July 23 (Bloomberg) -- In “Captain America: The First Avenger,” the superhero combats high-tech weapons with a relatively low-tech device -- an impenetrable red, white and blue circular shield that repels bullets and zaps foes when used as a high-speed discus.
The highly entertaining action film is as old-fashioned as the shield.
Captain America, who’s transformed from 98-pound weakling Steve Rogers into a Nazi-fighting super-soldier after being injected with a magic serum, is a humble comic-book icon who wears a leather helmet and a utility belt.
Director Joe Johnson (“The Wolfman”) uses computer effects and other modern moviemaking gadgets, but he and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely wisely concentrate on the human aspects of the story.
They include Captain America’s budding romance with British military liaison Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), his battlefield exploits with best friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), his prickly relationship with gruff Colonel Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) and his mission to stop Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), a Nazi madman out to dominate the world with his super weapons.
Chris Evans, who played the Human Torch in the “Fantastic Four” films, is well cast in the title role. Along with his bodybuilder’s physique, he exudes the boyish charm of a skinny asthmatic who becomes an improbable hero after he’s rejected for military induction.
The man who turns Rogers into Captain America is Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), a German scientist who fled the Nazi regime after being pressured to use his revolutionary serum for nefarious purposes. Now the good doctor wants to create an extraordinary soldier to destroy Red Skull, whose face was burned and mutilated in an early experiment with the serum.
Johnson gets fine work from the supporting cast, particularly Weaving as the evil genius and Jones as the cynical commander whose original doubts about Captain America are gradually erased.
“Captain America: The First Avenger,” from Paramount Pictures, is playing across the U.S. Rating: ***
‘Friends With Benefits’
Can two friends have casual sex without messing up their relationship?
Though you probably already know, “Friends With Benefits” finds a fresh, amusing way to answer the question. It aspires to be a contemporary update on those old Spencer Tracy-Katharine Hepburn films brimming with fast-paced repartee and lighthearted boy-girl tension.
“Friends With Benefits” is no “Adam’s Rib” or “Woman of the Year,” but co-stars Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis do exhibit an on-screen chemistry that’s sorely lacking from most romantic comedies these days. It doesn’t hurt that they both have toned bodies that are on ample display in the bedroom scenes.
Another plus is the witty, don’t-take-things-too-seriously script by Keith Merryman, David A. Newman and director Will Gluck, a former TV writer and producer who’s made only two other feature films.
Dylan (Timberlake), a Los Angeles art director, and Jamie (Kunis), a New York headhunter, meet when she recruits him for a job at GQ magazine in NYC. He’s reluctant to move across the country, but accepts the position after being wined and dined, given a rooftop view of the city and witnessing a flash-mob dance in Times Square.
After becoming fast friends, they start sleeping together with the understanding that no serious romance will ensue. (Dylan compares the sex to tennis, where you just shake hands after it’s over and go on with your life.)
But complications arise after Jamie visits Dylan’s dysfunctional family in Los Angeles, where she meets his precocious magician nephew and dementia-stricken dad (the always wonderful Richard Jenkins), who often forgets to put his pants on. Jamie and Dylan also find themselves sitting on one of the O’s in the famous Hollywood sign, a scene that must have been suggested by the Chamber of Commerce.
Woody Harrelson plays a gay sports editor and snowboarding legend Shaun White has a couple of funny cameos spoofing his laid-back reputation. There are also jokes about President Barack Obama’s ears, Harry Potter and Scientology, which isn’t known for its sense of humor.
“Friends With Benefits,” from Screen Gems, is playing across the U.S. Rating: ***
What the Stars Mean: **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
(Rick Warner is the movie critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)
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