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Cars

Mark Palermo says the devil’s in the details.

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The imaginative disappointment of this summer’s blockbusters finds movies less interested in awakening viewers than in rewarding their laziness.

In times like this, a movie’s stylistic flair can go a long way against its inert narrative. Unlike The Break Up, X-Men 3 and The Da Vinci Code, Pixar’s Cars lights the screen with images worth looking at. At least on occasion. The first act places its neon lights and high-contrast colours against a nighttime setting. It’s Pixar taking the unforeseen step of emulating the look of a beer commercial—befitting the NASCAR context and, in the reigns of 3-D animation, providing spectacular images.

Once the cocky race car hero Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson) gets transplanted to the dusty of old town of Radiator Springs that the movie reverts to the same-old. Every Pixar feature has a hero wanting to return home upon finding himself in a foreign habitat. Finding Nemo made the fish-out-of-water storyline comically literal. In Cars, the energy is drained.

It holds Pixar’s loudest message of the importance of simple family life yet, and, in its old-America nostalgia, its most confused. The view of culture’s greedy regression is hard to take, given the studio holds the current financial stranglehold on family movies.

The automotive residents of Radiator Springs mourn the passing of their once-vibrant business community. Now kids like Lightning McQueen get corporate sponsors, and highways cut through the desert when cars used to happily exhume gas fumes all throughout the countryside. Even those new hybrids just don’t make enough noise.

Cars’ early innovation soon gets caught in platitudes and bored caricatures. Even its two-hour length feels like a reach toward canonical prestige. Movies about race cars shouldn’t move this slowly.

The Omen

John Moore’s remake of The Omen follows a familiar template. The Thorns are a married couple whose child is stillborn. The doctor offers the husband a motherless baby born at the same time. He won’t even have to tell his wife it isn’t hers. It turns out the kid is the offspring of Satan. Perhaps they should have thought twice before naming him Damien.

Played by Liev Schreiber and Julia Stiles, the Thorns’ growing fear of something sinister about their son isn’t provided empathy. The Omen story, even in its original form, is pretty silly. Moore, an interesting director who goes unrecognized by working in genres few people look at with intelligence, seems aware that this is thin material. Finding little interest in the characters, he tries broadening his focus on Damien’s arrival to a piece of the planet’s impending apocalypse. And the film is handsomely photographed, with Moore frequently isolating a single red element in otherwise monochromatic images.

So far, the year’s hits owe their success to pre-release marketing rather than word-of-mouth. Now’s the time to rent Running Scared. Everything The Omen only pretends to be, Running Scared is an over-the-top world’s-end nightmare—our Extreme Culture viewed through the death of childhood. Wayne Kramer’s urban fairy tale is morally concerned and genuinely terrifying: A movie that might have shaken filmgoers had anyone bothered to see it.

Bothered? write: palermo@thecoast.ca

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