CUTE creature feature WE BOUGHT A ZOO (PG: Twentieth Century Fox) sees a father-of-two struggling to cope with his wife’s death and in need of a fresh start.
So the newly widowed Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) buys a house with a dilapidated zoo in the grounds.
But a new life in the countryside is anything but peaceful for the family in this comedy drama, which is inspired by a true story.
Greeted by a lion’s roar at the wildlife park in California, Benjamin works with the keepers to restore the attraction to its former glory.
He’s encouraged by seeing his daughter, Rosie, communing with the animals, yet for his troubled teenage son Dylan (Colin Ford) it’s an other traumatic upheaval.
Their prickly relationship gives the film a pulse and Ford’s quiet intensity tempers the gushing sentiment that director Cameron Crowe often allows to flow.
Damon’s wry performance has a similar effect, although his slow-burning romance with zookeeper Kelly Foster (Scarlett Johansson) has less traction than Dylan’s hesitant courtship of her 13-year-old cousin (Super 8’s Elle Fanning).
It’s the youngsters’ story that provides most of the film’s warmth.
> Regular readers of this column will know that I’m not a big fan of Mark Wahlberg, whose blandnesss makes me wonder how he ever managed to gain Hollywood leading man status.
He gave one of his better performances in The Fighter, alongside Christian Bale, and now appears in action-man mode in CONTRABAND (15: Universal), an uneven but skilfully shot thriller.
Former expert smuggler Chris Farraday (Wahlberg) is dragged back into the business to save his dimwit brother from the attentions of New Orleans mobsters led by the twitchy Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi).
The idea is to bring back palettes of counterfeit currency from Panama, but in typical one-last-job fashion seen in countless movies of this ilk, things don’t go according to plan.
Farraday and his team find themselves caught up with a gang of violent drug dealers, while his wife (Kate Beckinsale) and children are menaced at home by the terrifying Briggs.
Wahlberg, above left, is his usual solid, but dull, self as the reluctant criminal, although Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur shows visual flare and handles the action scenes well.
But in terms of the film’s pacing, you can’t help feeling that it could have done with the likes of Tony Scott to give it the kick in the pants it needs.
> The Exorcist remains the benchmark when it comes to movies dealing with the thorny subject of demonic possession.
And that opinion is confirmed by drab shocker – in both senses of that word – THE DEVIL INSIDE (15: Paramount), in which events play out more histrionically than scarily.
Fernanda Andrade, pictured below having a bad hair day, stars as an American woman who travels to Rome to discover whether her mother was possessed by demons or simply mentally ill when she killed three people.
Mixing the found-footage style of The Last Exorcism with the type of narrative used in The Rite, there’s far too much talk of the science-versus-religion and faith-versus-scepticism variety.
This bogs down what little horror action there is and the abrupt cliffhanging cheat ending adds insult to injury.
> If you were unable to catch Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter during its recent cinema run, you might like to get your teeth into tongue-in-cheek horror flick ABRAHAM LINCOLN VS ZOMBIES (15: Anchor Bay).
Lincoln, below, is distracted from his composition of the Gettysburg Address by a more pressing concern – an outbreak of the undead.
With the country torn apart by civil war and a proposed end to slavery, Lincoln (Bill Oberst Jr) – no, I’ve never heard of him – hears of a zombie outbreak in Savannah, Georgia.
So the US President leads a team of Secret Service agents to try and contain the disaster.
There’s a suggestion that Lincoln may have some experience of dealing with zombies in the past, but the future is at stake, too.
So he takes under his wing a youngster named Teddy Roosevelt (Canon Kuipers) – haven’t heard of him, either – who may have a role of his own in the American story.