‘Drinking’ intoxicates, ‘Riddick’ rivets and ‘Ultimate’ changes lives

Among the new movies that were released Friday, Sept. 6 in theaters throughout the Valley are a romantic dramedy starring Jake M. Johnson and Olivia Wilde, a science-fiction threequel starring Vin Diesel and a sequel to an inspirational movie based on a bestselling book.

Adore

Naomi Watts and Robin Wright play childhood friends and neighbors who fall for each other’s sons (Ben Mendelsohn and Xavier Samuel). Playing exclusively at Harkins Shea 14. (R – 105 minutes)

There is no doubt that the material that writer/director Anne Fontaine forages from Doris Lessing’s novel is incredibly creepy, weirding out anyone who can recognize that sleeping with a woman who has been your mother’s best friend since childhood is essentially an act of incest, but “Adore” is actually an oddly intriguing motion picture. Benefitting from a pair of nuanced performances from actresses Naomi Watts and Robin Wright and a subtle-yet-insightful study of the female psyche, the movie manages to overcome that aforementioned unnaturalness to make a meaningful statement about the effects that “taboo” has on relationships. (Thumbs Up!)

Devil’s Pass

Five young filmmakers retrace the steps of a doomed group of Russian hikers in pursuit of an unsolvable mystery. What they find is far more shocking than anything they could have imagined. Playing exclusively at FilmBar. (R – 96 minutes)

It is getting increasingly difficult for filmmakers to come up with creative ways to navigate the found-footage genre. For proof of this, you need look no further than “Devil’s Pass,” a new thriller that somehow comes courtesy of “Die Hard” helmer Renny Harlin despite demonstrating none of the director’s ability to entertain an audience. After a first hour during which very little happens, the story goes completely off the rails for the flick’s final 30 minutes. If anyone remains duped and thinks that any of this ridiculousness is real, they are likely a danger to themselves as well as those around them. (Thumbs Down!)

Drinking Buddies

Jake M. Johnson and Olivia Wilde play co-workers at a Chicago brewery, where they spend their days drinking and flirting. They are perfect for each other – except that they are both in relationships. Ron Livingston and Anna Kendrick also star. Playing exclusively at Harkins Valley Art. (R – 90 minutes)

“Drinking Buddies” operates on one single, solitary thing – sexual tension. But it does so exceptionally well, with said tension sometimes being so existent that it can be cut with a knife. And although it could be argued that writer/director Joe Swanberg’s new dramedy ends on a note that is not so dissimilar from the one on which it began and the the story’s structure is a little too loose, it addresses such a universally relatable dilemma in such a natural and authentic way with its heart in such a good-intentioned place that the experience is extremely intoxicating. (Thumbs Up!)

Hell Baby

Leslie Bibb and Rob Corddry play an expectant couple who moves into the most haunted house in New Orleans and call upon the services of the Vatican’s elite exorcism team to save them from a demonic baby. Playing exclusively at The Loft. (R – 98 minutes)

The first few scenes of “Hell Baby” are sinfully hilarious. However, as the events in the new feature-length comedy from the creators of “Reno 911!” get increasingly irregular, the jokes – many of which are repeated over and over and over until the viewer feels bludgeoned to death – get decreasingly diverting. After all, it is amusing to see star Rob Corddry acting flabbergasted by acutely odd occurrences that may suggest that something sinister is at play; but it is not the least bit funny to see him simply accept without question things that are blatantly bizarre. (Thumbs Down!)

Riddick

Vin Diesel reprises his role as a man who, left for dead on a sun-scorched planet, finds himself up against an alien race of predators. Activating an emergency beacon alerts two ships – one carrying a new breed of mercenary and the other captained by a man from his past. (R – 119 minutes)

“Riddick” may not be as explosively exciting as any of the films in star Vin Diesel’s “Fast and Furious” franchise but it is still an entertaining motion picture nonetheless. The new follow-up to 2000’s “Pitch Black” and 2004’s “The Chronicles of Riddick” is easily the best entry in the series, starting out with a mesmerizing first half hour during which Diesel is on screen all by his lonesome (unless you count a host of computer-generated dingo-dongos and scorpion-like creatures). That helps the new science-fiction flick to earn a few points for backbone alone – even with those who, like myself, are not fans of the genre. (Thumbs Up!)

The Ultimate Life

Logan Bartholomew plays a young man who believes that his world is unraveling until he discovers his late grandfather’s journal and is transported back to 1941 and experiences first-hand his incredible rags-to-riches life. (NR – 86 minutes)

“The Ultimate Life” may pale in comparison to “The Ultimate Gift,” but the new sequel still has its heart in the right place and attempts to impart its important lessons about life without any condescension toward viewers or heavy-handed religious preaching. Granted, the acting is generally below-average, the romance is missing-in-action for most of the movie and the morals are less obvious than those found the first time around, yet director Michael Landon Jr. effectively captures the charming essence of author Jim Stovall’s novel to gracefully teach us to recognize the wealth reaped by one who has friends, family and love. (Thumbs Up!)

Joseph J. Airdo

Joseph J. Airdo is a film critic, producer and on-air personality for Breakthrough Entertainment, a talk radio show airing 10-11 a.m. Saturdays on KPHX 1480 AM and BreakRadioShow.com that shines a spotlight on the practical perspectives of the topics and themes explored in movies. He has a pet duck named Frozen who is as opinionated about movies as he is. E-mail him at joseph.airdo@gmail.com.

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