Ramshackle ‘Casa,’ Junkey ‘Justice,’ Tasty ‘Salmon,’ Dutiful ‘Games’

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Contributing Writer

Will Ferrell and Genesis Rodriguez star in “Casa de Mi Padre,” a comedy about sons defending their father’s Mexican ranch.

 

“Casa de Mi Padre”

Will Ferrell has fun spoofing telenovelas and 1970s Mexican Westerns in “Casa de Mi Padre” (wide release), a trifle that stretches what might have been a very funny 10-minute sketch into an only intermittently amusing full-length feature.

Ferrell, delivering his lines in halting Spanish, plays the naïve son of a rancher whose place is being invaded by drug dealers.  He has to deal with them – including his own unscrupulous brother – while romancing the brother’s beautiful wife-to-be.

Much of the fun of the picture lies in chuckling at the picture’s deliberate technical ineptitude, with bad process shots and awful sets proliferating.  Ferrell obviously enjoys interacting with a gorgeous co-star like Genesis Rodriguez (particularly in a goofy romantic scene) and such Latino dramatic stars as Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna, who also seem to be having a good time indulging in strenuous overacting.

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“Seeking Justice”

Nicolas Cage makes a lot of terrible movies, and though “Seeking Justice” (wide release) is far from the worst, it’s certainly mediocre.

Cage plays a schoolteacher who, when his wife is brutally raped, is approached by a mysterious man who offers to take care of the perpetrator extra-legally – in return for a favor.  In his grief he agrees, only to discover the deal requires him to kill another criminal later.

The plot gets more complicated in the later stages as the teacher is accused of murder and pursued by both police and the shadowy vigilantes he unwisely hooked up with, and the ending is a frankly preposterous orgy of violence.

The result is a wacky potboiler that might pass muster as a movie-of-the-week, but is way below feature-film quality.

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“Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”

Far more pleasurable is “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” (Angelika), a cheery tale of an enlightened Yemeni prince who wants to introduce fly fishing to his arid homeland and the two Brits – an advertising executive (Emily Blunt) and a government fisheries expert (Ewan McGregor) – who get involved with his apparently absurd scheme and find fulfillment (and romance) in the process.

The satirical potential here is enormous, but though Kristin Scott Thomas proves a Thatcher-like hoot as the prime minister’s hard-driving policy aide, director Lasse Hallstrom forgoes most of the edgier possibilities in favor of sweetness and light.

The result is a potential “Wag the Dog” that’s instead just a nice romantic comedy.  But though it’s swimming in shallow cinematic water, “Salmon” is at least agreeable, if slight.

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“The Hunger Games”

Jennifer Lawrence plays heroine Katniss Everdeen in the film adaptation of “The Hunger Games.”

The first volume of Suzanne Collins’ popular trilogy of young-adult novels makes it to the screen in an adaptation that’s faithful but just a trifle dull.  “The Hunger Games” (wide release) will doubtlessly make a mint, and at least two sequels are assured (a third, if the makers split the third book in two, as they often do in such cases).  But Gary Ross’ movie, though perfectly adequate, doesn’t pump the adrenaline as it should.

The plot, of course, involves a dystopian society in which the ruling elite conduct an annual competition among young teams of “tributes,” two each from the twelve provinces that once rebelled against the central government.  The 24 engage in to-the-death combat, with the victor crowned as champion, as blood-sport to entertain the masses.

The focus of the match is on a spunky archer from the poorest area of the country whose chances against much better trained competitors from richer districts seem dim.  The fact that she’s played by Jennifer Lawrence (“Winter’s Bone”) is the picture’s strongest asset. She convincingly conveys the heroine’s determination and vulnerability, and even carries an unlikely romance with her male counterpart.

But otherwise this take on “Games” is surprisingly ordinary, short on imagination or energy.  Fans will embrace it, but the uninitiated will probably be puzzled by what all the fuss is about.

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