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By Michael Calleri

The new movie "50/50" follows the standard cinematic formula for movies in which the central character, in this case a young man, is stricken by a deadly disease.

The fellow is a good-looking guy with a solid job, and by all accounts is a nice person to know. He's kind, considerate and incapable of doing harm to anyone. He's friendly and cheerful, and chances are he likes puppies and kittens too. Of course he's going to get sick.

Regarding "50/50," the young man's name is Adam. He's a reporter for the National Public Radio station in Seattle. The possibility that something's wrong begins with a pain in his back. Soon Adam is being told by a doctor with no bedside manner that he has a cancerous tumor on his spine. His chances of survival are 50/50. Things can go either way. Get your affairs in order.

This is followed by the inevitable scenes of disclosure to friends and family, chemotherapy sessions and the attendant vomiting, and intimations of mortality. Whether the character lives or dies rests with the direction the screenwriter wants to take the story.

Of course, if the story is based on the battle of a real person whose struggle against cancer is well-known, there's not much wiggle room for altering the course of the film. He lives or he dies. It's all relatively straightforward. And serious. And sad.

The difference with "50/50" is that everything is played for laughs. This really is a comedy about cancer, and I think your reaction to it may depend on your experience with the disease. Is cancer funny? Not by a long shot. Are we truly running out of comedic taboos in Hollywood? I wonder.

A comedy about people with cancer can succeed. There are shared stories to tell among patients and gallows humor is certainly a way for the sick to cope. After all, there is the adage that "laughter is the best medicine." I do admire the movie and appreciate its expertise and professionalism. It's superbly acted and never strays from its mission, which is to find the humor in having a deadly disease. There are honest and realistic moments that generate laughs.

Here's the problem. More often than not, the humor in the film is of the raunchy stoner variety or is the kind to be found in mediocre situation comedies on television. I acknowledge that the picture is based on screenwriter Will Reiser's actual battle with cancer. He may have found humor in the darkest of places. However, although it is funny for Seth Rogen as Kyle, Adam's best friend, to say that having cancer is a great way to "pick up chicks," it is straight out of a sitcom for the characters to actually try to pick up chicks. When you pad a movie with situations, you admit that you don't have enough good lines of dialogue to carry a film to its end.

Too often, the humor in "50/50" tends to be the gross-out variety -- which should be expected, I guess, because of Rogen's involvement, he being a graduate of the Judd Apatow School of Wallowing in the Gutter. Rogen and Reiser are good friends in real life, and Rogen produced the movie.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is exceptional as Adam. He doesn't beg for your compassion, he earns it with his good-natured style of acting. Gordon-Levitt is supported by a top-notch cast of very talented people, including Anjelica Huston as his distraught mother, Anna Kendrick as his caring psychologist, and Bryce Dallas Howard as his emotionally distant girlfriend.

Rogen is clumsy and forced, overstating everything he does. I don't think Adam's niceness needed to be balanced with vulgar bluster. The necessary edge already comes from his having cancer, not because his friend is a boor.

Director Jonathan Levine might have tempered the raunchier moments, but he didn't. There are also some things that don't seem to mesh with reality. Can there really be a 24-year-old oncologist?

"50/50" does have some good things in it, and when it's successful, I think it's successful because of Gordon-Levitt's abilities. We care about his circumstances. When he laughs, even cancer seems beatable.

"Love Crime" ("Crime d'amour") is a French film about power. Kristin Scott Thomas is Christine, a strong-minded corporate executive for a multinational company. She works out of its Paris office. Christine is fiercely competitive and expects her underlings to be slaves to their jobs. She is also the keeper of some intriguing secrets.

Christine has the knack for making each employee feel important, none more so than Ludivine Sagnier, who is Isabelle, her most important underling.

The movie, directed by Alain Corneau and co-written by Corneau and Nathalie Carter, eventually delivers a delectable mystery as we discover that Thomas has an interesting sex life, and when she's not enjoying the pleasures of the flesh, loves stealing ideas from her employees and presenting them as her own.

Would it surprise you to learn that the relationship between Christine and Isabelle soon reaches a breaking point? The idea that Christine would allow a balance of power is absurd. She's cold, calculating and manipulative. Isabelle senses she's being used. Something bad is guaranteed to happen. And it does, but there's not a chance I'll tell you what.

"Love Crime" is a film about wicked behavior. It's also wickedly entertaining. The French really do have the knack for making this kind of movie. They've taken an American tradition and made it better. Corneau has crafted a thriller that keeps an audience unsure of what's going to happen next. You watch with a little bit of dread, but relish every moment of it.

In spite of the impending doom, there's something delicious about watching two attractive women play a game of who's on top. Thomas is terrific as the amoral Christine, and Sagnier matches her inch for inch. You actually find yourself rooting for both characters, although there's no doubt that only one will be the winner. I can't recommend "Love Crime" enough.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Oct. 4, 2011