Jason Bateman

I don't think I've ever seen a movie star attempting to promote his own film go negative in quite the way Jason Bateman did in his Daily Show interview the other day. Jon Stewart needles him about the premise of the movie, and he replies: It's crap. It's garbage. But here's what I'm going to promise you. While it is a tired, some would say "pleasantly familiar" premise... our obligation, gang, is to please you post-switch, right? Having made that very substantial concession, he proceeds to sell the movie in a way that's nearly convincing.

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Having been born in 1972, I know full well that the 1980s did not produce the finest moments in popular culture. But why is it that Hollywood must recycle the worst elements of that culture? First they remade Knight Rider. Now, Lord help us, an A-Team movie: This was a television show that insulted my intelligence when I was ten.

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The protagonist of Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air, Ryan Bingham, is a hatchet man for hire. The Omaha company that employs him, which goes by the Orwellian name Career Transition Counseling (CTC), rents him out to other companies to fire employees they don’t have the courage to fire themselves. He flies about the country, touching down briefly in Kansas City or Tulsa or Miami, to walk into offices he has never visited and tell workers he has never met that they are being let go.

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What is the most boring job in the world? It’s a question that filmmakers have addressed, usually obliquely, countless times. Often, the dullness of a feigned career is offered in ironic counterpoint to the excitement of a real one--Tom Cruise’s cover identity working as a traffic analyst in Mission Impossible III (which actually sounded somewhat fascinating) or Arnold Schwarzenegger’s sunlighting as a software salesman in True Lies (which decidedly did not).

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Last week, I wrote about The Hunting Party, a film that tried (and failed) to integrate geopolitics into a black comedy. This week, The Kingdom attempts the only slightly less daunting task of integrating geopolitics into an action film. (Rather see a movie that leaves out the geopolitics altogether? I'm afraid you have a fewfrustratingmonths ahead of you.) That The Kingdom manages, to at least some degree, to accomplish the feat is a tribute to its director, Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights, The Rundown), who guides the film with poise and intelligence.

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