Weekend Movies: Sequels, Spin-Offs, Sci-Fi and Pot

This weekend gives us a variety of new movies. Pick your poison, but be warned: The most unlikely movie might be the only one that’s actually worthwhile.

Since all four releases are debuting near or north of 3,000 screens, let’s list them from least satisfying to most satisfying. As you may have suspected, ‘Planes‘ comes in first. My ranking probably notes the only time that ‘Planes’ will come first on any list. Originally planned as a direct-to-video spin-off, the film expands the ‘Cars‘ universe by featuring aerial characters in a race around the world. The lead is an underdog cropduster (voiced by Dane Cook) with a will to race and win. Just like ‘Cars’, he has an experienced mentor to teach him the tricks to success. Even though it’s getting a theatrical release after all, ‘Planes’ still feels like a DTV product.

It has been three years since the ‘Percy Jackson’ book series made its way to the big screen with the underperforming ‘Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief‘. For some reason, Fox finally thinks that the time has come to revisit it. While I didn’t mind ‘Lightning Thief’ (if I were a 12-year-old kid, I would have loved it), not even my inner child would allow me to enjoy ‘Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters‘. This half-hearted sequel feels like it was made just to keep the rights to the property. The best thing about it is that the sequel dropped “& the Olympians” from its title. For this adventure, Percy and company must head to the Bermuda Triangle, a.k.a. the “Sea of Monsters,” to stop a villain from ending both the human and godly worlds. Sadly, the title of the sequel is false advertising. The Sea of Monsters should be called the “Sea of Monster” – singular, not plural. There’s literally only one monster in it.

As much as I expected (and wanted) ‘Elysium‘ to be the best film of the weekend, sadly it’s not. In fact, I expected it to be one of summer’s best, but it’s not even close. While undeniably good-looking, this meandering, Swiss-cheesed and unfocused sci-fi action flick is one of the biggest disappointments of the year. Completely average in plot, characters and concept (the trailers make it out to be much better than it is), not even the astounding visuals can save ‘Elysium’ from becoming the next forgettable blockbuster of 2013. Set more than 100 years in the future, ex-con Matt Damon dreams of living on a ‘Halo’ world high in Earth’s orbit. A half hour into the movie, something finally happens that leaves him with only five more days of life, so he has to return to his criminal ways in order to get to the Halo for a 30-second medical procedure that will cure his ailment. Expect director Neill Blomkamp to apply the visual style of his ‘District 9‘ to an amateurish, plot-hole-riddled screenplay.

Believe it or not, ‘We’re the Millers‘ is the most entertaining release this week. While its plot and shenanigans may be familiar, the comedy at least kept me entertained for the duration – something that not one of the week’s other three releases managed to do. Jason Sudeikis plays a pot dealer whose cash and stash are stolen. To settle the debt with his supplier (Ed Helms), he must fly to Mexico and transport a “smidge and a half” of weed across the border and back to Denver. Worried about how to get the product through customs, he comes up with the bright idea to pose as an ignorant and innocent family coming home from vacation. In a large and decked-out RV, he coaxes his stripper neighbor (Jennifer Aniston), a homeless punk teenager (Emma Roberts) and a dimwit kid from his apartment building (Will Poulter) to pose as his wife and kids on this roadtrip from hell. Although unoriginal and fairly predictable, funny crude comedy manages to keep the ‘Millers’ from losing control and driving off the road.

On top of these, three big indie flicks also debut this weekend. The one I’m most excited to see is ‘Prince Avalanche‘. From David Gordon Green, this subtle comedy stars a mustachioed Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch as a duo of road workers in an isolated wilderness. Opposites in personality, the two butt heads and get on each other’s nerves, but presumably become buddies by the end.

The second indie release that I’m interested in is ‘In a World…‘, the feature-length directorial debut from Lake Bell. In it, she plays a vocal coach determined to become a famous voiceover artist. I have no idea how this plot can string a film along, but after the great buzz at Sundance and a charming and hilarious trailer, I can’t wait to see it.

I suspect that the porn star bio-pic ‘Lovelace‘ is a slightly more respectable version of last week’s ‘The Canyons’. The hype surrounding both movies focuses on the nudity of its female stars. I assume that more people want to see Amanda Seyfried naked than Lindsay Lohan, so ‘Lovelace’ will presumably perform better than ‘The Canyons’.

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