‘Side Effects’ is good medicine, ‘Die Hard’ is bad day in theaters

Of the five new movies that I reviewed during the Feb. 14, 2013 edition of “Breakthrough Thinking: The Magazine,” the only one that I can in good conscience recommend seeing is “Side Effects,” a dramatic thriller starring Jude Law and Rooney Mara. All of the others, including “A Good Day to Die Hard” – the fifth installment in the action film franchise about Detective John McClane – are not worth your time or money.

‘Beautiful Creatures’

Alden Ehrenreich plays a young man longing to escape his small town while Alice Englert plays a mysterious new girl. Together, they uncover dark secrets about their respective families, their history and their town. (PG-13 – 100 minutes)

“Beautiful Creatures” is yet another silly supernatural soap opera – this time spoken in awkward southern accents. The new romantic drama – which is based on the bestselling book of the same title by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl and brought to the big screen by writer/director Richard LaGravenese likely in an attempt to replicate the commercial success of “The Twilight Saga” – starts off innocently enough, telling a tale of teenage love with a paranormal twist, but eventually escalating into a massively melodramatic movie in which witches… sorry, casters, per their preference… shout at one another about familial affairs. (Grade: D)

‘A Good Day to Die Hard’

Bruce Willis reprises his role as John McClane who this time travels to Russia to help out his seemingly wayward son (Jai Courtney) only to discover that said son is a CIA operative working to prevent a nuclear-weapons heist, causing the father and son to team up against underworld forces. (R – 97 minutes)

“A Good Day to Die Hard” uses a steamroller to do the job of a rolling pin. In other words, director John Moore’s fifth entry in the film franchise about a NYPD detective named John McClane who is slowly but surely morphing into Superman suffers from action overload, causing the viewer’s eyes to glaze over as people, places and things are obliterated in an orchestra of fiery explosions. Even checking one’s brain at the door to the auditorium cannot save them from acknowledging, with disappointment, that this chaotic catastrophe is a far cry from the series’ suspenseful first installment released 25 years ago. (Grade: D)

‘Identity Thief’

Jason Bateman plays a mild-mannered businessman who learns that his identity has been stolen and hits the road in an attempt to foil the thief – a deceptively harmless-looking woman (Melissa McCarthy). (R – 111 minutes)

“Identity Thief” is ferociously funny but it is also fairly frustrating and the film frequently takes its jokes entirely too far. That is to say that director Seth Gordon’s new road trip comedy treats its two stars – Jason Bateman and the magnificent Melissa McCarthy – like cartoon characters, subjecting them to extreme physical duress in order to get a laugh yet, in doing so, overshooting said target. Fortunately, though, there are enough down-to-earth hits to outweigh the many manic misses and make the movie worth watching. Extra points are earned for quirky cameos from “Modern Family’s” Eric Stonestreet and McCarthy’s “Bridesmaids” co-star Ellie Kemper – both of whom deserve their own starring roles. (Grade: C)

‘Safe Haven’

Julianne Hough plays a young woman with a mysterious past who lands in Southport, North Carolina where her bond with a widower (Josh Duhamel) forces her to confront the dark secret that haunts her. (PG-13 – 115 minutes)

“Safe Haven” is footloose and fancy-free. That is a conveniently coincidental (considering its star Julianne Hough’s filmography includes 2011’s “Footloose”) way of saying that director Lasse Hallström’s new flick based on Nicholas Sparks’ novel of the same title is exceptionally light on conflict. In fact, if it were not for the manipulative mystery threaded throughout the first 90 minutes of the movie, even fans of the romantic drama genre would become bored before anything exciting actually happens. However, its worst offense is underestimating viewers’ intelligence with a twist that is obvious from the very start. Having said that, it will still please hopeless romantics. (Grade: D)

‘Side Effects’

Rooney Mara plays a woman whose world unravels when a new drug prescribed by her psychiatrist (Jude Law) – intended to treat anxiety – has unexpected side effects. Channing Tatum and Catherine Zeta-Jones also star. (R – 120 minutes)

“Side Effects” is a remarkably riveting dramatic thriller. It is also quite clever – so clever, in fact, that you may require some sort of prescription medication for the headache that you are guaranteed to develop as a result of trying to keep up with its incredibly complex plot. Needless to say, director Steven Soderbergh’s latest cinematic effort is about so much more than what at first meets the eye. Bolstered by brilliant performances from its acting quartet and a story that is certain to unceasingly surprise viewers from beginning to end, this tough pill to swallow is worth the extra effort. (Grade: B)

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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