Pixels


Game over.

Game over.

(2015) Family Sci-Fi Comedy (Columbia) Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Michelle Monaghan, Peter Dinklage, Josh Gad, Matt Lintz, Brian Cox, Sean Bean, Jane Krakowski, Dan Aykroyd, Affion Crockett, Lainie Kazan, Ashley Benson, Denis Akiyama, Tom McCarthy, Tim Herlihy, Serena Williams, Martha Stewart, Dan Patrick, Rose Rollins. Directed by Chris Columbus

It’s hard to believe, but the 1980s are now three decades in the rear view. It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was hanging out in the local video arcade, losing quarters at a terrifying rate and listening to Depeche Mode, Duran Duran and Culture Club on the radio and, being me, looking like a reject from the 70s. My fashion sense has always been a decade out of whack.

But the sins of the 80s are catching up with us. The footage of a video game championship contest are among the clips that have been sent out by NASA in a probe into outer space, hoping to find intelligent life and re-assure them that we are peaceful and eager for friendship. Instead, the aliens (whom we never see) get the wrong idea; they believe these violent games to be a declaration of war and in their culture, they send out their warriors to face our warriors in a test of strength, only our warriors don’t have a clue what to do with these now-archaic video games.

It will be up to Brenner (Sandler), the runner-up in the contest and boyhood friend to President “Chewy” Cooper (James) to save the day, along with the winner of the contest, the arrogant Eddie (Dinklage) and  another childhood friend, Ludlow (Gad) who is a raging conspiracy theorist these days in tow. A fetching Marine Colonel, Violet Van Patton (Monaghan) serves as the military liaison with Brenner’s Arcaders team with Admiral Porter (Cox), the Pentagon Chief of Staff, who doesn’t think much of Brenner and his team. They ain’t much but they’re all we’ve got.

This is based on a short film which is far superior to the feature. There are no name actors in it and the special effects are much less detailed shall we say. Still, it’s far more entertaining than this flat and generally unfunny comedy which has been somewhat justifiably excoriated by the critics. However, I have to admit that the video game characters, the scenes in the arcade in the 80s and the general vibe induced a nice feeling of nostalgia in me, which I assume was the point. But unfortunately, I needed more and I assume, so did most of those who have been panning the film.

Certainly it helps to have had some connection to the 80s to enjoy the movie at all, but like a lot of Sandler films as of late, this just isn’t that funny. It’s almost all shtick, and that is the kind of humor that can be taken only in small doses, at least by me. Sandler, who had done some pretty funny movies early on, like Happy Gilmore for example, hasn’t really made me laugh for it feels like a decade or more. I don’t know why; he’s a genuinely funny guy, and he has a quick wit that comes out in talk shows. It just feels like he’s playing the same character over and over again, so much so that he has stopped caring about it. I can’t say for certain that it’s true but it sure feels that way watching him.

I like Kevin James too but he suffers from the same issues as Sandler; mostly, playing the same guy in generally unfunny comedies. There were some moments, like when he appears in front of a crowd that clearly hates him and he’s nothing but polite and almost ignorant of the hatred directed at him – now, that was funny. Some have said that he blends the girth of Christie, the timidity of McConnell, the ignorance of Perry, the reading issues of Dubya and the hair of Paul – essentially the perfect Republican presidential candidate. I don’t know if that was the filmmakers intention but the role certainly satirizes modern politics nicely – and subtly. I wish there was more going on like that.

Instead, we get the bombast of the space invaders, coming at us with Centipede, Pac-Man, Galaga and Donkey Kong. We get a life-size Q-Bert and gigantic Froggers hopping across traffic. I think it probably sounded impressive to the producers and the executives who greenlit this, but there really is no way to make the clunky graphics of the 80s come off as anything other than clunky graphics. And don’t get me started on the extraneous, completely unnecessary 3D.

Every summer there’s always one movie that just bites the big one, and this summer it appears to be this one. It gives me no joy to say this; I think Adam Sandler is a decent guy who really needs to make some different choices in movies. He needs to re-invent himself and I wish him luck at it; comebacks are notoriously hard in Hollywood but Sandler is still a talented guy. So are most of the people involved with this movie but this would have better been left a short.

REASONS TO GO: Video arcade nostalgia. Some of the more satirical stuff works.
REASONS TO STAY: Not very funny. Special effects are clunky.
FAMILY VALUES: Some slightly foul language and suggestive comments.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although Akiyama plays Pac-Man inventor Toru Iwatami, the real Iwatami appears in the film. He didn’t want to play himself because he speaks no English.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/30/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 18% positive reviews. Metacritic: 27/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Super Mario Brothers
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Primeval

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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

Just Go With It


Just Go With It

Venus, arising from the waves.

(2011) Comedy (Columbia) Adam Sandler, Jennifer Aniston, Brooklyn Decker, Nicole Kidman, Nick Swardson, Bailee Madison, Griffin Gluck, Dave Matthews, Kevin Nealon, Rachel Dratch, Allen Covert, Dan Patrick, Minka Kelly, Heidi Montag, Andy Roddick. Directed by Dennis Dugan

My wife was fond of telling our son that the truth will find you out, and it inevitably does. Sooner or later, whatever transgressions you think you might be getting away with will see the light of day.

Danny Maccabee (Sandler) inherited the prominent bulbous nose of his parents but managed to get a woman to agree to marry him. She’s mostly interested in the fact that he’s about to graduate from medical school and can give her a life into which she’s been accustomed, or would like to be. That hasn’t stopped her from fooling around on Danny nor will it after they get married. Unfortunately, Danny overhears all this and calls things off.

Despondent, he goes to a bar to drown his sorrows and finds there a gorgeous woman who seeing his wedding ring, assumes he’s married. Because she seems willing to talk to him, he plays along and winds up having a wedding night after all – only without no wedding, no commitment, no honeymoon.

Flash forward 20 years. Danny has amputated his nose (all right, made it normal looking) and continues to use his old wedding band to cruise for chicks in bars. It seems to work on an amazingly consistent basis, much to the bemusement of his assistant Katherine (Aniston), who is Danny’s best female friend who is a single mother of two kids and who is constantly putting up with the advances of Eddie (Swardson), Danny’s best friend from days gone by.

Of course, inevitably, Danny finally meets someone who he thinks he would like to be with permanently – beautiful Palmer (Decker), who is apparently a bikini model turned schoolteacher. She and Danny hit it off, complete with romantic sex on the beach. Love is apparently in bloom – until she finds the ring in his pocket.

Danny is desperate to explain the situation to her and at pal Katherine’s urging, tells Palmer that he’s in the process of a divorce from a bitter, mean hag – a divorce that was in the process before she met Danny. Being a suspicious sort (and justifiably so, it seems) she demands to meet the ex. Danny enlists Katherine’s help and she does it for a makeover and wardrobe enhancement on Rodeo Drive. She shows up looking hot and sexy and things are going marvelously – until Katherine takes a call from her kids, leading Palmer to believe that their marriage had issue. Now Palmer wants to meet them too and Danny is forced to recruit Maggie (Madison), an aspiring actress who loves to deliver horrible Liza Doolittle accents and Michael (Gluck), a budding con artist who will be governor of Wisconsin someday.

The trip to a Chuck E. Cheese-like pizza parlor is parlayed by the ambitious Michael into a trip to Hawaii (all on Danny’s dime) which Eddie, masquerading as Katherine’s “fiancée” Dolph Lundgren (not that one, the Austrian sheep trader) tags along. While there, they run into Devlin (Kidman), Katherine’s nemesis from college who is married to the inventor of the iPod (Matthews) and in order to appear better in Devlin’s eyes, professes to being married to Danny although why she wants to impress someone whose name has become a personal euphemism for doo-doo I can’t really explain.

In fact, there are a lot of things I can’t explain about the movie so let’s start with the things I can. It’s loosely based on the French play which became a Broadway play which became the 1969 Oscar winning comedy Cactus Flower. I don’t recall there being as many bikinis going on as there are here, although to be fair the Jennifer Aniston role was played by Ingrid Bergman in 1969, so draw your own conclusions.

Sandler is one of those comedians who seem to have created a brand name for himself by doing the same type of movie on a regular basis. He’s likable enough, but he seems to do better when he stretches himself a little – as in Funny People. Here, he’s not stretching much. There are some nice bits of physical comedy having to do with his profession as a plastic surgeon (such as the woman with the eyebrow that’s halfway up her forehead, or the woman with the mismatched breasts) but by and large the humor is mostly of the lowest common denominator variety.

Decker, a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model, acquits herself pretty nicely as the love interest. It doesn’t hurt that she looks absolutely spectacular in a bathing suit (as does Aniston, who gets into a hot bod-off with Decker during one segment which was enough to have one fellow in the front of the theater sitting with his legs splayed wide open making sounds best left to your imagination). She has a pretty sweet nature and you get the feeling out of everyone in the movie, she’s the one who winds up getting screwed. Kidman, in a very brief role, goes over the top in a way that is both appropriate and appreciated. She’s memorable, even though she’s reduced to having a hula contest with Aniston.

Now, I don’t have a problem with kids in movies if there’s A), a reason for them to be there and B), the kids can act. The kids serve to be more of a distraction than anything and while Madison has done some good work on Bridge to Terabithia but here she’s just too much of a kid actor. The performance is stilted and unnatural, like a kid pretending to be a kid instead of just being a kid – and the same holds true for Gluck here as well. That’s the pitfall with child actors and the best ones are the ones who simply are themselves. Too-cute child actor syndrome often turns a movie from decent to annoying.

Speaking of annoying, what’s up with Nick Swardson here? He’s usually a pretty funny guy but when he morphs into Dolph Lundgren (the sheep trader not the actor) the movie grinds to a halt – Swardson is spectacularly unfunny. Even the bit of him giving a sheep the Heimlich maneuver doesn’t work, partially because the sheep is so patently made of rubber.

To the good, Aniston and Sandler actually work pretty well together and it makes you wonder why they haven’t paired up before now. They have a natural chemistry that makes the movie worth seeing, but only slightly. There are enough moments that torpedo their best intentions, however, that audiences should be cautioned to go in with low expectations.

REASONS TO GO: There are some very funny moments. Sandler and Aniston work nicely together and Aniston, Decker and Kidman are awfully easy on the eyes.

REASONS TO STAY: Too-cute kid syndrome cuts into the overall enjoyment of the film. Swardson’s “Dolph” character stops the movie dead in its tracks.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some sexual content, a little bit of crude language and some drug references.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While this is their first film together, Sandler and Aniston have been off-screen friends for more than 20 years (before either of them became famous). In fact, as a tribute to his friend, Sandler had the movie released on her birthday.

HOME OR THEATER: Unless you really need to have girls in bikinis take up your entire field of vision, home is just dandy for this one.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Gnomeo and Juliet