Not Ready For Prime Time
            Movies released early in the calendar year usually are not prime Oscar material, but it’s not at all unusual to see the half-baked, the formulaic, the quirky, and the off-key.  And sometimes you can’t tell one from the other.
            “From Paris, With Love” features two veteran actors who enjoy their turn at becoming bulletproof.  Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays James Reece, the low-level CIA operative, stationed in Paris .  He thinks he’s going to do some light translation work, and maybe a little chauffeuring, for a “real” operative.  John Travolta plays Charlie Wax, a swaggering, abrasive, shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later kind of renegade investigator, and now Reece gets a real education, including learning to trust no one, not even his beautiful girlfriend Caroline (Kasia Smutniak).  It’s violent and gritty, and none of the primary characters are exactly charming.
            “When In Rome ” is a romantic comedy that also forgets to make its main characters charming.  Kristen Bell plays Beth, who’s in Rome for her friend’s wedding, and picks up coins from the famous fountain, not realizing it’s enchanted, and the guys who had casually dropped those coins are now under a spell:  madly in love with her.  Well, so is Nick (Josh Duhamel), but she can’t tell the difference between his sincere affection and the creepy stalking of the others.  But somehow they forget to make her winsome enough for us to want to root for her to find true romance, anyway.
            In “Frozen,” three skiers get stranded on a chairlift, suspended high above the frozen landscape.  The actors aren’t famous, and the dialogue isn’t as captivating as it could be, given the tight quarters and the limited cast.  But, perhaps because we don’t know them, it feels real.  They don’t seem to be faking it, or “playing a part” at all.  In some places this is even grisly, but probably all ski resorts would like to ban it.  It makes the potential danger that frightening.
            St. John of Las Vegas” feels like an Elmore Leonard novel.  We’re slumming with the seedy characters, the something-less-than-respectable hustlers who seem to never consider anything resembling morality.  Everybody is governed by their whims, it’s just that some are more clever at coldly cashing in on the heartfelt passions of others.  Steve Buscemi, the king of creep, plays John, a lonely man addicted to gambling, except stupidly:  playing scratch-off games at convenience stores, with occasional casino blackjack.  They take his money quickly, and he’s done, left only with his regrets.  He actually holds down a job, a little clerical position with an obscure insurance company.  But they send him out with Virgil (Romany Malco), a fraud investigator whose sole responsibility is to make sure that the company won’t be liable for the claim. (They assume that everyone else is just as dishonest as they are.)  John dreams about coming to the front during a worship service, where he’s “seized in the Spirit” through the laying on of hands of…..Virgil?  And his new girlfriend is Sarah Silverman, obsessed with smiling faces?  And he argues with a grizzled old nudist rifleman that his cowboy hat makes him overdressed?  Yeah, a bizarre sense of humor, to say the least.
            Four obscure movies, none Oscar-worthy, all hoping only to recoup production costs, while we all wait for something better.  Please?
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Texas