The Rock vs. John Connor 

Succinct Reviews for the Discerning Cinephile

Gridiron Gang
dir. Joanou
Opens Fri Sept 15
Various Theaters

Gridiron Gang is based on a true story about a white counselor at a juvenile crime center who started a football team for his prisoners—most of whom were black or Hispanic—to teach them valuable lessons about discipline and teamwork. In the film version, said counselor is played by The Rock. I'm going to assume that's because if a white guy had played the role, the scene in which the counselor yells, "You like chicken, don't you? Pretend there's some chicken on the ground!" at a black boy who's too fat to do his up-downs (it's a football thing) would have been deemed racist.

In addition to being patently offensive, Gridiron is really fucking boring. Director Phil Joanou seems to have assumed that the audience knows this formula already (true), so he takes a lot of shortcuts—condensing, for example, the entire emotional register of the movie into a single tear squeezed out by The Rock.

But it's a message film, ultimately. Gridiron questions the popular media's representation of all black people as criminals and gang bangers. That's not true, the film insists. Rather, Gridiron Gang makes the radical suggestion that—given the right encouragement and putdowns—black people can also become really good athletes. ALISON HALLETT

Jimmy and Judy
dirs. Rubin, Schroder
Opens Fri Sept 15
Fox Tower

Every once in a while, the modernization of an old story goes incredibly right. (The only positive and relevant example I can think of, however, is 1996's Romeo + Juliet, wherein Baz Luhrmann gave the old Shakespeare tale a welcome makeover with guns and modern music.) Well, Jimmy and Judy is a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde—but it's one that behaves similarly and looks promising for a while, then devolves into a ridiculous, meth-fueled meltdown.

Edward Furlong plays Jimmy, a social misfit who documents his entire life on video. A pretty Rachael Bella is Judy, a high-school loser who gets picked on constantly. After Jimmy defends Judy's honor by fucking up a couple of school bullies, the two become inseparable. In its first half, the movie—shot on handheld—does an authentic job of documenting a young, psychotically in-love couple. During the second half, though, the kids seek refuge in a bizarre, David Koresh-style meth cult, and everything gets really weird and stupid—especially when the cult leader gives a long sermon on how poor meth heads are unfairly becoming the rejects of society. KATIE SHIMER

Conversations with Other Women
dir. Canosa
Opens Fri Sept 15

Fox Tower

There's nothing to it, really. Two unnamed first loves reunite unexpectedly and painfully at a wedding. The woman (Helena Bonham Carter) is now married. The man (Aaron Eckhart) is not. Both are lonely ("Everyone's lonely"). As circumstances dictate—alone, far from home, drunk on wedding toasts—they fall into old patterns, both conversational and physical. This is one of those movies built entirely on ponderous chit-chat, and the flirtatious, melancholy banter is a little hollow, a little precious, a little too glib to be believed. (Example: "My heart was broken," says Carter. "So you married a cardiologist," Eckhart replies.) The action unfolds in split-screen: an annoying, disorienting gimmick that I totally liked. An overly literal he said/she said, the two sides inform and enhance and contradict each other in an organic and charming way. Sometimes they're in sync. Usually they're not. Sometimes the differences are slight. Sometimes they're vast. Sometimes one side will lapse into shiny, refracted memories, while the other one dwells on the shittiness of right now. How very lonely. Lindy West

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