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Critic's Notebook: Yes, grown-ups like a good summer flick too

May 02, 2010|By Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times Film Critic
  • Look Out: It's "Knight and Day" for Cameron Diaz and Tom Cruise.
Look Out: It's "Knight and Day" for Cameron Diaz and Tom… (Frank Masi / 20th Century…)

Hollywood used to be one of the few places that actually could trust anyone over 30; fortysomethings even more so; and at 50-plus there was little mystery at all. Their taste, and more important for the bean counters of Tinseltown, their choices were predictable.

If it was a serious film about adult matters with solid performances, count them in. A romantic weepy, stock the Kleenexes because at least the women would be there. Put up a smart thriller, especially espionage of the intellectually challenging sort, and they would show up. Foreign films, you bet. Documentaries, again, yes.

But within the last year or so, grown-ups have become more fickle than a 17-year-old male, which used to be the movie industry's "it" guy, as in if you got him to the film, success would be a guarantee.

That is mostly good news for movies, since folks of a certain age are not X-ing the whole go-out-to-the-multiplex off their to-do list. If anything, going to the movies is holding on longer and stronger than other entertainment options like theme parks and rock concerts.

Grown-ups made a surprise hit out of "The Blind Side," a story of redemption with Sandra Bullock as a born-again Christian mom with a big heart. They liked Bullock in "The Proposal" too, but on the whole, romantic comedy suffered. Jennifer Aniston they embraced in "Marley & Me," another redemptive "tail," and not much else. So redemption is a draw.

At the same time, grown-ups all but refused to go to the Iraqi bomb squad drama " The Hurt Locker," despite its winning every award in the book, but made time for "Precious," another tough story, but again with a flicker of light at the end of that dark tunnel. Even dark, depressing redemption is in; war, especially if it takes place in the Middle East, not so much. ( Matt Damon's star power couldn't salvage "The Green Zone.")

So what does that suggest about the summer? It might actually be a good one, just not for some of the usual suspects. I worry about "The Oath," centered on the trial of Al Qaeda suspects, and "Restrepo," following soldiers inside the Afghan conflict. Despite a critical wave that's been building for both since Sundance, they may suffer the stigma that war currently confers.

"Grown Ups," the latest Adam Sandler movie about, you guessed it, just seems all wrong despite the title: too old for the younger crowd, not relatable for the older, but then "Wild Hogs' " bromance did OK. "Dinner for Schmucks," with Steve Carell in a story about a nasty boss, might, just might work, though adults have not been in the mood for mean-spirited fare and this might qualify.

Meanwhile, the funny and poignant "The Kids Are All Right," about a sperm donor tracked down by his kids, was a hit at Sundance and could be one of the summer's sleepers, while "The Switch," another sperm donor comedy, this one with Aniston, is likely to have little potency unless it does what her other recent comedies have not — that would be to actually entertain and be funny. Because even if you cut the adult pie into a very fat slice that encompasses many strata of geography, economics, education, etc., you find adults are still discriminating. They want their popcorn, but they want it fresh.

Right in the sweet spot of smart thrillers likely to benefit are: "Knight and Day," with Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz; "Salt," with Angelina Jolie and Liev Schreiber; and "The Adjustment Bureau," with Damon and Emily Blunt.

On the romantic side, Julia Roberts in "Eat Pray Love" should burn down the house considering the book's huge cult of devoted fans matched only by Roberts' own devotees.

The big summer event films like "Prince of Persia," " Robin Hood" and "Shrek" figure in, of course, but even if they turn out to be just mediocre, they nearly always find purchase by scooping up enough "everyones" in their big tent.

The films I worry about most are those that make up the smaller, smarter class of the Summer of 2010, both home grown and foreign, among them: "Winter's Bone," a dark drama set in the Ozarks; Philip Seymour Hoffman's directing debut with the working-class romance in "Jack Goes Boating;" "Solitary Man," with Michael Douglas; the siren song of "Ondine," with Colin Farrell; romance Italian-style with Tilda Swinton's "I Am Love;" and documentaries as an entire class, with the exception of "Babies," whose cuddle factor looks nearly irresistible.

It seems adults are very much into escape these days. They don't want their movies to remind them of distant wars or financial woes (which may not bode well for the "Wall Street" sequel). And strangely enough, Hollywood seems to be listening.

Thus a word to the wise, which we know grown-ups are: Your voice is actually starting to be heard in movieland — so vote and vote well at the box office. You can change the world, or at least a tiny, glittery corner of it.

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