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'Smother' struggles for breath

September 29, 2008|Mark Olsen; Robert Abele; Gary Goldstein

"Smother," a fairly standard story of a young man (Dax Shepard) and his overbearing mother (Diane Keaton), treads a lot of the same ground as Albert Brooks' "Mother" and even such recent Keaton vehicles as "The Family Stone," "Because I Said So" and "Mama's Boy." Why a performer as gleefully game and wittily wise as Keaton must now be subjected to such self-same material is a question perhaps only she, her agent and the cruel fates of Hollywood can answer.

Although director and co-writer Vince Di Meglio and producer-co-writer Tim Rasmussen ("License to Wed") come at "Smother" as screenwriters expanding their horizons, there is something about the film that feels cobbled together, unstructured and messy. Most of its best moments come from the cast, in particular Keaton's ability to sell even the most cockamamie line as something natural. Shepard simply isn't charismatic or compelling enough to carry a film.

In one of the film's wittiest gags, what should be the climactic racing-back-to-his-beloved montage is executed in one quick cut. And the movie doesn't so much climax as collapse in on itself. A promising effort that doesn't cohere into anything more, "Smother" never fully comes to life.

-- Mark Olsen

"Smother." MPAA rating: PG-13 for crude and sexual content, some drug material and language. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes. In limited release.

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Marriage and the man upstairs

In the Christianity-anchored drama "Fireproof," Kirk Cameron plays a firefighter named Caleb in a deteriorating marriage. He rages about lack of respect while wife Catherine (Erin Bethea), who has a demanding full-time job, sees an unloving, unhelpful partner.

With divorce imminent, Caleb's gentle-soul dad (Harris Malcom) suggests his faithless son embark on a 40-day marriage-saving schedule of Scripture-supported kind acts called the Love Dare. Everything hinges on whose flirtation with an influential third party will win out: Catherine's with a nice doctor, or Caleb's with a certain guy on the cross.

Although filmmaking brothers Alex (who directed) and Stephen Kendrick have their God-cures-all message to impart, for the most part they've made a mainstream relationship flick that feels intuitive about how unions falter and is appropriately preachy about remedies even nonbelievers can get behind: communication and listening (and, dudes, doing the dishes). Unfortunately, the emphasis on what God wants has a way of overwhelming who Caleb and Catherine are as characters.

-- Robert Abele

"Fireproof." MPAA rating: PG for thematic material and some peril. Running time: 2 hours, 2 minutes. In general release.

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'Freebird' needs a better flight plan

Though "Freebird" may prove a worthwhile ride for its motorcycling trio of middle-aged screw-ups, it's a bad trip for anyone stuck watching this tedious drug comedy. Writer-director Jon Ivay clearly understands the stoner mind-set, but a lack of fully realized characters, focused interactions and strong (read: entertaining) set pieces drives the first-time filmmaker smack into a series of typical road movie potholes.

The plot, such as it is, involves three offbeat London friends -- Fred (Gary Stretch), Tyg (Geoff Bell) and Grouch (Phil Daniels) -- who rev up for a high time out in the Welsh countryside in search of an elusive old hippie and his marijuana farm. Why they're trying to find him, what they do en route and what happens when they do find him are all rather beside the point, as is the biker war wedged in for some toothless conflict. Unfortunately, Fred, Tyg and Grouch are so randomly sketched it's impossible to invest in their allegedly life-changing journey.

-- Gary Goldstein

"Freebird." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes. In English and Welsh with English subtitles. At Laemmle's Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 848-3500.

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