“This Is Where I Leave You”
“This Is Where I Leave You” (wide release) covers familiar terrain. It is a family-reunion movie in which old wounds are reopened, new insights are learned, and everything ends in hugs and kisses.
The movie boasts a strong cast — including Jason Bateman, Tina Fey and Jane Fonda — but it is a trite mixture of farce and melodrama that seems to drag on forever, all to the accompaniment of a tinkling music score.
At one point in the movie, Fey asks Fonda whether, as Jews, they believe in hell. No answer is forthcoming, but it is certain that anyone watching “This Is Where I Leave You” will feel that he is in purgatory.
Anyone who appreciates the over-the-top action thrillers of the seventies and eighties — like the “Terminator” movies or John Carpenter’s early flicks — should find “The Guest” (Northpark) great fun.
Made by a couple of committed fanboys, it starts with a mysterious stranger arriving at the home of a family grieving the death of their soldier son. He claims to be the dead man’s comrade-in-arms, come to deliver his buddy’s final words to his parents and siblings. Naturally, he quickly ingratiates himself with them all, protecting them against schoolyard bullies, unfaithful boyfriends and bad bosses.
But is he really a good guy, or does he have a sinister side? When the dead soldier’s suspicious sister looks into the man’s past she unwittingly unleashes a bloodbath involving a nefarious corporation and a government conspiracy.
“The Guest” is unquestionably pulp trash, but it is grade-A trash, and it is absurdly enjoyable.
“The Maze Runner”
Inaugurating yet another multi-part teen adventure series based on a trio of young adult books, “The Maze Runner” (wide release) does not match “The Hunger Games,” but it is preferable to most of the recent attempts to copy that smash.
The setup is a riff on “Lord of the Flies.” In a dystopian future, a group of teen boys have been deposited in an isolated forest glade. The only route of escape is through a huge maze that not only closes every sundown, leaving anyone inside at the mercy of its giant spider defenders, but also changes its internal shape each night.
Naturally, the newest arrival (Dylan O’Brien, of MTV’s “Teen Wolf”) is the rebel who can lead the others through the maze to their liberation. But his victory will prove only temporary, because as the ending makes clear, he and his companions will face many trials saving the world in further installments.
This “Runner” arrives at the finish line a mite winded, and the lack of full resolution — as with all these movies that are planned to run over several installments — is frustrating. But the cast is agreeable, and the action well staged.
One can also appreciate the modest amount of CGI on hand, and the fact that it is not in 3-D.
“A Walk Among the Tombstones”
Liam Neeson reminds us that he can still act as the world-weary private investigator of “A Walk Among the Tombstones” (wide release), a grim, gritty thriller that is reminiscent of David Fincher’s “Se7ven.”
Neeson plays ex-cop Matt Scudder, who is drawn into the search for a pair of sadistic serial killers who target the wives and daughters of drug kingpins whom they hold for ransom but then brutally murder after the money is paid.
The plot is convoluted and, it must be said, not always entirely clear. The picture errs in revealing the killers’ identities too early but then not making them terribly interesting. The strain of misogyny and homophobia that runs through the movie is also unsettling.
But though very deliberately paced, the film builds considerable suspense. It also allows for some humorous asides about the limitations of technology, as it is set just before the Y2K scare.
This “Walk” sometimes stumbles, but overall it’s one of Neeson’s better recent efforts.
Cult favorite Kevin Smith (“Clerks”) returns with “Tusk” (wide release), a really strange horror comedy-drama based on one of his more popular podcasts.
Justin Long plays a podcaster who falls into the grasp of an elderly storyteller (veteran Michael Parks) who tells him a tale of once being shipwrecked with a walrus that saved his life, and is now determined to resurrect that experience of love and sacrifice. Doing so involves transforming his victim in a particularly gruesome fashion.
Meanwhile, Long’s friends fall in with a weird ex-detective who’s been tracking the abductor for years. The film’s joke is that the fellow is played by a special guest star — a big name encased in makeup so heavy you are not supposed to recognize him.
“Tusk” is certainly audacious, but it is neither scary, nor funny, nor insightful. It’s just weird.