Elysium Sci-Fi. Starring Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga, Diego Luna, Wagner Moura. Directed by Neill Blomkamp. Cert 15a
South African director Neill Blomkamp's 2009 debut District 9 was a marvellous allegorical sci-fi actioner, in which issues of race and prejudice were cleverly threaded through a breathtaking, dizzyingly paced film. This time out, Blomkamp has a much bigger budget, some A-list stars on hand and retains some of his earlier film's themes, largely to great effect.
Set in 2154, the film takes its title from a floating space station where the planet's wealthy have fled to avoid the polluted, over-populated planet where teeming masses live in squalor. One of the many benefits of living on Elysium is access to machines which can cure any ailment, thus making the film arguably the first blockbuster whose central theme is the inequality of the healthcare system – Dr James Reilly should settle in with a big box of popcorn for this one.
Anyway, Matt Damon plays Max Da Costa, an ex-con with a bit of a mouth on him, who works in a factory, whose safety standards make Homer Simpson seem like a beacon of efficiency.
Following an industrial accident Max is left with five days to live, prompting him to return to his old gang boss, who offers him a pass to the VHI in the sky if he takes part in a 'routine' robbery of a high-ranking industrialist.
Now, if you've ever seen a movie in your life you'll know that nothing could possibly go wrong with a 'routine' robbery and, indeed, that proves to be the case here, with Max in over his head in a conspiracy involving Elysium's Secretary of Defence (Jodie Foster, sporting one of the weirdest accents I've heard in an age) and the subject of the attentions of a vicious bounty hunter (Sharlto Copley, the star of District 9 and sporting a South African accent which could disable a droid at 20 paces).
Blomkamp sets everything up brilliantly, the contrast between the genteel, country club atmosphere on Elysium and the fetid hellhole down below being helped by some stunning production design.
Damon more than lives up to his top billing, bringing a real depth and underlying regret to the character of Max, even as he goes about several none-too-sympathetic tasks.
What does let the film down somewhat is Blomkamp falling into the summer blockbuster trap of having Damon and Copley don mechanical suits for the final smackdown, a sub-Iron Man device which the film didn't need as its ideas and performances had already marked it out as a sci-fi thriller to be reckoned with. HHHHI
WE'RE THE MILLERS Comedy. Starring Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston, Emma Roberts, Will Poulter, Ed Helms, Nick Offerman, Kathryn Hahn, Molly Quinn. Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber. Cert 16
Mainstream American comedy is in such a rotten state at the moment, all fratboy in-jokes with the same crew of actors in interchangeable roles, that when a film comes along which is genuinely funny in parts one can be tempted into overpraising it. We're the Millers is such a film.
Jason Sudeikis plays Dave, a low-level drug dealer who's robbed of his stash and cash and forced by his supplier (Ed Helms in a nice cameo role) to travel to Mexico to pick up a 'smidgin and a half' of weed from a ruthless gang boss.
To facilitate getting back across the border without attracting attention he recruits his neighbour Rose (Jennifer Aniston), who works as a stripper, a lippy runaway (Emma Roberts) and another neighbour Kenny (Will Poulter) to pose as his family. Naturally, things don't pan out as easily as Dave thought, but amid the loosely plotted mayhem there's some lovely comic interplay as the characters morph into their assigned familial roles.
Aniston has great comedy chops (didn't she used to be in some popular sitcom or other?) and works really well here, despite a totally gratuitous striptease scene which almost scuppers the movie, but the real star of the show is young English actor Will Poulter.
Several years on from his debut in Son of Rambow he steals every scene here without even seeming to do all that much and his name doesn't even appear on the poster. Shame!
We're the Millers does skirt with sexual innuendo and vulgarity at times (par for the course these days), but the cast more than make up for the slackness of the plot and there are several moments which are genuinely hilarious. Wow, a mainstream Hollywood comedy with laughs. Whatever will they think of next? HHHII
THE KINGS OF SUMMER Drama/Comedy. Starring Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, Moises Arias, Nick Offerman, Alison Brie, Erin Moriarty, Megan Mullally, Marc Evan Jackson. Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts. Cert 15A
Anyone who's ever threatened to run away from home and live an idyllic life with their best mates off in the woods will melt with recognition at this utterly charming movie.
Joe (Nick Robinson) and Patrick (Gabriel Basso) are 15, living in a nicely ordered small town and having problems with their respective parents. One day Joe hits upon the idea of building a house in a forest where they'll live, along with the unsettlingly weird Biaggio (Moises Arias), hunting and fishing to supply their needs and without any pesky parents on their case.
It's utterly impractical, of course, but it works because Chris Galletta's script plays on the unlikeliness of the enterprise, allowing us to suspend disbelief and relish an examination and celebration of friendship and teenage confusion.
The acting from the leads is superb, while Nick Offerman has a strong supporting role as Joe's widowed father and Megan Mullally is great as Patrick's ditsy mother. Add a great soundtrack – the opening titles feature Thin Lizzy's Cowboy Song, come on! – and you have a movie which may have its occasional quirks but is impossible to dislike. HHHHI
THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS: CITY OF BONES Fantasy. Starring Lily Collins, Jamie Campbell Bower, Kevin Zegers, Jemima West, Robert Sheehan, Lena Headey, Jonathan Rhys Meyers. Directed by Harald Zwart. Cert 12A
The search for the next Harry Potter/Twilight franchise continues with this unbelievably bad tween fantasy, which lifts large elements of both and lobs them together in slapdash fashion. Lily Collins is a decent actress, but she can't carry this nonsense about being a 'chosen one' (aha, we're in bad Buffy territory) in a New York netherworld where demons, vampires and werewolves appear at regular intervals to expound just where this interminable story is going. HHIII
ALSO RELEASED THIS WEEK
Amanda Seyfried is less insipid than usual in Lovelace (Cert 18, HHHII) an account of how young Linda Boreman fell under the spell of sleazeball Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard), was coerced into making the porn movie Deep Throat (the most profitable film of all time) and achieved notoriety as Linda Lovelace, despite spending only 17 days in the adult entertainment industry. It's a sad, sordid and cautionary tale which would probably have been better suited to a long-form TV series but is still worth a look.