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Wednesday, April 8, 2009 04:56 am

Furious is running on empty; Sunshine needs a polish

Paul Walker and Vin Diesel reteam as agent Brian O'Conner and fugitive ex-con Dom Toretto.

After suffering though Fast and Furious, I went out and rented Bullet, The French Connection and To Live and Die in L.A. I wanted to be reminded of what a real car chase looked like because all Justin Lin’s hyperkinetic production did was remind me that no one knows how to film one today. What with rapid-fire cutting and far too many reaction shots of the drivers, the car chases here are a product of cinematic sleight of hand and distraction, rather than closing off some streets and laying a lot of rubber on the road.

As we pick up the action, and it must be said the film gets off to a rousing, if implausible, start with a sequence involving road pirates hijacking a gas tanker, everyone’s favorite sullen fugitive Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel), returns to L.A. to pay respects to his dead girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez). Her untimely and suspicious death prompts our hero to do a little snooping and he discovers that Fenix Rise (Laz Alonso), the right-hand man for drug runner Arturo Braga (John Ortiz) is to blame. As fate and lazy screenwriting would have it, federal agent Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker), the fella who was on Toretto’s tail in the first film and had the temerity to fall for his sister, Mia (Jordana Brewster) is after Braga as well.

In a city of over seven million, where it is proven on a daily basis that it is a small world after all, Dom and Brian run into one another, their old rivalry reignites and before you know it they are behind the wheel, trying to earn a place on Braga’s driving squad, which smuggles heroin over the U.S./Mexico border through a tunnel dug through a mountain. Seriously…I couldn’t make this up if I tried.

While I don’t expect a script on par with Citizen Kane for a film like this, internal logic and a degree of plausibility should be present, both of which are in short supply. Lin knows his audience wants car chases and hot chicks, and he delivers both in ample quantity. However, it is a bit disappointing to see Diesel and Walker, both of whom are usually better than the films they’re in, flounder with awkward dialogue and a director far more interested in fast cars than method acting.

Amy Adams and Emily Blunt

Sometimes, two plus two does not equal four and such is the case with Sunshine Cleaning. This indie darling seems to have all of the elements for success as it stars cute-as-a-button Amy Adams as Rose, a single mother whose glory days are long past. Trying to raise her son Oscar (Jason Spevack) on her own, she’s stuck in a dead-end cleaning job and is having an affair with Mac (Steve Zahn), a police officer who happens to be married. Her sister, Norah (Emily Blount), is no better off, as she’s unemployed and in no hurry to get a new job. Meanwhile, their father Joe (Alan Arkin) gets by through running scams involving “healthy” caramel corn and “hot” shrimp.

However, an offhand suggestion from Mac gives Rose the idea to set up her own business cleaning up crime scenes. Before you know it, she and her sister are mopping up suicides, going through the homes of those who’ve died alone. Suddenly they have a few bucks in their pockets. The future is a little less bleak for them as the sisters’ self esteem rises a bit and Rose realizes that her purpose is “to take all that bad stuff away and make it better.”

This would all be too pat without a setback or two and Rose and Norah encounter more than their fair share in Megan Holley’s script. Truth be told, it could use a cleaning as it’s cluttered with far too many ideas, some good, some bad, and at least one too many subplots. While the quiet romance between Rose and supply shop owner Winston (Clifton Collins, Jr.) is sweet, a storyline between Norah and Lynn (Mary Lynn Rajskub), the daughter of one of their clients, is dead in the water. Equally frustrating is the fact that Arkin is underused. In a sense, Cleaning is far too messy to be effective.

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