Video Verdict: ‘Book of Eli,’ ‘When in Rome,’ ‘Youth in Revolt’

Denzel Washington plays a man on a mission in post-apocalyptic America in the action-adventure film “The Book of Eli.”

This week’s major home video releases include a teen sex comedy with Michael Cera, a romantic comedy featuring Kristen Bell and Josh Duhamel and an apocalyptic drama starring Denzel Washington.

The Book of Eli
2½ stars (out of four)
Rated R for some brutal violence and language
Warner Brothers
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Lately, there have been a lot of movies considering what it might be like for Earth to go through an apocalypse. They started last year with “2012” and “The Road” and continued this year with “Legion” and “The Book of Eli.”

Although each film contemplates the end of humanity as we know it, they approach the subject differently. “2012” and “Legion” are special effects-heavy projects that are more interested in flashy visuals than actual storytelling. “The Road” is a thinking person’s movie that is focused on humankind’s reaction to the devastation rather than the destruction itself, and “The Book of Eli” falls somewhere between. Denzel Washington stars as the title character, a solitary drifter who viewers meet as he’s trudging across a desolate North American landscape pockmarked by craters. His mission, we learn, is to make it to the west coast of the United States with what may be the last copy of the King James Bible.

Eli believes he will find other people on the coast who can help him spread the word of the Bible, but his journey is treacherous because much of North America has devolved into a murderous wasteland. Still, he has made strides because he is smart and skilled in combat.

Alas, it seems Eli has met his match when he wanders into a makeshift town ruled by a power hungry man named Carnegie (Gary Oldman). As it turns out, Carnegie has been searching for a copy of the Bible for years, and when he learns that Eli has one, he decides to do whatever it takes to possess it.

The directing team of brothers Albert and Allen Hughes (“From Hell,” “Menace II Society”) present “Book of Eli” as one part action adventure and one part social commentary, but they come up short on the latter. “Eli” is entertaining, in large part due to Washington’s commanding performance, but its ideas aren’t as well focused as those in “The Road.” Viewers learn, for instance, that Carnegie is a learned man and he wants the Bible because he believes he can use it to control people. The Hughes brothers don’t, however, explain why he doesn’t simply create his own version of the Bible since he has no theological loyalty to the book.

“Eli” has enjoyable moments and it works reasonably well as a big-budget escape film. It does not, however, boast the type of philosophical insight one might reasonably expect from a movie about religion and the end of the world.

Extras on the standard-DVD release are limited to additional scenes and a motion comic that provides background on Carnegie’s character. The Blu-ray release includes those items, plus three making-of features and 40 minutes of picture-in-picture commentary by Washington and the Hughes brothers.

When In Rome
2 stars
Rated PG-13 for some suggestive content
Touchstone
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Few modern performers are as attractive and likable as Kristen Bell and Josh Duhamel, so they have to be a perfect screen couple, right? Wrong.

Although a teaming of Duhamel and Bell has potential, the lackluster screenplay that David Diamond and David Weissman delivered for “When in Rome” does nothing to exploit the possibilities. Bell plays Beth, a young museum curator who – frustrated with her romantic life – plucks a handful of coins from a “fountain of love” in Rome. Later, she learns that taking a coin from the fountain is supposed to make the person who tossed it in fall madly in love with the new owner.

Sure enough, Beth is soon pursued by a host of passionate suitors, including a painter named Antonio (Will Arnett), a street magician named Lance (Jon Heder), a male model named Gale (Dax Shepard) and a sausage tycoon named Al (Danny DeVito). And none of this helps with the relationship Beth is hoping to cultivate with a handsome journalist played by Duhamel.

While the movie’s setup provides fertile ground for over-the-top gags, Diamond and Weissman don’t deliver enough of them, and director Mark Steven Johnson (“Ghost Rider,” “Simon Birch”) doesn’t make the most of the ones he does have. Because of this, the film plods toward its inevitable conclusion without creating much interest in either its characters or unorthodox plotting.

On the up side, the movie has so many fantastic shots of Rome that you may find yourself longing for a visit … minus Duhamel and Bell, of course.

The standard DVD includes only a handful of extras: bloopers, deleted scenes and two music videos. The Blu-ray release features all of those, plus an alternate opening and closing, a feature about the cast and crew, a collection of extended scenes and even more deleted bits.

Youth in Revolt
2 stars
Rated R for sexual content, language and drug use
Sony
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Nick Twisp (Michael Cera) is a nice kid who realizes the only thing standing between him and a relationship with his dream girl, Sheeni (Portia Doubleday), is attitude. So, he adopts a mustache-wearing, bad boy alter ego named Francois (also played by Cera), and his life changes … although not necessarily for the best.

Director Miguel Arteta’s film adaptation of novelist C.D. Payne’s “Youth In Revolt: The Journals of Nick Twisp” meditates on the idea that good guys finish last by literally giving viewers two versions of the same character. When Nick decides he has a better shot at hooking up with Sheeni by becoming a delinquent, he transforms into Francois. And, since Nick and his new persona are so different, Arteta chooses to present them as two distinct characters, each played by Cera.

The film’s setup is cute, and Cera does a nice job throughout. He also gets respectable supporting work from Doubleday and from Zach Galifianakis and Ray Liotta, who play the men in Nick’s mother’s life.

Arteta deserves credit for delivering several extremely funny scenes, but they are spaced too far apart, and anyone who’s seen the “Youth In Revolt” trailers will already be familiar with most of them.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include deleted scenes, audition footage from some cast members and an audio commentary by Cera and Arteta.

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“Happy Tears”: Offbeat comedy starring Parker Posey and Demi Moore as two daughters who return home to care for their ailing and cantankerous father (Rip Torn). The dysfunctional relationship between the three causes the women to re-examine their lives.

“Mary and Max”: This stop-motion animated film is centered on unlikely pen pals from two different continents. An 8-year-old Australian girl named Mary Daisy Dinkle (voiced by Toni Collette) randomly chooses a name out of a New York phone book and sends a letter to Max (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a 44-year-old man with Asperger’s disorder. Their relationship continues for two decades, and the film explores topics ranging from alcoholism and kleptomania to religion and agoraphobia.

“World Cup Soccer in Africa – Who Really Wins”: This documentary examines the effect that hosting World Cup soccer has on an impoverished continent, and it is hitting video stores just as the 19th World Cup Championships are getting underway.

“Air Bud – World Pup” Special Edition: Disney is also trying to cash in on World Cup fever by releasing a new edition of this soccer-themed film. In the movie, Buddy the golden retriever helps his human friend prepare for a soccer championship while also meeting the dog of his dreams.

“Supernatural” – The Complete First Season on Blu-ray: Released for the first time on Blu-ray, this science-fiction television series follows Sam Winchester (Jared Padalecki) and his brother Dean (Jensen Ackles) as they encounter all sorts of supernatural phenomenon. This release includes all 22 first-season episodes plus a host of extra features.

“Mystery Train”: Written and directed by Jim Jarmusch, this 1989 film links three disparate stories that take place in a hotel in Memphis, Tenn. The film was nominated for seven Independent Spirit Awards in 1990, and it is being released as part of the terrific Criterion Collection.

“Everwood” – The Complete Third Season: Second-to-last season of the television drama about a widower who moves his family to a small Colorado town. Treat Williams and Gregory Smith star.

“The Secret Life of the American Teenager” – Volume Four: Continuation of the ABC Family series chronicling the life of a teen mom and her friends as they navigate the ups and downs of high school. Molly Ringwald and Shailene Woodley star.

“Sanctuary” – The Complete Second Season: This Syfy series centers on the work of Dr. Helen Mangus and her team of experts dedicated to providing a safe haven for “abnormal” creatures. During season two, the team is confronted with a different type of sea creature and a doctor who is producing a new breed of vampire.

“Leave it to Beaver” – Season Three: Latest installment of the classic family comedy series about boyhood and growing up. Fans who don’t already own seasons one and two may want to wait until June 29 when the entire series is being released in a beautiful boxed set.

“Johnny Bravo” – Season One: First 13 episodes of the Cartoon Network series about Johnny Bravo and his crazy antics. Guest appearances for season one include Scooby-Doo and the Mystery Inc. gang, Farrah Fawcett, Adam West, and Donny Osmond.

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

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