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Mark Palermo on The Fog and Elizabethtown.

Cameron Crowe leaves no doubt that Elizabethtown is a personal film. The protagonist, like his leads in Say Anything... and Almost Famous, is a stand-in for the director — utterly without vice. His name is Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom). He’s a shoe designer who loses his job shortly before learning his father has died. On a plane to Elizabethtown, Kentucky, he’s befriended by stewardess Claire Colburn (Kirsten Dunst). It’s the beginning of a trip that will teach him it’s never too late to begin life anew.

There are some pure intentions here. But Elizabethtown is aggressive in its need to be loved. The effect of watching it is to witness more than two hours of a movie hugging itself. By the time Susan Sarandon is dancing in a spotlight like a music box ballerina, someone should have said, “OK Crowe, just please stop it.”

It’s an equation of manipulating sentiment that the director has gotten right in the past. There’s a naturalistic ease to Say Anything... and Fast Times at Ridgemont High that allowed profound insight through identification. Every scene in Elizabethtown is pushed too hard to be magical. After a point, bad things stop happening to the characters all together, and it becomes drunk on its own perceived charm — delightful moment followed by delightful moment.

Claire’s microphone confession, “I like you!” is calculated Crowe schmaltz — an effect that may have felt more genuine if either lead were properly cast. Bloom and Dunst are dramatically uninteresting actors, physically plain and of limited charisma. They don’t take Crowe’s sentiment to a place where it can appear dignified. As Elizabethtown is about Drew’s life-changing realization, it’s essential that the actor convey that dramatically. But Bloom remains a cipher — observing everything without experiencing it.

Crowe’s lauded road trip montage is really just a warmed-over version of Spike Lee’s epilogue in 25th Hour. As dozens of rock songs are thrown indiscriminately into the mix, Elizabethtown becomes a mockery of a typical Crowe soundtrack, without the musical sensitivity to character, time and place evident in Singles and Say Anything.... The forced nature stems from Crowe working from the heart, but trying too consciously for the gold.

The Fog

If you’re going to remake the 1980 John Carpenter film The Fog, there better be a good reason. The concerns and interests of our present times have neither affected the way the initial film is experienced, or entered this revamping (the fog hasn’t even learned Thai boxing yet). Carpenter got away with the premise’s silly expectation that an audience would be scared of condensed water vapour through the simple strength of his craft.

With Antonio Bay reconceived as Antonio Island, the locals are hearing murmurings of a heavy fog rolling in. This doesn’t at first concern Stevie Wayne (Selma Blair), the DJ who runs her radio station from the top of a lighthouse. Nor do curiously unsalty fisherman Nick Castle (Tom Welling) or resident blonde Elizabeth (Lost’s Maggie Grace) realize what the night has in store for them. Maybe they were planning something more exciting.

What the new Fog supplies is a younger and dumber group of characters, obvious visual effects and a less menacing atmosphere. The original isn’t among my favourite Carpenter films. But what it misses in propulsive dread is made up for in its sprawl. It’s as though Carpenter was interpreting an Altman ensemble piece through his usual horror framework.

The remake (which Carpenter produced) is barely distinguished from disposable recent youngsters-in-terror movies like Boogeyman and Darkness Falls. As needless remakes go, this one’s basic distinction is that it seems to set a record for the number of shock moments that involve either a pane of glass breaking or something catching fire.

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