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St. James Plaindealer - St. James, MN
  • Hustle to the Movies

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  • Like many Americans, I went to the movies over the days surrounding Christmas, seeing both “American Hustle” and “Anchorman 2.” “American Hustle” is one of the best movies of 2013, and I'm ready to bestow upon it my “Django Award,” named for Quentin Tarantino's rollicking “Django Unchained.” “Django” may not have been the best movie I saw in 2012--although it was certainly in the top five--but it was the most entertaining one, and it was the most fun I had at a movie all year. In 2013, “Hustle” gets that spot. Very loosely based on the FBI's Abscam operation of the 1970s--there's a disclaimer at the beginning explaining, “some of this actually happened”--it's no documentary, but it is a spirited ride. It's often very funny, although there are certainly poignant moments of pathos. It has a killer soundtrack, and both the costumes and the hair are gloriously '70s. David O. Russell, who directed excellent movies like “Three Kings” and “The Fighter,” as well as the most overrated film of 2012, “Silver Linings Playbook,” once again coaxes superb performances out of a dazzling cast--Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Jennifer Lawrence. Lawrence, already an Academy Award winner for “Silver Linings,” is a live wire, sending a lightning bolt of electricity every time she's on the screen as Bale's unpredictable wife. Bale is phenomenal as a con artist forced into working for the FBI, and--along with his work in “Out of the Furnace”--I doubt any actor can match his pair of awesome performances in 2013. Adams is Bale's partner in crime, Cooper is an agent obsessed with taking down some major players in order to make a name for himself, and Renner plays Carmine Polito--mayor of Camden, N.J. Though Renner's really only broken through into Hollywood over the past decade, he already has two Oscar nominations under his belt for “The Hurt Locker” and “The Town,” and here he infuses the politician with an amazing amount of goodwill. We sincerely believe his heart is in the right place, and that he's trying to help his blue-collar constituents, so when he's ensnared in the investigation, we truly feel his pain. (And anyone who can make us feel genuine sympathy for a politician in the political climate we're currently in deserves some praise.) If you saw “Anchorman,” you pretty much know what you're going to get from the sequel. Interestingly, the first time I saw the original, I was unimpressed. But, upon subsequent viewings, I noticed myself laughing--a lot. The sequel isn't the disaster many follow-ups are, but it's nothing special, either. It's too long for a comedy, about two hours, and you feel every moment of it over a laborious final 40 or so minutes. The movie has no real structure--it feels more like a collection of comedic skits--and there's a completely superfluous digression where Will Ferrell's character, Ron Burgundy, is blinded. With the movie's scattershot approach to landing jokes, there are some sequences that flatly don't work, and the laughs are mostly in the first act, trailing off as the movie rolls along. There are, however, some delicious cameos by people you would--and would not--expect, and I won't spoil them here except to say that most come during a park fight sequence toward the end of the film. Basically, if you're a fan of the first movie and of Ferrell's brand of humor, the sequel isn't as good as you likely hoped, but it's not as bad as you may have feared, either. Ryan Anderson can be reached at randerson@stjamesnews.com
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