Johnny Knoxville and his band of merry men are back for a third round of pranks, stunts and admittedly bad ideas, compiled for our entertainment and directed with intestinal fortitude by Jeff Tremaine. Frankly, I was hoping for more from the added third dimension, but most of this film still looks like it was shot on camcorders. (Do look out for that flying dildo, though.) It's everything you'd want in a Jackass movie: pee, poop, puke and sweat; little people and a hugely fat guy; repeated genital trauma; guys approaching middle-age wearing only thongs; and mind-boggling injuries. Also: Beavis, Butthead, Will Oldham, a donkey, an attack dog, a horned ram, a buffalo herd, two scorpions and 10,000 angry bees.
It's all wrong wrong wrong, but sometimes you need uncomplicated laughs. I find the stunts more entertaining than the pranks, which seem almost passé in our reality-is-fake-footage times. But man vs. jet exhaust, or pinning a tail on a live donkey: Where else can you see this stuff? I also dig the surreal, why-not nature of some throwaway bits: Who thinks of filling a closet with beach balls and "surfing" out of it? Good for laughs are the off-the-cuff remarks of the gang. It's one thing to see a flatulence master play a trumpet with his asshole. But when an adjacent Jackasser quips, "Bringing jazz back to the working man," that's a low-culture high point. The rating is for Jackass fans only; all others should stay away. (Al Hoff) [2 out of 4 stars]
The misadventures of Jacques Mesrine continue in Part 2 of Jean-Francois Richet's bio-pic. Booted from Canada, Mesrine (Vincent Cassal) returns to France in the early 1970s. A bungled robbery lands him in handcuffs, but he makes a dramatic escape. Another arrest, then voila! -- another escape, this time from a maximum-security prison. The cops dub him "public enemy No. 1" and the charismatic Mesrine basks in the attention. He essentially spends the rest of the decade committing crimes and escaping from the law (both while employing a variety of amusing disguises). He gets a new accomplice (Mathieu Amalric), and a pretty young girlfriend (Ludivine Sagnier).
Part 2 is brisker and lighter than Part 1, with Richet presenting Mesrine's well-publicized life of crime as entertainment in and of itself. There is less brutal violence in Part 2, and Richet suggests that Mesrine's worst crime may be his own ego. Mesrine mulls over contemporary revolutionary gangs (such as Bader-Meinhof and the Red Brigade) who usurp his headlines, and his ponderings finally give us some insight into his chosen career path. Even if these revelations aren't particularly unique, it beats the automaton cipher of Part 1.
The end, when it comes (a shorter version of the sequence opens Part 1), is a nice bit of filmmaking that tips its hat to carefully edited crime films that create tension and suspense from simply ordinary behavior stretched out as we fret. In French, with subtitles. Starts Fri., Oct. 22. (Screens in a double-feature with Part 1, Fri., Oct. 29, and Sat., Oct. 30.) Regent Square (Al Hoff) [3 out of 4 stars]
Jean-Francois Richet's award-winning docudrama, which screens in two halves, tracks the career of France's real-life bad boy Jacques Mesrine. Part 1: Killer Instinct follows Mesrine (Vincent Cassell) from his time as a young soldier in Algeria through his initiation into robbery and assorted thuggery in 1960s Paris. (There he is mentored by a porcine Gerard Depardieu.) Tangentially, there are women, a wife and family, a divorce and an escape: The charismatic Mesrine dodges French law by relocating to Montreal with a new girlfriend, where he adds kidnapping, murder and a spectacular jailbreak to his rap sheet.
The film won several César awards (France's Oscars) in 2009, and it may be that the French, who love American gangster films, were just happy to have one of their own. My take was that I have seen this film -- and this story -- many times before, except in English. The ferrety Cassell has an actor's dream job -- portraying not just an evolving character over a lifetime, but one who also employs various fronts and disguises -- and he's good. Unfortunately, the narrative moves breathlessly forward -- lots of action and not much reflection as Mesrine does one crime, then another. The film is often choppy, but then Richet will settle in for some solidly executed thrills, such as the Quebec jail scenes.
It's a bit tricky to call the film, as this is a two-parter and Part 1 is clearly intended to establish Mesrine, who becomes a real "star," an infamous public figure, only in Part 2. But I'm a sucker for most crime pics, and curious about what's to come. (Mesrine Part 2: Public Enemy #1 opens Fri., Oct. 22.) In French, with subtitles. Starts Fri., Oct. 15. Regent Square (AH) [2.5 out of 4 stars]
German-Turkish director Fatih Akin's time-jumping dramas (Head On, Edge of Heaven) usually take viewers to a sad corner of human relationships, where good is affirmed, but only at some devastating cost. Now, in this ensemble comedy set in rainy Hamburg, Akin takes a break: Not only does the slim story travel in a straight line, but it's all-over feel-good!
Zinos (Adam Bousdoukos, who co-wrote the script), a German of Greek origin, runs a funky café named Soul Kitchen. While he pines about his girlfriend moving to Shanghai and suffers through a back injury, his ne'er-do-well brother needs a work-release job and a scheming erstwhile school pal sets his sights on Zinos' real estate. These tribulations are played for laughs, with some set-ups verging on cartoonish. But Zinos is a likable fellow, and the film has a shaggy looseness that at least keeps the predictable plot afloat.
As always, Akin depicts contemporary Germany as a diverse place, with various cultures (as well as their cuisines and music) intersecting. It may always be raining and the rent may be due, but the universal pleasures of friends, food and a toe-tapping song prevail. In German, with subtitles. Starts Fri., Oct. 22. Harris (Al Hoff) [2.5 out of 4 stars]
Filmmaker Davis Guggenheim, who brought us An Inconvenient Truth, now turns his lens on another hand-wringing topic: the state of public education in the United States. The film is a huge info dump, with lots of statistics, charts (albeit wittily illustrated) and talking-head interviews with many concerned parties. Guggenheim doesn't tell us anything that any reasonably informed person doesn't already know (or chose to ignore): Our public-education system is an unwieldy mess that fails a lot of our kids, especially if those kids live in low-income urban areas.
To personalize this monstrously huge crisis, Guggenheim follows five students -- four young minority kids from the inner city and a teen-age white girl from an affluent California suburb -- as they seek admission to high-performing charter schools. A couple of these kids will break your heart when their earnest, naked desire to learn hits a brutal reality: The few open spots at these schools are awarded by public lottery. Guggenheim structures his film so that viewers will feel they have seen the very moment this kid was lost to insurmountable failure, wasted potential riding on a plastic lottery ball.
The film offers a bullet-list of possible solutions -- from charter schools, more private investment and dropping teacher tenure -- but it's a lot of skimming on the surface. The charter schools presented here seem wonderful, but a blip of a statistic also presented admits that four out of five charter schools are underperforming. The need for "good teachers" is lauded, but neither that term nor how we'd measure it is ever explained. And Guggenheim focuses on elementary school -- where kids do first get off track -- without talking about high school, where the situation is catastrophic. Other unmentioned topics: parents, taxes, race, politics, sports ... sigh. This is simply too complex an issue to be covered in one movie, however engaging. It's sure to spur debate, and if that examination somehow adds to progress rather than continuing rancor, Waiting will have been a good thing. (Al Hoff) [2.5 out of 4 stars]