Dir. Alan Parker; writ. Charles Randolph; feat. Kevin Spacey, Kate Winslet, Laura Linney, Gabriel Mann, Matt Craven, Leon Rippy (R)
But you need not be a longtime Texan to spot the pervasive falseness of The Life of David Gale, a ham-fisted and lead-legged Texas-set drama that sets out to convince the world to abolish the death penalty but comes closer to showing us that death penalty opponents are kooks and criminals. Even aside from the movie's Big Issue clumsiness, it pitches unconvincing moments at every turn: Alan Parker can't stage a believably hedonistic party scene, Kevin Spacey staggers down Sixth Street in a caricature of drunkenness, Kate Winslet plays a reporter (a tough-as-nails gal named "Bitsey") whose magazine will pay half a million dollars for an exclusive Death Row interview, but can't afford to replace a rental car that has been acting up for a week. (Let's not pretend there's any suspense here: The car putters along through the week, saving its total breakdown for the climax.)
There is a line of dialogue 45 minutes into the film - and it's said loudly - that drains the story of any mystery it may hold for an attentive viewer. With the punch line already neutered, that leaves well over an hour for a thoughtful audience to count up the ways in which the movie plays them for fools. There are lots. Sadly, discussing them here would spoil the suspense for anyone unfortunate enough to pay to see the film. Suffice to say that the stunt which closes the tale makes everything preceding it nonsense. Characters behave throughout the story in a way that's totally inconsistent with the plans they've been making for the big finale.
Dramatizing a legitimate critique of the death penalty is a worthy goal, but Parker's horrible film only makes that task more difficult for whatever honest director comes along to do the job right. No matter how much you agree with the motive behind it, The Life of David Gale is stupidly conceived and ineptly executed. — JOHN DEFORE
Dir. Todd Phillips; writ. Scot Armstrong; feat. Luke Wilson, Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughn, Elisha Cuthbert (R)
Old School is what you make of it. If you've checked your brain at the door, abandoned any notion of propriety, and are comfortable with the film's utterly derivative nature (three caveats fast becoming movie-going prerequisites), you ought to enjoy yourself. If, on the other hand, the very idea of yet another college campus comedy and all that it entails calls to mind Schopenhauer's statement that "Unless suffering is the direct and immediate object of life, our existence must entirely fail of its aim," you would do best to stay at home and peruse The World as Will and Representation, instead.
When 30-something chums Frank (Will Ferrell) and the inexplicably named Beanie (Vince Vaughn) convince Mitch (Luke Wilson) to allow his home to become the headquarters for a new frat of their making, the obligatory raucousness ensues. Oral sex is referenced, drunkenness is a hoot, and the fat and elderly, cast as props, draw from Hollywood's seemingly bottomless well of fat and elderly gags, making spectacles of themselves. A great many of the jokes involve Mitch, sweet, level-headed, one-dimensional foil Mitch, attempting to impress the prim and lovely Ellen Pompeo, only to be interrupted by his fellow pledges showing off inflatable women or fretting over their supply of KY Jelly. It's that kind of movie.
Granted, Old School is not without its charm. As always, Ferrell plays his part as blue-collar Sisyphus to the hilt. Put simply, he's a joy to watch, even if his oft-shown, naked buttocks aren't. Flabby physique aside, though, Ferrell's love for what he does is infectious enough to elicit the laughter the story and remaining cast members fail to produce, all despite giving the old college try. — JOE WEISS
THE WAY HOME (JIBEURO)
Writ. & Dir. Jeong-hyang Lee; feat. Eul-boon Kim, Seung-ho Yu, Hyo-hee Dong, Kyung-hyan Min (G)
Home for 7-year-old Sang-woo and his harried single mother is Seoul, but in the opening sequence of The Way Home they make their way to the remote mountain village where she grew up and her 75-year-old mother still lives. The purpose of the journey is to deposit Sang-woo with a grandmother he has never met while his mother searches for work. "He's used to being alone, so he won't be trouble," she assures the old woman. Hardly.
Sang-woo (Yu) is a bundle of trouble, an egotistical brat who erupts in a tantrum when the batteries fail on the toy he brought from the city. He resents the primitive conditions that force him to make do without plumbing or pizza. He calls his Grandmother a "stupid mute," and, although she cannot speak, she hears the abuse he keeps heaping on her. A saintly stoic, she is a figure of infinite forbearance, stooped and silent, hobbling about the alpine paths like an ancient mountain goat. By the time his mother returns to take him home, Sang-woo and the viewer have learned a lesson in humility, compassion, and love.
The Way Home is as simple and affecting as the Grandmother, played by 78-year-old Eul-boon Kim, who was not only an acting novice but had never even seen a movie before. Although individual incidents - a haircut, encounters with a bull, a visit to a dying man - could be more finely etched, this film recalls the best of Italian Neorealism and recent Iranian features. When Sang-woo craves Kentucky Fried Chicken, Grandmother creates an alternative. Korean filmmaker Jeong-hyang Lee, who dedicates her production "to all the grandmothers," offers up a modest dish more satisfying than fast-food cinema. — STEVEN G. KELLMAN