Pickable but skippable: That’s the verdict on this week’s crop of new DVD releases, all of which might be worth catching, but none of which demands to be seen (or seen again).
Strong performances from Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx elevate The Soloist, a fact-based story starring Downey Jr. as Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez and Foxx as Nathaniel Ayers, a homeless man whose mental fog and disconnected volubility belie Juilliard-trained musical ability.
At first Ayers is just a story to Lopez, but as he becomes involved in Ayers’ life, Lopez wants to help him — and Hollywood convention leads us to suspect that Ayers will somehow help Lopez. Fortunately, the film’s messy realism subverts the uplifting clichés.
There’s some good stuff here on homelessness and human dignity, but the movie didn’t need fictionalizations about Lopez being divorced (the real Lopez is married) or Ayers strangely calling Lopez his “god” (as the real Ayers has referred to Beethoven). The running toilet-humor slapstick doesn’t help, either.
Less thought-provoking is Race to Witch Mountain — not a remake or sequel of the popular 1975 Disney film about twin children from outer space with paranormal mental abilities, but a dark family/action-movie reboot that skips the coming-of-age discovery for X-Files paranoia and Galaxy Quest sci-fi fandom satire.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson takes center stage as Jack Bruno, a tough taxi driver trying to break old ties with the mob. Alliteratively named twins Sara and Seth (AnnaSophia Robb and Alexander Ludwig) appear in his cab with dark-hued SUVs in hot pursuit, and the race is on.
It’s slicker, scarier and funnier than the original films, not to mention quite a bit rougher, with wall-to-wall action leaving no room for the characters to breathe. Witch Mountain fans will appreciate cameo appearances by Kim Richards and Lake Eissinmann, the original Tony and Tia, and there’s a fun moment that plays like a public service announcement for the Second Amendment.
Also from Disney, The Tigger Movie returns to DVD — one of the better “late Pooh” entries, which isn’t saying much, and there’s not much to say. The story, with Tigger setting off in search of his real family before deciding that Christopher Robin’s Hundred Acre Wood gang is his family, isn’t from A. A. Milne, but a few standout sequences — sleepy bees dancing to a lullaby from Pooh and a musical fantasia sequence about the history of Tiggers — strike the right tone, and the climactic avalanche is impressive.
CONTENT ADVISORY: The Soloist: Depiction of mental illness and drug and alcohol abuse; brief violence, a bloody crime scene and a bloody bicycle accident; a few suggestive references; repeated profanity, crass language and a couple of obscenities; some toilet humor. Mature viewing. Race to Witch Mountain: Much intense action violence; menace to children. Not for sensitive youngsters. The Tigger Movie: Okay family viewing.