FS, Contributing Writer
Johnny Depp gives a soporific performance as a scientist working on the cutting edge of artificial intelligence in “Transcendence” (wide release), a handsome but silly Luddite fable about the dangers of modern technology.
When Depp’s character is shot with a radioactive bullet by a group of technophobes seeking to stop his work, he and his wife (Rebecca Hall) implant his consciousness in their experimental computer. The machine then expands its power exponentially, aiming to become a benign ruler over the whole world.
That naturally attracts the interest of the government, which joins with the terrorists to unplug the machine and kill the ghost within it. Unfortunately, in the process they’ll also be turning off all the earth’s power and returning mankind to a pre-industrial existence.
Even if one sympathizes with the picture’s message, “Transcendence” proves a dull, lethargic piece of filmmaking — and a simple-minded one as well.
“The Other Woman”
A wife and her husband’s two mistresses band together to take vengeance on the philandering cad in “The Other Woman” (wide release), a rude, vulgar comedy with a distinctly nasty edge.
Leslie Mann plays the wife as a yammering goofball, and Cameron Diaz is brusque and shrill as the high-powered lawyer that the man has lied to about his marital status. The third member of the group, a gorgeous blonde twenty years younger than both of them, is played by Kate Upton, a model who possesses no apparent acting ability.
The coarse nature of the movie’s humor — which includes gross scatological gags and lots of comic humiliation — is bad enough, but the script adds a final slapstick confrontation that goes tonally awry, using some unpleasant violence in a misguided attempt to get laughs.
This is the sort of childish flick that gives chick flicks a really bad name.
The first of actor Paul Walker’s posthumous pictures is “Brick Mansions” (wide release), a frenetic but curiously tedious remake of a decade-old French film about a section of a city so crime-ridden that it’s literally walled off, leaving its residents trapped and forced to fend for themselves.
In this Americanized version, the city is Detroit, and Walker plays an honest cop who joins forces with a good guy from the segregated district in order to retrieve a nuclear device that a drug kingpin has stolen and is threatening to use against the rest of the Motor City.
There’s plenty of action in “Brick Mansions” — fights, car chases and gun battles, as well as lots of parkour, the exhilarating form of running over obstacles, up walls and across rooftops that David Belle, who plays Walker’s reluctant partner, specializes in. Unfortunately, it’s shot so jerkily and edited in such a hysterically overwrought way that it’s impossible to take much joy in watching it.
Walker proves as uncharismatic as ever and it’s particularly dispiriting to see him engaged in the sort of dangerous speeding that led to the loss of his life.
But of course he’ll be doing that once more in the next “Fast and Furious” movie, which he was making when he died.
“The Quiet Ones”
It’s always nice to see a film pay homage to pictures from the past, but, while “The Quiet Ones” (wide release) apparently wants to channel the spirit of paranormal thrillers from the sixties like “The Haunting,” it quickly degenerates into a chaotic mishmash of the tropes that characterize modern horror films.
The nonsensical plot is about a scientist who enlists some college students in an experiment to prove that the mental disturbance suffered by a troubled young woman doesn’t arise from any supernatural source, but can be rationally explained and cured. Needless to say, he’s proven wrong.
Loud, visually messy and dumb, “The Quiet Ones” should be put to sleep as quickly as possible.
“Walking with the Enemy”
A fascinating story is given prosaic treatment in “Walking with the Enemy” (wide release), in which a young Hungarian Jew impersonates a Nazi officer to save those who are being rounded up for transport to the death camps in the waning days of World War II. The tale is told against the backdrop of the efforts of the Hungarian authorities to maintain an element of independence in their dealings with the German occupying forces headed by Adolf Eichmann.
The script is based on actual events, and it touches upon the special circumstances that prevailed in Hungary, where Jews had largely escaped persecution until 1944 despite the country’s alliance with Hitler and rampant, local anti-Semitism.
But the film plays rather loosely with the facts of the case, adding melodramatic clichés in an effort to increase the narrative’s inspirational punch.
Ultimately, it’s an example of material with rich potential inadequately realized.