Video Verdict: ‘Haywire,’ ‘Joyful Noise,’ ‘New Year’s Eve’

Gina Carano gets physical in “Haywire,” an action-oriented thriller directed by Steven Soderbergh.

After several slow weeks, the home video scene is picking up steam. New releases include an action film by director Steven Soderbergh, a musical comedy starring Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton, and a star-studded offering from director Garry Marshall

Haywire

3 stars (out of four)
Rated R for some violence
Lionsgate
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand

With “Haywire,” mixed-martial arts (MMA) star Gina Carano has completed her transition from fighter to actress, and the result is impressive. Carano has always possessed movie-star looks, and that – combined with her combat skills – made her a darling on the MMA scene. It also helped her shift to entertainment-based projects like the 2008 reality-TV show “American Gladiators.”

“Haywire” takes Carano’s career to new heights by allowing her to anchor a feature film while acting alongside Hollywood heavyweights that include Michael Douglas, Ewan McGregor and Antonio Banderas. Not surprisingly, there are times when these veteran co-stars steal the spotlight, but it doesn’t happen as often as one might think.

Carano plays Mallory Kane, a freelance special forces operative who gets double crossed and becomes the target of assassins. Unsure who she can trust, Mallory mounts a desperate attempt to find the person who betrayed her and fight back. This brings her face to face with a host of shady characters, and it provides ample opportunities for hand-to-hand combat sequences. Carano is at her best in these fight scenes, and director Steven Soderbergh emphasizes their brutality by imbuing “Haywire” with a raw and gritty visual style. In other words, the film looks more like “Traffic,” Soderbergh’s 2001 opus on the drug trade, than it does his glossier works, like “Ocean’s Eleven.”

Because of Soderbergh’s laid-back approach, “Haywire” comes across as a small-scale action movie, and there’s charm in that. It’s not as flashy as huge-budget thrillers like “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol,” but it’s not as bombastic either. Along with Soderbergh’s assured direction, the real selling point of the movie is the cast. Carano is joined not only by Douglas, McGregor and Banderas, but by Channing Tatum, Michael Fassbender and Bill Paxton. In other words, Soderbergh’s young star is allowed to strut her stuff alongside a veritable who’s who of modern acting. The fact that she does a respectable job indicates that even better things may be on the horizon.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include short features on Carano’s training routine and on the male actors who worked alongside her.

New Year’s Eve

2 stars
Rated PG-13 for language including some sexual references
New Line
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray and digital download

Apparently director Garry Marshall’s work on the 2010 romantic comedy “Valentine’s Day” was inspiring enough to send him back to the well. His latest picture, “New Year’s Eve,” is a variation on the same structure. In fact, little aside from the holiday has changed.

As with “Valentine’s Day,” Marshall started by gathering an impressive ensemble cast. This time he has Robert De Niro, Hilary Swank, Halle Berry, Zac Efron, Michelle Pfeiffer, Jessica Biel, Jon Bon Jovi, Ashton Kutcher, Sarah Jessica Parker and Lea Michele. These folks are thrown into a narrative that follows a variety of disparate storylines, all playing out on New Year’s Eve. Of course, these stories wind up tying together in the end. For instance, Swank plays the woman responsible for making sure the iconic ball drops in New York’s Times Square, Michele plays a backup singer slated to perform at the drop, and Berry works at a hospital with an excellent view of the proceedings.

This structure is appealing enough, and it’s Katherine Fugate, the screenwriter for “Valentine’s Day,” who wove everything together. Unfortunately, she and Marshall were content to repeat their previous formula rather than shaping it into something new. The result is a series of plodding narratives that often play out in slow motion. It’s always bad when a film drags, but it’s particularly devastating when viewers are supposed to be blown away by a final act that merges a variety of story threads. With “New Year’s Day,” it’s tough to muster more than apathy when everything finally combines.

When “Valentine’s Day” hit theaters, it was a novelty to see so many A-list stars collaborating. This time, even that feels tired. If Marshall and Fugate want another hit, they should resolve to try something different.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include a gag reel and an audio commentary by Marshall.

Joyful Noise

2 stars
Rated PG-13 for some language and a sexual reference
Warner Brothers
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray and digital download

Country singer Dolly Parton has only appeared in a handful of feature films during the span of her impressive career, and that’s too bad because she’s a likable screen presence. The fact that “Joyful Noise” pairs her with acting and singing great Queen Latifah is a bonus. Unfortunately, the film’s script and execution aren’t nearly as strong as the cast.

Written and directed by Todd Graff (“Bandslam,” “Camp”), the movie focuses on a church choir that is determined to win the Joyful Noise spiritual singing competition. To achieve that goal, the group has to jump more than a few hurdles, one of the largest being that two key members – G.G. Sparrow (Dolly Parton) and Vi Rose Hill (Queen Latifah) – don’t get along.

G.G. is the widow of the recently deceased choir director (Kris Kristofferson), and Vi is the woman who took his place, despite the fact that G.G. wanted the job. Adding tension is the fact that G.G.’s boisterous grandson Randy (Jeremy Jordan) has his eye on Vi’s teenage daughter, Olivia (Keke Palmer).

The film’s setup is respectable, and Graff does a fine job bringing the numerous musical performances to life. There’s no denying that Parton and Latifah can sing, and they get solid support from their young co-stars. Alas, the winning musical bits are stitched together by a patchwork narrative that skips around and leaves important character and plot developments to the imagination.

This is a peculiar problem for a film that runs nearly two hours and isn’t particularly fast moving. Had Graff ironed the kinks out of his screenplay and spent more time in the editing room, “Joyful Noise” might have been a respectable musical comedy. Instead it comes across as a sloppy bit of filmmaking that works best when viewed as a music video.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include several short, making-of features.

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“W.E.”: Co-written and directed by the pop star Madonna, this drama details the headline-making love affair between Britain’s King Edward VIII (James D’Arcy) and American Wallace Simpson (Andrea Riseborough). The romance is historically significant because it forced Edward to surrender his crown, and Madonna frames the action through the eyes of a 1990s woman (Abbie Cornish) who is obsessed with the story. The movie was critically savaged when it hit theaters, yet it made its way into the Oscar race, nabbing a nomination for best achievement in costume design.

“George Harrison – Living in the Material World”: Martin Scorsese documentary relating the life story of late Beatles guitarist George Harrison. The film runs 208 minutes and covers plenty of ground using archival footage and interviews with Harrison’s family, friends and associates.

“Get the Gringo”: Mel Gibson has had more than his share of personal problems, and that probably explains why his latest movie is debuting as an on-demand-only title from DirecTV. In “Get the Gringo,” Gibson plays an American criminal who lands in a Mexican jail where a 10-year-old boy helps him survive. Gibson co-wrote the screenplay with Stacy Perskie and director Adrian Grunberg.

“Men In Black” films on Blu-ray: With “Men In Black III” hitting theaters May 25, Sony decided to deliver new Blu-ray releases of the franchise’s first two entries. This is especially noteworthy because it marks the first time “Men In Black II” is available on the Blu-ray format. Both releases include UltraViolet digital copies of the films, sneak-peak footage of “Men In Black III” and coupons that can be used to buy a ticket to the new feature.

“Mimic” – Three Film Set: Lionsgate is releasing all three movies in the “Mimic” horror franchise on one Blu-ray set. This includes Guillermo del Toro’s director’s cut of the original, 1997 “Mimic,” plus the direct-to-video titles “Mimic 2” and “Mimic: Sentinel.” This marks the Blu-ray debut of the latter two movies, and this set is the only way consumers can purchase them on that format.

“Suits” – Season One: First 12 episodes of the USA Network drama about a New York City attorney (Gabriel Macht) who finds a brilliant younger man (Patrick J. Adams) to work as his associate. Meghan Markle, Gina Torres, Sarah Rafferty and Rick Hoffman also star.

“Level Up”: This 69-minute feature launched the “Level Up” TV series on Cartoon Network. The plot focuses on a group of hardcore video gamers who accidentally open a portal between their beloved virtual world and our reality. Gaelan Connell, Connor Del Rio, Jessie Usher and Aimee Carrero star.

“Covert Affairs” – Season Two: Sixteen episodes of the USA Network drama about a CIA operative (Piper Perabo) whose exceptional linguistic skills got her promoted to field work early. Christopher Gorham, Sendhil Ramamurthy, Anne Dudek, Kari Matchett and Peter Gallagher also star.

“Clueless”: Blu-ray debut of the 1995 comedy about a popular Beverly Hills high school student (Alicia Silverstone) who spends her days shopping and playing matchmaker. Paul Rudd, Brittany Murphy, Donald Faison and Breckin Meyer also star. Directed by Amy Heckerling (“Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” “Look Who’s Talking”).

“Pillow Talk”: Universal is rolling this 1959 romantic comedy onto Blu-ray as part of its 100th Anniversary Collector’s Series. Rock Hudson and Doris Day star as people who become annoyed at each other when they are forced to share a telephone party line. When they hit it off after meeting in person, Hudson’s character decides to change the dynamic by pretending to be someone else and wooing his new love with late night calls.

“Flicka – Country Pride”: Third entry in the “Flicka” film franchise. This time, a teen girl named Kelly (Kacey Rohl) bonds with Flicka and attempts to break the wild horse in time for a competition. Her mother (Lisa Hartman Black) disapproves. Hartman Black’s husband, country singer Clint Black, also stars.

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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2 Comments

Filed under Video Verdict

2 responses to “Video Verdict: ‘Haywire,’ ‘Joyful Noise,’ ‘New Year’s Eve’

  1. Fun read! I totally disagree with your rating on Haywire. I think I might have rated it at zero if it wasn’t for the big names who brought some small charm out of a terrible story with bad acting by the main character.

    Like

  2. Thanks. Sorry you didn’t like “Haywire.” I obviously enjoyed it, but you never know what’s going to resonate with people.

    Like

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