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No fantasy ‘Island’ 

Summer blockbusters have worn thin; time for a good documentary or screwball comedy.

click to enlarge THE PAIN!: Johansson and McGregor are clones in "The Island."
  • THE PAIN!: Johansson and McGregor are clones in "The Island."
By late July, the summer blockbusters have started to wear as thin as the seat of your favorite Bermuda shorts. After July 4, the explosions lose their bang, the CGI effects all go flat, and even the most fanboyish of moviegoers begins to long for something intimate; something that features snow and dialogue and British actresses weeping into their bodices. Labor Day is still a ways off, but my summer 2005 truly ended the moment the credits rolled on “The Island.” It’s not a bad film, exactly. “The Island” is cursed, however, by coming right in the middle of what I like to call the Summer Numb — the moment in any summer film season when explosions and fancy special effects become as common as sunburns and clearance-rack flip-flops. Here, Ewan McGregor plays Lincoln Six Echo, a childlike resident of a future society in which the survivors of a world cataclysm live bottled up inside vast towers, sealed against the contaminants of the outside world (echoes of “Logan’s Run,” no doubt). It’s not a nice place to be. Under the strict control of the evil Dr. Merrick (Sean Bean), Big Brother-style guards control every moment of the residents’ lives, right down to their proximity to others. There is a way out, however. A weekly lottery chooses one person to go to “The Island,” an unspoiled paradise where they can live out their days in freedom. However, while sniffing around with his would-be girlfriend, Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson), Lincoln discovers the truth: The towers aren’t towers at all, but an underground bunker surrounded by a hologram generator. Worse, Lincoln learns the secret of his society: Everyone in the towers is a clone of someone in the outside world, speedily grown to adulthood as an “insurance policy” against injury, infertility or organ failure. After making their escape, Jordan and Lincoln go on the run from Merrick’s hired thugs, trying to reach Lincoln Six Echo’s “sponsor” Tom Lincoln (also McGregor) to try and expose the truth. Though overlong at two hours and seven minutes, “The Island” is an ambitious little movie, clearly cast from the mold of other flawed-utopia flicks. McGregor, in particular, throws himself at his dual role, and brings a genuine pathos to Lincoln Six Echo and his mind-numbingly complicated plight. Johansson, too, works well here, though I’ve never quite known what to make of Hollywood’s current fascination with her, especially in the role of sex goddess. Overall, “The Island” is a thought-provoking film, though it suffers from a failure to laugh at itself. If you’re into the futuristic, it might be worth a look. — By David Koon n Starting this week at Market Street Cinema, fans of nature documentaries might try “March of the Penguins.” Shot entirely in Antarctica under often-brutal conditions, “March” is the work of French director Luc Jacquet, who followed the migration, mating, egg-laying and hatching out of another generation of Emperor penguins (the “march” in the title refers to the penguins’ instinctual yearly migration to the ancestral mating grounds far inland from the seacoast). With narration by Morgan Freeman, outstanding footage, and a script that features a wealth of knowledge about the lives — and maybe even the loves — of these most fascinating of birds (the fathers, for instance, do all the hatching, balancing their single egg on their feet and covering it with a fold of downy-feathered skin to protect it from the ice), “March of the Penguins” manages to rise above standard “Animal Planet” fare to become something grander, in the great tradition of documentaries. — By Clay Clayton and David Koon n Meanwhile, fans of foreign films might try “Apres Vous,” starting this week at Market Street. In French with English subtitles, “Apres Vous” is a wacky little farce about the way no good deed goes unpunished. Though it ended up going a little too “Jerry Lewis” for my taste after awhile, it was still an enjoyable time at the movies. Popular French actor Daniel Auteril plays Antoine Letoux, the harried maitre’d of a snazzy Paris restaurant; a nondescript fellow in every sense of the word, who never has any time for himself. Hurrying through the park on his way to work one night, Antoine spots an odd sight: a man standing on a suitcase, with a rope around his neck. Just after the man kicks out the suitcase, Antoine is able to reach him and cut him down, saving his life. As the old saw goes, however, once you’ve saved a life, you’re responsible for it forever. Antoine soon learns just how big an investment this is going to be. Come to find out, the suicidal man’s name is Louis (Jose Garcia) and he is despondent over losing his girlfriend. Over the next few reels, Antoine goes the madcap mile trying to “fix” Louis’ life. For starters, this means driving him across France to intercept a suicide note he had written to his beloved grandmother, getting him a job as a wine steward at the restaurant (even though, comically, Louis doesn’t know a thing about wine), and finally trying to sort out his totally screwed-up love life (which is what sent him to the park to commit suicide in the first place). Though thoroughly likable, “Apres Vous,” like all farces, does begin to grate on the nerves at a certain point. Call me cynical, but I can only handle a set amount of madcap, laugh-riot style comedy before I get my craw full, start counting all the exits to the theater and wishing the fire alarm would go off. Still, to their credit, Auteril does a great job here, as does Garcia, in a movie that builds on that adage about the road to hell and good intentions. With that, I suppose the final verdict is this: Tastes are different, but if you like farce and are looking for a belly laugh or two, you might try “Apres Vous.” A pure nutball comedy in the way that Hollywood movies almost never are anymore, it’s at least worth a peek. — By David Koon
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