The latest crop of new films includes an exemplary sequel, a predictable romantic comedy and an interesting (if bloody) exercise in exorcism that — wonder of wonders — treats faith seriously.
Begin Again (Weinstein)
Competent pop tunes are strung together by a hackneyed plot line in this romantic comedy. And despite the time writer-director John Carney’s script spends railing against cliches and stereotypes in the recording industry, the formulaic dialogue in this redemption story of a plucky singer and an alcoholic record executive sounds left over from an inspirational lecture.
“I think that music is about ears, not about eyes,” says Gretta (Keira Knightley) to Dan (Mark Ruffalo), the A&R (artists and repertoire) executive just fired from the label he’d help found. Dan, once a genius at discovering new talent, is now a bitter boozer and estranged from wife and daughter, while Gretta used to be the girlfriend and muse for recording star Dave (Adam Levine).
Gretta’s talent for lyric writing landed Dave a major label contract and all the wealth that went with it. But she’s astute enough to realize from a single demo recording for his latest album that Dave’s no longer singing for her, but in celebration of a new romance.
Gretta and Dan both end up in reduced circumstances in Greenwich Village. All it takes is a single hearing of her breathy singing voice in a basement dive, and Dan is inspired. He’s an unpleasant drunken slob at this point with a habit of running out on his bar tabs. Yet Gretta is still intrigued enough to drop her plan to return to Britain and enroll in college.
Without money and a recording studio at his disposal, Dan strikes on the idea of cobbling together Gretta’s demo album using moxie, drive and whatever “free” musicians he can corral.
All you need is love. Don’t sell out. Be your own person. Mismatched people can still find romance. It’s a stout formula with attractive lead actors. But, aside from the appealing music, this rendition of the recipe is fairly stale.
The film contains fleeting profanity and frequent rough and crude language. (A-III, R)
Deliver Us From Evil (Screen Gems)
As exorcism movies go, director and co-writer Scott Derrickson’s screen version of Ralph Sarchie’s memoir “Beware the Night” (written with Lisa Collier Cool) is better than most. And though sensational at times, it does at least treat faith seriously. That’s hardly a surprise, however, given the sober tenor of Derrickson’s earlier take on the subject, 2005’s “The Exorcism of Emily Rose.”
Even so, its dark subject matter and some intense (and bloody) interludes suggest a cautious approach toward Derrickson’s latest dance with the devil on the part of all but the most resilient screen patrons.
The film’s credibility and effectiveness derive in large part from the profile of its main character. A no-nonsense New York City police officer and lapsed Catholic, Sgt. Sarchie (Eric Bana) is the last person to attribute the depraved behavior he encounters every day to supernatural causes.
So it’s all the more remarkable when Sarchie’s investigation of a series of peculiar crimes taking place on his beat in the South Bronx eventually leads him to suspect that more than ordinary evil is at work in them. He’s helped to that conclusion by Father Joe Mendoza (Edgar Ramirez), a priest whose ties to the Church are frayed, but whose spiritual outlook is orthodox enough.
Father Mendoza’s freelancer status and checkered past, the latter described at some length in the dialogue, may not sit well with some Catholic moviegoers. Yet, as Derrickson’s script, written with Paul Harris Boardman, suggests, who better to battle Satan than someone with demons of his own that he’s managed to vanquish?
Whatever his earlier shortcomings, Father Mendoza certainly takes his priesthood seriously. He insists, for instance, that to be properly armed for his forthcoming struggle with the forces of darkness, Sarchie must humble himself before God, preferably by going to confession.
That Sarchie, for all his initial scoffing, does so indicates that “Deliver Us From Evil” is not just out to evoke chills. It’s also, in the strictest sense, a conversion story as well as an exploration of the reality of superhuman malevolence. In the face of such iniquity, the movie suggests, only an active and trusting faith will suffice.
The film contains mature themes, occasional gory violence, about a dozen uses of profanity, frequent rough and crude language and an obscene gesture. (L, R)
Planes: Fire & Rescue (Disney)
Anthropomorphic aircraft take to the skies again in this lively follow-up to last summer’s franchise kickoff, “Planes.” Directed by Roberts Gannaway from a screenplay by returning writer Jeffrey M. Howard, “Planes: Fire & Rescue” is that rare sequel which surpasses the original in action, adventure, and 3-D animation.
That last element is especially vivid and immersive (the looping aerial scenes, in fact, may even make some viewers queasy). The humanless universe that originated with the “Cars” film series is cleverly expanded, with new autos, boats and trains joining the fun.
Amid the many sight gags and puns, there’s a positive message about personal sacrifice on behalf of those in need, expressed by the fearless air-attack teams and smoke jumpers battling fires deep in the California forest.
Picking up where “Planes” left off, the sequel finds Dusty Crophopper, the humble cropduster-turned-racing-champion central to the first movie, an international celebrity. Life is good, until an accident reveals a deadly secret: Dusty’s gearbox is failing. For a racer, this spells doom. Unless Dusty slows down, he may never fly again.
An opportunity to switch gears — and careers — arises in Piston Peak National Park. There an elite firefighting crew, led by veteran rescue helicopter Blade Ranger, is dedicated to protecting the forest — and the tourists who frequent a new hotel, the Grand Fusel Lodge.
Assisting Dusty in his training regimen are Lil’ Dipper, a love-struck “super-scooper” aircraft (which carries water or flame retardant), and Windlifter, a heavy-lift helicopter who serves as the park’s resident sage. When a major fire burns out of control and threatens the hotel, Dusty is put to the ultimate test and witnesses true heroism in action.
Some of the nail-biting action scenes in “Planes: Fire & Rescue” may be a bit intense for the youngest viewers. Additionally, a few double entendres — presumably aimed at adults — may raise concerns for parents. While these one-liners are likely to pass at an elevation well above kids’ heads, their slightly incongruous presence precludes endorsement for all.
Adults, on the other hand, will appreciate the cameo voices and inside jokes. As one depressed car says to a hotel bartender, “She left me for a hybrid. I didn’t even hear him coming.”
Blade Ranger’s backstory includes being the star of a cult television series called “CHoPs,” short for California Helicopter Patrol, a riff on the 1977-83 television series “CHiPs.” His TV sidekick, Nick “Loop’n” Lopez, is voiced by none other than “ChiPs’” Erik Estrada.
The film contains a few perilous situations and some mildly suggestive humor. (A-II, PG)