Table 19

⋆ out of four stars

Rated: PG-13, for thematic elements, sexual content, drug use, language and some brief nudity.

There's a huge problem at the heart of "Table 19,'' so enormous that it's almost too big to see. It's a movie about a bunch of misfits thrown together at a wedding, at the farthest table from the bridal party, which could have been comically interesting, but for one nagging fact: We don't want to be at that table, either.

The characters are too pitiable to be funny, but not real enough to generate genuine sympathy. That's a fine line to walk, but "Table 19'' accidentally finds it and then gets stuck there.

The last time Anna Kendrick went to a wedding, she was in "Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates,'' one of last year's funniest movies. So there's a good feeling going into "Table 19'' that lasts about 20 minutes. Eloise (Kendrick) is ambivalent about going to the wedding because she recently broke up with the bride's brother, but the bride is her oldest friend, so she feels she has to attend.

Also at the dreaded table is Lisa Kudrow and Craig Robinson as a married couple; June Squibb as the former nanny of the bride, and Stephen Merchant, all funny people whose talent is squandered.

Having thrown these disparate discontented characters together, the movie has to do something with them. Conflict might have made things lively — to have the characters immediately clash and grate on each other — but no, everybody's nice. Nice and dull.

This is how bad "Table 19'' gets: At a certain point in the movie, there is absolutely no reason that any of the characters would remain at the wedding or anywhere near it. So the movie devises a false reason to keep them in the general vicinity. Apparently, they're on an island, and the ferry to the mainland runs infrequently. So there's really no escape.

Here's the good news: Most people won't see "Table 19'' on an island.


San Francisco Chronicle

The Shack

⋆⋆ out of four stars

Rated: PG-13, thematic material including some violence.

A folksy Octavia Spencer serving up homemade baked goods is the vision of the divine in "The Shack," the magical realist, faith-based drama adapted from the novel by William P. Young. But it's a dark and windy road to get to that beatific image, delving into the personal history of Mack Phillips (Sam Worthington).

Mack had a rough childhood marred by domestic violence, forging his understanding of God as wrathful and punishing. That worldview is exacerbated by the abduction of his daughter. Plunged into depression, Mack receives a mysterious note from God asking him to come to the shack where his daughter was likely killed. Seeking answers, he heads to the woods, where he is greeted by a trio of spiritual teachers: God (Spencer), Jesus (Avraham Aviv Alush) and the Holy Spirit Sarayu (Sumire).

It's easy to have some flippant fun with the premise, and it's needed, since the framing story is profoundly dark and depressing, rendered in the style of a TV movie, heavy on the voice-over, the flashbacks, the haunting memories. But once he's at the God Spa, despite all the hokey walking on water, caves of Wisdom and magical gardens, the things that Papa, Jesus and Sarayu have to say are pretty profound.

Although the dialogue is written with all the finesse of a self-help book, and the visuals are a garish technicolor explosion, there are some nuggets of wisdom that do resonate, regardless of personal belief.

KATIE WALSH, Tribune News Service

Before I Fall

⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars

Rated: PG-13, mature thematic content involving drinking, sexuality, bullying, some violent images and language, all involving teens.

Boasting themes that are both cerebral and philosophical, "Before I Fall" is a young adult thriller that goes far beyond the surface level. The film borrows a premise from "Groundhog Day" in that our protagonist, Samantha (Zoey Deutch), must relive the same Friday, over and over, preceding a dangerous car crash.

Sam starts off as a carefree queen bee, ensconced in a foursome of popular girls. However, forced to relive the day over and over, which resets at the moment of the crash, she zeros in on the nerds and the bullied, and the small interactions that lead toward the inevitable, trying to change things and stop the loop.

We might not get do-overs, but "Before I Fall" is a reminder of how growth, change and breaking with norms can bring us to our truest selves.K.W.