Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Joy of Technology

Please excuse the recent lack of updates to the site. You can place the blame in the lap of Apple, as I'm currently waiting on a new logic board to be shipped to the repair facility where my eMac is currently collecting dust. They're not even positive it's the board that's the problem, but it's just assumed, as it's been a common problem for eMacs that were produced around the time I bought mine. It's a power failure issue that Apple is paying to repair, at no charge. But unfortunately, the logic boards have been on back order, leaving me helpless in the hands of whenever Apple sees fit to ship them.

Don't get me wrong, I'm still an advocate of Apple products in general. But I am starting to have a new hatred for those Apple/PC ads that are running. And not just because they're kind of annoying.

So bear with me until I can get updates going again at a more consistent rate, hopefully later in November. Until then, a holiday movie preview is upcoming very quickly.

Thanks for the patience,

Holiday Movie Preview 2006

As the holiday season begins its annual approach, Hollywood likewise
gears up its year end offerings. Lots of family-oriented films usually
mix in with those that have award aspirations. This season’s crop of
movies looks to have an intriguing variety, yet no real obvious big box
office standout in November’s group. But as any movie fans know, the month of December isn’t just for holiday seasonal shopping and overstuffing the stomach at the multitude of family meals. It’s also when Hollywood brings out some of its biggest movies of the year, many of which the studios hope will be taking home an armful of golden statuettes, come Academy Awards time early next year.
So let’s take a look at some of the releases that will be keeping people busy in between those diet busting meals and the seemingly endless dashing about shopping malls.

“Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan”
Starring Sacha Baron Cohen, Ken Davitian, Pamela Anderson
Directed by Larry Charles

Previously a character from his popular HBO comedy series “Da Ali G Show,” Cohen plays Borat, a foreigner who comes to America to better understand its culture in this far from timid mockumentary. For the record, the country of Kazakhstan has already publicly denounced the film, which doesn’t really paint their country in the greatest light. But anyone who has seen Cohen, who played Ricky Bobby’s main nemesis in this summer’s “Talladega Nights,” knows how comically inventive he can be. (Nov. 3)

“The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause”
Starring Tim Allen, Martin Short, Elizabeth Mitchell, Ann-Margaret, Alan Arkin
Directed by Michael Lembeck

Allen, continuing on his seemingly endless tour of starring in family-oriented films, is back for his third go-around in the “Santa Clause” franchise. This time, he’s dealing with trying to raise a family even as he faces a threat from Jack Frost (Short) looking to take over Christmas. Seems a bit early for a Christmas movie, but the first two in the series both exceeded box office expectations, so who knows? (Nov. 3)

“Flushed Away”
Starring the voices of Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet, Ian McKellen, Jean Reno
Directed by David Bowers and Sam Fell

From the same animation company that created “Wallace & Gromit” comes this story of a pet mouse who gets flushed down the toilet of his penthouse apartment, landing in the sewers of London. Presumably, many life lessons will be learned along the way. This movie actually mixes clay-puppet animation with CG, so it should at least look good.
(Nov. 3)

“Stranger Than Fiction”
Starring Will Ferrell, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman, Queen Latifah and Emma Thompson
Directed by Marc Forster

An appealing cast heads up an intriguing premise for a movie: A nerdy IRS worker (Ferrell) finds his life being narrated by a British novelist (Thompson), a person only he can hear. To make matters worse, he seems linked to her latest novel – one in which she plans to eliminate his character. So he sets out to find her and change his fate. The film mixes in some drama with its humor, which should give audiences a chance to see Ferrell in a different light. (Nov. 10)

“A Good Year”
Starring Russell Crowe, Albert Finney, Freddie Highmore
Directed by Ridley Scott

After collaborating to great success with the Oscar-winning “Gladiator,” star Crowe and director Scott go in a completely different direction with this film, which is billed as a cross-cultural fish-out-of-water comedy. Crowe plays an aggressive London banker who inherits a vineyard from his uncle (Finney) in France. He then has to decide what kind of life he wants to pursue. The movie could prove to be a bit of an image makeover for Crowe, who’s taken a bit of a beating in the press and the public in recent years. (Nov. 10)

“Casino Royale”
Starring Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Judi Dench, Caterina Murino, Jeffrey Wright
Directed by Martin Campbell

After a highly publicized search for the new James Bond, Craig was hired to take over for Pierce Brosnan in the hugely successful film franchise. The public reaction has been a bit mixed, but the proof will be in the finished product, which judging by the trailer, could be worth the wait. In another bit of a risk, the franchise is rewinding back to the beginning, adapting novelist Ian Fleming’s first 007 book.
(Nov. 17)

“Happy Feet”
Starring the voices of Elijah Wood, Robin Williams, Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Brittany Murphy, Hugo Weaving
Directed by George Miller

An animated talking animal movie? What an original idea! OK, even though this might be the 353rd such movie to come out in the past few years, it does feature CG penguins and the real animals were certainly a hit in the 2005 Oscar-winning documentary “March of the Penguins.” So some of that lovable penguins vibe could prove to be successful for this flick, which certainly has an impressive cast of voices and the director of the “Babe” movies on board. (Nov. 17)

“For Your Consideration”
Starring Catherine O’Hara, Harry Shearer, Parker Posey, Eugene Levy, Ricky Gervais, Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Fred Willard
Directed by Christopher Guest

Doing away with the mockumentary approach that was largely perfected in movies such as “This Is Spinal Tap,” “Best in Show” and “Waiting for Guffman,” director Guest presents a film within a film that centers around a cast and crew that gets swept up in some ill-conceived Academy Award buzz. Lots of familiar faces are sure to crop up in this one, as Guest loves to present acting ensembles in his scripts, with this one co-written by him and Levy. (Limited release Nov. 17, wider Nov. 24)

“Déjá Vu”
Starring Denzel Washington, Val Kilmer, Paula Patton, Bruce Greenwood, Adam Goldberg and Jim Caviezel
Directed by Tony Scott

Reuniting Washington and Scott (“Crimson Tide”) with producer Jerry Bruckheimer, comes this film about an ATF agent investigating a ferry bombing in New Orleans and the unusual method he and his team employ that might be able to change the past. Sound cryptic enough for you? Well, it stars Washington and Kilmer, which is definitely a good start.
(Nov. 22)

"The Fountain”
Starring Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz, Ellen Burstyn
Directed by Darren Aronofsky

To say that this movie has had a rocky journey to the big screen would be an understatement, as it was set for production in 2002, only to have its star (Brad Pitt) bail out. Years later, the film has been reworked and relaunched. But telling a story that spans 1,000 years, it’s certainly no less ambitious. It marks Aronofsky’s first film since 2000’s great “Requiem for a Dream” and co-stars his fiancée, Weisz (coming off her Oscar win for “The Constant Gardener”). (Nov. 22)

“Deck the Halls”
Starring Danny DeVito, Matthew Broderick, Kristin Davis, Kristin
Chenoweth, Alia Shawkat, Sabrina Aldridge, Kelly Aldridge
Directed by John Whitesell

Broderick plays the chairman of his town’s winter festival, who has to deal with an overzealous neighbor (DeVito), who is determined to decorate his home with so many Christmas lights that they can be seen from space. Conflict and the accompanying hilarity (or so the filmmakers hope) ensues. The cast is promising, although the premise is a bit tired sounding. (Nov. 22)

Starring Rudy Youngblood and lots of Mayans
Directed by Mel Gibson

Well, it’s certainly been an interesting year for Gibson, hasn’t it? His DUI arrest and anti-Semitic comments, followed by lots of apologies and a rehab stint have put Disney, the studio behind “Apocalypto,” in a bit of an uncomfortable position. Add in the fact that the movie is based in the 15th century and features a cast of Mayans speaking in their dialect and you’ve got a tough sell. Of course, lots of people thought “Passion of the Christ” would also be in the same category. Forget the Yucatec Maya dialect – the real problem might be the size of the Gibson backlash. (Dec. 8)

“The Good German”
Starring George Clooney, Cate Blanchett, Tobey Maguire
Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Longtime friends Clooney and Soderbergh collaborate again in this post-WWII Berlin story that was filmed in black and white (just like Clooney’s “Good Night, and Good Luck). A journalist (Clooney) is assigned to cover the Potsdam conference between Churchill, Stalin and Truman, while also looking to find a former love of his (Blanchett) and deal with a murder mystery at the same time. Talk about a busy guy. Good cast with a good director and story could equate to success come awards season. (Limited release Dec. 8, wider Dec. 25)

“The Holiday”
Starring Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Jack Black, Edward Burns
Directed by Nancy Meyers

Much like her 2003 release, “Something’s Gotta Give,” writer-director Meyers has assembled a very appealing cast to head up her latest foray into the wild and wacky world of romantic relationships. Diaz and Winslet play unhappy women who meet on an Internet house-swap site and decide to switch locales for the holidays. You can probably guess that unhappiness does not remain a part of their lives thereafter. (Dec. 8)

“The Pursuit of Happyness”
Starring Will Smith, Thandie Newton, Jaden Smith
Directed by Gabriele Muccino

Despite its intention mispelling in the title (it’s really happiness, kids), Will Smith ventures more into dramatic territory than normal, playing a father desperately trying to keep things together, while dealing with his estranged wife (Newton) and facing eviction. Playing father to the 8-year-old Jaden Smith probably wasn’t too much of a stretch for the former Fresh Prince, as the boy is his actual son. (Dec. 15)

“Blood Diamond”
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Djimon Hounsou, Jennifer Connelly
Directed by Edward Zwick

Based in the 1990s down in the civil-war-plagued Sierra Leone, Hounsou plays a tribal fisherman who comes across a very valuable diamond and has to deal with great danger to himself and his family from diamond cartels looking for it. He finds allies in a South African mercenary (DiCaprio) and an American journalist (Connelly). A very attractive cast for a director not afraid of large scale productions (”Glory,” “The Last Samurai) gives audiences a different option from most of the movies coming out this month. (Dec. 15)

Starring Beyoncé Knowles, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Hudson, Anika Noni Rose and Eddie Murphy
Directed by Bill Condon

An adaptation of a 1981 Tony Award-winning stage musical, “Dreamgirls” focuses on a music manager (Foxx) who finds a talented trio (Knowles, Hudson and Rose). Much like the Supremes and Diana Ross, conflicts ensue when Knowles’ character is elevated to the lead of the group. Good word-of-mouth has been circulating about this film, especially around Murphy’s performance as an extravagent singer on a downhill slide in his career. (Limited release Dec. 15, wider Dec. 25)

“Charlotte’s Web”
Starring Dakota Fanning and the voices of Julia Roberts, Oprah Winfrey, Steve Buscemi, Robert Redford
Directed by Gary Winick

E.B. White’s beloved book about an intrepid hog named Wilbur and fabulous web weaver Charlotte gets the big screen treatment. Featuring Fanning as a human amidst a cast of animals and CG (think of the “Babe” films), this has a chance to be a huge hit for families looking for good, clean enter good, clean entertainment. Some laughs and a few tears just might be shed before the closing credits roll – that is if the filmmakers have done their job correctly. (Dec. 20)

“Rocky Balboa”
Starring Sylvester Stallone, Burt Young, Milo Ventimiglia, Antonio Tarver
Directed by Sylvester Stallone

Never mind he’s old enough to be a great-grandfather (60-year-old Stallone), the Italian Stallion is back for what one could only expect is the final (and he really means it this time) boxing flick in the movie franchise that began 30 years ago. It’s actually been more than 15 years since “Rocky V” and a down in the dumps Rocky decides to take on the reigning champ Mason “The Line” Dixon in an exhibition bout. Admittedly, the trailer is a bit intriguing, but can people really suspend disbelief in a franchise that hit its peak in the 1970s? (Dec. 22)

“Night at the Museum”
Starring Ben Stiller, Carla Gugino, Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, Bill Cobbs and Robin Williams
Directed by Shawn Levy

Another CG-filled family flick, “Museum” stars Stiller as a security guard who discovers that the exhibits at his new job are coming to life after hours. I’m guessing that wasn’t mentioned during his new hire orientation. The trailer makes the film look a bit chaotic, but as a family-oriented picture starring the talented Stiller, hopefully that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. (Dec. 22)

"The Good Shepherd”
Starring Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, Robert De Niro, Alec Baldwin, Billy Crudup, William Hurt
Directed by Robert De Niro

A spy tale starring Damon and Jolie while being directed by De Niro certainly sounds like an appealing project. It’s been a long time since De Niro was in the director’s chair (”A Bronx Tale” in 1993 was the first and only other time), but early Oscar buzz has been building. Not that that’s any guarantee of any awards, but it can’t hurt. (Dec. 22)

“We Are Marshall”
Starring Matthew McConaughey, Matthew Fox, David Strathairn, Ian McShane
Directed by McG

Having helmed both of the “Charlie’s Angels” movies, director McG looks to a more substantial film for a change of pace. It tells the true story of coaches (McConaughey and Fox) who decide to rebuild the Marshall College football team in the aftermath of a 1970 plane crash that killed 75 players and most of the coaches on board. It’s the tried and true formula of redemption and a fact-based story – and with football as its central focus, to boot. Could be a late season winner. (Dec. 22)

“Children of Men”
Starring Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, Chiwetel Ejiofor
Directed by Alfonso Cuaron

In this futuristic tale, adapted from a novel by P.D. James, the human race is facing extinction unless a jaded man (Owen) can deliver the last pregnant woman on Earth to safety. Wow, no pressure or anything. OK, so this isn’t what you can call a happy Christmas-time picture, but it sounds intriguing and has a good cast heading it up. (Limited release Dec. 25, wider Dec. 29)

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Box Office Report: Oct. 6-8

Thanks to the big star power heading up his latest movie, “The Departed,” director Martin Scorsese had the biggest opening movie of his long and storied career over the weekend. The crime drama starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson and Mark Wahlberg, raked in almost $27 million, well over Scorsese’s previous weekend box office high of $10 million with “Cape Fear.” The largely positive reviews from critics and strong promotion from Warner Bros. certainly didn’t hurt.

The modestly-budgeted horror pic, “Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning,” also did good, but not great business in its opening weekend. “Employee of the Month” certainly indicates that Jessica Simpson isn’t really a movie star in the making. Then again, comedian Dane Cook was probably a larger draw for the film than her, as Simpson’s presence has been largely downplayed in the commercials.

1. “The Departed”
(Weekend domestic gross - $26.9 million)
(Worldwide gross - $37.1 million)
(Budget - $90 million)
2. “Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning”
(Weekend domestic gross - $18.5 million)
(Worldwide gross - $18.5 million)
(Budget - $16 million)
3. “Open Season”
(Weekend domestic gross - $15.6 million)
(Worldwide gross - $50.0 million)
(Budget - $85 million)
4. “Employee of the Month”
(Weekend domestic gross - $11.4 million)
(Worldwide gross - $11.4 million)
(Budget - $12 million)
5. “The Guardian”
(Weekend domestic gross - $9.6 million)
(Worldwide gross - $34.1 million)
(Budget - N/A)
6. “Jackass: Number Two”
(Weekend domestic gross - $6.5 million)
(Worldwide gross - $64.0 million)
(Budget - $11.5 million)
7. “School for Scoundrels”
(Weekend domestic gross - $3.4 million)
(Worldwide gross - $14.4 million)
(Budget - $35 million)
8. “Jet Li’s Fearless”
(Weekend domestic gross - $2.3 million)
(Worldwide gross - $63.3 million)
(Budget - N/A)
9. “Gridiron Gang”
(Weekend domestic gross - $2.2 million)
(Worldwide gross - $36.8 million)
(Budget - $30 million)
10. “The Illusionist”
(Weekend domestic gross - $1.9 million)
(Worldwide gross - $36.0 million)
(Budget - $16.5 million)

2006 Year-To-Date
1. “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest”

(Worldwide gross - $1.056 billion)
(Budget - $225 million)
2. “The Da Vinci Code”
(Worldwide gross - $754.4 million)
(Budget - $125 million)
3. “Ice Age: The Meltdown”
(Worldwide gross - $646.5 million)
(Budget - $80 million)
4. “X-Men: The Last Stand”
(Worldwide gross - $458.0 million)
(Budget - $210 million)
5. “Cars”
(Worldwide gross - $452.1 million)
(Budget - $120 million)
6. “Mission: Impossible III”
(Worldwide gross - $395.7 million)
(Budget - $150 million)
7. “Superman Returns”
(Worldwide gross - $389.4 million)
(Budget - $260 million)
8. “Over the Hedge”
(Worldwide gross - $317.1 million)
(Budget - N/A)
9. “Click”
(Worldwide gross - $210.4 million)
(Budget - $82.5 million)
10. “The Break-Up”
(Worldwide gross - $201.6 million)
(Budget - $52 million)

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Movie Review: "Thank You for Smoking"

Starring Aaron Eckhart, Maria Bello, Sam Elliott, Katie Holmes, David Koechner, Rob Lowe, William H. Macy, J.K. Simmons and Robert Duvall
Directed by Jason Reitman

Official Web site

Bolstered by a standout cast and a sharp script he based on the bestselling novel by Christopher Buckley, Jason Reitman’s directorial debut, “Thank You for Smoking,” is both a witty and entertaining satire of the power of spin control in today’s society.

With the tobacco industry as its primary backdrop, the film wastes no time showing off the speaking prowess of Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart), a spokesperson and lobbyist for the tobacco industry, who works for the Academy of Tobacco Studies. Never mind that the academy is largely funded by the big tobacco companies, it’s a way to pay the mortgage, Naylor reasons.

At the film’s beginning, Naylor appears on a talk show and in his few minutes of camera time, manages to bring an initially hostile audience into his corner, by promising a $50 million anti-teen smoking education campaign. Granted, his boss only approved a $5 million campaign, but the goodwill Naylor generates from the appearance more than makes up for the additional money. That’s not to mention that it impresses an industry bigwig (Robert Duvall) so much that he allows him to ride on his private plane – an honor even Naylor’s cranky boss (J.K. Simmons) hasn’t gotten to experience.

With a seemingly effortless charm, Naylor would seem to be a perfect spokesman for an industry that he openly admits kills 1,200 people a day. Whether its dealing with an angry and bitter former Marlboro Man stricken with cancer (Sam Elliott), an ambitious journalist (Katie Holmes), or an anti-smoking senator (William H. Macy), Naylor exudes confidence. In some instances, he’s able to convince people to do things they seem morally opposed to doing. Case in point is a great scene between Eckhart and Elliott involving a giant pile of cash. In another case, he’s able to become sympathetic when somebody tries to kill him, with smoking actually a contributing factor to his survival.

Eckhart largely hits the right notes as Naylor, crafting a character that could easily have become reprehensible into one that actually is a bit difficult to dislike. Achieving that is due to the mostly lighter tone the movie carries, portraying his character as someone who’s very good at his job (he must have been a great debater in high school), but is also trying to be a good father to his observant and intelligent son (Cameron Bright). The scenes with Eckhart and Bright help humanize Naylor a bit more, yet certainly don’t paint him as a saint.

Reitman resists the urge to bludgeon the viewer with anti-smoking rants or heavy-handed theatrics meant to illicit an emotional response. If anything, the movie sets so many targets in its sights that the satire is somewhat diluted and unfocused. With such a big cast at its disposal, it makes you wish to see the characters a bit more fleshed out. For example, two of Naylor’s friends (his only friends, he admits), an alcohol industry spokesperson (Maria Bello) and a firearms industry proponent (David Koechner) are interesting, but given little to do. The regular meetings of the MOD (Merchants of Death) Squad could be an interesting story line all its own.

It might not be as pointed a satire as some of its targets deserve, but “Thank You for Smoking” is certainly well-timed. In a mid-term election year (which includes a tobacco tax on Missouri ballots), the film, through its use of humor, might open up some fresh dialogue about smoking. That would certainly be a breath of fresh air.

Grade: B+
(Rated R for language and some sexual content.)

Monday, October 02, 2006

Box Office Report: Sept. 29-Oct. 1

Last weekend, it was “Jackass” ruling the box office. Now, it’s “Punk’d” creator Ashton Kutcher’s turn at the top, as the young actor actually pulled the top two spots for the weekend. Technically, he was just a voice in the computer-animated talking animal pic (there’s a novel idea for a movie), “Open Season.” But it still counts, as does his co-starring turn in “The Guardian,” with Kevin Costner.

The only other major debut of the weekend, “School for Scoundrels,” didn’t perform very well, taking in $8.6 million for the fourth spot.

1. “Open Season”
(Weekend domestic gross - $23.6 million)
(Worldwide gross - $24.2 million)
(Budget - $85 million)
2. “The Guardian”
(Weekend domestic gross - $18.0 million)
(Worldwide gross - $18.0 million)
(Budget - N/A)
3. “Jackass: Number Two”
(Weekend domestic gross - $14.6 million)
(Worldwide gross - $52.0 million)
(Budget - $11.5 million)
4. “School for Scoundrels”
(Weekend domestic gross - $8.6 million)
(Worldwide gross - $8.6 million)
(Budget - $35 million)
5. “Jet Li’s Fearless”
(Weekend domestic gross - $5.0 million)
(Worldwide gross - $47.6 million)
(Budget - N/A)
6. “Gridiron Gang”
(Weekend domestic gross - $4.6 million)
(Worldwide gross - $33.3 million)
(Budget - $30 million)
7. “The Illusionist”
(Weekend domestic gross - $2.7 million)
(Worldwide gross - $32.3 million)
(Budget - $16.5 million)
8. “Flyboys”
(Weekend domestic gross - $2.3 million)
(Worldwide gross - $9.9 million)
(Budget - $60 million)
9. “The Black Dahlia”
(Weekend domestic gross - $2.1 million)
(Worldwide gross - $23.1 million)
(Budget - $50 million)
10. “Little Miss Sunshine”
(Weekend domestic gross - $2.0 million)
(Worldwide gross - $59.4 million)
(Budget - $8 million)

2006 Year-To-Date
1. “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest”

(Worldwide gross - $1.046 billion)
(Budget - $225 million)
2. “The Da Vinci Code”
(Worldwide gross - $754.3 million)
(Budget - $125 million)
3. “Ice Age: The Meltdown”
(Worldwide gross - $645.9 million)
(Budget - $80 million)
4. “X-Men: The Last Stand”
(Worldwide gross - $454.0 million)
(Budget - $210 million)
5. “Cars”
(Worldwide gross - $443.8 million)
(Budget - $120 million)
6. “Mission: Impossible III”
(Worldwide gross - $395.7 million)
(Budget - $150 million)
7. “Superman Returns”
(Worldwide gross - $388.9 million)
(Budget - $260 million)
8. “Over the Hedge”
(Worldwide gross - $315.0 million)
(Budget - N/A)
9. “The Break-Up”
(Worldwide gross - $200.0 million)
(Budget - $52 million)
10. “Click”
(Worldwide gross - $196.9 million)
(Budget - $82.5 million)

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Movie Review: "School for Scoundrels"

Starring Billy Bob Thornton, Jon Heder, Jacinda Barrett, Luis Guzman, David Cross, Horatio Sanz, Sarah Silverman and Michael Clarke Duncan
Directed by Todd Phillips

Official Web site

One of the trickier sub-genres to successfully pull off in movies is a black comedy, as it frequently is inhabited by some unlikable characters, or at least puts likable characters into unfortunate situations. Excellent examples of the genre include “A Fish Called Wanda,” “Ruthless People” and of course, “Dr. Strangelove.” There could certainly be some debate as to whether “School for Scoundrels” can actually qualify as a black comedy, as its PG-13 rating almost seems the movie is pulling punches, while also trying to uncomfortably mesh romance into the mix.

But however the film is officially classified, it’s certainly less successful than it should be, taking into account its solid cast.

The film stars Jon Heder (“Napoleon Dynamite”) as Roger, a guy suffering from serious self-confidence issues. First, he’s a parking meter cop, who’s the target of ridicule from his co-workers and has been rejected by several children in the Big Brothers program. Add in his problem with talking to his sweet and available Australian neighbor Amanda (Jacinda Barrett) along with his frequent panic attacks, and you’ve got a ripe candidate for a life overhaul.

Enter Dr. P (Billy Bob Thornton), a mysterious adult education teacher who has a radical confidence-boosting class that tears down its students before building them back up. Dr. P’s class is both secretive and expensive ($5,000), which makes one wonder why people that have this kind of money readily available wouldn’t just seek out counseling.

But that quibble aside, some of the early scenes with Dr. P interacting with his class show promise, allowing Thornton to show off his darkly funny comic timing that he’s honed in movies such as “Bad Santa” and “The Bad News Bears.” However, that does point out that maybe it’s time for the versatile Thornton to start seeking out roles of a different ilk, lest he start being typecast. A trailer for his next film (“Mr. Woodcock”) that ran before “School for Scoundrels” looks quite a bit like more of the same.

The film starts going a bit off the rails once a competition for the affections of Amanda begins between Roger and Dr. P, who seems to make it a habit of destroying the life of one of his students in each class. Evidently, it’s his form of entertainment. Unfortunately, that entertainment doesn’t really cross over to the audience, as the two engage in a contest of one-upmanship that produces few laughs.

Part of the problem is that Heder’s comic range seems rather limited, making his rather sudden transformation into a more ruthless foil to Thornton’s Dr. P a bit of a stretch. Thornton’s comic skills are rather muted in the second half of the film, while skilled comics such as Sarah Silverman and David Cross are largely wasted – a bit of a surprise, seeing as how the film is co-written and directed by Todd Phillips (“Old School”). An uncredited appearance by Ben Stiller as a former student in the film’s third act is a welcome sight, but by then, even he can’t quite lift the comedy much beyond mediocrity.

“School for Scoundrels” seems to want to be a movie that contains both a mean streak and a heart, but ultimately is lacking a little in both departments.

Grade: C
(Rated PG-13 for language, crude and sexual content, and some violence.)

What’s Next
Billy Bob Thornton - Starring with Seann William Scott and Susan Sarandon in “Mr. Woodcock,” as a former high school gym class teacher who made life hell for his students. Now, he’s set to marry the mother (Sarandon) of one of his former students (Scott). Set for release in January 2007.

Jon Heder - A thirtysomething slacker (Heder) who lives with his mom realizes his sweet set-up is threatened when she hears wedding bells with her self-help guru beau. The 2007 release also stars Diane Keaton and Jeff Daniels.