Ryan Gosling anchors Half Nelson with a sturdy, utterly credible performance as a crack-addicted Brooklyn schoolteacher struggling to keep his life together. Strung out and depressed, he’s befriended by a student, Shareeka Epps, who’s fighting her own private battle in an environment that offers up drug-dealing as an easy way to exploit your neighbors for easy profits.
OK, nobody was expecting this near-disaster area of a movie to actually be any good — but at least it doesn’t even pretend to be any good. Snakes on a Plane is cheerfully shitty, from the barely-diegetic sex scene that shoves some tits onto the screen to the cheap frights when phony-looking CG snakes explode toward the camera lens. (Why didn’t New Line shell out for an Imax 3D version of this one?) The biggest liability may be the tension you can sense between the humble B-movie that was made when New Line wanted a PG-13 trifle, and the significantly cockier picture that was patched together in reshoots after the unprecedented Internet buzz encouraged the studio to forge ahead with an old-fashioned R-rated creature feature. Since most of the really gruesome material takes place in the digital realm, it’s easy to imagine how the bulk of the film’s graphic violence could be dialed up in the post process. But the film has the feel of a disjointed mix-and-match mess. Because that won’t matter to anyone but pointy-headed critics, New Line was quite right to refuse screenings of this to the press. Besides, it’s fun to see a more-or-less completely unknown quantity with a noisy crowd on opening night.