‘Grown’ is juvenile, ‘Rim is derailed and ‘Way’ is wonderful in theaters

Among the new movies that were released Friday, July 12 in theaters throughout the Valley are a sequel starring Adam Sandler and all of his closest friends, a science-fiction-fueled actioner about aliens and robots and a coming-of-age dramedy set at a water park.

Grown Ups 2

Adam Sandler reprises his role as a man who, after moving his family back to his hometown to be with his friends and their kids, finds out that – between old bullies, new bullies, schizo bus drivers, drunk cops on skis and 400 costumed party crashers – sometimes crazy follows you. Kevin James, Chris Rock and David Space also star. (PG-13 – 101 minutes)

It is safe to say that “Grown Ups” was widely considered to be one of the worst movies of 2010 – if not of all time, too. Therefore, declaring “Grown Ups 2” to be a bit better than its predecessor may be faint praise; but I imagine that, at this point in the downward spiral that is his career, actor Adam Sandler celebrates such small successes. And although the new sequel’s idea of comedy remains as high-brow as being able to burp, sneeze and fart simultaneously, the novelty of seeing so many actors in crazy cameos at least keeps things more interesting this time around. (Thumbs Down!)

A Hijacking

Pilou Asbæk and Roland Møller play two crew members of a cargo ship that is hijacked by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean. With the demand for a ransom of millions of dollars, a psychological drama unfolds between the CEO of the shipping company (Søren Malling) and the Somali pirates. Playing exclusively at Harkins Camelview 5. (R – 99 minutes)

“A Hijacking” is a movie about a hostage situation in the same way that “Moneyball” is a movie about baseball. That is to say that it is about the business as opposed to the action. And “action” is the keyword here as the new Danish import is sufficiently lacking such – at least in the traditional sense of the word. Granted, corporate conference room negotiations and prolonged exposure to unpleasant conditions are reality-based whereas heroic rescue attempts and retaliation efforts are far more fictional, but one is much more entertaining to watch while the other will likely put you to sleep. (Thumbs Down!)

Pacific Rim

Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi play two unlikely heroes who, when an alien attack threatens the Earth’s existence, pilot a giant robot to fight off the menace, standing as mankind’s last hope against the mounting apocalypse. (PG-13 – 131 minutes)

I have never been so unfortunate to be hit over the head with heavy machinery for more than 2 hours but I imagine that the feeling is similar to the one that you have while watching “Pacific Rim.” There is little more to writer/director Guillermo del Toro’s new science-fiction-fueled actioner than a seemingly endless series of loud sounds as big robots and even bigger aliens go head-to-head and fist-to-fist with one another. And although the special effects are spectacular, what is the point if they are veiled by the pitch-blackness of night time and pouring rain? (Thumbs Down!)

Pawn Shop Chronicles

A man searching for his kidnapped wife, a couple of white-supremacist meth heads and a sad-sack Elvis impersonator pawn more than they bargain for at a Southern small-town pawn shop. Stars include Brendan Fraser, Elijah Wood, Vincent D’Onofrio, Thomas Jane, Lukas Haas, Norman Reedus, Matt Dillon and Paul Walker. Playing exclusively at AMC Arizona Center 24. (R – 112 minutes)

The phrase “off-the-wall” does not even begin to describe “Pawn Shop Chronicles.” In fact, there is little that one could actually say that would accurately relay the intensity of the insanity that director Wayne Kramer achieves in his new darkly comedic anthology. The same could be said of the resulting entertainment value, which is – at the very least – through the roof. Accentuated by an all-star cast – many members of which are practically unrecognizable – these three salacious stories will have your head spinning in circles and cause your jaw to punch a hole straight through the floor. (Thumbs Up!)

Trash Dance

Choreographer Allison Orr joins city sanitation workers on their daily routes to listen, learn and ultimately to try to convince them to collaborate in a unique dance performance thereby finding beauty and grace in garbage trucks – and in the men and women who pick up our trash. Playing exclusively at the FilmBar. (NR – 65 minutes)

Anyone who identified with the insights shared by Wes Bentley’s Ricky Fitts character in “American Beauty” as he recounted seeing a plastic bag blowing around in the wind will feel as though their heart is going to cave in while watching “Trash Dance.” Filmmaker Andrew Garrison’s new documentary demonstrates to viewers’ delight that beauty is, beyond any doubt, all around us – even in the most seemingly mundane things of everyday life. To see these sanitation engineers smile as they step outside of their comfort zones and bring artistic significance to their work is inspiring, uplifting and entertaining. (Thumbs Up!)

V/H/S/2

While searching for a missing student, two private investigators break into his house and find collection of VHS tapes. Upon viewing the horrific contents of each cassette, they realize that there may be dark motives behind the student’s disappearance. Playing exclusively at the FilmBar. (R – 95 minutes)

Less than one year after “V/H/S” was released, we get its aptly titled sequel “V/H/S/2.” And although the new horror anthology remains mostly meaningless with its solitary strength being the ingenuity of its found-footage techniques, the directors this time around have dialed down the unnecessarily shocking nature of each of their shorts and instead simply focus on taking full advantage of their respective gimmicks. None of the four would warrant a feature-length treatment and even wear on their welcome in short-form but all are novel enough to entertain fans of the found-footage genre. (Thumbs Up!)

The Way, Way Back

Liam James plays a teenager who gets a job at a water park and gains some much-needed self-confidence under the guidance of happy-go-lucky water park employee (Sam Rockwell) who approaches life from a fresh new perspective. Playing exclusively at Harkins Camelview 5. (PG-13 – 96 minutes)

“The Way, Way Back” is a coming-of-age crowd-pleasure that is as insightful as it is delightful. Writers/directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash’s comedy will make you laugh out loud with its super sharp sense of humor while simultaneously striking a significant chord with anyone who has ever felt unappreciated, unaccepted or simply uncertain. Sam Rockwell steals the show as a fast-talking, facetious goof-off with a humongous heart but the entire cast – including AnnaSophia Robb, Steve Carell, Toni Collette and Allison Janney – is exemplary. Granted, this film treads familiar ground but rarely is the experience as profoundly relatable and genuinely enjoyable as this. (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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