Short Takes 

This week in local theaters.

FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL Jason Segel puts it all out there—and, like, it’s all out there—in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. It takes all of five minutes for Segel, who wrote and stars in the movie, to drop towel: His character, Peter Bretter, is on the verge of being dumped by his longtime girlfriend, middlebrow-TV actress Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell), but she won’t actually break up with him until he puts on some clothes, and so…he doesn’t. The way Peter figures it, the moment he puts on some clothes, “it’s over.” The scene elicits big, dumb laughs—That dude’s naked, haw haw. But there’s also some sad, sweet truth to it that carries over throughout the movie. Peter fits neatly into producer Judd Apatow’s now-familiar catalog of screwed-up, stunted crybaby man-boys, but he’s also Bruce Jay Friedman’s Lonely Guy—nothing more, or less, than a misfit and a mess. Several members of Apatow’s troupe of regular irregulars also show up: Paul Rudd, Jonah Hill, Bill Hader and Jack McBrayer—but without Segel bravely channeling “his own anxieties and obsessions into his clowning,” as Pauline Kael wrote about Woody Allen 24 years ago, Forgetting Sarah Marshall would have been easily forgettable and, one might even say, limp. —Robert Wilonsky (Opens Friday)

THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM The plot is pure choose-your-own-adventure: A bullied wuxia fanboy from South Boston (Snow Angels’ Michael Angarano) is teleported back into a LARP fantasia of feudal China, where he’s singled out as the long-anticipated “Chosen One” prophesied to topple the despotic warlord. Our nominal hero then recedes behind the two Mr. Miyagis who adopt him: a Lisa Bonet–bewigged Jackie Chan and warrior-monk Jet Li (English line readings: 75 percent intelligible). This is the first collaboration between Kung Fu’s Astaire and Kelly, and, as that, it disappoints. Like so much in Rob Minkoff’s movie, the fight arrangements by choreographer Yuen Woo-ping aren’t so much bad as undistinguished: The camera placement is off, the tempo unvaried, and Chan’s movements are obscured by his piled-on robes. The cinematography lacks storybook indelibility; Collin Chou’s Jade Emperor is a stock archvillain (though Li Bingbing’s bullwhip-toting “White Haired Demoness,” announced with apocalyptic reverb, is lovely). And then there’s the scene where Li actually pisses in Chan’s face—a degradation familiar to viewers incensed by the demographic-outreach casting of white-dude Angarano. Taken as a whole, though, it’s an amiable lost-and-found of epic-adventure tropes. As I still illogically treasure Willow, many a 10-year-old who sees Forbidden Kingdom will remember it fondly in spite of its flaws. —Nick Pinkerton (Opens Friday)

EXPELLED: NO INTELLIGENCE ALLOWED Ben Stein became a minor cultural icon from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, almost making people forget that, from his early days as a Nixon speechwriter on, he’s been a rigid cultural conservative. Stein capitalizes on that good will with Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, a propaganda “documentary” he co-wrote and hosts. His thesis: Teaching Darwinian evolution but ignoring intelligent design in America’s public schools and universities is the biggest threat to American freedom today—bigger, presumably, than Al Qaeda, Iraq and the recession combined. A series of interviews with ID true believers has him playing Michael Moore dumb—no hard questions for the folks at the Discovery Center, whose infamous leaked 1993 “wedge memo” stated as one of its primary goals the propagation of the idea “that nature and human beings are created by God.” ID’ers protest that they’re simply interested in secular alternatives to Darwinian evolution; their scientific opponents, meanwhile, are potential Communists and Nazis. (Stein visits Dachau for an insulting “it happened here” moment.) Using the powers of low-grade montage to compare the divide between evolutionary scientists and ID’s proponents to the Berlin Wall, Stein becomes, with his doc’s insistence that we tear down that wall, Ronald Reagan. Bizarre and hysterical. —Vadim Rizov (Opens Friday)

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