As it predictably nurtures an uptown-downtown love story between sweetheart Puerto Rican handyman-dancer Armando (E.J. Bonilla) and Mia (Leah Pipes), a blond tango instructor who becomes paralyzed, it welcomes other clichés with open arms: the big yet claustrophobic Latino family (including old-country-wistful dad and oppressive mom) and the inevitably colorful characters (sassy black transsexual, goth girl, macho lout) who make up the wheelchair-bound patients at the rehab center Armando must whip into shape for, yep, that big competition around the corner.
Though there's plenty of movement and enthusiasm, director Susan Seidelman is content with a metronomic approach to manipulating our feelings — buoyant Latin music never felt so routinely scene-setting — and seems afraid to let anyone on-screen depart from established caricature.
That's a shame, because she finds an offbeat grace note in the film's final dance routine — a moment between lovers that encapsulates the cycle of struggle and hard-won joy they will inevitably face — that suggests an intriguing exploration of mixed-agility romance.
"Musical Chairs." MPAA rating: PG-13 for language, some sexual material and a brief drug reference. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes. At Laemmle's Music Hall 3, Beverly Hills; Laemmle's Town Center 5, Encino; Laemmle's Playhouse 7, Pasadena; and Regal Westpark 8, Irvine.
'Gangster' lacks name and focus
The most notable factor in the superb action films recently coming from South Korea has been their raw intensity, both in terms of brutal physical violence and emotionally messy thematics. Which makes "Nameless Gangster: Rules of the Time," a recent hit in its homeland for writer-director Yoon Jong-bin, something of an oddity for its flabby listlessness, the way in which it wastes a crack set-up and game cast on a story that lacks focus and drive.
As if to highlight what his film is missing, "Gangster" features the stars of some of the best of recent Korean thrillers, Choi Min-sik from "Oldboy" and "I Saw The Devil," and Ha Jung-woo from "Chaser" and "The Yellow Sea." The film follows a slightly crooked customs officer (Choi) who enters the underworld in a big way when he comes across a large shipment of heroin. He soon hooks up with a genuine gangster (Ha) and together they rise to new heights, only to be undone by paranoia, hubris, greed and an eventual government crackdown on organized crime.
Rather than the knife wielding of some recent Korean films, the weapon of choice here is more frequently the sickening hollow thwack of an aluminum baseball bat. Regardless of any basis in the actual weaponry of Korean gangster circles, those bats seem at times a nod to "Casino." But Yoon never reaches the operatic heights of Martin Scorsese's sometimes misunderstood masterwork, with "Nameless Gangster" too meandering to be truly effective.
"Nameless Gangster: Rules of the Time." No MPAA rating; in Korean with English subtitles. Running time: 2 hours, 13 minutes. At CGV Cinemas, Los Angeles.
Little fresh with this slacker
The trouble with "The Trouble With Bliss" is, well, pretty much everything. This dark comedy, directed by Michael Knowles from a script he co-wrote with Douglas Light (from Light's novel), is as aimless as its main character, Morris Bliss — yet another man-child who lives at home — and just as uninteresting.
Morris ("Dexter's" Michael C. Hall) is an unemployed — maybe never employed — 35-year-old who shares a faded Lower Manhattan apartment with his cranky, long-widowed dad (Peter Fonda). Morris has recently begun a rash relationship with Stephanie (Brie Larson), a manipulative motormouth half his age who, it turns out, is the daughter of his ebullient old high school buddy, Steve "Jetski" Jouseski (Brad William Henke).
Little happens over the course of a seemingly short time span as Morris tries to extricate himself from Stephanie's loopy clutches while reconnecting with Jetski, deciphering his best friend NJ's (a fun Chris Messina) grandiosities and navigating an aggressive new love interest (Lucy Liu).
Any potential enjoyment here is fatally undermined by the film's barely developed characters, self-conscious dialogue ("I will wax his tugboat!") and repetitive imagery — how often must we see Morris get into bed and go to sleep? What inspired the talented Hall to sign on to this pointless exercise is the picture's chief curiosity.
"The Trouble With Bliss." MPAA rating: PG-13 for sexual content, partial nudity and a brief violent image. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes. At Laemmle's Music Hall 3, Beverly Hills.