Trouble on the double

BULLIED in High School for being a geek, Marni (Kirsten Bell) has reinvented herself as high-powered publicist by the time her older brother Will (James Wolk) decides to get married.

When she discovers that Will is marrying her High School nemesis, ex-cheerleader Joanne (Odette Yustman), Marni decides to use her skills as a publicist to destroy Joanne and finally have her revenge.

If you can get past the ludicrous premise of a sister discovering the identity of her beloved brother’s fiancée a few days before the wedding, You Again (US/G/105 mins) is a fitfully engaging comedy of humiliation, as Marni regresses to the uptight, unattractive nerd she was in High School.

Meanwhile, Marni’s mother Gail (Jamie Lee Curtis) is embroiled in a similar process, as the knives come out between she and Joanne’s aunt, her old High School foe Ramona (Sigourney Weaver). Why writer Moe Jelline felt the need to duplicate the storyline is unclear, unless it’s to ensure the movie appeals across a generational demographic, but the net result is a dilution of both tales and a set of characters that never really develop beyond stereotype.

Curtis and Weaver fare best with the material, generating a believable enmity despite their limited screen time, but the younger generation are less impressive, with Bell, the putative star, being more or less sidelined to the role of narrator as events trundle to their inevitable and predictable finale.

The director, Andy Fickman, maintains a swift pace and light touch throughout, and fashions some deftly constructed comic set-pieces, such as when Curtis and Yustman give an impromptu cheerleading display in the family’s living room. Overall though, and especially given the star quality on board, You Again lacks the bounce and pizzazz of the cheerleading routines it so blithely mocks.

SWEDISH director Lukas Moodysson has been something of an arthouse darling to date, with the likes of A Hole in My Heart (2004) and Lilya 4-ever (2002) garnering rave reviews. Mammoth (Sweden/Denmark/Germany/15A/125 mins) is his first foray into mainstream cinema, and isn’t so much a state-of-the-nation address as a state-of-the-world polemic.

Leo Vidales (Gael Garcia Bernal) is a New York-based website developer who travels to Thailand to seal a multi-million dollar deal, and has his eyes opened to the poverty that fuels the underage sex trade. Meanwhile, Leo’s wife Ellen (Michelle Williams), a doctor, fights to save the life of a young knife assault victim back home. The irony of their daughter Jackie (Sophie Nyweide) spending more time with her Filipino nanny, Gloria (Marife Necesito), than with her parents isn’t lost on either Leo or Ellen, and Moodysson, who writes and directs, uses Gloria as an opportunity to explore the extent to which the Vidales’ busy but successful lives are predicated on the exploitation of others.

A thoughtful and introspective piece, the film is essentially a guilt-trip for the liberal middle-class, but while it’s difficult to argue with any of the issues Moodysson raises, it also becomes increasingly difficult to care about the Vidales’ perfect plight. Poetically told, with long and languorous takes, the film is slowly paced, no doubt to give the audience enough time to digest each poignant image.

Moodysson isn’t above a crass gesture or two, though, such as when Gloria goes shopping to buy a basketball for her son back home in the Philippines, only to discover that the ball was made there. Strong performances from Bernal, Williams and Necesito ensure that the tale retains audience sympathy right to the end, but you may well heave a well earned sigh of relief that you’re finally off the hook as the credits roll.

ALIENS besiege Los Angeles in Skyline (US/15A/92 mins), trapping Jarrod (Eric Balfour) and Elaine (Scottie Thompson) in a high-rise building along with their friends, Terry (Donald Faison) and Candice (Brittany Daniel). Directors Colin and Greg Strause have constructed a white-knuckle sci-fi thriller, which hits the ground running and sustains a full-pelt pace throughout.

The performances are so-so, but this is spectacle movie-making akin to Cloverfield (2008), albeit with the rampaging monsters in full view from the off. In fact, the Strause brothers pretty much throw the kitchen sink at the movie screen, with the dramatic highlights including a full-blown atomic explosion. Most fun of all, however, are the steady stream of visual references to classic sci-fi movies, which include War of the Worlds (1953), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and even District 9 (2009). The alien invaders are inventively terrifying, resembling nightmarish undersea creatures from the darkest depths, and while we’re never given any idea as to why they’ve turned up to harvest the human population, a ludicrously frenzied finale sets up the inevitable sequel nicely.

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