Act of Valor
Relativity Media
In Theaters: 02.24
If you were unaware of the fact that the cast of Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh’s Navy SEALs action film are actual active duty soldiers from the onslaught of overbearing advertisements, have no fear: They’ll be sure to tell you yet again in a featurette that precedes his film. Filmed in a style that’s a blend of a Lifetime original movie with a hint of a first person shooter video game, McCoy and Waugh recount brave, true tales of America’s elite soldiers as they journey around the world to rescue a kidnapped CIA operative and thwart a large-scale terrorist attack on American soil. The movie plays out like the next edition in the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare franchise, but you’ll want to quickly find the button that skips all of the plot-advancing, in-game cinematics and get right back to the battle. The action is certainly the film’s finest component, as audiences have the chance to witness the sleek result of the strict training and ruthless combat these warriors have endured off-screen. As one enemy after another is taken out of commission with absolute precision, one can only gaze in awe of what goes on behind enemy lines. However, it’s the dismal dialogue/narration and unqualified acting abilities of the cast that brings the production to a standstill. McCoy and Waugh’s intentions would appear to be noble to honor these courageous individuals, but everyone’s nervousness and botched line deliveries can’t be overlooked. To the men and women who appear in this film, thank you for your service to our country, but, in the future, please do what you do best and protect us from the unpleasant things in this world … like gimmicks used to sell movie tickets. –Jimmy Martin

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
Columbia Pictures
In Theaters: 02.17
There really isn’t one proper word to describe how appalling the first Ghost Rider movie is. It’s the incarcerated cousin of the Marvel-based movies whom the family doesn’t like talking about. So, when it was announced a sequel was on the way, you can imagine the resistance. However, when it was revealed that Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor of the absurdly wild Crank films would be helming the project, you can imagine the intrigue. Following cousin Ghosty’s original, Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) finds himself hiding in Europe, still enduring the curse of “The Rider,” an internal force that surfaces in the face of evil to devour the souls of the wicked. As all hope would seem lost, a proposition to save a child sought after by the devil is offered, in exchange for the removal of his curse. Neveldine and Taylor are professionals in untamed extremes and hold degrees in offending the general market, so it’s a shame to see their feral antics subdued by studio interference and a pacified PG-13 rating. It’s like watching The Hulk play with a beach ball. The potential is there. Cage is unmistakably having more fun with the character this time around, as the actor utilizes the extremes of his craft by offering only subtle whispers or Tourette-induced barks. The film’s primary slipup comes from the lack of action, most of which is spoiled in the TV spots, surrounded by an abundant amount of never-ending, drab dialogue. Neveldine and Taylor succeed in developing a follow-up that surpasses the original, but, before the back patting begins, there’s a load of issues that need to be addressed before a third endeavor is approached. As for now, it appears this rendition will only receive a strict probation sentence … unlike cousin Ghosty. –Jimmy Martin

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island
Warner Bros.
In Theaters: 02.10
In the next chapter of “Hollywood Delivers Another Sequel Nobody Asked For,” we’re given the follow-up to the 2008 misfire, Journey to the Center of the Earth. Rather than witnessing the new adventures of Encino Man (a.k.a. Brendan Fraser), we’re offered the peck-pulsing muscles of Dwayne Johnson as the film’s headliner. The key link between the two films lies with Josh Hutcherson, who reprises his role as an unruly Jules Verne fanatic who cracks a hidden message with his stepfather (Johnson) that ultimately whisks the two away on a dangerous expedition to discover a mythological island where Hutcherson believes his estranged and eccentric grandfather (Michael Caine) has been living for some time. Along for the adventure are a down-on-his-luck helicopter pilot (Luis Guzmán) and his feisty, level-headed daughter (Vanessa Hudgens). Director Brad Peyton offers up substandard special effects that were executed much better in 1989’s Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, and are usually only seen nowadays on a dreadful Syfy Channel Saturday night original movie. Johnson, who has recently proved his comedic talents are accessible, isn’t allowed to be humorous or caring in this apathetic role. On the other hand, it’s Guzmán (who endures every fecal matter prank available in modern-day storytelling) and Caine (who needs to put his Oscar in the return box), who lower the film’s bar on tolerability with their deplorable performances. As the film runs its mundane course and one flaw after another is exposed, one fact is made perfectly clear: Brendan Fraser wasn’t the problem with the original. –Jimmy Martin

Believe Cinema Collective
Available on DVD: 02.14
Parade is the semi-autobiographical account of writer/director Brandon Cahoon’s move to tiny Lynndyl, Utah as a Junior in high school. Instead of meticulously recreating his own experience, Cahoon hired mostly local kids as the cast (including Sarah Scott, the real life little sister of Cahoon’s love interest) and gave them a skeletal script to make their own. As a result, the performances are unpolished but authentic, and Cahoon’s specific experiences evoke a universal feeling of adolescence. Feeling is definitely the emphasis, as the plot is strung together loosely through a kind of tour of Dean’s life and doesn’t follow a traditional narrative arc. The conflicts aren’t wholly spelled out, but the pains of growing up—Dean faces crumbling relationships with his parents, cousin, girlfriend and religion—are brought into relief by the carefree fun of Dean and his crew. This tumultuous period in Cahoon’s life is shot by a romantic soul and will appeal to the same. The redeeming moments come as fleeting, perfect images: late-night conversations and sunlit road trips. Crucial to the film’s feeling is the score, provided by local troubadour David Williams. The movie does suffer from a slow start and an abstract, Terrence Malick-esque style that doesn’t play as well on DVD as it does in a more immersive theater setting. But, the movie’s strengths are preserved—the conflicts are authentic and deeply felt, and Williams’ songs help elevate the most poignant moments to something magical. Parade is an impressive debut and a movie that will stay as close to its fans’ hearts as it does its creator’s. –Nate Housley

This Means War
20th Century Fox
In Theaters: 02.17
Set up to resemble a live-action version of MAD Magazine’s Spy vs. Spy comic strip, director McG sets up surveillance on two CIA operatives/best friends (Chris Pine and Tom Hardy) who use their field training and every high-tech gadget within arm’s reach to cock block one another from hooking up with the same woman (Reese Witherspoon). What starts out as an innocent misunderstanding wherein both love-deprived men come into contact with, and eventually fall for, Witherspoon, immediately escalates into a dick measuring contest, complete with unlawful shadowing tactics and unconstitutional protocols … all in the name of love. Pine struts around the screen with the same charisma as his womanizing, Captain Kirk persona without the U.S.S. Enterprise floating above, while Hardy employs the more physical approach to win the skirmish. While McG does use clichéd montage after clichéd montage to progress the simplistic storyline, the bigger issues arise with the bubbly, surfer-bunny presence that is Witherspoon and her inability to portray the focus of desire. The role would be much more suitable for the likes of Scarlett Johansson or Olivia Wilde. The romantic interactions between the characters may be one-note and the action sequences are few and far between, but the film keeps a steady balance between what a mixture of viewers long for in a film, so that everyone involved gets a sampling of what they desire without completely upsetting their date. –Jimmy Martin