THE NOTEBOOK (New Line) Director: Nick Cassavetes. Ryan Gosling, Rachel McAdams, James Garner, Gena Rowlands. (PG-13)
Take One: Following A Walk to Remember is another adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks tear-jerker, this one about an elderly woman with Alzheimer's who doesn't remember the story of her life or the elderly man who visits her and reads her a story of young love.
Take Two: The story of young love involves some steamy pre-marital sensuality and finally sex, though explicit nudity is avoided to ward off an R rating. Recurring minor profanity.
Final Take: Whatever value the framing story has as a testament to lifelong marital commitment in sickness and in health is more than outweighed by objectionable bedroom scenes. (See “Spotlight” for more.)
THE TERMINAL (DreamWorks) Director: Steven Spielberg. Tom Hanks, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Stanley Tucci. (PG-13)
Take One: Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks reprise the light comedy and tragic undercurrents of Catch Me If You Can in a tale of an Eastern European traveler stranded indefinitely in JFK Airport by a bureaucratic catch-22, where he develops relationships with airport staff and a beautiful flight attendant.
Take Two: The story wobbles between plotlines and characters that make sense and ones that don't. An off-screen adulterous affair is depicted appropriately as a tragic and self-destructive pattern of behavior. Some crude references and humor.
Final Take: Despite some mis-steps, a terrific performance from Hanks, a stupendous terminal set and some genuine emotion make The Terminal worthwhile adult fare.
AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS (Walt Disney) Director: Frank Coraci. Jackie Chan, Steve Coogan, Cecile De France. (PG)
Take One: Forget the Jules Verne story and the David Niven film. This is a Jackie Chan buddy film. Phileas Fogg (Steve Coogan) is only the sidekick, valet “Passepartout” (Chan) is the real star and the globe-trotting race a mere excuse for the closest thing to vintage Jackie Chan action in years.
Take Two: You can have a paper-thin story in this sort of movie, but it should go down easier than this one, which is aggressively stupid to the point of embarrassment. The minor profanity and crass humor are more or less in PG territory, but some of the slapstick violence is surprisingly rough.
Final Take: Too lame for general consumption; only Jackie fans dedicated enough to see the film only for the action need bother.
THE STEPFORD WIVES (Paramount) Director: Frank Oz. Nicole Kidman, Bette Midler, Matthew Broderick. (PG-13)
Take One: Hollywood takes another stab at Ira Levin's allegorical social satire, this one going for black comedy rather than thriller suspense. Nicole Kidman plays a ruthless career woman contemplating homemakerhood after being fired and moving with her husband to a strange town of dorky, idle men and subservient female sex toys.
Take Two: Like Kidman's character, this Stepford Wives briefly contemplates the perils of pursuing career at the expense of life and family — before emphatically deciding being a housewife is an unthinkably horrific alternative. Crude sexual humor and content; depiction of a homosexual couple.
Final Take: Hopelessly muddled narratively and culturally, Wives also has no idea what it wants to say beyond its knee-jerk male bashing and contempt for homemakerhood.
SAVED! (United Artists) Director: Brian Dannelly. Jena Malone, Mandy Moore, Macaulay Culkin. (PG-13)
Take One: Evangelical-Protestant subculture takes it on the chin in a satiric comedy about a fundamentalist girl who believes Jesus wants her to “straighten out” her sexually confused boyfriend, gets pregnant and discovers the harsh side of her sanctimonious subculture.
Take Two: Saved! depicts everyone with dogmatic faith as naïve, bigoted, dishonest and/or hypocritical; only profane, skeptical or uncommitted characters have compassion, decency or intellectual honesty. Recurring obscene and crude language and positive presentation of homosexuality.
Final Take: Simply one of the most mean-spirited and offensive movies I have ever seen. (See “Spotlight” for more.)
Steven D. Greydanus is editor and chief critic of Decentfilms.com.
Two years ago A Walk to Remember, starring Mandy Moore and based on the tear-jerker by Catholic novelist Nicholas Sparks, made a splash with Christian audiences. Now Hollywood wants to sell churchgoers on two new movies — The Notebook, based on another Sparks novel, and Saved!, starring Moore in another fundamentalist role.
Don't be fooled. The Notebook, with its steamy scenes of premarital sex, is in some ways the opposite of the pro-chastity Walk to Remember. And Saved! casts Moore as another pious Christian only to satirize her character, who's as self-righteous, vicious and hypocritical a harpy as Hollywood has ever created.
The Notebook tells a story of a young couple who almost from the get-go can hardly keep their hands off each other. Their first, abortive attempt to make love is followed by a long separation — but years later, despite being engaged to another man, Allie returns to Noah and a torrid tryst ensues. Worse, there's no noticeable cautionary or critical dimension here; the story's sympathies are solidly with the lovers.
It's too bad, because there are actually some nice things about the film, including a rather touching picture of an elderly husband whose lifelong devotion to his wife is unchanged by her declining mental state.
Saved! is far worse. On one level, the film goes for the Magdalene Sisters defense: It can't be offensive because it's all true(ish). Yes, insular complacency, religious sloganeering, judgmentalism, hypocrisy and lovelessness are alive and well in fundamentalism — and Catholicism too, for that matter. But, also like Magdalene Sisters, Saved! is arrogantly dismissive of anything like compassion, decency or honorable religious commitment among its target demographic.
If that's what Hollywood thinks we're like, efforts to target Christian audiences are likely to continue to be offensively off the mark.
— Steven D. Greydanus