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Wreck-It Ralph

At the Oscars this year, the Academy went the knee-jerk route of giving the best animated feature award to the Pixar entry, Brave. I personally thought the award should have gone to ParaNorman, but I think the Academy also failed to see just how good the competition was from Pixar partner Walt Disney Animation Studios.

Their Wreck-It Ralph, a sustained riff on the realm of video games past and present, doubtless lacks Pixar prestige, but it blasts out the fun as relentlessly as a Low Orbit Ion Cannon.

The title character is a video-game villain (voiced by John C. Reilly) who has spent decades playing the brawny thug, routinely smashing up an apartment building in an ancient 8-bit arcade game. He gets no love, and certainly no respect.

When he is shunned at his game's own anniversary party, Ralph escapes to more contemporary, high-tech games, such as Hero's Duty (where he attempts to blend in with the other soldiers waging war against Starship Trooper-esque bug monsters) and then, ludicrously, Sugar Rush, a girly racing game set in a candy-coated fantasy land where Ralph strikes up a friendship with the outcast cutie Vanellope Von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman).

Director Rich Moore positively glories in the visual inconsistency of these different video-game worlds: the boxy simplicity of Ralph's game, the post-apocalyptic high tech of Hero's Duty and the sheer deliciousness of Sugar Rush, where everything, even racing tires, are not only edible but look positively scrumptious. 'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö

Playing for Keeps

The premise is titillating: A divorced former Scottish soccer star transplanted to the U.S. finds himself coaching his son's soccer team, only to find himself the object of attention from a gaggle of randy soccer moms.

Alas, as a sex comedy, Playing for Keeps is hopelessly neutered. Every time those sexed-up moms make a play for down-on-his-luck George Dryer (Gerard Butler), the movie either cuts away or contrives to sabotage the encounter. The premise suggests hot times, but the movie itself delivers a series of cold showers.

George is in the United States is because he is determined to finally be a responsible father to his young son Lewis (Noah Lomax). He also carries a torch for his ex-wife Stacie (Jessica Biel), even if Stacie has moved on.

When George attends his son's pee-wee soccer game, he realizes the coach is incompentent. So he steps in and single-handedly turns the team's fortune. This earns the gratitude of pushy, ostentatious dad Carl (Dennis Quaid), who bribes George to let his son play goal. But it also earns the aforementioned attention of a pair of newly single moms, Denise and Barb (Catherine Zeta-Jones and Judy Greer, who wins the movie's few laughs as a weepy but horny divorcée), as well as Patti (Uma Thurman), married to the philandering Carl.

The emphasis on a run-of-the-mill family drama is especially annoying because movies could really stand to revive the ribald sex farce, or at least reclaim the genre from the grip of gross-out teen sexploitation.

Playing for Keeps fails to go there and subsequently fails altogether. 'Ö1/2

Red Dawn

One did not expect a remake of John Milius's commie-baiting, Reagan-era paranoid thriller from 1984.

The remake of Red Dawn plunks us into that most cherished American tradition, the high school football game, where quarterback Matt Eckert (Josh Peck) is losing despite his penchant for bold strategy. His estranged older brother Jed (pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth) looks on in disappointment. It's life as usual in this unassuming Pacific Northwest community, until next morning, when the brothers awaken to find the firmament filled with armed soldiers parachuting earthward. It soon becomes evident that America's formidable military might has been strategically checkmated by... North Korea?

Yes, in post-production, the poltroon producers of this movie got cold feet at the notion of portraying China as the perpetrators of this assault.

In any case, the brothers join up with other teen friends and regroup at the family cabin, where Jed, an Iraq war veteran, lays down the law as to how to fight back, while other Americans treacherously capitulate to their conquerors. (I looked for but didn't see Dennis Rodman.)

Under Jed's command, the high schoolers are transformed into guerillas, adopting the name of the Wolverines, committed to playing offence against the visiting team of North Korean invaders and scoring a touchdown for freedom.

Director Dan Bradley was a stunt co-ordinator, which explains why the film has lots of impressive action-movie stunt work, but nothing in the way of any discernible visual style. Milius's movie may have been equally ludicrous, but at least he knew how to yield maximum impact from the premise.

The secret of both films is that the premise is not a Red Nightmare but a wet dream for an undiscerning teen audience given to violent fantasy about defending their home turf from interlopers. Communists, after all, are much more credible movie cannon fodder than, say, zombies.

At least they should have been, prior to this movie's ideological side-stepping. One comes away from this redo with nothing except new respect for John Milius. At least he had the courage of his lunatic convictions. 'Ö1/2

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 7, 2013 C17

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