John Dies at the End Sure to be a cult film, John Dies at the End opens with a loopy story involving an axe, a beheading, and the possibility of solving a riddle that reveals the secrets of the universe—provided you don’t go mad in the attempt. Cut to Dave Wong (the very Caucasian Chase Williamson) telling Arnie (Paul Giamatti) a reporter about spiritual exorcisms and the side effects of the Soy Sauce, a potent drug he and his friend John (Rob Mayes) have injected. Cue a girl who turns into snakes, a door handle that becomes a penis, and a monster-man made entirely of meat—and all this is just in the first reel. John Dies at the End jumps across time, and gleefully down narrative wormholes into an alternate universe for the guys and viewers to follow—if they dare (or if they can, things do get confusing after awhile). But go along for the ride, which is full of nifty special effects including exploding heads and eyeballs plus dozens of icky bug and slugs. This film is trippy fun for viewers who tune into its imaginative vibe. And the affable leads have great exchanges like: “As long as you absolutely remember not to do that, you’ll be fine!” “What?!”
Identity Thief If there is comedy to be had by the pairing of the slow burn, button down Jason Bateman and the unfiltered free spirit that is Melissa McCarthy, Identity Thief does not take enough advantage of it. Sure, there are very funny scenes of Sandy Patterson (Bateman) not being flummoxed by a horny cowboy (Eric Stonestreet) whipping a belt at him, or Sandy Patterson (McCarthy) telling a whopper at a diner to get a free meal, but too much of this odd-couple on a road trip comedy consists of a lame running gag about his “unisex” name and limp dick jokes. There are also tedious chase scenes involving a skip tracer (Robert Patrick). Identity Thief forces Sandy (Bateman) to find Sandy (McCarthy) in Florida and bring her back to Colorado to clear his name. In the process, the two opposites go from fiendly to friendly. She teaches him empowerment and she learns to care for other people. If the lessons were not as predictable as the humor, Identity Thief might have been a classic on par with Midnight Run, but with more dumb sequences involving a snake in the woods that funny ones, the payoff here is pretty slim.
Side Effects A ludicrous film about an important issue—medicating for depression—Side Effects turns into a ridiculous thriller in which Emma (Rooney Mara) accidentally—or on purpose?—murders someone while “sleepwalking” on prescription meds. So her doctor (Jude Law) investigates to clear his name and possibly smear hers. Mara’s fragileness seems to extend beyond her characters’ efforts at portraying catatonia; the actress simply fails to engage here, and Law is badly miscast as her doc. Even Catherine Zeta-Jones’ participation as Emma’s former doctor with a secret is not as delicious as it should be. Every time the film springs a silly big plot twist on the audience, viewers will wish they had anti-depression pills handy.
Top Gun 3-D A re-release of the 1986 classic starring Tom Cruise as the fighter pilot Maverick and Kelly McGillis as his instructor/love interest.
West of Memphis Another documentary on the West Memphis Three, a trio of boys who were wrongly convicted of murdering three boys in Arkansas.