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Review: Saw VII (3D), Hall Pass, I Am Number Four and The Adjustment Bureau

By March 10, 2011No Comments

If ali­ens have been look­ing down on Earth, watch­ing us with love and amuse­ment over the last few mil­lion years (as so many movies have told us they are), they will surely be very wor­ried about recent devel­op­ments in our cul­ture and what it all means for us as a spe­cies. I know I am.

Saw 3D posterOn the sur­face, the cine­mat­ic trend towards “tor­ture porn” films like Hostel and Saw – and their even more dis­mal cous­in The Collector – betrays a weird human human abil­ity to take pleas­ure in the extreme pain of oth­ers that is at odds with how we most of us actu­ally live our lives. I’m curi­ous. What does it all mean?

This was the ques­tion I found myself ask­ing as I watched Kevin Greutart’s Saw VII on Saturday after­noon (I say “watched” as, per usu­al, I found myself star­ing at the cinema EXIT signs dur­ing the more grue­some pas­sages). On closer inspec­tion it’s clear that what we have here is an Old Testament-style mor­al­ity tale, updated for the attention-deficit, sensation-seeking, mod­ern generation.

In just under an hour and a half it incor­por­ates three sep­ar­ate but par­al­lel threads: the pun­ish­ment of a fraud­u­lent self-help book author (Sean Patrick Flanery) who has made a for­tune pre­tend­ing to be a vic­tim of the demen­ted but invent­ive Jigsaw; anoth­er chapter in the long-running soap opera about Jigsaw’s leg­acy fea­tur­ing his wid­ow (Betsy Russell), his cop accom­plice (Costas Mandylor) and the detect­ive on their trail (Chad Donella), and a couple of ran­dom “games” (as they are known in Saw-world) where bad people are dis­membered in order that they learn some kind of lesson.

Culturally inter­est­ing? Yes. Worth watch­ing? No. This is sup­posedly the final Saw movie in the fran­chise (yeah, right) but it seemed lacklustre to me, as if the team’s heart wasn’t really in it. Maybe it had been ripped out in a pre­vi­ous “game”.

Hall Pass posterEqually depress­ing from a cul­tur­al point of view – and equally by-the-numbers for that mat­ter – is Hall Pass, the latest com­edy from The Farrelly Brothers (The Coens of body-waste jokes). Owen Wilson (look­ing like he should be put back on sui­cide watch) and Jason Sudeikis play two Rhode Island schmoes trapped in happy mar­riages to gor­geous Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate respectively.

The plot demands that they are giv­en a week off from mar­riage (the Hall Pass of the title) so that they can sleep with as many women as pos­sible and get their rov­ing eyes out of their sys­tem. Or some­thing. Of course, bor­ing middle aged guys don’t tend to get a lot of action – that’s why they got mar­ried in the first place I sup­pose – and the week turns into a bit of a dis­aster with marriage-affirming les­sons learned on all sides.

I found Hall Pass to be lazy, insult­ing and not even remotely funny, but at least I saw it in an empty cinema so I got a lot of read­ing done.

I Am Number Four posterIn a week­end pretty free of laughter I did make a laugh-like noise when the bad ali­ens in I Am Number Four were iden­ti­fied as “Mogadorians” – maybe it was more of a snort. The Mogadorians are on Earth search­ing for the last refugees of a civil­iz­a­tion they have already des­troyed – nine young­sters whose devel­op­ing spe­cial powers will even­tu­ally allow them to fight back. In a com­pletely arbit­rary plot device the nine must be killed in order, which means that Number Four (Alex Pettyfer) is now in their sights. Protected by Timothy Olyphant, a war­ri­or pre­tend­ing to be the lad’s fath­er, pretty boy Pettyfer heads to a tiny town in Ohio to escape while he learns to har­ness the power­ful blue light that comes out of his palms.

Sure enough, the Mogadorians (I just love typ­ing that word) find him and battle is com­menced. I Am Number Four is innoc­u­ous sci-fi for the Twilight gen­er­a­tion – although too much romance for the boys and too many laser explo­sions for the girls I expect.

The Adjustment Bureau posterReversing my usu­al pat­tern, I have saved the best until last this week. The Adjustment Bureau is based on a Philip K. Dick short story (like Blade Runner, Minority Report and seem­ingly dozens of oth­ers) and stars Matt Damon as a tal­ent New York politi­cian with a gift for self-sabotage. When he falls for beau­ti­ful (and funny) con­tem­por­ary dan­cer Emily Blunt, he starts to see strange men in suits and trilbys rearran­ging the men­tal fur­niture and sus­pects some­thing is up. It turns out these fugit­ives from the set of “Mad Men” (includ­ing one genu­ine Mad Man John Slattery) are “exec­ut­ives” sent by “the Chairman” to redir­ect people back to “the plan” when they stray.

That’s right – we have no free will, we just think we do, and Matt Damon has seen the secret. In order to be with the woman he loves, he must out­wit the be-hatted ones (includ­ing the great Terence Stamp), find the Chairman and per­suade him to change the Plan. What helps is that these agents of (let’s just call him) God have some­what lim­ited powers. In fact you might say they are only par­tially omnipotent.

The real strength of this slightly silly adven­ture is the warm, witty and fresh rela­tion­ship between Blunt and Damon – smarter and more genu­inely romantic than any rom-com. You really root for this couple and the invest­ment pays off. I enjoyed The Adjustment Bureau and wouldn’t mind watch­ing it again – and I hardly ever say that.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 9 March, 2011.