Notes from the Back Row 

Thrills, chills and a spoof

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It’s already been a busy year for Action-Thriller-Mystery flicks (Premonition, The Reaping, Perfect Stranger, and the only decent one — Distubia) and this week the Village 8 is bringing a couple more to the big screen, as well as a pretty decent comic spoof on cop buddy action flicks (there’s been more than enough cop flicks in the past few decades).

But first the thrills and chills. Fracture stars Anthony Hopkins as a creepy genius who shoots his cheating wife and the so-hot-right-now Ryan Gosling as a confident, high-living assistant District Attorney who’s on his last big case before moving into the cash-heavy private sector. It’s a cat-and-mouse kind of thing where Hopkins shoots his wife, confesses and it all seems very cut and dried — but then the murder weapon turns out to have never been fired and the first officer on the scene, who took the confession, ends up being the same guy who was screwing the wife in the first place. There goes his testimony. Plus the wife isn’t even dead; she’s in a coma. Gosling hasn’t been paying much attention anyhow, he’s kind of a womanizing slacker.

Director Gregory Hoblit ( Primal Fear) doesn’t stray too far, thematically or stylistically, from his previous films and while this cleverly staged murder thriller falters a bit in the middle it is saved by a good ending and superb acting, particularly Gosling and the Hannibal-channeling Hopkins.

Sticking with thrillers, Vacancy is a b-grade flick starring Luke Wilson and hot-ass Kate Beckinsale as a road-tripping, bickering married couple a few days from finalizing their divorce who take a short-cut, break down and end up staying in a creepy backwoods hotel where the locals want to make them stars of a snuff movie. Borrowing heavily from classics like Hitchcock’s Psycho or Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs (which even has the same character names) Vacancy is a taut thriller/horror (most flicks are a mix of genres nowadays) that forces its protagonists to overcome their loss, beat their differences (and the odds) and work together to stay alive.

Since most of the action takes place in a single setting, Hungarian director Nimrod Antal creates great claustrophobic moods with his camera work and lighting. At 90 minutes in length the film is, at best, a throw-away popcorn flick but will more likely find its life as a “renter.”

Speaking of nimrods, cops are pretty easy to make fun of and this week they really get theirs in Hot Fuzz , an almost-parody on cop-buddy-action films like Bad Boys. Director Edgar Wright, who merged comedy and zombies in Shaun of the Dead , turns his silly wit to policing in this one, about an overachieving big-city cop who is transferred to the country and immediately arrests a drunk driver, a country bumpkin who later turns out to be his new partner. Together, the odd pair start to find “murder” in the town’s strangely high accident rate. Full of wit, fine acting and action film staples like circling glory shots and needless slow motion, the spoof provides quite a few chuckles while imitating everything from Bad Boys 2 to Lethal Weapon to Point Break.

Hot Fuzz , a comedy that will be more appreciated by cinema lovers and self-reverential enthusiasts, also mixes in themes of urban vs. rural crime, U.S. vs. Brit law enforcement and the mismatched Supercop vs. inefficient country cop dynamic.

And keep your eyes open for the second showing of all the Filmmaker Showdown flicks. Chances are they’re more entertaining than most of what Hollywood is pumping out anyhow.

AT VILLAGE 8 April 20-26: Fracture; Vacancy; Hot Fuzz; In the Land of Women; Blades of Glory; Disturbia; Perfect Strangers; Meet the Robinsons.

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