Bad Kids Go to Hell
This low-budget adaptation of a sardonic comic series is sort of like The Breakfast Club (to which it pays homage) with a supernatural twist. The concept involves six rebellious teenagers in Saturday detention at a posh private school who gradually suspect the library in which they are trapped might be haunted by ghosts. To further the Breakfast Club connection, Judd Nelson shows up in a supporting role as the school headmaster. It’s an edgy dark comedy with a few clever touches and some sharp barbs regarding over-privileged teens, but the film doesn’t do justice to its influences, becoming a jumbled mess that lacks both sympathetic characters and suspense. (Rated R, 91 minutes).
Eric Bana’s career plunge is showcased in this woefully contrived thriller from Austrian director Stefan Ruzowitzky (The Counterfeiters), in which he plays one half of a sibling robbery team trying to escape capture in the snowy Michigan winter following a botched casino heist. They eventually infiltrate the Thanksgiving celebration of a local ex-sheriff (Kris Kristofferson) and his family. The film does manage some unintentional humor through its assortment of oddball accents, quirky characters, romantic silliness and overwrought action sequences. The film aspires to be a taut and edgy noir thriller, but falls flat, squandering a cast that includes Olivia Wilde, Charlie Hunnam and Sissy Spacek. (Rated R, 94 minutes).
The Fitzgerald Family Christmas
The latest saga of dysfunctional families reuniting for the holidays comes from writer-director Edward Burns (She’s the One), who also stars as the oldest of seven siblings in a working-class Irish Catholic family in Queens who must sort through a host of personal issues, relationship problems and lingering grudges when they gather for a Christmas meal at the home of their neurotic mother (Anita Gillette). The ensemble cast is mostly agreeable, but the script eventually bogs down amid too many characters and too many contrivances. The concept isn’t exactly fresh, either, except that the film smartly and affectionately evokes its setting. (Rated R, 102 minutes).
Lay the Favorite
Smart moviegoers won’t bet on this true-life drama about professional gamblers from acclaimed director Stephen Frears (The Queen), which is set in Las Vegas and stars Rebecca Hall as a bubbly cocktail waitress with a knack for numbers who learns the hard way the perils of the sports gambling business. The film, which too often takes a campy tone, offers little insight into its subject or its setting and feels like it’s been chopped up in the editing room. Not only does Frears seem out of place, but the film wastes a talented ensemble cast that includes Bruce Willis, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Vince Vaughn. (Rated R, 94 minutes).
Audiences seeking a conventional narrative structure won’t find many rewards in this kaleidoscopic documentary that follows an impoverished but precocious pre-teen boy named William, along with his two older siblings and dog, through a mischievous night of adventures on the streets of New Orleans. The film ostensibly was filmed over the course of several months, which means some of the action was staged. But the impressionable youngsters are charming, and directors Bill and Turner Ross capture the sights and sounds of the New Orleans nightlife. Without offering much context or addressing obvious social issues, it’s an evocative tribute to its setting and to childhood innocence. (Not rated, 80 minutes).