3 stars = Good
Paul Torday's novel is a series of emails, memos, letters, diary extracts and similar material, so it seems like a dubious choice for a movie, even with director Lasse Hallstrom ("My Life as a Dog," "Chocolat") and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy ("Slumdog Millionaire") on board.
But the movie is a charmer, and you don't have to know the difference between a glide and a riffle to appreciate its story about acts and leaps of faith.
Ewan McGregor plays Fred Jones, who has no time or patience for what he considers a ridiculous and impossible scheme to introduce salmon fishing in the Yemen. He is a leading fisheries expert based in London with a long list of reasons this is impossible, starting with the fact that salmon require cool, well-oxygenated water plus a supply of flies.
But Harriet (Emily Blunt) has been tasked with making this happen, and she doesn't see salmon fishing as a rich man's folly but as the dream of a visionary sheikh who wants to combine his favorite pastime with agricultural opportunities for his people.
Fred isn't a believer at the start; he is threatened with being fired if he doesn't cooperate. He then becomes a small fish in a big pond overseen by the prime minister's forceful press secretary (Kristin Scott Thomas, in a delightful change of pace) who must find a good-news story to feed the media.
To its credit, the movie has a couple of unexpected developments, breathtaking backdrops, humor and humanity and the delightful pairing of the lead actors.
1 star = Awful
Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifa claim in "That Good" to be "the new Cheech and Chong," which begs the question: Did Snoop and Wiz actually see "Up in Smoke"? Did they see the scene where Cheech picks up Chong hitchhiking and they smoke a log-sized joint that fills his junky Chevy Impala with smoke? And then Chong tells him what's really in it? Regardless of your opinion of hippies or weed, it's pretty hard not to laugh at that.
There's no corresponding scene in "Mac and Devin Go to High School." In fact, there isn't a funny moment in the whole 76-minute straight-to-DVD movie, if you want to call it that.
The rolling-paper-thin plot is that Mac (Snoop) is a 15-year high school senior who needs to graduate to woo the hot new teacher (Teairra Mari). Devin (Khalifa) is the straight-laced valedictorian with nothing to say in his graduation speech because all he's done is study and take abuse from his Type A girlfriend (Teni Panosian). When they're assigned to do a chemistry project together, Mac gets studious and Devin gets stoned.
Annnd ... that's it for story line. The rest is the usual high school movie hijinks -- the inept principal, the sexy teacher, the wise-cracking geek (Andy Milonakis), the musical finale (with "Young and Wild and Free") -- tossed in with softcore porn, rap video dream sequences and interruptions by Slow Burn, the animated joint who schools us on the merits of marijuana and urges us to watch the movie high, which might make some things funnier, but certainly not this.
Although Snoop and Wiz make little effort to even try for laughs -- I was hoping it would be bad enough for cult movie status -- we can say this about our hometown boy: He might not be Cheech, Chong, Method Man or Redman, but he looks good on screen, so maybe this will work as an audition for a real movie.
-- Scott Mervis, Post-Gazette
3 stars = Good
"Friends With Kids" is just funny enough and the contrived drama almost real enough to work as a heavier-than-usual chick flick -- an odd combination of sitcom and romcom that ends up as a kind of backhanded endorsement of marriage.
Julie and Jason are just the opposite of "friends with benefits" -- best buds of many years who live in the same building, hang out together and call each other constantly at all hours to confide their deepest secrets. But it's strictly platonic.
Both of these successful happy New Yorkers really want a child, just not with each other -- or any formal "spouse." They want to stay attractive and available. What they never want is to subject their hypothetical kids to the inevitably "tragic marriage."
Such is the premise of director-writer-producer-star Jennifer Westfeldt. The only thing she didn't do for "Friends With Kids," evidently, was the catering and grip work. Her Julie and Adam Scott's Jason have two sets of couple-friends: bickersome Leslie (Maya Rudolph) and Alex (Chris O'Dowd), and oversexed Ben (Jon Hamm) and Missy (Kristen Wiig). All six have (largely unidentified) affluent white-collar jobs and lifestyles. But Julie and Jason are more cynical and selfish, convinced that having children means sacrificing your own happiness in marriage.
So they do the deed, and lo, it comes to pass, nine months later, that baby Joe is born in a hospital delivery room. Undaunted, J & J get into parenthood and, instead of being miserable, are happily functional (to the disappointment of their married friends). Jason encourages Julie to go on dates while he baby-sits. He, for his part, takes up with sexy dancer M.J. (Megan Fox). Julie meets wonderfully attentive Kurt (Ed Burns), who is sooo marvelous with baby Joe.
Can J & J's mutual jealousy and unfulfilled neediness be far behind? No. And neither can Ms. Westfeldt's need to contrive enough conflict to delay the Hollywood ending.
The cast is uniformly fine. No fewer than four of them are from "Bridesmaids" (Ms. Rudolph, Mr. O'Dowd, Ms. Wiig and Mr. Hamm). Mr. Scott's performance turns out to be deeper than you'd expect, and Ms. Westfeldt's Julie is -- if not deep -- an effectively nervous, funny, Streisand-esque talkaholic.
"Friends With Kids" has nothing remotely to do with kids --- all of whom are caricatured as either adorable or hideous, depending on what the scenes call for. But the fact that its adult characters develop more or less empathetically is a credit to Ms. Westfeldt's script.
ALSO THIS WEEK:
• "The Three Stooges" (3 Stars): Moe, Larry and Curly are left on the doorstep of an orphanage as babies in this Farrelly brothers comedy, which keeps the Stooges' finger pokes to the eyes, hammers to the skull and lobsters down the pants style of humor. Sean Hayes, Will Sasso and Chris Diamantopoulos star.
• "Lockout" (2 Stars): Guy Pearce plays a soldier blackmailed into trying to rescue the president's daughter (Maggie Grace), who has been taken hostage at a maximum security prison in space. Not very original or originally done, the film serves as a reminder that Mr. Pearce is a terrific actor even in something as run of the mill as this.
• "Casa de Mi Padre" (2-1/2 Stars): Will Ferrell plays the eldest son of a Mexican rancher who favors his younger drug-dealing brother (Diego Luna) in this Spanish-language movie.
• "Alphas: The Complete First Season": The cable series follows a group of social misfits with extraordinary powers -- known as Alphas -- who work for the Department of Defense.
• "Dan Vs.: The Complete First Season": Animated series starring Curtis Armstrong as the voice of the volatile Dan, who thinks the world is against him.
• "Sanctuary: The Complete Fourth Season": The final season of the series starring Amanda Tapping.
• "MLK: The Assassination Tapes": A look at the manhunt for Dr. King's assassin and the riots that erupted across the country.
• "Night Court: The Complete Sixth Season": Harry Anderson legal comedy.
• "Eureka: Season 5, The Final Season": Colin Ferguson stars in the cable series about the very smart residents of a small town.
• "American Masters: Johnny Carson: King of Late Night": Kevin Spacey narrates.
• "Leverage: The 4th Season": A group of lawbreakers use their skills to do good. Timothy Hutton stars.
• "Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr.": The Alphonse Fletcher University professor looks into the DNA of American culture.
-- PG staff and wire reports