Film criticism by Ian Kay.

Three Walk-outs

Three movies I couldn’t finish: “Couples Retreat” (2009), “Invictus” (2009) and “Despicable Me” (2010)

Professional movie critics sometimes have the unenviable task of sitting through terrible movies. For credibility’s sake, they do not have the luxury of leaving before it is over. At this point in my life, I am not in the employ of a publication or website of any sort. So when a movie is aimless, boring, not funny, I can get up and walk away whenever I so choose.

To give a movie a fair chance, I won’t give up on it without seeing at least the first hour. That gives me time to fall into the world of the director, perhaps begin to see what he or she is trying to achieve. After all, not every movie (or piece of art) is immediately accessible.  But most  of the time, bad movies have no value in relation to say, a bewildering Rothko or Pollock. Those two artists are likely worth an extra moment of consideration, whatever your initial reaction. A film like Couples Retreat, however, promised to be no more than an amusing diversion. Take out the “amusing” part, and it’s certainly not worth 53 more minutes of my time.

In turn, I likely will not often take the time to write  about films I do not value enough to even finish.  This past few weeks, however, I have run across three movies I could not bother to finish, two on DVD and one in the theater. This is remarkable for me because I usually leave a movie unfinished only two or three times in a year.

The first, a rental, was Couples Retreat. If you take a look on Rotten Tomatoes, I am not the only person to loathe the film. There are comedies who waste talent on lame jokes. There are comedies that are so bad they move full circle and are funny again, albeit in a non-conventional way. Then there are movies like Couples Retreat. It is a mean-spirited, boring, embarrassingly clunky attempt at spoofing dysfunctional married couples.  It’s the next worst thing to actually being stuck at dinner with real bickering couples.

Next came Invictus, a well-received, politically-correct story from Hollywood’s favorite cowboy-turned-king-of-schmaltz, Clint Eastwood.  Morgan Freeman is Nelson Mandella, and we discover how he leveraged the sport of rugby to help unify South Africa. If you had asked me before the film was made who I would cast as Mandella, I would have said Freeman. He is perfect for the roll. Unfortunately, his performance is rife with affectation and weighed down with platitudes and eye-rolling dramatic pauses. Freeman is not an actor who easily disappears into his character. Gary Oldman, Dustin Hoffman (in his early work) and Emma Thompson disappear into their characters. But Morgan Freeman in Invictus is Morgan Freeman putting on the halting, philosophic tones of Nelson Mandella and getting really close to getting it right. Yet we are never involved enough to forget that he is not Nelson Mandella. On top of Freeman’s laboriously pontificating Mandella, Eastwood’s lust for emotional string-pulling and disconnection with non-Hollywood reality bogs the whole picture down for anyone not watching out of affection for the real Mandella and the great things he did.

Despicable Me, which I walked out on just last night, is the best of the three movies here. I was simply misinformed. It is not a charming, “something for kids and adults alike!” animated feature like Pixar’s movies and some of Disney’s. It is a silly, plotless cartoon that received loads of belly-laughs from the five-year-olds in the crowd. I admit I chuckled a handful of times at the Minions and their antics, and the stray shot of a device or stuffed animal head. But my advice is, unless you have very young kids (who will likely love it), skip this one. I found myself yawning and checking my watch at about 45 minutes in.