Editor's Note: This is a new column dedicated to bringing a critical eye to new trailers. We offer this feature in the hopes of avoiding what our Criticwire blogger Matt Singer has dubbed the "perpetual sneak preview culture." Instead, The Trailer Test will look at trailers in terms of their creative aspects whether or not they provide accurate samplings of the features they're designed to tease.
A snapshot of unadulterated grindhouse pleasure, the trailer for "Alex Cross" provides a reasonable idea of the movie's tense atmosphere while also maintaining its own neatly designed two-and-a-half-minute arc. Based on the novel by James Patterson, "Alex Cross" follows a happily married and seriously ripped cop (Tyler Perry, of all people) facing off against a deadly ex-military killer who threatens the officer's family. The movie was directed by Rob Cohen, known for the slick action displays of "xXx" and "The Fast and the Furious," but the trailer foregrounds its pair of enjoyably derivative pair of lead performances over any slick action dynamics. Sporting a shiny bald look and a menacing grin, Fox has landed a post-"Lost" role that takes him firmly out of the hero camp and for this Lex-Luthor-on-steroids performance that may not expand his range in any complicated fashion but at least gives him some new turf to play on. Perry, meanwhile, looks oddly subdued or potentially bored by the material in the trailer's exposition-heavy first half; in its second, however, when he beefs up to go mano-a-mano with Fox, this fleeting preview taps into the giddy thrill of a showdown that had better be good.
Summit will release "Alex Cross" on October 19.
Joe Wright certainly seems like the proper choice for adapting Leo Tolstoy's classic nineteenth century work of Russian literature, having already done a serviceable job with translating lavish period epics to the screen with "Pride & Prejudice" and "Atonement." The announcement of Tom Stoppard at the trailer's close provides additional assurance that much care has been taken to translate the text to the big screen. The trailer itself, however, contains a problematic tension: On the one hand, it features a spectacular depiction of young aristocrat Anna (Keira Knightley) and the various dramas involving her husband (Jude Law) and lover (Aaron Johnson). Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey, fresh from shooting "The Avengers," delivers another visually dazzling succession of images with a rich sense of looming tragedy in every frame. On the other hand, a frustrating series of obvious title cards ("A bold new vision," "An epic story of love"), perhaps in place to predict the pull quotes yet to come, distract from the delicious barrage of sensuality and distress.
Focus Features will release "Anna Karenina" on November 9.
"World events all revolve around five things," says Richard Gere. "M-O-N-E-Y." Spoken like a modern day Gordon Gekko, the line sets the stage for this ominous sampling of the Sundance thriller with Gere as a hedge fund magnate who finds some of his darker business dealings on the brink of coming out in the process of selling his trading empire. Inadvertently putting his wife Susan Sarandon and daughter Brit Marling in harm's way, Gere avoids a near-fatal automobile accident and spars with probing detective Tim Roth. He's a seriously divided man. "This isn't about your business!" Sarandon admonishes him. "This is about our life!" An obvious Bernie Madoff stand-in who looks the part, Gere's grim portrayal also makes the trailer work: In a movie loaded with details, his face embodies a lifetime of screw-ups better than any fleeting hint of plot.
Roadside Attractions will release "Arbitrage" in theaters and VOD on September 14.
While "From the Creators of 'Ice Age' and 'Rio'" isn't a selling point for modern animation on par with Pixar, this adaptation of a William Joyce story finds a young woman sent on a Wonderland-like journey to a realm of talking bugs and mini-soldiers. The trailer alone holds unique appeal. By minimizing the dialogue, foregrounding a lush animated forest that may even top the one in "Brave," it embodies a sense of visual splendor matched only by the soundtrack. By setting the entire series of events to Snow Patrol's mournful track "What If the Storm Ends?," the storybook images of soaring hummingbirds, rodent warmongers and plant people take on a poetic dimension that doesn't really need the context surely provided by the final product. Of course, it could do without the hokey talking slug.
20th Century Fox will release "Epic" on May 17.
"Robot and Frank"
Frank Langella as a thief past his prime who discovers a second wind thanks to a new robotic sidekick? It might sound like the stuff of a thinly conceived "Saturday Night Live" sketch, but the trailer conveys a legitimately thoughtful look at the challenges of growing old in an era defined by technological progress. Structured with a nimble trio of acts, this sneak peek shows exactly how the downbeat Langella brightens up thanks to his new home assistant, gaining the boost of confidence he needs to hit on the local librarian (Susan Sarandon) and then turn back to crime. It lacks a climax, of course, but there's enough here for you to fill in the blanks.
Samuel Goldwyn Films will release "Robot and Frank" on August 24.