Continuing last month's downward spiral of movie-watching: having burned through five seasons of Showtime's Dexter TV series in barely more than a month left me precious little time in my schedule for any films. I was able to watch exactly four—three first-run and an old TV-movie I've wanted to watch for a very long time.
THURSDAY'S GAME (1973) was the TV movie. It stars Gene Wilder, Ellen Burstyn and a veritable menagerie of familiar sitcom actors (Bob Newhart! Nancy Walker! Cloris Leachman! Valerie Harper! Rob Reiner! Richard Gautier! Norman Fell!), and was written by The Mary Tyler Moore Show creator James L. Brooks, so I had every reasonable expectation for this to be much funnier than it actually was. Wilder and Newhart are a couple of poker-playing buddies who continue to hang out after their regular card game is derailed; they experience various employment and marital challenges, but none of them are particularly compelling. Still, gotta love that cast. (7)
RANGO (2011) was the first of the new movies. It's an animated vehicle starring the voice of Johnny Depp; he plays a terribly unattractive lizard in a spoof of a Wild West flick. The movie ambles along slowly and uninvolvingly until about three-quarters of the way through, when it suddenly comes to life with the introduction of a scary snake villain and a memorable homage to Clint Eastwood's "Man With No Name" character (that scene is remarkably well done—and amazingly, the voice is not Clint's). I only wish the lion's share of Rango had been as clever and interesting as the ending. (6)
UNKNOWN (2011) is the latest attempt to fashion Liam Neeson as an action hero, taking a very obvious and deliberate cue from 2008's Taken. Divorced of his Schindler's List cred, Neeson once again allows himself to be and take on a role that might have gone to Harrison Ford about 20 years ago. Here he finds himself trapped in the old Hitchcock-meets-Twilight-Zone predicament of suddenly being treated like a stranger by his friends and loved ones. Why do people keep denying his true identity? We've seen this plot before in movies like Total Recall, but although the scenario is a hand-me-down, Unknown does keep your interest throughout—preposterous though it might be. (7)
LIMITLESS (2011) is a case of having inadvertently saved the best for last. As with Unknown, we've seen the basic plot setup of Limitless before—it's a twist on the old Charly (1968) story of a guy (Bradley Cooper) who suddenly becomes a genius—and must deal with the grim reality of reverting back to his original dumb-dumbedness. Thankfully, though, screenwriter Leslie Dixon, director Neil Burger and especially the visual effects team keep the viewer invested in the action from the opening scene onward. Robert De Niro and Abbie Cornish round out the superb cast. (9)