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Cruise’s Dark ‘Reacher’; Apatow’s Unfunny ‘40’: Movies

Maude and Iris Apatow, Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann in
Maude and Iris Apatow, Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann in "This is 40" from Universal Pictures. Maude and Iris are real-life daughters of director Judd Apatow and wife Mann. Photographer: Suzanne Hanover/Universal Studios via Bloomberg

Dec. 22 (Bloomberg) -- The masterly cinematographer Caleb Deschanel gives “Jack Reacher” something of a grainy look, which is just right. Expensive production values weren’t a hallmark of the 1940s noir this thriller efficiently emulates.

Even casting the very expensive Tom Cruise in the title role, a rock-solid ex-military investigator who goes around righting wrongs, fits the B-list aesthetic of noir.

Cruise is a limited actor but not a terrible one, at least when he doesn’t have to show complex emotion. All “Jack Reacher” requires him to do is frown (which he’s very good at) and show a twinkle of sadism. A twinkle of something, at least, is there.

Based on “One Shot,” the ninth of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels, the film opens with a well-staged sniper killing. We see the shooter, and so we know the arrested suspect isn’t guilty.

From there the mystery unfolds excitingly and fast. The director, Christopher McQuarrie, knows how to film a car chase or a shootout so that the audience can tell who’s where -- which is more than such recent big-ticket duds as “The Dark Knight Rises” and “The Bourne Legacy” managed.

Sometimes Funny

Unlike them, “Jack Reacher” seldom feels ponderous or even all that serious. The violence is never too persuasively graphic, and sometimes it’s funny. (Though after the massacre in Newtown, it may be hard for some viewers to watch.)

Robert Duvall is funny, too, hamming it up as a heavily armed old codger. But casting Werner Herzog as the criminal enterprise’s Mr. Big was a misstep. Every time the great German director opened his mouth, his cultivated enunciation carried me out of the movie and back to his narration for “Cave of Forgotten Dreams.”

The cast includes Rosamund Pike, David Oyelowo and the dependably dry Richard Jenkins. Like the picture itself, they get the job done without fuss.

“Jack Reacher,” from Paramount, is playing across the U.S. Rating: *** (Seligman)

Aging Cliches

Midlife, Judd Apatow suggests in his latest can’t-you-relate comedy “This Is 40,” is the time to take a good, hard look at yourself.

So his man-child hero lifts legs to heaven and positions a hand-held mirror searching for evidence of hemorrhoids.

This is funny?

Mining life’s passages for laughs has brought diminishing returns for Apatow, who peaked early with the brilliant teenage dramedy “Freaks and Geeks.”

Even the crude “Knocked Up” -- the 2007 movie that introduced these characters -- was funnier than the grating “This Is 40.”

Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann (Apatow’s wife) portray a turning-40 married couple with two young daughters, a home bigger than their incomes and the usual litany of midlife gripes.

He doesn’t get enough sex, she doesn’t get enough attention. He retreats to the bathroom for respite from screeching females, she frets about sagging.

And the kids (played by Maude and Iris Apatow, for reasons that don’t go beyond the obvious) scream a lot.

Rudd’s Pete is a former wunderkind talent scout whose rock-music snobbery (he loves Graham Parker, appearing here as his own geezer self) has pushed his indie record label to near-bankruptcy.

Financial Worries

Pete keeps his financial worries hidden from Mann’s Debbie, busy with a clothing boutique and obsessed with fading youth.

When Debbie isn’t harping on Pete’s cupcake-eating, she’s sneaking a cigarette or complaining about the money he gives his deadbeat father (Albert Brooks).

The threadbare plot arrives at its predictable we-still-love-each-other destination after nearly 2 1/2 loud hours. Apatow pads the film with DVD-extra appearances from his fall-back troupe of improvisers (Jason Segel, Chris O’Dowd and Tim Bagley, among others).

Only Melissa McCarthy’s obscenity-filled diatribe makes an impression -- particularly on her cast mates, who laugh way too hard in the de rigueur closing-credits outtake.

“This Is 40,” from Universal Pictures, is playing across the U.S. Rating: ** (Evans)

Cold War

The title character in “Barbara,” played by Nina Hoss, is a politically suspect East German doctor. The year is 1980, and she’s been rusticated from Berlin to a forlorn rural hospital and given a crumbling apartment where she’s subjected to randomly timed strip searches. If she wanted out before, now she’s desperate.

“Barbara” has all the elements of a Cold War thriller but one: tension. Instead, it’s a character study, or, more accurately, the study of a face.

And Hoss’s unhappy saucer-eyed visage fully deserves its own movie. In repose, with blue-shadowed eyelids weighed down by approximately a pound of mascara, this face looks like it’s waiting to be painted by Max Beckmann.

Writer-director Christian Petzold shows us Barbara at work with a handsome young doctor (Ronald Zehrfeld) -- she’s supercompetent, of course -- and at the beds of a couple of key patients, to whom she feels increasingly committed.

That means in time she’ll have to make a decision. Since the picture has only a few characters, we can see far in advance how the puzzle pieces are going to fit together.

I didn’t mind, though. In fact, a late attempt to stir in some complexity -- by revealing the tragic side of a Stasi agent -- was a mistake, muddying an otherwise simple fable. You can only hope that the moral “Barbara” delivers, about the reward of self-sacrifice, bears some relation to the truth.

“Barbara,” from Adopt Films, is playing in New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. Rating: *** (Seligman)

David Chase

Although “Not Fade Away” is a first feature, its writer and director is “Sopranos” creator David Chase.

The film premiered at the New York Film Festival in October. (To read Bloomberg’s review, click here.)

It follows the fortunes of a rock ’n’ roll band from the early ’60s to the end of the decade, centering on the quiet suburban kid (John Magaro) who’s drafted as its drummer and discovers his inner Dylan.

But it’s aimless and -- despite a ton of period detail and music -- bland except for James Gandolfini as the boy’s father, a bitter bigot who glares murderously at his long-haired son.

“Not Fade Away,” from Paramount Vantage, is playing in New York and Los Angeles. Rating: **1/2 (Seligman)

What the Stars Mean:

***** Fantastic
**** Excellent
*** Good
** So-So
* Poor
(No stars) Avoid

(Greg Evans and Craig Seligman are critics for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are their own.)

Muse highlights include Best of 2012 and New York Weekend.

To contact the writers on the story: Greg Evans at and Craig Seligman at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at

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