SMURFS 2 ***1/2 (108 minutes) G
Yay! The Smurfs are back - bigger, bolder and bluer than ever. It's fun fun fun, a more-than-worthy, hyper-energetic sequel to the fabulous first film, which took a meagre $US564m. (And brace yourselves for a third.)
Lovably comic, non-threatening villain Gargamel (Hank Azaria) is now a celebrity conjurer in Paris, but fame, money and a penthouse are not enough; he wants more Smurf essence so he can enslave the world. Thus, he gets Vexy, his sexy cute non-Smurf creation (voiced by Christina Ricci) to draw Smurfette (Katy Perry) from Smurfland into the real world.
It's all wonderful fantasy nonsense, delivered fast and with plenty of self-consciously cheap laughs that had the preview audience in stitches. Director Raja Gosnell - who has great family-film form with Home Alone 3; Never Been Kissed; Big Momma's House; Scooby-Doo 1&2; Beverly Hills Chihuahua - did the first Smurfs outing and comes up trumps with a hugely entertaining kids' flick.
The film's impressive big-name cast includes: Neil Patrick Harris; Brendan Gleeson; lan Cumming; Anton Yelchin; George Lopez; Jeff Foxworthy; J. B. Smoove; Jimmy Kimmel; Paul Reubens; B. J. Novak and Shaquille O'Neal.
In a touching touch, the film is dedicated to the late, brilliant improv master Jonathan Winters, aka the voice of Papa Smurf.
RIPD *1/2 (96 minutes) M
It's MIB meets Ghost via Ghostbusters in this flat, FX-driven drivel about a supernatural police force made up of dead cops, killed in the line of action across the centuries. Apparently, they're not just scratching the bottom of the Hollywood ideas barrell, they've worn all the way through and are now hitting the floor.
It's high concept hijinx with so-so visuals - how many swirling, apocalyptic skies can we see in one year?! - with the magnificent Jeff Bridges (Oscar-winner for Crazy Heart, please remember) wasted as a hokey Wild West comic sidekick to a blander-than-usual Ryan Reynolds, who plays a recently deceased modern cop wanting to get to the bottom of what his ex-partner (Kevin Bacon) is up to.
It's awful. Starved of ideas, the film somehow cost $US130m to make; it took $66.6m globally and is one of a string of recent big-budget flops (Lone Ranger; Pacific Rim; White House Down) that is making studios rethink about how much dosh they are willing to sink into these stinkers.
Here's a suggestion for them: tell filmmakers who pitch these things that you'll greenlight it if they guarantee they'll make it for half the proposed cost. If they gag, tell them to get off the lot.
MOOD INDIGO *** (94 minutes; subtitled) MA
Off-beat French director Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; Be Kind Rewind; The Green Hornet) delivers a frothy, dreamlike romantic fantasy spiced by a constant cascade of surprising visual sparks. Starring Romain Duris (Heartbreaker) and Audrey Tautou (Amelie), it's a constantly delightful French confection.
PARANOIA * (106 minutes) M
Let's be absolutely clear: Liam Hemsworth is a good actor. He was fine opposite Miley Cyrus in The Last Song (2010) and did well in his brief role in The Expendables 2 (2012). In the lame, utterly boring Paranoia, however, he is utterly at sea opposite such heavyweights as Gary Oldman and Harrison Ford, who play rival high-tech corporate titans.
This is a tedious turkey of the first order. As well as being supremely dull, the film does no favours for feminism - or what's left of it - as far as film roles go.
To wit: Amber Heard (Pineapple Express; All the Boys Love Mandy Lane; Drive Angry; The Rum Diary) plays an ambitious corporate young gun who suddenly becomes a flaky idiot as soon as she falls into bed with Hemsworth's charmless, tech-savvy go-getter.
Good lord. It's 2013, people; is this really the kind of roles young actresses should be playing in major movies?
The film is also a mis-step for talented Australian director Robert Luketic, who hit home runs with Legally Blonde (2001), 21 (2008), The Ugly Truth (2009) and Monster-in-Law (2005). Here's looking forward to his prompt recovery.