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VIDEO: ‘The Joneses,’ French Film Festival, plus more

“The Joneses”

Bing Crosby would have loved Steve Jones (David Duchovny) in “The Joneses.” Duchovny wears the role like a sweater, plays a fine game of golf, and though he doesn’t croon Irish lullabies, his blithe charm puts everyone in a smiling mood. Actually, Steve is no Jones, he’s a former golf pro and car salesman who joins a sales “unit” that pretends to be a warm, loving family unit: the Joneses, who move into a McMansion in a very upscale suburb.

“Wife” Kate Jones (Demi Moore) is like a project manager from planet Greed, the covert project being the sale of expensive products to trusting, clueless neighbors, who already appear stuffed to the gilded gills. “Daughter” Jenn (Amber Heard) works the female teens, though she has a zeal for chasing older men into bed. “Son” Mick (Ben Hollingsworth) hustles the young guys, though he’d prefer another hustle, being secretly gay. We never get much grip on how the Joneses sell so much, but the movie looks like a catalog, almost every shot appearing air-brushed by corporate elves eager to move the merchandise.

It’s like a Republican Shangri-La, with lots of golf and no mention of recession, bank bailouts or tea party nutballs. The German director, Derrick Borte, may be humorless, yet Duchovny wedges in twigs of dry humor. We know he will be the most human Jones when the golden worm turns. Gary Cole plays a neighbor whose wife (Glenne Headly) is desperately selling cosmetics. When he drops the dreadful word “foreclosure,” it’s the tipping point, the crack of doom. From the stricken looks, you’d think that Goldman Sachs had opened a dump for toxic mortgages at the country club.

Now that Catherine Deneuve has abdicated, Demi Moore reigns as the World’s Sexiest Well-Preserved Woman (though reportedly there is a foxy, frozen vamp way up in the Andes). As Kate, Moore seems to be from a coven of the covetous, her sex drive totally sublimated in selling, shopping and body maintenance. She could be the last and most streamlined of the Stepford wives. As a more mature, and natural presence, Lauren Hutton plays Kate’s boss.

There is a snarky spoof of Bush Era consumerism buried here. Buried, and going to sleep, because at no point does the script really engage the themes. It seems to love the lifestyle it laments, though Duchovny floats at a smart, wistful distance. Maybe he has read Tony Judt’s new book, “Ill Fares the Land,” with its lacerating view of the splurge-and-waste culture of “redundant consumer goods — houses, jewelry, cars, clothing, tech toys.” And movies like “The Joneses.” (Opens Friday; rated R) ★★

“City Island”

Molly (Emily Mortimer) is like a thespian angel for Vince (Andy Garcia) in the charming "City Island." (Photo courtesy of Anchor Bay Films)

When a movie tries to be cute but substantial, the mix can be lousy – remember David Duchovny’s “House of D”? But in “City Island” the blend jells engagingly. It’s a good return for Andy Garcia, whose film career has slumped ever since “Godfather III” let so many people down. As Vince Rizzo he has a sweetly grave, often amusing charm. Life-long resident of the homey (253 acres) isle attached to the Bronx, Vince is Correctional Officer 426 at a prison and is married to Joyce (Julianna Margulies), a gal whose New Yawky tongue could slice diamonds into paste.

Raymond De Felitta’s film provides the earnest, self-doubting Vince with a sitcomical family. It includes tall, sexy, college-age Vivian (Garcia’s daughter, Dominik Garcia-Lorido) and her teen brother Vince Jr. (very funny Ezra Miller), a wiseoff with great timing who keeps peeping at an obese neighbor. For added spice, Vince brings home the con Tony (smooth hunk Steven Strait) to do some work. But also so that he, Vince, can find the nerve to spill an old family secret.

His other secret, and the movie’s best gambit, is that Vince longs to be an actor. He sneaks off to classes where his teacher (Alan Arkin) is no Stella Adler. The old crank despises Brando for introducing the artful pause as a tool of American naturalism. These scenes rival the delightful thespian fevers of Paul Mazursky’s “Next Stop, Greenwich Village” (1976).

In Vince’s big break, a movie audition, Garcia has a perfectly calibrated rhythm of comical absurdity and insecure yearning. He’s a very good actor playing an awkward amateur. As he swings from a dopey Brando impression into go-for-it touches (which land midway between Danny Aiello and the bizarre cult actor Timothy Carey), the result is silly, delightful and oddly touching. Vince is finally making his own prison break, from banality.

Emily Mortimer has an airy-angelic role as a wise acting student who mentors Vince. “City Island” is like an attempt to put a Preston Sturges spin on “Moonstruck.” Its only weight comes from Garcia’s puzzled, fretful engagement in Vince’s messy life. This becomes funnier if you realize that Sidney Lumet’s superlative “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” also about a family and lies and acting and dreams, was also shot on City Island. (Opens Friday at Landmark Hillcrest; rated PG-13) ★★★

“The Perfect Game”

Coach Cesar (Clifton Collins Jr.) provides baseball guidance to his young stars in "The Perfect Game." (Photo courtesy of Industry Works Pictures)

Baseball mania grows corn even better than nitrate fertilizer does. The new bumper crop is “The Perfect Game.” It is “based on a true story,” though the bases are loaded with clichés. This is the tale of a fledgling Little League team from Monterrey, Mexico, that got a three-day visa to Texas and went on to win our 1957 national championship. The added sweet spot was a perfect game pitched by Angel Macias (Jake T. Austin; some of the Mexicanitos are played by gringos). Director William Dear is dearly in love with a script piously pulled from W. William Winokur’s book by Winokur himself.

It’s a peppy dossier of the tried and sorta true: games rushed to climaxes, ‘50s rock tunes, impish mischief, newsreel clips (even a visit with Ike at the White House), “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” as gargled by Dr. John, a Negro League veteran played by Lou Gossett Jr., an adorable priest acted by Cheech Marin, some racism softly confronted. Monterrey, a major city, is shown like a ‘50s Western village with an attached steel mill, and a father/son crisis is stretched out, almost forgotten, then neatly wrapped up.

The boys are engaging, if rather formulaic. Bryan Greenberg did fairly sharp imagery. Highly gifted Clifton Collins Jr. (Perry in “Capote”) plays the can-do coach, surely knowing that ethnic clichés were given a smarter, funnier spin way back in the dusty day by his grandfather, little Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez. (Opens Friday; rated PG) ★★

STARS:FOUR (ace), THREE (worthy), TWO (involving), ONE (dud), ZERO (nil)

RECOMMENDED (and current): “An Education,” “City Island,” “Crazy Heart,” “Ghost Writer,” “Greenberg,” “Mother,” “The Secret of Kells,” “Vincere”


French and free: Six movies make up the seventh French Film Festival of free screenings, which will be presented April 15-17 in the Little Theatre (LT 161) on the SDSU campus. All are at 7 p.m. The first subtitled feature is Thursday (April 15): Welcome, Philippe Lioret’s film about a Kurdish teen refugee facing diaspora malaise in Calais, followed Friday night by La Fille du RER, André Téchiné’s fact-derived story of a heedless girl who trips the wire of anti-Semitic controversy, with Catherine Deneuve as her mother.

Four movies follow on Saturday: Les Chansons d’Amour (1 p.m.), Christophe Honoré’s very movie-driven (Demy, Godard, etc.) Parisian musical; Un Baisir, S’Il Vous Plait (3 p.m.), Emmanuel Mouret’s comedy about sexually naïve lovers; Un Secret (5 p.m.), Claude Miller’s WWII drama about a Jewish family dangerously into denial, and La Fille Coupée en Deux (7 p.m.), Claude Chabrol’s sly updating of the Stanford White murder scandal, now set in Lyons and involving a weathergirl. For more information, see: http://www-rohan.sdsu.edu/~frenital/events.html

A QUOTE (not a blurb!): “Your eyes — I’ve looked into pistol barrels that are kinder!” – Jamie Waring (Tyrone Power) to the temporarily chill Lady Margaret (Maureen O’Hara) in “The Black Swan” (1942).

David Elliott is the SDNN movie critic. Contact him at David.Elliott@sdnn.com