Critics Consensus: Elysium Soars; Planes is Grounded

Plus, We're the Millers and Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters are uneven, and The Spectacular Now is Certified Fresh.

by Tim Ryan | Wednesday, Aug. 07 2013

This week at the movies, we've got a futuristic factory worker (Elysium, starring Matt Damon and Jodie Foster); anthropomorphic aircraft (Planes, with voice performances from Dane Cook and Julia Louis-Dreyfus); a drug-smuggling "family" (We're the Millers, starring Jennifer Aniston and Jason Sudeikis); a high school demigod (Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, starring Logan Lerman and Brandon T. Jackson); and an unlikely teenage couple (The Spectacular Now, starring Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley). What do the critics have to say?

Elysium

68%

Director Neill Blomkamp has a thing for allegorical sci-fi action. His debut, District 9, was a thinly-veiled tract on xenophobia featuring bug-like aliens, and his latest, Elysium, utilizes its stunningly realized setting in the year 2154 to expound on income inequity. Critics say it's a potent mix of visceral thrills and social commentary, though its message isn't delivered with much subtlety. Matt Damon stars as a factory worker who learns he'll die within days without medical help. So he makes a risky journey from Earth to Elysium, a space station where the wealthy live in luxury and perfect health -- and don't take well to outsiders. The pundits say Elysium sometimes falls short of its intriguing premise, but it still delivers kinetic action and plenty of futuristic eye candy. (Check out this week's Total Recall, in which we count down Damon's best-reviewed movies, and watch our video interviews with Damon, Blomkamp, and more.)

Planes

26%

The output of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios is usually greeted with glowing reviews -- too bad neither of them were involved with Planes, the DisneyToons Studios film critics say is surprisingly lightweight and frivolous, with dull characters and only fleeting moments of visual invention. Dusty (voiced by Dane Cook) is a crop-dusting plane with a fear of heights and a big dream: to compete in an around-the-world race against the fastest, highest-flying aircraft. The pundits say Planes will probably serve as a decent audiovisual babysitter, but parents are likely to find its generic plot and cardboard characters make for a bumpy flight. (Check out our video interviews with the Planes cast and crew.)

We're The Millers

47%

Take Jennifer Aniston, Jason Sudeikis, Ed Helms, and Emma Roberts, toss them into a stoner road trip comedy, and what do you get? An unfortunate shortage of laughs, apparently; critics say We're the Millers has some stray chuckles, but its talented cast is mired in an undisciplined, overly vulgar plot. Jason Sudeikis stars as a small-time weed dealer who becomes indebted to his supplier when his stash is stolen. He contrives a plan to smuggle major weight in an RV, traveling with a ragtag group of neighbors pretending to be a family on vacation. The pundits say We're the Millers might have benefited from letting the actors cut loose from the script; as it stands, this would-be satire lacks the discipline to generate consistent hilarity.

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters

42%

Of the young adult novels to be adapted the big screen in the wake of Harry Potter and Twilight, Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief garnered decent, if hardly spectacular, reviews. Unfortunately, critics say its sequel, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, is a step down; it's an occasionally diverting fantasy adventure that's decidedly short on enchantment. This time out, Percy (Logan Lerman) must protect the realm of his demigod brethren, so he embarks on a voyage to find the fabled Golden Fleece that will restore the tree spirit and ward off evil. The pundits say Sea of Monsters is reasonably brisk and visually sharp, but there's a shortage of energy and character development that makes for a less-than-fantastical time.

The Spectacular Now

93%

The Spectacular Now, which critics have praised as a touching, uncommonly perceptive coming-of-age tale with an outstanding young cast, goes into wide release this week. Miles Teller stars as Sutter, a party-hearty high school senior who has a chance meeting with Aimee (Shailene Woodley), an eccentric, thoughtful classmate; as the two develop a romantic bond, Sutter begins to reflect on his impulsive ways. The pundits say this Certified Fresh dramedy benefits from sympathetic direction and a cast of characters with a lot more complexity than your average teen flick. (Check out our video interviews with Teller and Woodley.)

Also opening this week in limited release:

  • Jug Face, a horror film about a pregnant teenager who fears she'll be sacrificed by the citizenry of her rural community, is at 92 percent.
  • In a World..., starring Lake Bell in a romantic comedy about a movie trailer voiceover artist, is at 85 percent.
  • The Machine Which Makes Everything Disappear, a documentary in which young people in post-Soviet Georgia discuss their lives while auditioning for a film, is at 80 percent.
  • David Gordon Green's Prince Avalanche, starring Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch in a comedy about two men who bond while doing maintenance on a country road ravaged by wildfire, is at 78 percent.
  • Kid-Thing, a drama about the adventures of an under-supervised 11-year-old, is at 73 percent.
  • I Give It a Year, starring Rose Byrne and Rafe Spall in a romantic comedy about the trials and tribulations of a couple in its first year of marriage, is at 57 percent.
  • Off Label, a doc that examines the dark side of prescription drugs, is at 57 percent.
  • Blood, starring Paul Bettany and Stephen Graham in a drama about a pair of siblings who work as small-town British detectives and use unscrupulous means to incriminate a murder suspect, is at 55 percent.
  • Lovelace, starring Amanda Seyfried and Peter Sarsgaard in a biopic of the Deep Throat star, is at 50 percent.

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