Perhaps it should be a requirement that audiences watch five minutes of a truly horrid movie before a decent movie starts so that they can appreciate the difference. My friend Alma and I arrived a bit early, or a bit late, depending on what movie we decided to see. We had both been intrigued by the trailer for "Godsend", but I had been warned off by many bad reviews.
In fact, rottentomatoes.com had tracked only three positive reviews for "Godsend" against over a hundred negative reviews. With charming Greg Kinnear, comely Rebecca Romijn, legendary Robert De Niro, and what seemed like an interestingly creepy plot, it couldn't possibly be that bad.
But it was that bad... maybe even worse.
As we walked in, Rebecca witnessed the death of her young son who was hit by a car. Moments later we saw a chipper Greg returning to a dark home and calling out to his family while a light on the answering machine flashed ominously in the foreground. Kinnear played the message which got as far as his name before the scene trailed off. Next we saw Kinnear curling up on the floor in anguish, again with no words. Next we saw the couple at a church. Snow was falling, indicating death. Someone, it wasn't important, told Kinnear that he would handle the funeral arrangements. Apparently the Church was a mortuary.
Robert De Niro approached the couple and introduced himself. Kinnear told him that this wasn't a good time, but they listened anyway. They went to a nearby restaurant to talk. Kinnear got angry but made no attempt to leave. De Niro offered to clone their dead son and in the process revealed that he had already pried into Rebecca's medical records.
The couple was shocked, but still made no attempt to leave. It was implausible, but at least there was some dialog in this scene, though lines like "there's no easy way to say this so I'm just going to say it" aren't much comfort.
Rebecca was interested, but Kinnear was opposed. Kinnear then watched some old movies on his computer and apparently changed his mind, though all we got was a shot of him handing the telephone to Rebecca in another telepathic exchange.
A De Niro voice over indicated that they would have to sever all contact with their families, but since no one came to the church cum funeral home with them earlier this seemed like a fairly simple task.
At that point we decided we still had time for "plan B" and walked out. My advice is that no matter how interesting the premise sounds, "Godsend" is not an interesting movie. It is like a comic book filled with empty dialog balloons.
My second choice, much to Alma's surprise, was "13 Going On 30" starring Jennifer Garner in what appeared to be the latest variation on the "Freaky Friday/Big" storyline where a child ends up in an adult body and hilarity naturally ensues.
On any other day I might have dismissed "13 Going On 30" as a decent collection of the usual cliches, but on the heels of the unspeakable horror of "Godsend" mere dialog became a welcome relief.
The movie is helped greatly by the infectious charm of its cast including Jennifer Garner as the 30-year-old with a 13-year-old inside and Mark Ruffalo as the good friend she cruely tossed aside at thirteen who is too nice and still likes her too much to just blow her off in her hour of need.
The movie opens with a young version of Garner getting ready for her 13th birthday party where she hopes to make a good impression on the in-crowd of girls and a certain hunk, possibly at the expense of a young version of Mark.
After being humiliated by the in-crowd, Jenna spurns her friend and wishes that she was already "thirty, flirty, and thriving." Moments later she wakes up in the body of Jennifer Garner as the editor of a top magazine in Manhattan.
We quickly discover that success is not all it's cracked up to be. She is not well liked professionally. She fired her secretary a day earlier and she is having an affair with the husband of one of her co-workers. Another of her co-workers is one of the in-crowd that humiliated her years earlier, in fact the former ringleader of the group.
Through her plucky new, insecure, but blossoming secretary she reconnects with her childhood friend Matt, played by Mark Ruffalo, and starts to piece together the choices she made years ago that brought her to this place.
At this point the movie had the chance to become a psychological thriller in the tradition of "The Prisoner" where the experience was playing out in her mind or perhaps where she suffered a breakdown at 30 which caused her psyche to revert to 13 in hopes of changing the course of her life to arrive at a better destination. Unfortunately all we get is another convenient shot of magic "wishing" dust at the end to lead directly to the desired finish.
Perhaps having not seen "Big" (I hate Tom Hanks and wish him ill) or the regurgitation of "Freaky Friday" (it was a b-movie when I was a kid), I found the idea of wanting to move ahead or backward within the timeline of one's own life more intriguing than what I was watching on screen.
"13 Going On 30" didn't aspire to much depth, but it delivered some laughs and a few poignant if overly familiar moments with a cast that was pleasant to watch. On the heels of the abysmal "Godsend", it couldn't help but be entertaining.