Video Verdict: ‘A Good Day to Die Hard,’ ‘Identity Thief,’ ‘Warm Bodies’

Melissa McCarthy (front) and Jason Bateman star in “Identity Thief.”

Melissa McCarthy (front) and Jason Bateman star in “Identity Thief.”

This week’s home video releases include an R-rated comedy starring Melissa McCarthy and Jason Bateman, a new entry in the “Die Hard” franchise, and a charming zombie romance.

Warm Bodies

3 stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for zombie violence and some language
Summit Entertainment
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand

“Romeo and Juliet” has seen countless variations during its 400-plus years of existence, but one of the strangest comes in the form of “Warm Bodies.” The movie, adapted from Isaac Marion’s novel, tells a story of budding romance between a brain-eating zombie named “R” (Nicholas Hoult) and an attractive young woman named Julie (Teresa Palmer). Clearly, these lovers are star-crossed, and their names make comparisons to William Shakespeare’s romance mandatory. “Warm Bodies” is not, however, a standard-order adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet.” In fact, it owes an equal debt to the “Beauty and the Beast” fairy tale and the teen romance genre as a whole.

Often, it’s a downer when a movie references other works, but “Warm Bodies” actually benefits from the allusions. Writer-director Jonathan Levine (“50/50,” “The Wackness”) assumes that his audience is familiar with the aforementioned influences, and much of the enjoyment comes from recognizing cultural tropes and the twists he attaches to them.

“Warm Bodies” is also fun because the writing is really good. The love story is set after a zombie apocalypse and told through the eyes of R. Although he has difficulty conversing in spoken word, the thoughts in his head are well developed, and viewers learn through voiceover that he is remarkably lonely. One day, while traveling with a pack of hungry zombies, R finds Julie and her friends foraging for medical supplies. A fight breaks out, and he eats the brain of Julie’s boyfriend (Dave Franco), an act that gives him the young man’s memories. Acting impulsively, R decides to spare Julie and take her back to the abandoned passenger jet that he lives in.

Obviously, the romance between R and Julie isn’t as sweet as that of Romeo and Juliet, but it is fascinating. Hoult does a good job playing a character who longs for the normal life that’s been taken from him. Likewise, Palmer is solid as a woman who is as frightened by her zombie companion as she is attracted to him.

As one might expect from a zombie romance, the film doesn’t pack a lot of big ideas. Still, the concept is original, and watching it unfold is loads of fun.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include making-of features, deleted scenes, a gag reel and an audio commentary by Levine, Hoult and Palmer.

 

Identity Thief

2 stars
Rated R for sexual content and language.
Universal Studios
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand

There’s nothing funny about real-life identity theft, but that didn’t stop screenwriter Craig Mazin and director Seth Gordon from attempting to milk laughs from the subject. In “Identity Thief,” the pair tell the story of Sandy Patterson (Jason Bateman), a finance executive who gets swindled by a shameless female grifter named Diana (Melissa McCarthy).

Diana starts by stealing Sandy’s unisex name. Then, she runs up masses of credit card debt, ruins his reputation and triggers a warrant for his arrest. Frustrated by the increasing problems and the disinterest of authorities, Sandy decides to singlehandedly track his nemesis and bring her to justice.

Bateman is a real talent with a knack for playing downtrodden everymen, and he was an ideal choice for Sandy. McCarthy is also a solid comedian, and her pairing with Bateman seems promising. Unfortunately, Mazin’s screenplay just isn’t that funny, and neither actor is able to improve on it. In fact, once viewers get beyond the setup gag – that a vivacious woman has stolen the identity of a staid businessman – the jokes rarely land.

Very little about “Identity Thief” is original. After a brief introduction that leads to Sandy and Diana travelling across the country together, viewers are saddled with a story that’s essentially a road movie with an “Odd Couple” twist. That’s been done before, and Mazin makes it worse with boring subplots about a bounty hunter (Robert Patrick) and organized crime group who also have it out for Diana.

The DVD and Blu-ray releases of “Identity Thief” include both the theatrical cut and an unrated version of the film. Extras include a gag reel and making-of feature.

 

A Good Day to Die Hard

1½ stars
Rated R for violence and language
20th Century Fox
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand

When the “Die Hard” franchise resurfaced in 2007, it was fun to see an older version of New York City Police detective John McClane (Bruce Willis) taking on bad guys. In large part, that’s because everyone from Willis to director Len Wiseman made sure “Live Free or Die Hard” produced both spectacular action sequences and a story worth caring about.

With “A Good Day to Die Hard,” the latter part of the formula was forgotten. This new entry to the series features a seriously underdeveloped plot held together by stunt sequences that are as overblown as they are ridiculous. On top of that, screenwriter Skip Woods focuses an inordinate amount of time McClane’s son, Jack (Jai Courtney), a character who has only one brief appearance in the previous four movies.

“A Good Day to Die Hard” features John traveling to Russia in hopes of freeing Jack from prison. Instead, he gets tangled in an international espionage plot and learns that his son is a U.S. spy. This revelation sets the stage for lots of father-son bickering, all of which feels dull and out of place since Jack is essentially a new character.

Of course, Jack’s status as a spy also clears the way for car chases, shootouts and other dangerous activities. Although the stunts are relatively well staged, they grow tiresome because the plot is so thin. Purists will also wince because nothing depicted on screen could actually happen. It is probably unfair to critique a “Die Hard” movie on those grounds since realism has never been a tenet of the franchise. It is reasonable, however, to note that this movie has the weakest character development of any “Die Hard” film and that director John Moore (“Max Payne”) makes it difficult to invest in the things taking place on screen.

There is a lot of media speculation about a sixth “Die Hard” movie, and fans should hope for a sequel for one primary reason. It would prevent “A Good Day to Die Hard” from being the swan song for such a beloved cinematic series.

The DVD release of the movie has limited extras, but the Blu-ray includes deleted scenes, making-of shorts, special effects pre-visualizations, a still gallery and an audio commentary by Moore and first assistant director Mark Cotone.

 

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“Escape From Planet Earth”: Computer-animated adventure about alien astronauts imprisoned in Area 51 by a malicious Army general. The voice cast includes Brendan Fraser, Rob Corddry, Ricky Gervais, Jessica Alba, Sofia Vergara and Sarah Jessica Parker. Co-written and directed by Cal Brunker.

“Mountain Men” – Season 1: First eight episodes of the History Channel reality series focused on three men – Eustace Conway, Tom Oar and Marty Meierotto – who live off the grid in wilderness areas.

“Breaking Bad” – The Fifth Season: Latest episodes from the AMC drama about a terminally ill chemistry teacher who becomes a drug dealer (Bryan Cranston). Along with the season-five action, this release contains deleted scenes, cast and crew commentaries, making-of featurettes and an eight-minute bonus scene shot specifically for the home video release.

“Ring of Fire”: Lifetime TV drama centered on musician June Carter Cash (Jewel Kilcher) and her love affair with country star Johnny Cash (Matt Ross). Directed by Allison Anders.

“Pretty Little Liars” – The Complete Third Season: The fourth season of this ABC Family thriller bows June 11, and this set contains the 24 episodes leading into it. The show centers on four teenage girls dealing with the mysterious disappearance and death of one of their friends. Troian Bellisario, Ashley Benson, Lucy Hale, Shay Mitchell and Laura Leighton star.

“Falling Skies” – The Complete Second Season: This alien-invasion series was a hit for TNT last year, and fans can look for fresh episodes later this month. In the 10 episodes collected for this set, human freedom fighter Tom Mason (Noah Wyle) and his family continue to adapt to life on a planet ruled by hostile forces.

“Adventure Time” – The Complete Second Season: This Cartoon Network hit focuses on the continuing adventures of a boy and magical dog living in a post-apocalyptic world. Each episode on the home video release features an audio commentary by series creator Pendleton Ward.

Clint Eastwood Collections: Warner Brothers is delivering the Clint Eastwood 40 Film Collection and Clint Eastwood 20 Film Collection. Each set contains some of the filmmaker’s best-known movies, including “Mystic River,” “Million Dollar Baby,” “Dirty Harry” and “The Outlaw Josey Wales.” Both sets also include the documentary film “Eastwood Directs: The Untold Story.”

“Ice Road Truckers” – Season 6: A new batch of episodes from the History Channel reality series about truck drivers moving cargo over some of the world’s most dangerous terrain.

“Rawhide” – The Sixth Season, Volumes 1 & 2: Paramount split the 30 episodes from the sixth season of this 1960s Western into two releases. Each set focuses on the adventures of cowboys that are moving 3,000 head of cattle from place to place. Eric Fleming and Clint Eastwood star.

 

– Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. E-mail him at forrest@forresthartman.com.

About these ads

4 Comments

Filed under Video Verdict

4 responses to “Video Verdict: ‘A Good Day to Die Hard,’ ‘Identity Thief,’ ‘Warm Bodies’

  1. As a lawyer who has seen Identity theft up close in some of my clients’ lives, I found “Identity Thief” hilarious. The only part I thought went down hill is when the couple befriends the thief and became her surrogate family. It seemed a little too goody-two shoes for me.

  2. Glad you liked it Robert. Perhaps being particularly tuned into the subject matter helps. It just didn’t work for me.

  3. smilingldsgirl

    Bummer about Identity Thief. I sometimes wonder if McCarthy is better for TV. She’s so good in Gilmore Girls and Mike and Molly.

  4. I like McCarthy, but she’s falling into a pattern of playing the same basic character over and over. Just saw a trailer where her performance looked like it was a carbon copy of what she did in “Identity Thief.” Hopefully, she can break out of the rut.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s