.K Simmons, Rob Huebel, or Lou Ferrigno are), that’s no small feat. Most importantly, however, Klaven and Fife’s developing friendship is entirely believable thanks to Rudd and Segel. That’s where I Love You, Man really finds its heart.

3.5 stars (out of 4)


Do not observe (unless you really want to)

“Observe and Report” tells the story of Ronnie Barnhardt (Seth Rogen), head of security at the Forest Ridge Mall who takes his job way too seriously. When an anonymous flasher repeatedly exposes himself to patrons in the parking lot, Ronnie is disappointed in his security team’s lack of responsive action. But when the pervert flashes make-up counter employee and Ronnie’s dream girl, Brandi (Anna Faris), Ronnie makes it his own personal mission to take him down at any cost.

Thwarting Ronnie’s dream of saving the day is Detective Harrison (an underused Ray Liotta), a real police officer who is called into the mall to investigate its increasing criminal activity. Now in order to prove himself, Ronnie must catch the pervert and save Brandi before Detective Harrison and his officers manage to steal his thunder.

“Observe and Report” is a tough movie to pin down. On one hand, it’s a surprisingly satisfying black comedy that goes a little further than most in its quest to make an audience laugh at something that, out of context, would be way more than just distasteful. For example, if you see this film, you very well may find yourself laughing out loud at what basically amounts to onscreen date rape. Whether or not you’re in for that sort of comedy is up to you, but I found myself reconsidering more than a few morbid chuckles. If that’s not good black comedy, I don’t know what is.

Unfortunately, “Observe and Report” fails in almost every other way. The film’s more conventional attempts at comedy are extremely hit-or-miss (mostly miss), and way too much of its humor relies on repeated vulgarity. There were more awkward silences in the theater than laughs when I saw the film, and that isn’t a good sign for a movie billed as a comedy.

The movie’s main flaw is that it tries too hard to have it both ways. Writer/director Jody Hill (‘The Foot Fist Way”) can’t seem to decide between a dark, comedic character study (think funny “Taxi Driver”) and a contemporary comedy. The film could easily have done without Ronnie’s cartoonish mall security posse and blatantly quotable one-liners. A movie about an overly serious security guard would have been a lot funnier if everyone around him wasn’t just as weird.

Hill’s stylistic combination ultimately leads to a fragmented, unfunny movie that tries too hard when it shouldn’t and not hard enough when it should. Too often, the film will cut from an uncomfortable Ronnie-driven scene to a jokey mall cop crew scene. It doesn’t just screw with the pacing, it throws off the audience, and it doesn’t work the way it hopes to.

It doesn’t help at all that Ronnie Barnhardt is so impossible to identify with. His coworkers, family, love interest, and enemies are no different (except Nell- a food court employee played by Collette Wolfe- who is almost upbeat and adorable enough to redeem the entire film). It’s very difficult to enjoy a movie if you don’t like any of its characters, and “Observe and Report” doesn’t offer much else.

The Verdict: “Observe and Report” is a frustrating movie to watch. You can see how much potential is right under the surface, but it’s covered with vulgar one-liners and goofy secondary characters. Seth Rogen does a commendable job playing a complex character with some serious issues. He even manages to earn the chronically unlikable Ronnie a little bit of pity at a certain point in the film.

The movie’s extraordinarily satisfying final few minutes only prove to the audience how much better “Observe and Report” could have been with just a little more focus. As it stands, however, I can’t recommend this film as anything other than an okay rental choice on an otherwise boring summer weekend.

2 stars (out of 4)


'Crank: High Voltage' a shocking good time

“Crank: High Voltage” is one of those sequels you can enjoy whether or not you’ve seen the first film. If you saw “Crank”, you already know exactly what to expect from this movie. If not, read on for a full review.

“Crank: High Voltage” takes place immediately after the events of the first movie. Chev Chelios (Jason Statham) has just fallen out of a helicopter to what should have been his death. Seconds after he hits the pavement, he is scooped into a van by a gang of Asian organ harvesters. Before he has a chance to escape, they’ve already taken out his heart and replaced it with an electric one.

Chelios’s friend, Doc Miles (Dwight Yoakam) tells him he only has one hour before the batteries in his new heart run out. If he starts to feel weak, he can jumpstart his electric organ by applying a charge directly to his skin. With little more than an hour left to find his stolen “strawberry tart,” Chelios turns to what he knows best, violence.

“Crank: High Voltage” doesn’t even try to give the audience a plot worth caring about, and that works to its advantage. Without the arbitrary, tacked on type of story most action movies use, all that’s left is an hour and a half of the nonstop action those very same movies try so hard to provide, and that’s a good thing. This is a movie that simply will not give you time to breathe. Chelios is running, fighting, having sex, or zapping himself throughout the entire film.

The only breaks come in the form of heavily stylized news briefs and flashbacks following the otherwise nonstop action. These sequences are unexpectedly funny and never feel gratuitous. If anything, the brief segments add a bit of comic relief to the film’s impeccable pacing.

“Crank: High Voltage” is constantly exciting and entirely involving, too. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself cheering during fight scenes after an iron pole to the face or groaning after a bike to the crotch.

In fact, the vast majority of what happens in the movie is unbelievably ridiculous. With Chelios’s friend with Full Body Tourettes (Efren Ramirez), a head in an aquarium, and a foul-mouthed old lady, you can imagine how very weird this film can get. There’s even a giant, Japanese-style monster battle that’s great for more than just the exaggerated Jason Statham head.

“Crank: High Voltage” is absolutely gorgeous, as well. Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, who both wrote and directed “Crank” and its sequel, are two of the most talented action movie directors alive. No matter what’s happening on screen, the camera always seems to be exactly where you want it to be, right in the middle of the action.

This definitely isn’t a movie for everyone, though. It is unapologetically testosterone-driven. There’s plenty of female nudity and half-naked women with big guns (sometimes the kind with bullets), as well as numerous thinly veiled images of male genitalia. Chelios’s girlfriend, Eve (Amy Smart) spends part of the film wearing electrical tape and the rest of it wearing only a t-shirt and underwear. I’m not saying girls will hate the movie; just don’t consider them its target audience.

The Verdict: If you’re looking for anything other than a wild, 96-minute beat-em-up piece of eye candy, feel free to skip this one, because that’s all it is. “Crank: High Voltage” is a great genre film destined to find its audience, but if you aren’t a part of that very specific audience, you’ll absolutely hate it.

Having said that, “Crank: High Voltage” is by no means a perfect film, but it is a perfect action movie. From the moment Chelios is shoveled into the van to the very end, there’s no slowing him down. If you’ve seen “Crank”, you know exactly what to expect here. In fact, this is basically the same movie except with a different heart-related plot device. You definitely don’t need to see the original to enjoy the sequel, though.

And in the end, who cares if the only thing less developed than the characters is the plot? This is genre film in its purest form, so embrace it. Don’t skimp on the popcorn, either.

2.5 stars (out of 4)


"Adventureland" a collegiate must-see

“Adventureland” takes place in the summer of 1987, and James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) has just graduated from college. James is ready to go on a tour of Europe with a friend when his parents break the news that his father has been demoted and they won’t be able to pay for the trip. Just when he thinks it can’t get any worse, they tell him he’ll have to get a summer job to pay for grad school at Columbia in the fall.

When James’ job search yields disappointing results, he is left with no choice but to work at Adventureland, a local amusement park. There, with a cast of quirky coworkers, James waits for summer to end. Everything changes, though, when he starts hanging out with another games employee named Emily (“Twilight”’s Kristen Stewart), who turns his worst summer ever into a life-changing experience.

“Adventureland” is chock-full of hilarious running gags and quirky characters galore. It’s hard not to laugh at James’ punchy friend, Frido (Matt Bush), ‘80s stereotype, Lisa P. (Margarita Levieva), and dorky games employee, Joel (Martin Starr).

The funniest characters by far are Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig’s Bobby and Paulette, Adventureland’s eccentric owners. The “Saturday Night Live” cast members get all the biggest laughs simply by being so very strange. Everything they do, from the googly-eyed bananas to Hader’s ridiculous moustache, stands out like comedy gold.

The acting in “Adventureland” is what really makes the movie work, though. Eisenberg brings an awkward, realistic sort of lovability to his role as James that is rarely found in college-age film characters. Starr, by being funny, sad, and honest all at once, makes Joel more than just the standard loser character in a movie. Even Ryan Reynolds gets a turn at some drama as the park’s adulterous janitor, Mike.

But the real star of “Adventureland” is Kristen Stewart. It’s exciting to see her do so well with an edgier role than in the tween-friendly “Twilight”. She plays the captivatingly complex Emily so convincingly, it’ll be hard to leave the theater without falling in love.

“Adventureland”’s soundtrack is too good to be ignored, as well. Featuring songs by Lou Reed, David Bowie, and Husker Du, the film uses music to capture the summer of 1987 in much the same way “Dazed and Confused” used music to capture the summer of 1976. It’s rare to see licensed music used so effectively these days. Just try not to laugh too hard next time you hear ‘Rock Me, Amadeus’ on the radio.

The Verdict
: “Adventureland” is more than a run-of-the-mill comedy. Sure, the film can be downright hilarious at times. In fact, the comedy, when present, goes off without a hitch. It’s refreshing to see a movie where not a single joke falls flat.

But between jokes, “Adventureland” tells a surprisingly fleshed-out story about love, work, and life after college. Its story may not be very original, but using realistic characters and actors who can play them, “Adventureland” makes itself instantly relatable to college audiences, and is an absolute must-see for the college crowd.

3.5 stars (out of 4)

(originally written for RocLoop)


'Fast & Furious' obeys the speed limit

Just when you thought The Fast and the Furious series would end as a trilogy, “Fast & Furious” races onto screens, bringing back many of the characters from the original film. But is it a worthwhile return to form?

Vin Diesel returns to the franchise in “Fast & Furious” as Dom, the elite street racer by night, semi-truck hijacker by later night from the original “The Fast and the Furious”. An international criminal hiding from police in the Dominican Republic, Dom leaves his girlfriend, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez, also from the original film), behind when he thinks she’s in danger of being caught with him. Years later, Letty is found dead at the site of a car accident with a bullet in her head. Dom vows vengeance, and the race is on.

Meanwhile, Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker)- promoted to FBI agent since the first movie- is assigned to hunt down a notorious drug lord known as Braga who, by sheer force of Hollywood coincidence, is also the man responsible for Letty’s death. Not surprisingly, the only way to catch Braga is by competing in street races. With Dom and Brian both racing to catch the same man, there’s only one question; who will finish first?

If “Fast & Furious” sounds a little light on plot, that’s because it is. Its ‘good guys chase bad guy’ story is as low fat as it gets. Don’t plunk down $9 to see this movie if you want a story that will keep you on the edge of your seat, wondering what happens next, because you won’t find anything like that here.

What you will find, though, are plenty of eye-poppingly shiny cars moving at breakneck speeds through some of the most outrageous chase sequences in theatres so far this year. “Fast & Furious” doesn’t stop at the street races seen in the first film, either. There are oil truck hijackings, claustrophobic tunnel runs, wide-open drag races, and even some helicopter hijinks at the Mexican border. Unfortunately, there’s also a free runner foot chase thrown into the mix- an all too standard action movie clichĂ© these days.

And speaking of action, the acting in “Fast & Furious” definitely leaves room for improvement. The many two dimensional secondary characters are one thing, but when every lead role is played by a cardboard cutout, the movie isn’t looking to win any awards.

Vin Diesel glares his way through the role of Dom without once changing his tone or expression. Paul Walker does the same, only instead of cool and intimidating, he’s edgy and intense. Everyone else is just there to look pretty, and they do.

The Verdict: “Fast & Furious” is dimwitted fun, but fun nonetheless. It may lack good acting and an interesting plot, but it’s got just enough pedal to the medal action to keep you in your seat. The dialogue is groan inducing, though, and the acting is every bit as bad as you’d expect from a film in the series.

In the grand scheme of things, “Fast & Furious” is just a tiny bit worse than “The Fast and the Furious”. It has all the requisite action of the original without any of its minimally engrossing story. The bottom line is, it’s entertaining but unremarkable, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If you’re a fan of the original or just looking for something to look at while scooping popcorn into your mouth, “Fast & Furious” is the movie for you. Otherwise, don’t feel bad skipping it.

2 stars
(out of 4)

(review originally written for RocLoop)