Morning Glory is basically Working Girl for dummies. (Or Broadcast News for dummies; take your pick.) But even dummies need movies -- and better ones than genuine rotgut like Due Date or The Bounty Hunter -- and this comedy has enough charm, poise and class to satisfy most viewers looking for something lighthearted as we head into the festive holiday season.
The movie's success begins and ends with Rachel McAdams, an underrated (and underused) actress who's perpetually poised for greater things. Here, she plays Becky, a TV news producer who's just been tasked with saving a cellar-dweller morning show called Daybreak. In an effort to goose the ratings, she decides that the perfect on-air companion for Daybreak mainstay Colleen Peck (Diane Keaton) would be former news giant (and Pulitzer Prize winner) Mike Pomeroy (Harrison Ford). Mike's contract with the network forces him to accept the assignment, but he's hardly pleased, as a man who once wiped the sweat off the brow of an ailing Mother Teresa (among many other anecdotal achievements) finds it beneath him to appear on a show revolving around mind-numbing nuggets of infotainment.
Aside from one belated Indiana Jones adventure, Ford's been squandering his talents in dismal efforts for well over a decade now, so it's a treat to watch him deliver an amusing and robust performance as an insufferable curmudgeon in a film that's actually entertaining. He's well-matched by Keaton, even if the movie fails to fully capitalize on the antagonism between their characters. In fact, after a first half packed with sharp dialogue, nicely developing characters and even a sweet burgeoning romance (between Becky and a fellow producer played by Patrick Wilson), the picture largely coasts through its second half, as the increasingly busy plot mechanics drain away some of the fun. But Rachel McAdams remains engaging throughout, a young actress showcased in all her comedic glory.
The title of the new movie Conviction surely refers more to the actors than to those who toiled on the other side of the camera. Whereas the performers like Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell inhabit their roles with impressive dedication, folks like director Tony Goldwyn and screenwriter Pamela Gray merely seem to be going through the motions, expecting Academy Award nominations to come tumbling down simply because their film tackles Oscar-bait material. But this is one fishing expedition that will likely come up empty-handed.
The sort of homogenized, faintly uplifting film that's plugged in the ads with a "Heartland Truly Moving Picture Award" logo (a scarlet letter to seasoned moviegoers), Conviction relates the true-life tale of Betty Anne Waters (Swank), a lower-class Massachusetts wife and mother who spends close to two decades of her life trying to prove the innocence of her brother Kenny (Rockwell). Charged with murder, Kenny's serving a life sentence thanks in no small part to the efforts of a humorless police officer (Melissa Leo) and the testimonies of his wife (Clea DuVall) and girlfriend (Juliette Lewis).
But Betty Anne is convinced that he's not guilty, so this woman of limited education concentrates on the single goal of becoming a lawyer so she can work to free her sibling.
The cast members, especially the two leads, do their best to sell what on paper is a worthy story, but their game efforts come up short against the thudding treatment by Goldwyn and Gray. The two filmmakers are so myopic in their focus on their heroine's pitbull approach to judiciary matters that they fail to provide much in the way of context, with important background details either painted in broad strokes or ignored altogether.
Worse, their limitations result in a picture that operates at the same speed throughout, with little variation in tone. Ultimately, the finale will have audiences on their feet, but for the wrong reason -- not as part of a standing ovation but in an effort to beat a hasty retreat to the exit.
We've seen this duality at the multiplexes before, of course. Battling Christopher Columbus dramas in 1992; competing toon flicks about ants in 1998; dueling Truman Capote biopics in 2005-2006; and so on. Now, 2010 brings us a pair of animated features centering on a super-villain who eventually discovers his long-buried humanity and must face off against a baddie who's truly evil. Yet viewers who check out Megamind needn't have seen this past summer's Despicable Me to feel slightly let down by this similar outing.
Will Ferrell handles vocal duties as the title villain, whose joy at finally destroying his arch-nemesis, the preening Metro Man (Brad Pitt), soon turns to depression once he realizes there's no one around to challenge him. He ends up creating his own superhero (Jonah Hill), but it isn't long before the supposed do-gooder realizes it's more fun to be bad and sets about destroying the city and kidnapping TV reporter Roxanne Ritchi (Tina Fey). Megamind, who's grown sweet on Roxanne, now finds himself in the unlikely position of having to save rather than terrorize the civilians who have long feared and despised him.
Megamind is perfectly fine for the kids, but adults might find their own megaminds wandering at various points throughout a film that doesn't compare to The Incredibles when it comes to affectionately tweaking the superhero genre. Certainly, there are some moments of delightful inventiveness -- I love how Megamind occasionally disguises himself as Marlon-Brando-as-Jor-El-in-Superman -- but all too often, safe and sentimental scriptwriting proves to be this film's fatal Kryptonite.