Coming this Friday to local bargain theaters: a real-life political thriller, a drama about redemption and an unjustly ignored comedy.
Sean Penn and Naomi Watts star in Fair Game, the fictionalized story of the national controversy stirred up when undercover intelligence operative Valerie Plame was "outed" in the national media, perhaps as retaliation for comments by her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, questioning the existence of a nuclear weapons program in Iraq in the run-up to the war in 2003. While the performances are solid, it focuses too much on the couple's domestic dramas while burying the globe-transforming treachery.
Get Low, a 2010 Sundance entry, casts Robert Duvall as a Depression-era hermit who attempts to confront the rumors swirling around him by throwing his own wake while he's still alive. Solid performances again -- including Bill Murray as a deadpan undertaker -- but the film comes to a dead stop when it's time to reveal the main character's back-story.
The dollar theaters also offer a second chance to discover James L. Brooks' How Do You Know, a shaggy, uneven but often very funny comedy about two down-on-their-luck characters -- one a businessman facing indictment (Paul Rudd), the other a softball team star (Reese Witherspoon) nearing the end of her career -- who may find romance. There's little that's pre-packaged or conventional here, which may have been why it faced a rough time in first-run; unfortunately, the lesson learned by Hollywood may be to avoid idiosyncratically quirky stories like this one.