Big-screen pig's skin 

The American film industry loves its football movies and you can count on at least one a year. With time they all blur together and every once in a while you can watch two different football movies on separate television channels at the same time, flipping from one to the other and laughing at how seamlessly they mesh — because generally they’re all the same. People, particularly south of the border, eat them up however, and the first football movie of ‘08 opens this Friday at the Village 8. Leatherheads is different, at least, but not especially good.

Starring George Clooney and bulldog-scrunch-faced Renee Zellweger, Leatherheads is set in the 1920s when pro football was a low-class, uncelebrated sport. Clooney, in Cary Grant mode, plays a dashing, brash footballer who hopes to save his team and the nearly defunct league by bringing in a college superstar who just so happens to be a WWI war hero as well. Or at least everyone thinks he is. Zellweger plays the quick-witted reporter set on getting at the truth of the young buck’s claims. Insert love triangle, random slapstick moments, witty dialogue and yes, some realistic looking old time football scenes.

Clooney directs this picture, and does a decent job at paying homage to the American movies of old, but the script, written by a couple of ex-Sports Illustrated journalists, is messy, long, and jumps from genre to genre so much that it never finds its A-game. Still, with Clooney at the helm you do get some chuckles and hints of quality but for the most part the film fumbles along and fails to convert.

Also opening Friday is the latest horror/supernatural flick The Ruins. It’s based on a popular book of the same title and they aren’t showing advance screenings to anyone — rarely a good sign. The story revolves around a group of tourists in Mexico who meet a stranger, follow him to some ancient ruins in search of his missing brother, ignore the warnings of the unfriendly locals, and end up battling for their lives against a killer plant. I’m not kidding.

The novel was apparently plagued by bland characters but director Carter Smith is calling it, “a survival story like Lord of the Flies where the brutal conditions force people to turn on each other.” The Ruins sounds like a rental to me but at least it’s R-rated which means nudity and blood —two things that can help weak characterization tremendously.

Speaking of blood, the DVD of the week is The Host, a Korean monster film that somehow manages to mix horror, comedy, family drama and social undercurrents into one great flick. Toxic chemicals dumped in the Han river create a giant, slithering Kraken-like beast who wreaks absolute havoc (and amazingly well-shot havoc at that) on the Seoul waterfront and drags a young girl back to it’s dripping lair. Her family must battle bureaucracy and paranoid government quarantines as well as the monster if they hope to save the little girl. And they have to do it before the Americans unleash the toxic ‘Agent Yellow’ which will kill a suspected deadly virus (and who knows what else) in the area.

Director Bong Joon-Ho, (winner of the ‘Best First Name Ever’ award) choreographs action like the Watchowski brothers, sets up family dynamics and empathetic characters like Spielberg, and has the balls to go for an unexpected ending like the Coen Brothers. Bong, and the foreign film industry, scores the touchdown this week. The Host kicks ass. Just make sure you get the subtitled version, not the one with English over-dubs.

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