Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters:
"THE INVISIBLE WOMAN"
Ralph Fiennes stars in and directs this romantic drama about the scandalous affair between celebrated English novelist Charles Dickens and a young actress, Ellen "Nelly" Ternan.
Back in 1857, 45-year-old Dickens (Fiennes) thoroughly enjoyed his fortune and fame, relishing every appearance before an adoring audience. But his longtime marriage to stoic Catherine (Joanna Scanlan), who has borne him 10 children, has gone sour.
Born into a theatrical family, 18-year-old Nelly (Felicity Jones) lacks acting talent, much to the chagrin of her protective mother (Kristin Scott Thomas), who views an illicit liaison with this married man as her daughter's greatest opportunity. But prim Nelly's understandably fearful, particularly when energetic, enthusiastic Dickens takes her to visit his friend, Wilkie Collins (Tom Hollander), who happily cohabits with a woman to whom he's not married.
Adapted by Abi Morgan ("The Iron Lady," "Shame") from Claire Tomalin's 1990 biography, it's cleverly book-ended by sequences in Margate, a seaside resort town, where troubled, 45-year-old Nelly Ternan Wharton, now-married to the headmaster of the local school (Tom Burke), paces the beach, as if pursued by demons. Elegantly directed with meticulous, Victorian restraint by Fiennes ("Coriolanus"), it depicts a fateful time when women were suffocated by restrictive manners and morals, which are adroitly reflected by cinematographer Rob Hardy's russet tones.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Invisible Woman" is a dark, secretive 7, emerging from the shadows of history.
The buddy-cop concept has propelled dozens of crime capers, like "Lethal Weapon," "Tango and Cash," "Midnight Run," "Starsky and Hutch," "Bad Boys" and last summer's gender-bender "The Heat." So there's not much originality in teaming motor-mouthed comedian Kevin Hart with growling, grimacing rapper-turned-actor Ice Cube.
Violent video-game obsessed Ben Barber (Hart) is an eager high school security guard who becomes a cadet at the Atlanta Police Academy. He wants to marry Angela Payton (Tika Sumpter), who has a very protective older brother, James (Ice Cube), a surly veteran cop who has taken an immediate dislike to diminutive Ben, whom he refers to as "a chromosome away from being a midget."
To gain James' approval, Ben agrees to accompany him on the titular day-long ride along so he can experience just how dangerous the street can be. What Ben doesn't know is that James and his partners, Santiago (John Leguizamo) and Miggs (Bryan Callen), have arranged a series of encounters to scare and shame Ben. They predictably banter and bicker until they eventually bond when they unexpectedly take off in pursuit of a shadowy crime kingpin known as Omar (Laurence Fishburne), who is embroiled in a deadly arms deal.
Working from a weak, cobbled-together script, credited to a quartet of screenwriters -- Greg Coolidge, Jason Mantzoukas, Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi -- director Tim Story ("Think Like a Man," "Barbershop") routinely telegraphs everything in advance as the formulaic plot thickens, while cinematographer Larry Blanford's camera seems to wobble uncontrollably.
But Hart's shtick is undeniably appealing and amusing; it's a shame that he wasn't allowed to improvise more diversions. Ice Cube serves as his humorless, suitably surly straight-man, refusing to commandeer a Prius as a chase car, snatching a snazzy red pickup truck instead. It's a one-note macho role, but he undeniably fills the pairing bill, infuriating his short-tempered, by-the-books lieutenant (Bruce McGill).
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Ride Along" is a flimsy 5, but its recent box-office clout already has ignited plans for a crowd-pleasing sequel. Read Full Article
"THE NUT JOB"
Back in 2005, Peter Lepeniotis made "Surly Squirrel," a 10-minute short that attracted attention on YouTube. Now he's expanded the same basic concept into a full-length 3-D animated feature.
With cold weather quickly approaching, the ever-hungry animals in Oakton City's Liberty Park are facing a severe shortage of nuts after Surly the Squirrel (voiced by Will Arnett) sets fire to the massive oak tree that contains their winter stockpile.
Booted out of his home and banished into the big, bustling city, self-centered Surly discovers Maury's Nut Shop. Salivating over the prospect of an unlimited supply of peanuts, cashews, hazelnuts, even peanut brittle, he figures if he can snag the booty from the basement storage area, which he describes as "the lost city of Nutlantis," he'll be back in everyone's good graces. Problem is, some humanoid thieves, who are simultaneously plotting a bank heist, have their sights set on tunneling into the same location, which is guarded by wacky, bug-eyed pug named Precious (voiced by Maya Rudolph).
Meanwhile, two other squirrels, egotistic Grayson (voiced by Brandon Fraser) and ethical Andie (voiced by Katherine Heigl) have been dispatched to the city to forage for food, while the rest of the park's famished animal kingdom functions under the steadfast dictatorship of Raccoon (voiced by Liam Neeson) with the help of his lackey Mole (voiced by Jeff Dunham).
Writer/director Peter Lepeniotis was an animator at Disney/Pixar, while co-writer Lorne Cameron worked on Disney's "Brother Bear" and DreamWorks "Over the Hedge." Unfortunately, their dual effort is overly punny, structurally disjointed and ultimately disappointing. Plus, there's a curious resemblance between Surly's silent sidekick Buddy the Rat and Remy from Pixar's far-better "Ratatouille" (2007).
Since the film was financed by Canada and South Korea, the festivities conclude with an animated version of Korea's beloved pop star Psy, singing and dancing "Gangnam Style," as the credits roll.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Nut Job" is a forgettable 4. Riffing on the movie's slogan, "No nuts, no glory," it could have been a lot nuttier.