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Capsule reviews of 'Contraband,' 'Joyful Noise' and other new releases.
"Contraband" ' Yes, this follows the tried-and-true One Last Job formula. Yes, Mark Wahlberg is nestled deep within his comfort zone as a former master criminal who's lived a dangerous life and gone straight. Still, this is a solid genre picture that knows exactly what it is, has no delusions of grandeur and carries out its task in entertaining and occasionally even suspenseful fashion. Based on the 2008 Icelandic film "Reykjavik-Rotterdam" and directed by that movie's star, Baltasar Kormakur, "Contraband" features Wahlberg as Chris Farraday, a one-time expert smuggler who's now living a quiet life as a security consultant in the New Orleans suburbs with his hairstylist wife, Kate (Kate Beckinsale), and their two young sons. When Kate's younger brother (Caleb Landry Jones) botches a run for a volatile local drug dealer (Giovanni Ribisi, tatted, high-pitched and squirrelly) while pulling into the Port of New Orleans, Chris must come out of retirement to make up the loss to this madman. His scheme involves shipping down to Panama City to bring back millions in counterfeit bills; not only does this not go according to plan, it spins wildly out of control. Meanwhile, back in the bayou, Kate and the kids increasingly become targets of the drug dealer's wrath. Kormakur relies too heavily on shaky-cam tricks and quick, needless zooms to pump up the tension, but some of his set pieces do play out in visceral fashion. R for violence, pervasive language and brief drug use. 109 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.
' Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic
"Joyful Noise" ' If some incarnation of "Glee" were to be developed for the Christian Broadcasting Network, it would probably look a lot like this. You've got your squeaky-clean reworkings of pop tunes from various decades, which are intended to please viewers of all ages; some romance, although nothing too hot and heavy; and a large dollop of prayer, as the characters struggle to find answers with the Lord's help. It's really rather canny the way writer-director Todd Graff's film caters to these large, wholesome audiences ' ones that are largely underserved in mainstream multiplex fare ' all at once. But that doesn't mean it's effective as entertainment. Especially during the musical numbers ' which theoretically should serve as the most rousing source of emotion, since the film is about a gospel choir ' there's a weird disconnect, a sense that the songs are simultaneously overproduced and hollow, and repeated cutaways to reaction shots of singers nodding and smiling further undermine their cohesion. Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton co-star as longtime enemies battling for control over a small-town Georgia church choir. Keke Palmer and Jeremy Jordan play teens sharing a forbidden love ... through song. Graff jumps around awkwardly among catfights, performances and surreptitious snuggle sessions between the two young stars. PG-13 for some language, including a sexual reference. 118 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.
' Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic
"We Need to Talk About Kevin" ' For Lynne Ramsay, motives are vague, sometimes unknowable things. In the Scottish director's films ' "Ratcatcher," ''Morvern Callar" and this one ' characters act out awkwardly and unpredictably, baffled and nullified by deadly predicaments that are, in some measure, their own making. "Kevin," Ramsay's first film in nearly 10 years, is about a woman wracked by the trauma of having mothered a mass-murdering teenage son. Eva Khatchadourian (Tilda Swinton) is a suburban wife to a cheerful, oblivious husband, Franklin (John C. Reilly), whose waking nightmare is enforced by constant flashbacks, mulling over her mothering of Kevin (as a teen, played by Ezra Miller) from infancy and up until the fateful high school massacre. It is, to be sure, a parent's horror story. The origin of this real-life demon is traced back to birth and even earlier, a pondering of the arrival of a bad seed and his subsequent nurturing. The script by Ramsay and Rory Stewart Kinnear, adapting Lionel Shriver's acclaimed novel, artfully blends these two timelines evoking Eva's interior consciousness, where every moment recalls a precursor to the tragedy, and a debate of her role in it. But the film fails to grasp the "why." Perhaps this is as it should be: The formation of such a monster can only be a mystery. But this thoroughly well-crafted if rigidly conceived film could use a little more talking ' or at least some therapy ' about Kevin. R for disturbing violence and behavior, some sexuality and language. 112 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.
' Jake Coyle, AP Entertainment Writer