Critics Consensus

Critics Consensus: The Interview Earns Mixed Reviews

Plus, Unbroken Is Well-Meaning But Conventional, The Gambler is a so-so bet; Into the Woods hits most of the right notes, and Big Eyes is a sharp black comedy.

by | December 24, 2014 | Comments

Merry Christmas! This week at the movies, we’ve got unlikely CIA operatives (The Interview, starring Seth Rogen and James Franco), a resilient war hero (Unbroken, starring Jack O’Connell and Domhnall Gleeson), an indebted English professor (The Gambler, starring Mark Wahlberg and John Goodman), fractured fairy tale characters (Into the Woods, starring Meryl Streep and Anna Kendrick), and a subjugated artist (Big Eyes, starring Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz). What do the critics have to say?

The Interview

52%

Look, we know you’ve probably heard all about how The Interview sparked an international incident. Now that it’s popping up online and in a few theaters, it’s fair to ask: is it any good? Well, critics say The Interview is pretty funny in spots, but its tone is more sophomoric than politically astute. Dave Skylark (James Franco), the host of a trashy talk show, and his producer Aaron Rapoport (Seth Rogen) land the biggest interview of their careers: North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un (Randall Park). But before they journey to Pyongyang, the CIA recruits them to assassinate the Dear Leader. The pundits say The Interview works better as a bromance than as a political farce, and while the cast (especially Park) gives its all, the movie ultimately falls short as a satire of international relations and the media.

Unbroken

52%

The life of Louis “Louie” Zamperini seems tailor-made for a big-budget biopic. Unfortunately, not every great story makes for a great movie, and critics say that’s sadly the case for director Angelina Jolie‘s Unbroken, a well-meaning, occasionally stirring epic that suffers from conventional storytelling and a lack of tension. Zamperini (Jack O’Connell) was a track star who served in World War II, where he survived a plane crash by clinging to a raft for more than a month before being captured by Japanese troops and held in a prisoner of war camp for more than two years. He’s undoubtedly heroic, but Unbroken frequently feels too similar to other inspirational war films.

The Gambler

43%

Plenty of contemporary films borrow from the gritty imagery and moral ambiguity of mid-1970s thrillers, so a remake of The Gambler sounds like a solid bet. However, critics say that this slick, well-acted film never fully lures the audience into its protagonist’s plight. Mark Wahlberg stars as Jim Bennett, a self-destructive English professor whose gambling habit could cost him his fortune — and that of his family. Bennett turns to a loan shark for help, but he continues to sink into a hole, with potentially dire consequences. The pundits say The Gambler is slick and reasonably tense, but it lacks the existential moodiness of the classic crime flicks that inspired it.

Into the Woods

71%

The time seems right for a big-screen adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods, a meta-musical that deconstructed fairy tales long before Frozen or Once Upon a Time. Critics say Rob Marshall mostly does right by the play, maintaining its dark spirit and bringing an imaginative touch to the sets and costumes (though it’s still a little on the long side). A mashup of Cinderella, Jack And The Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, and Rapunzel, Into the Woods finds all your favorite childhood characters converging and intersecting in a story about a baker and his wife who try to lift a curse that’s been placed on them by a malevolent witch. The pundits say Into the Woods is sometimes uneven, but it’s well-staged and features fine performances from a star-studded cast. (Watch our video interviews with stars Emily Blunt, James Corden, Anna Kendrick, Christine Baranski, and Tracey Ullman.)

Big Eyes

72%

Once in a while, director Tim Burton departs his beguilingly wacky fantasyland for the real world; Ed Wood, a biopic of the notoriously incompetent filmmaker, is one of his most beloved films. With Big Eyes, Burton takes on another strange-but-true story, and while critics say it’s thoughtful, visually striking, and well-acted, its overall tone is sometimes hard to define. Amy Adams stars as Margaret Keane, a painter whose images of children with oversized eyes were big sellers in the 1960s. There was just one problem: While Margaret painted, her husband Walter (Christoph Waltz) took the credit and reaped the rewards, keeping his wife a virtual prisoner. The pundits say Big Eyes shows that Burton’s taste for black comedy is still strong, even if he never fully gets to the heart of his characters here.

What’s Hot on TV:

The pundits say The Missing (Certified Fresh at 96 percent) turns a routine premise into a standout thriller, thanks to heartfelt, affecting performances.

The critics say that a talented ensemble raises Benched (67 percent) above its trite writing, resulting in a nicely diverting half-hour of comedy.

Also opening this week in limited release: