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Movie reviews: 'Transcendence', 'A Haunted House 2'

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"Transcendence" (PG-13) 2 stars (out of four)

Director Christopher Nolan's longtime cinematographer Wally Pfister takes the helm for the first time with "Transcendence," an ambitious and thought-provoking, but ultimately disappointing, techno-thriller.

Johnny Depp stars as Dr. Will Caster, a research scientist on the cusp of creating a sentient machine with artificial intelligence when a radical anti-technology organization dooms him with radiation poisoning and only weeks to live. Desperate to save Caster is his research partner and wife, Evelyn (Rebecca Hall), who enlists the help of their colleague, Max Waters (Paul Bettany), to upload Will's consciousness into a computer and ultimately the Internet. But with the experimentation of the new frontier comes unintended consequences, and Evelyn and Max discover Will is all but impossible to stop once his mind has been freed.

Despite having Depp in the lead and a number of familiar Nolan players in key and supporting roles (including Morgan Freeman and Cillian Murphy), Pfister struggles to pull all of the complicated pieces of the puzzle together to make his vision in "Transcendence" complete. The cinematography is beautiful, naturally, but the pace is flat and there's never enough momentum to create an intense atmosphere. Pfister's attempt is admirable, but one can only wonder how much more compelling "Transcendence" would have been in the hands of Nolan.

"A Haunted House 2" (R) 1 1/2 stars (out of four)

There's no way of getting around it: Actor-filmmaker Marlon Wayans' latest offering, "A Haunted House 2," is a stupid comedy. And even though it's meant to be stupid, the film only works for a limited audience.

Like Wayans' first "Haunted House" and his "Scary Movie" films, the second "Haunted House" is basically a spoof that mishmashes the plots of four recent horror films, including "The Possession," "The Amityville Horror," "Insidious" and most notably "The Conjuring." The latter especially gets the send-up treatment, where a doll possessed by the devil is the subject of an obscene sex romp with Wayans' character.

While there are a few laughs here and there, "A Haunted House 2" ultimately proves the spoof genre has long run its course. It was funny as far back as the "Naked Gun" and maybe the first "Scary Movie," but now it just feels forced and stale, with crude humor and f-bombs thrown in arbitrarily in an effort to shock its audience.

Tim Lammers is a veteran entertainment reporter and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. He annually votes on the Critics Choice Movie Awards. Locally, he reviews films for BringMeTheNews and on “KARE 11 News at 11” and 96.3 K-TWIN.

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