Blended


These two hate each other so much you know they're going to wind up together.

These two hate each other so much you know they’re going to wind up together.

(2014) Comedy (Warner Brothers) Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Joel McHale, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Terry Crews, Kevin Nealon, Emma Fuhrmann, Bella Thorne, Braxton Beckham, Alyvla Alyn Lind, Abdoulaye NGom, Kyle Red Silverstein, Zak Henri, Jessica Lowe, Shaquille O’Neal, Dan Patrick, Jackie Sandler, Alexis Arquette, Josette Eales. Directed by Frank Coraci

As a young boy, the maxim “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” was hammered into me by my parents, my teachers and whichever adults happened to be handy. Personally, I wonder if they would have been quite as fervent about it if they had seen this movie.

Despite my upbringing, I am a film critic and sometimes it becomes necessary to discuss a movie that you literally can’t say anything nice about. I had some decent expectations about this movie to begin with – after all, Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore have had great chemistry in  the past (particularly in The Wedding Singer) and the director from that film is on board for this one. What could go wrong?

As it turns out, everything. The plot is a mish-mash of unlikely coincidences and rom-com cliches guaranteed to knock your IQ points down a couple after you’ve seen the movie. The jokes take an interminable amount of time to set up and when they arrive, they simply aren’t funny.

The story, briefly put, is this; Jim (Sandler), a widower and Lauren (Barrymore) go out on a blind date and like most blind dates it’s a complete train wreck. They each arrange to get fake emergency phone calls just to get out of the Hooters that they are dining in. Note to single men – never take a first date to Hooters. There won’t be a second.

Anywho, through a convoluted set of circumstances, the two wind up together on an African safari vacation along with her two sons and his three daughters. At first the families fight like cats and dogs (or more to the African theme, like hyenas and jackals). But as they discover that they are all made for each other, the attraction begins to grow and…oh, I just threw up a little in my mouth.

Sandler has been on a cold streak as of late, appearing in several movies that have been absolutely horrible. It’s not because Sandler himself is horrible – given the right script, he can absolutely kill. However, he’s been choosing to go the PG-13 route trying to appeal to a family crowd who appreciate a little bit of an edge. The problem is, in my opinion, that he has mined that territory so thoroughly that everything he does is essentially déjà vu for the audience.

And Barrymore’s personality seems to have been diluted someone by her recent motherhood. She was always so free-spirited and spunky in all of her movies, not just the ones with Sandler, but here there’s a blandness to her that I’ve never seen in one of her performances before. I sincerely hope this is a one-time aberration.

And the kids…Oy, the kids! I have another maxim for you; spending time with your own kids is a joy; spending time with someone else’s is a chore. The kids here are all written one-dimensionally as a cluster of neuroses; one is a hyperactive terror who strikes out every time he comes to bat in Little League. One of the girls talks to her dead mother which isn’t a bad thing, but she insists that Mom be set a place at the table. There’s nothing funny about a kid who is in desperate need of therapy. One of the kids is an oversexed perv who tapes the face of his babysitter to centerfolds and…eww. See what I mean about there isn’t anything funny?

Even the bit with the best potential for actual laughter, a kind of African Greek chorus led by Terry Crews that seem to show up at every crucial moment, gets old quickly and dies a horrible death by over-repetition. I mean, did anybody actually watch this movie before they released it?

That the movie is flopping big time at the box office is somewhat comforting in that audiences are at least recognizing that these are not the type of movies they want to see. Hopefully Sandler will take heed and start doing comedies with a little more intelligence and a little less pandering. He’s too big a talent to waste on crap like this.

REASONS TO GO: Nice African images.

REASONS TO STAY: Not funny. Too many kids, all of them obnoxious. Appeals to nobody.

FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of rude and sexual humor and a smattering of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Alexis Arquette makes a cameo reprising his role as Georgina from The Wedding Singer which was the first time Sandler and Barrymore teamed up.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/10/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 14% positive reviews. Metacritic: 31/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Grown-Ups 2

FINAL RATING: 3/10

NEXT: To the Wonder

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How Do You Know


How Do You Know

Paul Rudd comforts Reese Witherspoon who has just realized that she's made a bomb.

(2010) Romantic Comedy (Columbia) Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd, Jack Nicholson, Kathryn Hahn, Mark Linn-Baker, Lenny Venito, Ron McLarty, Molly Price, John Tormey, Tony Shalhoub, Dean Norris, Teyonah Parris, Shelley Conn. Directed by James L. Brooks

Love is like the wind. You can’t hold it easily in your hands and sometimes you’re not even sure it’s there at all. Is that breeze you’re feeling the beginnings of love or just the air conditioning?

Lisa (Witherspoon) sure doesn’t know. Once the face of the U.S. Softball Team, she’s won Olympic gold and world championships. Now, she’s in the twilight of her career and as the 2011 team is being selected, a jerk of a coach (Norris) decides that her best days are behind her.

She hooks up with Matty (Wilson) after being set up by a friend. He is a pitcher for the major league Washington Nationals who is good looking, charming and completely self-obsessed. Maybe this is what Lisa needs to get out of her funk; her good friend Sally (Price) doesn’t think so but hey, you always support your teammate no matter what.

George (Rudd) is going through some tough times of his own. He is being investigated by the federal government for something he didn’t do, although it happened on his watch. He had taken over the reins of his father’s company and dear old dad (Nicholson) is being left with the terrible choice of supporting his son or the company he spent a lifetime building. The law specifies that he has to do the latter, so the lawyer (Linn-Baker) that George would have chosen can’t represent him because he’s being paid by the company and there’s a conflict of interest.

George and Lisa go out on a blind date on the worst day of both of their lives, set up by one of Lisa’s teammates who knew George. The first time they were to get together, George was already dating Terry (Conn) who was throwing herself into her work as a scientist more than she was throwing herself into the relationship. When the feces hit the fan for George, she distanced herself from him, not wanting the drama to get in the way of her work. Ain’t modern relationships grand? However, now that Terry’s out of the picture and George is feeling particularly lonely, he decides to take a shot at the blind date, urged on by his assistant Annie (Hahn) who seems to have a weird fixation on him, despite being pregnant by a guy she loves very much.

Anyway, by all measures the date between George and Lisa is a complete disaster except that for George, it’s just what the doctor ordered. He falls hard for Lisa, who in the meantime is getting closer to Matty who treats her nicely and despite being more of a narcissist than most of us will ever be, is at least trying to be the right guy for her. George’s persistence pays off as his woebegone puppy charm begins to wear her down.

So Lisa is faced with George and Matty. Both good men, both clearly in love with her, but which one is she in love with? Or maybe she doesn’t love either of them? What is her future going to bring? Why did her agent get her into this movie? 

This is one of the cases where a fine cast, a terrific director and an interesting idea for a movie turn out to be disappointing. It has all the ingredients – Brooks, whose pedigree include classics like Terms of Endearment, Broadcast News and As Good as It Gets, for example. Obviously he has a knack for directing romantic comedies. A terrific cast of very likable actors doesn’t hurt either. I even like the love triangle concept. So why don’t I love this movie?

One of the problems I have with it is that it treats its viewers like five-year-olds. It constantly re-emphasizes that George and Lisa are at a crisis in their lives, and that Matty is self-centered. It belabors the point so much you just want to get out of your seat, run up to the projection booth, grab the projectionist by the neck and scream into his face “WE GET IT! WE UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU’RE TRYING TO SAY! NOW MOVE ON, WOULD YOU PLEASE?!?”

Of course, that would never happen – most movies are shown digitally these days anyway, so projectionists are going the way of ushers. Be that as it may, that leaves the performances and for the most part they’re pretty good. There’s a terrific scene near the end of the movie when Lisa makes her choice and the spurned suitor hugs her and says quietly “What did I do wrong?” The heartbreak is very evident in his voice and it is one of the finest acting moments of his career (won’t tell you who it is in case you plan to see the movie, although you can probably guess who it is).

Nicholson is always entertaining and he blusters his way through this, although you never get the impression he really believes that he’s making a great movie but is more doing a favor for a friend. Witherspoon is one of the most beautiful actresses in Hollywood and she’s quite accomplished at the romantic comedy genre; she is not at the top of her game here, but close enough that she performs solidly. Owen Wilson is also pretty good in his role. I might have liked the movie if his character hadn’t been quite so self-centered. It would seem, on paper, an easy call for Lisa to make; I would have liked it if both of the guys that were falling for her were less projects and more really good guys who each deserved her and whom she cared for. That would have made the difficulty of her position more pronounced and, dare I say it, more realistic. At least, I would have found it more entertaining that way.

Another problem is Rudd’s character. Not because of his performance, which captures the neuroses of the character nicely; the problem is that the character is poorly written. He seems to be incapable of taking any bad news, but yet he was running what apparently was a very large and profitable company. Bad news kind of comes with that kind of territory, you know? He’s also supposed to be a “good man” – and he is, but good doesn’t mean wimpy. He apparently doesn’t have any sort of spine whatsoever, making it very tough to identify with him despite all of Rudd’s best efforts to make him charming.

The main problem I have with the movie is its length. Due to all the overemphasis on the movie’s main plot points, it feels like the movie runs long by a good half hour if not more. I was definitely getting fidgety at the end, something I don’t normally do for good movies.

The crying shame is that this could have been a good movie, and I really wanted it to be. The cast is likable, the behind the camera talent is extremely strong and the concept could have made for a good movie. One suspects that unseen hands were tinkering with this movie, particularly in the editing phase. A stronger hand on the scissors might have made this sleeker, leaner and more entertaining. Ah well, there’s always the fast forward button when this comes out on home video; that way you can make your own edit.

REASONS TO GO: Reese Witherspoon is a very beautiful woman. Jack Nicholson is worth seeing whenever you get the opportunity.

REASONS TO STAY: The movie is a good half hour too long. Far too much dithering going on here.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some sexuality and some mildly bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The part of the father was originally offered to Bill Murray who turned it down.

HOME OR THEATER: If you watch it at home at least you can get up and leave without bothering anybody.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: The King’s Speech

All About Steve


All About Steve

Bradley Cooper finds this movie as frustrating as we do.

(20th Century Fox) Sandra Bullock, Bradley Cooper, Thomas Haden Church, Ken Jeong, DJ Qualls, Howard Hesseman, Katy Mixon, Keith David, Beth Grant. Directed by Phil Traill

We all are who we are; that is an unshakable fact. Sometimes, who we are falls a mite outside what most folks would consider normal. There’s nothing wrong with that but sometimes people fall so far outside of normal that they can’t even see normal from where they are. Again, nothing wrong with that – most of the time.

Mary Magdalene Horowitz (Bullock) – yes, she’s half-Jewish, half-Catholic – works as a crossword puzzle constructor (a.k.a. a cruciverbalist) for a Sacramento daily newspaper. She’s recently moved back home with dear old Mom and Dad, mainly because her own apartment is being fumigated. Mary is 40ish, and single. She pretty much has always been single. She has a nervous habit of talking non-stop using a ton of $5 words and spitting out trivial facts like they’re watermelon seeds at a country fair. She also wears a pair of shiny bright red disco boots everywhere that pretty much guarantee her that nobody will ever – and I mean ever – take her seriously.

Other than that, she’s a pretty decent-hearted woman who just needs to meet the right man, and she thinks she’s done that. His name is Steve (Cooper) and he works as a cameraman for a cable news channel. They meet on a blind date at which she is completely smitten by his charm. However, after she about rapes him in the cab of his truck at the date’s conclusion, his feelings for her are a lot less sanguine. As a matter of fact, his tiles squeal as he tries to drive away from her at warp speed. Scotty, push the engines ‘til they blow.

She loses her job after constructing a crossword puzzle in which every clue has something to do with her would-be boyfriend. With no obligations holding her back, she decides to follow him everywhere he goes from one big news story to the next, much to the bemusement of his smarmy on-camera reporter Hartman Hughes (Church) and their producer Angus (Jeong).

Along the way she is subjected to every indignity you can imagine (and a few you can’t). Now, I have nothing against putting characters in a comedy through the ringer, but some of the actions border on the cruel, like the bus driver who tricks her into getting off the bus, then drives away, stranding her in the middle of nowhere.

Part of the problem is that it’s Sandra Bullock, man. You want to like her and at times here I nearly do, but the character is so filled with quirks and ticks that you want to get far, far away from her, which is never a good thing either in a movie theater or at home.

This is a movie that should have worked and to be fair, some of it does. The cast here is one any casting director would be proud to assemble, but there’s not a lot of chemistry here. The humor is a little on the low-brow side and going for something edgy they wind up instead just make you wonder what the heck they were thinking.

There really isn’t one place to lay blame at. One gets the impression that there’s a lot of ad libbing going on, but the script and story aren’t that strong to begin with. There is certainly a good deal of overacting, kind of like silent cinema comedy in the 21st century.

This movie was bookended by The Proposal and The Blind Side, the latter of which won Bullock her first Oscar. Unfortunately, this movie also won her a Razzie, making her the first actress to win one of each in the same year. That All About Steve sat on a studio shelf for two years should have been fair warning that this movie wasn’t going to be successful. Even if you’re a big fan of Miss Bullock as I am, you’re going to find a very hard time to find nice things to say about this one.

WHY RENT THIS: A very likable cast that appears to be having a good time makes you really want to like this movie.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The cast tries just a little too hard sometimes to be funny and the script veers off from genuinely madcap to sincerely silly in places.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some sexual innuendo but for the most part it’s harmless; you might think twice about bringing the very young (i.e. preschoolers) but otherwise this is okay for most audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: During the scene in which Mary is soaking in the bathtub, the song in the background is sung by Helga Bullock, Sandra’s real-life mom.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s actually a surprising amount of material for a movie many figured would get the bare-bones treatment. There’s a mock behind-the-scenes interview with the terminally annoying Kerri Kenney as an “Access Hollywood”-type interviewer and a Fox Movie Channel program called “Life After Film School” in which three film students interview director Phil Traill.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: A Perfect Getaway

Blind Date (2007)


Blind Date

An uneasy romance.

(Variance Films) Stanley Tucci, Patricia Clarkson, Thijs Romer, Gerdy De Decker, Georgina Verbaan, Robin Holzhauer, Sarah Hyland, Peer Mascini. Directed by Stanley Tucci

A relationship is a fragile thing. It requires nurturing and growth in order to survive. Sometimes, events happen which put this fragile existence in jeopardy. In those instances, a couple has to be willing to go to extreme lengths to make things work.

Don (Tucci) owns a rundown bar (although it’s never specifically said, we assume it’s in Amsterdam) and periodically takes to the small stage to perform a desultory Vaudeville-like magic act, usually to be met with disinterest. People go to this bar to drink and maybe hook up; entertainment is not really on the minds of any of the barflies who frequent it.

He is married to Janna (Clarkson), someone he has spent much of his adult life with. The marriage is a lifeless one, it seems; they are trying to spice it up with a series of blind dates arranged through personal ads. In each date the two take on different personas, trying to find two that mesh well. However, reality intrudes on each date as their problems peek through the façade, causing each date to end badly, inevitably.

It’s a simple premise, and only two gifted actors could make this work. Tucci wrote and directed this movie based on a 1996 movie by the late Dutch director Theo van Gogh, who would be murdered by Muslim extremists in 2004 for making a film critical of Islam. Tucci has chosen to take that movie and strip it down to a bare frame, shooting on two sets over the course of seven days, utilizing many of van Gogh’s regular crew to do it.

The results are mixed. The movie at times has a stagey feel, like you’re watching the filmed version of a stage play. I get the distinct impression that Tucci as a director was deliberately going for that feel, and to be honest, I think that it makes some of the movie ring false. The powerful dialogue and plot might have been better served in a more natural setting, but that’s just me.

What makes this movie worth seeing are the performances of Tucci and Clarkson. Their characters have both been wounded deeply and are struggling to find a way to co-exist and both of them are very well aware that they may be clutching at phantoms that don’t exist. The actors have to portray people playing different roles, only accidentally allowing their true selves to peek through. This is the kind of acting that requires great discipline, much preparation and a whole lot of talent. Fortunately, these are two of the better actors working today, people who elevate every movie they’re in but very rarely get lead roles.

There is some voiceover narration from the couple’s daughter which helps to explain the goings on (and it is much needed) but other than that all the lines (other than background chatter) are spoken by Clarkson and Tucci. Fortunately, Tucci has written compelling dialogue that is not only interesting but gives a good deal of insight not only into the hell these two characters are in but also into the nature of failing relationships in general.

This is a very intimate film in the sense that it delves deeply into the deepest, most private parts of a marriage – and I’m not necessarily referring to the bedroom, although sexuality is touched upon at times. This is about the emotional sanctuary that a married couple provides each other, and what happens when that sanctuary is eroded. It’s very difficult to get it back once it’s gone.

This is not a movie for everybody. It is painful and awkward at times and the emotional places it visits can be very traumatic for those who have been in similar situations. It also requires a certain amount of focus from the viewer to pick up on the nuances, and a willingness to be in a quiet, still place. Still, if you’re willing to commit to the movie, you may find that you get a good deal out of it. What that might be is totally up to you.

WHY RENT THIS: A very powerful look at two people trying to save their marriage in an unorthodox way. Tucci and Clarkson deliver strong performances.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: This is a very emotionally complex movie without a good deal of language; less cerebral viewers may get bored.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a great deal of sexual tension and a fair amount of foul language. These, along with the very adult subject matter, should make this off-limits for kiddies.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The role of Don was originally offered to Tony Shalhoub but when he had to drop out due to schedule conflicts, Tucci decided to take the role himself.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Skeptic