Blu Tuesday: The Gambler, Inherent Vice and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“The Gambler”

WHAT: After falling into debt with a pair of dangerous men, college English professor and degenerate gambler Jim Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) is given seven days to pay or else. When his mother (Jessica Lange) gives him the money to clear his debt, only to blow it at the casino instead, Jim is put in a precarious position when one of the loan sharks (Michael K. Williams) threatens the lives of his two students.

WHY: Rupert Wyatt’s “The Gambler” is a curious beast. It’s based on a film that’s just obscure enough that a remake wouldn’t ruffle too many feathers, yet is well-regarded by those who have seen it. In other words, the 1974 original starring James Caan isn’t exactly holy ground, but there’s not much to improve on either, which makes this Mark Wahlberg vanity project feel every bit as irrelevant as the story it’s trying to tell. Wahlberg’s character is such a miserable asshole that it’s very difficult to identify with him, despite some punchy dialogue from writer William Monahan, and to make matters worse, the actor is terribly miscast in the role. At least the gambling scenes are handled with style and verve, dripping in tension and absolutely painful to watch. But while the movie does a great job of illustrating Jim’s self-destructive nature, it never digs any deeper into the root of the problem, which makes it seem fairly hollow as a result. “The Gambler” had all the right ingredients – a great cast, a talented director and source material that’s already proven to work – but it’s a disappointing misfire that fails to capitalize on its intriguing premise.

EXTRAS: There’s a collection of featurettes covering the production process (including the differences between the 1974 original and Rupert Wyatt’s remake, location shooting and costumes), as well as six deleted scenes.


“Inherent Vice”

WHAT: Pothead private investigator Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) investigates the disappearance of his free-spirited ex-girlfriend (Katherine Waterson) and her real estate mogul boyfriend, Mickey (Eric Roberts), which may be connected to a series of other cases involving a presumed-dead musician (Owen Wilson), the murder of one of Mickey’s bodyguards and a mysterious Indo-Chinese drug syndicate called the Golden Fang.

WHY: After years of toying with my patience, Paul Thomas Anderson has finally made a movie that’s almost impossible to defend. Fans of the director will make excuses for the film’s myriad problems anyway, but the fact that they find it necessary at all only confirms what a giant mess “Inherent Vice” really is. Based on the 2009 novel by Thomas Pynchon, the so-called inherent vice of Anderson’s slacker noir is the narrative itself. It’s as if the movie, like many of its characters, is in a constant state of a drug-addled high, unable to remain focused or make sense of anything that’s going on. And while that may be the film’s big joke, it’s not a very funny one. It feels complicated for the sake of being complicated, eventually becoming so mired in all the twists and pointless subplots that it doesn’t even know what it’s about anymore. Even worse than the gaps in logic is the punishingly long runtime, which is filled with dense, drawn-out conversations that go nowhere except lead to another similarly long-winded exchange. Joaquin Phoenix nearly holds the whole thing together with his amusingly daffy performance, but he’s the only bright spot in a movie that really should have been a lot more enjoyable.

EXTRAS: There’s a deleted scene and some fluffy promotional material, but that’s all.


“The Wedding Ringer”

WHAT: Doug Harris (Josh Gad) is set to marry the girl of his dreams (Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting) in less than two weeks, but he doesn’t have a best man or any groomsmen, despite assuring her of the contrary. Frantic and running out of time, Doug hires Jimmy Callahan (Kevin Hart), a professional best man who will be your friend for a price, to help him pull off the biggest con in wedding history.

WHY: As far as movie premises go, “The Wedding Ringer” is about as dumb as they get, a high-concept comedy that caters to the lowest common denominator. Nothing about the story makes a lick of sense. For instance, wouldn’t Doug’s fiancée notice that he doesn’t have any friends in real life? And wouldn’t the fact that she’s never seen or heard of these so-called friends set off alarm bells? And perhaps most importantly, what happens after the wedding? There may be a plan to explain Jimmy’s fictional death, but what about the other seven strangers posing as his groomsmen? Is Doug going to be attending a lot of funerals in the coming months, or do they just expect his fiancée to forget about them after the wedding? The whole thing is predictable and completely absurd, and it’s only compounded by the unnecessary moments of juvenile humor. (The less said about the bachelor party prank gone wrong, the better). Granted, it’s not nearly as bad as expected, but while “The Wedding Ringer” just barely skates by on the chemistry between Kevin Hart and Josh Gad, it’s instantly forgettable – the kind of film destined for the Wal-Mart bargain bin.

EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary by director/co-writer Jeremy Garelick and actor Josh Gad, there are some deleted scenes, outtakes, alternate line readings and a featurette where the cast and crew discuss their wedding memories.


“Accidental Love”

WHAT: When roller-skating diner waitress Alice (Jessica Biel) gets a nail lodged in her head moments after her boyfriend (James Marsden) proposes, she’s unable to have it removed due to a lack of health insurance. Suffering from erratic behavior as a result of the freak accident, Alice heads to Capitol Hill to convince a young senator (Jake Gyllenhaal) to help pass an emergency health care bill that would help her condition and others just like her.

WHY: Filmed back in 2008, but never completed by director David O. Russell after he walked away from the project due to a series of problems with the financiers, “Accidental Love” (formerly titled “Nailed”) is every bit the unmitigated disaster that its troubled production makes it sound. Though the movie was eventually finished after Russell publicly disowned it, this goofball political comedy about the broken health care system is so incredibly unfunny that it’s depressing to watch actors like Jake Gyllenhaal and Catherine Keener submit themselves to such embarrassment. Co-written by author Kristen Gore (daughter of former vice president Al Gore), the film had the potential to be a sharp and timely satire in the same vein as “Thank You for Smoking” and “American Dreamz,” but it’s buried underneath some really uneven performances, bad editing and poor musical cues, most of which can’t be blamed on Russell. The problems go deeper than that, however, which makes the fact that Russell was ever involved at all very surprising. Call it a mixed blessing, but it’s probably for the best that the director quit when he did, because if not, we may never gotten “The Fighter,” “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle.”

EXTRAS: Nothing, although that’s not much of a surprise.


“The Boy Next Door”

WHAT: High school literature teacher Claire Peterson (Jennifer Lopez) has struggled to get back into the dating game after separating from her cheating husband (John Corbett). But when she sleeps with charismatic 20-year-old Noah (Ryan Guzman) during a moment of weakness, Claire becomes victim to his violent obsession.

WHY: Rob Cohen has always been more of a director-for-hire than a true creative filmmaker, but even he must be desperate for work if he’s resorted to making schlocky thrillers like “The Boy Next Door,” which basically feels like a glossier Lifetime original movie. There isn’t a single original idea in the film, shamelessly aping other thrillers about obsessive lovers like it’s checking off items on a list, and it’s not even done in new or interesting ways. Ryan Guzman fares the best among the cast, as he gets to play two very different characters, but the acting is so awful from the very first shot that you just know it’s not going to get better. (The scenes between Jennifer Lopez and Kristin Chenoweth’s friend/vice principal are especially cringe-worthy.) But while the actors certainly don’t help the cause, the film’s myriad problems are mostly a result of Cohen’s uninspired direction and a script by first-time writer Barbara Curry that is just plain dumb. “The Boy Next Door” is so bad that it’s amazing it was given a theatrical release at all. Then again, at least one person benefited from its production, because Lopez’s acting career wouldn’t exist if there weren’t movies like this for her to star in.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by director Rob Cohen, a making-of featurette and some deleted scenes.