"Lee Daniels' The Butler" is the kind of film that has aspirations of being a serious Oscar contender.
And while it may fall short of those high aspirations, this is still a film with plenty of strength and enough going for it to make it solid end-of-summer adult fare.
"The Butler" is inspired by true life events of Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker) a butler who served eight presidents from Dwight Eisenhower to Ronald Reagan during his tenure at the White House. His time in the White House included major events that had an effect on Gaines and his friends and family - including the civil rights movement and Vietnam.
Daniels is a director who has proven capable of getting excellent work out of his cast - Monique's Oscar-winning turn in "Precious" and even Nicole Kidman's memorable work in the otherwise forgettable "The Paper Boy." He gets a much larger canvas here, with a huge cast in play in this sweeping epic.
For the most part, it works.
Whitaker's work is probably the most understated of the group, with the actor's performance mirroring his character's ability to blend into the background and let everything else play out around him.
While Whitaker's work is more subtle, you get more showy stuff from Oprah Winfrey as Gaines' wife and David Oyelowo as Gaines' oldest son who experiences the civil rights movement from the front lines.
Winfrey is really good here, reminding people that beyond the talk show caricature is someone who is actually a pretty good actress. Oyelowo is just as impressive in a role that provides "The Butler" with its emotional kick.
Cuba Gooding Jr., Lenny Kravitz and Terrence Howard also are good in small roles.
Some other roles - mainly the presidential cameos - don't work quite as well. Whether it is Robin Williams as Eisenhower, James Marsden as John F. Kennedy, John Cusack as Richard Nixon, or Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan - these moments felt gimmicky, a way to bring in star power to make the material a little more palpable.
"The Butler" is at its best when Gaines and his family are the center of attention. A sequence where we see Gaines helping set up a White House dinner at the same time his son is participating in a sit-in in a Southern diner is as powerful as any film released this year.
In the end, "Lee Daniels' The Butler" is well done, and definitely worth seeing, but it falls short of the next-level greatness that it tries to achieve.
Also in theaters
This week's other high-profile release is much more disappointing. It's "Kick-Ass 2" (D+), the sequel to the 2010 hit that lacks any of the dark edge that gave the original its cult following.
"Kick-Ass 2" follows Dave (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), the teenage boy who started the average Joe superhero movement as Kick-Ass in the original film, and Mindy (Chloe Grace Moretz) - the former Hit Girl now trying to be a normal high school freshman.
With Mindy out of the crime-fighting business, Dave turns a new band of superheroes led by a former Mob henchman turned crime-fighter named Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey).
The superheroes are threatened when former crime-fighter Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) assembles a team of super villains intent on destroying Kick-Ass and anyone with whom he is associated.
I was a big fan of "Kick-Ass," which some people didn't like because of what was perceived as an uneven tone. This film is way more uneven, with the film trying to be coy and cute in the first half before evolving into a violent mess that would rival "The Expendables" for body counts in the second half.
The tone isn't the only problem.
Most of the characters lack the interest from the original, especially Hit Girl, who is given a subplot that is taken straight from "Mean Girls."
The only character that works is Stars and Stripes, but sadly, writer-director Jeff Wadlow only scratches the surface on his backstory that could have made a much more interesting movie.
Instead, you get a film that pounds the audience into submission, creating a sequel that is nothing more than an ugly mess.
"Kick-Ass 2" is rated R for strong violence, pervasive language, crude and sexual content, and brief nudity and is now playing at the Regal Greenwood Mall Stadium 10 and Highland Cinemas in Glasgow.
-- To get sportswriter/movie reviewer Micheal Compton's thoughts on all things movies, visit his blog at mcompton.wordpress.com or his Twitter page at twitter.com/mcompton428. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Credit: By MICHEAL COMPTON The Daily News email@example.com 783-3247
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