Nice Guy Johnny


Tastes great? Less filling!

Tastes great? Less filling!

(2010) Coming of Age Drama (Marlboro Road Gang) Matt Bush, Kerry Bishé, Edward Burns, Max Baker, Anna Wood, Brian Delate, Marsha Dietlein, Jay Patterson, Harper Dill, Michele Harris, Vanessa Ray, Callie Thorne, Anna Wood. Directed by Edward Burns

What do you want to be when you grow up? We get asked that question a lot when we’re a child. Usually we have some really cool idea of what we want to do – an astronaut, a cowboy, a teacher – but as we get older, we find something else that occupies our imagination. But still, the question persists throughout our lives, which begs the question whether we ever really grow up at all.

Johnny Rizzo (Bush) is living the dream. He works as a call-in radio host for a sports talk show in a small town in Northern California. He loves what he does. He also loves Claire (Wood), his fiancée who has bigger plans for Johnny. She’d made him promise that if he wasn’t making $50K by the time he was 25. Well, he’s just turned a quarter century and it’s time to pay the piper. Even though he’s doing his dream job and is happy and content, Johnny is also a man of his word so it’s off to New York to interview with his prospective father-in-law for a position as a warehouse manager at a cardboard box factory which is nobody’s dream job.

Once there he hooks up with his Uncle Terry (Burns) who is a hedonistic ladies man. Like Claire, he thinks that Johnny needs to make some changes – he thinks Johnny needs to get laid. So he takes his nephew in hand to Long Island to “get some strange,” as he puts it. So Johnny goes, knowing that he isn’t going to cheat on his fiancée but unwilling to disappoint his uncle, who is probably more about finding a married woman to have an affair with.

While there he meets Brooke, a free spirit who he connects with from the get-go. She’s a tennis instructor who thinks he’s an idiot to give up on his dream for a bigger salary job. Of course the two fall for each other in a big way, bringing up a moral dilemma for Johnny – he’s committed to Claire who he’s plainly not suited for but can he break that commitment and still be a nice guy?

Edward Burns is what I think of as a niche director which sounds a lot worse than it is. What I mean by that is that he consistently does movies that approach life and love from the viewpoint of working class mokes from the burbs of New York (generally Long Island where Burns grew up). As an actor I’ve always considered him a bit of a poor man’s Ben Affleck which again, sounds a lot worse than it is.

This isn’t one of Burns’ best in either role. His Uncle Terry really is a bit of a stretch for him. Not that he isn’t capable of this kind of role but he really isn’t convincing here. He’s a bit of a lynchpin too which makes it worse; what he needed here was someone who could have been more outrageous. As a director, he didn’t really cast this part very well but budgetary constraints and all. You know what I’m saying. Still, he’s entertaining enough in the part to be memorable which helps. He just needed more here.

Bishé really steals the show here. She takes what is essentially a typical indie free spirit role and runs with it. I like what she does here; she’s down to earth and never makes this a caricature. She’s sexy as hell and, unlike a lot of indie roles here, without shame or apology. It’s part of who she is and she doesn’t feel compelled to obscure it with self-conscious cuteness.

Bush doesn’t fare quite as well. He’s a good-looking guy with an aw-shucks demeanor but he’s kind of bland here. I know he’s supposed to be a nice guy (hey it’s the title of the freakin’ movie and all) but that doesn’t mean he has to be vanilla. I think he’s following the lead of his romantic interest and trying to avoid the quirky indie leading man cliché but he takes it a bit too far which leaves the audience with a character without character. By the middle of the movie I was less interested in him than in the female lead which, when you’re the title character in a movie, bodes a bit ill.

I think they would have benefitted from making Claire less of a materialistic harpy. There really isn’t any competition between Johnny’s two love interests and that takes the tension out of the film. If Claire was really loving and supportive it would have made for a more compelling decision. What we’re left with is a case where the audience is wondering why he stayed around as long as he did. There really is nothing to recommend Claire as a romantic partner to anyone other than that she’s pretty and quite frankly Johnny isn’t that shallow a character, or shouldn’t be. Maybe he is and I’m missing something.

Anyway with a few tweaks this could have been a really interesting romantic comedy. As it is, it’s pretty good entertainment and worth checking out for the performance of Bishé alone.

WHY RENT THIS: Reasonably romantic without being sentimental. Burns is always entertaining.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Writers needed to work a little harder.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a little bit of sexuality and some salty language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was shot in ten days by a crew of three who worked for free, although they would share in any profits the micro-budgeted ($25,000) movie would make.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There is some choppy, grainy audition footage. There is also a special edition (???) that also includes an interview with director Edward Burns. Why?

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Adventureland

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Texas Killing Field

Post Grad


Post Grad

Nothing like a little picnic in the frozen food section to make for a truly unique date.

(2009) Comedy (Fox Searchlight) Alexis Bledel, Zach Gilford, Rodrigo Santoro, Jane Lynch, Michael Keaton, Carol Burnett, Craig Robinson, Kirk Fox, Fred Armisen, Bobby Coleman, Catherine Reitman, Andrew Daly, J.K. Simmons. Directed by Vicky Jenson

Graduating from college, especially these days, is like stepping through a door, only to find you’re thirty stories up with no floor beneath you. Like many of us, you either learn to fly or you splatter all over the sidewalk.

Ryden Malby (Bledel) has it all figured out. Get into the college of her choice? Check. Graduate with honors? Check again. Get a dream job at a ritzy L.A. publishing house? Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaagh! That goes to her longtime nemesis Jessica Bard (Reitman).

Her carefully laid-out life derailed, she is forced to move back home with her Do It Yourselfer dad (Keaton), her long-suffering mom (Lynch) and her weird younger brother Hunter (Coleman) who dreams of soapbox derby glory while licking the heads of his elementary school friends. That kid’s got issues.

Also in the mix is Grandma (Burnett) who is picking out her tricked-out coffin and is generally rabid. There’s also nice guy Adam (Gilford) who is a friend who might possibly like some benefits although Ryden has her eye on the hot Brazilian neighbor (Santoro) who directs infomercials and is in this movie basically so he can take his shirt off.

Unable to land a suitable job, she eventually goes to work for her dad at his mall luggage emporium. He dreams of supplementing his income with a mail order belt buckle business. However, things begin to go south. Dad squashes the next door neighbor’s cat. The belt buckles he’s selling turn out to be stolen. Nice guy Adam, fed up with waiting on Ryden decides to go the law school route and heads to New York. Ryden’s carefully ordered world is unraveling and college never prepared her for it.

Director Jenson has previously done animated films like Shrek and Shark’s Tail. This is her first foray into live-action and it meets with middling results. The movie seems curiously static and lifeless in some places and the comedy seems forced which looks to be more a function of the writing than the direction. In fact, there are places that I wonder if there weren’t too many hands involved in the script i.e. studio execs trying to make this more palatable to a Disney Channel audience.

Bledel, who got notoriety in “The Gilmore Girls,” is a plucky heroine who hasn’t yet shown she can carry a feature film on her own. You would think she would have gotten the chance here, but oddly enough Jenson chose to put equal emphasis on a number of the subplots. It’s a shame; I would have preferred to see a little more focus on Ryden here but I imagine the temptation is when you have actors like Keaton, Burnett and Lynch to use them as much as possible.

They don’t disappoint. Keaton has the manic energy and offbeat timing that made him great in movies like Beetlejuice and Night Shift with a bit of the sitcom dad thrown in. He can dispense words of wisdom one moment then preside over a comic pet funeral the next. He doesn’t get the kinds of leading roles he once did but he still has it. It’s odd to see Lynch as the least quirky person in a movie, but here you have it. She has carved out a particular character niche for herself and she does it without peer. This is one of her more restrained roles yet, and it isn’t a career highlight.

When one sees Burnett playing the grandmother here, the first thing that comes to mind is “Now she’s reduced to this?” She is one of the great comediennes of her generation, certainly the equal of Lily Tomlin and Mary Tyler Moore. You would think the eccentric grandma would be beneath her, but then again that kind of role has served Betty White well.

Gilford, who is one of the fine young actors in “Friday Night Lights”, is given a thankless role that isn’t given a whole lot of depth. Nonetheless, he does a pretty good job making something out of nothing. However, the chemistry that should exist between him and Bledel isn’t really there, and that doesn’t help the movie any.

That’s an awful lot of criticism, but those who have stolen a peak at my rating might be surprised at how high it is. That is because the movie has a good heart at its core. Yes, the individual components are maybe not what they can be, but when you take the movie as a whole you walk away with a warm feeling. The family dynamic worked nicely and in the end they aren’t dysfunctional at all, which is somewhat refreshing in an era when families are depicted in comedies as real horror shows that might send a real-life family counselor screaming into the night, arms waving wildly overhead in a grim parody of Macauley Culkin circa Home Alone.

Needless to say, that doesn’t happen here. While I think the subject matter might have been explored better in a different way, there is at least something here that is pleasant entertainment, if nothing more and it is the nothing more that tends to set critic’s teeth on edge. If your standards aren’t particularly high, you can have a good time with this movie, and that’s really the way to approach it – just sit back, enjoy and don’t try to rewrite it too much in your head. That’s where disappointment is born.

WHY RENT THIS: While uneven, at the core the movie has a good heart despite the clichés. Keaton and Burnett are worth seeing in good movies or bad.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The movie is a bit of a pastiche, sometimes of things that are cliché and bland. For some reason the movie doesn’t focus enough on its main character.

FAMILY VALUES: There are a few choice curse words and some sexual situations, but nothing your average teenager wouldn’t be comfortable with.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Alexis Bledel role was originally supposed to go to Amanda Byrnes, but she had to pull out of the project due to other commitments.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There are a couple of quiz-type games entitled “What Not to Wear” and “Find Your Match! The Best Job for You.” There is also a featurette on interviewing tips, generally skewed towards young women, as well as Gilford and Bledel giving career advice.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $6.4M on an unreported production budget; I’m guessing that the movie was a flop.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Unstoppable