Buckle up for an exciting, action-packed joyride in the refreshingly linear Fast and Furious. Having never seen any of the original trio in the series, I thought this car chase picture would be another mindless assault and, I must say, it works well for what it is: a straightforward, politically incorrect B-movie-a Western with cars instead of horses. Though the Demolition Derby formula is still gears, guns, and thugs-with girl-on-girl action tossed in-Fast and Furious is fueled by the brains and brawn male leads, unshaven Paul Walker (Eight Below) and Vin Diesel, two rivals that team to defeat Mexican druglords.
Hannah Montana: The Movie is my introduction to the Disney Channel’s popular character, a high school student who doubles as a pop superstar (Miley Cyrus). The movie plays out the identity crisis of wanting to be a tomboy and play dress-up. A country/city contrast kicks in with a climax that borrows from Mrs. Doubtfire, but it gets off to a rough start, is too long and is packed with folksy bromides. A country/hip-hop number tries too hard, though the music is accessible and enjoyable, and Miley in her skin-tight cutoffs is definitely growing up. There’s a hardworking farm-boy, real and screen dad Billy Ray Cyrus, who drags things to a crawl whenever he’s on screen and cannot act, and an anti-capitalist subplot that feels like it was approved by the Sierra Club-a developer proposes to build the best-looking mall in Miley’s economically troubled Tennessee town and Miley’s anti-progress grandmother runs him out of town (but she loves to go shopping). Hannah Montana is at its best when Hannah’s singing about keeping it real.
Another Disney star, Zac Efron (High School Musical), stars in this weekend’s 17 Again, which is part Back to the Future, part Big-and all mixed up. This movie isn’t awful; it just doesn’t have anything interesting to say. When 40ish dad Mike (Matthew Perry) is magically sent back to live in his 17-year-old body (Efron), there’s no point beyond controlling his kids-pressuring his son to play sports like he did, using an obnoxious horn-and speechifying that the purpose of sex is procreation. Of course, with Hollywood all but kneeling before the religionists, when a high school girl’s in trouble, abortion is never an option (it features the underhandedly anti-abortion picture Knocked Up‘s Leslie Mann). The funniest thing about 17 Again is his best friend’s (Tyler Steelman) nerdy courtship of the high school principal (Melora Hardin), which is predictable but entertaining. Efron safely carries the diversionary picture, and, while he doesn’t hurt his career in his first leading feature role, he doesn’t break out of High School Musical mode, either.
Another weekend opener, State of Play, starring Russell Crowe (Cinderella Man), Ben Affleck (Hollywoodland) and Rachel McAdams (The Notebook), is also mixed. Like most of today’s so-called thrillers, it’s slow-moving, convoluted and equipped with a random twist. With Mr. Crowe as a crusty print journalist-as good as ever-McAdams as an ambitious blogger, and Affleck as a congressman, State of Play chugs along like a late-night cable movie (it’s based on a British television program). Affleck is terrible, huffing and puffing and clenching his jaw like the whole world is at stake in every scene. Mr. Crowe does what he does, though he’s downsized to an Obama campaign slogan. McAdams is fine as the innocent. The picture’s anti-business theme that profit is immoral is expressed in lines like one Affleck spews that they’re “trying to privatize the Department of Homeland Security!!!” (a real patriot knows that there shouldn’t be such a department in the first place). The best line comes from an unabashed profit-seeker in the form of Helen Mirren as a biting newspaperwoman. Responding to pleading reporters on deadline, she deadpans what former newspaper readers figured out a long time ago: “I do not give a s— about the rest of the story.” Halfway through this static mystery, which includes Jason Bateman as the conspiracy’s weakest link, neither will you.