I'm getting mighty lazy with these. I've got sixteen to write before I get caught up.
Paycheck (2003) **
John Woo continues his perpetual descent from the pedestal of 'Best Action Director in the World' to the depths of second-tier sci-fi thrillers. Everything about this movie feels so familiar that it almost becomes self-effacing; you begin to forget what the movie is about while you're still watching it. Woo rapes potentially interesting material from Phillip K. Dick with the story of a programmer (Ben Affleck) who is hired to complete a project if he agrees to have his memory erased soon thereafter. When he goes to collect his paycheck, he finds out that he has forfeited the obscene sum of money for an envelope full of junk... which of course will prove useful in the long run. It plays more or less like Affleck's attempt at equalling his buddy Matt Damon's much, much better The Bourne Identity. But everything here seems low-rent; even with its prominent cast and director, the film can't avoid looking like a really good 1993 made for cable movie. The action scenes are nowhere near exciting and the lead performances are sleepy; even the explosions look like tidy, Universal-Studios-ride stuff. The only lively spots come from a lively supporting cast (including Paul Giamatti, Aaron Eckhart, Colm Feore and Joe Morton) and some unintentional laughs scattered here and there. For all of its flaws, Paycheck is not unwatchable; it's just limp, sluggish and uninvolving. It's the kind of movie you watch without paying much attention to and that, by the end, you realize that it didn't really matter wether you did or not.
Scary Movie 3 (2003) ***
The first one was mildly funny; the second one was the comedic nadir of the 21st century and this one is... surprisingly funny. If it's even concievable, Scary Movie 3 is even more sloppy and disorganized than its predecessors: its satire is all over the place, its cultural references follow each other with little rhyme or reason... but why is it so funny? It was a wise choice to resort to the PG-13 rating; this cuts out a great deal of penis jokes (not to mention cameos by man's best friend), semen jokes and other elaborate bodily functions that sank the second film. It was also wise to bring in people who, unlike the Wayans brothers, were once capable of decent spoofing (Keenan Ivory Wayans, having directed I'm Gonna Get You Sucka, is sorta forgiven... but not really). People like director David Zucker and actors like Leslie Nielsen and Charlie Sheen bring a certain aura of experience to a series usually populated with comedic 'talents' like Shannon Elizabeth, Tori Spelling and Squiggy. Not that there aren't any of those here; the film, in fact, seems hell-bent on reaching the young, urban black male population with ridiculous cameos by Ja Rule, Master P, Method Man, Redman or Fat Joe. But, I will admit it: I laughed. I laughed long and hard. Like all stupid comedies, it misses as much as it hits and its excuse for a plot is pathetic beyond all reasons. We all have one of these that makes us laugh despite the fact that it is, in all respects, a piece of shit. Mine, to my own amazement, is Scary Movie 3.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) ***1/2
The series has found its man: Alfonso Cuaron's treatment of the third novel in the series reaches heights the Colombus-helmed films never could (of course, Cuaron's not on board for the fourth chapter... wouldn't want too much of a good thing, I suppose). Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe, still the epitome of blandness) begins his third year at Hogwarts in a aura of fear; dangerous criminal Sirious Black (Gary Oldman) has escaped and ominous creatures called Dementors are found patroling outside Hogwarts. Rupert Grint still sucks as Ron; Emma Watson still continues to act circles around her male counterparts. The film is a darker, leaner film than the previous installments; the film wisely lets the high-profile supporting cast fall into the background and focuses mostly on the primary storyline. This may be frustrating for Harry Potter fans who bitch and moan at every little change from the novel, but it makes for a tighter film. Cuaron's treatment of the material is darker and more violent (in a sense; there's no gore and exploding heads) than its predecessors. The additions to the cast this time around (David Thewlis, perfectly cast as Professor Lupin; Oldman, always welcome; Emma Thompson, as a kooky, tea-reading professor; and Timothy Spall, in a small role) cement the film; the film's best scene is a very simple one featuring Alan Rickman, Gary Oldman, Thewlis and Spall in a haunted house. It's still not a flawless adaptation (such a thing is probably impossible when you're talking about Harry Potter, unfortunately) but it's a step in the right direction.
Dude, Where's My Car? (2000) *1/2
With this movie's mild cult following, I was lead to believe that maybe there was something to this movie other than the oft-ridiculed title and its most famous scene, in which the protagonists get tattoos that say "dude" and "sweet"; hilarity supposedly ensues. But, no... the title is pretty much the funniest thing about this poorly-made, paceless "stoner" comedy. Jesse and Chester (Ashton Kutcher and Seann William Scott) wake up after a night of hard partying not remembering what they did the night before... and not knowing where they left the car. They head out to find it in much the same way Beavis and Butthead set out to find their TV, except these guys aren't nearly as entertaining. Although the film's beginning sets the course for a mildly diverting stoner flick (this is called a stoner flick despite the fact that there's very little stoning going on; then again, with Kutcher and Scott headlining your picture, you'd want the PG-13 too), it devolves into a far-fetched and unfunny caper involving aliens, strippers, transvestites and very, very little laughs. The leads are limited enough as it is, but the film's complete lack of pace and timing pretty much gives them no chance at all. Cameos by Andy Dick and Brent Spiner do little to save a film (although their ad-libbed scene is by far the funniest) that never had much of a chance in the first place.
Air Bud Spikes Back (2003) *
Don't want to waste too many lines on this piece of crap. I won't try to justify the fact that I watched it, but in any case: Air Bud is back and this time he plays beach volleyball. He has less to do in the volleyball team than he ever did in his previous movies (I've actually only seen the first two, but eh) so two nitwit criminals kidnap him to go get a big diamond behind a bunch of red lasers. Cheaply made, poorly acted (makes me wonder what veteran character actors like Edie McClurg and Patrick Cranshaw are doing in this mess) and moronic even for small children. Don't try using the 'it's for kids' offensive; there's nothing good about this one.