Irrational Man (R) (96 min.) — Getting away with murder is second creative nature to Woody Allen after comedy, of course. Two of his finest dramas — Crimes and Misdemeanors and Match Point — are exercises in perfect crimes with moral and ethical strategies, like the ones taught by Abe Lucas at a fictional New England college.
Abe (Joaquin Phoenix) is a slouchy philosophy professor with a checkered past. The dark parts banished him to Braylin College, preceded by his stoned, adulterous reputation. One unhappily married colleague (welcome back, Parker Posey) likes that. The lighter parts appeal to Jill Pollard (Emma Stone), a bright student who thinks she can save him, even after a shocking Russian roulette stunt at an off-campus party.
Irrational Man shares its title with William Barrett's book introducing the United States to existential philosophy, and Allen drenches his movie with deep thoughts, name-checking intellectuals from Jean-Paul Sartre to Simone de Beauvoir. Abe's issues run deeper than his vices, leaving him impotent both in bed and creatively.
Abe's mood and Allen's movie take a sharp turn with a chance eavesdropping in a diner, a nifty bit of aural sleight of ear. What is overheard sparks Abe's obsession with committing the perfect murder with a motive eliminating guilt, the existential leap of a sociopath. Very Dostoyevsky.
From there, Irrational Man becomes Allen's occasional exercise in suspense, carried by Phoenix's fevered performance and several moderately credible twists. Not at the level of Crimes and Misdemeanors or Match Point but interesting for Allen completists for the style tweaking late in his career. Not all of the old dog's new tricks are successful; Stone ranks among his lesser muses. Others, like the airy Rhode Island setting and the Ramsey Lewis Trio's The In Crowd anchoring a boppy soundtrack are so foreign to Allen that they're fresh.
Irrational Man opens Friday at Regency 20 in Brandon, Veterans 24 and Starlight 20 in Tampa and Sundial 19 in St. Petersburg. B-
Being first hasn't worked out well for the Fantastic Four, Marvel Comics' original superhero team and so-far unimpressive movie franchise.
Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1961, the Fantastic Four is now dwarfed in popularity by Marvel's Avengers and X-Men, not to mention DC Comics' upcoming Justice League series, kicking off next summer with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Even Ant-Man is bigger lately.
But, Fantastic Four is one of the few Marvel properties Disney doesn't own (yet), so Twentieth Century Fox is cashing in while it can. Nothing greedy, just a solid summer weekend haul before moviegoers catch on, rebooting the franchise with a younger cast than the mid-2000s movies that failed to click with audiences.
Fantastic Four (PG-13) stars Miles Teller in his most significant role since last year's Oscar-winning Whiplash. The 2005 Lecanto High School graduate plays Reed Richards, a.k.a. Mr. Fantastic, who leads the quartet with his keen intellect and elasticity superpower. Kate Mara co-stars as Sue Storm, the Invisible Woman, and Michael B. Jordan plays Johnny Storm, the Human Torch. Buried beneath rockpile makeup effects is Jamie Bell as Ben Grimm, the clobberin' Thing.
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Fox didn't screen Fantastic Four in time for Movie Planner. A review will be published later this week at tampabay.com/movies.
Speaking of superheroes, Meryl Streep has another movie out this weekend, Ricki and the Flash (PG-13). It probably won't put her in line for a fourth Academy Award but it does allow her to sing again.
Streep stars as Ricki Brummel, a musician who left her family -— husband Kevin Kline, (real-life) daughter Mamie Gummer — to pursue her rock and roll dream with her band, the Flash. Now, Ricki wants to make amends. If that sounds touchy-feely, keep in mind that the screenplay is written by abrasive Academy Award-winner Diablo Cody (Juno, Young Adult) and directed by Oscar winner Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs). How tender can it be?
Definitely on the meaner side is The Gift (R), directed by and starring Joel Edgerton as a former bullying victim seeking revenge on the classmate (Jason Bateman, above) who led the taunts. There's something terrible inside a box, judging by the preview trailers, but that hasn't creeped out anyone since Gwyneth Paltrow's head in Se7en.
(Dates are subject to change.)
Aug. 14: The Man From U.N.C.L.E; Straight Outta Compton; Underdogs; Cop Car
Aug. 21: The End of the Tour; Hitman: Agent 47; American Ultra; Some Kind of Beautiful; Grandma
Aug. 28: Sinister 2; Max Steel; We Are Your Friends; Regression
Sept. 2: A Walk in the Woods; No Escape