Video Verdict: ‘The Last Stand,’ ‘Parker,’ ‘Side Effects,’ ‘Beautiful Creatures’

Alden Ehrenreich, left, and Alice Englert play star-crossed lovers in “Beautiful Creatures.”

Alden Ehrenreich, left, and Alice Englert play star-crossed lovers in “Beautiful Creatures.”

R-rated films, including action-adventure efforts from two big-name stars, dominate this week’s home video releases.

The Last Stand

2 stars (out of four)
Rated R for strong bloody violence throughout, and language
Lionsgate
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand

Although Arnold Schwarzenegger has made cameo appearances in a number of films over the past decade, “The Last Stand” marks the former California governor’s reappearance as a marquis star. But audiences were not enthusiastic during the movie’s theatrical run.

This week’s home video release may help Schwarzenegger recover, but only if viewers are willing to look past “The Last Stand’s” ludicrous plot, campy acting and senior citizen action hero. In other words, this is an old-school Schwarzenegger film made worse by the fact that its star is the oldest pupil in class.

In fairness, it’s still fun to watch Schwarzenegger recite lines in his thick Austrian accent, but only for a little while. He’s never been a great actor, and he has always been best in films that capitalize on his impressive physique and rugged demeanor without demanding subtlety. Thus, James Cameron’s “Terminator” movies are a treat, while pictures like “Conan the Barbarian” are best viewed as guilty pleasures.

In “The Last Stand,” director Jee-woon Kim (“A Tale of Two Sisters”) paints Schwarzenegger as a vulnerable hero. The actor plays Ray Owens, an aging police officer who, having seen too much bloodshed in Los Angeles, becomes sheriff of a small Arizona town. Accordingly, his new life is quiet… until a dangerous Mexican drug lord (Gabriel Cortez) escapes from U.S. custody and decides to pass through his jurisdiction on the way to the border.

Ray’s small department, which includes three deputies (Luis Guzman, Zach Gilford and Jaimie Alexander), isn’t prepared for such a big case, but they refuse to stand down. So, Ray deputizes a couple locals (Johnny Knoxville and Rodrigo Santoro) and forms a plan to bring the fugitive to justice.

Everything about the plotting – from the drug lord’s escape to the movie’s climactic showdown – is ridiculous. The Andrew Knauer screenplay contains jokes about Schwarzenegger’s age, and Kim plays up the fact that his star isn’t the fine physical specimen of days gone by. Of course, all these physical limitations are forgotten when Ray is asked to do something spectacular.

The R-rated movie is loaded with gunplay and bloody violence, which is what many people expect from a Schwarzenegger film. Arnold mugs for the camera, shoots things and spouts one-liners. The trouble is, this formula played itself out 10 years ago, when one could actually believe the man had superhuman strength. For a true reboot, Schwarzenegger needs a script that does more than celebrate past glories.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include deleted and alternate scenes and several making-of featurettes.

 

Parker

3 stars
Rated R for strong violence, language throughout and brief sexual content/nudity
Sony
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand

It would be nice to see Jason Statham try something more demanding than his standard, tough-guy role. Still, he has so thoroughly perfected the part that it’s easy to enjoy his performances.

In “Parker,” Statham goes back to the well, playing the title character: a professional thief with an interesting code of ethics. In an early scene, Parker says he won’t steal from people who can’t afford it, won’t hurt people who don’t deserve it and always follows through on a promise. Since most of this code is subjective, it amounts to nothing more than screenwriter John J. McLaughlin telling viewers they should root for Parker, even though he’s a calculating criminal. That’s important because most of the movie revolves around his tracking and killing even nastier villains.

The setup comes in an exciting opening sequence where Parker and a group of thugs rob the Ohio State Fair. Before they can split the earnings, however, the group turns on Parker and leaves him for dead on the side of a road. He then spends the rest of the movie seeking revenge.

The simplistic plot adds nothing new to the action genre, but veteran director Taylor Hackford (“An Officer and a Gentleman,” “Ray”) does a fine job with the presentation. The action scenes are exciting and well staged, and the characters – although not particularly deep – are interesting.

Statham’s supporting cast includes Jennifer Lopez, Nick Nolte, Michael Chiklis and Clifton Collins Jr. All of them are serviceable, but they are supporting actors in the truest sense of the term, meaning Statham does all the heavy listing. The fact that every movie fan has seen him perform this same workout is discouraging. Still, he goes through the motions with such charisma and ease, that it’s easy to get sucked in.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include two making-of features and an audio commentary by Hackford.

 

Side Effects

2½ stars
Rated R for sexuality, nudity, violence, and language
Universal
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand

The Steven Soderbergh thriller “Side Effects” veers from one place to another with such ferocity that it’s often difficult to gauge what it’s trying to say. At one moment, it feels like a condemnation of the U.S. pharmaceutical industry. At another, it seems like a scathing critique of the psychiatric field. Ultimately, however, Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns (“Contagion,” “The Informant!”) are more interested in crafting a thriller than making political statements.

Their story centers on Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), an overworked psychiatrist who is referred to a troubled patient while working in a hospital emergency room. Although not badly injured, the patient, Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara), was admitted after purposefully driving her car into a brick wall. After concluding that she is unlikely to make another suicide attempt immediately, Dr. Banks allows her to return home with her husband (Channing Tatum), as long as she follows up with him.

While treating Emily privately, Banks prescribes a new psychotropic drug in hopes of stabilizing her mood. At first, it works wonders. Then, Emily stabs her husband to death while apparently sleepwalking. This creates a media fervor that calls both the drug and Dr. Banks’ credentials into question. It also leads viewers into a story of deceit, gamesmanship and interpersonal shenanigans.

Burns’ screenplay is clever and offers terrific moments, but it also leaves important elements off the page. Most notably, viewers would benefit from a deeper exploration of Banks’ private life. We are led to believe that he is a good man trying to do the right thing under difficult circumstances. Unfortunately, he or another character are in crisis almost every time he’s on screen, meaning viewers never see what he’s like under normal circumstances. Also, a few of the movie’s twists – particularly at the end – are so sharp that they feel staged. The result is a project that entertains, but fails to achieve excellence.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include a behind-the-scenes feature and “advertisements” for two fictional drugs shown in the film.

 

Beautiful Creatures

2 stars
Rated PG-13 for violence, scary images and some sexual material
Warner Brothers
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand

With the popularity of the “Twilight” books and movies, supernatural romance is all the rage, and “Beautiful Creatures” is the latest entry in the genre. The film, based on the 2009 novel by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, tells of Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich), a South Carolina teen who falls in love with a girl that he’s only met in his dreams. When a stunning brunette named Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert) moves to town, Ethan realizes she’s the dream girl, and he pursues her despite widespread rumors that she is a witch.

Although Lena enjoys Ethan’s company, she resists his advances, in large part because she really is a supernatural being. Making things worse is the fact that her entire life could change on her rapidly approaching 16th birthday. Lena explains to Ethan that when she reaches that landmark date, she will be claimed for either good or evil, and she fears being consumed by darkness.

Writer-director Richard LaGravenese (“P.S. I Love You,” “Freedom Writers”) presents the material in melodramatic fashion, and youthful audiences may appreciate the attractive stars and their determination to overcome all obstacles for true love. Unfortunately, there’s nothing particularly compelling about the story.

Much is made of Lena’s approaching birthday and the possibility she could turn evil, but her character isn’t fleshed out. The movie also contains a number of supporting characters whose motivations aren’t explained thoroughly. Because of this, the story is often plodding and dull when it should be thrilling.

The DVD release for “Beautiful Creatures” contains deleted scenes and a trailer for Margaret Stohl’s new book, “Icons.” The Blu-ray combo pack has those extras plus a number of behind-the-scenes features.

 

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“Stand Up Guys”: Dramatic comedy about three aging gangsters (Al Pacino, Christopher Walken and Alan Arkin) who reunite after years apart. It isn’t a simple get-together, however, as one of them is carrying a dangerous secret. Directed by Fisher Stevens.

“True Blood” – The Complete Fifth Season: Twelve fresh episodes of the ongoing HBO hit about a telepathic waitress (Anna Paquin) surrounded by vampires, werewolves and other supernatural beings.

“Perception” – The Complete First Season: First 10 episodes of the TNT drama about a peculiar neuroscience professor (Eric McCormack) who helps the FBI with complex cases. Rachael Leigh Cook also stars.

“Open Road”: Story of a free-spirited artist (Camilla Belle) who must decide whether to abandon her nomadic lifestyle after developing bonds with a drifter (Andy Garcia), a police officer (Colin Egglesfield) and his sister (Juliette Lewis). Directed by Marcio Garcia.

“A Common Man”: Drama about a seemingly average man (Ben Kingsley) who plants multiple bombs in Sri Lanka and threatens to detonate them unless four international terrorists are released from custody. Directed by Chandran Rutnam.

“Medium Cool”: The Criterion Collection delivers a fresh digital restoration of director Haskell Wexler’s unusual 1969 drama about a TV journalist (Robert Forster) covering social unrest in Chicago. The film is noteworthy because it blends fictional narrative with documentary footage in an experimental manner. Verna Bloom also stars.

Animated movies by Hayao Miyazaki: Disney rolls the anime hits “Howl’s Moving Castle” and “My Neighbor Totoro” to Blu-ray for the first time. Both films were written and directed by Miyazaki, a seminal Japanese filmmaker whose contributions to animation have been compared to those of Walt Disney.

“Cleopatra”: Elizabeth Taylor’s epic, 1963 portrayal of the Egyptian queen is available on Blu-ray for the first time. Richard Burton and Rex Harrison also star. Co-written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz (“All About Eve”).

“Laverne & Shirley” – The Sixth Season: Twenty-two episodes of the 1970s and ’80s sitcom about roommates who work in a Milwaukee brewery. The show was a spin-off of the hit comedy “Happy Days.” Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams star.

“Captain America” – Collector’s Edition: Long before “The Avengers” became a hit, this 1990 film by director Albert Pyun introduced moviegoers to the Marvel Comics hero Captain America. The picture had problems before and after production, but comic book fans should find it interesting from a historical perspective. Matt Salinger, Ronny Cox, Ned Beatty and Darren McGavin star.

 

– Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. For more of his work visit http://www.ForrestHartman.com. E-mail him at forrest@forresthartman.com.

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