This is the last moviegoing weekend before Christmas, and it’s no accident that this week’s new releases feel like specific, tailored stocking stuffers for various demographics. Here is a rundown of what’s new, who is putting them on their wish lists, and what they’re going to get instead.
This Is 40 (Director: Judd Apatow)
On Whose Wish Lists: Judd Apatow’s unofficial sequel to Knocked Up follows the tertiary characters of Pete and Debbie (Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann) as they contend with their too-soon arrival into middle-age-dom and all the disappointments, sags and hemorrhoids that go hand-in-hand with turning the big four-oh. Apatow’s loose, improvisational style and his growing stable of enthusiastic scene-stealers (which now includes Albert Brooks, John Lithgow and an extra expostulatory Melissa McCarthy) remains a potent stimulant for Gen X’ers and even a few last-born millennials. And maybe not critics, who are once again ready to scapegoat Apatow for his flabby, shapeless running times; This Is 40 clocks in at about 135 minutes. Their reasoning is that comedies are best when kept under 90 minutes, but anyone who thinks Apatow’s movies are comedies, strictly speaking, aren’t watching close enough. His formal context isn’t comedy. It isn’t drama. It’s mostly couples-friendly relationship porn, made by and for people addicted to interpersonal catharsis, allowing couples to get hot and bothered by the spectacle of quick-fuse confrontations, recognizing scene after barely sequential scene as technically true to life, but with Botoxed dialogue made up entirely of the things people usually spend sleepless nights wishing they would’ve said.
What They’ll Get: Apatow has never been more overtly self-indulgent, casting not only wife Leslie Mann as his female lead, but also their children as Pete and Debbie’s on-screen kin. Though Mann has the meatier part, the movie still sides with Rudd’s, so far as their respective movie tastes are concerned. Given the film’s cyclical temper tantrums, This Is 40 is akin to getting your Christmas card mailing list mixed up with the stack of angry letters you’ve written to AARP for adding you to their mailing list before you were ready. But, man, Rudd can time out a gratuitous fart joke with the best of them.
Jack Reacher (Director: Christopher McQuarrie)
On Whose Wish Lists: AARP-eligible action star Tom Cruise offers this holiday season’s one red-blooded action thriller, a brawny whodunit about an off-the-grid ex-military blowhard whose forensic knowledge and enviable muscle memory make him the perfect sidekick to a lawyer defending a seemingly indefensible murder suspect. Though Cruise’s Sherlock Holmes act is often hysterically (and unintentionally) entertaining, since said suspect is accused of orchestrating a shooting spree in which five people are picked off by sniper fire, odds are that the only people who will really be asking Santa for tickets to this incredibly ill-timed flick are the same people who found NRA executive vice-president Wayne LaPierre’s Friday morning press conference calling for armed officers in every school rational and level-headed. Because Jack Reacher‘s ultimate moral that the guys who know best how to kill people are also the ones that clearly, certainly, most definitely are not doing it is nothing if not a dramatic fulfillment of LaPierre’s assertion that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
What They’ll Get: A gear-crunching car chase sequence and a delicious cameo by German director Werner Herzog, who masticates every one of his lines of dialogue lasciviously as the guy so evil he tells assassins to chew off their own fingers and they do so, provide only momentary distraction from the movie’s attraction for heavy artillery. Otherwise, this stocking stuffer is akin to refilling your glass of eggnog as you sit quietly in between your red-faced relatives as they argue over gun control at the dinner table.
The Guilt Trip (Director: Anne Fletcher)
On Whose Wish Lists: People who say “like buttah.”
What They’ll Get: Sure, Barbra Streisand fans will get the, to them, all too rare opportunity to see the world’s most “hello, gorgeous” star once again stretch out her skills as a comedienne as she travels cross-country with her irritable son, played by Judd Apatow avatar Seth Rogan. Like mother, like son? Forget it. The Guilt Trip bends over backwards to sell the pairing as a generation gap-hopping Odd Couple for those one generation younger than the Fockers. To the extent that its target audience’s eyes will be locked on Streisand like heat-seeking missiles, the movie offers all it needs to. Babs dotes, she giggles, she cries, she fiddles with her purse, she drops the F-bomb, she devours a 50-ounce steak to beat the clock (in an extended sequence that feels presented in near-realtime), and she untangles her uptight son’s persistent legacy of business failure. The big problem with the film is that Rogan isn’t just disagreeable as Streisand’s spawn, he’s legitimately sour for well over half the film. By the time he turns his frown upside down, it’ll be far too late for anyone in the audience to want to see him do anything but accidentally poison himself with his supposedly non-toxic cleaning product. So, as a stocking stuffer, The Guilt Trip is a one hand’s worth supply of Lee Press-On Nails.
Cirque du soleil: Worlds Away (Director: Andrew Adamson)
On Whose Wish Lists: Those who want the spectacle of a Cirque du Soleil show at Chuck E. Cheese prices.
What They’ll Get: The spectacle of Chuck E. Cheese.