Screens New reviews

'Layer Cake, Shark Boy and Lava Girl, and Lord's of Dogtown'

Layer Cake
Dir. Matthew Vaughn; writ. J.J. Connolly; feat. Daniel Craig, Colm Meaney, George Harris, Jamie Foreman, Sienna Miller, Michael Gambon, Kenneth Cranham (R)

Freely roaming the worlds of sinister drug-dealers and remorseless murderers from the comfort of home or theater is a fascinating aspect of movie-watching. We sit safe and sound as despicable people say and do reprehensible things.

A sympathetic criminal antihero doesn't mean crime pays in Layer Cake, from the producer of Snatch and Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

Despicable people are the stars of Layer Cake - directed by Snatch producer Matthew Vaughn - whose plot focuses on a drug dealer referred to only as XXXX (Craig) in the credits. XXXX greets us in the first frame, detailing proper underworld business etiquette: Maintain a low profile and always pay your supplier. He wants to avoid the fate to which his profession inevitably leads, but just before self-selected retirement, he is commissioned for one more job by Jimmy Price (Cranham). Price wants XXXX to sort out a drug deal gone bad and locate the daughter of an associate (Gambon).

The parallel story lines run violently into each other as characters meet with beatings, bullets to the head, and dismemberments, causing XXXX to rethink his foolishness.

Craig stands out in his role of conflicted antihero. He provides his character with an intelligence and sensitivity that contrasts sharply with his seedy associates. Yet, not even he is immune to the consequences of his conduct.

— Mario Ochoa

The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl in 3-D
Dir. and writ. Robert Rodriguez; feat. Taylor Dooley, Taylor Lautner, Cayden Boyd, George Lopez, Kristin Davis, David Arquette (PG)

His heart was in the right place, but Robert Rodriguez' latest kiddie fare, The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl in 3-D, proves that although filmmaking talents, like other artistic abilities, can be passed on to the next-of-kin, they can also sometimes skip a generation.

It's a Lava Girl! It's a Shark Boy! It's a flop, says critic Kiko Martinez of Robert Rodriguez' latest kids' film.

OK. Let's give Racer, Rodriguez' then 6-year-old son who's credited for the story, a break. He might still have a future in the industry, but with a bad call by daddy dearest, his young career begins with a gimmicky dud.

In Shark Boy, an imaginative kid named Max (Boyd) conjures two new superheroes in his "dream journal" who come to him for help. Shark Boy (Lautner), who was raised by sharks after a storm separated him and his family, and the molten Lava Girl (Dooley) take Max to Planet Drool, a place that's "so cool it makes you drool," where the evil Mr. Electricity (Lopez) must be stopped before he takes over the universe.

Without a Marvel or DC Comics label to overrule him, Rodriguez has the freedom to do whatever he wants with his new adventure and the result is like Rodriguez' pointless Spy Kids 3D: Game Over. Shark Boy will still probably hit the right demographic. It's the parents, grandparents, and older siblings, however, you'll have to pity since 5-year-olds can't drive themselves to the theater.

Kiko Martinez

Lords of Dogtown
Dir. Catherine Hardwicke; writ. Stacy Peralta; feat. Emile Hirsch, Victor Rasuk, John Robinson, Heath Ledger, Rebecca De Mornay (PG-13)

Set in Venice, California in 1975, Lords of Dogtown, the feature film that follows Stacy Peralta's impressive 2001 documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys, tells the true story of a group of young burnouts as they begin to revolutionize the world of skateboarding with never-before-seen-tricks, mostly derived from their surfing abilities.

Although it is interesting to witness Jay (Hirsch), Stacy (Robinson), and Tony (Rasuk) lead the Zephyr skating team through competitions and festivals by awing crowds with their aerial mastery, the story, unlike the award-winning documentary, becomes sporadic and disconnected from the sport. Director Hardwicke (Thirteen) takes on one too many sub-plots - such as Jay's father who abandons Jay and his mother (De Mornay) - and fails to develop them into compelling narratives.

More problematic are the overall performances of these 20-year-old actors, which devolve into bad impersonations of the real life rebels. Heath Ledger (A Knight's Tale), who plays Skip, a surfboard-store owner and founder of the Zephyr team, is guiltiest of these acting blunders as his role morphs into an immitation of '70s cocaine dealer George Jung, Johnny Depp's character in 2001's Blow.

Not something to get stoked over, Lords of Dogtown, in skating terms, is the equivalent of a wipeout.

Kiko Martinez


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