herald

Monday 11 December 2017

no plea bargain ... this turkey is guilty of murdering the plot

THE JUDGE Drama. Starring Robert Downey Jr, Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga, Vindent D'Onofrio, Leighton Meester, Billy Bob Thornton, Jeremy Strong. Directed by David Dobkin. Cert 15A

Having become the best-paid star on the planet through his role as Tony Stark/Iron Man and racking up a sizeable chunk of change via the Sherlock Holmes franchise it's somewhat refreshing to see Robert Downey Jr back in civvies to remind us all just how good an actor he can be. His last starring role in normal clobber was back in 2009 with the overly mawkish The Soloist and The Judge does share certain sentimental traits with that particular outing.

Hank Palmer (Downey Jr) is a hotshot Chicago lawyer, quick with his wit and tongue and undergoing a messy divorce when he receives a message that his mother has died and so returns to the small town in Indiana where he grew up.

It quickly becomes apparent that he hasn't spoken to his father, Judge Joe Palmer (Robert Duvall), for a couple of decades and while relations with his older brother Glen (Vincent D'Onofrio) and his slow-witted younger sibling Dale (Jeremy Strong) are more cordial, Hank doesn't relish a moment of being reminded where he came from.

After the funeral hank meets his high school flame Sam (Vera Farmiga) and makes out with fiesty barmaid Carla (Leighton Meester) while Joe goes for a drive.

The next morning as Hank is waiting to return to Chicago it's revealed that Joe was involved in a hit-and-run, leaving a man he'd had dealings with in the past dead by the side of the road. So, before you can say 'John Grisham' Hank is delving into the details of the case and defending his father on a murder charge.

Actually, after a while you begin to wish that John Grisham had written this, as by the halfway mark we realise that The Judge isn't really a courtroom drama but more to do with reminding the audience of the importance of roots and family.

Not that there aren't aspects of the film to admire. The scenes between Downey Jr and Duvall are as good as you'd expect, with two great actors sparking off each other in fine style, while Billy Bob Thornton is effective but underused as Hank's sleek courtroom rival.

Vera Farmiga does her best in a woefully underwritten part, the same going for Vincent D'Onofrio, with director and co-writer David Dobkin lacking any sense of urgency to drive the story along.

A Robert Downey Jr vehicle which doesn't involve genius industrialists or Victorian detectives would certainly be welcome but, alas, The Judge fails to convince and drifts into sentimental schlock in the final third.

HHIII

PALO ALTO

Drama. Starring James Franco, Emma Roberts, Jack Kilmer, Nat Wolff, Zoe Levin, Val Kilmer, Chris Messina, Talia Shire. Directed by Gia Coppola. Cert 16

If you think Dail Eireann is a right nest of nepotism then it's only in the ha'penny place compared to Hollywood. Directed by Gia Coppola (grand-daughter of Francis, niece of Sofia and Roman, cousin of Nicolas Cage and Jason Schwartzman) and starring Emma Roberts (niece of Julia) and Jack Kilmer (son of Val, who has a small cameo role), this ensemble piece makes you wonder would it ever have gotten off the ground were it to be pitched by an unconnected newcomer.

Based on a collection of short stories by James Franco, Palo Alto shares certain traits with Sofia Coppola's The Bling Ring in that it looks at the lives of white upper middle class teenagers as they drift from party to party, occasionally attending college, constantly smoking dope and drinking, all the while moping about the place and discussing like, y'know, deep and meaningful stuff.

God, you'll feel like giving most of the cast a good slap after 20 minutes or so of this.

April (Emma Roberts) and Teddy (Jack Kilmer) aren't the worst of them, in fairness. She's fallen under the spell of her sleazy soccer coach Mr B (Franco) while he's stuck with a sociopathic screw-up of a friend in Fred (Nat Wolff), an obnoxious idiot who'd be sorted out in minutes if everyone wasn't too stoned or wimpish to tell him to tone it down.

April and Teddy are clearly attracted to each other but the script somehow manages to keep them apart as we meander from one self-conscious, self-obsessed scene to the next.

Gia Coppola also wrote the screenplay and while there is a nice, music video sheen in some scenes, one can't help but get the feeling that she overstretched herself in adapting the source material with the result that Palo Alto is as fuzzy, scattered and aimless as its protagonists' lives.

HHIII

NORTHERN SOUL

Drama. Starring Elliot James Langridge, Josh Whitehouse, Antonia Thomas, Christian Mackay, Steve Coogan, Ricky Tomlinson, Lisa Stansfield. Directed by Elaine Constantine. Cert 16)

You certainly can't fault Elaine Constantine for her attention to period detail in this drama set in the Northern Soul scene of the early '70s.

The colour schemes, clothes, hair and feel of the times are spot-on, but it's a pity that the same care wasn't given to the story and script.

The set-up is that of a frustrated outsider, John (newcomer Elliot James Langridge), who finds a purpose in life and a new best friend in Matt (Josh Whitehouse, another debutant), who introduces him to the delights of the Northern Soul scene, where obscure American soul tracks are the soundtrack and all-night dancing, fuelled by amphetamines, the rasion d'etre of their existence.

The pair have ambitions to start up their own club night, but while John is fastidious and clear in his ambitions Matt is a hair-trigger character, given to berating dancers on the mic if they don't respond to the music he's playing.

You can spot the rift coming a mile off, particularly when John falls for nurse Angela (Antonia Thomas) but while the film takes some odd twists and turns, not least in looking at the drugs aspect of the scene, you're never really in any doubt about where it's going.

That said, the music is fantastic (well, it'd have to be) and just about manages to cover up the film's many flaws.

HHHII

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES

Fantasy. Starring Megan Fox, William Fichtner, Will Arnett, Whoopi Goldberg. Directed by Jonathan Liebesman. Cert 12A

The dead hand of producer Michael Bay is all over this deeply cynical exercise in merchandising - an exercise in product-placement so blatant it makes the last Transformer outing seem subtle by comparison.

The 1990 take on the characters created by Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman was enjoyable enough, its goofy charm getting over the essential ludicrousness of the concept of crime-fighting adolescent turtles beneath the streets of New York, but anyone expecting subtlety or charm in a Michael Bay production should most definitely head elsewhere.

Bombastic, humourless and ear-bleedingly LOUD, the story, such as it is, sees reporter April O'Neill (Megan Fox, now there's a surprise) film a crime by the evil Foot Clan foiled by the titular heroes, who tell her their story but swear her to secrecy in order to foil a dastardly plot against the city.

The CGI turtles actually look scary rather than cute, another example of how this version has sapped all the joy and mischief from the original idea which wasn't half bad. Avoid at all costs.

HIIII

ALSO SHOWING THIS WEEK

Showrunners : The Art of Running a TV Show 12A

A documentary from Irishman Des Doyle which looks at how one or two people have overall control of a show, a concept which has grown in recent years.

Probably more suited to TV than a cinema release, Doyle has nonetheless managed to bag several big names, including JJ Abrams, Joss Whedon, Damon Lindelof and Shawn Ryan, to talk about their work.

HHIII

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