Archive for the Comedy Category

Hustle

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Sports with tags on June 23, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Adam Sandler has two personas. There’s the comedian that does lightweight comedies like The Ridiculous 6, The Wrong Missy, and Hubie Halloween. Then there’s the thespian that does serious output like The Meyerowitz Stories and Uncut Gems. Hustle is from the latter category. Back in January of 2020, Netflix extended Sandler’s $275 million production deal to an additional four movies. The streaming service proclaimed that viewers spent 2 billion hours watching his films. There’s no question he’s still a popular star. His latest debuted on June 8. Over two weeks later, it’s still in the Top 5.

Hustle is a rather amiable sports drama about Stanley Sugerman (Adam Sandler), a scout for the Philadelphia 76ers. He lives life on the road, trying to discover the next basketball star. Being away can negatively impact his wife Teresa (Queen Latifah) and daughter Alex (Jordan Hull). Yet they also pitch in to help when needed. Things change for the better when Stanley discovers a talented phenom in Spain named Bo Cruz (Juancho Hernangómez). The saga revolves around Stanley’s attempt to prepare him for the NBA draft.

Adam Sandler’s enthusiasm for professional basketball shows. He’s in dynamic mode. The actor gives a warm, human performance as the beleaguered scout. He engages our sympathies, and you genuinely want to root for the guy. Sandler has excellent chemistry with a newcomer to acting. Juancho Hernangómez is a relative unknown in the NBA. Juancho may lack acting confidence during the dramatic scenes, but that quality works for this character. He’s supposed to be naive and unsure of himself in this world. There is a sincerity about him and Juancho is convincing as someone who can play basketball really well.

Hustle is not going to win any awards for storytelling. It’s a formulaic offering in the world of traditional sports tales, but it does have a lot of heart. The movie has various predictable obstacles they must face. Stanley butts heads with the owner of the 76ers, portrayed by Ben Foster. Meanwhile, Bo Cruz is taunted by a fellow prospect — also realized by a professional athlete named Anthony Edwards. Bo needs to learn to keep his emotions in check to succeed in the game. The account feels authentic as it has plenty of basketball action and is filled with cameos of athletes and notables from the NBA. This is such a winning presentation. As a crowd-pleaser embraced by audiences and critics alike, Hustle is a slam dunk.

06-16-22

Emergency

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Thriller with tags on June 1, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

If you must classify this picture into a genre, it might be another “one crazy night” movie. Think American Graffiti, After Hours, Dazed and Confused, and Superbad. Not only did I list those in chronological order, but they’re also ranked from best to still good. I’d place Emergency after all of those — and probably behind Adventures in Babysitting and Thank God It’s Friday too. The chronicle subverts expectations. I’ll give it that. I expected a lighthearted comedy with likable protagonists that would extract wit from a well-orchestrated plight. No. Nope. Sorry.

Kunle (Donald Elise Watkins) is a gifted college student majoring in biology. The strait-laced fellow has just gotten into the graduate program at Princeton and is currently working on his thesis, growing live cultures in a petri-dish or something. Meanwhile his hedonistic best friend Sean (RJ Cyler) aspires to complete the “Legendary Tour,” a circuit of seven frat parties in one night. Opposites attract I guess. Their fanny pack-wearing roommate Carlos (Sebastian Chacon) isn’t part of their evening’s plans, but he gets sucked up into a night of chaos when an unknown woman (Maddie Nichols) is discovered passed out in their living room. Now you’re probably thinking, call 911 and report the emergency, right? And to be fair, that is what Kunle wants to do, but Sean convinces him that — because they’re black and Carlos is Latin — the police would view them as suspects. “We call the police, we die,” Sean contends. So the trio decides to drive the heavily inebriated girl to a hospital and just drop her off out front. Let the fun begin! Except it’s not fun.

Emergency is an utter mess of tonal shifts. The narrative is constructed like a comedy. The boys’ plans keep changing because nothing goes their way. Yet there aren’t laughs because every situation they find themselves in is easily avoidable. These three lads make one ridiculously stupid decision after another. You really have to suspend disbelief. At one point, Emma (the unconscious girl) becomes alert. Disoriented she screams at the top of her lungs, breaks Carlos’ nose, and punches driver Kunle in the back causing an accident. She escapes the van of her own volition. They’re off the hook, right? Wrong. The boys hunt her down and drag her back to the vehicle. This leads to more mayhem — naturally.

I think director Carey Williams and screenwriter K.D. Dávila are trying to say something about racial politics in America. What exactly that is, I’m not so sure. Kunle may be deemed “black excellence” but he submissively agrees to every one of Sean’s bad ideas. Meanwhile, Sean talks crude and is all about boozing, pot-smoking, and edible-eating. He’s constantly high. The screenplay offensively writes off his character as a lost cause. Meanwhile the police indeed turn out to be the good guys. Surprise! They serve and protect. I failed to find a satisfying purpose or grand truth after watching these superficial shenanigans. Emergency aims at all sorts of various targets during its runtime but never has the temerity to take any of them down.

05-31-22

Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers

Posted in Adventure, Animation, Comedy with tags on May 23, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I’m in shock. I can’t remember the last time a new release so thoroughly upended my low expectations. Chip ‘n Dale are an animated chipmunk duo first introduced in the 1943 cartoon short Private Pluto. I’m familiar with that iteration. However Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers the movie is based on a more recent 1990s version of a TV series that I have never seen. I was expecting a headache-inducing update aimed at young children. I got something far more clever.

The screenplay only takes inspiration from that TV program, then does something wholly unexpected. The story recasts the two chipmunks as cartoons existing within the real-life world of human people. Their shrill squeaks were only a pitch affected while acting. Here their articulations occupy a much lower register. John Mulaney is the voice of Chip who now works as an insurance salesman. Andy Samberg is vocalizing Dale. He’s undergone CGI surgery and is currently working conventions with other animated stars of the past.

Traditionally drawn cartoons are a big part of this world. Many are desperately trying to find work in an industry that increasingly prefers computer graphics. In one hilarious cutaway, Chip and Dale are spotted in the background on an episode of the TV show Full House. The plot is set in motion when their friend and detective teammate, Monterey Jack (voiced by Eric Bana), is kidnapped and risks possibly being subjected to the horror of video piracy. It’s up to Chip and Dale to save him.

Animation combined with live-action has existed since the very beginning of the film business. In 1988 Who Framed Roger Rabbit famously broke new ground and became the gold standard for this technique. That classic inspired a bevy of similar mash-ups attempting to replicate that success, always with diminishing results. Examples include Space Jam, and its sequel Space Jam: A New Legacy, Looney Tunes: Back In Action, and Tom & Jerry: The Movie. I could go on. I only list these examples to illustrate how none has ever approached the wit of Robert Zemeckis’ marvel. This production comes closer than anything in the 34 years since. In fact, Roger Rabbit unexpectedly pops up.

There are a ton of characters referenced within this environment. Many are now working different jobs. A lot of these intellectual properties aren’t even owned by Disney. These include random cameos from My Little Pony and South Park, as well as McGruff the Crime Dog, MC Skat Kat with Paula Abdul, and the ugly version of Sonic the Hedgehog before an internet outcry got him redesigned. There are many other personalities. Look fast for what’s on various billboards and landmarks. You’ll see Butthead is running for Senator and Chun-Li (of the Street Fighter video game) has a star on the Walk of Fame. You’ll need to watch the film more than once to catch them all or be prepared to hit that pause button.

Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers is the funniest movie of the year thus far. It’s also joyful, uplifting, and — most surprising — a sharp sendup of Hollywood. This is directed by Akiva Schaffer (Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping) who frequently collaborates with Andy Samberg (and Jorma Taccone) as part of the comedy trio The Lonely Island. The screenplay from Dan Gregor and Doug Mand (TV’s How I Met Your Mother, Dolittle) pokes fun at a lot of things. The obsession with remakes and reboots (Meryl Streep in Mr. Doubtfire), how ideas are recycled to make films (LEGO Miserables, Waze the Movie), or the way cartoons are superficially modernized using CGI and rap music. That’s ironic because it’s Disney’s reliance on those qualities that had me dismissing this reboot before I had even seen it. Color me surprised. I expected a silly cartoon but I got an intelligent satire.

05-20-22

The Bad Guys

Posted in Adventure, Animation, Comedy with tags on May 5, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Overall ticket sales haven’t returned to robust pre-pandemic levels, but the box office is still full of success stories. The latest is this gem from DreamWorks Animation and distributed by Universal Pictures. Well-crafted family-friendly diversions have always been a safe bet. It may not equal the full auditory overload of Sing 2 (thank goodness), but this PG-rated treasure should dazzle the wee ones. At least until Pixar’s Toy Story spin-off Lightyear comes out on June 17.

The Bad Guys are a gang of anthropomorphic animals who walk and talk amongst humans. The coterie of creatures consists of a Mr. Wolf (Sam Rockwell), Mr. Snake (Marc Maron), Ms. Tarantula (Awkwafina), Mr. Shark (Craig Robinson), and Mr. Piranha (Anthony Ramos). The group of five are so named because they’re career criminals. During their latest caper, they attempt to steal a humanitarian award at a large gala. The trophy is to be conferred upon a pompous guinea pig named Professor Rupert Marmalade IV (Richard Ayoade). The recipient happens to be a philanthropist. The villains are caught in the act. Normally they would be taken to jail. However, Mr. Wolf — the leader of the group — persuades the guinea pig to reform them instead. Little does Rupert know that the scoundrels plan to swipe the award again.

The adventure isn’t ambitious, yet I quite liked this rather unassuming film. The artwork captivates the eye. It’s set in Los Angeles and the illustrators insert recognizable landmarks into the background. The style uses computer graphics but is subverted with the hand-drawn illustrated look of a 2D format. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse famously used this technique, but so did The Mitchells vs. The Machines. It’s very effective. The story is captivating as well. Elsewhere this tale of various critters attempting a heist has been encapsulated as “Zootopia meets Ocean’s Eleven.” That’s an apt description. Even the screenplay acknowledges the similarities. When Mr. Wolf tries to charm the governor, Diane Foxington (Zazie Beetz), Mr. Shark defines his conduct as “going full Clooney on her.”

The Bad Guys is a simplistic but pure joy. Granted the gags aren’t profound or innovative. My kingdom for modern children’s entertainment that doesn’t rely on fart jokes. As a missed payment affects a credit score, so does the stumble into toilet humor lower my rating. Nevertheless, the narrative is mostly clean and surprisingly coherent. The fact that the plot developments make sense impressed me. I’ve noticed as I get older, cartoons seem to grow more and more chaotic. Not sure whether I or the animation is the thing that’s changing. I suspect both, but this account is a bit more sensible. Humans and animals interacting together like people may be a silly idea, but the saga’s developments have a logical progression. The characters are clearly defined and elicit our sympathy. I enjoyed this and — more importantly — your kids should as well.

04-29-22

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

Posted in Action, Comedy, Crime with tags on April 28, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

It’s the role he was literally born to play. Nicolas Cage is Nicolas Cage — or at least a heightened version of his frenzied persona. Sometimes a high concept is enough. When The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent fully acknowledges its meta pretense, the movie is a hoot. However, a pedestrian action-comedy ultimately emerges from that facade of creative self-awareness. It’s enjoyable too, but not as clever as the idea of the actor playing himself as a movie star.

The conceit has Nick currently mulling over his career. The performer hasn’t had a good part in a while now and he is running out of money. He has a tense relationship with both his ex-wife Olivia (Sharon Horgan) and their daughter Addy (Lily Sheen). Occasionally he argues with a younger even more boisterous interpretation of himself called Nicky. Sorry, but the efficacy of de-aging technology using CGI is still highly questionable. After being passed over for a coveted film role, he decides he will retire from acting. But first, he’s going to accept a mysterious offer of $1 million to attend the birthday party of a billionaire playboy named Javi Gutierrez (Pedro Pascal). Cage would be the guest of honor. The celebration is being held on the island of Mallorca, off the coast of mainland Spain.

UWOMT is a lot of things. When the script is focused on being a Hollywood satire, it’s a sly comment on the entertainer’s own acting choices and the current state of filmmaking. That wit is peppered throughout the film and I relished those moments. Cage has made a lot of movies. I expected Leaving Las Vegas and Face/Off references. The fact that even Guarding Tess and Captain Corelli’s Mandolin get a mention too was an amusing surprise. The screenplay co-written by director Tom Gormican with Kevin Etten is that thorough.

The heart beating underneath this spoof is a pleasant but formulaic action-comedy. Actor Pedro Pascal is indeed lovable as the wealthy super-fan. His admiration for Cage has a warmth that radiates sincerity. Javi Gutierrez also happens to be an international criminal. The true nature of his character is an ongoing concern for Nick. Javi may or may not have kidnapped the daughter of a presidential candidate. At one point, there’s a memorable reveal of a secret room in Javi’s compound that could’ve gone any number of ways. No spoilers here. I’ll only offer that the buddy aspects are superior to the criminal elements. The two bond over a certain beloved family movie. The pair have ample chemistry together to make this a winner. Now I think I’ll go rewatch Paddington 2.

04-26-22

Sonic the Hedgehog 2

Posted in Action, Adventure, Comedy, Family with tags on April 10, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Sonic the Hedgehog was a winning story in 2020 because it was overflowing with heart. At its core, it detailed a friendship forged between a little blue alien and a local sheriff named Tom (James Marsden). It was derivative of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and obviously nowhere near as good, but it did manage to extract some of the same warmth. The account felt sincere. I was pleasantly surprised. Add a goofily inspired performance from Jim Carey as the central villain and I was singing its praises. In contrast, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is a cash grab lacking the goodwill, sincerity, and heart of its predecessor.

The chronicle begins when Jim Carrey’s Dr. Robotnik escapes his exile from a mushroom world. This allows the actor to call the fungi planet from which he escapes a “piece of shiitake.” That mildly vulgar play on words was funnier when I heard it in Spy Kids. Regardless, Carey was enough of a villain to sustain the original story — a refreshingly simple fish out of water tale. Adding more characters rarely equals a better movie but filmmakers often rely on it when making sequels. Carey gets an evil ally in the form of a computer-generated short-beaked echidna called Knuckles. Voiced in a low register by Idris Elba, he’s looking for the all-powerful Master Emerald. This is the MacGuffin — the object that everybody wants.

Sonic has been attempting to fight crime on Earth as a superhero. He has been failing miserably. A two-tailed fox appropriately named Tails from yet another distant planet is a good guy. He is imbued with a high-pitched voice by Colleen O’Shaughnessey. Tails has been watching over Sonic and arrives on Earth to warn our hero about the malevolent foes out to get him. These fantastical beasts from outer space occupy the central focus. Why have just one fully CGI star when you can have three? The loneliness of Sonic’s unique existence was a compelling quality in the first film. Sadly that distinction is absent from this overcrowded sequel.

The chemistry between the human James Marsden and the cartoon Sonic is what made the original so delightful. That’s gone. Here the trio of animated personalities mostly interact with each other. Watching three computerized entities zip around the screen in frenetic pre-programmed action sequences in a crushing bore. Carrey attempts to give another larger-than-life performance. Unfortunately, he’s buried underneath a technology-laden tsunami of CGI characters. I’ve watched the skills of talented gamers up on a TV screen that offered more emotional context. Meanwhile the humans — Tom and his wife Maddie (Tika Sumpter) – are relegated to the background as they head off to Hawaii for the wedding of Maddie’s sister Rachel (Natasha Rothwell) to handsome Randall (Shemar Moore). The screenplay goes off on a convoluted tangent to explain the incredulity of their relationship.

If I can say anything nice, it’s that the picture wears its mediocrity on its sleeve. I’m not saying it was intentional, but it is obvious. Some productions often lull you into a sense of ease with a promising beginning. Then do an about-face and surprise you somewhere at the midway point with ineptitude. It’s immediately apparent that Sonic 2 is a slapdash effort right from the start. The chaotic events zip back and forth on a globetrotting affair to various locales without a reason or care. The opening 30-40 minutes could be excised entirely and not have any effect on the proper plot. To be honest you could eliminate developments from almost any part of the film and it wouldn’t matter. The story exists to feature beloved characters that audiences came to see in a random series of events.

Whenever the action subsides, the soundtrack kicks in. More often than not it’s some late 80s, early 90s hip hop jam. “It’s Tricky” (Run-DMC), “Here Comes the Hotstepper” (Ini Kamoze), “This Is How We Do It” (Montell Jordan), and “You Know How We Do It” (Ice Cube) overwhelm at various points. “Uptown Funk” featuring Bruno Mars isn’t from that era, but it caps off a scene that features Sonic and Tails in a remote Russian bar. The locals challenge them to a dance-off. As a fan of musicals, my hopes were somewhat piqued, but the number is such a pedestrian display of choreography and music my enthusiasm dissipated as quickly as a lost life. Computer technology will never replace Gene Kelly.

Longer! Faster! Louder! More! Anything but better. When critics talk of sequelitis, this soulless piece of product is what they’re talking about. My theater was filled with children that were more content to run about the auditorium than watch what was up on the screen. Were they distracted because the rudimentary requirements of entertainment were not being met? I suspect the patience-testing length of over two hours was the real culprit. 90 minutes is the sweet spot for family entertainment. I was pleasantly surprised by the first film. This however is the FX-laden eyesore I feared the original would be. Nevertheless, it had a successful opening weekend debut. The mood on social media asserts that Sonic 2 delivers the requisite enjoyment to devotees of the SEGA games. I don’t play the Sonic the Hedgehog video game so that doesn’t include me. However dear readers, I will offer if you have young kids that are begging you to see this, then by all means take them. Just be prepared that they will probably enjoy the movie a lot more than you do.

04-07-22

Everything Everywhere All at Once

Posted in Action, Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy, Martial Arts with tags on April 7, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The owner of a laundromat undergoes a fiscal audit. With Tax Day arriving on Monday, April 18, Everything Everywhere All at Once couldn’t have been released at a more appropriate time. Although my simplification of the plot doesn’t even begin to convey the ensuing mashup of science fiction, fantasy, comedy, and martial arts in this genre-defying picture. Directed by the duo of Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (Swiss Army Man) their second feature is like Alice in Wonderland on steroids.

Michelle Yeoh is Evelyn Wang, a middle-aged, Chinese American matriarch who runs the aforementioned laundromat in Simi Valley with her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan). Their daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) has been dating her girlfriend Becky (Tallie Medel) for three years now. Her mother hasn’t accepted their relationship. Evelyn is also organizing a Chinese New Year party. Her equally critical father affectionally known as Gong Gong has just arrived from China to attend her little shindig. Meanwhile, her husband is planning to serve her with divorce papers. Needless to say, tensions are high. Evelyn has a lot on her plate. The tale is set in motion when Evelyn and Waymond meet with a tax auditor (an amusingly frumpy-looking Jaime Lee Curtis) working for the IRS.

During their chaotic meeting, Waymond starts acting weird. He privately informs Evelyn that alternate realities concurrently exist. There are many parallel worlds, each one based on whatever decision a person makes. At this point, I have to admit the prospect of yet another production that employs the concept of a multiverse did not excite me. It’s been so heavily exploited by Marvel as of late. Despite my reservations, it becomes a refreshingly goofy construct that — gosh darn it — I embraced. Evelyn is the key to ending a conflict that is raging across infinite dimensions. An evil being known as the Jobu Tupaki (also played by Stephanie Hsu) is seeking to kill and destroy everything. Evelyn is the only one who can stop her.

Everything Everywhere must be seen to be believed. Mere words cannot do it justice. Nevertheless, I will try. This jumping across from one universe to another requires that a person (first wearing a Bluetooth headset) perform some unconventional maneuvers. These actions include eating chapstick, purposefully giving yourself paper cuts, photocopying your rear end, or doing an unspeakable act with a trophy. Once one propels their consciousness into a different dimension, the individual will acquire the memories and special skills of that version of themselves. Does that make sense? It is a little confusing, but a film review shouldn’t ruin the surprises in a flick you haven’t seen. There are websites to explicate all the gobbledygook afterward. The production’s ability to creatively detail various worlds is an impressive spectacle that few movies attempt. Editor Paul Rogers manages to assemble the Daniels’ frenetic vision into a mostly coherent narrative. Everything Everywhere is a wildly inventive, uniquely intense — and at times — bewildering story.

Holding it all together is the emotional dynamic of this captivating family. Evelyn & Waymond & Joy & Gong Gong are a memorable clan portrayed by an appealing cast. Legendary action queen Michelle Yeoh is front and center as the multiverse hopping protagonist. In assorted iterations, she plays a master chef, an international movie star (not unlike herself), and a woman with hot dogs for fingers. She is a dismissive and demanding personality. Conversely, her husband Waymond is gentle and kind. I didn’t realize Short Round (Indiana Jones) / Data (The Goonies) would be playing the dad. Seeing Ke Huy Quan again was an absolute joy. James Hong (Blade Runner, Big Trouble in Little China) as the aging grandfather is also a delight. The 93-year-old actor hasn’t stopped working since the 1950s. Talk about prolific! Stephanie Hsu (TV’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) — a newcomer by comparison — finds the nuance in a character with contrasting personalities.

Everything Everywhere keeps the insanity dialed to 11 for the duration of the picture. The action is a pure sensory overload that is both exhilarating and exhausting. The cosmic bombast bludgeons the viewer into submission without a rest. That is, not until near the end when a quiet moment features a silent conversation between two rocks with googly eyes. But even that dialogue with subtitles is such a bizarre sight that it still feels like the zaniness hasn’t subsided. This treatise on existential despair builds to a rather nihilistic moral: Nothing matters. However, there is a caveat. If we show love and kindness to others, then perhaps anything is possible. The sentimental idea is a touching resolution that offers some hope. Is that a tear? I think maybe this family will make it together after all.

04-05-22

The Lost City

Posted in Action, Adventure, Comedy with tags on March 31, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Have you ever seen an ad for a movie that makes it look utterly generic, but the reviews drop and they’re favorable? Then it opens at the box office and it’s a big hit as well. Suddenly you wonder if you incorrectly judged a book by its cover. So you go see it but it turns out to be even more bland and hackneyed than you suspected. That’s my experience with The Lost City. I need to trust my gut.

The Lost City squanders a promising beginning. Loretta Sage is an intellectual who just so happens to write successful romance novels. Her books feature a fictional star named Dash. Alan Caprison (Channing Tatum) is a model who poses as the leading man on the cover. At the behest of her publicist (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) and social media manager (Patti Harrison), Loretta and Alan make an appearance before a crowd of fans. The throng is a lot more excited to see “Dash.” He appears as a Fabio-styled celebrity with long blond hair that turns out to be a wig. That scene is amusing. Unfortunately, the expo doesn’t go well and she leaves in a huff. However, she’s kidnapped in a black SUV and brought to meet an eccentric billionaire named Abigail Fairfax (Daniel Radcliffe). He wants Loretta’s help in translating an artifact to acquire hidden treasure on a mysterious island. She refuses but he employs chloroform and takes her there anyways. After Loretta goes missing, Alan calls his old buddy Jack Trainer (Brad Pitt), a highly-skilled yoga instructor. The two meet on the island and attempt to rescue her.

I could continue but the elaborate setup is just an excuse for a sloppy episodic adventure that isn’t funny. The Lost City is a cheap remix of better movies. The blueprint is Romancing the Stone with a healthy dose of Indiana Jones thrown in. God forgive me for even mentioning those classics in the same breath. This mess is a poor imitation. In another case of “too many cooks,” this dud of a screenplay is credited to a whopping five individuals. The material co-written by directors and brothers Adam and Aaron Nee with Oren Uziel and Dana Fox, from a story conceived by Seth Gordon, made me chuckle maybe two or three times.

Even the most talented actor can’t breathe life into bad material. The various situations are convoluted and stupid. That’s OK. If the dialogue is well written, they don’t have to make sense. See Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar for proof. Sandra Bullock, Channing Tatum, Daniel Radcliffe, and Brad Pitt mug and exaggerate their lines as best they can. A slew of assorted predicaments fail to extract laughs no matter how hard they try. The humor is broad and forced. Witnessing Sandra Bullock peel leaches off what is supposedly Channing Tatum’s naked backside is not her finest hour. Pitt’s dignity remains intact as the too-good-to-be-true action hero personality. I enjoyed the chronicle whenever he was on screen. Sadly his limited presence is reduced to a glorified cameo. The main stars do their best but watching Tatum play dumb while Bullock acts annoyed is not enough to form the basis of an entire picture. This expedition to find the Lost City turned out to be a crushing bore. They should’ve been on a quest to find a decent script.

03-29-22

Lucy and Desi

Posted in Biography, Comedy, Documentary with tags on March 23, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The fascination with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz is stronger than ever. Coming on the heels of Aaron Sorkin’s drama Being the Ricardos, which was released in December 2021, we now have this documentary about the duo. Lucy and Desi debuted on Amazon Prime Video on March 4. The documentary is one of the better things I’ve watched this year. I figured I should sing its satisfying praises.

Lucy and Desi is a record of how the two met, started their TV show, formed Desilu studios, and their eventual breakup. This is comedian Amy Poehler’s third directorial feature (Wine Country, Moxie) but her first documentary. It also includes a lot of archival footage which is pretty standard for these kinds of records. What elevates the profile is her access to previously unreleased audiotapes recorded by the couple. They occasionally narrate the corresponding video. We get a nice feel for their offscreen personalities. We are privy to the events behind the scenes while they were filming their sitcom. The innovations they introduced during their professional careers are lauded. Meanwhile, home movies shed light on their private life as well. This includes time spent with their kids.

I’m a huge fan of I Love Lucy. I’ve seen every episode to the point I can recite the dialogue from most of them. The TV program ranks up in my personal Top 10 of all time. As such, I’ve read a fair amount about her life and the series in general. There aren’t any revelations in this chronicle. People unaware of how integral Desi Arnaz was to the making of the sitcom may be surprised. Overall it’s a pretty conventional retelling of their story, but it’s thoughtful too. Fans will enjoy it especially because it highlights what made Lucille Ball such a revolutionary talent. Luminaries like Carol Burnett, Bette Midler, and Norman Lear wax rhapsodic over her impact on them. Lucy and Desi’s daughter Lucie Arnaz was an executive producer on Being the Ricardos and here she is an interviewee.

Lucy and Desi is a loving tribute. There’s overlap between the recent drama Being the Ricardos. Events like Lucille Ball’s pregnancy with Desi Arnaz Jr, accusations that she was a communist, and Desi Arnaz’s alleged affairs are all mentioned. However, where Aaron Sorkin’s biopic simply focused on one turbulent week in the making of their hit television show, this covers a much wider part of their lives. This is a varnished portrait. It promotes the two stars as TV legends and rightfully so. The narrative details their lives with the requisite ups and downs. Any knowledgeable fan will already know this stuff so the info isn’t earth-shattering, but it is entertaining. Sometimes the cinematic version of comfort food can really hit the spot.

03-06-2022

The Adam Project

Posted in Action, Adventure, Comedy, Family, Science Fiction with tags on March 15, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Free Guy was one of the biggest hits of 2021, so it made financial sense that star Ryan Reynolds and director Shawn Levy would reunite. This is another high concept, sci-fi movie that’s even more wholesome. I appreciate that both Free Guy and this new release are “original” ideas not based on an established property. Nevertheless, The Adam Project still feels awfully familiar.

Adam Reed is a space pilot who time travels from the future year of 2050 back to 2022. Ryan Reynolds is playing a sarcastic type with a confident personality. Newsflash: this is the same character he has played in every single picture he has ever made. Please don’t @ me with counterexamples. Hyperbole is a part of film criticism. In this one, he meets his 12-year-old self (Walker Scobell) and together they unite on a mission to end time travel and SAVE THE WORLD.

If it sounds a little like I’m mocking this, it’s because I am. The production is fabricated from pre-existing parts. The narrative liberally copies elements of classics from my childhood like Back to the Future and The Last Starfighter. Indeed, those were enjoyable flicks. The difference here is a generic screenplay credited to four different writers: Jonathan Tropper, T.S. Nowlin, Jennifer Flackett, and Mark Levin. The story is calculated like a commodity a studio manufactured from a blueprint called a “family-friendly sci-fi action movie” with heavy inspiration from Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment. The production is synthesized from hyper-edited battles and digital laser blasts. The action does slow down occasionally so it can evoke some emotion when the adult man and his younger self give each other wisdom to be a better person. The best scene is a quiet one. Reynolds as the grown-up son gives his mother encouragement. She is unaware they’re related. The interaction set in a local bar uncomfortably suggests a flirtatious exchange at first, but it turns into a genuinely affecting moment.

This is high-quality entertainment for the entire family conveniently available to Netflix subscribers for free. Lately, I’m bewildered when certain releases go directly to streaming. Pixar’s Turning Red is another recent example. The Adam Project looks expensive. The amalgamation is well-produced, so I can’t say it’s bad. Young actor Walker Scobell effectively evokes Reynolds as a boy. Color me surprised that he was the standout in this star-studded ensemble. The cast also features Jennifer Garner, Catherine Keener, Zoe Saldaña, and Mark Ruffalo. Given the stars and the budget, this looks like a theatrical picture. Ryan Reynolds was just in Red Notice and that was a massive success on Netflix. This is much better, so no shock that it’s currently #1 on the streaming service as well. I have seen a version of this movie hundreds of times (more hyperbole). Meanwhile, children have not. Take my tepid reaction with a grain of salt.

03-11-22