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Hope Springs, The Bourne Legacy, Ruby Sparks

Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep in "Hope Springs."

Movies ‘R Us

Hope Springs, The Bourne Legacy, Ruby Sparks

Ah, August. The temperatures cool down, and the imminent return of the nation’s youth to school ends the dominance of movies pandering to their jaded palettes. Or does it?

I’m not sure that Hollywood even knows how to make movies for grown-ups anymore. Stories that develop identifiable characters in situations that we may all face, in ways that relate to our own lives; themes that explore the world we live in in ways that make us question what we think we know—have these been ceded to television and “indie” films?

Watch trailers for the movies reviewed here on Artvoice TV:

Hope Springs

The Bourne Legacy

Ruby Sparks

The industry has been abuzz this week with this question: Can a movie like Hope Springs, about the marital difficulties of a 50-something couple, find a place at the box office? It should be able to, given that it stars Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, and Steve Carrell. Those names carry enough box office appeal, and the market for this kind of film is so starved for product, that it should be profitable even without the ticket dollars of under 30s.

If only the movie were any good. That it’s not isn’t the fault of its stars, or at least not entirely. They do what they can with roles that are less developed than they would be in even the most hackneyed Lifetime or Hallmark Channel movie. Streep approaches her character, an Omaha housewife who doesn’t know how her marriage degenerated into a passionless rut, with a high-pitched voice that makes her frequent crying jags more annoying that they should be. Jones is the villain of the piece, a grump who may not like where life has brought him but is comfortable with it anyway. He has to navigate the worst parts of the script, which call for him to say and do things out of character because it’s time for the story to move on.

Lay the fault with the script, written by Vanessa Taylor, a 40ish TV writer for shows like Game of Thrones. According to the press notes, she has never been married. I was not surprised to read that.

The script is also the problem with The Bourne Legacy, exacerbated by the fact that the writer also got to direct the film. That would be Tony Gilroy, who also wrote the previous three Bourne films. All of those, though, were adapted from novels by Robert Ludlum. This one, an attempt to continue the series without Matt Damon and the Jason Bourne character he played, is an original. Jeremy Renner of The Hurt Locker was brought in to play Aaron Cross, another agent from the same rogue program that spawned superagent Bourne.

The film starts concurrently with the end of The Bourne Ultimatum, with the spooks and other nefarious figures scrambling to save themselves after the revelations that concluded that film. If you haven’t seen it recently, I have to warn you that this is not one of those sequels that has recap scenes to remind you where the story left off. Though even if you’re a Bourne junkie you may have trouble following the first half hour or so.

The main thrust of the story is that the Treadstone/Blackbriar project to develop super-spies had a pharmacological component. In damage control mode, the program’s shadowy controllers are jettisoning the other agents. Renner’s Aaron Cross has survived, but he needs a source of the chemicals he has been taking.

Gilroy’s complicated way of spinning his story is so confusing that it’s a disappointment when we realize it isn’t really going anywhere. We assume that Cross and his acquired partner, a Treadstone staff scientist (Rachel Weisz), will further Bourne’s task of exposing and bringing down this nefarious project. But by film’s end they’re still where they were when it began, which I suppose leaves the option open for Damon and departed director Paul Greenglass to come back for another sequel.

What we’re left with is 130 minutes of sound and fury signifying nothing. Gilroy is not an idiot: He has a pile of excellent scripts to his credit, and directed Duplicity and Michael Clayton. But the film’s protracted finale, in which a Mach 2 superspy is pulled out of a hat to chase out heroes around the streets of Manila, is so arbitrary and numbingly familiar that you have to wonder if Gilroy is making a joke at the expense of action-heavy thrillers. More likely it’s a cynical attempt to provide what Hollywood thinks audiences want, ignoring what made the previous films in this very series so successful.

Ruby Sparks sounds like it could be a new Charlie Kaufman script: A writer whose first novel was a huge success hasn’t been able to write since, just as he hasn’t been able to connect with other people. His passion for writing is reinvigorated when he invents a woman he would like to meet, a project that involves him so much that he can’t wait to get up in the morning and get back to writing in order to spend time with her. One morning he gets up and there she is in his kitchen, in the flesh.

Instead, this was written by Zoe Kazan, who also plays the title role alongside her real life significant other Paul Dano as the novelist. The premise is loaded with possibilities, but the result flops around onscreen like a dying fish with no idea where to go.

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