Jett Lag

Despite terrific performances from its stars, The Runaways is oddly monotone; Dragon is a fire-breathing spectacle

by Tim Plant
Published on April 7, 2010, 11:03pm | Comments

In a very odd way, it's almost as if Kristen Stewart was born to play rocker Joan Jett. The slightly stoned look of ambivalence and disdain Stewart wears so well is one of the driving forces that makes The Runaways, the story of Jett and Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning), compelling when the script is a few notes short of a song.

Big in Japan: Fanning and Stewart
Big in Japan: Fanning and Stewart
(Photo by David Moir)

In 1975, the idea of an all-girl rock band was revolutionary, but what could be better than sex and rock and roll all in one band? At least that's what record producer Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon) is betting on when he combines Jett – the rock and roll – and Currie – the sex – together in a band called The Runaways. But like a VH1 Behind the Music, you can almost hear the ominous voiceover announcing that the group ''would soon face their darkest hour as jealously threatens to break them up.''

The script is based on a book by Currie, and it's evident the film is all about her. Other than Jett, the three remaining band members are practically extras (including Arrested Development's Alia Shawkat). It's no wonder that Currie's role as lead singer, sex symbol and heavy drug-user led to strife; her prominence in the spotlight is probably still going to be an issue for the others. Yet even with all the drugs, sex, music and drama, The Runaways is oddly monotone.

Director Floria Sigismondi, who also adapted the screenplay, never really creates an emotional arc during the film. The girls' rise to fame is a fairly slow build while the descent into chaos is fast and furious. The latter spirals downward much more quickly than the audience is able to follow, and no real connection is ever established. It's also glaringly evident that Sigismondi's background is in music videos rather than film. The musical numbers, which could almost be lifted straight out as stand-alone videos, are much more stylized and nuanced than the rest of the film. In the rare moments when Sigismondi tries to add a more artful touch to the narrative, it's painfully forced.

THE RUNAWAYS
starstarstar
Starring
Kristen Stewart,
Dakota Fanning
Rated R
109 Minutes
Opens April 9
Area Theaters

Yet even when the film is moseying forward at a pace slower than the soundtrack, Stewart and Fanning give performances that command attention. Fanning brings a childlike quality to the 15-year old Currie, even as she's crushing a pill with a stiletto and snorting it before taking the stage in a corset. And her chemistry with Stewart is strong enough to make even the most strained moments of dysfunctional friendship work. For her part, Stewart wears black leather like a second skin and oozes attitude that fills Jett's music.

It's Shannon as the creepy producer who takes center stage every time he's on screen. He makes Fowley a caricature that's both laughable and utterly loathsome and rounds out some wonderful casting. It's enough to overcome any scratches and skips that might otherwise render The Runaways unplayable.

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Rule No. 1 in DreamWorks Animation's How to Train Your Dragon: Don't get killed. Rule No. 2: See Rule No. 1.

Living in a dragon-infested world, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) is every Viking father's worst nightmare. He can't wield a sword, has zero aptitude for dragon slaying, and is so skinny he's not even considered dragon dinner. Given that Hiccup's father Stoick (Gerard Butler) is the Viking chief only makes his tendency to march to a different drummer all the more embarrassing.

So it's no surprise that when Hiccup unwittingly captures a feared dragon, he befriends it instead of slays it. As Hiccup uses his knowledge of dragons to gain popularity, he's also setting himself up to be a traitor to his people. When the moment comes, will he be able to do the right thing even though he will lose his newfound approval?

Just because How to Train Your Dragon is predictable doesn't mean it's any less thrilling. Despite all the teasing and low self-esteem, scrawny Hiccup knows that he's got great potential inside -- he just needs to make others see it too. It's only one of the many empowering themes of the film that's nestled in between fire-breathing beasts and paternal problems. And while some of the humor will fly straight over kids' heads, adults will be rolling in the aisles. In other words, there's something for everyone.

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON
starstarstarstar
Starring
Jay Baruchel
Rated PG
98 Minutes
Area Theaters

Occasional moments between Hiccup and Stoick are surprisingly violent and laden with familiarity for anyone who ever dared to stray from their parents' expectations. (Hiccup's ''differences'' from the rest of the tribe will easily be interpreted as a parallel to that other group of boys who aren't so good on the sports field.) But the final moments of acceptance in the film, if somewhat surprising, are handled beautifully.

Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jonah Hill and Craig Ferguson lend their voices to the film, which fit their characters – and the dragons they befriend – perfectly. And the variety of dragons is downright inspired. DreamWorks Animation often has to take backseat to the powerhouse Pixar, but for this one, it's like they were given a copy of How to Make a Great Animated Movie.