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Aniston, Sandler’s Dumb Romance; Tatum Seeking Revenge: Movies

At this point in the puzzlingly durable film careers of Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston, the title of their latest unfunny romantic comedy -- “Just Go With It” -- seems a fittingly desperate plea.

Based on the wilted ‘60s sex farce “Cactus Flower,” the movie pairs the king and queen of confounding megastardom as a successful, wealthy L.A. plastic surgeon and his brainy, if plain assistant. She wears glasses and a lab coat.

Sandler’s character, we’re told, routinely scores hot young babes by pretending to be married. He enlists Aniston’s Katherine to play wifey to fool a particularly comely 23-year- old teacher (model Brooklyn Decker).

The dimwitted contrivance envelops Katherine’s two kids and the doc’s buffoonish cousin. They end up in Hawaii, where cinematographer Theo van de Sande’s camera ogles the bikinied bodies of Decker and Aniston. Sandler mostly keeps his shirt on.

The director is Dennis Dugan, whose expanding roster of bad Sandler films includes “I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry,” “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan,” and “Grown Ups.” “Just Go With It” seems improvised, which means we get Sandler mumbling to connote poignance and doing goofy voices for laughs.

Judging from her performance here, Decker, in the role that won Goldie Hawn her “Cactus Flower” Oscar, shouldn’t start writing acceptance speeches anytime soon. Young Bailee Madison, as Katherine’s precocious daughter, out shines every grown-up.

In a cruel guest appearance, Nicole Kidman arrives late as Katherine’s old college nemesis. If Kidman is aware of the plastic surgery jokes, she doesn’t let on.

There’s nasty smugness, blithe sexism, fat jokes, gay stereotypes, and a smirking attitude toward Hispanic nannies and native Hawaiians. Everyone might have just gone with it back in the days when “Cactus Flower” was blooming. Not anymore.

“Just Go With It,” from Columbia Pictures, is playing across the U.S. Rating: *1/2

‘The Eagle’

A second-century buddy movie with the pulse of “Gladiator” and the smarts of an earnest History Channel documentary, Kevin Macdonald’s “The Eagle” efficiently reclaims the sword-and-sandals genre from kitsch and video game effects.

Based on Rosemary Sutcliff’s 1954 novel, “The Eagle” stars Channing Tatum as Marcus Aquila, a Roman soldier determined to retrieve both family honor and a long-lost gold emblem -- the eagle of the title -- from the grasp of the northern Caledonia tribe.

Accompanied by his resentful slave Esca (Jamie Bell), Marcus sneaks beyond the safe confines of Roman-occupied Britain into the brutal, untamed land of the Seal People. That’s Scotland, cinematic home of all body-painted barbarians.

The golden statue serves as an effective ruse to join master and slave in bloody, bonding adventure. Macdonald’s direction --languid in stretches, thrilling in others -- plays off Anthony Dod Mantle’s lush cinematography of the Tolkien-like locations.

“The Eagle,” from Focus Features, is playing across the U.S. Rating: ***

‘Cedar Rapids’

Somewhere in the fitfully funny “Cedar Rapids” is a rumination on corporate success and the cost of a soul.

You see it in the fleeting expression of near panic when Isiah Whitlock Jr.’s sexually confused insurance salesman spots a happy gay couple. Like Whitlock’s closet case, “Cedar Rapids” just doesn’t have the guts to really go for it.

Ed Helms makes the transition to leading man (and executive producer) from supporting player of TV’s “The Office” and 2009’s blockbuster “The Hangover.” He plays uber-naif Wisconsin insurance man Tim Lippe. A spiritual cousin to Steve Carrell’s 40-year-old virgin, the unworldly Lippe is thrust into “Hangover”-like high jinks when recruited to attend a sales convention in the big, bad city of Cedar Rapids.

Amorous Corruption

Helping to corrupt Lippe -- and, in the sentimental demands of the genre, enlighten him -- are a gang of newfound friends: an amorous married woman (Anne Heche), the possibly closeted protector (Whitlock), and, best of all, the drunken rabble- rouser (John C. Reilly, in full Vince Vaughan mode).

Director Miguel Arteta and screenwriter Phil Johnston aim higher than the typical “Wedding Crashers” shenanigans, shading the characters with some depth. Reilly’s lout is haunted by a failed marriage and Heche’s sexual prowler is running from life’s disappointments. The movie falls just short of a promised good time.

“Cedar Rapids,” from Fox Searchlight Pictures, is playing across the U.S. Rating: **

What the Stars Mean:
****          Excellent
***           Good
**            Average
*             Poor
(No stars)    Worthless

Greg Evans is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer on the story: Greg Evans at gregeaevans@yahoo.com.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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