The Nanny Diaries

Mark Palermo reads a story under the sheets.

Scarlett Johansson has appeared in a number of movies by major filmmakers, putting in work for the Coen brothers, Brian De Palma, Woody Allen, Sofia Coppola and Michael Bay. But it's the more conventional dramatic-comedy The Nanny Diaries that may hold her most interesting performance. The shared writing and directing team of Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, the duo who made American Splendor, continue their interest in the underclass's brush with the world of success.

As heroine Annie Braddock, from the bestseller by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus, Johansson embraces the confusion of a college-age girl doing a job she never wanted, to the best of her ability. Accidentally landing a nannying gig when her first attempt to join the Manhattan elite proves difficult, she's made guardian of unruly brat Grayer (Nicholas Reese Art). It's not Grayer's fault he greets strangers with physical assault; his parents are idiots.

Annie's bond with Grayer is interesting for a couple of reasons. Reading him a story beneath the bedsheets—a shelter from his fighting parents, identified only as Mrs. X (Laura Linney) and Mr. X (Paul Giamatti)—Annie returns to a state of childhood shelter, disapproving of the heartlessness of the high rollers she works for. She experiences the corporate lifestyles to which she'd aspired from a subservient position. Of modest means, she lives awkwardly close to people who have everything.

The failing of The Nanny Diaries is that its makers never take time to humanize Mrs. X. Despite Linney's OK performance, Mrs. X is unreasonably hateful—the script keeps her in two dimensions. It's the type of shortcut that allows this mainly solid mainstream drama to evaporate once it's over.

Mr. Bean's Holiday

Mr. Bean's Holiday sends Bean (Rowan Atkinson) to southern France. It's better than Mr. Bean's first big-screen venture (from 1997), largely because it's timed to silent comedy tradition. When he's partnered with a child sidekick, it's an obvious throwback to Charlie Chaplin's The Kid. But only a handful of scenes work as memorable sketch comedy.

Half the trouble is that the situations aren't universal enough to delight in Atkinson defiantly overcoming them. The other problem is that in Bean's obliviousness to those around him, he's kind of a jerk. In moderation, Bean's simple desires are also the fun of the character: Bean wants nothing more than his piece of the pie.

War

There's something so obvious about naming an action movie War that it's a genius move on the part of this movie. War pits the two most prominent action stars of this decade (Jason Statham and Jet Li) against one another, so it's reasonable to expect something that's a lot of fun. But even in its finished form, War hasn't evolved much from a casting idea.

Statham plays grouchy San Francisco federal agent Jack Crawford, who is seeking vengeance for the murder of his partner. As the assassin Rogue, Li has yet to be charismatic in an English-language action film that hasn't the aid of Anthony Anderson making fun of him. Not even the action scenes deliver kinetic thrills. Who, in good conscience, would stage a gunfight in a sushi bar and not have raw fish exploding in slow-mo over the participants? Don't let the inspired title and cast fool you: War doesn't make its aggression at all clever. It's dumb in the dull way.

Going maki crazy? Send your dynamite rolls to palermo@thecoast.ca.

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