FS, Contributing Writer
Writer-director Jeff Nichols follows up his remarkable Take Shelter with the equally impressive Mud (wide release), an extraordinary combination of coming-of-age tale and suspense thriller that marks another step in Matthew McConaughey’s career revival.
McConaughey plays the title character, a miscreant on the run from the law who enlists two boys to help him rebuild a wrecked boat for his getaway while taking messages to his childhood love, whom he hopes will join his escape.
But as impressive as McConaughey is, even more so is Tye Sheridan as the fourteen-year old who becomes both Mud’s protector and his acolyte—while also dealing with his parents’ prospective separation and infatuation with an older classmate.
Echoes of models as varied as Tom Sawyer and The Night of the Hunter can be detected in the film, but it employs them in an intelligent, imaginative way that makes for an evocative, engrossing whole, a film that at once captures the experience of adolescence while delivering an exciting chase yarn to boot.
“Pain & Gain”
Though he’s working on a much smaller canvas than in pictures like Transformers, in Pain & Gain (wide release) Michael Bay serves up as much mayhem as in his big-budget sci-fi extravaganzas.
Based on a true story from the 1990s, it’s about a trio of muscle-bound Miami goofballs (Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson and Anthony Mackie) who decide to grab their share of the American dream by kidnapping a sleazy businessman and torturing him into signing over all his wealth to them.
But they prove utterly inept at the task, letting their victim escape after robbing him blind. And it’s not long before they’re compelled to try their scheme on another victim—with disastrous results.
Pain & Gain is intended as a darkly humorous combination of farce and violence—and presumably a satire on the wages of mindless greed—but Bay can’t pull it off. His slapstick riffs are about on the level of a Three Stooges short, and he’s unable to moderate the physical grossness, which often crosses the line into sheer repulsiveness.
The result is an action comedy that comes across as an assault on the audience as well as the characters.
An exceptional ensemble is wasted in a The Big Wedding (wide release), an extended sitcom with a crude, raunchy streak.
In a plot heavily indebted to La Cage aux Folles, Robert De Niro and Diane Keaton play a divorced couple who pretend still to be married at the request of their adoptive son, who’s about to get wed himself and has invited his conservative Catholic birth mother to the ceremony.
The picture can be criticized for its dismissive attitude toward religion—Robin Williams even shows up as an alcoholic priest. But the main problem is its coarse, anything-for-a-laugh attitude, which eradicates any shred of reality from the characters.
The result is a movie as undistinguished as its bland title.
“The Numbers Station”
John Cusack is similarly wasted in The Numbers Station (wide release), a claustrophobic, repetitive would-be thriller about an angst-ridden intelligence agent trapped in a decoding installation by a small army of villains. He has to use his smarts to save himself, and his beautiful, wounded partner, from the interlopers.
The movie is a tedious slog to a predictable finish, filled with unnecessary flashbacks and monologues that feel like badly-composed time-fillers.
Pass by this Station.