Sunshine Cleaning

729_sunshine-cleaning.jpgI stared at a blank screen for a long time before I started typing this review, mainly because it was hard to think of how much I could possibly say about Sunshine Cleaning that would make it sound any different from or more substantial than the hundreds of other quirky American indie dramatic comedies and comedic dramas that clog the festival circuit each year. And it’s true this sounds deadly precious on paper. It’s the story of a single mom, dreams dashed, who’s having a tough time making ends meet while taking care of her impulsive, socially awkward son and keeping tabs on her lovably dotty father. She eventually pools resources with her sister to start a business dealing in death, which leads to a whole new perspective on life. It all sounds pretty banal. And then I had a realization: It’s the performances, dummy.

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Bottle Rocket


Can’t Hardly Wait


My review of Can’t Hardly Wait on Blu-ray Disc is online at

Can’t Hardly Wait deals in a shameless, sunny-eyed idealism that

prizes sincerity and explicitly privileges the notion of true love; the

spirit of Wim Wenders even touches the film as, in one spectacularly

sweet vignette, a bikini-clad angel (Jenna Elfman, in a terrific

uncredited cameo) touches down outside a neon-lit diner to dispense

some hard-won advice to the broken-hearted protagonist. In short, we’re

a long way yet from the crass, porn-inflected attitudes of Superbad

The House Bunny

Anna Faris gives a kooky, effervescent performance in this

depressingly conventional post-feminist farce about what happens when a

pampered, sheltered beauty queen gets kicked out of her Playboy Mansion

home at the ripe age of 27. The hapless, homeless, half-naked sexpot wanders

onto the front lawn of the least popular local sorority and sets about teaching

the frumpy women of Zeta house how to dress like Pussycat Dolls in order to

attract the new pledges they desperately need — and the boys who will give

their lives meaning. If you think of this Adam Sandler co-production as a cross

between Legally Blonde and a gender-swapped Revenge of the Nerds, you won’t

be too far off the mark. There is something compelling about the idea of a dumb

comedy starring funny women for a change — and Faris is really funny. But the

script isn’t exactly full of surprises, and just about every major scene (the

awkward date, the makeover, the sexy car wash) is a too-familiar cliché in a

film that contradicts itself, insisting that men want women who are beautiful

on the inside — only after asserting that you need to wear big hair, push-up

bras and shorty-shorts to get their attention. C+

Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins


Ostensibly a warning about the perils of Hollywood-style self-absorption, Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins feels too much like another one of those films in which movie-industry types admire the nobility of the rubes living in flyover country. Martin Lawrence plays the title character, who left his Georgia home behind, changed his name to Dr. R.J. Stevens and launched a hit daytime talk show in the Jerry Springer mode. The film begins with Daddy Jenkins (James Earl Jones) sternly suggesting that, after nine years in L.A., it’s time for Roscoe to come back for a family visit. The mayhem that ensues is largely driven by the clash between Roscoe’s uptight-vegan reality-TV-star wife (Joy Bryant) and family members like used-car salesman Clyde (Cedric the Entertainer) and boisterous, straight-talking, sweet-tea-guzzling Betty (Mo’Nique). Also on-hand is an old high-school crush, Lucinda (Nicole Ari Parker). The actors all try hard (Mike Epps as motormouthed cousin Reggie is a hyperactive standout) and there are a few laugh-out-loud gags — one of them involving a cheerfully explicit dog-on-dog sex scene — but talented writer/director Malcolm D. Lee (check out Undercover Brother) relies so much on hoary formula that his story and characters never come alive. It has its moments scattered here and there, but few surprises. C

The Cottage


The gimmick of this energetic Brit-com is that the action

switches, approximately halfway through, from comic crime drama to comic

splatter movie. The main problem, then, is that The Cottage, against the odds, makes a better caper movie than gore flick. The first half-hour or so is an

engaging and amusing farce about kidnappers David (Andy Serkis) and Peter

(Reece Shearsmith), who drive to a secluded house with their hostage, Tracey

(Jennifer Ellison) bound and gagged in the trunk. It’s not the best plan — the outrageously busty Tracey may be the daughter of a gangster, but she’s a terrible hostage, strong-willed and foul-mouthed. She knows David on sight. And their inside man, Tracey’s brother Andrew, is a dimwit who brings the whole scheme tumbling down on top of them. About the time the car pulls up outside with a couple of Chinese hit men out for blood, The Cottage has established itself as a credibly tense comedy.

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Sh! The Octopus


That great title is the main attraction of this cheerfully nonsensical

Warner Bros. farce, which mixes up a couple of bumbling police detectives,

Kelly and Dempsey (Hugh Herbert and Allen Jenkins), with a trenchcoated dame

(Vesta Vernoff) who stumbles out of the rain and into their squad car claiming

that her stepfather has been murdered at a nearby lighthouse. “He’s the

inventor of a radium ray so powerful that anyone who controls it controls the

world,” she explains with a straight face, then adds, urgently, “Every nation

is seeking it.”

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