There aren’t many laughs for audiences of any age in this thin comedy centered on a high school tennis star (Chris Sheffield) who makes his parents (Larry Miller and Janeane Garofalo) proud by earning a college scholarship. The problem? It turns out he failed a class in his final semester, and must complete a summer-school course without anyone finding out. The film feels like a strained collection of outtakes from other comedies about teenage nerds and dysfunctional families, emphasizing broad quirks and predictable gags at the expense of genuine emotion. That doesn’t stop rookie director Tom Morris from flailing away with some clumsy attempts at poignancy. (Rated PG-13, 85 minutes).
Clichés abound in this gritty low-budget drama from Venezuela about two siblings — Daniel (Fernando Moreno), who has aspirations to escape life in their inner-city slum and play professional soccer, and Julio (Eliu Armas), who is relegated to life of crime in order to pay the bills. They each receive an opportunity to try out for one of the country’s most prestigious teams, but tragedy strikes and causes one of them to reconsider his priorities. The script by rookie director Marcel Rasquin is heartfelt and includes some sharp soccer action sequences, but the story feels driven more by coincidence than authenticity, leading to an eye-rolling climax. (Not rated, 97 minutes).
Little White Lies
A terrific cast can’t elevate a muddled script in this bittersweet French drama about a group of friends preparing to gather for their annual countryside vacation, when one of them (Oscar-winner Jean Dujardin) is involved in a serious accident that changes not only the atmosphere around the trip, but the dynamic of the rest of the group. Compelling characters and performances bolster a formulaic screenplay by director Guillaume Canet (Tell No One). Yet while the film has some scattered moments that are alternately funny and poignant, it too often turns overwrought and sentimental. The cast includes Marion Cotillard, Francois Cluzet and Benoit Magimel. (Not rated, 154 minutes).
Robot and Frank
Frank Langella gives a terrific performance as the second of the two title characters in this modest but heartfelt science-fiction comedy that tackles everything from aging and caregiving to technology and the decline of public libraries. Langella plays an irascible former jewel thief whose son (James Marsden) gets him a robot companion (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard) as an alternative to placing him in a home because of his memory loss. At first dismissive, Frank sees the machine as the ideal partner in pulling off one final heist. The uneven film manages some laughs while avoiding cheap sentimentality. The cast includes Liv Tyler and Susan Sarandon. (Rated PG-13, 89 minutes).
Basketball aficionados, and more specifically, pint-sized fans of NBA superstar Kevin Durant, are the only viewers who might appreciate this wholesome and innocuous comedy about a nerdy teenager (Taylor Gray) who magically switches places with his hero, including the swapping of the Oklahoma City Thunder forward’s skills on the hardwood. Durant, playing himself, doesn’t demonstrate much acting range, but that’s not really the point. The film is more about worthwhile lessons of achieving goals through hard work and such. However, it might be more effective with a hint of subtlety and a premise that isn’t so flimsy and formulaic. The result is sporadically amusing at best. (Rated PG, 93 minutes).