Monday, April 11, 2011

Wow -- Matthew McConaughey can act. Sort of.

Hey schlubfans. Sorry, I know I've been bad. What can I say? I was out of town for work. (I'll post the link when it's published.) And I've been hard at work on the new book. (And the Maxette* takes up my remaining time.)

But here I am.

Coming at you with two new movie reviews.

First up, Lincoln Lawyer, starring the slippery, can't-stand-his-annoying-Texas-accent and can't-act-for-shit Matthew McConaughey.

Well, Matt just put me in my place. Turns out he can act. (At least when the role is right.)

Which doesn't mean the movie is great. But it's a hell of a lot better than the same kind of fare you'd find at your cineplex. Lincoln Lawyer is a legal thriller, and McConaughey plays a savvy but extremely cynical (and, at first, extremely sleazy) hustler/lawyer who operates his practice out of the back of his Lincoln sedan.

It's a good office for him -- it keeps him moving. He ferries between courthouses, police stations and jails as he talks with judges, bailiffs, D.A.s and his clients, all of whom are decidedly crooked.

The first few scenes of McConaughey, as he engages in the nut-cutting of a small time lawyer in the big city -- trying to negotiate his clients out of prison sentences (or severe prison sentences) -- are a marvel. Big, burly, violent men ask McConaughey for his help, and with his glib, shit-eating grin and his East Texas twang, he obliges. Brusque, dissatisfied DAs try to bully him into a plea bargain, he turns them down -- with the smile again.

I think the reason McConaughey works so well in this role is because one sort of always viewed him as slightly sleazy and, well, slightly dumb. McConaughey displays little bits of intelligence and cunning in The Lincoln Lawyer, and it comes as a surprise. Who'd have thought there was a mind at work behind those blond locks and that chiseled exterior. Mick Haller (McConaughey) is, likewise, the type who gets a kick out of being underestimated. He gets a kick out of being a lot smarter than he is given credit for.

And he also gets a kick out of being a man unafraid to travel in sketchy circles.

In a way, The Lincoln Lawyer benefits from low expectations. The story Haller/McConaughey is caught up in is not a whole lot more complicated than one would see in a TV drama: There's a case Haller gets that reawakens the conscience long dormant in the cynic. But the simple plot is executed well. There are a few neat plot twists (as well as some things that don't make much sense) but the script itself is probably a solid B+.

Stunningly, it's McConaughey that kept my attention -- he lifts it up into A-/A territory. (That, and a really killer R&B soundtrack. It really is one of the better soundtracks I've heard in a while.)

But if The Lincoln Lawyer benefitted from lowered expectations, Source Code suffers from raised expectations. The New Yorker liked it. As did my pal Lou Lumenick.

But I found it a little dull.

Part of the reason is because the premise was spoiled by every review I've read. If you've not read any of the reviews, this might be an interesting experiment: Stop reading this blog post. Go see it, and decide for yourself. Because I think knowing the premise kind of killed it for me.

Now stop!

The premise is.... Jake Gyllenhaal plays a man who must go back in time to avert a catastrophic terrorist bombing. He has (through the movie's weird rules) only eight minutes to do this. He can keep going back, even after the bomb blows, but he can't alter the past while he's there. The best he can do is bring back information to prevent the next bombing.

But once you know the movie's rules, it's easy to get bored with every trip back in time. If it was a little more cleverly done (if, say, Christopher Nolan had been assigned a rewrite) it might have worked. But I was ready to leave early.

*I can't call the girlfriend a "schlubette" as I did with girlfriends past (hey, Matthew McConaughey reference!) because she is decidedly not schlubby. In fact, she's jarringly competent and put together. Lord only knows what she's doing with me, but I'm not about to question my good fortune.