Archive for the Comedy Category

See How They Run

Posted in Comedy, Mystery with tags on September 20, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

If I hadn’t checked the credits, I might have thought this sprightly comedy mystery was directed by Wes Anderson. See How They Run is a meticulous ensemble piece featuring exquisite set design and the retro fashions of another era. It is, in fact, the feature film debut of Tom George, a British television director (This Country, Defending the Guilty).

This loving creation is a sendup of the Agatha Christie murder mystery. The setting is London in 1953, and it features Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell), who has been assigned to solve a homicide. In a nod to meta exposition, the crime occurs after the 100th performance of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap at a West End theater. Also accompanying him is an inexperienced helper, Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan). The victim is an unlikeable movie director Leo Köpernick (Adrien Brody). He didn’t have a lot of friends, so everyone surrounding the play is a suspect.

A lighthearted romp…that just so happens to involve murder. Per tradition, audiences are asked not to reveal the killer’s identity to anyone who hasn’t seen The Mousetrap play. Likewise, I would never spoil a film either, but whodunnit in See How They Run is unimportant. This is simply an excuse to get a spirited cast together for amusing conversations and funny situations. Director Tom George and screenwriter Mark Chappell clearly admire Wes Anderson. I’m also a big fan, though I dare say this surpasses Anderson’s last picture, The French Dispatch. It’s light and breezy without being fussy. The developments all whiz by in a scant 98 minutes. Like this review, it’s fast.

09-15-22

Pinocchio

Posted in Adventure, Comedy, Drama with tags on September 9, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Disney’s reliance on making live-action versions of their animated films really kicked into high gear during the 2010s decade. As a movie critic, I approach every remake for what it is — rather than what I think it should be. I’ve been more forgiving than most. I tolerated their critically reviled (but monetarily successful) reworkings of Alice in Wonderland, Maleficent, and The Lion King to give them mildly positive reviews. However, the first five animated releases from Walt Disney Studios represent some of the greatest ever made, so the standard is admittedly higher when replicating these classics. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, and Bambi, are sacred. Incidentally, 2019’s Dumbo was a dreary slog. Pinocchio isn’t nearly as bad, but it’s still a hollow shell of an adventure.

To its credit, Pinnochio — adapted from a screenplay by director Robert Zemeckis and Chris Weitz — at least duplicates the basic plot of the original. The main character (voiced by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) does look appealing too. The developments show some loyalty to the source material. Yet there is more to art than accurately recreating the scenes using CGI and human actors. The characters need to engage our emotions. There must be some joy, some spark that unites the production and makes us care. CGI is unnecessarily used to replicate everything from Geppetto’s pets Figaro and Cleo to a titan of the sea, Monstro. I get that a real whale would have been hard to tame, but why couldn’t they get an actual cat or goldfish? Tom Hanks doesn’t embody Geppetto with sincerity either. His goofily exaggerated performance reaches a zenith in one scene. Geppetto’s shock at discovering his wooden puppet can walk and talk on its own is an excessive display that would be an embarrassment coming from a first-year acting student, let alone a talent with two Oscars and over four decades of experience.

Director Robert Zemeckis makes some misguided choices. The filmmaker relies on self-referential humor, which takes you out of this movie as it promotes others. Geppetto is a wood carver that makes cuckoo clocks based on properties that Disney owns. Toy Story and Who Framed Roger Rabbit timepieces honor the studio while referencing Woody, the toy Hanks voiced and a feature that Zemekis directed. A minor quibble, but the decisions get more egregious. I get that Pinnochio is naive and there are ways to illustrate this amusingly. Showing a closeup of horse droppings that Pinnchio approaches and then sniffs is not one of them. When Pinocchio ultimately gets to Pleasure Island, it’s meant to be a decadent isle full of illegal activities like drinking beer, chewing tobacco, and smoking cigars. None of that happens. In this account, boys and girls drink root beer, eat candy, and light fireworks in a theme park. I’m sorry, but how is this sanitized depiction any different from what goes on at Disneyland every day of the year? When the children transform into donkeys, the computer rendering is garish. It’s grotesque but because the image is implausible and ridiculous — not due to its inherent scariness.

What more is there to say? Pinocchio is a redundant, soulless recreation that dutifully mimics the plot points but without the charm, wit, or spirit. I could go on, but doing so would be simply beating a dead horse…or in this case, a donkey.

09-08-22

Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.

Posted in Comedy, Drama with tags on September 6, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Hopefully, one day Regina Hall will win an Oscar. Pity that she’s never even garnered a nomination. Hall has consistently been a standout in most productions she blesses with her presence. I enjoyed her work in The Best Man, Scary Movie, Think Like a Man, Girls Trip, Support the Girls, and The Hate U Give. Hall’s latest triumph is a highlight of her career. She co-stars as one half of a married duo who runs a Southern Baptist megachurch.

Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul is essentially a two-hander anchored by a pair of hypnotic performances. Sterling K. Brown is Lee-Curtis Childs, and Regina Hall is his devoted wife, Trinitie. Together they once served a congregation in the tens of thousands. A scandal involving Lee-Curtis forces their church to close temporarily. The couple has opened their life to a documentary filmmaker to record their ostensible comeback. The two are determined to succeed like a phoenix rising from the ashes. This film invites us to laugh at their attempt. Actress Nicole Beharie as Shakura Sumpter and actor Conphidance as her husband Keon deserve a mention as rival pastors who comprise a fascinating subplot.

There’s no question that Brown and notably Hall rise to the occasion. Their depictions are a mesmerizing achievement that captivates the audience’s attention. The problem is that the screenplay by director Adamma Ebo (her sister Adanne is a producer) is so utterly generic and superficial in its handling of the material. Targets include the excessive wealth of churches that serve the poor and a contradictory sermon to spread God’s love but not THAT kind of love. Wait, a religious leader isn’t as holy as they profess to be? Dear Lord that is the most predictable take I could have expected.

Consider for a moment that a man of God might show a sincere commitment to the glory of the creator. Coming on the heels of The Eyes of Tammy Faye, it’s hard not to make comparisons. That film showed nuance as it elicited compassion for its protagonists. Here the characters are broadly drawn caricatures. Lee-Curtis Childs is an irredeemable charlatan that preens about in expensive suits and flirts inappropriately with the help. It is a testament to Hall’s talent that she — in contrast — manages to engender some sympathy along with the requisite contempt. “Why are you supporting this horrible person?” is the overriding feeling in one scene after another. Don’t get me wrong. Honoring your marriage is an admirable aspiration. Matthew 19:6 states: “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” Yet this movie managed to make me question that edict.

09-03-22

Day Shift

Posted in Action, Comedy, Science Fiction, Thriller on August 18, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

In 2005 Jaime Foxx won the Oscar for Best Actor. He hasn’t been nominated since, and Day Shift certainly isn’t going to change that. However, it’s currently the #1 streaming title on Netflix, so that’s something.

Bud Jablonski (Jamie Foxx) is a vampire hunter posing as a pool cleaner who gets an unlikely partner in union rep Seth (Dave Franco). Jaime Foxx portrays a confident, streetwise action hero, and Dave Franco is the intelligent but awkward official with whom he is saddled. We’ve seen the odd couple pairing a million times before. I love those offbeat bonds of the 1980s like 48 hours, Lethal Weapon, and Midnight Run. Despite their differences, we all know that the two will become good friends. It’s the series of comical escapades that entertains. These lay the groundwork for their ultimate meeting of the minds.

Action comedies about mismatched people united in a common cause usually rely on the camaraderie that makes the partnership fun. Apparently, screenwriters Tyler Tice and Shay Hatten skipped the days when those lessons were taught in film writing school. The slapdash script is so emotionally vacant it makes Central Intelligence look like In the Heat of the Night. Jaime Foxx and Dave Franco do their talented best, but the screenplay doesn’t allow them to have chemistry together. The interaction between these two actors is not pleasant. It doesn’t help that Dave Franco is required to vomit often and pee his pants to show his ineptitude in combat. Oh, and let’s be clear, physical confrontations — not intellectual repartee — are the raison d’être of the picture.

The chronicle relies heavily on explosions, blood, knives, machine guns, stabbings, explosions, and neck slicing decapitations featuring disembodied heads. Oops! Did I mention the explosions twice? Well, it bears repeating. Carnage is why this flick exists. Stuntman-turned-director J.J. Perry is making his directorial debut. The arbitrary developments are a disjointed mess. If you enjoy seeing an individual get their arms ripped off and then pummeled with their own limbs, you will treasure at least one scene in the chaos. The wonky special effects in the fight scenes are kind of hilarious, though. Jaime Foxx is kicked and thrown across the room like a rag doll in the climax.

The cast includes a random ensemble of other personalities that distract from the central duo. Perhaps the most engaging is the main villain Audrey San Fernando (Karla Souza), a pretty vampire/real estate agent who works for a high-end firm. Her flashy attitude would be right at home on the reality TV series Selling Sunset. Snoop Dogg pops up as an intimidating but supportive cowboy named Big John Elliott. His appearance is sure to be a particular delight for viewers who were teens in 1993. I must admit I was amused by his lackadaisical presence. Although Bud may have a violent job, the narrative also unconvincingly paints him as a family man. He’s got a beloved daughter (Zion Broadnax) and an estranged wife (Meagan Good). Yet the relationships don’t resonate with even a modicum of genuine emotion. These are accomplished actors instructed to pose as nonentities in a soulless product for streaming consumption. By the end, someone informs us that “vampires don’t pee or poop,” which inspires Bud’s 8-year-old daughter to crudely blurt out, “Does that mean they’re full of sh–?” That kind of language is not to be encouraged from a youngster, but I still answered politely with, “No, but your movie is.”

08-16-22

Bullet Train

Posted in Action, Adventure, Comedy, Thriller with tags on August 5, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Brad Pitt is a movie star. I realize this is not some groundbreaking pronouncement. We’ve known this for a long time. Perhaps as far back as 1991 when he memorably played the handsome young drifter J.D. in Thelma and Louise. He turned that bit role into a star-making performance. The rest is history. Bullet Train has a massive cast, so it would be hard to stand out. Yet every time the quinquagenarian pops up, it’s akin to the zen calm in the eye of a chaotic storm. Sporting unkempt hair, glasses, and a bucket hat compels one character from the UK to quip, “You look like every white homeless man I’ve ever seen.” Seriously? The vagabonds in Great Britain must be really good-looking then. Brad Pitt is the glue that holds this dissonant mish-mash of a film together.

A team of various assassins with incongruous codenames from around the globe are traveling on the Shinkansen. The bullet train takes about two hours and 15 minutes to travel from Tokyo to Kyoto — with frequent 1-minute stops along the way. Ladybug (Brad Pitt) is tasked to steal a briefcase. He’s getting directions from his handler Maria Beetle (Sandra Bullock), an unseen voice on the phone. Little does he know that other cutthroats are onboard to stop him. Let’s see; there’s a pair of hitmen brothers, Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and his “twin” Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry), British bad boy The Son (Logan Lerman), innocent-looking schoolgirl The Prince (Joey King) who is not so virtuous, and The Father (Andrew Koji), a troubled patriarch there to seek vengeance upon the individual who pushed his son off a roof. Let’s not forget The Hornet (Zazie Beetz), whose identity is largely secret, and The Wolf (Benito A. Martínez Ocasio, a.k.a. rapper Bad Bunny). He’s angry at whoever poisoned the wine at his wedding. Wow. Now that’s a gross scene I didn’t need to see over and over. Other killers — not on board but part of the narrative — include The Elder (Hiroyuki Sanada) and White Death (Michael Shannon). Oh, and there are a couple of memorable cameos too, but I won’t spoil the surprises.

The recipe for this cocktail of a story is to simply add the ingredients of disparate characters to one location and shake vigorously. Lest you think my encapsulation is dismissive, classics like Die Hard and The Raid got by on the same formula. I haven’t even mentioned that there’s a poisonous snake on the loose and a mysterious pink mascot from a popular children’s show named Momomon. Your mileage may vary, but ultimately, I warmed up to the film’s bonkers mentality. The silly glee in this live-action cartoon is just so zealous. The saga marries lighthearted dialogue with heavy-handed violence. Granted Final Destination treated the idea of death with more compassion. It’s a cynical approach. Director David Leitch worships at the altar of patron saints Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs) and Guy Ritchie (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels). Leitch is working from a screenplay by Zak Olkewicz, who adapts the Japanese novel Maria Beetle (published in English as Bullet Train) by Kōtarō Isaka. It’s a difficult juggling act for the filmmaker. He’s trying to keep a lot of balls in the air. Oh yeah, he drops a few. Particularly in the denouement when the action goes literally and figuratively “off the rails.” (sorry, but you knew that line in a movie about a train was going to appear somewhere). Nevertheless, the spectacle is still quite a show.

08-04-22

Vengeance

Posted in Comedy, Mystery, Thriller with tags on August 4, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The Office is one of the great sitcoms of the 2000s. I state this as fact, not opinion, so perhaps I was more excited than most to hear that “Ryan Howard” made a film. B. J. Novak is best known for his work on the U.S. version of The Office. He also wrote, directed, and produced the sitcom, so he’s had significant experience behind the camera. Vengeance is his feature directorial debut. B. J. Novak also wrote the screenplay and stars.

Ben Manalowitz (B.J. Novak) is a struggling journalist based in New York City who casually dates many women. One night he gets a call from Ty Shaw (Boyd Holbrook), the brother of one of these arbitrary hookups. Aspiring singer Abby (Lio Tipton) has been found dead of an apparent overdose. Believing Ben was her serious boyfriend, Ty heartbreakingly delivers the news. Ben can barely remember who she was. Yet Ty is so distraught that Ben decides to fly to Abilene, TX (where Abby got her name) and attend the funeral. Sensing an opportunity for an exciting podcast, he chooses to stay and probe further into her death. He pitches his investigation to a successful producer back in New York. Eloise (in a compelling performance by Issa Rae) is receptive to the idea.

Vengeance is blessed with a clever script that straddles the line between intelligent satire and flat-out comedy. If you sense a tale about a shallow city slicker from New York who learns that gun-toting Texas are not as backward as he initially thought, you’d be right. However, how those relationships are detailed makes all the difference. The characterizations are beautifully revealed in random asides. An ongoing joke is how Ben frequently uses the phrase “100 percent” to express his “sincere” agreement. When Ty is touched by his use of the word, it’s an affecting moment. Another occurs when Abby’s sister Paris (Isabella Amara) demonstrates that she has read Chekhov, and Ben uncomfortably admits he hasn’t. There are a lot of those revelations.

Vengeance is a movie about the preconceptions and ignorance that outsiders have about people they don’t know. This is not another let’s “laugh-at-the-yokels” affair. BJ Novak’s observations about Texans are nuanced and render them as fully rounded human beings. Abby’s family is a likable clan. The ensemble of actors includes Dove Cameron, Isabella Amara, and J. Smith-Cameron in memorable roles. Ashton Kutcher deserves a special mention as a music producer. Oh sure they value their weapons and extol a love for fast food chain Whataburger that borders on the ridiculous, but the presentation is affectionate. The screenplay upended my expectations many times over.

I can’t say I was on board with every development that happens. I didn’t embrace the biggest surprise. The final act is punctuated by a shocking act of violence that is not earned. It’s as if Quentin Tarantino sabotaged the production. Despite that brief indiscretion into another genre, the story is mostly substance over style. The chronicle ultimately coalesces into a profound comment on culture and society. There is joy in this insightful reflection on humanity. I was delighted, and I think you will be too.

08-02-22

Jerry & Marge Go Large

Posted in Biography, Comedy, Drama with tags on July 20, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Books often inspire movies, but I’m intrigued when factual stories can trace their humble origins to nonfiction articles. My mind immediately goes to “Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night,” a 1976 essay by British rock journalist Nik Cohn that was the basis for Saturday Night Fever. More recently The Bling Ring traced its roots to “The Suspects Wore Louboutins” by Nancy Jo Sales, and Hustlers was derived from “The Hustlers at Scores” by Jessica Pressler. Now we’ve got a new example. Jerry & Marge Go Large is a fascinating true tale based on Jason Fagone’s 2018 Huffington Post piece of the same name, and it’s charming.

A Michigan couple figured out how to beat the lottery. Recently retired Jerry Selbee (Bryan Cranston) is a math whiz. While going through a brochure describing the details of the Winfall lottery, he discovers a mathematical flaw within the game. The sweepstake’s pool “rolls down” whenever the jackpot remains unclaimed. Subsequent prizes are smaller but easier to win in those weeks. As long as you buy enough tickets afterward, you are guaranteed a win greater than the money spent according to probability.

Discovering how to beat the lottery was difficult, but carrying out the plan was even more challenging. This would require a large sum of money. Simply buying that many tickets and then manually scanning them all for winning numbers would also involve a significant amount of time. The thing is, Jerry and his wife Marge (Annette Bening) had nothing but time on their hands. They invited everyone they knew to invest, so their little venture wasn’t so small. The endeavor became a corporation, and the profits benefited the entire town. In a late development, Tyler Langford emerges as an undergrad at Harvard who also figures out the Winfall loophole. Actor Uly Schlesinger plays a smirking and condescending villain. He goes toe to toe with the Selbees to put them out of business.

This account is an uplifting slice of life. The saga is all the more enchanting because this really happened. Bryan Cranston and Annette Bening are refreshingly plain-spoken and pragmatic as the titular duo. Yet the pair is far from cloying. Jerry Selbee, in particular, lacks warmth. He’s a man more comfortable with numbers than people. These qualities subvert a quaint tale about older adults that could have veered into mawkish sentimentality. Nevertheless, Jerry still sweetly flatters his wife with, “I won the jackpot before we even started.” Ultimately their strong marriage and commitment to the community make an impression. The good vibes linger after the film is over. In this day and age, any production that dares tell a compelling story about people in their 60s is a bold decision.

Jerry & Marge Go Large has been exclusively available to Paramount+ subscribers since June 17. It has remained the #1 movie in the U.S. on that platform for the better part of a month. Distribution to other channels and streaming services is expected.

07-17-22

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On

Posted in Animation, Comedy, Family with tags on July 13, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Marcel is a one-inch-tall talking shell with a googly eye and a pair of pink footwear. He got his start in a 4-minute short that was a collaboration between director Dean Fleischer-Camp and writer/actress Jenny Slate. It went viral in 2010 and was followed by two equally concise sequels in 2011 and 2014. During that time, the couple would marry and later divorce. Yet Marcel remained. More than a decade after his debut, we are blessed with Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, an identically named feature. And it’s oh so charming.

The chronicle is built upon a foundation of the gentle warmth of a mood. Marcel lives with his grandmother Connie (Isabella Rossellini) in a standard-sized home. When Connie calls her grandson Marcello, the palpable love in her soft voice is genuinely touching. He spends life going about his business and gathering resources to live. The residence has been converted into Airbnb. Dean (playing himself) is the current guest.

When the documentarian discovers the little guy, he begins filming Marcel and asking him questions. Marcel attempts to interrogate him too, but Dean is less inclined to answer his queries. Gradually we learn that Marcel was part of a larger community that went missing. Their separation occurred sometime after the house’s previous owners, Mark (Thomas Mann) and Larissa (Rosa Salazar), had an argument and split up. The picture concerns Marcel’s quest to find his lost friends.

Slight doesn’t even begin to encapsulate this amiable wisp of an idea. Marcel’s fascination with the world and his insightful observations are the basis for the story. Jenny Slates’s endearing vocal performance is a raspy, childlike whisper that almost lulls you into a state of ease. It’s a soothing idea that intersperses little bon mots during its runtime. When Marcel appeals to the internet for help, the clip circulates quickly. While the comments are supportive, they aren’t beneficial. “It’s an audience, not a community,” he laments. Similar witticisms are sprinkled like powdered sugar on a stack of pancakes covered in syrup.

This warm hug of production is too genial and sweet to dislike. I’m always fascinated when a movie has near universal acclaim on an aggregate website like Rotten Tomatoes and manages to inspire one review that takes that near-perfect rating down to a 99%. I understand that lone voice of dissent. Context is everything. A full-length feature that appears to be assembled from lovingly created shorts strung together entertains more effectively in smaller doses. Even at a mere 90 minutes, the preciousness wears a bit thin. I see this as an ideal flick for streaming to be enjoyed at your leisure.

At one point, Marcel uses drops of honey on the soles of his sneakers to climb the sheer cliff of a wall to reach the mantel from the floor. The use of that viscous nectar got me thinking. A spoonful of honey spread on biscuits or infused in tea proportioned throughout the day is a sugary treat. Finishing off a 12-ounce squeeze bottle all in one sitting is less delightful.

07-12-22

Thor: Love and Thunder

Posted in Action, Adventure, Comedy, Superhero with tags on July 11, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Comic book movies shouldn’t take themselves too seriously. That’s the spirit behind Thor: Love and Thunder. Director Taika Waititi returns five years after Thor: Ragnarok to helm this sequel, the 4th entry in the Thor series. Though it might not reach the heights of his previous effort, it’s still a smashing good time.

It takes an absolute eternity to get to the principal story. It felt like an hour in, but I could be wrong. The proper narrative begins when Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is reunited with his brainy ex-girlfriend Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). This duo forms the emotional core of their ongoing romance. She has taken on super powers aided by Mjölnir, the hammer Thor once owned that she now commands. Meanwhile, Thor now wields an enchanted axe called Stormbreaker. An ongoing joke is that his — apparently cognizant — weapon is comically jealous that Thor continues to pine for his hammer. The duo takes on Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale) who is wreaking havoc across the multiverse and killing every deity he can while capturing the Asgardian children and imprisoning them.

Their adventures take them to Omnipotence City, where they appeal to Zeus for help. Russell Crowe is affecting a Greek accent while advancing the cause of body positivity. Zeus proves you don’t have to lift weights 24/7 to play a significant character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Truth be told, it looks as if he’s never even seen a gym. He’s a role model to Thor, but Zeus turns out to be a real jerk and exposes the muscular hero (quite literally, in fact) to the entire assemblage.

Thor is a meandering tale. Like everything in this blessedly interconnected universe, the latest Marvel chapter pays homage to earlier incarnations. Voiceover narration from the rock-like creature Korg (Taika Waititi) recounts the legend of the god of thunder. A screenplay co-written by the director and Jennifer Kaytin Robinson fills in the extensive background minutiae, dramatizing his experiences with the Guardians of the Galaxy. We are treated to an extended sequence in the first 20 minutes, highlighting a planet overrun by bird-like invaders. After Thor and his team defeat the attackers, the king of the land gifts Thor and the Guardians with two giant screaming goats. Their human shrieks are a running joke for the duration of the picture.

Oh, but there are many more trivialities to learn. Thor has appointed Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) the leader of New Asgard. The place has become a tourist attraction, with plays featuring actors in amusing cameos that re-enact Thor’s exploits. The lengthy introduction is fitfully diverting, but you could eliminate the whole shebang. This critic favors clarity. A simple, straightforward narrative is preferred, but whatever. I realize some people demand this stuff, so it’s here for those who feast on the details.

Thor: Love and Thunder is a lighthearted account that promotes slapstick and humorous banter. A series of seemingly random developments and numerous characters wear on the viewer. Despite being a mere two hours, it feels longer because of the convoluted events and distended cast list. The sloppy chronicle fumbles in the 2nd half with several generic action setpieces that fail to deliver. And yet the atmosphere is so jovial it entertains. The production relies on a soundtrack that presents four — yes, count ’em four — songs by Guns N Roses: “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” “Welcome To The Jungle,” “Paradise City,” and “November Rain.” The account is a hodgepodge of lively ideas that ultimately fuse into something resembling a cohesive whole. Thor Love and Thunder doesn’t stay with you long after seeing it, but it manages to captivate in the moment. That’s something, I guess.

07-07-22

Cha Cha Real Smooth

Posted in Comedy, Drama with tags on July 6, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Cha Cha Real Smooth caused a stir at the Sundance Film Festival in January when it won the Audience Award in the U.S. Dramatic Competition. Months later, it quietly appeared on Apple TV+ June 17 to little attention. In this age of streaming, it’s often hard to tell exactly how many people are watching a particular movie. However, social media can be a gauge, and the buzz after its public debut has been virtually nonexistent. It’s easy to see why.

Writer, director, and star Cooper Raiff has fashioned an entire film around himself. Andrew is a directionless college graduate currently working a dead-end job at Meat Sticks. The fast-food joint is a thinly veiled homage to Hot Dog on a Stick. That contrivance reeks of a hipster’s idea of a funny career. He accompanies his younger brother David (Evan Assante) to a bat mitzvah. There Andrew encounters a crowd of wallflowers. The party is dying. Though he lacks the initiative to secure a job that utilizes his college education, he takes a leadership position here. While mingling throughout the soiree, he encourages kids to leave their seats and go dance. One of these children is an autistic young girl named Lola (Vanessa Burghardt). Andrew bets her mother Domino (Dakota Johnson) that he can get Lola to join the others on the dance floor. His clever ruse succeeds and that impresses her mom. The other mothers at the shindig all find him charming too. A burgeoning career as a DJ/emcee/standup at future celebrations is born.

The title references the “Cha Cha Slide,” a 2000 song that remains a ubiquitous staple at birthdays, quinceañeras, and weddings. Yet the story’s focus is not on his fledging business as a “party starter.” The promising setup hints at a romance between a 22-year-old infatuated with an older woman. Their flirtatious chemistry is mutual but it turns confusing. Their connection is complicated by unnecessary additions. She has a fiancee (Raúl Castillo) away on business and he has a girlfriend (Amara Pedroso Saquel) studying in Barcelona. Dakota Johnson is a capable actress, but her vague character is a baffling enigma. She confesses to Andrew she just had a miscarriage like it was a mild inconvenience, then attempts to seduce the fellow — all in the same night! She’s undeniably longing for something more in life. Maybe the spark of a loving relationship. Although, she simultaneously entices Andrew while pushing him away. Domino doesn’t seem to know what she wants, nor do we. Depression is not a crime. At the very least, Domino should seek the help of a therapist. Meanwhile, Andrew lives at home, so the cast is further stacked with Andrew’s genial mother (Leslie Mann) and a cranky step-dad (Brad Garrett).

Cha Cha Real Smooth rests entirely on the charisma of its lead. That’s a problem because Andrew’s preening demeanor and puppy-dog expressions are not endearing. Oh the screenplay is strident in its presentation that he is such a lovely, sweet human being. He’s a good guy darn it! Every character exists to reflect how wonderful Andrew is, but the act rings hollow. His cloying behavior feels like a facade he wields to serve his own demands. Since the saga doesn’t inspire any desire in the viewer to see him triumph — in life or in love — the narrative fails. There is some promise to be found in the sincerity of the rest of the production. Engaging actors sustain the chronicle with authentic performances. All of whom are more interesting than the central lead. Cooper Raiff is a talented writer and director. He shows the vestiges of a Woody Allen or a John Cassavetes, but he’s not likable as the hero. He’s the same dreary self-interested schmuck he is at the end of the picture as he was at the beginning.

06-20-22