Film and TV

New On DVD: The Social Network, Piranha, Heartbreaker

(Capsule reviews by Melissa Anderson, J. Hoberman and Chuck Wilson.)

As directed by David Fincher and written by Aaron Sorkin, Facebook mogul Mark Zuckerberg is a character far more compelling than his story. We meet the ungainly Harvard sophomore (Jesse Eisenberg) as he yammers away at his date about his obsession with gaining entrance into Harvard's exclusive clubs, driving the co-ed to dump him. Wounded, Zuckerberg retreats to his dorm and avenges himself by devising a website to rate all Harvard women by hotness--impressing the upper-class Winklevoss twins, who enlist Zuckerberg to create a Harvard-only social network site. Funded by his dorm-mate, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), Zuck runs with it, and Facebook is born.

The Social Network's first act is its best--a hellishly precise youth movie rattlingly along on a clamor of computer jargon. But once the bamboozled Winklevosses file suit, and Saverin after them, the narrative stumbles. Sorkin flashes forward to the discovery processes of both suits, which then prompt a succession of clumsy flashbacks, with Zuckerberg falling under the influence of Napster founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), so charismatic that Fincher and Sorkin cede the film to him. As dramatized here, the story of Facebook's founding is not unlike that of any large corporation. Zuckerberg's real achievement, however, was something more mysterious; he manufactured intimacy through the creation of a parallel, personalized Internet offering an ongoing second life in a virtual gated community. True to its moment, The Social Network is less interested in mapping this new system of human interaction than psychoanalyzing it through its quintessential user: Zuckerberg. (J.H.)

120 minutes Rated PG-13

Piranha An earthquake has opened an undersea chasm, unleashing a gazillion piranha fish near an Arizona resort town that just happens to be jammed with spring-break partiers anxious to frolic in the pretty blue lake. Horny horror-movie revelers tend to deserve what's coming to them, a sentiment French-born director Alexandre Aja embraces with maniacal glee in a third-act massacre that's downright ruthless (as was Aja's debut feature, High Tension, and his remake of The Hills Have Eyes). The human prey get filleted in 3-D, no less, a technology that's deployed effectively--as when one piranha or another is plucked from the computer-animated horde and paraded past the moviegoer's nose--but also shamelessly, as when a naked woman points her breasts directly at the camera and shimmies. Irredeemable, and yet, the movie, written by Pete Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg, is too funny and the filmmaking too self-aware to be truly offensive. Some wonder why the Oscar-nominated Elisabeth Shue agreed to star in such obvious trash, but maybe when she read the part in the script where the piranha deliver a riotously gruesome but poetically just comeuppance to the story's most egregiously misogynist, she laughed her way to saying, "Yes." (C.W.)

89 minutes Rated R

Heartbreaker (L'arnacoeur) For the past half-decade, Romain Duris has been French cinema's go-to brooder. Diversifying his saturnine handsomeness, Duris gives his artfully disheveled brunet mop and permanent three-day stubble a workout in the hopped-up Heartbreaker, which puts the "antic" in romantic comedy. The film's premise has a certain twisted chivalrous charm: Alex (Duris), aided by his sister and her husband, is paid to break up couples, but only those in which the woman is miserable. A tycoon offers Alex a tall stack of euros to bend his business principles and end the upcoming nuptials of his daughter, Juliette (Vanessa Paradis), who seems genuinely in love and happy with her British investment-banker fiance. Alex assumes the role of Juliette's chauffeur and bodyguard, driving her around Monaco, where she is supposed to tie the knot in 10 days and he will invariably mix business with pleasure. But neither Cote d'Azur beauty nor that of Duris and Paradis can compensate for Heartbreaker's fatal imbalance: Duris's nonstop animation versus Paradis's catatonia. Paradis appears somnambulant if not outright bored, a robotic object of desire. To fill in the energy vacuum created by Paradis's lazy heiress hauteur, Duris must exhaust himself through countless physical challenges. This perpetual motion often feels like wheel-spinning desperation, hyperactivity that can't mask the absence of a genuine emotional center. There's trouble in Paradis--and in a script that prizes frenzy over any actual feeling. (M.A.)

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