Video Verdict: New DVDs for Dec. 27

Shia LaBeouf and Michelle Monaghan in "Eagle Eye."

Shia LaBeouf and Michelle Monaghan in "Eagle Eye."

This week’s DVD releases include a Shia LaBeouf action flick, a Keira Knightley costume drama and an offbeat comedy starring British comedian Ricky Gervais.

Eagle Eye
2 ½ stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, and for language
DreamWorks
Available now on DVD and Blu-ray

Suspension of disbelief is key to “Eagle Eye,” a wild thriller that is as preposterous as it is fast-paced.

The action centers on twenty-something slacker Jerry Shaw (Shia LaBeouf) and single mother Rachel Holloman (Michelle Monaghan). For no clear reason, these two become the target of an all-seeing entity that monitors their every move and insists they do its bidding.

The incentive? The entity is so tapped into modern technology, that it possesses the ability to kill them or their loved ones if they don’t go along for the ride. Whoever is monitoring Jerry and Rachel can hack into everything from cell phone calls to bank accounts to the computer systems controlling stoplights and commuter trains. This is pretty silly, but “Eagle Eye” goes a long way toward satisfying the conspiracy theorist lurking within us all.

Considering the goofiness of the script, director D.J. Caruso presents the story as well as can be expected, and LaBeouf and Monaghan turn in likable performances bolstered by supporting turns from Billy Bob Thornton, Rosario Dawson and Michael Chiklis.

The movie is available in multiple DVD versions, including a two-disc special edition. Extra features vary.

 

Ghost Town
2 stars
Rated PG-13 for some strong language, sexual humor and drug references
DreamWorks
Available now on DVD and Blu-ray

Comedian Ricky Gervais delivers an exceptionally well-defined performance in “Ghost Town,” making his character, Dr. Betram Pincus, more memorable than most in the romantic comedy genre. Unfortunately, Pincus isn’t the sort of man most of us want to remember.

Pincus spends a good 70 percent of the film moping and acting generally anti-social. And, since he has difficulty speaking to the living, he’s the worst possible person to develop the ability to commune with the dead. Nevertheless, that’s what happens, prompting a multitude of New York City ghosts to ask him for help completing tasks in the material world.

Because Pincus is a miserable, self-absorbed man, he refuses to lend a hand until a particularly persistent spirit named Frank (Greg Kinnear) promises to make all the ghosts disappear if Pincus makes sure Frank’s widow (Tea Leoni) doesn’t marry her new beau.

The plotting is similar to the early 2008 comedy “Over Her Dead Body,” but the performances and script are thankfully better than that disaster. That isn’t, however, high praise.

The trouble with “Ghost Town” is that most characters aren’t very likable and the situations they find themselves in are only intermittently funny and endearing. For a movie about ghosts, it is surprisingly lacking in spirit.

DVD extras include a couple making-of features and a commentary by Gervais and director David Koepp.

 

An American Carol
1 star
Rated PG-13 for rude and irreverent content, and for language and brief drug material
Vivendi Entertainment
Available Tuesday on DVD

David Zucker established himself as a comic director of some note with his first feature film, 1980’s “Airplane,” but his work over the last decade has been disappointing. First, he involved himself in the atrocious “Scary Movie” franchise — directing No. 3 and No. 4 — and now he’s made a pro-conservative/pro-war comedy that forgets to be funny.

Everything centers on Michael Malone (Kevin Farley), a documentary filmmaker who is clearly based on Michael Moore. Zucker, who co-wrote the screenplay, casts Moore, err Malone, as an anti-American glutton who is satisfied only when eating or running our country down. Malone is so down on our nation, in fact, that he has started an anti-Independence Day campaign, and a major plot point sees Afghan terrorists convincing him to make a recruitment video for them.

“An American Carol” is essentially a parody of “A Christmas Carol,” and just when it looks like Malone is going to sell out America and work for the terrorists, he is visited by the spirits of J.F.K., General George S. Patton (Kelsey Grammer) and President George Washington (Jon Voight). He also has a run-in with the Angel of Death (Trace Adkins).

Despite the noteworthy cast, the film is neither funny nor politically stimulating. Since the real Michael Moore is both of these things, “An American Carol” comes off as a batch of poorly executed pop shots.

Die-hard conservatives might be willing to overlook the movie’s lame gags in favor of its political ideals, but it is not a well-constructed picture no matter what one’s political leanings are.

DVD extras include deleted scenes and a director’s commentary.

 

The Duchess
3 stars
Rated PG-13 for sexual content, brief nudity and thematic material
Paramount Vantage
Available now on DVD and Blu-ray

Keira Knightley is always fetching in period, costume dramas, and she found a good one in “The Duchess,” the true story of Georgiana Cavendish, an 18th century English duchess trapped in a loveless marriage.

Unlike most stories of arranged marriages, “The Duchess” begins with its heroine enamored with the idea of marrying a wealthy man of great political stature. In fact, when her mother (Charlotte Rampling) first tells her of the arrangement, her main reaction is one of surprise?

“He loves me?” she asks.

Georgiana soon discovers, however, that the Duke of Devonshire (Ralph Fiennes) does not love her. Rather, he simply needed a wife capable of providing him with a male heir. Georgiana also learns that the duke has many mistresses and no intention of parting with them.

The movie — aptly directed by Saul Dibb — follows Georgiana as she grows increasingly popular in the eyes of the English people and increasingly disgusted by her husband’s sexual dalliances. So, she considers an affair of her own, but she is always handcuffed by public opinion and an undying allegiance to her children.

“The Duchess” features wonderful performances, fine cinematography and gorgeous art direction, making it ideal for anyone who enjoys historic dramas with a British sensibility.

DVD extras include a making-of feature, a history piece considering some of Georgiana’s actual correspondence and a costume diary.

 

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“Resident Evil — Degeneration”: Animated film based not on the earlier “Resident Evil” movies, but on the video games by the same name. The film features the characters Leon S. Kennedy and Claire Redfield dealing with a deadly new zombie invasion.

“Towelhead”: Writer-director Alan Ball’s big screen adaptation of the Alicia Erian novel. The focus is on Jasira Maroun, an Arab American teen coming to terms with the strict lifestyle of her Lebanese father and the bigotry she faces living in Houston, Texas, during the Gulf War.

“Baghead”: Independent horror-comedy about a group of would-be filmmakers who head to a secluded cabin with dreams of shooting a low-budget picture. Things take an unexpected turn when the appearance of a mysterious, sack-wearing person convinces them they may be the stars in a “real-life” horror movie. Ross Partridge, Elise Muller, Greta Gerwig and Steve Zissis star.

“Battle for Haditha”: Dramatization of the real-life Haditha killings in which 24 Iraqis, more than half of which were non-combatants, were allegedly killed by U.S. Marines. The film was directed by Nick Broomfield (“Aileen: Life and Death of Serial Killer”), and his cast includes Iraqi refugees and former U.S. military personnel.

“Savage Grace”: Dramatization of the Barbara Daly Baekeland murder case starring Julianne Moore, Stephen Dillane, Eddie Redmayne and Elena Anaya. Directed by Tom Kalin.

“Nip/Tuck” — Season Five, Part One: The continuing adventures of plastic surgeons Sean McNamara (Dylan Walsh) and Christian Troy (Julian McMahon). This DVD set includes the first 14 episodes of season five. The remaining eight episodes will begin airing Jan. 6 on the FX Network.

“Kyle XY” — The Complete Second Season: All 23 episodes from the second season of this ABC Family drama about a young man (Matt Dallas) who has no memories of his childhood or who he is. Folks who need catching up will have just a few days to plow through this six-disc set because season 3 is slated to start Jan. 12.

“The Secret Life of the American Teenager” — Season One: It’s a big week for fans of the ABC Family television network because this teen drama joins network peers — “Kyle XY” and “Greek” — on video store shelves. The story centers on pregnant high school student Amy Juergens (Shailene Woodley) and her friends and family.

“Greek” — Chapter Two: There are plenty of television shows focused on high school life, but this ABC Family dramedy made the trip to college. It considers a number of students involved in the fraternity and sorority scene at fictional Cyprus-Rhodes University. The DVD set includes episodes 11-22 of the show’s first season.

 

— Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic who has written for some of the largest publications in the U.S. E-mail him at Forrest@ForrestHartman.com.

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