These are mini-reviews of some of the movies currently playing in the Quad-Cities area: "After Earth" (PG-13, 100 min.). There was a time when an M. Night Shyamalan-directed film was a real event. From "The Sixth Sense" through "Unbreakable" and even "Signs," his gifts for suspense and surprise were such that he was earning comparisons to Spielberg and Hitchcock. That was a long time and many films ago. The sci-fi thriller "After Earth," starring Will Smith and son Jaden, is a film without wit or sparkle. At times the special effects look so cheesy you wonder if they're going to pull back and show members of the crew rocking the ship or working the strings on puppets. In the meantime, we keep getting heavy-handed metaphors about overcoming fear, and unbearably clunky dialogue. This movie is "Take Your Kid to Work Day" to the extreme. Rating: One star -- Richard Roeper.
"Now You See Me" (PG-13, 116 min.). Here's a slick con, all flash and no substance, about The Four Horsemen, illusionists who have been recruited to pull off some of the most audacious stunts in the history of deception. "Now You See Me" seems awfully sure of itself, with self-important, intrusive music, sweeping tracking shots and actors chewing up the scenery. Ultimately, however, there's no there there. By the time it's over, we're left with more questions than answers -- and even more damning, we don't care all that much about those unanswered questions. Rating: One and a half stars-- Richard Roeper.
"The Hangover Part III" (R, 100 min.). Perhaps responding to criticism of the sequel or perhaps just wanting to challenge himself, director Todd Phillips has delivered a film so different from the first two "Hangovers," one could even ask if this is supposed to be a comedy. It plays more like a straightforward, real-world thriller with a few laughs than a hard-R slapstick farce. You don't see too many genre-hopping threequels, so, credit to Phillips and his team of co-writers for trying to do something different with the now familiar characters of Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), Alan (Zach Galifianakis) and the ever-bland Doug (Justin Bartha). But the big fix might have changed things just a little too much. Rating: Two stars -- Richard Roeper.
"Fast & Furious 6" (PG-13, 130 min.). Against all odds, the "Fast & Furious" franchise is actually picking up momentum, with "FF6" clocking in as the fastest, funniest and most outlandish chapter yet. Whether we're seeing stunt work or special effects or a combo platter, director Justin Lin keeps raising the bar, going for intentional laughs and thrilling moments as cars pull off impossible maneuvers and humans keep flying in the air and landing with thuds. "Furious 6" couldn't be any less plausible if it were animated, but that's sort of the point.Rating: Three and a half stars -- Richard Roeper.
"Star Trek Into Darkness" (PG-13, 132 min.). Director J.J. Abrams is a true talent, and he's also a pop-culture savant who has great respect for the legacy of this franchise as well as a keen understanding of the mega-importance of box-office figures. There's no better choice to make the best, the purest AND the most accessible big-budget "Star Trek" movie possible. Yet with all the futuristic splendor and fine performances, "Into Darkness" only occasionally soars, mostly settling for being a solid but unspectacular effort that sets the stage for the next chapter(s). With Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Benedict Cumberbatch. Rating: Three stars --Richard Roeper.
"The Great Gatsby" (PG-13, 142 min.). Big and bold and brassy, Baz Luhrmann's "Gatsby" fills every second of its 142-minute running time with images designed to take your breath away, but it is first and foremost F. Scott Fitzgerald's "Gatsby." Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Gatsby, in perhaps the most overtly vulnerable version of the character, and Carey Mulligan gives a delicate, intricately crafted performance as Daisy Buchanan. Luhrmann's dazzling sense of visual style is perfectly suited to the first half of the movie, but when the story becomes more about confrontations, you can almost sense Luhrmann fidgeting as he tries to figure out how to keep the plates spinning. Rating: Three and a half stars -- Richard Roeper.
"Epic" (PG, 100 min.). The latest animated film from Fox's Blue Sky division, "Epic" depicts good vs. evil forces battling over the fate of the natural realm. Director Chris Wedge ("Ice Age," "Robots") gives us lush, often breathtaking visuals of a world within our world -- a forest populated by tiny Leaf Men who ride hummingbirds and do battle with an equally minuscule army of nasty creatures known as Boggans. An all-star cast provides the voice work, which proves to be distracting. Kids won't mind, but the voices will take adults out of the story. Rating: Two and a half stars -- Richard Roeper. "Iron Man 3" (PG-13, 130 min.). Robert Downey Jr. is just plain great in this film. Filled with breathtakingly brilliant special effects, bolstered by excellent supporting performances from a half-dozen other top-tier actors, crackling with sharp humor and working as a story that stands alone while often acknowledging the larger Marvel(ous) universe, "Iron Man 3" is one of the best entries in this modern golden age of superhero movies. Working from a smart if sometimes meandering script, director Shane Black takes us on a 3-D thrill ride in which a LOT of stuff is blown up, and the skies are filled with superheroes, supervillains and humans falling to their seemingly certain deaths. It's a great start to the summer movie season. Rating: Three and a half stars -- Richard Roeper. "42" (PG-13, 128 min.) Here's a long overdue, serious big-screen biopic about one of the most important American pioneers of the 20th century. But this is more a ground-rule double than a grand slam. From the soundtrack to the speechifying to the subject material to the script's somber tone, "42" has the uniform of an Oscar contender, but it falls short of Hall of Fame status. Jackie Robinson was great; "42" is good. With Chadwick Boseman and Harrison Ford. Rating: Three stars -- Richard Roeper.
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