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Saturday 10 December 2016

Big-screen dreams take a beating

The Roommate Cert 15A

FILM REVIEWS AINE O'CONNOR, PADRAIC McKIERNAN

Published 10/04/2011 | 05:00

PREDICTABLE: Minka Kelly,
left, and Leighton Meester
PREDICTABLE: Minka Kelly, left, and Leighton Meester

IN one way you can understand it, actors who have been fairly successful in TV shows get offered a role in a film and with it the possibility of making that difficult leap from small screen to big.

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But bearing in mind that no film is often better than a bad film, Leighton Meester (from Gossip Girl) and Minka Kelly (from Parenthood) might have been more careful in their choices.

Back in 1992, Single White Female dealt with the perils of moving in with a seemingly nice girl who turned out to be a violent psychopath. It was jumpy and gory, rated 18, and pretty much did what it said on the tin. The Roommate, while brandishing the same premise, manages to be almost genre-less, and in a bad way.

Set in the fictional University of LA, super-nice but heartbroken smalltown girl Sara (Kelly) arrives to study fashion design and is assigned Rebecca (Meester) as a roommate.

They get on eerily well until strange things start happening, and Sara finally cops that a roommate who calls you 90 times when you're out with a boy (Cam Gigandet sporting an eternal bemused squint that he must think is alluring but is really just annoying) is not overprotective, but nuts.

Rather than take on slasher horror or psychological thriller, The Roommate attempts to draw elements from both and create something to pitch at teenagers looking for a thrill. But it just doesn't work. It's a mishmash that ends up being nothing but predictable and it's this very predictability that makes the use of every horror/thriller cliche in the book so annoying.

And while Meester does a passable job as a disturbed young woman, Kelly isn't great and both of them, although gorgeous, just look too old to be in college. It's like Bratz in Trouble.

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Rio

Cert G

SO much for birds of a feather flocking together. The two lovebirds around which the visually dazzling animation Rio revolves would seem to be the exception to that particular rule. The survival of their species may well depend on getting these two exotic macaws (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg and Anne Hathaway) beak to beak, but despite the thrilling Brazilian backdrop and the seductive samba beat, the early signs aren't promising. Turns out it's a background thing.

A sudden relocation from his jungle home to the wilds of Minnesota as a mere chick has rendered Blu (Eisenberg) a reluctant Romeo. Having come under the loving ownership of bird nerd Linda (Leslie Mann) via a circuitous route, he's grown up to become a domesticated neurotic who has forgotten how to fly.

So when a conservation ornithologist pitches up in Minnesota years later with a plan to return Blu to Brazil so that he can mate with the sultry Jewel (Hathaway), it's fair to say there's a degree of performance anxiety involved for this mild-mannered macaw. Attempts at getting up close and personal with Jewel are also hampered by bird smugglers.

Cue... er... a squawk on the wild side scenario that sees Blu and Jewel entangled in an er... flight for survival that involves avoiding the clutches of an array of adversaries that include a swarm of malignant monkeys and an ex-celebrity cockatoo named Nigel -- he anchored the 'Fly-Hard' franchise, apparently.

Rio benefits greatly from the input of Ice Age director Carlos Saldanha and many of the attributes that made that trilogy such a success are prominent in this. It may be a little lacking in edge but it has mesmeric visuals, impressive voice work and an above-average script.

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Mars Needs Moms

Cert PG

SORRY is reputed to be the hardest word at the best of times, but it's rendered doubly difficult when the target of your intended apology has been abducted by Martians. Such is the conundrum that confronts the rueful Milo (Seth Green) in kid-friendly Disney sci-fi adventure Mars Needs Moms.

When some backchat about broccoli gets out of hand, a moment of tetchiness sees this young boy going public on his belief that he'd be better off without his mom (Joan Cusack). Faster than you can say be careful what you wish for, his mother has been abducted by Martians and only a last-gasp effort gets him a stowaway slot on the spaceship that is taking her to Mars.

The big picture here is that Mars needs moms to maintain the matriarchal status quo on the Red Planet. Run by a crinkly faced despot, Mars is a police state where men are superfluous to requirements and female hatchlings are raised by an army of "nannybots".

Mars needs earth mom's DNA to nurture the nannybots and if Milo doesn't find a way to release his Mom before sunrise, she's going to be toast. Coming to the aid of Milo in this intergalactic 'not without my mother' scenario is a renegade graffiti artist (Elisabeth Harnois) and Gribble (Dan Fogler), a hangover from the Eighties whose mother was abducted in similar fashion years earlier.

Directed by Simon Wells (great-grandson of HG), Mars Needs Moms is filmed using Beowulf/Polar Express-style performance-capture animation and, as with the aforementioned, it does little to enhance the spectacle.

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Tomorrow, When the War Began

Cert 12A

HALFWAY through Tomorrow, When the War Began, there is a line about books always being better than the films which are adapted from them. One can only assume it's a little tongue-in-cheek reflection from writer/director Stuart Beattie, who adapted the first of John Marsden's series of books to make this film. Writer of films such as Collateral, Australia and the first Pirates of the Caribbean, this is his first directorial job, and perhaps he was wondering, as the audience will too, if he had taken on too much.

Ellie (Caitlin Stasey) is an Australian teen who organises a group of friends to go on a camping trip. While they are out of contact their country is invaded by an unnamed, but clearly Asian, coalition, which is using brutal means to insist that Australia shares its space and resources with more over-populated areas.

Ellie and her cohorts can wait it out or do something. This is the first in a series of nine books, suffice it to say the other eight aren't about passing time in a scenic area.

The book was praised for capturing the smell of teen spirit, and the film doesn't really do that. However, the pace is good, constant without losing momentum, and we are largely carried away on that narrative wave.

It should hold the attention of teens -- there is violence, though nothing too grisly, a little swearing and no sex; it actually feels like the Famous Five grew up a bit and got special effects.

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