In 1988, George Clooney memorably starred in Return of the Killer Tomatoes.
In that same decade, the Coen brothers began scripting Suburbicon and offered it to Clooney, who’s reworked the screenplay with fellow producer Grant Heslov. Clooney also directs, delivering a full-fat turkey for Christmas in the process.
In the eponymous and sanitised all-American Saturday Evening Post-style community, vividly realised, one strand of the ill-melded dual storyline follows the two-faced Gardner (Matt Damon) whose wife Rose (Julianne Moore) is killed by home invaders.
Her sister Margaret (also Moore) moves in to help care for Gardner’s son and things become sinister when she dyes her hair, starts mirroring her late twin sister and sleeps with the widower.
The plot become more feebly Hitchcockian, Moore’s motives are dubious and the thriller storyline starts to sag.
In a parallel narrative, a black family moves into Suburbicon, the spark for increasing racial tension, and it’s a theme that, despite the potential for social commentary, never convincingly blends with the criminal elements of the film.
Creditably, Damon abandons self-preening and convinces as a flawed character, while Moore meets the demands of her increasingly predictable characterisation.
But the most memorable performance comes from British-born Noah Jupe, moving and credible as Damon’s pre-teen son who, against all traditions, makes friends with the young son of the black family that moves in next door. Oscar Isaac is notable too as the sneaky insurance investigator who, smelling a rat, gets far too little screen time.
Nice try, George. But definitely no cigar.
The Star (U) Directed by Timothy Reckart 3/5
IT’S “Nine Months BC” and small but plucky donkey Bo (voiced by Steven Yeun) has had enough of the misery of dragging the Nazareth village flour mill and makes his escape, hoping to find happiness by joining the fabled royal caravan.
But Bo, always ready to make an ass of himself to raise laughs and accompanied by loveable Sheep Ruth (voiced by Aidy Bryant) and wisecracking Dove Dave (voiced by Keegan-Michael Key), injures his leg while making his break for freedom.
Fortunately for Bo, the pregnant Virgin Mary (voiced by Gina Rodriguez) tends to his injury and he becomes her pet. Lit by the eponymous star, the donkey accompanies the soon-to-be parents on the journey to Bethlehem
Assisted by animals galore, including three corny camels carrying the three Wise Men, Bo helps save the saviour and his family from murderous dogs sent by King Herod (voiced by Christopher Plummer) to kill the baby Jesus. Finally, he joins him in that celebrated stable.
How adult audiences will take director Timothy Reckart and screenwriter Carlos Kotkin’s animal-driven computer-animated take on the first Christmas might very well depend on their religious beliefs.
That said, the storyline sticks largely to the Biblical narrative and so could hardly be accused of being irreligious, although someone mistaking “King of the Jews” for “King of the shoes” could possibly upset the deeply devout.
But, by attractively animating the familiar Christmas story and deploying zany animal antics to drive the narrative, The Star should shine brightly enough for youngsters seeking seasonal fun.
Daddy’s Home 2 (12A) Directed by Sean Anders 3/5
MARK WAHLBERG and Will Ferrell return as co-dads in a fun-by-numbers sequel which might be a little on the brain-dead side but which succeeds in capturing the festive spirit.
It’s not in the same league as Ferrell’s Christmas classic Elf but, if you leave your cynicism at the door and go with it wholeheartedly, it’s a surprisingly entertaining comedy co-written and directed again by Sean Anders.
Having finally got used to each other’s presence Brad (Ferrell) and Dusty (Wahlberg), have to deal with their respective fathers who descend on them during the festive season.
John Lithgow and Mel Gibson as their dads make a welcome addition and slot in effortlessly to the high-jinks and family tensions.
Dusty discovers where Brad gets his never-ending optimism from as he meets his uber-happy and chatty father Don (Lithgow). Brad sees where Dusty gets his bad-ass looks and attitude from as he is introduced to his estranged father Kurt (Gibson).
As Kurt takes them all away to a picturesque luxury cabin set in a snow-filled landscape, bedlam ensues. Ferrell’s enthusiasm and full-on commitment to the ever-increasing ludicrous slapstick comedy and visual gags keep you invested in watching.
But a hunting scene in which Brad’s young stepdaughter (Scarlett Estevez) picks up a shotgun after being told game-hunting is a man’s sport and starts shooting at wildlife seems a little ill-judged.
Silly but fun — don’t bother staying to the very end of the final credits, though, as the extra scene isn’t worth the wait. MD
Lost In Paris (12A) Directed by Fiona Gordon and Dominique Abel 3/5
THIS deliciously dark yet whimsically surreal comedy from Fiona Gordon and Dominique Abel is a little gem.
The film-makers star as small-town Canadian librarian Fiona (Gordon) and charismatic tramp Dom (Abel), with the former travelling to Paris after receiving a letter from her elderly aunt Martha (the late Emmanuelle Riva) asking for her help.
Yet once she arrives in the French capital all manner of catastrophes ensue as she embarks on a search for her aunt who has mysteriously disappeared.
Divided into chapters, it’s a bizarre but visually arresting film, theatrical in its look and tone. And it’s peppered with slapstick comedy, some of which is reminiscent of Buster Keaton.
Gordon and Abel are a captivating double act while Riva gives a delightful performance as the myopic and borderline senile aunt Martha.
Quirky and unique, this is definitely worth seeing. MD