The Tea Party may have a new poster boy: Iron Man.
Now here’s a true victim of intrusive Big Government. In “Iron Man 2,” an unctuous U.S. senator demands that the superhero’s alter ego, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), give the military his secret technology for Iron Man’s armored, jet-powered suit. Stark tells the senator (Garry Shandling) to stuff it.
Top that, Sarah Palin!
What “Iron Man 2” doesn’t top is the refreshing, fun-filled 2008 original. Not even close. Downey is still a pleasure to watch, but he doesn’t have enough to do in this downbeat, cluttered sequel.
The movie suffers from a classic case of sequel-itis. Returning director Jon Favreau, working from a script by Justin Theroux (“Tropic Thunder”), fails to recapture the magic of the first film. The dialogue isn’t as clever, the villains aren’t as memorable and the special effects aren’t as exciting, even though I saw it on a giant Imax screen.
I was especially disappointed by Mickey Rourke’s Ivan Vanko, a tattoo-covered Russian hired by Stark’s rival, Justin Hammer, to develop an army of armor-suited robot soldiers. Vanko also has a super alter ego, Whiplash, who can slice cars in half (as we see during a scene at the Monaco Grand Prix) by zapping them with his electric whips.
I read that Rourke visited a Russian prison to prepare for the part. It really wasn’t necessary since he only mumbles a few lines in Russian and the underwritten character could come from almost anywhere.
Hammer (Sam Rockwell) is a weaselly weapons manufacturer whose company is trying to fill the void created when Stark left the arms business to promote world peace. He brags that “size does matter” when it comes to weapons and attempts to steal the spotlight at the Stark Expo, a glitzy technology fair started by Tony’s late father.
Gwyneth Paltrow returns as Stark’s right-hand woman, Pepper Potts, who gets promoted to run his company. But there’s also a new sexy lady in his life named Natalie (Scarlett Johansson), a Latin-speaking martial-arts expert. Her alias is Black Widow, a strong hint that she’s not to be fully trusted.
Don Cheadle replaces Terrence Howard as Rhodey, Stark’s military pal, and Samuel L. Jackson is back as Nick Fury, head of a spy agency co-founded by Stark’s dad.
Fox News blowhard Bill O’Reilly has a cameo as himself, delivering an anti-Iron Man commentary that abruptly ends when Stark hits the mute button on his remote. Shutting O’Reilly up obviously requires a superhero.
“Iron Man 2,” from Paramount Pictures, is playing across the U.S. Rating: **
Jack Abramoff, once the most powerful lobbyist in Washington, is now in prison for defrauding American Indian tribes, bribing public officials and evading taxes.
His meteoric rise and spectacular fall are chronicled in “Casino Jack and the United States of Money,” Oscar-winner Alex Gibney’s illuminating documentary about the pollution of U.S. politics by big-spending lobbyists.
The film follows Abramoff from his early days as a college Republican leader to his years as a close ally of Texas congressman Tom DeLay when he was majority leader of the U.S. House of Representatives. In between, Abramoff moonlighted as a movie producer and helped organize a bizarre meeting of rabid anti-communists in Angola.
But he made his biggest mark as a lobbyist who showered congressmen with gifts like golfing trips to Scotland, helped a tiny Pacific island become a center for clothing-factory sweatshops and ripped off American Indian casinos for millions of dollars.
Gibney uses revealing interviews with Abramoff associates, politicians and journalists to tell the complex story, which includes mobsters, murder and a lifeguard hired to run a major think tank. To leaven the serious tone, Gibney makes liberal use of catchy graphics and music.
It’s sometimes hard to follow Abramoff’s tangled schemes, but Gibney sums up the absurdity in a clip that runs with the closing credits. DeLay, who left Congress after being tainted in the Abramoff scandal, is shown lip-syncing to “Wild Thing” during an appearance on “Dancing With the Stars.”
“Casino Jack and the United States of Money,” from Magnolia Pictures, is playing in New York, Los Angeles and Washington. Rating: ***
What the Stars Mean: **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
(Rick Warner is the movie critic for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)