'Forbidden Kingdom' a mindless good time

Posted: Wednesday, September 10, 2008

'The Forbidden Kingdom'

Really, could the packaging job on "The Forbidden Kingdom" have been any more tepid than it was? A film starring Jet Li and Jackie Chan probably can sell itself, but "Kingdom's" paint-by-numbers title and equally generic marketing campaign certainly didn't do itself any kindness. So here's something you may not know about the film: Neither Chan nor Li, despite dominating some pretty lavish fight scenes, serves as the main character. Rather, that honor goes to a dorky kid named Jason (Michael Angarano), who, for reasons that do not and perhaps need not necessarily make sense, has found himself ushered into a parallel universe in which he is tasked with helping free the Monkey King. The who? Don't worry. "Kingdom's" story is unnecessarily convoluted, but it's also just a grandiose excuse to sew together a bunch of pretty fight scenes amid fulsome set pieces. Such patchy storytelling might be worthy of greater concern were "Kingdom" not so self-aware, but here's another thing you may not realize: It is. Though not exactly a comedic romp, "Kingdom" often strives to amuse as much as thrills, which in turn makes it easy to just play along and enjoy it for the mindless good time it is.

'Reprise'

As pitches go, the pitch for "Reprise" could not have it much easier. Two aspiring writers (Anders Danielsen Lie as Phillip, Espen Klouman-Hxiner as Erik), who also happen to be best friends, quickly emerge on opposite ends of the success spectrum, with perilous consequences sparing neither. As a film, though, "Reprise" isn't nearly so trite. Phillip and Erik are, like most of us, more than the sum of their professions, and that's a point "Reprise" pores over in unwieldy but effective detail. You might see 20 films in your lifetime about friends who embark on the same journey with opposite degrees of success, but "Reprise" is one of the few you'll actually remember. In Norwegian with English subtitles.

'Baby Mama'

Kate Holbrook (Tina Fey) has found success in all areas but one: having a baby. Wait, two things: She can't quite put together the relationship she needs for that baby to be possible, either. That's where surrogate mother Angie Ostrowiski (Amy Poehler) and her husband (Dax Shepard) come in - and, thanks to the couple's cartoonishly white-trash leanings, this presumably is where the laughs blow in as well. Sure enough, the laughs do come in "Baby Mama," but it's more of a breeze than the non-stop tornado of hilarity the box suggests is heading your way. Putting Fey and Poehler in the same frame practically guarantees at least some funny moments, and "Mama" never falls dead flat like so many comedies that start with a gimmick but don't know what to do with it once the initial joke wears out. But those funny moments are matched dollar for dollar with gags we've seen before and developments anyone can see coming. If you don't know what Greg Kinnear's role in "Mama" is going to be the instant he enters the frame, you probably have never seen a movie before. Sigourney Weaver, Steve Martin, Holland Taylor and Maura Tierney also star.



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