The Ridiculous 6


The Old West was never this wild.

The Old West was never this wild.

(2015) Western Comedy (Netflix) Adam Sandler, Luke Wilson, Rob Schneider, Nick Nolte, Jorge Garcia, Terry Crews, Will Forte, Steve Zahn, Harvey Keitel, Jon Lovitz, Whitney Cummings, David Spade, Danny Trejo, Nick Swardson, Blake Shelton, Vanilla Ice, Julia Jones, Saginaw Grant, Lavell Crawford, Steve Buscemi, John Turturro, Chris Kattan, Norm McDonald, Jackie Sandler. Directed by Frank Coraci

With Westerns making a bit of a comeback lately, it’s inevitable that there would be movies that poke fun at the genre. With Adam Sandler involved, that means there are a segment of people who will tune in no matter what. Others will stay away in droves.

White Knife (Sandler) is an orphan, taken in by the Apache when his mother was murdered. The Apache chief Screaming Eagle (Grant) teaches the young white boy how to fight, and the ways of the Apache warrior, which turn out to be somewhat more Zen than Caucasian culture gave them credit for. He is engaged to Smoking Fox (Jones), the most beautiful woman in the tribe. When a would-be outlaw (Zahn) tries to make trouble with her, White Knife makes short work of him.

However, there is trouble on the horizon. White Knife’s biological father, whom he never knew, shows up at the camp. His name is Frank Stockburn (Nolte) and he wants to make get to know the son he never knew. Just then, his old outlaw gang led by the notorious Cicero (Trejo) shows up and Stockburn hides his stash with the tribe, knowing Cicero will take it. Instead, Cicero takes Frank who tries to lead the gang away from the peaceful Native Americans by saying the stash is buried by an old windmill. White Knife knows that unless Cicero gets the $50,000 that Frank had taken, the old man would be killed.

Having just met his dad, White Knife isn’t willing to let him die. He heads out after them, vowing to obtain the money one way or another to rescue dear old dad. However, it turns out Dear Old Dad was very busy. White Knife discovers he has five half-brothers of other mothers – Ramon (Schneider) the Mexican bandito with the amazing diarrhea donkey, Lil’ Pete (Lautner) who’s the village idiot for more than one village but has a curiously strong neck, Chico (Crews) a saloon pianist who doesn’t use his fingers to tickle the ivories but something a little more genitalia-like, Herm (Garcia) the nearly unintelligible moonshiner and Danny (Wilson) who was Abe Lincoln’s bodyguard at Ford’s Theater who inadvertently showed John Wilkes Booth (Kattan) the road to infamy.

All six of these men have peculiar talents. All six are eager to rescue their father. And all six are incredibly, incredibly ridiculous. The Old West will never be the same once they’ve hit town.

Sandler as I alluded to earlier seems to affect people in extreme ways; either they are utterly devoted to him, or they hate him with a passion. He seems to inspire no middle ground. I try to be as objective as I can about him but I find that when he tends to be a little more serious I actually appreciate him more; his humor tends to be a little more scatological and quite frankly, a bit more juvenile-appealing than is my own personal taste.

He has assembled an impressive cast, several of whom (Crews, Schneider, MacDonald) are all veterans of SNL or of Sandler films, as well as folks like Nolte – who does a fine job here unsurprisingly – and Lautner, who does a really good job here, surprisingly. The latter hasn’t really exhibited much in the way of comedy chops previously, having done mostly action roles in movies that weren’t all that good. However, he proves to have some timing and comic presence, neither of which are easy tasks. I found myself liking him here, which isn’t my usual reaction to his performances.

Part of the problem here is that a lot of jokes fell flat for me, and it appears to a lot of other critics as well (see scores below). The whole thing about the amazing crapping donkey is humor at the level of five-year-olds and I know Sandler is better than that. Still, one can’t argue with success and most of the movies of his that reap box office gold have been the ones that have been, to me, the most childish. I think that says a lot more about the movie-going public than it does about Sandler.

Westerns tend to lend themselves to wonderful vistas and extraordinary cinematography and this movie was no different as veteran Dean Semler gives us some pretty pictures to look at. This is one of Sandler’s most cinematic films which makes it a bit ironic that it was released directly to Netflix as part of his four-picture deal with the streaming giant. However, it wasn’t for lack of trying; the film was in development at three different theatrical studios until Netflix finally came in and got it made.

There has been some controversy about the portrayal of Native American culture and I don’t intend to ignore it. While some outlets got nearly hysterical about it to the point of knee-jerkiness, the fact is that that several Native American extras had some concerns about the jokes made at the expense of their culture and eventually walked off the set when those concerns weren’t addressed. The initial reports made it sound like there was an uprising the size of Little Big Horn; in actuality the affair involved four extras, far less than the 150 Native American extras who were employed by the film. Watching the movie, I didn’t see anything that was more than culturally insensitive but the movie seemed to be that way to nearly everyone, in particular the white culture itself. Perhaps if the movie had been better written the insults would have seemed less egregious.

REASONS TO GO: A really good cast with Nolte and Lautner actually doing some good work. Lovely cinematography.
REASONS TO STAY: Unnecessarily dumb gags and situations. Attempts at parody miss the mark.
FAMILY VALUES: Some rude humor, mild profanity and sexual innuendo.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: A group of Native American extras walked off the set due to what they perceived as negative and inaccurate portrayals of their culture; while initially the number of extras involved was reported to be about a dozen, sources close to the film put the number at four actors.
BEYOND THE THEATER:  Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/18/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 0% positive reviews. Metacritic: 18/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: A Million Ways to Die in the West
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Angels Crest

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The Wedding Ringer


A dance-off Derek Zoolander would envy.

A dance-off Derek Zoolander would envy.

(2014) Comedy (Screen Gems) Kevin Hart, Josh Gad, Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting, Jorge Garcia, Ken Howard, Cloris Leachman, Affion Crockett, Dan Gill, Corey Holcomb, Colin Kane, Jenifer Lewis, Alan Ritchson, Mimi Rogers, Aaron Takahashi, Olivia Thirlby, Whitney Cummings, Ignacio Serricchio, Nicky Whelan, Patrick Carlyle, GloZell Green. Directed by Jeremy Garelick

Weddings are meant to be rituals in which two separate people are formalized as a wedded couple. It is meant to be a celebration and a solemn step – a pledge of troth between two people til death do them part, although that aspect is a little less usual these days. Nonetheless, it is meant to be a major life-changing moment, one worthy of respect. It’s not supposed to be the source of the kind of stress that the modern wedding creates.

And yet we still spend small fortunes to give our little princesses their moment in the sun. The role of the groom is to shut up, be supportive and not to get frustrated when his bride-to-be is fretting over the smallest, most insignificant detail in order to make the day absolutely perfect, her Dream Wedding, the one she has been planning since she was a little princess getting glitter blown on her at the Bippity-Boppity Boutique at Disney World.

Doug Harris (Gad) is that groom. Basically a good-natured, decent fellow, he has been so hung up on making a career that he scarcely had time to date, much less develop the bonds of friendship with other guys. So when a supermodel-beautiful Gretchen Palmer (Cuoco-Sweeting) agrees to go out with him, he is surprised. When she agrees to marry him, he is shocked – but thrilled.

Now she’s planning the Wedding of the Century, one that would make British royalty green with jealousy. Even the salad dressing must be just right. So wedding planner Edmundo (Serricchio) needs the info on the seven groomsmen including the Best Man for the programs, Doug has been putting him off – mainly because he doesn’t have a best man, much less seven groomsmen.

Getting a tip from Edmundo, Doug visits Jimmy Callahan (Hart). This enterprising young charmer has made a lucrative business off of the issues of men just like Doug – men getting married without the support system that most brides develop over the years. He masquerades as best man for a price, providing groomsmen and whatever the groom needs to look irresistible to his new bride, sealing the deal on the wedding night.

However, seven groomsmen is a tall order, especially with the wedding date just ten days away. “What you’re talking about is what we joke about,” he tells Doug. There’s even a name for it; the Golden Tux. It doesn’t appear on any brochure because it’s never been done. Nonetheless, true love must win out, so Jimmy agrees to help Doug out – for a fee, with the understanding that he’s not buying a friend but renting a best man.

Newly christened Bic Mitchum – mainly so Kevin Hart can say “Bic Bic Bic Bic Bic” during the film – the CEO of Best Man Inc. sets out to find seven groomsmen in a hurry. Because of the time crunch, Jimmy – I mean, Bic – has to take what he can get rather than get the best. His motley crew are as Doug himself best described them; “It’s as if the Goonies grew up and became rapists.”

With Gretchen and her younger sister Alison (Thirlby) getting a little suspicious of the best man and the groomsmen, meeting the family including Gretchen’s imposing dad (Howard) and patrician grandmother (Leachman) is more than a little formidable, particularly when it turns out that Bic is supposed to be a priest – army chaplain to be exact – gets worse when Doug in a moment of panic nearly creates grandma flambé but nonetheless Jimmy seems to be pulling it off, but now the issue is that Jimmy and Doug are actually taking a liking to one another, and Jimmy is taking a liking to Alison too. Still, coordinating all this takes a massive set, and a lot of luck. Will Jimmy get Doug to the altar on time?

Hart has been particularly hot of late and his cinematic winning streak doesn’t look like it’s going to end here. While the movie isn’t the runaway success that Ride Along was, it’s still doing decent enough box office and should make enough to make a tidy profit with a relatively low production cost behind it. If there’s a good reason this movie is successful, it will be Hart who is rapidly moving into the Will Smith role of engaging and likable leading man while also taking the Chris Rock mantle of edgy comedian. That’s a very difficult tightrope act to manage but Hart makes it look easy.

Gad is starting to show up on the radar of big budget Hollywood producers, having made a name for himself as the voice of Olaf in Frozen and appearances in Wish I Was Here and the upcoming Pixels. He is ostensibly the straight man but he has an impeccable comic timing and he gets a few moments of his own, but this is definitely the Kevin Hart show in many ways and Gad wisely lets the comic take center stage and makes quite the second banana.

Some critics have complained about the portrayal of women as conniving Bridezillas but guys, this is about one bride, not all brides. Let’s not let our liberal guilt get in the way of a good time. Frankly there are some pretty good comic moments and I was adequately entertained throughout. which is gold when your movie comes out in January. If you go in expecting to have a game-changing comedy that is going to change the face of the medium, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. However if you go in expecting a sweet-natured movie that will be occasionally inappropriate but generally funny throughout, you might actually enjoy this. Sometimes it pays to have low expectations because when you get a movie that is this good, it’s like a grand slam from a career .150 hitter in the bottom of the ninth in the seventh game of the World Series.

REASONS TO GO: Nice chemistry between Hart and Gad.
REASONS TO STAY: A little bit predictable. Occasionally crass and bro-centric.
FAMILY VALUES: A whole lot of foul language, some sexual references as well as crude sexuality, brief drug use and some nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was originally meant to be starring vehicle for Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/7/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 33% positive reviews. Metacritic: 35/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Hitch
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Black or White

Deck the Halls


A Christmas guilty pleasure.

A Christmas guilty pleasure.

(2006) Holiday Comedy (20th Century Fox) Danny DeVito, Matthew Broderick, Kristin Davis, Kristin Chenoweth, Alia Shawkat, Dylan Blue, Kelly Aldridge, Sabrina Aldridge, Jorge Garcia, Fred Armisen, Gillian Vigman, Ryan Devlin, Sean O’Bryan, SuChin Pak, Jackie Burroughs, Garry Chalk, Nicola Peltz, Zak Santiago, Jill Morrison, Brenda M. Crichlow, Eliza Norbury. Directed by John Whitesell

The Holly and the Quill

There comes a time in all our lives when we laugh at something we know we shouldn’t laugh at. We know it’s wrong, we know we shouldn’t do it but we still do it anyway. When it happens in a movie, we call it a “guilty pleasure.”

Dr. Steve Finch (Broderick) is a mild-mannered optometrist in one of those picture postcard perfect Massachusetts towns that looks like it sprung fully formed from a Currier and Ives print. He’s also the Christmas guy around town, the one who decorates his home tastefully but noticeably, the guy who’s in charge of the Christmas pageant, the one who buys his family matching ugly Christmas sweaters. His children Madison (Shawkat) and Carter (Blue) are somewhat disinterested in their father’s regimented, traditional Christmas that allows no deviation from the norm. Although his wife Kelly (Davis) wishes that her husband was less rigid, she tolerates the situation because being obsessed with Christmas is way better than being obsessed with Internet porn, right?

Then across the street moves in used car salesman Buddy Hall (DeVito) with his…ummmm, statuesque wife Tia (Chenoweth)  and his buxom blonde twin daughters Ashley (K. Aldridge) and Emily (S. Aldridge). Buddy is going through an epic midlife crisis. He has never really attained any sort of real success and is living in a house he really can’t afford. The neighborly Finches invite his family over for dinner and Buddy’s inferiority complex is deepened when he discovers that the satellite locating website MyEarth (which is Google Earth without paying Google the big bucks for using their name) shows his neighbor’s house just fine but his is too small to be seen from space. Then it hits him – what if he put up a Christmas display so bright that it can be seen from space?

This puts Buddy in a frenzy of light buying and Christmas pageantry which doesn’t sit well with Dr. Steve who is threatened by a usurper for his title of the Christmas guy around town. He sets off to sabotage Buddy’s efforts which he sees as garish and lurid. The two begin a series of escalating pranks on one another, culminating in both their wives taking their children out of the house and staying elsewhere, leaving the two obsessed Christmas porn lovers to duke it out between themselves. Will Buddy win and get his wish to be noticed, to accomplish something monumental? Or will Steve win and get his wish for a traditional Christmas?

Critics savaged the movie when it came out and in a lot of ways I can’t really blame them. The humor often falls flat and is generally crude, the script preposterous, the plot outlandish and the acting mainly phoned in. Broderick, whose character is covered at one point with camel spit and sheep doo-doo from a living nativity that Buddy throws up, was heard to mutter on the set “I’ve hit rock bottom” on a regular basis and DeVito literally flew in on the days he was scheduled to shoot, acted his scenes and left without interacting with any of the cast. Supposedly everyone on set was fully aware they were cooking up a turkey.

And yet…and yet…I still find myself strangely drawn to the movie. In some demented way, it appeals to me. I think deep down it is supposed to be a commentary on how we’ve warped Christmas in this country with rampant consumerism and a terminally competitive attitude towards showing how much Christmas spirit we have (We’ve got spirit – yes we do! We’ve got spirit – how ’bout YOU?!?) particularly in decorating our homes. Not that saying we’ve lost our way in terms of the season is anything new or earth-shattering – Miracle on 34th Street was making the same point 59 years earlier – but it’s a point that bears repeating.

Chenoweth, one of Broadway’s brightest stars and who always impresses when she gets a movie to work on, is one of the highlights. She’s the blonde bimbo who turns out to be a bit smarter than anyone gives her credit for, seeing her husband for what he is and loving him anyway although when his excesses threaten the family stability, she exhibits a lot more strength than you’d imagine she has. Maybe I have a critic-crush on the woman, but she’d make reading the phone book an interesting movie.

I mentioned the humor earlier but I neglected to mention how mean-spirited it is. For example, Buddy and Steve are watching the Christmas pageant and a trio of scantily dressed young women come out and do a provocative dance. Both men cheer and call out “Who’s your daddy?!” repeatedly until the girls turn around – and it’s their daughters. They run to the nearest Catholic church and wash out their eyes with Holy Water. That doesn’t sound like it should be appealing but remember how I mentioned laughing at things you shouldn’t? There ya go.

Sure, the ending is a bit treacly and has that timeless Christmas movie trope of healing all wounds with the singing of carols but somehow those things still work even though you know they’re coming. I guess I’m just a sucker for Christmas spirit, neighbors looking out for each other and Currier and Ives New England villages. Here in Florida, Christmas is a whole different thing where we get milder weather (although we can get heatwaves from time to time) and almost never see any snowfall. My wife longs for a White Christmas which is something I haven’t experienced since I was a little boy in Connecticut which was so long ago that dinosaurs roamed the Earth back then. Okay, not really but you get the (snow) drift.

This might not be your cup of cocoa and I respect that but if you’re looking for guilty pleasure Christmas entertainment, you can do much worse (Santa Claus vs. the Martians anyone?) and you might, like I did, get suckered in by the sticky sweet ending. Christmas can do funny things to a person.

WHY RENT THIS: A primer in tacky Christmas displays. Chenoweth is always a pleasure.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Disagreeable leads. Mean-spirited.
FAMILY VALUES: Some crude humor and brief bad language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The production used LED lights on the house that allowed programmable effects and was installed by Color Kinetics of Boston. The nodes used just 7,150 watts of energy or the equivalent of four hair-dryers, and 126 amps which is the average for 1 1/3 homes.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There is a blooper reel as well as interviews with young actor Dylan Blue. Featurettes on filming a Christmas movie in July, the design of Buddy’s Christmas light display and the building of the house sets are also included.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $47.2M on an unknown production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD rental only), Amazon (streaming only), Vudu (buy/rent),  iTunes (buy/rent), Flixster (streaming only), Target Ticket (not available)
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Jingle All the Way
FINAL RATING: 6/10 (Talk about a Christmas gift…)
NEXT: The Holly and the Quill concludes