Movie Reviews

CARS 2 (G), like its predecessor, is Pixar’s variation on the tantalising premise behind its own Toy Story franchise: what if a child’s toys could come alive?

The toys here, of course, are exclusively of the automobile variety, as racing car Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) takes part in a world-wide Grand Prix series, aided and abetted by his tow-truck friend, Mater (Larry the Cable Guy).

True to form, however, the well-meaning but socially awkward Mater manages to bungle Lightning’s bid for world supremacy, by getting himself mistaken for a spy as a behind-the-scenes conspiracy schemes to hijack the Grand Prix series for its own nefarious ends. Bright, bold and above all fast, Cars 2 should prove a delight for the boys of all ages who still treasure their toy car collection.

That said, the very thin plot is in place to link what is effectively a series of car races, both on and off the track, as the story whirls us first to Japan, then on to Italy and Britain.

It’s all good clean fun for a while, as the cars pull off the kind of improbable stunts a young boy might inflict on his own toy cars, but eventually the sequence of death-defying turns and the squeal of screeching tyres begin to blend into an interminably homogenous spectacle, while the ostensibly comic Mater grows increasingly irritating with each passing non sequitur and folksy utterance. Younger viewers will very probably thrive on the undemanding fare of thrills and spills; adults, meanwhile, may well be raising a white flag long before the chequered version moves into sight.

A MORE adult fantasy is explored in Horrible Bosses (15A), in which Nick (Jason Bateman), Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) and Dale (Charlie Day) plot to murder their employers. Bullied, marginalised and sexually harassed, respectively, the trio make a pact, after a consultation with low-life Dean “MF” Jones (Jamie Foxx), to kill one another’s bosses, Harken (Kevin Spacey), Pellitt (Colin Farrell) and Dr Harris (Jennifer Aniston). Naturally, being rank amateurs in the assassination business, the plotters quickly find themselves in way out of their depth, with much of Seth Gordon’s black comedy deriving its humour from the transition of ostensibly upstanding citizens into would-be killers.

It’s a humour that generates more sniggers than guffaws, even if Bateman, Sudeikis and Day generate a strong chemistry as their characters dip a cautious toe into the seedy underworld of murder, squabbling and back-biting and slapping one another around in a slightly more cerebral take on the Three Stooges. There’s an inherent imbalance in the casting, however, and Spacey, Farrell and Aniston steal the show whenever they appear, all three very obviously relishing the opportunity to play irredeemably nasty characters.

Almost inevitably, our heroes’ plight takes second place to the desire to see Spacey, for example, reprise his role from Swimming with Sharks (1994), or Aniston in predatorial mode as she inverts the conventional scenario of women being preyed upon by workplace lotharios. It’s all deliciously nasty and good dirty fun, but ultimately you may find yourself cheering on the bosses from hell.

THE casting in Beginners (15A) is a far more nuanced affair, particularly as Ewan McGregor turns in one of his strongest performances in some years playing Oliver, a commitment-phobe, who falls for French actress Anna (Mélanie Laurent) against a backdrop of his mother’s death and the subsequent coming out of his father, Hal (Christopher Plummer).

Mike Mills’ film explores the extent to which such profound emotional traumas impact on Oliver’s ability to trust, although the story is far more successful in its flashbacks to the period when Oliver and Hal learn to love one another on an entirely new set of terms. The heavy-handed Oliver-Anna storyline jars with the freewheeling style that characterises the Oliver-Hal relationship, which in turn undermines the entire enterprise, given that Oliver’s burgeoning commitment to Anna is contingent on his learning lessons from Hal. That’s a pity, because Plummer’s bittersweet portrayal of a man on a belated journey of self-discovery is a joy to behold.

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