'Redbelt' elusive, but compelling

Prolific writer and director David Mamet has never had what might be called a serious Hollywood hit, no matter that he is a playwright, essayist and Oscar nominated screenwriter. At least not a hit that he wrote and directed, and "Redbelt" is likely to follow that career trend. It's regrettable, for his films demonstrate that Mamet has a love affair with language. He has an ear for streetwise, edgy dialogue wherein sentences trail off, lines are repeated for emphasis, and there is an abrasive sense of verisimilitude to the scenes. His signature is creating a convoluted plot with double crosses and hard-case, gritty characters who initially appear unrelated, but who are eventually brought into an ever-expanding web.

"Redbelt" stars Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mike Terry, who runs a martial arts studio. Ejiofor gives a wonderful performance as a man who is incorruptible and who follows, quietly, the way of the Samurai. Though schooled in the ways of jujitsu, he is unprepared for the duplicitous ways of Hollywood types who appear sincere, yet casually use people and then dispose of them. No matter the wreckage. Nothing Terry has learned can prepare him for a world that glitters yet is dark.

Like so much of Mamet's work, "Redbelt," can seem opaque and its meaning elusive. Yet for filmgoers who appreciate a narrative that is set in the mean streets of West Los Angeles, which has as its context the world of professional martial arts contests but is not, even remotely, a kung fu-type film, then don't let this one slip away. Mamet's work is, in its own way, always compelling, if only for its complete divergence from the standard Hollywood fare.

What Happens in Vegas

"What Happens in Vegas" is drivel disguised as a romantic comedy. So inane, so absolutely devoid of anything approaching intelligence that it should call into question the judgment of all those who came into contact with the production.

And it's not because the film lacks talent. Cameron Diaz is a gifted comedic actor, and Ashton Kutcher can be charming and interesting as a foil. The supporting cast are all veterans, such as Treat Williams and Dennis Farina. But you can't create a silk purse out of a sow's ear, so to speak. This is a McMovie, meant to be consumed quickly.

What happened in Vegas (which is only briefly the setting) between these two essentially unappealing characters should have stayed in Vegas, meaning the film would then have been thankfully brief. Even the trailer was more appealing. If you are curious and decide to check it out, bring something to read.

Made of Honor

"Made of Honor," as a romantic comedy, is, well, passable. Sure the plot is familiar: Tom (Patrick Dempsey), young, attractive, a rich New Yorker, and lovely Hannah (Michelle Monaghan) have been best friends since college when, late one night, he jumped into her bed by mistake. Though they have led separate lives, they always find time each week to hang out, sharing a meal, taking a walk along a New York boulevard, and invariably turn to each other in crisis.

When it comes to relationships with women other than Hannah, Tom is serially shallow, making little emotional contact with any of the women he beds. His purpose is conquest, nothing more. Hannah restores art and is unattached. Of course the film foreshadows what will happen in act three, unabashedly dropping not so subtle clues in act one. Tom begins to sense that Hannah is, well, something more than a hangout best friend. But he discards the idea as does Hannah, each puzzled as to what they are feeling while dancing at the wedding of Tom's father (Sydney Pollack).

But no matter, she heads off to Scotland on a six week art restoration assignment and he feels suddenly lost without her. She is, however, returning and Tom decides to share his new found insight at the first opportunity: he missed Hannah and wants to begin a serious, let's take it to the next level relationship. The problem is, she comes home from Scotland with a fiance' and a plan for an imminent wedding, in Scotland. She insists that Tom be her maid of honor, help plan the wedding, and spend days discussing details. All of which rocks Tom's world. Absence has made the heart grow fonder. Well, you can fill in the rest. The film turns into "My Best Friend's Wedding," wherein Julia Roberts does all she can to undermine the ceremony of her best hangout buddy, played by Dermot Mulroney. Tom goes to Scotland and rather than tell Hannah the truth (which would have shortened the film by some 25 minutes), decides to obstruct the nuptials if he can. And so on. Not great, silly to be sure, but at least mildly entertaining in a kind of non-entertaining way.

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