Tag Archives: C

AFTER.LIFE

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C

This might have been a top-notch episode of a television anthology series, but as a feature film it’s out of its league. Though elegantly made, “After.Life” is basically one long tease that in the end doesn’t deliver much beyond further obfuscation.

The premise is a simple one. After a fight with her lawyer boyfriend Paul (Justin Long), schoolteacher Anna Taylor (Christina Ricci) gets in a car crash and awakens in a mortuary, where she’s being prepped for her funeral by undertaker Eliot Deacon (Liam Neeson). She protests that she’s still alive; he responds by showing her the death certificate, and explains he’s possessed of a singular ability to converse with the recently departed in order to help them accept their condition. The whole of the picture consists of a tug of war between suggestions that Eliot is telling the truth and indications that he’s a nut job who, for deranged reasons of his own, has been systematically killing his clients.

There’s counterpoint to the debate between Anna’s supposed corpse and Eliot’s preternaturally calm mortician in the grief of guilt-ridden Paul, who grows increasingly suspicious that Anna survived the accident and begins a tearful investigation of his own, much to the distress of his policeman pal (Josh Charles). And in the interest of Anna’s favorite student Jack (Chandler Canterbury), a quiet, reserved child who might well share Eliot’s gift and his peculiar interests. On the outskirts is Anna’s mother Beatrice (Celia Weston), a bitter wheelchair-bound harridan who browbeat her daughter and now blames Paul for her death.

In its favor, in writer-director Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo’s hands the movie maintains a coolly atmospheric mood down to the twisty ending that seems to want to have things in every possible way. (It does, however, serve as a sort of bookend to Long’s fate in the original “Jeepers Creepers.”) That’s largely the result of Neeson’s controlled yet intense performance; it’s almost as though he were taking a welcome rest from all the other movies he’s been making recently. (They seem to appear every other week.) Ricci’s haunted look suits this role, and the red underwear she wears through much of the picture (before going completely au naturel) is very becoming. Long, on the other hand, goes the highly emotional route, and doesn’t seem quite comfortable with it, while Canterbury—who’s presumably supposed to be channeling Haley Joel Osment—remains as inexpressive as he was as Jude Law’s son in “Repo Men.”

“After.Life” is technically quite proficient, especially given what must have been a modest budget. The score by Paul Haslinger doesn’t come on too strong, which is a blessing in this sort of film. And the widescreen cinematography by Anastas N. Michos should hold up pretty well on the tube—which is where the film belongs, unfortunately.

ALIENS IN THE ATTIC

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C

The fact that it wasn’t pre-screened for critics might make you expect the worst of this kidflick, but “Aliens in the Attic” isn’t all that bad. In fact, if it were being shown on one of the family cable networks, it would be something adolescent boys in particular would enjoy. It’s out of place on the big screen, though, except for the most undemanding audiences.

The title pretty much says it all. The Pearson family—Stuart (Kevin Nealon), Nina (Gillian Vigman), their children Bethany (Ashley Tisdale), Tom (Carter Jenkins) and Hannah (Ashley Boettcher)—along with Stuart’s brother Nathan (Andy Richter) and his sons Jake (Austin Butler) and twins Art and Lee (Henri and Regan Young) and the kids’ grandma (Doris Roberts)—are vacationing at a Michigan lake house. (Curious geographic note: they’re shown leaving Chicago and arriving at their destination after a brief road trip, which suggests the makers didn’t look very closely at a map.) The place is invaded by four little creatures from the planet Zircon with a mission to recover a device buried under the house that will initiate an invasion of earth. And since the critters have a lobotomizing gun that can turn adults into helpless automatons—a fate that befalls not only granny but Ricky (Robert Hoffman), Bethany’s smarmy college boyfriend—it’s up to the kids to defeat them and save not only their family but the world.

I suspect it will come as no surprise that they do.

Much of the picture is devoted to slapstick battles between the CGI creatures (voiced by Thomas Haden Church, Josh Peck, Ashley Peldon and Kari Wahlgren) and the children, but time’s taken out for some heart-to-hearts between Tom, a smart kid who’s tanking his classes in order not to be thought a nerd (the experience with the aliens makes himself understand the value of knowledge, of course), and his dad, and even more violent action involving Ricky, who’s turned into a sort of crazy elastic man under alien control, and grandma (a big martial-arts fight between the two after the kids get granny’s control device is supposed to be the piece de resistance, but is taken too far). The big twist—though it’s hardly a surprise—is that one of the scouting party turns out to be nice and becomes the kids’ ally. And at the end there’s a “Power Rangers” moment when two of the critters grow to gigantic size and face off against each other.

The effects in “Aliens in the Attic” look pretty ordinary in this day and age, but they’d certainly pass muster on the small screen. It’s unfortunate that the “good” alien so closely resembles E.T. (adding an extra pair of arms isn’t really much of a disguise), and that his final goodbye is so closely modeled on Spielberg’s film (John Debney’s music even recalls John Williams’ at that point). But the youngsters are an appealing bunch, though Boettcher should have been reined in by director John Schultz a bit—her mugging is right out of a bad sitcom—and Tisdale comes off rather shrill. The adults are another matter. Nealon, as usual, italicizes every line, Richter’s doofus routine gets old fast, and Tim Meadows’ turn as the local sheriff is so laid-back it might have been phoned in. Roberts, looking very frail, doesn’t have the comic timing she once did (and should have been spared a gag about her dentures), while Hoffman—or his CGI double—chews the scenery, which is what he’s expected to do, and kids will love his “stuntwork.”

There’s some of the same sort of simple highjinks here found in such earlier kidflicks like “Sky High” and “How to Eat Fried Worms,” and the picture doesn’t descend to the level of stuff like the “Spy Kids” movies. But it lacks magic, and except as a harmless diversion for the youngsters in a rainy afternoon, you can safely hold off until it shows up on DVD.