Full exposure

"This is 40" is a sociological-psychological dig into a trendy, shimmering suburb of Los Angeles where an accumulation of emotional potsherds is discovered, each carefully unearthed and examined, though none forming any kind of coherent narrative.

The film is, instead, a series of set pieces comprising a week in the life of a married couple, Debbie (Leslie Mann) and Pete (Paul Rudd), each flirting with having a mid-life crisis. Both are about to turn 40.

Despite the fact that they are cash poor, they live an affluent life. They have two daughters, tween Sadie (Maude Apatow) and younger sis Charlotte (Iris Apatow). Their lives are filled with stuff — fine cars, fine house, lots of electronics for everyone, a pool in the backyard. All the flotsam and jetsam that can only be acquired by dedicated consuming. But despite living insular lives, their needs met by any First-World standards, Pete and Debbie are buffeted by personal angst and a growing distance between them, a canyon they can't seem to overcome, no matter what they try (a weekend getaway to a local resort, therapy and a huge birthday party to celebrate). They have a bevy of personal secrets: Debbie is a closet smoker and Pete binges on cupcakes.

Apatow is a master of creating characters suffering from arrested development. Pete and Debbie can seem like two high school kids going steady and wondering if they should go to the prom together.

There are moments that are comedic, but comedic in an OMG, did the writer really decide to cross that line? Did Debbie or Pete really say that? Do we need to know this? Call it TMI (too much information) writing.

In one scene that is blatantly intimate and laugh-out-loud gross, Debbie walks in on Pete, his bare tush in the air, his legs spread, trying to take a photograph of his anus with his iPhone. He insists Debbie check out the source of his discomfort. After all, he watched her give birth to the girls. She refuses and then gives in, feeling guilty, and declares it's a hemorrhoid and walks away. Funny? Sure. Original and smartly comedic? Not so much.

There is also a sense that "This is 40" is manifestly autobiographical. Director Apatow is married to Leslie Mann, and his two daughters portray Charlotte and Sadie. In fact, the film fits into a disconcerting trend of making full disclosure regarding our lives, hence the movie is a type of YouTube, TrueTV reality tale — crossing all boundaries and wrapped in the thin veil of movie fiction.

This willingness to tell all, to expose oneself as the camera rolls, is too often more disconcerting and repellent than entertaining. Watching peoples' personal train wrecks requires a certain prurient, voyeuristic interest that can be compelling and yet downright embarrassing, which defines Apatow's "This is 40."

Lee Child is the author and creator of the serial character Jack Reacher: ex-army MP, the quintessential, mythological Western character, a solitary man with no attachments, a drifter living so far off the grid that he is all but invisible. Recall the classic Western heroes of John Ford and Clint Eastwood: men apart, taciturn and extraordinarily capable when it comes to a shootout or a saloon brawl.

This is the Lee Child template. Height and weight aside (Tom Cruise is not within spitting distance of 6 feet, and Child's Reacher is 6 feet 5 inches tall and built like a side of beef), Tom Cruise is now firmly ensconced in the "Jack Reacher" franchise.

So the question begged is how this first action film measures up? Clearly, Reacher fans should not be disappointed. Stature aside, Cruise does a fine job of capturing Reacher's persona. The man is a gifted investigator, quietly lethal, brilliant at deductive reasoning, and does a fine job of sorting out a bevy of clues, each pointing in a far different direction from that crafted by the police.

Caveat: In the opening setup, a sniper kills five innocents strolling on a park walkway, reminiscent of the recent, brutal events in Newtown, Conn. Hence the damage done by arbitrary gun violence is embedded in the film.

As far as the movie itself is concerned, the writing is snappy and the chase scenes are nicely choreographed, making "Jack Reacher" a solid B-movie with A-list actors, to include Werner Herzog, Rosamund Pike and the incomparable Richard Jenkins.

Share This Story