Mike at the Movies

“Morning Glory” (PG-13) ****

The trailers were misleading. They indicated that this was Rachel McAdams’ movie. The pivotal character, however, the anchor, the fulcrum is Harrison Ford. His character is so deliciously awful — he’s defined early on as “the third worst person in the world” — and so consistently hideous that he controls the tempo of the movie. And this movie needs some control.

Adams’ character, Becky Fuller, is an almost manic workaholic. Her condition is worsened when she gets a job as producer of a failing morning show in the “IBS” stable of shows. Colleen Peck, (Diane Keaton) has an empty suit as her co-anchor, and Becky makes sure to dump him immediately. Enter Ford as Mike Pomeroy. He brings an egomaniacal gravitas to the role of anchor and to the movie and slows the frantic pace, at which time the movie gets really funny! It also gets more human as Becky and Mike fight over the true meaning of TV news and talk shows in the modern age.

Pomeroy is so consistently stuffy, egotistical and horrible to people that we become afraid we’re going to hate him, but the underlying promise of the film is that he will be redeemed somehow. The solution to Pomeroy’s redemption is absolutely brilliant; from a guy who drinks himself into oblivion before an important broadcast (“Are you drunk?” Becky asks. “Not sufficiently,” is Mike’s reply.) he heads toward his collision with humanity, a collision stimulated by a frittata, of all things!

John Pankow does a lovely job as Becky’s non-ambitious assistant and Patrick Wilson, as the necessary boyfriend, underplays his role effectively. But the film is Ford’s. His dour presence looms over every scene and he earns the most laughs in a very funny picture.

Rachel McAdams is a doll and has a great future in this type of role. She should hope she gets someone like Ford to play off as her career builds.

“Due Date” (R) ****

I laughed very hard throughout this movie, as did my movie partner. I can’t, however, tell you too much about what happened without so many spoiler alerts that it would make this unreadable.

The story moves through several phases, from echoes of “Trains, Planes and Automobiles” to a cross-country adventure, to male bonding, to a stoner movie, in a strange way, and it does it seamlessly. The premise is perfectly logical: Take an architect, button-downed Robert Downey Jr., as Peter and delusional, scruffy and not-too-bright wannabe actor Ethan Chase (a.k.a. Ethan Tremblay), played under zany control by Gus Galifianakis; add some “glaucoma medicine” and wonderfully daffy secondary characters such as Juliette Lewis as an addled drug dealer and Jamie Foxx as a potential rival to Peter (and possible father of his child); keep the pace fast and verging on out of control; and you have a very funny movie.

My particular favorite scenes, and the reasons this is an R-rated film, include Ethan and his dog, Sonny, as they adapt their favorite way of falling asleep to a small automobile; the unusual coffee blend that Peter, Ethan and Darryl (Foxx) drink and discuss; and discussions between rational Peter and mad Ethan with nonsense lines like: “I’m not an accountant, Peter. I’m not even Jewish,” “Dad, you were like a father to me,” and “I have 90 friends on Facebook — 15 of them pending.”

By the end of the film, the madness has been so thoroughly ingrained in the audience that it seems perfectly plausible that Ethan could have been looking for “Texaco” because they were low on gas and ended up at the border with Mexico. This ranks with the funniest films we have seen in the past year, but it is not for younger kids because of the pot, the language and the “go to sleep” routine of Sonny and his master. Or should I say “mastur”?

“Unstoppable” (PG-13) ****

There are long lists of disaster-genre films in which an out-of-control transportation instrument threatens a good portion of humanity. Most of them are long on action and short on credibility and character. No such problems here.

Denzel Washington, as Frank, the veteran train engineer and Chris Pine as Will, the rookie just four months into his career, reluctantly form a partnership. Tony Scott, the director, does a smart job of letting their back-stories emerge slowly. Frank is a widower with his forced retirement already upon him while Will is a young husband under a restraining order for pulling a gun on a cop he thought was too friendly with his wife. The two form a rewarding bond while confronting a runaway train heading for a deadly turn in downtown Stanton, Penn. Not coincidentally, that’s where Will’s young family lives, and he would like to avert the disaster for more reasons than company loyalty.

The rewarding thing about this film is that it seems plausible. There is no bailout by technical “deus ex machina,” very little computer assistance for the two engineers, and a terrific performance by Rosario Dawson as the calm but concerned dispatcher anchors the reality. At one point, when the incompetent corporate suit who is her boss orders her to get Washington and Pine off the track, she sweetly responds, “I asked them nicely.”

Another character who is numbered rather than named is “777” — the train described as “A missile the size of the Chrysler Building.” The train becomes an ominous threat even though it has no engineer. It is, truly, unstoppable. Except when it confronts clever humans.

A very, very good thriller from Tony Scott and an inspired cast.

Enjoy more of Mike’s movie reviews at www.towncourier.com.