Mama, The Last Stand, Broken City
by M. Faust
Mama and the boys
As a rule, Hollywood loves to release its best prospects on three-day weekends. Not only does the extra day increase box office potential, but a better opening weekend means greater bragging rights for how well the product is doing. (Circular reasoning: If it is making money, it must be good and is therefore worth more marketing investment, even if it only seems to be doing well because the time frame is 50 percent bigger.)
But the mid-January long weekend serves more to give moviegoers a chance to catch up on the award season heavyweights that, unless you live in a major metropolis, have probably just opened in your neighborhood.
That last weekend’s box office winner was Mama indicates what a large segment of the moviegoing public there is that wants simple, unchallenging entertainment. This modestly capable but eventually bland horror movie may have sold a few extra tickets on the strength of executive producer Guillermo del Toro’s prominently displayed name, but anyone expecting another Pan’s Labyrinth or The Devil’s Backbone will be disappointed.
Mama centers on the discovery of two young girls five years after they were lost in the woods. We learn early on that they were not alone in the cabin where they spent that time. The question, as they are taken to a medically supervised house under the care of their uncle and his girlfriend, is who or what was with them, and is it done with them? This presence, known to the girls as “Mama,” competes for their love with the girlfriend, a pregnancy-fearing wannabe rocker (played by Jessica Chastain in a ridiculous wig).
Expanded from a short film made by debuting director Andrés Muschietti, Mama benefits from a strong sense of place and good use of the actresses playing the girls. But neither the nature of their supernatural protector nor the effect of the ordeal on the children are adequately explored as the movie sinks into a conventional morass of “Boo!” moments accompanied by deafening musical blasts. It’s generally gore-free and uses CGI sparingly and tastefully, all of which makes it more inoffensive than memorable.
Also new to theaters last weekend, Broken City boasts the kind of cast that makes you wonder if actors really read scripts before agreeing to appear in a film. It’s not hard to see what Russell Crowe and Mark Wahlberg found appealing about their roles, as, respectively, a venal mayor of New York City and a disgraced cop who may have murdered a rapist. But the story that brings them together is a drama about political corruption that is alternately unbelievable and simply dull, rendered stoically by director Allen Hughes (working for the first time without his brother Albert). And if the Razzies have an award for worst casting, it’s sure to be won by whoever thought Barry Pepper would make a plausible mayoral candidate.
Any thoughts that ex-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger may have had of resuming his movie career had to have been dashed by the terrible box office performance of The Last Stand, which barely made it into the top 10. It isn’t an especially awful movie, especially compared to many of Schwarzenegger’s hits. But the cheesiness of films like Commando and Raw Deal were part of their appeal, unlike the faceless efficiency of this vehicle (the American debut of Korea’s Jee-woon Kim) in which the 65-year-old star shares screen time with a large cast of supporting performers. The bright side is that this failure will probably pull the plug on Schwarzenegger’s planned The Legend of Conan, which seems guaranteed to be a disaster of legendary proportions
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