Vapid ‘Vow,’ Hideous ‘House,’ Junky ‘Journey,’ Evocative ‘Pina’

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FS
Contributing Writer

“The Vow”

Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum star in “The Vow,” a story about a man who tries to win back his wife’s heart after she loses her memory.

Valentine’s Day often brings out the sappiest romantic movies, and “The Vow” (wide release) certainly fits the bill.

Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum play a happily married couple whose bliss is shattered when a car crash leaves her with no memory of their years together.  Her last recollection is of a time half a decade before, when she wasn’t the exuberant artist she later became but a straitlaced law student engaged to another man.

The situation is further complicated by the arrival of the parents from whom she’d long been estranged but whom she now embraces and goes home with, as well as the return of her former fiancée.

The result is a tug of war between them and the husband determined to win her heart a second time, in line with his marital promise of undying love.

This is tearjerker material of the weepiest sort, and the picture milks every cliché to the utmost.

Some attractive Chicago exteriors and the natural charm of Tatum and McAdams aren’t enough to save “The Vow” –  despite being based on a true story – from becoming a totally synthetic wallow in soapoperatic absurdity.

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“Safe House”

Vera Farmiga plays Catherine Linklater, a CIA agent on the hunt for a former agent  who is selling U.S. secrets.
Vera Farmiga plays Catherine Linklater, a CIA agent on the hunt for a former agent who is selling U.S. secrets.

Denzel Washington’s matinee-idol status is about the only positive element in “Safe House” (wide release), a raucous, visually ugly spy thriller shot and edited in a jerky, hyperkinetic style more likely to induce nausea than suspense.

Washington plays a rogue ex-CIA agent who’s selling secrets on the open market. A series of violent episodes forces him to team with a callow young officer (Ryan Reynolds) with whom he must evade a horde of assassins pursuing him through the streets of Cape Town.

The movie is hobbled by the presence of Reynolds, who as usual amounts to little more than a blank space on the screen, and by crude editing that makes a mess of virtually every scene.

The script tries to engage us in figuring out who’s the villain behind all the mayhem.  But the real culprit is direction that makes his identity obvious in the first reel while trying to paper over the plot holes with overwrought action and a pervasive cynicism that the predictable ending fails to dissipate.

“Safe House” wants to be smart and edgy, but winds up dumb and obvious.

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“Journey 2: The Mysterious Island”

Dwayne Johnson stars in “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island,” a story about a man who is on a journey to find his missing grandfather on a mystical island.

Jules Verne takes another beating in “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” (wide release), a sequel to the 2009 “Journey to the Center of the Earth” that turns the original into a modern tale of father-son bonding via an orgy of 3-D special effects.

This time around, the young hero is joined by his new stepdad (former pro wrestler Dwayne Johnson) to discover the island Verne described, where the boy believes he will also find his grandfather (Michael Caine), an intrepid explorer.

Teaming with a goofy helicopter pilot and his daughter, they do locate the place – presented as the mythical ancient Atlantis – along with the old man and various giant beasts they must elude.  And to escape they have to find, and restart, Captain Nemo’s long-dormant submarine, the Nautilus.

There have been plenty of earlier film adaptations of “The Mysterious Island” – most notably a 1961 picture that was rather slow-moving but showcased some of the legendary Ray Harryhausen’s best stop-motion creations.

By contrast this version is little better than Saturday-morning-TV quality – a “Land of the Lost” spruced up with better special effects.  It’s hardly a destination you’ll be happy to have visited.

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“Pina”

Regina Advento and Malou Airaudo take part in the documentary “Pina,” a tribute to choreographer Pina Bausch.

Anyone interested in ballet and modern dance will be entranced by “Pina” (Angelika), Wim Wenders’ tribute to the late Pina Bausch, the artistic director and chief choreographer for the Tanztheater Wuppertal who garnered international accolades over the years.

The picture isn’t a conventional biography.  It includes only the barest facts about Bausch’s life along with some clips of her dancing, instead concentrating on excerpts from works she created over the years and reminiscences from the members of the troupe who perform them for the camera.  In this case, however, the use of the 3-D format proves less a marketing tool than a true enhancement, giving the dance sequences a texture that would be impossible on a flat screen.

Those expecting a documentary on Bausch may be disappointed, but as a celebration of her artistry and influence, “Pina” could hardly be bettered.

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