By the time we catch up with hit men Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson), their work in Bruges - a picturesque city in Belgium, in case you didn't know - is done. But until their boss (Ralph Fiennes) gives them the green light to skip town, they have to stick around, put on a happy face and blend in with the scores of tourists who haven't just killed somebody. That's a funny premise, and "In Bruges" doesn't disappoint in the comedy department. But the funniest thing of all about "Bruges" is how, in stark contrast to most heist and caper films, it so transparently wears its heart on its sleeve. Yes, there's a twist, and yes, it's a monster, and yes, it forces the film to change moods on a dime. But "Bruges" handles the whiplash without betraying its snarky beginnings, choosing instead to let its characters carry out their mood swings without pretense or a filter. The strong devotion to character design carries "Bruges" with ease through its first hour, and a fantastic second twist carries it the most of the rest of the way, where a final act brilliantly bottles both extremes and carries the whole thing home.
Will Hayes (Ryan Reynolds) is getting a divorce. And if you think he doesn't understand that whole ordeal, imagine how his 11-year-old daughter Maya (Abigail Breslin) feels. Yes, that's a pretty tired plot outline, and "Definitely, Maybe's" bland title and stock box art won't do the naked eye any favors in differentiating it from the flood of cliched romantic comedy also-rans that infect store shelves weekly. That's too bad, too, because "Maybe" - which frames its plot around a story Will tells his daughter about how he met the woman he's about to divorce - deserves better than that. It's funny, well-written and is home to enough surprises to ward off any accusations of being overly formulaic. Most importantly, though, it isn't neat. The relationship between temptation, ambition and love is hardly a marriage of clean lines, and while "Maybe" never makes you forget it's only a movie, it nonetheless does a fine job of illustrating just how trying the whole ordeal can be. That it does so without losing its sense of optimism and humor is merely a nice bonus.
Employing washed-up never-was of a boxer Jerry "The Hammer" Ferro (Adam Carolla) as a sparring partner for Olympic hopeful Robert Brown (Harold House Moore) is a cheaper proposition than actually paying someone with talent to do the job. Or rather, it would have been had Ferro not shown Brown up and landed himself a date alongside him at the U.S. Olympic trials. A 40-year-old who hasn't boxed in years finally realizing the dream he couldn't achieve 21 years prior ... happens every day, right? Sure, if you live in Hollywood. As the outline implies, "The Hammer's" script has more cliche than a pizza buffet has crust, and it absolutely will test your ability to turn off that part of your brain that doesn't tolerate suspending disbelief to the degree this one demands. But while the film leans hard on narrative formula, it leans even harder on Carolla, who leaves "The Hammer" no more an actor than he was when he entered. Believe it or not, that's what makes the whole thing work.
Juneau Empire ©2014. All Rights Reserved.