Sisters


Sisters partying like it's 1989.

Sisters partying like it’s 1989.

(2015) Comedy (Universal) Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Ike Bairnholz, James Brolin, Dianne Wiest, John Cena, John Leguizamo, Bobby Moynihan, Greta Lee, Madison Davenport, Rachel Dratch, Santino Fontana, Britt Lower, Samantha Bee, Matt Oberg, Kate McKinnon, Jon Glaser, Chris Parnell, Paula Pell, Emily Tarver. Directed by Jason Moore

I’m a big fan of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. For one thing, they’re really, really funny and when paired up, even funnier. As a matter of fact, they might just be the best all-female comedy team of all time. Think about it; how many all-female comedy teams are you aware of? There definitely should be more of them.

So this is their second movie together after the successful Baby Mama and it has kind of a John Hughes-like scenario. Two sisters – Kate Ellis (Fey), a 40ish foul-up who is brash and sexy, and Maura (Poehler), a divorced nurse with a charitable compulsion that sometimes leads to awkwardness – are summoned home to Orlando (although only one scene was filmed here) to their ancestral family home which their parents (Brolin, Wiest) are putting on the market so that they can move into a retirement community and divest themselves of most of their possessions. The girls are meant to clean out their rooms so that the sale can be finalized the following Monday.

Much nostalgia ensues as the girls decide to throw one last blow-out party like the ones they threw in high school…when Maura would be the responsible one and Kate would party hard. With the realization that Maura never got laid in her own bedroom and the window of opportunity closing, Kate decides to snare James (Bairnholz), a hunky neighbor, to seal the deal.

Kate offers to be the designated party Mom and stay sober, which is a new role for her. She does have a teenage daughter (Davenport) but their relationship is rocky. In fact, the daughter has left the nest, exasperated by her mom’s irresponsibility and party party party attitude and she refuses to tell Kate where she is. Determined to prove herself responsible, Kate throws herself full tilt into her new role.

And that’s really it for plot. If you’ve seen one high school blowout party movie, you’ve seen them all and this is essentially a middle aged riff on that. It has that 80s John Hughes movie kind of vibe which isn’t a bad thing at all, but lacks the really laugh-out-loud consistency that Hughes was able to create for his movies. There’s more of a Farrelly Brothers consistency in which everything is thrown at the comedy wall and whatever sticks does, the more outrageous the better. There are more bra jokes in this movie than I think have been in any movie in cinematic history, and some drug humor (although nothing like a Seth Rogen film) for people who don’t do drugs. There is most definitely a been-there done-that feel to things, and while that can make for cinematic comfort food, it really isn’t what you want out of talents the likes of Poehler and Fey.

The good thing is that Fey and Poehler are one of the greatest comic teams in history – not just female, but any. Their chemistry is undeniable and the two play off of each other better than anyone working in the movies today. It’s at the center of the movie (as well it should be) and makes their roles as sisters thoroughly believable. Da Queen, who has a sister, agreed that it was a realistic portrayal of the dynamic between sisters.

There is a cornucopia of supporting roles, from SNL veterans (Fey, Poehler, Dratch, Moynihan, Rudolph) to WWE wrestlers (Cena) to Daily Show stars (Bee) and sitcom regulars (Bairnholz, Brolin). Most of the roles are essentially one-dimensional who are there to add a specific element (angry rival, studly drug dealer, drugged-out class clown, Asian pedicurist) to the proceedings, but like the leads are given very little to do that is really genuinely funny. Bairnholz shows some promise as a comic leading man though, and Rudolph manages to express every annoyed expression that it is possible for a human face to make.

Don’t get me wrong; this is entertaining enough that I can recommend it, largely due to Fey and Poehler, but this isn’t as good as it could and should have been. A pedestrian plot and lack of actual laughs turn this from what should have been a showcase for two of the most talented comedians working today into a just average comedy with too many characters and not enough character.

REASONS TO GO: The chemistry between Fey and Poehler continues. Some fine supporting performances.
REASONS TO STAY: Not enough laugh-out-loud jokes. The plot is too been-there done-that.
FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of crude sexual content, a fair amount of profanity and drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Brolin and Wiest also play parents in last year’s indie film Life in Pieces.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/5/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 59% positive reviews. Metacritic: 58/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Step Brothers
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Won’t Back Down

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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

New Releases for the Week of February 11, 2011


February 11, 2011

Adam Sandler wonders where his career went.

JUST GO WITH IT

(Columbia) Adam Sandler, Jennifer Aniston, Nicole Kidman, Nick Swardson, Brooklyn Decker, Bailee Madison, Griffin Gluck, Dave Matthews, Kevin Nealon, Rachel Dratch. Directed by Dennis Dugan

An aging lothario who was once jilted at the altar is able to romance women by convincing them he’s a good guy in an awful marriage by wearing a wedding ring. This all works out nicely for him until he finds a girl he wants to marry – and she finds his ring. In order to save the relationship, he convinces her that he’s getting divorced but she wants to meet his ex. Desperate, he turns to his best friend to play the part of his ex. Cue comedy.

See the trailer, promos, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for frequent crude and sexual content, partial nudity, brief drug references and language)

 

The Eagle 

(Focus) Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell, Donald Sutherland, Mark Strong. A young Roman centurion is assigned to Briton, determined to discover the fate of his father who commanded the fable Ninth Legion which disappeared north of Hadrian’s Wall. Obsessed with restoring the family honor and retrieving the Eagle, symbol of the Legion, he ventures north to investigate rumors that it had been seen there, accompanied only by his slave, whose identity may tie in with the secret of his father’s fate.

See the trailer, featurettes and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard,

Genre: Swords and Sandals

Rating: PG-13 (for battle sequences and some disturbing images)

From Prada to Nada

(Lionsgate) Camilla Belle, Alexa Vega, Adriana Barraza, Wilmer Valderrama. Two spoiled Latina sisters find their world turned upside down when their father passes away suddenly, leaving them penniless. They are forced to trade their Beverly Hills mansion for a Boyle Heights home with their lively aunt. They will learn the meaning of family, the importance of their cultural heritage and how to live without Gucci.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Historical Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for brief drug use and a sexual situation)

Gnomeo and Juliet

(Touchstone) Starring the voices of James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Michael Caine, Maggie Smith. A retelling of Shakespeare’s greatest romance (and arguably the greatest romance of all time) as done by garden gnomes. You’re welcome.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, featurettes, a promo and a music video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: G

The Illusionist

(Sony Classics) Starring the voices of Jean-Claude Donda, Elidh Rankin, Duncan MacNeil, Raymond Mearns. The newest animated film from the director of The Triplets of Belleville is based on an unproduced screenplay by the great French comedian Jacques Tati. It concerns a down on his luck stage magician in the 1950s who finds his profession being eroded by rock and roll. In a remote Scottish village, he encounters a young girl who will change his life forever.

See the trailer, clips and an online review here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: PG (for thematic elements and smoking)

Justin Bieber: Never Say Never

(Paramount) Justin Bieber and – oh who are we kidding, does anybody really care who else? Bieber Fever is in full bloom and every girl under the age of 15 has it. Does anybody over the age of 15 really know any of his songs? Will his star still be on the rise by next year? Does anybody remember the Jonas Brothers?

See the trailer, featurettes and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Music/Concert

Rating: G

My Life in Ruins


My Life in Ruins

Is it just me or is Nia Vardalos looking like a young Kirstie Alley?

(Fox Searchlight) Nia Vardalos, Richard Dreyfus, Harland Williams, Rachel Dratch, Maria Adanez, Maria Botto, Alexis Georgoulis, Sheila Bernette, Alistair MacGowan, Bernice Stegers. Directed by Donald Petrie

Life is meant to be lived to the fullest. Too many of us find ourselves spectators in our own story. Sometimes it takes a trip to where civilization began to find out what it means to be human.

Georgia (Vardalos) is an unemployed history professor who has been reduced to being a tour guide for the low-rent Pangloss Tours in Athens – the Greek one, for my readers in the Deep South. She has no life to speak of, her romantic life is a series of miscalculations and full-on bad ideas that have left her lonely and cynical.

Her passion is history and she yearns to pass on that passion for Greek culture, history and traditions to her tourists, but in all honesty she tends to be a bit of a priggish bore and her attempts at humor are right up there with the comic stylings of Al Gore. To make matters worse, she is almost always given the worst tour groups, while her rival Nico (MacGowan) always gets the energetic Canadian group that tips like they just won the lottery.

This trip she is saddled with a couple of beer-soaked Aussies, a kleptomaniac Brit (Bernette), a pair of man-hungry Spanish divorcees (Adanez and Botto), a boorish American couple (Williams, Dratch), a snooty English family, a boring American businessman and an earnest but geeky backpacker. Oh, and there’s also Irv (Dreyfus), an American retiree who punctuates everything with a joke like a Borscht Belt comic run amok. Their tour bus is driven by a shaggy, taciturn Greek named Poupi Kakas (Georgoulis). When his name is first introduced, I just knew I was in for a yuckfest.

Things go predictably badly. The group is not enamored of Georgia’s academic approach and is more interested in shopping for trinkets, frolicking on the beach and drinking in whatever taverna they can find on the road than in poking about yet another set of ancient ruins. Georgia is beside herself. It looks like yet another low rating for her and she is absolutely miserable. She decides this tour will be her last, but a funny thing happens on the way to the unemployment line; she discovers her inner Greek. She learns to take pleasure in life. She finds the soul within Irv who becomes something of a Delphic Oracle to the group (and no, that’s not a lesbian laptop…ba dum BUMP). She will also find the romance she’s been seeking in the form of Poupi, who after a shave and a haircut is transformed from the Unabomber to the cover of a Harlequin Romance paperback.

Nia Vardalos, who was so engaging, charming and funny in My Big Fat Greek Wedding is all that here, and 40 pounds slimmer too. She looks spectacular, but all the charm in the world can’t save this script. It’s full of ethnic stereotypes (shifty Greek merchants, boozy Australians, obnoxious Americans etc.) and rote romantic comedy plot points, making it too full for a whole lot of humor. Vardalos probably should have checked director Petrie’s resume – which includes Grumpy Old Men, My Favorite Martian and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days – before signing up for this; Petrie seems to be a competent enough director, but his movies rarely rise far above mediocrity.

The scenery is gorgeous, although you will see much the same kind of thing in the average travel video. Greece has a particular charm that casts a spell on all who have ever been there; the movie at least captures the concept of it but not the charm itself. Dreyfus gamely gives Irv the best moments in the movie, and while he really doesn’t have a whole lot to work with (like the predictable Viagra jokes – hoo haw!) he at least is a seasoned pro, enough to make a nylon purse out of a sow’s ear.

I really do like Nia Vardalos as a performer, as does Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson who bankrolled this (as they did My Big Fat Greek Wedding). She can make you fall right in love with her and her Hellenic tendencies when given the right material. Unfortunately, this ain’t it. I can truthfully say it’s far better than the truly awful I Hate Valentine’s Day which was so bad I chose not to review it, but that’s not saying much at all. I can give it a mild recommendation but that’s all; there are far better tours of Greece than the one Vardalos gives here, even after her character gets her mojo back.

WHY RENT THIS: Vardalos is charming and the Greek countryside does weave a certain magic.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The script is very paint-by-numbers and the humor is hit or miss.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a smattering of sexuality and language but for the most part is okay for general audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Ian Gomez, who plays the creepy hotel clerk, is Nia Vardalos’ real-life husband.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The featurette “Everybody Loves Poupi” re-edits some of Georgoulis’ scenes to give him romantic interest in, well, everybody.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Perfume: The Story of a Murderer