‘The Gambler,’ ‘The Wedding Ringer’ Arrive on Home Video

Forrest Hartman


It is a busy week for home video, with movies from Mark Wahlberg, Kevin Hart and Jennifer Lopez leading the way.



The Gambler

2½ stars
Rated R for language throughout, and for some sexuality/nudity
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand


Director Rupert Wyatt follows his excellent reboot of the “Planet of the Apes” franchise – 2011’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” – with an intense character drama about a self-destructive college literature professor.


In “The Gambler,” Mark Wahlberg stars as Jim Bennett, a man who has never learned to quit while ahead. Despite being born into one of the wealthiest family’s in America, Jim’s gambling addiction has left him desperate, broke and hounded by low-life loan sharks. His problem is so severe that any cash he acquires is immediately lost to high-stakes wagers in blackjack and roulette.  


Jim’s professional life is equally messy. As a teacher, he is dismissive and confrontational, telling his students that most everyone – including himself – is destined for mediocrity. One exception is Amy Phillips (Brie Larson), a student whom he believes has the ability to write a great novel. But rather than nurture her talent, Jim draws the girl into his increasingly chaotic personal life, endangering both his career and her wellbeing.


“The Gambler” – a remake of the like-titled 1974 film by James Toback – is stylishly made, and Wyatt scores points for his wonderful use of music. Ambient sound regularly gives way to blaring tunes that range from Sixto Rodriguez’s “Crucify Your Mind” to “Common People” by Pulp. The song choices are ideal, and each tune reinforces the picture’s thematic elements.


There are other things to be admired in Wyatt’s presentation as well. The cinematography is arty and fluid, the costume design is admirable, and the performances are generally strong. Wahlberg is solid in the leading role, Larson is capable as a coed wowed by Jim’s dramatic flair, and Jessica Lange and John Goodman are powerful in key supporting roles.


The problem with “The Gambler” is there’s not much meat on the bones of the William Monahan script. As a protagonist, Jim leaves much to be desired. Viewers understand that he is an addict, but not until the end of the picture is there a hint that he is anything more.


Through 90 percent of the movie, Wahlberg plays the protagonist as a stone-faced, unrepentant man who realizes he’s making mistakes but doesn’t care whom they hurt. To be sure, this sort of person exists, but most of us go out of our way to avoid them. Wyatt’s film demands that we invest in Jim’s plight, cheering him on even though it’s clear he’s set on self-destruction.  If more of the character’s personality were revealed in early acts, this type of emotional investment would have made sense. It would have also added a spark to the movie’s overly melodramatic finale.


Blu-ray and DVD extras include deleted and extended scenes and several behind-the-scenes features.




2½ stars
Rated PG for mild action and rude humor
Anchor Bay
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand


In “Paddington,” writer-director Paul King brings the beloved children’s character to life in entertaining, if imperfect, fashion. The film, based on the writings of Thomas Michael Bond, features a computer-animated Paddington Bear seamlessly interacting with live-action actors.


The film begins in darkest Peru where Paddington’s Aunt Lucy encourages the young bear to travel to London and seek out the geographer who befriended her family years earlier. Although Paddington is able to speak perfect English, he isn’t as readily accepted as he had hoped. He finds solace when the Brown family discovers him at the Paddington train station and agrees to temporarily take him in.


The family patriarch, Henry Brown (Hugh Bonneville), is insistent that Paddington be relocated as quickly as possible, but his wife, Mary (Sally Hawkins), and son, Jonathan (Samuel Joslin), are more welcoming. All Paddington wants is a home, so he is hopeful that the Browns will warm to him, but he has a knack for trouble that doesn’t help his cause.


“Paddington” is straightforward and cute, although rarely inventive, and the movie features a dramatic arc that feels unnecessarily forced. Rather than satisfy himself with the story of a young bear adapting to life among humans, King – who co-wrote the screenplay – inserts a villain into the story. The baddie comes in the form of Millicent (Nicole Kidman), a museum taxidermist obsessed with adding Paddington to her collection. Although this story twist ups the stakes for our young hero, it feels out of place in the broader story. Nevertheless, young children – the obvious target audience – should be satisfied.


Paddington is beautifully computer animated, and the human cast is extremely talented. King also keeps the action moving at a reasonable pace, meaning parents shouldn’t nod off even if they aren’t as enamored by the project as their children. 


Blu-ray and DVD extras include several behind-the-scenes features.  




The Wedding Ringer

1 star
Rated R for crude and sexual content, language throughout, some drug use and brief graphic nudity
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand


Kevin Hart and Josh Gad are funny guys, but that’s not apparent in “The Wedding Ringer.” The movie, co-written and directed by Jeremy Garelick, spins a ridiculous premise into a 101-minute snooze-fest that squanders its cast and wastes its audience’s precious time. 


The action centers on Doug Harris (Gad), a wealthy tax attorney who has no friends. Since he’s embarrassed to admit this to his fiancé, Grethchen (Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting), he invents a rich fantasy life, and agrees to procure seven groomsmen for their wedding. Incapable of finding the men on his own, he turns to Jimmy Callahan (Hart), a “professional” best man. Doug and his hired hand then spend the rest of the film attempting to pull off what Jimmy calls a “Golden Tux,” a seven-man deception that would be the most elaborate of his career.


Move past the preposterous setup, and there are a handful of good gags, but not nearly enough to carry a feature-length film. In fact, the material in “The Wedding Ringer” would have probably been better suited to a series of short comedy sketches.


One gets the feeling Garelick is hoping to say something profound about friendship and the difficulty of building relationships in an increasingly superficial world, but he isn’t successful. “The Wedding Ringer” is shallow and dull from the opening sequence to the poorly designed, artificial climax.


Blu-ray and DVD extras include a making-of featurette and a select-scene commentary by Garelick and Gad.



The Boy Next Door

2 stars (out of four)
Rated R for violence, sexual content/nudity and language
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand


“The Boy Next Door” is what happens when you take an A-list star (in this case Jennifer Lopez) and inject her into a sappy melodrama better suited to the Lifetime network than multiplex screens. The only benefit of moving the story to a theatrical setting is the inclusion of steamy R-rated love scenes that wouldn’t fly on mainstream TV. For those who want to see J-Lo get hot and bothered with a much-younger man, a screening is warranted. Everyone else can pass.


The simplistic story is built around Claire Peterson (Lopez), a high school English teacher who is still recovering from her estranged husband’s (John Corbett) philandering. That makes her an easy target when a super-sexy teen named Noah (Ryan Guzman) moves in next door. Noah is smart and charming, and he has the type of washboard abs that require hours in the gym. After settling in, Noah befriends Claire’s son, Kevin (Ian Nelson). Then, he makes advances toward the older woman.


Director Rob Cohen wants viewers to see Claire as a heroine rather than a predator, so she resists Noah in early scenes. Then, those rock-hard abs become too much, and she succumbs.


Of course, Claire feels terrible in the morning, but that doesn’t change the fact that they had sex. Since she is a teacher, the act was both a moral slip and a professional liability, and Noah uses this fact against Claire when she attempts to end the relationship. Pretty soon, we’re in full “Fatal Attraction” mode.


The fact that “The Boy Next Door” is best described by referencing another film is the project’s biggest problem. There is nothing new here, and the plotting is generally sillier and more predictable than other movies that have covered similar ground. These include not only 1987’s “Fatal Attraction” but “Play Misty for Me” (1971), “Single White Female” (1992), “One Hour Photo” (2002) and “Orphan” (2009).


Cohen, best known for directing “The Fast and the Furious” (2001), presents the story in workmanlike fashion, but the presentation is no more innovative than the storytelling. This makes “The Boy Next Door” as boring and derivative as its title.


Blu-ray and DVD extras include deleted scenes, a making-of feature and an audio commentary by Cohen.






“Inherent Vice”: Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson adapts Thomas Pynchon’s novel for the screen. The plot centers on a drug-addled Los Angeles detective drawn into a series of bizarre events by a former girlfriend. Joaquin Pheonix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon, Katherine Waterston and Benicio Del Toro star. The movie received Oscar nominations for costume design and adapted screenplay.


“50 to 1”: Drama based on the unlikely story of Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird. The film focuses on a group of cowboys who make their way to the Derby when their longshot horse makes the cut. Skeet Ulrich, Christian Kane and William Devane star. Directed by Jim Wilson.


“The Mentalist” – The Seventh and Final Season: Last 13 episodes of CBS’ hit drama about a fraudulent former psychic who uses his powers of observation to help apprehend criminals. Simon Baker and Robin Tunney star.


“Covert Affairs” – Season Five: USA Network has officially cancelled “Covert Affairs,” and that means the 16 episodes included on this set will be the last. Piper Perabo stars as a young CIA operative working to protect U.S. interests.


“Suits” – Season Four: The fifth season of this USA Network drama will debut in June. In the meantime, fans can delve into the 16 episodes on this set. Patrick J. Adams and Gabriel Macht star. 


Author Bio:

Forrest Hartman, a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine, is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation's largest publications. For more of his work visit www.ForrestHartman.com

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