Not all ‘Fine’ with latest De Niro film

By Christopher Smith,
Posted Dec. 03, 2009, at 5:36 p.m.

In theaters

EVERYBODY’S FINE, written and directed by Kirk Jones, 95 minutes, rated PG-13.

The gag-inducing melodrama “Everybody’s Fine” hails from Kirk Jones, whose phone calls, kisses, handshakes and hugs no longer will be returned when this baby hits theaters today.

Okay, so maybe that isn’t true — it’s tough to crush a mother’s love — but what is true is that this movie is so lame it should see a specialist.

The film is based on Giuseppe Tornatore’s 1990 Italian movie “Stanno tutti bene,” which starred Marcello Mastroianni as a man coming to terms with his five estranged children. It was a good film, and one better left alone.

As for Jones, who writes and directs this moist remake, he swiftly crushes it with cliches and sentiment at every opportunity he gets. This wannabe windbag of weepiness is schlock for the holidays, a gross wallow through an emotional sinkhole that smells a whole lot like a … well, we’ll stop there.

What’s curious about the film is that it’s being put up by Miramax for Academy Award consideration. So, here’s a toast to them for embracing their grand disillusionment! My voting screener arrived last week, with a bevy of hopefuls listed on the back of the packaging. Noted were Jones for directing and writing, Paul McCartney for his original song “(I Want To) Come Home” and the film’s star, Robert De Niro, who is being positioned for the Best Actor category.

And here’s the thing about De Niro’s performance — he might have had a shot at a nomination if the script hadn’t sold him out so frequently. He’s quite good here, but he’s sandbagged by a movie that so wants to wring the hell out of your heart it actually ends up turning your stomach.

To wit: In the film, De Niro is Frank Goode (of course, his last name is Goode), he’s battling lung cancer (of course, he’s battling lung cancer), he recently lost his wife (of course, he recently lost his wife), and he’s struck by disappointment when his four children stiff him for a visit (of course, they stiff him for a visit) even though he bought a few good steaks, watered the plants and spiffed up the joint for their arrival.

Not taking that snub lying down, Frank goes to his doctor, ignores the man’s pleas for Frank to “take it easy and stay home” and instead boards a train that will carry him all over the country to visit those grown-up children who didn’t want to visit daddy.

Among them are an unremarkable bunch actively keeping secrets from Frank. They are the wildly successful Amy (Kate Beckinsale), the cagey musician Robert (Sam Rockwell) and pretty Rosie (Drew Barrymore), who lives in Vegas as a “dancer.” And then there’s David. We’ll leave David for you. As for the others, the most believable moments are shared between De Niro and Barrymore, who connect onscreen in ways that have meaning in spite of the meaningless material. Go figure. Beckinsale is icy, as usual, and as for Rockwell, let’s just say his character won’t win any fans.

“Everybody’s Fine” literally is a film about connections, with Jones so determined to make them he offers this cheek-biting metaphor: Throughout his adult life, Frank’s job was to make the thousands of miles of wires that are strung along telephone poles across the country. The movie follows those wires from Amy to Robert to Rosie, and by the end of it all, when the final hilarious reveal hits in the form of a painting, nobody should be surprised that those wires have gathered together to do the right thing — form one mother of a noose.

Grade: D+

On DVD and Blu-ray Disc

TERMINATOR SALVATION, directed by McG, written by John Brancato and Michael Ferris, 107 minutes, rated PG-13.

What’s most surprising about McG’s humorless yet action-packed “Terminator Salvation,” the fourth film in the long-running “Terminator” franchise, is that Christian Bale, widely touted as the film’s star, has only a co-starring role as John Connor, on whom the fate of humanity long has rested.

The film’s real star is the terrific Sam Worthington, whose vitae might not be as impressive as Bale’s (at least not yet — he is, after all, set to star in James Cameron’s upcoming “Avatar”), but who has the far more difficult role to manage.

Here, he is Marcus Wright and when we first meet him in 2003, he is about to be executed for crimes that occurred offscreen. But before the life-ending drugs drip into his body, one Dr. Kogen (Helena Bonham Carter) convinces Wright to sign over his body to science. Just what that means, Wright doesn’t know, but he agrees, he dies, Kogen has her way with him and suddenly we’re in 2018, judgment day has occurred (the world is in Apocalyptic ruins) and his memory is erased.

Other things have changed about him too, but those are best left for the screen to reveal. Safe to say that when Marcus finally comes to meet Connor, each man is faced with destructive Terminator robots, a war and with what it means to be human and what it means to be machine. Whether they can coexist is at the core of this story.

McG, best known for the “Charlie’s Angels” movies, knows how to stage action — some scenes are fresh and exciting, such as when snake-like robots swarm in for a feast and then find themselves writhing for their undead lives.

Mirroring the recent “Star Trek,” performances matter in this movie, even if the humor from the previous “Terminator” movies has unfortunately gone missing.

Beyond Worthington, a highlight is Moon Bloodgood as Blair Williams, who matches Linda Hamilton when it comes to channeling a tough, no-nonsense woman who knows how to fight in spite of the odds stacked against her. In her scenes opposite Wright, she also provides an unforced romantic subplot that gives the film the punch of depth it needs. Bryce Dallas Howard and Anton Yelchin co-star, with only the latter leaving a lasting impression. And as for Bale, he’s good — solid amid the ongoing storm — but don’t expect much of him.

This is Sam Worthington’s movie, and he steals it.

Grade: B

WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and movie reviews. Smith’s reviews appear Fridays and weekends in Lifestyle, as well as on bangordailynews.com. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.

http://bangordailynews.com/2009/12/03/living/not-all-lsquofinersquo-with-latest-de-niro-film/ printed on September 17, 2014