The Associated Press This film publicity image released by Sony Pictures Classics shows, from left, Zac Efron, Dennis Quaid and Kim Dickens in a scene from "At Any Price."
The Associated Press This film image released by Paramount Pictures shows, from left, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie and Mark Wahlberg in a scene from "Pain and Gain."
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
"At Any Price" -- The flowing Iowa cornfields of Ramin Bahrani's sweeping Midwest drama of fathers and sons, farms and seed, have nothing on the amber waves of Zac Efron's hair. As the race car-driving Dean, Efron attempts a classic American icon: the sweaty, sandy-haired, teenage trouble-maker. But the rebel role doesn't suit Efron: He doesn't have a lick of danger about him. In any case, this is Dennis Quaid's movie. He stars as Dean's father, Henry Whipple, a fake-smiling huckster trying to live up to the family business. His thousands of acres aren't pastoral so much as the backdrop to the hulking modern machinery that drives his small empire, one fed by genetically modified seeds that he aggressively sells to other farmers. He's cheating on his wife Irene (Kim Dickens) with a younger woman (Heather Graham). His older, more loved son has abandoned him to travel in South America. Dean has no interest in the family business, though his girlfriend (Maika Monroe) begins accompanying him on visits to his customers. There's much to admire about the film, but Bahrani ("Man Push Cart"), in his largest scale film yet, seems to be wrestling with the balance of a more sizable production. Its metaphors of capitalism aren't subtle, the score is heavy-handed and the film doesn't quite earn the grim resonance it seeks. With an easy, excellent Clancy Brown as a rival salesman. R for sexual content, graphic nudity, violence, some grisly images, and language. 101 minutes. Two stars out of four.
-- Jake Coyle
"Pain & Gain" -- Michael Bay's true-crime caper lacks the visual-effects mayhem and sci-fi cacophony of his "Transformers" blockbusters, yet the movie uses all the shock and awe and noise and bluster the director has in his utterly unsubtle arsenal. Unlike Bay's usual action nonsense, there's a story, screenplay, characters and wry mix of suspense and pitiable comedy to be had in the tale of three Florida bodybuilders (Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson and Anthony Mackie) who blunder through kidnapping-extortion schemes like the Three Stooges on steroids. The dumbfounding farce of how these guys screw things up should be entertainment enough on its own. All but the faintest flashes of humanity and pathos are flattened by the cinematic cyclone that is Michael Bay. He drowns the movie in gimmick and style which, rather than gussying things up, dresses them down to make the movie even more ugly and sordid than it is on paper. Johnson manages some goofy hijinks, but Wahlberg's just grubby and Mackie's a bore. Tony Shalhoub is ferocious as the first kidnap victim, Ed Harris adds the movie's only notes of grace as a detective on the case and Rebel Wilson has scene-stealing moments that feel wonderfully improvised as Mackie's kooky wife. But those few highlights are incinerated in the bonfires Bay sets on-screen. R for bloody violence, crude sexual content, nudity, language throughout and drug use. 129 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.
-- David Germain