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Animadversion: Aliens in suburbia

September 09, 2012

Evan’s world is serene — or so he tell us at the beginning narration of The Watch, the new aimless male-centric comedy about a group of four who draft a neighborhood watch committee to sniff out a local killer, and in turn, find a nest of murdering aliens in suburbia. Apparently, Evan’s world is not as easygoing as he tells us.

Encumbered — and needlessly so — by potty-mouthed jokes, the screenplay by Jared Stern, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg coughs, rattles and rolls over dead on its half-baked concept.

Ben Stiller’s Evan is a content man in a delusion of happiness. He has a dozen community roles set up as a get-away tool from his wife, because he is unsure on how to tell her about his infertility. The other mildly-dimensional turn is by Vince Vaughn, a mostly stay-at-home dad who’s more obsessed by his daughter’s blooming sexuality (she’s in high school), then his commitment with the neighborhood watch.

Richard Ayoade gets a wasted turn as the British-accented Jamarcus, the new-guy who just wants to “help out the community” — but is suffering from a case of Asian fetish. And finally, one wonders if Jonah Hill will get another chance for an Oscar consideration after his role here; Hill plays a gun-centric, high school dropout and police reject without any visible spark of the eccentricity his character half-promises. Rosemarie DeWitt’s Abby is fine in whatever limited screen time the film’s ridiculous macho-ness leaves.

Alien invasion movies just don’t rule the box office anymore. Battleship tanked. Super 8 nearly wiggled the price of its negative. The Darkest Hour made do with invisible aliens (and foreign production bonuses) to cut costs. A new turn on E.T. or Close Encounters of the Third Kind needs something more than boisterous, beer-loving suburban daddies or gruff-sounding jokes. It needs sense and sensibility in the script department.

The Watch is released by 20th Century Fox and Mandivwalla Entertainment. It is rated R. A lot of aliens die horrible deaths and we bear witness to gratuitous nudity without reason.

Bourne again

The Bourne Legacy, the fourth in the franchise, set between the culminations of the original Bourne trilogy (The Bourne Ultimatum), gets a new replacement hero and a new director (also the resident writer of the franchise) and still delivers a solid thinking-man’s action film.

In striking odds, creating an intelligent blockbuster is an even bigger feat than outrunning and outthinking the film’s main villains — the incessant groups of homeland security that first dogged Matt Damon and now Jeremy Renner.

Legacy has big shoes to fill but a highly effective, Renner as Aaron Cross and new director Tony Gilroy, come up with a new chapter in the Bourne franchise without getting too frazzled by what expectations it conjures to the imagination. Legacy delivers a story-driven, less action-oriented thriller that entraps you into following every thread without entangling itself in its elaborate plot.

Aaron Cross is one of many enrolled in the new Defence Department project called Operation Outcome. The project is churning out more Jason Bourne-like super soldiers (not the Captain America kind). When compared to normal combatants they have more muscle power, stamina, agility and intelligence and are resilient to pain.

The first half has Cross positioned in Alaska in the midst of wolves and snow-capped mountains. As we get to know Cross’s talkative self and prodding, probing personality, the wheels start spinning by the big guy of the defense dept Eric Byer (Edward Norton) in a bid to contain the complicated situation post Bourne’s escape (and the looming media exposure). Cross and other operatives from the secret program are decided to be put down. He is targeted but escapes by shooting down a drone. He then tracks the drugs that can make his improved state permanent. This he can get with the help of Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), who works for Outcome on neurogenic manipulation. To ensure that there are no loose ends, she — and her whole department — too had to be eliminated. Now targeted by the government, the two become allies.

Jason Bourne’s legacy is Cross and he is treated as such; and because Supremacy happens simultaneously, Jason in a weird sense acts as their shadow.

Director Tony Gilroy writes with his brother Dan Gilroy and they sew Legacy tight in the Bourne universe with multiple references to previous installments (Albert Finney, Joan Allen and David Strathairn lend this new continuation a hand by flashing brief cameos).

Renner — from The Hurt Locker to The Town, Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol and now Legacy — has shown acting chops as well as star-power charisma; and he gets an equal power play from Norton, which balances the scales just right.

Legacy doesn’t lose steam — even with its hushed ending and sequel setup. On its own, it is an exciting chapter to an already fantastic franchise, that’s primed for an engaging new beginning.

The Bourne Legacy is released by Footprint Entertainment and Universal. It is rated PG-13 for intense action and a more intense theme. — Farheen Jawaid