Video Verdict: ‘The Back-up Plan,’ ‘City Island,’ ‘Survival of the Dead’

Zombies go on a feeding frenzy in writer-director George A. Romero’s latest film, “Survival of the Dead.”

This week’s home video releases include a family dramedy starring Andy Garcia, the latest George A. Romero zombie flick and a romance featuring Jennifer Lopez.

The Back-up Plan
1½ stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for sexual content, some crude material and language
Sony
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

The world may not have been begging for another predictable romantic comedy from Jennifer Lopez, but she has obliged nonetheless. In “The Back-up Plan,” she plays Zoe, a New York City pet store owner who – worried that her biological clock is ticking – decides to be artificially inseminated. Because fate likes nothing more than messing with people’s expectations, Zoe almost immediately meets the perfect man (Alex O’Loughlin). His name is Stan, he runs a great little farm in the country and he has the physique of a professional gymnast.

Of course, Zoe falls in love, but her newly minted pregnancy complicates things. So, she and Stan spend the rest of the film deciding whether they can be together, and audiences watch as their relationship alternates between charming and childish.

The story is so simplistic that most viewers will figure out where it’s going long before it gets there. That means director Alan Poul’s only real hope is to wow his audience with funny gags about parenting and pregnancy. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have any. Screenwriter Kate Angelou relies exclusively on overused and over-the-top bits involving morning sickness and the munchies.

Lopez and O’Loughlin are likable, and they have good screen chemistry. If they’d had a decent story to back that up, it might have been a match made in heaven. As is, both actors should be working on Plan B.

DVD and Blu-ray extra features include deleted scenes and a making-of featurette.

City Island
3 stars
Rated PG-13 for sexual content, smoking and language
Anchor Bay
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Vince Rizzo (Andy Garcia) may pride himself on being a regular guy, born and raised on City Island in the Bronx, but his family life is anything but idyllic. Everyone in the Rizzo clan, including Vince, smokes like mad yet takes pains to hide that fact. His wife, Joyce (Julianna Margulies), is convinced that Vince is cheating on her because he’s taking a covert acting class. His daughter, Vivian (Dominik Garcia-Lorido), is secretly working as a stripper. And his son, Vince Jr. (Ezra Miller), is obsessed with overweight women.

With all this going on, family dinners are an adventure, and they get even more exciting when Vince, who works as a prison guard, discovers that his long-lost, illegitimate son (Steven Strait) is being held in his own facility. Knowing the young man needs a break, Vince arranges to have him released into his custody, a move that doesn’t sit well with everyone in the family.

There’s a lot going on in “City Island,” and most of it’s good thanks to a quirky script and strong lead performance by Garcia. Margulies, Strait and Emily Mortimer (playing one of Vince’s theater pals) do a fine job backing him up and molding the film into an odd-but-pleasant mix of comedy and drama.

The finale is goofy and exaggerated, but that adds to the appeal. Writer-director Raymond De Felitta doesn’t seem as interested in creating a realistic drama as he does exploring the things that make families tick. He astutely observes that deception and lies are often as important to the dynamic as love and empathy, but he doesn’t condemn that fact. That makes “City Island” an appealing destination.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include deleted scenes, a short where the cast talks about the film and an audio commentary with De Felitta and Garcia.

Survival of the Dead
2½ stars
Rated R for strong zombie violence/gore, language and brief sexuality
Magnolia Home Entertainment
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

The latest installment of writer-director George A. Romero’s “Dead” franchise has all the hallmarks of his earlier work. There are zombies (lots of them), morally ambiguous characters, and a story that poses serious questions for those who dig beneath the guts and gore.

The film is also more than a tad cheesy, boasting special effects that aren’t up to snuff and acting that – although not terrible – isn’t going to win awards. Romero devotees have probably heard enough and are already headed to the video store. For the rest of you, more details.

“Survival of the Dead” boasts a dual storyline. One arm is focused on a rogue military unit, seen briefly in 2007’s “Diary of the Dead.” The other storyline involves two rival families living on a small island off the coast of Delaware. One of the families is headed by Patrick O’Flynn (Kenneth Welsh), a stubborn old man who insists that every zombie be killed. The other family is led by an equally obstinate fellow named Seamus Muldoon (Richard Fitzpatrick). He argues that zombies should be captured and cared for in case someone finds a cure. The difference in opinion leads to a family feud that eventually involves the previously referenced military unit.

Romero’s decision to focus on a debate over the treatment of zombies is clever, and it adds a modicum of depth to the movie. Still, this isn’t “Citizen Kane.” The real selling point is gross-out zombie attacks, and Romero has done little to set those in “Survival” apart from his previous work.

The movie is available as part of multiple home video releases, including a two-disc Ultimate Undead Edition. Extra features vary.

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“Lost” – The Complete Collection: This TV drama was a hit throughout its broadcast run, and ABC is now offering the entire series on both Blu-ray and DVD. Those who already own the earlier seasons can skip the mega-collection and opt for The Complete Sixth and Final Season, which is also out this week.

Three Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg: The Criterion Collection is releasing a set of three silent movies by Von Sternberg, a Vienna-born director who is well known for his work with Marlene Dietrich. The films here were made before his association with the actress. Included are “Underworld” (1927), “The Last Command” (1928) and “The Docks of New York” (1928). Criterion’s boxed set is packed with extras, including multiple scores for the films and a 96-page book with essays by Geoffrey O’Brien, Anton Kaes, and Luc Sante.

“Dorian Gray”: Victorian-era thriller adapted from Oscar Wilde’s 1891 book “The Picture of Dorian Gray.” Ben Barnes plays attractive Dorian who arrives in London and is swept into high society by Lord Henry Wotton (Colin Firth). When Dorian’s portrait is painted, he becomes obsessed with his appearance and trades his soul for eternal youth. Rebecca Hall and Ben Chaplin also star.

“The Bad Mother’s Handbook”: Television drama starring pre-“Twilight” Robert Pattinson as Daniel, a young man who learns that his long-time crush, Charlotte (Holly Grainger), is pregnant. He stops at nothing to be the most supportive friend he can and winds up getting a nine-month introduction to the highs and lows of motherhood.

“Tom and Jerry Meet Sherlock Holmes”: New 50-minute, animated film in which the ever-popular cat and mouse are off to Scotland Yard to assist Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in a case involving jewelry thieves.

“NCIS” — The Seventh Season: The eighth season of this television crime drama about U.S. Navy investigators will kick off in September, and this six-disc set is arriving just in time to give fans a quick refresher. Mark Harmon, Rocky Carroll, Michael Weatherly, David McCallum and Pauley Perrette star.

“Gossip Girl” — The Complete Third Season: This five-disc DVD set is packed with plenty of drama courtesy of affluent teens living on the upper east side of Manhattan. The young cast includes Blake Lively, Leighton Meester, Penn Badgley, Chace Crawford, Taylor Momsen and Ed Westwick. Also of note: Season three introduces a new character played by Hillary Duff.

“90210” — The Second Season: Catch up with the teens at West Beverly High before season three begins Sept. 13 on The CW. Rob Estes, Lori Loughlin, Tristan Wilds, Jessica Stroup, AnnaLynne McCord, Shenae Grimes and Jessica Lowndes star.

“Flight of the Conchords” — The Complete Collection: HBO comedy series about a folk singing duo from New Zealand hoping to launch a music career in New York.

“Pawn Stars” — Season Two: Reality TV series featuring the continuing adventures of three Las Vegas pawn shop owners who use their keen eyes to assess the value of items brought in by customers in need of quick cash.

“Metamorphosis”: Thriller about a group of young Americans trying to elude a dangerous vampire in the Carpathian mountains. Christopher Lambert (“Highlander” films), Corey Sevier and Irena A. Hoffman (“Four Christmases”) 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


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3 Comments

Filed under Video Verdict

3 responses to “Video Verdict: ‘The Back-up Plan,’ ‘City Island,’ ‘Survival of the Dead’

  1. smilingldsgirl

    I agree Back Up Plan was terrible. The only good thing was Alex O’Loughlin who looks like a young George Clooney. Can’t wait to see him in other movies. Yummy!
    This has been such a bad year for romantic comedies.
    I did like Just Wright with Queen Latifah. Nothing mind blowing but a sweet romantic comedy with good star chemistry.

    Like

  2. As always, thanks for dropping by. It’s much appreciated. I haven’t seen “Just Wright” yet, but will be reviewing it soon as the DVD/Blu-ray is out in a couple weeks.

    As for Alex O’Loughlin, did you ever watch the “Moonlight” TV series? It was short-lived vampire drama, and he is the star. The show has some faults, but I still enjoyed it, as I like vampire stories. I would have liked to see it earn an extra season or two.

    You’re right about the romantic comedy crop this year. The genre often has a lot of weak offerings, but this year seems exceptionally poor.

    Like

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