This Week at the Movies

"This Means War" and the "Ghost Rider" sequel fall flat, while the austere "Michael" is disturbing, but unclear in its intentions.

An able cast that includes Tom Hardy, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine and Angela Bassett still cannot elevate “This Means War,” which aims to blend the action and romantic comedy genres, but focuses more on the former than the latter.

In the picture, Hardy and Pine play spies, whom we first meet as they flub the opportunity to take out a criminal mastermind (Til Schweiger).

The inexplicably named FDR (Pine) is the lothario, who attempts to convince sensitive divorcee Tuck (Hardy) to get back on the dating scene.

Through a twist of fate, the two men both end up vying for the affections of Lauren (Witherspoon), who is still attempting to get over a failed relationship.

The men’s rivalry for Lauren gets out of hand and their attempts at one-upmanship soon reach the juvenile level at which Hollywood continuously portrays grown men operating.

And, of course, the picture’s villain is re-introduced at just the right moment to ensure that its heroes must work together to keep their shared love interest safe.

“This Means War” just barely rides along on the charisma of its cast and provides a few laughs. But it’s mostly forgettable.

On the other hand, it’s difficult to forget the sheer awfulness of “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance,” a film that exists solely for the brief joy of watching Nicolas Cage deliver a few of the most delirious lines of his career.

Otherwise, the picture is an assault on the senses – in 3D, no less.

Is a summary of the film’s events even necessary? Just in case: the titular demon/superhero with the flaming skull and magical chains is called upon to save a child who has been kidnapped by Satan (Ciaran Hinds) and could be turned into the antichrist.

The movie chugs along from one uninspiring action sequence to the next.

Cage, an actor whose manic presence often elevates even the worst of material, is given little to do other than deliver a few lines in a demented whisper and – during one sequence – um, relieve himself into the wind, thereby causing a flame thrower.

If “Spirit of Vengeance” succeeds at any one thing, it’s achieving the near impossible task of making moviegoers pine for the original.

The week’s solitary picture of substance – Markus Schleinzer’s controversial “Michael” – is serious business indeed.

This austere Austrian picture, which debuted at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, tells the tale of a pedophile who has kidnapped a pre-teen boy and keeps him locked up in a room in his home.

The film is not nearly as exploitative as it may sound. In fact, Schleinzer presents the material in a gravely serious, but matter-of-fact, manner.

The performances by Michael Fuith (Michael) and David Rauchenberger (Wolfgang, the kid) are impressive and the director’s spartan set design and camera work strike an uneasy tone.

If I can’t get fully on board with the film, it’s because I can’t exactly determine its reason for existence.

It’s a well-crafted and unsettling experience, but seemingly one without purpose.

Both "This Means War" and "Ghost Rider" are screening at Douglaston's Movie World. "Michael" is showing at Manhattan's Film Forum.


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