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The Weather Man 

Mark Palermo on Prime, Zorro and Weather Man.

The Weather Man finds director Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean) in Alexander Payne (Sideways) mode. Verbinski’s lack of distinct style makes such excursions possible, and this one mostly works. He’s better at being Payne than Steven Spielberg. Pitched between empathy and fatalism, the title character is minor Chicago celebrity David Spritz (Nicolas Cage), who’s trapped in the midst of crisis. His condescending father (Michael Caine) has lymphoma, his son (Nicholas Hoult) is making an awkward recovery from drug problems, his daughter (Gemmenne de la Pena) is tormented at school and his ex-wife (Hope Davis) is around to remind him that he’s a total loser, as are the locals, who have a habit of pulling drive-bys on him, pelting him with burritos and milkshakes. Woe is everything. It’s possible to accept The Weather Man as comedy, if only to blunt how sad it really is. A promise of wealth isn’t the typical light at the end of the tunnel; Verbinski and writer Steve Conrad locate their everyday despair within class privilege. Spritz is basically a good person. But the movie’s outlook is only near-sighted insofar as its message is that accepting mediocrity is better than aspiring for something better. Spritz’s life is difficult viewing because Cage and Verbinski approach it with feeling.

The Legend of Zorro

Nineteen ninety-eight’s The Mask of Zorro was a spirited lightweight adventure. Sequels are rarely necessary, but Zorro’s serial nature made the prospects of a new franchise acceptable. It’s in this respect that The Legend of Zorro can be looked at as a bad James Bond installment: The formula’s there, but it doesn’t take off. Things start out well. Director Martin Campbell doesn’t seek to modernize Zorro’s Saturday matinee quality, so much as to re-engage its old-fashioned spirit. Scenes of the hero (Antonio Banderas) stopping a raid on California’s vote to become the 31st State and arguing about balancing family life and adventurer duties with his wife Elena (Catherine Zeta-Jones) are so unassumingly good natured, the charm is effortless. But the thrills never develop after that point. Legend of Zorro slogs into the terrain of being about the undisputed worth of a superhuman family. This egregious movie trend, developed through Spy Kids, The Incredibles, Sky High, even Seed of Chucky, views family values through first-generation Hollywood supremacy. Elena’s affair with a French Count (Rufus Sewell) conditions that outlook with the theme of trust. Even that’s a poor trade-off when the high-flying adventure isn’t flying high enough.

Prime

At first it seems as though Prime, from Boiler Room director Ben Younger, is the long-awaited film to deal open-mindedly with age-imbalanced romances. But then, Younger isn’t challenging the double-standard attitude when the genders are reversed. As 23-year-old David (Bryan Greenberg) begins dating Rafi (Uma Thurman), 37, it causes strain on his mother and hope for the audience. This is preferable to accepting the universal wrath that greeted Jack Nicholson’s penchant for younger women in Something’s Gotta Give, but it’s also playing safe enough to not be saying much. What the affair misses in provocation is made up for by Younger’s realized social context. Without becoming absurdist farce, Prime focuses the source of David’s cultural stress on family issues. His therapist mother Lisa (Meryl Streep) restates her desire for Jewish grandchildren. A dilemma arises when one of her patients turns out to be Rafi. If this sounds sitcomic, it can be. The therapy device also verbalizes many of Rafi and David’s motivations, when they shouldn’t be spelled out. It’s the groundwork for these characters — Thurman’s comfort in the older girlfriend role is natural, non- judgmental — that rises above Younger’s safe footwork. Prime gets enough right to be wanting for more. It’s pretty decent.

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