First Takes | TahoeDailyTribune.com

First Takes

No summary available. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, language and some sexuality. 90 min.

This is the kind of movie so many of us yearn to see: It’s intense and intelligent, has something to say without being pedantic and presents complicated issues without condescending. It even boasts a solid cast, led by Don Cheadle (who’s also a producer) and including Guy Pearce and Jeff Daniels. So why does “Traitor” feel more than a bit off?

Writer-director Jeffrey Nachmanoff takes this tale of terrorism and espionage ” based on idea from Steve Martin ” and runs with it all over the world, from Sudan and Yemen to Chicago and Washington to London and Marseilles. And yet by the end, with its much-ballyhooed twist, the whole endeavor leaves you feeling more drained than enlightened.

Perhaps because “Traitor” aims to be equal parts explosive action and serious-minded character drama, it never completely hits the mark in either regard. As pure entertainment, it’s too dry; as a heady dissection of world affairs, it’s too shallow.

But through Cheadle’s Samir Horn, “Traitor” does take the admirable step of trying to understand and explain the philosophy of Islamic extremism. Samir is a former U.S. special operations officer whose Muslim faith has led him into terrorist activity. Pearce co-stars as the FBI agent trying to track him down, even as bombings around the world continue to create chaos and carnage.

Daniels has a few strong scenes as a CIA agent who knows more than he lets on to his government cronies. And Cheadle is, of course, as smart and subtle as ever. PG-13 for intense violent sequences, thematic material and brief language. 112 min. Two stars out of four.

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No summary available. 90 min. Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content throughout, language, drug references and comic violence

The play’s the thing in “Hamlet” and it is here, as well. It’s just about the only thing that makes this intentionally cringe-inducing theatrical parody worth watching.

Sure, Steve Coogan has his hilarious moments as a delusional drama coach struggling to save the arts program at a Tucson, Ariz., high school, but that’s all there is in the movie: moments. By now we know the British comic is capable of grabbing hold of a character and never letting go (see: Alan Partridge), so his commitment to playing the arrogant-but-pathetic former actor Dana Marschz is without question. But the material director Andrew Fleming (“Dick”) and co-writer Pam Brady (“Team America: World Police”) give him is hit-and-miss, at best. A lot of it was probably funnier in the conceptual stage than in the actual execution.

In between the individually funny parts, though, is a great morass of redundant, one-note slog, which we must endure while we wait for Dana’s wild, wonderfully campy production, “Hamlet 2.” It’s a musical he hopes will revive not just the school’s drama program but his life, both professionally and personally. To call him a has-been would be charitable; he’s more like a never-was. This would, in theory, engender some sympathy for him, but Dana tends to be too obnoxiously self-possessed to deserve it ” unlike Christopher Guest’s sweetly vulnerable Corky St. Clair in the great “Waiting for Guffman,” who shares similar aspirations of greatness. Catherine Keener co-stars as his disdainful wife, with Amy Poehler playing the ACLU lawyer who fights to keep the totally inappropriate production ” and its jaunty, 1950s-style ditty, “Rock Me Sexy Jesus” ” from being shut down.

R for language including sexual references, brief nudity and some drug content. 92 min. Two stars out of four.

No summary available. 94 min. Rated PG for some thematic elements, mild language and brief rude humor.