Video Verdict: New DVDs for Dec. 16

Don Cheadle stars in "Traitor."

Don Cheadle stars in "Traitor."

This week’s DVD releases include an intense political thriller, the revival of Brendan Fraser’s “Mummy” franchise and a movie musical starring Meryl Streep.

 

 
Mama Mia!
2 ½ stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for some sex-related comments
Universal
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Musical theater isn’t what it was and “Mama Mia!” is the perfect case study. The movie, like the 1999 stage show it is based on, is less concerned with telling a good story than trotting out a collection of hits from the pop group ABBA. The picture features twenty-some songs worked into the loose framework of a romantic comedy.

The plot centers on Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), a young woman who runs a small Greek hotel with her mother, Donna (Meryl Streep). Sadly, Sophie has no idea who her father is. This bothers her so much that she sneaks a look at her mother’s diary and — just days before her forthcoming wedding — sends invitations to three men that she suspects could be Daddy. When each of the guys actually shows up for her nuptials, it creates comic complications for everyone.

The three men are played by Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgard and Colin Firth, so the cast is impressive. Unfortunately, Brosnan can’t sing and the concept of “Mama Mia!” isn’t nearly as noteworthy as the pedigree of its stars. In large part that’s because the songs were written before the story, so the lyrics are often a poor match to the plot points.

In fairness, ABBA fans will probably find the feature delightful because the Greek scenery is gorgeous and most of the songs are performed with energy and finesse. Just don’t rent “Mama Mia!” expecting a musical experience as powerful as that in last year’s “Sweeney Todd.”

“Mama Mia!” is available in multiple DVD versions, including a two-disc special edition. Extra features vary.

 
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor
2 stars
Rated PG-13 for adventure action and violence
Universal
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

None of Brendan Fraser’s “Mummy” movies have been good, but the first two brought in millions, so it was only a matter of time before we got No. 3. Sadly, “Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” is no better than its predecessors.

Fraser again stars as adventurer Rick O’Connell, but he’s older and more sedate than in the earlier films … or so it first seems. Although Rick and his wife, Evelyn (Maria Bello), are trying to live a quiet life, it’s clear they miss the good old days. So, when they get the opportunity to deliver an ancient artifact to the Chinese government, they jump at the chance. And, as usual, they get more excitement than they bargained for.

Upon arrival in China, the O’Connell’s learn that their son, Alex (Luke Ford), has discovered the tomb of Emperor Han (Jet Li), a fierce Chinese warlord who was cursed by a powerful witch (Michelle Yeoh) centuries ago. Soon enough, Han is revived from the dead and the entire O’Connell family is battling him.

Just like the first two “Mummy” movies, “Dragon Emperor” is jam packed with action sequences and astounding special effects. Sadly, that’s all it has going for it because the plotting and character relationships are secondary to the spectacle. And there is such thing as too much spectacle.

No matter how good “Dragon Emperor” looks, the story just isn’t entertaining enough to merit its nearly two-hour run time.

The movie is available in multiple DVD packages, including a two-disc deluxe edition and a set that also includes the first two “Mummy” films. Extra features vary.

 
Traitor
3 ½ stars
Rated PG-13 for intense violent sequences, thematic material and brief language
Anchor Bay
Available Friday on DVD and Blu-ray

Don Cheadle specializes in electrifying performances, so it’s no surprise that he’s outstanding playing Samir Horn, a devout Muslim with connections to Middle Eastern terrorists.

“Traitor” opens with Horn getting arrested for weapons dealing in Yemen, but his imprisonment is short-lived. During a prison break, he escapes with a group of Muslim extremists that take him into confidence. The movie then follows Horn’s exploits, as well as those of two FBI agents — Guy Pearce and Neal McDonough — investigating terrorist threats against America.

Since Horn has no strict ties to any nation, “Traitor” keeps viewers guessing at his motivation and loyalties, and that makes the viewing experience intense and fun.

Just don’t go to “Traitor” expecting escapism. Writer-director Jeffrey Nachmanoff has crafted a thriller so complex that it threatens to leave inattentive viewers reeling. But those who pay attention will be rewarded with a drama that’s well-acted and smarter than the average film.

DVD extras include an audio commentary with Cheadle and Nachmanoff.

 
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“Generation Kill”: All seven parts of the HBO miniseries about the beginnings of the Iraq War. The large cast includes David Barrera, Josh Barrett, Wilson Bethel, Benjamin Busch, Nabil Elouahabi and Neal Jones.

Mr. Bean — The Ultimate Collection: Seven-DVD set including Rowan Atkinson’s entire “Mr. Bean” television series plus “Bean: The Movie” and “Mr. Bean’s Holiday.” Extra features include nine episodes of the Bean animated TV series, a documentary, never-released sketches and more.

“The Cheetah Girls — One World” Extended Music Edition: Disney Channel original movie that follows the Cheetah Girls to Mumbai, where they have the opportunity to appear in a Bollywood musical.

“Goldilocks and the 3 Bears”: Modernized, CGI re-telling of the fairy tale created by the Jim Henson Company. The voice cast includes Jamie Lynn Spears, Brooke Shields and Tom Arnold.

“Petticoat Junction” — The Official First Season: A handful of episodes of this 1960s TV sitcom were available on DVD in the past, but this marks the first time fans can purchase the entire first season. The action is centered on the happenings at the rural Shady Rest Hotel, owned by Kate Bradley (Bea Benaderet) and populated by her three daughters, Billie Jo (Jeannine Riley), Bobbie Jo (Pat Woodell) and Betty Jo (Linda Kaye).

Power Rangers — Jungle Fury releases: Buena Vista Home Entertainment is rolling out two DVDs featuring segments of the “Power Rangers: Jungle Fury” TV series. Each has 135 minutes of material. The DVDs are titled “Into the Jungle” and “Way of the Master.”

“The Little Mermaid II — Return to the Sea”: New, special-edition release of Disney’s sequel to “The Little Mermaid.” The animated movie focuses on the daughter of Ariel and Eric, the mermaid-human couple from the first movie, and it was originally released in 2000.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Video Verdict

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