These 3 new films offer something for all ages


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In addition to "12 Years a Slave" and "Man of Tai Chi," three other movies with wide appeal open in theaters today:

'Last Vegas' 2.5stars

"Last Vegas" is "The Hangover: The Golden Years," complete with a baby boomer or senior citizen friendly rating of PG-13.

It's notable for uniting actors who have, among them, six Oscars and 15 nominations: Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Michael Douglas and Kevin Kline. Their ages span a decade (Mr. Freeman is the oldest at 76, Mr. Kline youngest at 66) but they play former boyhood pals known as the Flatbush Four.

Mr. De Niro is Paddy, a reclusive Brooklyn widower; Mr. Freeman is Archie, a New Jerseyan who lives with his overly protective son and family; Mr. Kline is Sam, a bored Florida retiree; and Mr. Douglas is Billy, a rich Malibu lawyer who just got engaged to his 31-year-old girlfriend.

They plan to marry in Las Vegas, which inspires his pals to head to Sin City for a bachelor party. Once there, they meet a lounge singer (Mary Steenburgen) who is close to their age, do a little gambling, judge a bikini contest, hatch plans for a blowout bash, air some grievances and ask some hard questions.

It's fun to watch Mr. Freeman, especially, cut loose -- "I feel like I'm getting drunk and electrocuted at the same time," he says after downing vodka mixed with an energy drink -- but the movie is often silly, sexist and makes Paddy seesaw from friend to foe and back again. Relationships are forged or forgotten with remarkable speed and this moviegoer is suffering from Vegas location fatigue.

One of the nicest moments is a quiet one when Billy confesses he's scared of being old. "We were just 17 five minutes ago." At last, amid the fake hair color and tan, something real.

Rated PG-13 for sexual content and language.

'Free Birds' 2stars

Reggie thinks he has died and gone to turkey heaven -- and not the one where the farmer picks a feathered friend and walks off, hatchet in hand. Fellow members of his flock are so bird-brained that they think they're headed to "turkey paradise."

No, thanks to the U.S. president's young daughter, outcast Reggie (voice of Owen Wilson) is pardoned and flown to Camp David where he discovers the joys of a TV remote, pizza delivery and pink bunny slippers. Reggie is content until brawny turkey Jake (Woody Harrelson) enlists him in a mission to go back in time to 1621 and get turkeys off the Thanksgiving menu.

In the animated comedy "Free Birds," the turkeys join forces with the native fowl -- including Wild Turkeys Chief Broadbeak (Keith David), his intelligent daughter (Amy Poehler) and his bombastic son (Jimmy Hayward) -- as they try to elude the Pilgrims hunting for food for the hungry Colonists and for their feast with the American Indians.

"Free Birds," which beats the animated "Frozen" into theaters by nearly a month, delivers a couple of laughs with some lessons about finding your flock, why holiday meals are special no matter the main course and how unlikely chances at being a hero or leader may come along. I wouldn't spring for the pricier 3-D on this one.

It lacks the heart of movies such as "Despicable Me" or "Monsters University," cheapens its ending with a blatant product placement and sidesteps thorny questions about starvation and the Indians.

As for whether wild turkey was served in 1621, experts say it's probable but the harvest celebration also would have featured deer and, more likely, duck, geese and ruffed grouse, American quail and wild pigeon. But no pumpkin pie.

PG for some action/peril and rude humor.

'Ender's Game' 2stars

This is what happens when you show up for book club without having read the book -- or the movie without having scanned the young adult novel by Orson Scott Card. You feel slightly lost and frustrated. A good adaptation, such as a Harry Potter or "Hunger Games," should stand on its own, and this wobbles for the uninitiated.

"Ender's Game," from director-writer Gavin Hood, is a futuristic coming-of-age tale set at a time when millions on Earth have been killed by bug-like, nonspeaking aliens called Formics.

Child geniuses are seen as the key to keeping the planet safe, with young Ender Wiggins (Asa Butterfield) tracked and targeted for the elite Battle School run by Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford). He is just 12 -- a change from the novel -- but is being shaped into a warrior who can command other tweens and teens and annihilate the aliens before they strike again.

"The purpose of this war is to prevent all future wars," Graff growls. He believes in winning at all costs while Ender is forced to reassess the price of war and peace and how his intelligence, leadership and strategic skills are being used.

"Ender's Game" is built around the young star of "Hugo," all coltish legs, voice that has yet to change and big blue eyes that telegraph his emotions.

Support comes from Hailee Steinfeld, a rare female at Battle School; Viola Davis, an officer responsible for the children's psychological well-being; Ben Kingsley, a fabled military hero; and Abigail Breslin, Ender's compassionate sister.

Those characters feel seriously shortchanged on screen where most of the energy seems devoted to the sci-fi backdrop, including a zero-gravity playground where the question of floating hair is made moot by the use of helmets.

Turning children into soldiers, no matter the ultimate message, is disturbing at best (and reprehensible or nonsensical at worst), and "Ender's Game" doesn't so much end as prepare the audience for a sequel based on another book in the series.

PG-13 for some violence, sci-fi action and thematic material.


Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: www.post-gazette.com/madaboutmovies.

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