Friday, January 25, 2008

Dance, torture and beheadings -- or another weekend of big-screen entertainment

Summary: Three new movies open today, one is small and worthy, another other small and close to worthless. We're talking about "How She Move" (a derivative but entertaining dance movie) and "Untraceable" (a derivative and increasingly sleazy thriller). I'm not going to belabor either movie. See one. Avoid the other.

"Rambo?" Sylvester Stallone's latest attempt to revive his iconic image falls into in a class by itself. It's the kind of movie that makes you laugh at its violent excess while leaving you feeling slightly appalled.

How She Move. Rutina Wesley brings equal amounts of rue and energy to the role of a high-school student who turns to competitive step dancing as a means of earning money for a scholarship to a tony prep school. Bursting with determination and talent, Wesley anchors a movie that has a minimal but serviceable plot, sketchily drawn characters and lots of dancing. Step dancing -- depicted as a substitute for competitive encounters of a more dangerous kind -- has a stark, riveting quality that grabs attention. Hardly a cinematic triumph, "How She Move" nonetheless gets the job done.

Untraceable. Diane Lane moves into Jodie Foster territory as an FBI agent who works to stop computer fraud. Lane's Jennifer is pulled out of her element when she discovers a Web site called Kill With Creepy for at least an act-and-a-half -- director Gregory Hoblit makes Portland look menacing enough to require a quarantine -- the movie eventually runs out of credible plot. Colin Hanks (as one of Lane's techie associates), Billy Burke (as a hard-nosed Portland cop) and Joseph Cross (as a serial killer in the twitchy Anthony Perkins "Psycho" mode) offer support. The movie purports to be a critique of those who take a voyeuristic interest in torture, but isn't "Untraceable" asking its audience to do pretty much the same thing?

Rambo. Sylvester Stallone tries to do for "Rambo" what he did for "Rocky" last year, breathe life into a long-dormant franchise. Say this for the 61-year-old Stallone: He has no interest in acting his age. As the laconic and brutal-when-necessary John Rambo, Stallone kicks butt -- blowing people to smithereens or reducing them to insignificance with that piercing Rambo stare. Full of flying flesh and severed body parts, "Rambo" sends Stallone up river from Thailand to Burma. He initially escorts a group of religious do-gooders into the thick of brutal ethnic cleansing and then returns to save the woman in the group. Stallone still can do Rambo, and as the movie's director, he works hard to make sure that his movie becomes a veritable orgy of violence. The series began in 1982 with the lean/mean "First Blood." If nothing else, "Rambo" proves that more than 25 years later, there's still plenty of blood to be shed and that Stallone is deadly serious about paying homage to his own past. Rambo made some sort of sense when he embodied the residue of anger over Vietnam; now, he's a character who gives Stallone an opportunity to sell a movie built around minimal plot and maximum plasma. A stony faced Stallone captures snakes, fires bullets and rips a man's throat apart, as "Rambo" pits him against legions of bad guys -- soldiers conducting genocide. But the violence has the kind of indiscriminate feel that makes you feel Stallone subscribes to a credo that says once aroused, John Rambo must kill anything that moves. In a hopelessly brutal world, he's supposed to be the only effective antidote. Talk about macho fantasy.

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