Jan. 19 (Bloomberg) -- Movies can always get an easy laugh by having a granny utter a swear word. “The Last Stand” gets the same laugh by having her take out a marauding killer with her shotgun.
Designed to numb audiences, this Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle will make them remember instead, since it is opening during a furious debate about gun violence.
Gun nuts should love the scene in which Schwarzenegger, playing a small-town sheriff, and his deputies visit the arsenal of a gun fetishist (Johnny Knoxville) to arm themselves for the coming battle with a drug cartel head and his private army.
They run their hands caressingly over the metal. And then the movie shows what these weapons can do: Its principal effect, repeated dozens of times, is thick splattering blood.
The film marks the American debut of the Korean director Kim Jee-woon. Its mixture of small-town comedy, sentiment, solemn machismo, Schwarzenegger’s wooden delivery and ecstatic gunplay ought to be entertainingly inept.
But will audiences roar when a school bus drives into the gunfire? No, it’s not carting children. The film isn’t depraved; it has the innocence of stupidity. But it looks guilty.
“The Last Stand,” from Lionsgate, is playing across the U.S. Rating: *1/2 (Seligman)
Spanish director Andy Muschietti’s feature film debut, produced by Guillermo del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth”), is a ghost story with too much ghost.
Expanded from Muschietti’s attention-grabbing short film, “Mama” opens with a gruesome scenario: A distraught father of two adorable tots has just murdered their mother.
Racing down a snowy mountain road with the girls, distracted dad drives the car over a cliff. All three survive, and make their way to a creepy abandoned cabin in the woods.
“Daddy, there’s a woman outside,” says the elder girl. “She’s not touching the floor.”
End of prologue -- and of dad. Mama, a wraithlike spirit with a protective streak, has arrived.
The action picks up five years later, when the two feral girls (Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nelisse) are discovered skittering around the old cabin like water spiders.
The kids are placed in the care of their artist uncle Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, “Game of Thrones”) and his rocker girlfriend Annabel (“Zero Dark Thirty’s” Jessica Chastain, with a Joan Jett look).
But where the girls go, Mama -- and death -- follow.
The creaky backstory -- there was this old insane asylum, see, and a long-dead young mother who wants to find her dead baby, see -- is freshened up with some modern digital flourishes, a la “The Ring.”
The digitally created Mama is spooky in smaller, sudden doses, a spindly, broken-boned corpse-like thing with fingers like tree roots.
The creature becomes a full-fledged character in an extended finale, but this Mama is better at a distance.
Still, several set pieces -- starting with that beautifully filmed snowy accident -- suggest Muschietti’s promise.
The best, by far, is a lovely, eerie scene, shot (the cinematographer is Antonio Riestra) in wide angle, showing the younger girl in a playful bed sheet tug-of-war with an off-screen playmate we assume to be her older sister.
We assume wrong.
“Mama,” from Universal Pictures, is playing across the U.S. Rating: **1/2 (Evans)
The New York of “Broken City” is in fact running smoothly, at least for the rapacious developers who have spent $4 billion on a Stuyvesant Town-like project they plan to clear of tenants, tear down and replace with skyscrapers.
They’re partners with the mayor, a smiling reptile played without irony (or apparent pleasure) by Russell Crowe.
The melodrama follows the template of “Chinatown”: A private eye (Mark Wahlberg) thinks the mayor has hired him to trap his adulterous wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones, who knows how to look at a man with hatred in her eyes). Then the investigator discovers he’s on to something bigger.
There are revelations but no surprises. The one twist is a gay/metrosexual angle that makes Wahlberg, playing an I’d-rather-be-home-watching-the-Knicks macho guy, the butt of an occasional joke. But he never seems like a bigot, and he has the star power to carry a much less handsomely shot vehicle.
The director, Allen Hughes, keeps the camera practically breathing down Wahlberg’s neck as he sneaks through the night snapping photos, rifling through garbage and getting shot at and slammed for reasons that aren’t always clear.
“Broken City,” from 20th Century Fox, is playing across the U.S. 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 Jeremy Gerard on theater and New York weekend.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at email@example.com.