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FROZEN

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There are times in the first half-hour or so of Disney’s “Frozen” that you wonder why the company didn’t bypass the screen altogether and just take the thing directly to Broadway. It plays like a Great White Way hit musical—or at least what passes for one nowadays, with its generic, vaguely rock numbers that seem designed to elicit a burst of applause at the end, its perky characters and its innocuous, family-friendly jokes. But as the movie goes along, it becomes apparent that it has that old Broadway malady—second act problems. The music dries up, replaced by chaotic action, and the finale is a drag. It would appear that this incarnation of “Frozen” should be seen as a sort of out-of-town tryout, so that substantial doctoring can be undertaken before it reaches its ultimate destination on some New York stage where it will play for as long as “The Lion King” roars.

It would have been nice, though, if the creators had fixed some of the flaws before they made the movie. The script, by Jennifer Lee (who also co-directed with Chris Buck), is said to have been inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” but has very little in common with the 1845 fairy tale. Instead it’s been transformed into a story of sisterly love that overcomes all obstacles, one in fact in which all the male characters are either villains or dunces or both. That follows the pattern of much recent Disney product, which seems calculated to cater to little girls and their moms while leaving boys and their fathers to depart as quickly as possible for the latest Marvel superhero movie or await the coming of the Disney “Star Wars” franchise.

In this telling, Elsa (voiced by Edina Menzel) is heiress to the kingdom of Arendelle, and Anna (Kirsten Bell) her younger, more mischievous sibling. Elsa, unfortunately, is blessed—or cursed—with a sort of Midas touch that allows her to conjure up ice and snow at will, and during one of their childhood playtimes Anna is injured by it, restored to health only by the intervention of some comical trolls. So her parents close up the castle and keep Elsa under wraps—and away from ever-doting Anna.

After the king and queen perish while on vacation, however, it becomes necessary for Elsa to be crowned, and during the big celebration—during which the exuberant Anna meets and agrees to marry the handsome Prince Hans (Santino Fontana)—her powers run amok, and she’s compelled to flee the realm and take up isolated residence in the mountains. Unfortunately, her actions have left Arendelle in perpetual winter, so Anna goes into the wilderness to bring her sister back, leaving Hans behind as regent. Fortunately along the way she meets slightly dim but stalwart ice-seller Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), who—along with his comic reindeer Sven—becomes her companion. Unfortunately, their encounter with Elsa leads to Anna’s being infected with coldness of the heart, which threatens to carry her off unless an act of true love intervenes. Where it comes from is for you to find out by watching the movie.

It’s no help to “Frozen” that none of the main characters—neither Anna (who’s given the persona of a typical American teen, complete with all the turns of phrase that implies) nor Elsa nor Hans nor Kristoff—is especially charismatic, though the animators and Bell certainly try to make Anna so. Peripheral figures like the calculating Duke of Weselton (Alan Tudyk) don’t bring much to the party either, however effortful their attempt to be funny. In fact, the only individual who really stands out is Olaf, a dopey but darling snowman brought to life by Elsa’s magic, who assumes the duty of helping Anna and Kristoff. As voiced by Josh Gad, he’s easily the most engaging “person” around, even if he feels as though he’s wandered in from a different, better movie, and he’s assigned most of the best lines and gags. He also has the one show-stopping number in the movie, a hilariously goofy paean to summer that stands in stark visual contrast to the icy climes that dominate most of the running-time and, while striking, grow as numbingly tiresome as a winter that lingers on too long. One can predict that it won’t be too long until we see Olaf in spin-offs of his own—Christmas specials on the Disney Channel, perhaps.

So while “Frozen” is technically impressive, with beautiful widescreen images and 3D effects that are mostly subtly employed, as a narrative it leaves a good deal to be desired. Among Disney’s recent non-Pixar animated efforts, it falls between “Tangled” and “Wreck-It Ralph” on the one hand and “Planes” on the other. Happily, it’s closer to the former than the latter, especially in visual terms, but it’s still middle-grade at best. A lyric in one of Anna’s early songs goes, “I don’t know whether I’m elated or gassy.” It’s probable that most viewers won’t find themselves in the former category.

Preceding the film in most engagements is a Mickey Mouse short, “Get a Horse!,” which turns from a small-screen black-and white copy of a thirties cartoon into full widescreen, color glory as Mickey literally bursts through the screen while trying to rescue Minnie from the clutches of Peg-Leg Pete. A throwback that turns into a wacky exhibition of what modern technology can do, it also features the archival voice of Walt himself as Mickey. Sadly, it shows more imagination in a few minutes than one finds in the whole movie that follows it.

LAST VEGAS

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This is basically a geriatric version of “The Hangover”—four seventy-somethings go off to Vegas for a bachelor party—but since the target audience is clearly closer in age to the lead actors than to the moviegoers who made Todd Phillips’ slob comedy such a smash, the comedic tone of Jon Turteltaub’s movie is understandably gentler—naughty rather than nasty. “Last Vegas” is just an attempt to dust off the “Grumpy Old Men” playbook for the next generation of older stars, and it hardly breaks any new ground. But though thoroughly predictable, no more than mildly amusing, and utterly maudlin when it veers into sentimental mode, it’s a harmless enough vehicle for some old-timers to strut their stuff, a cinematic soft-shoe routine that’s definitely worn but tolerable.

The sparkplug of the plot involves the decision of wheeler-dealer and confirmed bachelor Billy (Michael Douglas) to pop the question to his thirty-something girlfriend (Bre Blair) while delivering a eulogy for a friend (and obviously feeling his own mortality). Quickly planning nuptials at a Vegas chapel, he phones two of his closest buddies—Archie (Morgan Freeman), who’s being smothered with concern by his son (Michael Ealy) after suffering a mild stroke, and Sam (Kevin Kline), who’s living in Florida with his understanding wife (Joanna Gleason)—to invite them to the ceremony. He tasks them to persuade the fourth member of their childhood Brooklyn posse of the fifties, Paddy (Robert De Niro), to come as well. The problem isn’t merely that Paddy has turned into a recluse following the death of his wife, but that he’s furious with Billy over his failure to attend her funeral. Of course, Paddy eventually tags along anyway, though his mood is surly, especially after he finds out the reason for the trip.

A lot of what ensues is by-the-numbers. The fellows bicker and party in approximately equal measure. They ogle young girls—especially Sam, whose wife has given him permission to cut loose. They gamble—especially Archie, whose skill at blackjack brings them special treatment at a casino, including a lavish penthouse suite and a personal concierge named Lonnie (Romany Malco), who’s initially disappointed that they’re not the famous rapper he’d expected to have as his guest but eventually warms to them. There’s also a curious plot turn involving them being passed off a mob guys in order to put an arrogant young twit (Joey Ferrara) in his place.

But the main thread involves the quartet getting to know Diana (Mary Steenburgen), a singer in a tiny casino lounge whom both Billy and Paddy find attractive. She’s a wisecracking but emotionally vibrant person whose presence brings up a great deal of past history the two men share which, while initially widening the breach between them, is ultimately the cause of their reconciliation—and of Billy’s finally realizing what he really needs.

The humor in “Last Vegas” is mostly very mild and sitcomish, banking on how cute these four geezers are as they have fun amidst the glitz of the city (which, of course, is periodically spotlighted in montages that are a recurrent element of David Henning’s standard-issue cinematography). And viewers can rest assured that all the plot threads work out for the best. That’s true even of the thread that finds Sam searching for somebody to share his condom with, which leads him first to hit on a lady at a bar who turns out to be a guy in drag (Roger Bart)—a interlude that’s the basis for a little lesson in friendly acceptance of people different from you—and then nearly to score with a young bridesmaid—an episode that turns into a lesson about marital fidelity.

The stars seem to be having a good time despite the feebleness of the material. Billy certainly doesn’t strain Douglas’ acting muscles the way Liberace did, but he’s agreeable enough, while De Niro tones down the gruffness of his earlier comic turns in “Meet the Fockers” and “Analyze This” (not to mention “The Family”) a bit this time around, to good effect. Freeman pretty much coasts on his affability, and though a saccharine scene with Ealy toward the close could have well been excised (like most of the obligatory sentimental moments scattered toward the finale), another that gives him a chance to show off on the dance floor is pleasant. Kline outstrips the others, however, often enlivening scenes that have little or no potential through sheer force of will, and Steenburgen is her usual charming self, like Kline transcending what she’s given to work with.

Nobody would acclaim “Last Vegas” as any kind of comic classic. But as a vehicle for these four familiar faces, it’s a genial enough bit of old-timer fluff, especially with Steenburgen tagging along for the ride.