Ant-Man: Buggin’ with Rudd

As origin movies go, Ant-Man is essentially on par with previous Marvel comic-book adaptations. With Paul Rudd in the title role, the film is reasonably entertaining, well-produced (as per Marvel) … and there’s room for improvement with the inevitable follow-ups, team-ups, or wherever this particular franchise is going.

There’s the everyman – Rudd’s ex-con cat burglar Scott Lang – who undergoes the transformation into Ant-Man under the direction and discretion of Michael Douglas – as scientist Hank Pym, who provides both the film’s voice of reason and font of exposition. Some fun is had in watching Scott (and Rudd) acclimate himself to his new, hi-tech surroundings and superhero status.

By getting small, Scott stands tall and learns to walk the straight and narrow. Along the way, naturally, he’ll be called upon to save the day, in this case from motormouthed, shiny-domed mogul Corey Stoll (channeling Gene Hackman and Kevin Spacey), and win the girl, in this case Evangeline Lilly (channeling Linda Fiorentino and a younger Lee Grant) as Pym’s daughter.

It’s giving nothing away to reveal that Scott’s missions are accomplished and that Ant-Man keeps everything in the Marvel family by including Anthony Mackie (“Falcon”), Hayley Atwell (S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Peggy Carter), and Stan Lee (grinning bartender) in brief appearances.

Bobby Canavale, Michael Pena, Judy Greer, Martin Donovan and John Slattery round out a cast that, if not star-studded, is at least wellknown.

It’s common knowledge among Marvel mavens and movie buffs in general that Edgar Wright departed the director’s chair during pre-production, although he retains executive-producer credit and a writing credit, along with Joe Cornish, Adam McKay, and Rudd. Enter Peyton Reed (Bring It On, The Break-Up, Yes Man), taking up the directorial reins in competent, if not entirely inspired, fashion.

Like Robert Downey Jr., Rudd brings a wry sensibility to the big-buck proceedings, both actors exhibiting a comedic dexterity that serves them well playing these fantastic (and mostly CGI) characters. Should Downey decide to opt out of future Iron Mans or Avengers, it’s easy to envision Rudd stepping into the breach. !

Shallow Gallows

The Gallows is the latest product from prolific producer Jason Blum, whose Blumhouse shingle has cranked out the Paranormal Activity, Insidious and Sinister shockers at a steady, profitable pace. The Gallows is the latest film from the writer/producer/director duo of Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing.

It’s the latest in the feeble, flimsy, “found-footage” style of horror filmmaking that has been done to death – and undeath – since The Blair Witch Project in 1999. Finally, it’s a thoroughly witless and shifty endeavor, despite a couple of jolts.

The ingredients are contemptibly familiar:

Dumb teens (Ryan Shoos, Cassidy Gifford and newcomers Pfeifer Brown and Reese Mishler) break into their haunted high school to sabotage the next night’s opening-night production of The Gallows, a play whose earlier production (in 1993) resulted in the accidental death of its leading man, who was hanged on stage. (Rest assured, the noose will again be put to use before long.)

No matter how much our inept quartet spends its time fleeing and screaming, someone always manages to keep the video camera rolling. Whatever is haunting the school makes certain the phones don’t work but the cameras do – all the better to drag the “action,” such as it is, to an 80-minute running time, which still feels endless. This is yet another horror concept that would have more comfortably fit into an anthology format but has instead been interminably stretched to feature length.

Gifford, the real-life daughter of Frank and Kathie Lee, is an attractive, leggy blonde who is called upon here to do little more than shriek and blubber, which she handles capably enough under the circumstances. Bigger, and certainly better, things are in store for her. !