Steven Spielberg’s mega-upgrade of the 1953 science-fiction landmark is a spectacular disaster epic of two halves. The first (and much the superior) hour is a masterclass in escalating tension, with grandiose and brilliantly executed sequences following in rapid succession – the bizarre lightning storm that prefigures the eruption of the alien Tripod war machines from beneath the earth is an astonishing opening salvo. Unusually for a special-effects blockbuster, the human drama (though admittedly clichéd in construction) is transfixing, as divorced dock worker Tom Cruise flees the invasion with his two estranged children (played by Justin Chatwin and Dakota Fanning). It’s in the second hour that the story begins to wilt, most crucially when the suspense-evaporating CGI aliens are revealed. The imaginative details (a blazing train hurtling out of control, the river of dead bodies) also begin to peter out until a rather abrupt ending in which Hollywood schmaltz wins the day.
Twelve years after he last wore the white vest in Die Hard with a Vengeance, Bruce Willis stars as John McClane again in this unabashedly retro blockbuster. As cyber-terrorists led by Timothy Olyphant (Justified) threaten to hack America to a complete standstill, McClane is once more the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time. Willis returns to the role that made him an action star with unexpected ease, striking up a witty, odd-couple partnership with Justin Long’s cowardly hacker. Meanwhile, a rollicking selection of over-the-top set pieces – including the jaw-dropping sight of a fighter jet playing chicken with an 18-wheel tanker truck – puts the $100-million budget to explosive use. Aware of its own ridiculousness but unwilling to slip into outright parody, it instead channels the laughs into some immaculately polished quips for its ever-lugubrious hero. Loud, relentless and thoroughly entertaining, it’s an enjoyable throwback to the 1980s.
…or the living death of a salesman. Will Ferrell plays the sales executive whose job, marriage and finances are crumbling around him, thanks to his inability to stop drinking. Locked out of his house and with nowhere to go, Ferrell sets up camp on his front lawn, only to find an unlikely ally in the form of a lonely neighbourhood youngster (a subtly confident turn from Christopher CJ Wallace, the son of rapper Biggie Smalls). The friendship that forms between these two lost boys slowly but surely works a curious magic on both of them, giving each a new sense of purpose. Leaving Las Vegas this isn’t, with Ferrell rarely looking like the hopeless drunk he’s intended to be. But as a sedate and sombre study of human frailty and vulnerability, it works well, with Ferrell fitting his Raymond Carver-inspired character like a glove.