The Baytown Outlaws
Style trumps substance in this ultraviolent revenge thriller that has energy to spare but ultimately succumbs to narrative cliches. It follows a trio of redneck trailer-park brothers who are hired by a desperate woman (Eva Longoria) to get revenge on the ex-husband (Billy Bob Thornton) who tried to murder her and kidnap their disabled son. The film is at its best during some creatively choreographed action sequences, including multiple shootouts and car chases. However, the dialogue is woefully stilted, and none of the characters has a shred of emotional appeal, something that appears lost on rookie director Barry Battles and a surprisingly good cast. (Rated R, 98 minutes).
A Haunted House
Marlon Wayans created and stars, without any help from his ubiquitous showbiz family, in this low-brow spoof of recent found-footage and demonic possession horror movies, such as the Paranormal Activity franchise and The Last Exorcism. He plays Malcolm, who moves into a posh suburban house with his girlfriend (Essence Atkins), only to find the house is haunted and she is possessed. So Malcolm hires a team of experts to save his house, and more importantly, his sex life. There are some scattered amusing moments, but the concept relies too heavily on crude gags that feel more desperate than inspired. The result is neither scary nor funny. (Rated R, 86 minutes).
This tender and heartfelt coming-of-age drama is more admirable for its effort than its execution. The story follows an 11-year-old boy (Michael Rainey Jr.) who lives with his grandmother and looks forward to spending a day with his uncle (Common), an ex-con whose dreams of going straight are derailed by connections from his past. The episode causes the precocious youngster to re-evaluate his priorities. The material is obviously personal for rookie director Sheldon Candis, who shows potential with a low-budget project that is ultimately more predictable than poignant. Besides expressive newcomer Rainey, the sharp cast includes Dennis Haysbert, Danny Glover and Charles S. Dutton. (Rated R, 95 minutes).
My Best Enemy
This muddled World War II drama lacks subtlety and coherence in telling the story of Victor (Moritz Bleibtreu), an affluent Jewish art dealer in Vienna whose best friend (Georg Friedrich) becomes a Nazi officer, which leads to the seizing of a priceless Michelangelo drawing by Hitler’s henchmen. That prompts an audacious plot for revenge involving art forgery and mistaken identity that endangers the lives of both men. While the film generates some mild suspense and the period re-creation is convincing enough, the twists eventually become more contrived and preposterous. It also mixes awkward moments that are both comic and tragic, never finding a consistent tone. (Not rated, 106 minutes).
Struck by Lightning
Teenage angst runs rampant in this coming-of-age comedy about a fledgling high school journalist (Chris Colfer) who hatches a smug plan to manipulate the social circles in the hallways, at the same time ensuring he will escape his dysfunctional family and get into his dream college. The high school satire in the script by Colfer (TV’s “Glee”) mostly feels formulaic instead of fresh. But what’s worse is that the main character is more off-putting than endearing, draining the emotional impact of the film’s transition into more heartfelt territory in the final act. The cast includes Allison Janney, Rebel Wilson and Christina Hendricks. (Not rated, 84 minutes).