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‘Chemistry’ cracks up, ‘Budapest’ bores and ‘Speed’ stuns

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Among the new movies that were released Friday, March 14 are a dramedy in which Sam Rockwell plays a pill-popping pharmacist, writer/director Wes Anderson’s latest quirky creation and the cinematic adaptation of a popular video game.

The Art of the Steal

Kurt Russell plays a third-rate motorcycle daredevil and part-time art thief who teams up with his snaky brother (Matt Dillon) to steal one of the most valuable books in the world. (R - 90 minutes)

“The Art of the Steal” is certainly not the worst heist movie ever made. However, for a heist movie that includes so many accomplished actors, one would have liked it to have been a lot better. Granted, you cannot say that any talent is wasted here as stars Kurt Russell, Matt Dillon, Terence Stamp and Jay Baruchel are each given sufficiently fun material to play with but it comes across as one giant, annoying argument, with the characters constantly bickering back and forth about trust. It’s weakest link, though, is its central scheme, which is way too twisted to follow and therefore more burdensome than entertaining. (Thumbs Down!)

Better Living Through Chemistry

Sam Rockwell plays a straight-laced pharmacist whose uneventful life spirals out of control when he starts an affair with a trophy wife customer (Olivia Wilde) who takes him on a joyride involving sex, drugs and possibly murder. (NR - 91 minutes)

Sam Rockwell’s best performances are in those films that require the actor to get a little goofy. See “Choke,” “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” or “Moon” for proof of this. Or you could simply see “Better Living Through Chemistry,” a new dramedy in which Rockwell goes from friendly neighborhood pharmacist to completely unhinged pill-popper - a journey that is absolutely amusing to behold. The fact that the flick’s story is significantly different than those found in most cinematic fare is an added bonus, but the real draw here is Rockwell going off the rails in tremendously entertaining fashion. (Thumbs Up!)

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Ralph Fiennes plays a legendary concierge at a famous European hotel who befriends his lobby boy (Tony Revolori). The story involves the theft and recovery of a priceless Renaissance painting and the battle for an enormous family fortune. (R - 100 minutes)

There’s eccentric and then there are Wes Anderson films. And then there is “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” which is in a class all by itself. As a result, the new comedic caper may be the writer/director’s most visually mesmerizing movie to date - but it is also his least accessible as it tells a story that seems to go on and on without any particular direction. Although one could never regret seeing it simply because of its innate uniqueness, this flick is clearly a large step down from Anderson’s previous effort “Moonrise Kingdom,” which gave as much weight to its story as it did its whimsy. (Thumbs Down!)

Grand Piano

Elijah Wood plays a stage-fright-plagued concert pianist who, moments before his comeback performance, discovers a note written on his music sheet: “Play one wrong note and you die.” Without leaving the piano, he must discover the anonymous sniper's motives and look for help without anyone realizing. (R - 90 minutes)

It may take a little while to get the momentum going and it may also end in a particularly over-the-top fashion but there is a segment smack-dab in the middle of “Grand Piano” that is so suspenseful, intriguing and intense that it has your heart racing right alongside the musical score’s frantically paced tempo. Star Elijah Wood continues his hot streak here, which hit a fever-pitch last year with his roles in “Maniac” and “Pawn Shop Chronicles,” while director Eugenio Mira tackles the real-time/single-setting thriller genre with spectacular success and cinematographer Unax Mendía takes full advantage of every visual angle imaginable to keep viewers on the extreme edges of their seats. (Thumbs Up!)

Need for Speed

Aaron Paul plays a street racer who, fresh from prison when framed by a wealthy business associate (Dominic Cooper), joins a cross country race with revenge in mind. His ex-partner, learning of the plan, places a massive bounty on his head as the race begins. (PG-13 - 130 minutes)

So long as you strap in for the ride and resolve to remain unbothered by its entire setup’s ludicrous logic, “Need for Speed” is a thoroughly thrilling experience. After all, if there are two things that, when mixed together, make for an awful lot of fun they would be illegal street racing and an intense desire for revenge. And the only things revving hotter than the motors in this new actioner are the emotions. Having said that, the whole thing leaves a bad taste in your mouth as it ignores intelligent solutions in favor of ones that cause much more destruction. Then again, destruction is always more entertaining to watch than the alternative. (Thumbs Up!)

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