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Will Mel Gibson ‘Edge’ Kristen Bell?

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BY SEAN O’CONNELL

Edge of Darkness (**1/2 out of 4)
Mel Gibson didn’t forget how to play a bloodthirsty, vengeful bad ass during his self-imposed, seven-year acting hiatus. That inner pool of feral rage and icy intensity Gibson routinely dips into has more than enough liquid left for one last dunk, even if it’s in service of a role Gibson has explored countless times before.

He plays Thomas Craven, a Boston (more accurately, “Bah-stahn”) police detective who stands hopelessly by as his only daughter, Emma (Bojana Novakovic), is gunned down on the family’s front porch. Craven assumes he was the intended target until he starts investigating Emma’s employer – a shadowy weapons manufacturer protected by an unnervingly overprotective head honcho (Danny Huston, excellent though typecast).

There’s no denying Gibson has aged. Alcoholism, smoking (he recently quit after four decades of puffing) and his highly publicized meltdown – and subsequent fallout – have placed noticeable tread on his instantly recognizable features. You can play a rousing game of “Spot the Stunt Double” during most of the fight sequences in “Darkness,” of which there are several. Warner clearly wants to tap into some of the unexpected box office “Taken” took in last year, which hit theaters around the same time and also featured an older Hollywood icon (Liam Neeson) relentlessly tracking the scumbags who wronged his daughter.

But “Darkness” isn’t as streamlined as “Taken,” and it suffers from its attempts at misdirection. The great Ray Winstone, who rescues select scenes by playing a cool government spook who might be on Gibson’s side, sums it up best. He’s explaining why police investigations like these are never solved; there’s “too much artwork.” Our eyes are diverted to this color, this design flourish, this intended meaning … but we’re distracted from the ultimate point. “Darkness” entertains at a basic level. Gibson does “wounded” better than his action-thriller contemporaries, and we stick with the plot twists in hopes of a meaty payoff. But when all is said and done, the screenplay – an adaptation of a British mini-series – ends up being more convoluted than was necessary.

When In Rome (** out of 4)
Only about 10 minutes of Mark Steven Johnson’s “When In Rome” actually takes place in Rome. That’s long enough for harried career gal Beth (Kristen Bell) to climb into a magic Italian fountain, rescue a few coins from the “despair” of true love, and return to Manhattan with a bevy of unlikely suitors on her tail.

All of “Rome” is harried, however, from the overall pace to the rabid-fire attempts at humor. Johnson – who helmed superhero actioners prior to this – doesn’t want to slow down long enough for “Rome” to settle in, so some very funny people (including Will Arnett, Dax Shepard, Danny DeVito and Bobby Moynihan) must perform comedy on the fly. It rarely gets off the ground. Bell, while adorable, is also a gifted physical comedian, and she forms a nice pair with love interest Josh Duhamel. Maybe a sequel can follow them on their honeymoon, where the couple – and the comedy – can learn to relax.

Crazy Heart (*** out of 4)
Once upon a time, “Bad” Blake occupied the top of the country music charts. Lately, his life has become a long, sad, country-western song pockmarked by drink, drugs, poverty, some celebrity, but mostly the glistening remnants of a fading star.

Now that I’ve seen Jeff Bridges’ portrayal of Blake in Scott Cooper’s debut film, I can’t imagine another actor occupying the role. Oh, I’m sure plenty of talented men could pull off the part. I’m just not sure I’d want to see anyone else but Bridges give it a whirl.

Blake’s glory days are behind him. He makes a decent living touring dive bars and bowling joints throughout the Southwest. (The sight of Bridges in a bowling alley instant5ly warms the hearts of “The Big Lebowski” fans.) His manager is begging him to reunite with Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell), the upstart protégé who long ago surpassed Blake in ticket and album sales. But the tired performer prefers the road … and the company of a pretty young journalist (Maggie Gyllenhaal).

Cooper’s human drama proves that what goes up must come down. For every star on the rise, there’s a similar celebrity in free fall. What stays steady throughout, however, is the strength of the performances. A natural musical talent, Bridges could have earned a decent living on the country music circuit with his raspy singing voice. He embodies the body and soul of “Bad” Blake to the point that the character becomes a second skin. Bridges inspires his cast mates, and everyone – from Farrell to Robert Duvall in a small supporting role – is commendable. But Bridges’ memorable turn truly is the majestic solo that stands out in Cooper’s sturdy musical number.

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2 Comments

  • January 28, 2010 | Permalink |

    It’s a bummer that after 8 years Mel Gibson is returning to a film that looked great, but hasn’t gotten the reviews he’s needed

  • January 28, 2010 | Permalink |

    It doesn’t matter if all the critics hate “When In Rome,” I’m still going to see it..it looks cute

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