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Grown Ups, Knight and Day, Jonah Hex, Mother and Child
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Adam Sandler's worst film since the one-two punch of Little Nicky and the inexplicably popular Big Daddy a decade ago, Grown Ups marks the umpteenth collaboration between the comedian and director Dennis Dugan. Dugan is to screen comedy what the atomic bomb was to Nagasaki, and with this film, he and the ostensible writers (Sandler and Fred Wolf) serve up a mirthless affair in which the only people laughing are the ones on screen.

In fact, that's basically the plot of the movie: As five school chums reunite 30 years later to honor the passing of their former coach, Lenny (Sandler) makes a bad joke and the others laugh. Then Eric (Kevin James) makes a bad joke and the others laugh. And so on through Kurt (Chris Rock), Marcus (David Spade) and Rob (Rob Schneider). As they're laughing, those of us in the audience are cringing, whether it's because of the scene in which Eric pisses on Marcus' back, or because Marcus lands face-first (twice!) into a pile of fecal matter, or because Marcus thinks he might have had drunken intercourse with a dog, or because Rob's wife (Joyce Van Patten) is an elderly woman who enjoys sex (the film forcefully pushes the notion that old people and ugly people are only put on this planet for the amusement of past-their-prime comedians of varying skills).

The most talented performers in the film, Salma Hayek, Maria Bello and Maya Rudolph, are wasted in their roles as The Three Walking Sets of Breasts -- excuse me, the wives of Sandler, James and Rock, respectively (in arrested-development movies like these, nerdy schlubs always have hot wives). Yet even these actresses don't escape the script's indignities, as evidenced by the scene in which Bello squirts Rudolph in the face with milk from her tit. Countless sequences like this one reverted me back to my own infancy, as I wanted to do nothing more than curl up in a fetal position and block out the screen.



Cameron Diaz did some of her best acting when she was cast opposite Tom Cruise in Cameron Crowe's underrated Vanilla Sky, but the difference between that dark mindbender and this sunny concoction is as glaring as the difference between... well, I'm not gonna say it.

The similarity between the films, though, is obvious -- specifically, the fact that Cruise and Diaz again prove to be an engaging team. Upgraded from the supporting status she held in Vanilla Sky (Penelope Cruz was the lead chiquita), Diaz here plays June Havens, an innocent who gets sucked into the high-voltage world of secret agent Roy Miller (Cruise). Roy repeatedly insists to June that he's actually an honorable FBI agent who's been set up by his colleague Fitzgerald (Peter Sarsgaard) as a way to cover up his own nefarious actions; of course, Fitzgerald later informs the confused gal that he's the one on the level and that Roy is a former agent turned rogue. June doesn't know who to believe (not so those of us in the audience), although she does know that Roy is remarkably adept at keeping her alive whenever bullets whiz by and explosions are set off in the vicinity.

Director James Mangold and writer Patrick O'Neill mean for none of this to be taken seriously, but even escapist popcorn fare should have some semblance of intelligence. Instead, Knight and Day is often so preposterous (especially during the CGI-heavy action scenes) that it makes The A-Team look as complex as L.A. Confidential by comparison. Luckily, Cruise and Diaz both have their movie-star wattage burning bright, and their easy-going rapport makes the whole confection go down easily.



Strip Jonah Hex of its closing credits and we're looking at a movie that clocks in at approximately an hour and a quarter. Such a brief running time would be OK if the film arrived, got the job done, and left, but that's not the case. Instead, this adaptation of the DC Comics series is primarily sabotaged by a choppy, truncated style that suggests it was edited with the same fire-licked hatchet used to scar its protagonist's face.

Resembling nothing so much as a blown opportunity, Jonah Hex can at least boast of a well-chosen leading man in Josh Brolin and a few striking visuals that hint at a modicum of talent in director Jimmy Hayward (who previously only worked in animation, toiling for Pixar before helming Fox's Horton Hears a Who!). But the rest is a shameful mess, an obvious example of a film that was sliced and diced even after the cameras were rolling (original scripters Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor have basically disowned the final product). The character of Jonah Hex is an interesting one -- he's presented as a former Confederate soldier whose family was killed by the ruthless Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich in one of his laziest performances) and whose face was disfigured by the same man. Years later, now a wanted outlaw who somehow also doubles as a bounty hunter, Jonah is hired by President Ulysses S. Grant (Aidan Quinn) to stop Turnbull and his Tea Party-like followers from destroying the U.S. government with his doomsday device.

Jonah Hex is one big rush, but not in the positive sense. Characters appear and disappear at will (close your eyes for more than five seconds and you might miss Revolutionary Road's Michael Shannon), jumbled flashbacks tell us things we already knew or surmised, and stiff Megan Fox occasionally turns up as a tough hooker with a soft spot for our anti-hero. Frankly, Jonah has more chemistry with his horse.



Three terrific performances are at the center of Mother and Child, an emotionally taxing drama that focuses on a trio of women all dealing with the issue of adoption. Annette Bening, perhaps first among equals, is all coiled tension and repressed emotion as Karen, who at 14 was forced by her mother (Eileen Ryan) to give up her newborn baby and has been haunted by the incident ever since. She's intolerant and rude to everyone around her, and it takes an attentive coworker (Jimmy Smits) to finally start breaking down her defenses.

Naomi Watts displays a chilly disposition as Elizabeth, who was given up for adoption as a child and has been molded by her past into an icy attorney who prefers to avoid (or toy with) people rather than get close to them. That begins to change, however, once she embarks on an affair with her boss (Samuel L. Jackson). And Kerry Washington packs the empathic heat as Lucy, whose infertility leads her and her cloddish husband Joseph (David Ramsey) to want to adopt a child. They meet with a pregnant young woman (Shareeka Epps) who's interviewing prospective couples to raise her child, but Lucy isn't sure that she and Joseph will be picked for the honor.

Writer-director Rodrigo Garcia leans toward the melodramatic during the final portion of the film, and it's annoying how neatly all the story strands manage to wrap around each other right before the fadeout. But for the most part, Garcia offers a sober, clear-eyed picture that's populated with prickly personalities and unenviable situations, and he and his actors are brave enough not to flinch even during the most challenging interludes.