Directed by Tom McGrath, written by Alan Schoolcraft and Brent Simons, 96 minutes, rated PG.
There is plenty to admire in Tom McGrath’s new computer-animated film, “Megamind,” particularly at the beginning, when Alan Schoolcraft and Brent Simons’ script is as its tightest and funniest.
With wit and verve, they sweep the audience into the ether and leave them surprised by something unusual — intelligence. With the exception of Pixar’s films and this year’s terrific “How to Train Your Dragon,” it isn’t often that today’s animated features are given the kind of care “Megamind” initially enjoys, and so because of this, it’s impossible not to get caught up in the storytelling.
The film starts with the ongoing rivalry between two tots from outer space — Megamind (voice of Will Ferrell) and Metro Man (Brad Pitt).
In a well-done montage, we watch them grow into adults on Earth. With his large head and purple skin, Megamind never fits in with his new schoolmates — he’s relentlessly bullied, which works to change his initially kind demeanor into something darker. But with Metro Man’s muscles, good looks and his cool ability to fly, he’s a shoo-in for popularity, which he enjoys…a bit too much.
They both have a thing for reporter Roxanne Ritchi (Tina Fey, nicely deadpan, as usual), who also must ward off her cameraman Hal (Jonah Hill, nicely frenetic, as usual). But when Megamind decides that the only way he will receive respect in Metro City is by becoming a villain with the help of his sidekick, Minion (David Cross), the dynamic among the characters change, especially when Megamind takes Hal under his wing and turns him into an evil undoer.
If all of this sounds like a rave, it’s because the first half of the movie deserves one. But then, once Metro Man is out of picture for reasons that won’t be revealed here, the comic tension evaporates and we’re left with a movie in search of a story. It tries to drum one up with Hal, but that angle has nothing on the caustic chemistry enjoyed by Megamind and Metro Man, and the result is a movie that eventually falls flat.
Given the potential that’s squandered here, it’s sad to watch “Megamind” implode. It enjoys a fresh blast of ingenious writing at the start and then it gives way to stark predictability. It’s as if someone put the plot on a starvation diet. After feeding “Megamind” with a wealth of clever twists and turns and a mouthful of beautifully written, offbeat bons mots, it all dissipates into a movie that really should have been called “Nevermind.” Grade: C+
On Blu-ray disc
“Ocean’s 11: 50th Anniversary Edition”
Directed by Lewis Milestone, written by Harry Brown and Charles Lederer, 127 minutes, not rated.
The 1960 version of Lewis Milestone’s “Ocean’s 11,” now out on Blu-ray disc, bests Steven Soderbergh’s 2001 version for a singular reason — you believe what’s going down. The characters aren’t caricatures. The “cool” they bring to the screen isn’t manufactured. It’s real.
While the same problem with the first half of the remake also is an issue here — too many characters to take in at once, too many characters clogging the momentum — that is not true for the second half of the movie, in which everything comes together seamlessly and ends with a satisfying twist.
The trivia behind this movie is almost as good as the movie itself. While the Rat Pack — Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop — were busy performing their act in Las Vegas at The Sands at night, they shot the movie during the day and into the early morning. Hardly an easy shoot, but these guys liked to work almost as much as they liked to play.
Also interesting here is Las Vegas itself, where the film eventually takes place. Fifty years have completely changed that city, and there is a kind of fascination in seeing how Vegas has gone from a strip of relatively modest but lively joints to an area of massive hotels and casinos, all gleaming (at least at the south and midend of the Strip) with high-end shopping and five-star restaurants. The Vegas that now exists is nowhere in this movie, which deepens the film’s interest, if only from an historic perspective.
Not that creating anything historic is what they had in mind when they made the movie. This film was about having a good time, which occasionally comes at the expense of the story, particularly in its jumbled first half, when the brisk rhythm enjoyed in the movie’s last half isn’t achieved.
The film is about Danny Ocean (Sinatra), who has the idea to hit five Vegas casinos — The Sahara, The Riviera, The Desert Inn, The Sands and The Flamingo — and rob them of millions.
He’ll do so with his buddies from the World War II 82nd Airborne, which include Jimmy Foster (Lawford), Sam Harmon (Martin), John Howard (Davis), Mushy O’Connors (Bishop), Tony Bergdorf (Richard Conte), Roger Corneal (Henry Silva), Peter Rheimer (Norman Fell), Curly Steffans (Richard Benedict), Clem Harvey (Louis Jackson) and Vince Massler (Buddy Lester). Ingeniously, they’ll do the job on New Year’s Eve, just as everyone is loaded up on spirits and singing “Auld Lang Syne,” which will allow for distraction — and opportunity.
Revealing exactly how they plan to take down Vegas would spoil the fun, so we’ll leave it at that. What should be noted is that Angie Dickinson is on board as Ocean’s wife, Beatrice, and she’s given just a trace more screen time than Julia Roberts was in the remake — which isn’t much. Still, she adds tension to the movie because when it comes to her marriage with Ocean, the waters aren’t exactly sparkling.
In a terrific supporting role is Cesar Romero as Duke Santos, a creep on the make who plans to put a ring on the finger of Jimmy’s mother, the wealthy socialite, Mrs. Restes (Ilka Chase). Romero proves pivotal to complicating the plot, while Chase herself adds considerably to the film’s comedic charm. She’s as free with her money as she is with providing the movie a level of sophistication it wouldn’t have had without her in it, as well as several big laughs. Grade: B
WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and archive of movie reviews. Smith’s film reviews appear Fridays in Lifestyle, and his video movie previews appear Wednesdays in the Lifestyle section of bangordailynews.com. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.