Affecting ‘50/50,’ Confused ‘Preacher,’ Ramshackle ‘House,’ Awful ‘Number,’ Clever ‘Evil’


Contributing Writer


Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen star in “50/50.”
Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen star in “50/50.”


A young man diagnosed with spinal cancer faces chemotherapy, surgery and the tribulation of dealing with family, friends and his own fears in “50/50” (wide release) – and the movie is actually quite funny.

That might sound cruel, but the picture – based on the experiences of cancer survivor Will Reiser – is intended as a comedy-drama.  Reiser, a comedy writer himself, faced his illness with jokes as well as tears, and one of the pals who watched him go through it was Seth Rogen, who takes the role of Reiser’s best friend in the picture and relishes the wiseacre one-liners written for him.

Actually the protagonist isn’t Reiser himself but a fictionalized surrogate, and another of the film’s major strengths is the presence of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, one of the best young actors in the business, in the role. He brings depth and humor to a character that could have become a soap-opera cliché.

He’s abetted by a strong supporting cast that includes not only Rogen but Oscar nominee Anna Kendrick as a counselor-in-training who has trouble connecting with so young a client but eventually develops more than a doctor-patient relationship with him.

The odds are better than even that you’ll find “50/50” both amusing and touching.

“Machine Gun Preacher”

The real-life story of Sam Childers, a low-life character who goes on a mission to South Sudan after being born again and establishes a sanctuary for the children being threatened there – even taking up arms to save them from vicious gangs that force them into their ranks – is recounted in “Machine Gun Preacher” (wide release).

The title might make it sound like an exploitation movie, but it’s intended as an uplifting fable of faith and dedication.  And Gerard Butler gives an intense performance as Childers, who became a man obsessed.

But by failing to address the issue of whether Bibles and bullets can ever mix, it misses the opportunity to focus on the moral dilemma that’s the linchpin of Childers’ story.

The result is a well-intentioned but ultimately toothless treatment of a potentially intriguing film.

“Dream House”

The trailer gives away the big twist of “Dream House” (wide release), which wants to be a cerebral supernatural thriller in the mold of “The Sixth Sense” or “The Others” but is being marketed as a conventional horror movie.

Daniel Craig stars as a successful book editor who chucks his job to fix up the small-town house he’s bought for himself and his family – a loving wife (Rachel Weisz) and two young daughters.  But the locals receive him frostily, partially because – as he learns – his new home was the site of a grisly murder years earlier.

But that just serves to introduce a revelation that takes the movie into psychological and supernatural territory, and also, unfortunately, increasing absurdity.  It all ends in a ludicrous action finale that’s unintentionally hilarious.

Though elegantly shot (by Oscar-winner Caleb Deschanel), “Dream House” is more like a cinematic nightmare.

“What’s Your Number?”

Chick flicks are generally a terrible genre, but “What’s Your Number?” (wide release) is an especially horrid example.

It’s about a dimwitted blonde (Anna Faris) concerned that she’s been too free with her favors ever to land a proper husband.  So she enlists the womanizer (Chris Evans) who lives near her in finding her old bedmates to determine whether any of them are proper marriage material.

It’s obvious from the get-go where this script is going to wind up, but narrative flatness isn’t the only problem.  Even worse are the smarmy quality that turns many scenes into virtual strip-tease routines for the stars and the extremely clumsy slapstick bits.

“What’s Your Number?” earns a big fat zero.

“Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil”

A horror spoof is hard to pull off, but “Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil” (Inwood) is a clever reverse take-off on the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” model, in which two backwoods yokels are assumed to be crazed killers by a bunch of vacationing undergrads who’ve seen too many slasher movies.

When the kids think the rustics have abducted one of them – a girl whom the guys have actually rescued from drowning – they determine to rescue her, but manage to kill themselves in the process.

The movie loses steam in the second half, but “Tucker & Dale” remains a knowing riff on horror-movie conventions that should bring smiles alike to the faces of fans and detractors of such cliches.


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