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Figuratively and literally, this show is Looney Tunes

Don’t say you weren’t warned. Colonial Players is forthright about Why Torture Is Wrong, and The People Who Love Them, the unconventional “arc” show offered to make the theater-in-the-round better rounded. Marketing Director Tim Sayles calls this “raucous and provocative” show an “ideologically pointed black comedy by America’s master absurdist playwright,” Christopher Durang. Well and good. A political commentary on post 9-11 paranoia could be hilarious — except I only laughed twice. Admittedly, I was in the minority.
    This show is Looney Tunes, both figuratively and literally, with soundtrack and soundbites lifted straight out of Warner Brothers’ classics. Imagine a society populated only by extremists. Now give them sophomoric quirks and non-sequitur dialogue, and throw in nauseating violence for good measure. This show is so warped that I’m breaking with tradition to give the spoiler: Reality lurks on the periphery until the final 10 minutes, when the action rewinds to construct an alternate course of how things should have unfolded were the principals not xenophobes on red alert.
    Felicity (Diane Samuelson) awakes to find herself married to a congenial stranger whom she suspects of slipping her a roofie at Hooters. Zamir (Pat Reynolds) is unemployed and has criminal connections, conservative Muslim ideals and an intolerant temper. Felicity’s parents are no help, as her mother, Luella (Jean Berard), who cultivates an image of clueless confusion, responds with platitudes from her encyclopedic knowledge of Broadway hits. Her ultra-conservative father, Leonard (Richard Fiske), who masquerades as a butterfly collector while analyzing top secret intelligence in the attic, has his naïve partner Hildegarde (Chaseedaw Giles) investigate Zamir.
    Misinterpreting Zamir’s conversation with a porn-producing minister, the Rev. Mike (Jason Vaughan), about a film called The Big Bang, Hildegarde has Leonard kidnap and torture Zamir. Assisting is Agent Looney Tunes (Ruben Vellekoop, also the narrator) who speaks only in cartoon quotations. Zamir’s false confessions of a terrorist plot trigger catastrophic consequences.
    The jokes are a jumble of societal barbs, from ballroom dancing at Hooters and falling panties with cheap Chinese elastic to Hanoi Jane and Freedom toast. Humor this forced requires a level of sincerity that only Vaughan achieves throughout, though Reynolds and Giles are entertaining.    Mostly, however, the dialogue feels awkward. Complicating matters, this show is technically complex, from its extensive light grid to its versatile stage dominated by a raised platform with trapdoors. Thus, the scene changes are tedious and sight lines limited.
    If your mind races like American Pharoah, if you enjoy sensory overload, if you find dismemberment entertaining, this show is for you.
    Two and a half hours with intermission. Contains violence, mature themes and adult language.

Director: Kristofer Kauff. Set designer: Terry Averill. Sound: Kaelynn Miller. Lights: Wes Bedsworth. Costumes: Sarah Wade.

ThFSa 8pm; Su 2pm (and 7:30pm June 14) thru June 20: Colonial Players, 108 East St., Annapolis. $20/discounts; rsvp: 410-268-7373;

Shakespeare, thy chauvinism doth wear thin

O, Shakespeare! Why didst thou write such a play? Why doth any company still perform it? Forsooth, it hath some enduring one-liners, despite being one of thine earliest works. Yea, thou wert the first to say Love is blind and I am but a fool. But really, thy chauvinism doth wear thin.
     How are we in the 21st century to believe that a strong woman, even in the Roaring Twenties, would pledge troth to a cheating would-be rapist? That the high-born and educated witnesses to his baseness would laugh it off as passing folly? T’would have been better set in a modern gang.
    Be that as it may, the Annapolis Shakespeare Company gives admirable lift to this cumbersome play.
     Valentine (Joel Ottenheimer) and Proteus (Patrick Truhler) are best friends from Verona who, with their servants Speed (Brian Keith MacDonald) and Launce (Matthew Alan Ward), visit the Duke of Milan (Brian Davis). Both woo his daughter Silvia (Laura Rocklyn), despite her father’s preference for Thurio (Brendan Edward Kennedy) and Proteus’ pledge to his hometown girl, Julia (Amy Pastoor). Suspecting Proteus’ vacillation, Julia disguises herself as his boy servant, forcing her to court Silvia on her betrothed’s behalf. When Silvia chooses Valentine, Proteus thwarts their elopement and causes his friend to be exiled. Silvia follows, is set upon by outlaws and rescued by Proteus, who tries to force himself on her. But Valentine saves the day, and all’s well that ends with a double wedding. Rrright.
     The best things about this show are MacDonald and Ward as the comic relief. MacDonald, a most watchable actor, is a master of nuance as Valentine’s wily valet, Speed. Ward is a physical dynamo as the ribald clown Launce, a cross between Dick Van Dyke and Jim Carrey. He also exercises absolute command of his costar, Crab the dog (Julie Ricketts), an adorable spaniel who disproves the conventional wisdom that animals don’t belong onstage. Also noteworthy is Kennedy for his stunning rendition of “Lady Be Good,” adapted to Shakespeare’s poetry in praise of Silvia. That man can sing to beat the band!
     The period costumes are a delight. The Jazz Age soundtrack features hits by the Gershwins, Fats Waller and Fred Fisher. Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s tiny black box theater is painted with a minimalist Art Deco mural and a blinding sunburst of pinlights suggesting a crowded speakeasy. The concept sounds good, but the action feels forced in this intimate space when fights break out or the whole company kicks up their heels to the Charleston.
     The Company’s mission — to produce bold, re-imagined, entertaining and accessible interpretations of classics — is admirable. Some projects, however, are more deserving than others. This lengthy comedy will appeal most to mature Shakespeare buffs.

2.5 hours with intermission. With Renata Plecha (Lucetta), and James Carpenter (Elgamour). Director and choreographer: Sally Boyett. Lights: Adam Mendelson. Costumes: Jackie Colestock. Musical arranger: Gregory Thomas Martin. Scenic artist: Mariana Fernandez. Fight choreographer: Amy Pastoor.

Playing thru June 28: FSa plus Th June 25 8pm; Su 3pm: 111 Chinquapin Round Rd., Annapolis; $35 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-415-3513;

It’s a disaster!

Rescue pilot Ray Gaines (Dwayne Johnson: Furious 7) has saved countless lives. But he was unable to save his daughter from drowning on a family trip. Haunted by memories, Ray drove away his wife Emma (Carla Gugino: Match) and his surviving daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario: Burying the Ex). Now he longs to have them back.
    What could possibly mend this broken family?
    How about a catastrophic earthquake along the California coast?
    When the earthquake strikes, buildings topple, streets open into gaping maws and thousands struggle for survival. This would be a compelling scenario — if our hero cared. Instead of doing his job as a firefighter, Ray reroutes his helicopter — effectively stealing it — to rescue his wife and daughter. What’s a few hundred lives when your ex needs you?
    The biggest fault in San Andreas is lack of tension. Director Brad Peyton (Journey 2: The Mysterious Island) choreographs a massive earthquake with computer graphics and stirring music. But there is never any question about the outcome. You know Ray will save his wife and daughter and that they will reunite.
    It is possible to make a good disaster movie. The original Poseidon Adventure (1972) showed us how to use disaster to explore a group of characters — before devastating us by killing them. It’s a tried-and-true formula ignored by modern filmmakers. Why develop interesting characters when you can use computers to animate destruction? In these bloodless disasters, we watch cities crumble without the bother of emotion.
    Because the stakes are so low, performances are uneven. Johnson, who’s played this role so many times he could do it in his sleep, isn’t so much acting as flexing his natural charisma. A great star with a commanding presence, he has yet to find a project worthy of his personality.
    Gugino isn’t as lucky. As the damsel in distress, she’s forced to stare admiringly at Johnson, follow mutely behind him and panic so he can manfully calm her. Though she can hit the right hysterical notes, it’s an embarrassing role for a reliable character actress.
    Loud, silly and wholly unsatisfying, San Andreas is the type of film giant tubs of popcorn were made for.

Ridiculous Action • PG-13 • 114 mins.

Whodunnit? Ask the audience

When Charles Dickens died 145 years ago this month, he left behind an unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Release was scheduled in a dozen installments between 1870 and 1871, but he finished only six. Afterward, it became a bit of a cottage industry to take on the novel’s completion, including deciding which of Dickens’ characters was responsible for the murder of the title character.  Would-be Dickens met with varying levels of success. One that turned out quite well is the version that kicks off Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre’s 50th season.
    With book, music and lyrics by Rupert Holmes (earworm warning: Holmes is perhaps best known for his 1979 hit “Escape … The Piña Colada Song”), the show debuted in 1985 and won Holmes five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Book and Best Original Score. Lighter and broader than the novel, this musical Drood’s action and audience are in an old-time English music hall, a show-within-a-show complete with emcee and cast playing not Dickens’ characters but music hall performers playing Dickens’ characters.
    And what characters they are, an English town’s worth of winking whackies, led by a triad of top talent. David Merrill has a great time as John Jasper, Drood’s schizoid uncle and choirmaster. Paige Miller is the sincere ingénue Rosa Bud, Drood’s betrothed after whom Jasper lusts. Emily Lentz is Drood in a traditional cross-dressing role. All three have wonderful voices, and Merrill’s and Miller’s especially soar on the operatic “The Name of Love and Moonfall,” sung after he confesses his love for her.
     As the proprietor of the Music Hall Royale, Erik Alexis excitedly introduces us to the actors and their characters and guides us through the story with old jokes and a fine voice. His duet with Merrill on “Both Sides of the Coin,” a 100mph patter-song romp through an actor’s confusion when playing two parts, is a highlight of the night.
    As the newcomers from Ceylon, Casey Lynne Garner and DJ Wojciehowski stir things up nicely as siblings Helena and Neville Landless. Wendell Holland’s Reverend Crisparkle is perhaps not the upstanding man of the cloth he wants us to believe. As Princess Puffer, an opium den denizen, Maribeth Vogel offers up a fine “The Garden Path to Hell” in describing how a boyfriend turned her to a life of sleaze. Several other fine characters anchor the show, including Ethan Goldberg as Durdles, the usually drunk stonemason, and Stephanie Bernholz, doing a fine job with the stick puppet that plays Durdles’ Deputy.
    Connecting all of these characters to the plot might take more space than allotted here, so let’s just say that when Drood ends up murdered, there are plenty of suspects, plus a new character who comes on to investigate. This being a musical based on Dickens’ version of Drood rather than the brooding, dark and incomplete novel, it’s all tied up with a happy ending. Several, in fact.    
    Whodunnit? You get to decide.

Director: Andy Scott. Music director: Ken Kimble. Choreographer: Elysia Greene-Merrill. Stage manager: Kristy McKeever. Costumer: Jackie Colestock. Lighting designer: Drew Fox.
Playing thru June 20. Th-S plus W June 17 8pm: 143 Compromise St., Annapolis. $22; rsvp: 410-268-9212;

The music is timeless as life ­imitates art

Is it life imitates art? Or art imitates life? Either way, when Kiss Me, Kate hit Broadway back in 1948, winning a Tony Award, it marked the first time that Cole Porter’s music and lyrics integrated into a stage story, moving beyond showcasing Porter’s clever musical banter to pushing the story along. The story, told in show-within-a-show technique, is the on-and-offstage comedy of errors of the producer, director and star of musical version of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, Fred Graham, his ex-wife and costar Lilli Vanessi, and a comic cast with some very fine voices.
    Brian Binney nails Fred’s egoism, has a fine voice and cavorts across the stage with a jumpiness that mirrors his desperation to ensure that the show goes on. He is desperately trying to keep Lilli from quitting after she discovers his lust for Lois Lane, the sexy young actress whose boyfriend owes some very bad men some very big bucks. As Lilli, Brenda D. Parker is as convincingly egotistical as Fred. She has a powerhouse voice that is flexible enough to move from ballad to comedic in a matter of measures. As Lois and Bill, her boyfriend in arrears, Amy Greco and Nathan Bowen give us a pair of sure-footed hoofers and singers who seem born to the stage of old, whose attractions were soft shoe and solid voices, not special effects and remakes.
    The story is frantic and funny, but it’s the classic Porter songs that keep the audience — at least those of a certain age or interest in Broadway history — thinking a-ha at recognizing tunes that turned out to be timeless. The hit parade starts with the company announcing “Another Op’nin’, Another Show.” As the parade passes by, we’re mesmerized by Parker’s beautiful “So in Love” and riotous “I Hate Men,” Greco’s and Bowen’s “Why Can’t You Behave?” and, opening Act II, Jared Shamberger’s turn as Paul energetically leading the company through a very nicely choreographed “Too Darn Hot.” Special mention to the bassist in the orchestra — either Jeff Eckert or Steve Hudgins in the program — who plucks a very jazzy accompaniment on the latter.
    Other chestnuts, from “Wunderbar” by Binney and Parker to Greco’s “Always True to You in My Fashion,” keep the parade of hits coming. When two toughies, played by Josh Hampton and Michael Iacone, show up trying to collect from Bowen’s Bill and end up a part of the cast, they bring a cool liveliness to the goings-on that culminates in a hilarious “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” that seems to go on forever — and deserves to.
    Costumes by Linda Swann are colorful and fun. Director Roy Hammond and choreographer Rikki Howie Lacewell keep the pace moving. Stage manager Joanne D. Wilson keeps the scene changes short. The live orchestra led by Joe Biddle does a nice job moving the music without overpowering the singers, quite an accomplishment when an orchestra of more than a dozen is playing in a relatively small 155-seat venue like Bowie Playhouse.
    2nd Star’s Kiss Me, Kate brings us old Broadway that’s as good as new. It’s comedy, romance and music that were built to last. Judging by the vitality of 2nd Star’s production, tickets likely won’t.

Playing thru June 27, FSa 8pm; Su 3pm: Bowie Playhouse at White Marsh Park, Bowie; $22 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-757-5700;

Focus on the future; forget the plot

As a little girl, Casey Newton (Britt Robertson: The Longest Ride) dreamed of reaching the stars. Her father (Tim McGraw: Country Strong), a NASA engineer, always told her it was possible. But as Casey enters high school, that dream seems light-years away.
    Her dreams fall before her eyes when NASA tears down the Cape Canaveral launch pad near her home and lay offs her father. It seems the world has stopped dreaming and stopped reaching for the stars. The environment is crumbling, violence around the world is skyrocketing.
    Just as Casey is about to give up on her dreams and the world, she discovers a mysterious pin. Touching it transports her to the futuristic Tomorrowland, where energy is clean, people are happy and space exploration is a high school requirement.
    Fascinated, Casey seeks to know more. She finds Frank Walker (George Clooney: The Monuments Men), a former child prodigy who lived in Tomorrowland. He has grown into a bitter hermit exiled after inventing something bad. Though he refuses to speak to her, Casey’s presence tips off Tomorrowland security, which rushes to contain her.
    Can Casey elude the security forces? Will Frank take her to Tomorrowland? How can a movie be beautiful and boring at the same time?
    Tomorrowland promises excellence. Robot henchmen, a girl who can lift a car, ray guns, hover trains, George Clooney. Yet it’s overlong, oversimplified and sometimes just plain dull.
    For all its attempt to say big things, Tomorrowland lacks nuance and depth. Director Brad Bird (Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol) builds a stunning world, but the philosophical questions he ­raises, though sophomoric, are never answered — even explored. The premise of keep dreaming, everyone! would look great on a poster outside Tomorrowland in Disney World (which is the inspiration for the film).
    The biggest problem is that Bird builds a visually sumptuous future world but denies us exploration rights. Plenty of panning shots show us technology, but we only meet one inhabitant, the film’s antagonist. Without people, the beautiful visuals are a hollow façade.
    Not all is lost. Clooney and Robertson have excellent chemistry, so the film comes alive when they interact. The problems arise when the film attempts to expand on the world beyond them. Supporting players fall flat, plotlines go nowhere and motivation is murky.
    Tomorrowland isn’t a failure, but it wastes a lot of its potential. We could hope such an advanced society would be better at telling its story.

Fair Fantasy • PG • 130 mins.

Another Classic-Lite premieres

Two summers ago, the Annapolis Shakespeare Company offered a new concept in dinner theater: Comedy in the Courtyard at Reynolds Tavern, featuring modern adaptations of classics from the Enlightenment. Satires such as Molière’s Tartuffe and The Schemings of Scapin, performed by comely professionals with a flair for punny couplets, found audiences as hungry for bawdy barbs as they were for shrimp and grits. So when Artistic Director Sally Boyett commissioned Timothy Mooney, author of 17 Molière adaptations, to translate an Italian classic — Carlo Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters  — the public house was packed. Mooney flew in from Chicago for the champagne reception honoring this world premiere about love and revenge among bumbling aristocrats, saucy maids and a scheming servant.
    The servant in question, Truffaldino (Patrick Truhler), is an opportunist whose greed and incompetence engender romance between his two masters after two hours of swashbuckling confusion. It all starts when a Venetian merchant, Pantalone (Brian Keith MacDonald), arranges for his daughter Clarice (Megan Morse Jans) to marry Silvio (Michael Windsor), son of Doctor Lombardi (James Carpenter). Clarice’s previous betrothed, Federigo (Laura Rocklyn), was killed by Florindo (Carpenter), the lover of Federigo’s sister Beatrice (Rocklyn). Now Beatrice, disguised as her dead brother, has come to claim Federigo’s uncollected dowry. Yet unbeknownst to Beatrice, her lover Florindo arrives in Venice simultaneously. The servant Truffaldino contracts to serve them both even as his feeble brain is besotten with love for Clarice’s maidservant, Smeraldina (Amy Pastoor). Only the innkeeper, Brighella (Sue Struve), knows who’s who, and nobody knows fully what’s what in this comedy of errors where all’s well that ends well.
    Confused? I still am, but it really doesn’t matter. In the spirit of the Three Stooges, the entertainment lies in the delivery and the pratfalls. The dialogue is modern with such clever observations as defining patriarchy as a cockocracy. Witticisms are served up with a sauce of slapstick garnished with outrageous sound effects. A chorus of whistles, drums, gongs, castanets, horns and whipsticks accompany each gag, and no one utters the name of the mysteriously reincarnated Federigo without Ennio Morricone’s riff from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly echoing through the courtyard.
    The actors engage the audience by snatching props from their tables and deigning to sit with them on occasion, perhaps waiting in vain for a bite of the bread pudding or other menu offerings so highly praised in the script. Bawdy jokes, double entendres and physical gags are de rigueur, and Truhler as the servant is a buffoon par excellence.
    This costume comedy is a lowbrow introduction to a highbrow classic intended to entertain and enlighten the modern audience on the roots of revolutionary philosophy and letters. It runs two hours with two intermissions, and regular menu prices are in effect.

Director: Sally Boyett. Costumes: Jackie Colestock. Stage Manager: Sara K. Smith.

Playing Tuesdays (rain date Wed.) thru Sept. 29, 7:30pm (come early for dinner and drinks): 1747 Pub Courtyard at Reynolds Tavern, Annapolis; $25 w/advance discounts plus fare; rsvp: 410-415-3513;


Embrace the madness

In a post-apocalyptic desert, a man flees a hoard of irradiated bikers. The bikers, pale and riddled with tumors, need “blood bags” — men with clean blood — to stave off the effects of radiation sickness. Max (Tom Hardy) is caught and hanged from a makeshift IV poll for the draining.
    Thee bikers serve Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), a ruthless warlord. Controlling the only clean water source, he forces the locals to serve him or face certain, excruciating death. His brainwashed biker “war boys” gladly do his bidding. Non-irradiated women are forced to become his brides as he attempts to breed a “clean” bloodline for his empire.
    But Immortan’s loyal war party driver Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) takes an unexpected detour to free his brides, driving them to safety in a fabled green land. His war boys follow.
    Will Max join Furiosa to save the women? Or will his survival instinct keep him out of the fray?
    A two-hour chase, Mad Max: Fury Road is a loud, crazy blur of twisted metal and mutilated flesh. It’s also one of the best action movies made in the last three decades. Director George Miller, who helmed the original Mad Max franchise, expounds on the visual insanity of the earlier film. Every frame is a painting, each camera movement chosen to help Miller choreograph the on-screen chaos. This type of gonzo filmmaking won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s a bold, complete vision that is impressive to behold.
    Fury Road is also a deceptively simple film with a lot to say about gender politics, disabilities and religion. Miller makes Max an observer of the world, a would-be hero who routinely fails. The real hero is Furiosa, a one-armed woman who brazenly defies a brutal dictator to save enslaved women and expose Immortan Joe as a false idol.
    As Max, Hardy is pitch-perfect in what could be a generic role. Though he’s nearly silent for the first hour, Hardy is able to imbue Max with both emotion and humor. Hardy’s Max is driven to survive at all costs but is still haunted by those he couldn’t save — the perfect hero for a land that has lost all sense of morality.
    A colossus of a film, filled with metaphor, gore and intense action, Mad Max: Fury Road crafts an insane yet fascinating world. Look deeper for interesting commentary on society, or sit back with a bucket of popcorn and enjoy the greatest chase movie of the new millennium.

Great Action Movie • R • 120 mins.

A feminist love story set in an un-feminist time

Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan: Skylight) has no place in Victorian society. Uninterested in being a governess and resentful of the roles forced on women in 1870s’ England, she escapes to her aunt’s small farm. There she works the land, rides astride instead of sidesaddle and generally acts in ways that would give proper women the vapors.
    Her wild nature attracts farmer Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts: The Loft), who woos her with lambs and promises of a stable life. Bathsheba likes Gabriel but loves her freedom and rejects his proposal.
    An unexpected inheritance grants Bathsheba even more freedom. She is given her late uncle’s massive farm estate and with it a small fortune. Now in want of nothing, Bathsheba sets about becoming a gentlewoman farmer. Though her staff and the town are skeptical of a woman managing money, crops and livestock, Bathsheba proves a brilliant businesswoman and capable farmer.
    With money, land and freedom, Bathsheba sees no reason to take a husband. But suitors flock to her side, hoping to be the one to tame the wild woman. Her neighbor, wealthy farmer Mr. Boldwood (Michael Sheen: Masters of Sex) becomes obsessed with Bathsheba after she sends him a Valentine as a joke. Soldier Francis Troy (Tom Sturridge: Effie Gray) tempts Bathsheba with promises of passion and sex. And Gabriel, who lost his farm in a tragic twist of fate, returns to Bathsheba’s side to work as her shepherd and offer her advice.
    Which of the men will Bathsheba choose? Why should she choose any?
    Thomas Hardy’s 19th century novel Far From the Madding Crowd is a bit of pastoral soap opera. Director Thomas Vinterberg (The Hunt) honors Hardy’s love of the pastoral but shifts the focus to Bathsheba’s independence. Each frame of the film is a painting, bringing out the beauty of the countryside and the occasional brutality of farm life. A stunning sequence involving the death of a flock of sheep is both horrifying and oddly poetic as filmed by Vinterberg.
    Because Vinterberg is cramming several hundred pages of plot into 119 minutes, the film jumps around a bit. Book readers will know how much time has passed between scenes, but moviegoers may be confused. Still, the director captures the spirit of Bathsheba and the world she inhabits.
    As the independent Bathsheba, Mulligan is a revelation. She gives her all the follies of youth, including impetuous, bratty behavior, without making her seem willfully cruel. This Bathsheba is a smart, strong girl, whose fire and drive make her a heroine worth rooting for.
    Representing the three men who hope to tame her, Schoenaerts, Sheen and Sturridge are all excellent foils. Typically cast as a bruiser, Schoenaerts is surprisingly tender as Gabriel. Sheen is a ball of manic nerves and odd ticks as the obsessive Boldwood. Sturridge gets the least to do as Troy, but he manages to excrete an oily charm.
    A beautifully shot, brilliantly acted tale of love, lust and sheep, Far From the Madding Crowd is a great companion to the Hardy novel. Like the men who surround her, you’re likely to fall for Mulligan in this stunning film.

Great Drama • PG-13 • 119 mins.

A highbrow popcorn flick for the masses

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.: The Judge) dreams of a world without The Avengers. He’s been secretly experimenting with artificial intelligence in hopes of creating a legion of AI peacekeepers to safeguard the world from aliens, disasters and humanity. He sees this legion as his new legacy, erasing his years in the weapons industry.
    When The Avengers recover the scepter of Loki, Stark and his science buddy Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo: Foxcatcher) examine its power source. What they discover is Ultron (James Spader: The Homesman), an artificial intelligence capable of thought without programing. Stark wants to upload immediately; Banner wants to investigate.
    Stark — who has apparently read no science fiction — wins. Upon evaluating the human race, Ultron makes his assessment: Humanity needs to evolve or die. To begin the fix, he targets a group that regularly injures people and destroys towns: The Avengers.
    Can Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Hulk and Iron Man rid the world of Ultron? Or is the team that swore they’d protect Earth going to cause its destruction?
    Age of Ultron is an action-adventure movie following in the grand tradition of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis. It isn’t about the plot; it’s about watching charismatic actors throw punches and dodge projectiles.
    Director Joss Whedon (Much Ado About Nothing) squeezes some surprisingly nuanced writing into a film where a large green man tosses cars at a man in a robot suit. The concept is an old one: What makes each superhero special also holds him or her prisoner. Captain America is a man lost to time; he needs a war to find a purpose. Banner has vast power when he becomes the Hulk, but he’s horrified by the collateral damage incurred by his uncontrollable episodes. Black Widow is an assassin with a bloody past for which she can not forgive herself, no matter how much good she does.
    The biggest drawback to Age of Ultron is time. There are too many characters, too much plot and ultimately too much movie. Whedon’s expanded the universe, and its new characters detract from characters we know. The result is a movie epic in scale but shallow in story.
    Filled with quotable lines, fun action and a clever villain, Avengers: The Age of Ultron is the rare mass-market film that can please most audiences. Whether you’re into historical jokes or physical comedy, Age of Ultron has something that will please you.

Good Action • PG-13 • 141 mins.