Film Friday: ‘Prom Night’, ‘Smart People’

by W. Andrew Powell

Street Kings

Keanu Reeves in Street Kings

There is a grim sense this week that the cinemas have become a dumping ground for third-rate films that the studios don’t want to release during the peak season, which kicks off in May. Whether that is the case or not, the list of sub-par films in cinemas this weekend is at least short. Keanu Reeves leads the charge as the star of the cop-revenge film Street Kings, followed closely by the horror remake Prom Night, while Dennis Quaid brings up the rear in the dark comedy, Smart People.

Street Kings
Keanu Reeves has become the go-to man for dark, brooding characters in formulaic action films. While I’ll readily admit that I think he deserves a lot more credit for some of his roles, the problem is that he also agrees to star in obvious fodder like this week’s action extravaganza, Street Kings.

Reeves is Tom Ludlow, a vice detective in Los Angeles who is hunting down the people who killed his partner, with all the apparent glee of a loose canon. Trying to keep the man from disaster is Captain Wander, played by Forest Whitaker, who often has to deal with Internal Affairs, who are questioning Tom’s methods.

The action is quick and dirty, but as these tales of cop vengeance go, critics are calling the film a mess without any sense of credibility or logic. Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly gave Street Kings a not altogether bad review, but he was especially critical of Reeves. “Every so often, Keanu Reeves’ robo-voiced blankness serves him well,” Gleiberman noted. “But when he has to play a pulpy, tormented demon-saint, scraping up insults and spitting them out like bullets, he’s like the host of an infomercial doing an impersonation of a badass.

Prom Night
The horrors of high school may be all to real, but for anyone who enjoys a good murder in the hallowed halls of learning, there is always this week’s remake of the almost-classic 80s slasher film Prom Night.

Forgoing the revenge theme of the original for more of a horrible tragedy sort of feeling, the remake stars Brittany Snow as Donna Keppel, a high-school senior who wants to put the past behind her. But when things turn bloody, Donna realizes that someone she thought was out of her life has come back and has a killing spree in mind.

Hollywood’s track record with horror remakes has been less than praiseworthy, especially when you look at recent flops like last year’s Halloween, The Eye, or even The Invasion. What’s worse is that the team behind the film have horrible resumes. Prom Night director Nelson McCormick has very little experience with feature-length films, writer J.S. Cardone is responsible for the disaster known as The Covenant, and producer Neal H. Moritz helped bring us such classics as Cruel Intentions 3, and Stealth.

That adds up to a film that is really not worth talking about, which means you should either go out and rent the original, or hunt down some clever horror, like Hatchet, or Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead.

Smart People
Dennis Quaid stars as Lawrence Wetherhold in this dark comedy about a widowed, self-absorbed professor, who realizes he has to change his stripes and reconnect with his family before he will ever be able to become a success. Complicating matters is the appearance of Lawrence’s loser brother, played by Thomas Haden Church. Other stars include Ellen Page as Lawrence’s daughter, Sarah Jessica Parker as the love interest, and Ashton Holmes.

Compared to the two other new releases this week, Smart People has the best critical reaction, with many reviewers praising the dialogue and characters, but most writers agree that the film lacks a strong story. Rick Groen at the Globe and Mail sums up the film, calling it “One of those sadly dependent independent films, every bit as formulaic as any Hollywood blockbuster.”

Blockbuster Season Preview
While this week’s crop of films is less than inspiring there is good news on the horizon: blockbuster season isn’t far away. That means we can expect a slew of action adventures, comedies, and epic sequels worthy of the skyrocketing cost of popcorn and soda.

Here is a quick rundown of what you can look forward to in the weeks ahead:
April 18 – Forgetting Sarah Marshall
April 25 – Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay
May 2 – Iron Man
May 9 – Speed Racer
May 16 – The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
May 22 – Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
May 30 – Sex and the City: The Movie
June 6 – You Don’t Mess with the Zohan

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