"Stars in Shorts" delivers what the title promises: familiar stars in short films. What it doesn't deliver is a consistently enjoyable experience, because the quality of this compilation varies wildly.
The gentle charm of Chris Foggin's "Friend Request Pending," featuring Judi Dench as a senior citizen braving the world of Internet flirting, is offset by the one-note joke of Robert Festinger's "The Procession" (with Lily Tomlin and Jesse Tyler Ferguson as mother and son in a never-ending funeral convoy) and the forced Hollywood cuteness of Jay Kamen's "Not Your Time" (starring Jason Alexander as a film editor with dreams of directing, and featuring an array of industry bigshots).
Benjamin Grayson's thriller "Prodigal," which stars Kenneth Branagh, plays like a pilot for a justly unmade J.J. Abrams series, while Rupert Friend's "Steve" about a couple (Keira Knightley, Tom Mison) beset by a needy neighbor (Colin Firth) is a shrill exercise in British awkwardness.
Playwright Neil LaBute is represented twice, with different degrees of success: "After-School Special," directed by Jacob Chase and starring Sarah Paulson as a teacher on an outing with a student (Sam Cohen), is obvious in its shock-factor ending; and "Sexting," which LaBute directed with Julia Stiles giving a fiery monologue as an "other woman" meeting the wife of her married boyfriend, crackles with dark energy and is hands down the best of the seven shorts here.
'Stars in Shorts'
Opens Friday, Oct. 12, at the Tower Theatre; not rated, but probably R for shorts with strong language and sexual content; 108 minutes. For more movie reviews, visit nowsaltlake.com/movies.