Movie Review: Walk of Shame (2014)

July 8, 2014 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

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The nicest thing I can say about Walk of Shame, the new Steven Brill comedy starring Elizabeth Banks, is that there’s nothing about it that makes me loath the film with a vengeance. The same can’t be said about Brill’s last directorial effort, which is the appallingly toxic iBabe segment in the venom-inducing Movie 43 from last year. The worst crime Walk of Shame is guilty of is being criminally unfunny, and I suppose that’s an improvement.

Elizabeth Banks, who got into great shape to fit into the snug yellow outfit she dons for the majority of the film, is Meghan Miles, a news anchor and a “good girl”, the safe option in a safe relationship. A series of unfortunate events befall her, and a dispirited Meghan goes out on a wild night with her girlfriends, only to wake up in the bed of sexy stranger Gordon (James Marsden). The rest of the film is all about Meghan running into one outrageous situation after another as she tries to make her way to the news station so she can cash in on a new job opportunity. 

It’s a fairly typical comedy premise where nothing seems to go right for the protagonist, and all efforts to resolve the situation only lead to more misunderstanding and mayhem.

In this case, the central gag is that Meghan is repeatedly mistaken for a prostitute, which gets her involved with both the police and gangster drug dealers. It doesn’t sound like a hopeless idea, but I kid you not when I say there was not a single laugh to be found in the entire 95-minute film. Not a tee-hee, not a chuckle, and nary a smile. (OK, so the introductory sequence with real-life news blooper footage WAS funny, but that’s just collected from YouTube, so you can’t give the movie credit for that.)

The jokes are either obvious, typical or stereotypical. I don’t want to say misogynistic because that is a term that gets thrown around too liberally these days, but much of the humour in Walk of Shame is definitely sexist and racist. That’s something I don’t usually mind if the film is actually funny. When it’s not witty or funny, however, it’s just pathetic, and that’s what this movie ultimately is.

And I haven’t even mentioned how incoherent the plot is and how little sense any of it makes. It’s really hard to get into a film — any film — when its central premise is that flimsy. There were about a million ways Meghan could have resolved the situation, but of course she keeps choosing the most moronic, implausible option just so she could extend her misery, and ostensibly, ours.

Elizabeth Banks tries her hardest but can’t even come close to salvaging this disaster. I doubt even Meryl Streep could have. Is Banks a likable protagonist? I dunno. She certainly is a stupid one and not really worthy of our sympathy. 

As for James Marsden, the poor guy still can’t catch a break. I don’t get it. He’s a good-looking guy and not without charisma or acting ability, and yet he seems to always get the worst roles. He was the guy Rachel McAdams ditched without reservation in The Notebook. He was the guy who turned Cyclops, the leader of the X-Men, into an afterthought. Even when he gets a leading role, such as in the remake of Straw Dogs, the film never gets any traction. And the romantic comedy roles he gets appear to be those Paul Rudd would not touch with a 10-foot pole. I last saw him in The Butler as JFK, and we all know what happened to him. Poor bastard.

As bad as it is, Walk of Shame is at least not one of those films that left me spewing vitriolic profanities by the end if it. It’s just one of those really unfunny romantic comedies you wonder what possessed the studio to make and will forget a couple of days after watching it. In this case, that’s a good thing.

1.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Blended (2014)

June 23, 2014 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

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It has become almost customary to trash every Adam Sandler film that comes out these days. And let’s be honest: he has no one to blame but himself. Once one my my favourite farce-comedy hit makers with classics like Happy Gilmore and The Waterboy (notwithstanding all the panning from critics), Sandler has somehow devolved into the ultimate dud maker. His last five live-action feature films before Blended  in which he has a major role are Grown Ups 2, That’s My Boy, Jack and Jill and Just Go With It. All five have undoubtedly featured on annual “worst of” lists for critics and movie-goes alike.

Which is why I am almost excited to proclaim that Blended will NOT be on my worst of list for 2014. Now that is not to say that it is in anyway a good film, but it does represent a step in the right direction for Sandler, who returns to the idiotic roots that made some of his earlier films so memorable.

Unfortunately Blended only takes us half way. Despite doing an excellent job in the first half of the film with some nostalgic stupidity, Sandler could not help himself, eventually resorting back to the trite, predictable and corny drivel he tries to pass off as meaningful “drama.”

In other words the film’s title is apt — it’s a “blend” of Sandler’s earlier, more effective comedy, and his later, insufferable crap. Having said that I am still very happy overall that there is finally one Sandler film in recent years that does not make me want to stick my thumbs in my eyes and keep pressing until my entire head explodes.

The film begins with a blind date at the fine establishment known as Hooters between our two protagonists, a father of three girls, played by Sandler, and the mother of two boys, played by Drew Barrymore. Needless to say, it does not go well, but by chance the two families end up on a safari together in Africa. And so it begins.

The strength of Sandler’s humor has never been witty observations or sharp dialogue. This is a man who rules when it comes to saying and doing things so moronic that you cannot help but laugh — and for the vast majority of the first half of this movie, Sandler is in blistering form.

Achunk of the credit has to go to Drew Barrymore (now starring in her’s third film with Sandler after The Wedding Singer and 50 First Dates), who is very difficult to dislike and has solid chemistry with Sandler. Kudos also have to go to the director, Frank Coraci, for once again  giving us the best of both actors after having guided them so well in The Wedding Singer back in 1998.

Their five kids in the film also play a major role in bringing the laughs. On Sandler’s side there’s the obviously pretty teenage girl being brought up as a boy (Bella Thorne), her weird younger sister who keeps interacting with their dead mother (Emma Fuhrman), and the youngest sister, who is all cuteness (Alyvia Alyn Lind). On Barrymore’s side there is the sexually awkward geek son (Braxton Beckham), and the younger brother with serious anger management issues and considerable gymnastic prowess (Kyle Red Silverstein).

The one major downfall of Sandler’s films in recent years is that they come across as mean spirited. In Blended, however, it doesn’t feel that way even though he is clearly making fun of these children’s quirks, and I think that has a lot to do with him knowing where to draw the line with children and being aware that ultimately he needs to place the emphasis on how innocent and adorable they are rather than what a dick he is.

The rest of the supporting cast is pretty solid too. There is the legendary white chicks actor Terry Crews as a raunchy resort performer, Kevin Nealon from TVs weeds, and even a cameo from Shaquille O’Neal that has nothing to do with basketball!

Sadly, after doing so much good in the first half of the film, Blended makes the fateful decision to go full steam ahead in turning into another typical, predictable, sappy family drama down the stretch. It’s bad enough that we already know exactly how it’s all going to end; what makes it worse is that the film starts becoming less and less funny the more conventional it tries to be. I don’t remember exactly when I lost interest and started to get bored — I just know there was still too much of the 117-minute running time left for me to be feeling that way.

Having said all that I understand I might not be the target market for the film, which was clearly aiming for more family-oriented audience. I’m not going to say it achieves what it’s aiming for because there is plenty to pick on in such a politically incorrect film (it has been accused of everything from racism to misogyny) — I’m just saying I don’t really care. In any case, I just can’t help but be disappointed after experiencing, in the first half of the film at least, the closest thing to a vintage Adam Sandler I’ve seen in more than a decade, only to watch it all fall apart before the end.

3 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Neighbors (2014)

June 23, 2014 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

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Neighbors (or Bad Neighbours in some parts of the world, in an attempt to avoid confusion with the Aussie soap), is the latest comedic effort from Seth Rogen, whose films generally have the same type of feel — somewhat juvenile, overtly sexual, frequently uncomfortable (or edgy, if you prefer), with a dash of weed (or a lot of it), a splash of randomness, and a hearty attempt at crafting a character-driven story — all at the same time.

I don’t dislike Seth Rogen’s films, though most of the time I find them overrated and not as funny as they have been made out to be. Despite not being excited by the trailers, however, I actually think Neighbors is one of his stronger flicks, second to Pineapple Express and offering arguably bigger and smarter (albeit less consistent) laughs than This is the End (50/50, while possibly Rogen’s best film, is not technically a Rogen comedy).

Directed by Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek), Neighbors is aided by a juicy premise – Rogen and Aussie Rose Byrne are a young couple going through the usual struggles of dealing with a new baby. Their lives are turned upside down when a group of frat boys, led by Zac Efron and Dave Franco (brother of James), move in next door. At first the couple, straddling that line between “responsible adults” and “cool parents”,  try to befriend the frat boys, but eventually things sour and spiral into an all out war.

From what I’ve read, much of the dialogue in Neighbors is improvised, which usually means some really magical stuff mixed in with a lot of jokes that may seem funny to the actors but tend to come out flat to the audience. And that’s essentially what we have here. BBC reviewer Mark Kermode’s rule of thumb for a good comedy is six decent laughs, and in my opinion Neighbors achieves that benchmark rather easily. It doesn’t come close to trashing the benchmark in the way a classic or all-time comedy would do, but there are a couple of unexpected sequences towards the end of the film had me howling. Having said all that, at the end of the day Neighbors is yet another one of those comedies where I kept thinking that it could have and should have been consistently funnier.

Part of the problem is that some of the better jokes were, as usual, spoiled by the trailers. These are jokes that might have been funny the first time, but you “see through it” the second time around. The other problem is with some of the improv, which as I said earlier just doesn’t work as well as the filmmakers think it does. It’s amusing when it hits the mark, though there may have been four or five misses before it gets to that point.

Others have pointed out the overabundance of penis jokes. I personally don’t have a problem with any anatomy jokes as long as they are funny, and in any case anyone who knows Seth Rogen’s brand of comedy knows there will be a lot of dicks involved. The penis jokes in Neighbors are a mixed bag with a strike rate of only about 30%, though there are a couple of pretty big hits (pun intended).

The performances were better than I had anticipated. Rogen is Rogen, so the revelation here was the effectiveness of Zac Efron in his first real comedic role. He plays the “straight man,” so to speak, but he does it with a surprising intensity reminiscent of Tom Cruise when he does comedy. You can tell Efron’s trying really hard to keep up with the comedy veterans, but to his credit he never feels out of place as the loyal, mentally challenged frat boy, and I think his performance in this could lead to more comedies in his future.

I heard some good things about Rose Byrne in this film and I know she can be hilarious when she wants to be, which is why I was a little disappointed that she didn’t get to do more here. She shines when she gets the opportunity, especially when delivering deadpan one-liners in her original Aussie accent, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that she’s been relegated to second fiddle behind the relationships of the boys (Rogen and Efron, Efron and Franco).

The minor characters tend to be scene stealers in films like this, and for me there were three in Neighbors: the crazy friend played by Ike Barinholtz, the token black frat boy played by comedian Jerrod Carmichael, and the frat boy wannabe known as “Assjuice”, played by Craig Roberts. It was also interesting to see Christopher Mintz-Plasse, aka McLovin from Superbad, morph from the kind of actor who would have played a character like Assjuice a few years ago into a regular frat boy, albeit one with an anaconda in his undies.

In a nutshell, Neighbors is funny enough and surprisingly better than I had expected. It’s not the super comedy smash some have labelled it — and to be honest I think it’s embarrassing that some of the youth of this generation would call such a film “the funniest movie ever”. On the other hand, I will also admit that the film is more clever than just a simple “bickering neighbours” comedy — it does provide astute observations that make you think about the struggle of young couples making that transition in parenthood, as well as young college kids living in the frat house bubble who don’t pause to ponder their future until it’s too late.  The finished product, like most Seth Rogen comedies, is uneven, but it’s a fairly decent effort overall considering how rare a finely crafted comedy comes along these days.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013)

March 19, 2014 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

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The original Anchorman, released 10 years ago, is remembered as a classic of random laughs and weirdness, hilarious political incorrectness, memorable characters and masterful improvised dialogue. It’s not actually as funny or as good as you remember it to be, but that’s the way it goes sometimes with movies that end up developing its own legend.

In all likelihood, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, will not be as revered as its predecessor, but the truth is that it’s probably just as funny and irreverent. If you enjoyed the zaniness of the original and developed an affection for the characters, then there’s a good chance you’ll have a great time with this one too.

The “legend” picks up several years after the end of the first film, with Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) sharing anchor duties with his now-wife, Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate). Their boss, played by Harrison Ford, drops a bombshell on Ron and his ego is too fragile to take the hit. Just when he’s down in the dumps, he gets a visit from an exec played by Dylan Baker (I’ll always remember him as the deranged dad from Happiness), who offers him a job on a new 24-hour news network that no one in the industry thinks will succeed. The story really begins from here, as Ron starts to track down his own team of misfits including Champ Kind (David Koechner), Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd) and Brick Tamland (Steve Carrell), and together they head to New York to challenge the big boys of national TV.

The bizarre absurdity of Anchorman 2 is no doubt an acquired taste. If you get it, however, chances are you’ll love it. Without giving too much away, there are some brilliant sequences that will either have you clutching your gut in laughter or shaking your head at the stupidity of it all. There are also some skits that pay homage to some of the classic moments in the original, including a really epic climax that keeps rolling in one huge surprise after another (best to avoid spoilers). You have to give props to Ferrell and his crew for not sticking to conventions and really going for the weirdest, most non-nonsensical shit they could come up with. While it’s still often hit and miss, the hits are usually big hits, and the misses can be swept aside rather quickly because the gags keep coming at a furious pace.

Even if you take all the randomness aside, Anchorman 2 still has some clever satire and witty social commentary weaved into its narrative tapestry. Again, I don’t want to play spoiler, but let’s just say it takes a fairly sharp stab at the state of Western media networks today and makes intelligent use of information we know in the present but won’t be known to the characters for a decade or two.

For me, Anchorman 2 is still never quite as funny as it should be or thinks it is. I kept feeling like the actors were having a better time than I was, and I sense the reason they even made the sequel in the first place is because they all loved hanging out with each other so much. The chemistry between the characters is definitely there, but if you’re not in the right mood then some of the gags will come across as lame and unfunny. Steve Carrell’s mentally challenged Brick, for example, is more creepily insane than ever, and this time they’ve paired him up with a female version of his character, Chani, played by Kristen Wiig. It was one of those things where you’re thinking, “This should be really hilarious,” but in the end turns out to be “meh”.

That said, Anchorman 2 still probably has one of the highest laughs per minute ratios of any film released in 2013. Part of the reason is that there are so many strong characters that you’ll likely find at least a couple of them funny. My personal favourites were Paul Rudd’s sex-obsessed Brian Fantana and, surprisingly, Ron Burgundy himself, who seems somehow both wiser and dumber than he was the last time around. James Marsden, who plays the new network’s douchebag poster child, and Greg Kinnear, who plays Christina Applegate’s lover/psychologist, are the highlights from the supporting cast. And if you like seeing a lot of A-list stars doing things you wouldn’t expect of them, you’ll love all the great cameos in this too.

Ultimately, despite its flaws — including the excessive running time of 119 minutes — I think there is enough quality stuff packed into Anchorman 2 to call it a worthy sequel. It’s never easy living up to expectations following a cult classic original, but even after 10 years the story and the characters’ goofy charm have not waned. Not everything works, but when things occasionally fall into place the result is comedy magic.

3.75 stars out of 5

PS: Pretty awesome gag reel, but I’d recommend watching the movie first.

Movie Review: Last Vegas (2013)

February 6, 2014 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

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The idea’s not too bad: a bunch of old friends (emphasis on “old”) catch up for one final hurrah in Las Vegas. Throw in four huge stars — Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Klein — as the leads, toss in a few old jokes (again, emphasis on “old”), and that’s Last Vegas in a nutshell.

I didn’t have a huge problem with Last Vegas, but there was really nothing to like about it either. Directed by Jon Turteltaub (Cool Runnings, National Treasure 1 & 2, and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice), it’s a very safe, mildly amusing comedy driven by the star power of its four leads. On the other hand, there’s not much to sustain the film apart from the gimmicky old jokes, and the result is a frequently lame, utterly forgettable experience that you’ll likely erase from your memory in a hurry. It’s a film that wouldn’t have been contemplated without its stars, and is in any case probably best reserved for the straight-to-DVD rack.

Douglas, De Niro, Freeman and Klein are childhood friends who grew up on the tough streets of Brooklyn and remain in touch today as seniors dealing with their own separate problems. De Niro’s character is still mourning the loss of his wife, Freeman’s character is battling an array of physical ailments and his overbearing family, and Klein seems to have lost interest in life. In comes Douglas’s character, seemingly the most charismatic of the group, who is about to get married to a woman less than half his age, and decides to throw a bachelor party in Vegas with his three oldest friends.

So as you might have guessed, the whole fish-out-of-water scenario is designed to put four old guys in a place they’re not expected to be comfortable with, and having us watch them have fun drinking, dancing, splurging and having the time of their lives. The Hangover for Geriatrics is essentially the idea, and it’s not a bad idea, except that it doesn’t work for very long. The running joke throughout the film is that old people are clueless and not cool, a schtick that just keeps getting rehashed again and again. But given that they are the protagonists, the film then tries very hard to convince us that they are, after all, very cool indeed, and young punks who disrespect them will come to regret it. And of course, all four of our heroes will learn important life lessons when it’s all said and done.

I’ll have to be brutally honest here. After a nice setup, the film devolves into cliches and becomes painful to sit through. The jokes are obvious and repetitive, and despite the best efforts of its stars (including the adorable Mary Steenburgen as the love interest), the film is inescapably bland and predictable until its merciful conclusion. It’s not horrible, it’s just…meh.

I am probably making Last Vegas sound a lot worse than it actually is. If you are in the mood for a streamlined plot, obvious jokes and 105 minutes of stereotypical icky Hollywood feel-goodness, then Last Vegas is borderline enjoyable. If you expect more than that from a film with four screen legends, like I did, then chances are you’ll end up bitterly disappointed.

2 stars out of 5

 
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