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Given the subject matter – reporter Tina Fey gets out of her rut in NYC by going to cover the war in Afghanistan circa 2003 – it’s amazing they managed to make such a boring film. The first error is casting Fey, who can barely get one inch past her Liz Lemon character from 30 Rock. She’s little more than a smirk and a wink, so any transformation in or development of her character is simply impossible, and when she starts an affair with photographer Martin Freeman, she seems as put-off by the experience as the audience. Their love scene is akin to two kangaroos boxing, and further suggestions of coitus are shown the morning after, where Liz Lemon is hungover and horrified she may have slept with Griz.

Taxing her limited dramatic abilities further, the filmmakers ask her to try her hand at being an “action junkie.” You can almost hear the voices in Fey’s head imploring her, “act, damn you, act!”

So, we are left with a culture clash flick, with Fey repeatedly doing things most people in Afghanistan would not like, such as walking around without headcover, and holding hands publicly with Freeman, and filming things surreptitiously under her Islamic garb. Also not very good.

Although it does have the value of being surprisingly politically incorrect – the indigenous folk are primarily used as pratfall props while the Westerners are amused and snide, and in what has become the cardinal sin of Hollywood, non Afghanis are (gasp!) cast as locals – none of it rings true, which is a particular problem with a film based on a true story.

The film closes with a violent lurch to a Bin Laden type rescue of Freeman, orchestrated by the plucky Fey, to “Can’t Live” by Badfinger (or Harry Nilsson) and a treacly visit to a maimed Marine for whom she feels responsible but whose aplomb helps her become more grounded.  It’s just godawful.

The film has two directors, neither of whom knows what he is doing, which they demonstrate repeatedly over the picture’s excruciating two hours.

Billy Bob Thornton is the only saving grace as a gruff Marine officer who shepherds Fey around, but his screen time is limited.

 

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Richard Linklater’s astute command of time and place is forever proven by his masterpiece, Dazed and Confused, which captured a Texas town’s high school circa 1976 in all its bell-bottomed, long-haired, keg-in-the-woods glory. Everybody Wants Some! ain’t Dazed and Confused. Focusing on a young college baseball player’s matriculation at a Texas college, Linklater appears to be satisfying an 80s-era checklist. Mud wrestling. Check. Disco. Check. Mechanical bull. Check.  “Get the Knack!” Check. And while Dazed and Confused gave you insight into the jocks, the stoners, the geeks, the parents, the coaches, the teachers and the townies, Everybody Wants Some! is limited to the hyper-male competitive environment of the baseball team, a group that parties hard, jumps on your Achilles at every opportunity, and challenges each other in all respects, when not dime-store philosophizing about winning, commitment, pot and “pussy.”

Yet, with all its flaws and limitations, I dug the movie. Linklater lovingly recreates the art of male bullshitting, which, granted, is not for everyone; the wonder of all the possibility of college; and the camaraderie of sports, all to an unabashedly “classic rock” soundtrack. it’s an acquired taste, and this is a very light film that at its best is merely charming, but I was smiling throughout.

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There’s not one thing in Antoine Fuqua’s boxing rise-and-fall epic that even nears original, but cliche’ does not always have to be hackneyed, and through inventive camera work, all-in performances by Jake Gyllenhaal (as the Hell’s Kitchen boxer who loses it all) and Forrest Whittaker (playing the wise and world weary trainer), a captivating turn by the child actress playing Gyllenhaal’s daughter (Clare Foley) and expert pacing, assisted by a jumped up soundtrack, the thing works and works well.  There are problems. Gyllenhaal’s fall is a bit too protracted, and as hard as she tries to be working class, Rachel McAdams simply lacks the necessary grit.  They tried to dirty Amy Adams up in another boxing movie, The Fighter, and that too was a bridge too far.  These actresses don’t evoke the street, unless that street has a cul-de-sac.