What Happens in Vegas


Ashton Kutcher doesn't quite believe Cameron Diaz got a bigger paycheck than he did.

Ashton Kutcher doesn’t quite believe Cameron Diaz got a bigger paycheck than he did.

(2008) Comedy (20th Century Fox) Cameron Diaz, Ashton Kutcher, Rob Corddry, Treat Williams, Dennis Farina, Jason Sudeikis, Lake Bell, Queen Latifah, Deirdre O’Connell, Michelle Krusiec, Zach Galifianakis, Krysten Ritter, Ricky Garcia, Andrew Daly, Benita Robledo, Dennis Miller, Amanda Setton, Toni Busker, Jessica McKee, Anna Kendrick. Directed by Tom Vaughan

Some slogans are associated with cities pretty much forever. Chicago will always be my kind of town. You will always love New York. And what happens in Vegas…well, you know the rest.

Jack Fuller (Kutcher) has been fired from his job. What hurts the most is that it’s his dad who fired him. Jack is one of those young 20-somethings who is still trying to find himself but doesn’t mind taking his time about it. He’s not boyfriend material by any means. To help him get through his blues, his best friend Hater (Corddry), the most aptly named lawyer in history, decides to take him to Vegas.

Joy McNally (Diaz) is an ambitious floor trader on the New York Mercantile Exchange. She is engaged to Mason (Sudeikis) and has her perfect life already lined up ahead of them. Unfortunately, Mason isn’t quite on board – he dumps her in front of the door to their apartment, not realizing that Joy has invited all of their friends over for a surprise birthday party for him. Awk-ward! Her acerbic best friend Tipper (Bell), who longs to loosen the stick that has been up her tush for some time, decides to help her get over her depression by taking her to Sin City.

As always happens in Vegas – all right it never does but we’ll humor the writers – the two are booked into the same room. Instead of getting another room they decide to share and drown their sorrows in alcohol and baby, there’s plenty of alcohol in Vegas. Jack and Joy get themselves good and sloshed and wake up with rings on their fingers – the wedding kind.

As sobriety sets in the morning after, they make plans to get an annulment and head down to the brunch buffet to show there are no hard feelings. Joy even lends Jack a quarter to put in a slot machine. But when the machine pays out three million dollars, all bets are off.

And so is the annulment. Jack and Joy want it all – the money and the freedom. A fed-up Judge (Miller) tells them that he is freezing the winnings for six months while the couple makes a real effort with a marriage counselor (Latifah) guiding them. Joy moves into Jack’s apartment and of course both of them do the best they can to make the other want to give up the cash and get out. Hilarity technically ensues.

If this sounds like a plot you’ve heard before, you pretty much have. Typical of romantic comedies, it’s “I hate you I hate you no I love you” and there is nothing here that is going to catch any regular moviegoer off-guard. Well, maybe the chemistry between Kutcher and Diaz – two actors who have never really floated my boat much. Diaz can be a gifted comic actress (see There’s Something About Mary and The Mask) and Kutcher is more of a gut actor, but they make sparks pretty nicely together. They are actually better together than they are separately, although lots of critics disagree with me on that one.

It’s actually the second bananas who are the most fun to watch. Corddry has always been an underrated actor who when he gets a great role as in Hot Tub Time Machine can be absolutely scene-stealing. Lake Bell, who I think finally showed how great she can be in this year’s In a World showed glimmers of that talent here in a very different role.

The comedy here is mostly of the physical kind and the jokes are a bit tired and there are more groaners than not. Those who love lowbrow humor will be in hog heaven – there’s plenty of it here. It’s raunchy in places but not overly so, at least not like the Apatow comedies have set the standard for. As romantic comedies go this is pretty middle of the road and makes for decent entertainment for those moments when you want a few laughs but don’t want to put too much effort into the plot.

WHY RENT THIS: Nice chemistry with Kutcher and Diaz. Corddry and Bell nearly steal the show.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Been there done that premise. Too much lowbrow comedy.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s plenty of sexual innuendo and crude remarks, some foul language and a scene of drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The party trick performed by Joy was the same one that Cameron Diaz also performed in Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There’s a gag reel and a faux commercial for Corddry’s law firm. The Extended Jackpot edition includes an unrated version of the film that is (get this) two minutes longer than the original. Not. Worth. It.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $219.4M on a $35M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Green Card

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: So I Married an Ax Murderer

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New Releases for the Week of May 24, 2013


Fast and Furious 6

FAST & FURIOUS 6

(Paramount) Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Paul Walker, Luke Evans, Michelle Rodriguez, Gina Carano, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Sung Kang. Directed by Justin Lin

Dom, Brian and their crew have all scattered around the world living the good life after the last film but they feel incomplete, never being able to go home again. However, the rise of a new villain sends Hobbs to seek Dom out because he will need his special skills. At stake is full pardons for all of them but something even more personal for Dom – the reappearance of someone he thought was dead.

See the trailer, clips, promos and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action and mayhem throughout, some sexuality and language)

At Any Price

(Sony Classics) Dennis Quaid, Zac Efron, Heather Graham, Kim Dickens. A farmer who has spent his entire lifetime expanding and improving his farm is eager to see his son follow in his footsteps. The impetuous youth however wants nothing to do with farming – he wants to race cars. However as the farmer’s less than ethical methods prompt an investigation, the two men will be pushed into an unexpected situation that will threaten everything they’ve built and dreamed of becoming.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for sexual content including a strong graphic image, and for language)  

Epic

(20th Century Fox) Starring the voices of Amanda Seyfried, Colin Farrell, Christoph Waltz, Josh Hutcherson. A young girl whose father believes that there are tiny beings living in the forest is shrunk down to their size, discovering her dad was right in the process. However now she’s caught in a war between good and evil with both worlds hanging in the balance.

See the trailer, promos, featurettes and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: PG (for mild action, some scary images and brief rude language)

The Hangover Part III

(Warner Brothers) Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Ken Jeong. The Wolfpack take one last trip to Vegas, brought together not by a wedding this time but because Chow owes some heavy hitters a lot of money and in order to get Doug back (he’s been kidnapped for real this time) they will have to find Chow which is never a laughing matter.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (Opening on Thursday May 23)

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for pervasive language including sexual references, some violence and drug content, and brief graphic nudity) 

Gigantic


Gigantic

Paul Dano is all wrapped up in Zooey Deschanel.

(First Independent) Paul Dano, Zooey Deschanel, Edward Asner, John Goodman, Jane Alexander, Zach Galifianakis, Ian Roberts, Brian Avers, Robert Stanton. Directed by Matt Aselton

We all have our own set of aspirations. Some of them border on obsessions, which is fine. Some of them are a bit out there, which is also fine. Some of us give up on them, which is not so fine. And still others do not deviate from their plan on achieving those goals.

Brian Weathersby (Dano) is a mattress salesman in New York with seemingly low career goals, but that’s only on the surface. What’s really on his mind is the adoption of a Chinese baby, which he has wanted to do all his life and which he is now so close to he can just about taste it.

While his personality is rather bland, his life is somewhat complicated. He is repeatedly and without explanation attacked by a homeless man (Galifianakis) who might well be a figure of his imagination other than the facial wounds he leaves. He, his brothers and his father (Asner) bond over hallucinogenic mushrooms. Indeed, a Norman Rockwell family at its finest. Remember his famous Saturday Evening Post painting “Daddy gets high on mescaline”?

Brian sells a high-end mattress to Al Lolly (Goodman), an oversized man with severe back troubles. The mattress costs north of $14K so it’s not a slam dunk procedure. Al decides to send his daughter Harriet (Deschanel) over to test it out for herself before arranging the payment.

Harriet turns out to be one of those New York waifs with an independent spirit and who acts as if every moment needs to register on the quirk-meter in order to be meaningful. She falls asleep on the mattress, well past closing time. Brian somewhat sweetly places a blanket over her, more to make sure nobody looks up her skirt while she’s asleep.

They converse in murmurs. She asks if he is interested in having sex with her, and he confides that he might be. He tells a friend he’s not sure if he likes her. Brian’s whole life is about getting that baby; the presence of Harriet might jeopardize that in some odd way.

There’s no denying he feels something for her though. He brings her to meet his family which is a bit risky; only his mother (Alexander) is even halfway sane. Still, he’s not sure he can bring himself to love her when loving her might mean that he has to change the plans he has for his life.

This is the kind of movie that a lot of folks characterize as “fiercely indie” and that’s not in a good way. Not long ago these types of movies were all the rage at Sundance and Toronto, but these days more traditional storytelling seems to be more in vogue. That’s not to say that Gigantic is without merit. It’s perfectly cast and that cast is impressive, with all of them delivering solid performances at the very least.

Deschanel is one of those actresses who can make even an uninteresting role interesting and a too-quirky role seem more down-to-earth. She makes Harriet real and believable; in lesser hands the character would have been so annoying that Ellen DeGeneres might have been moved to punch her in the face. Dano has made a niche for himself as a somewhat deadpan character who displays little in the way of emotion except for occasional tiny cracks. It served him well in Little Miss Sunshine and it serves him well here. The romance between the two becomes believable.

This movie might have well made higher marks with me had they not tried so hard to be funny and quirky. Scenes like the one in the massage parlor are unnecessary and serve to jar you out of the overall mood of the movie; it’s like driving a car whose transmission is on its last legs. If they had just tried to tell the story of Brian and Harriet straight it might have worked out better.

Still in all, this is a solid film with several moments that are worth cherishing. It may not be the kind of indie film that breaks the mold but at least it gets points for doing what it does do very well.

WHY RENT THIS: Any movie with Zooey Deschanel is worth seeing. Great cast who all have their moments.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The film loses steam in the last half. At times it feels like they’re trying too hard to be funny.

FAMILY VALUES: Some sexuality, a whole lot of foul language and some scenes of sudden violence make this a bit rough for the young.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Galifianakis’ role although listed as “Homeless Man” on IMDB, does not in fact appear on the film’s credits.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Easy Virtue

The Hangover


The Hangover

Zach Galafianakis, Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms suffer the effects of The Hangover.

(Warner Brothers) Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms, Heather Graham, Justin Bartha, Sasha Barese, Jeffrey Tambor, Ken Jeong, Rachel Harris, Mike Tyson, Mike Epps, Jernard Brooks, Rob Riggle. Directed by Todd Phillips.

The bachelor party is an ages-old tradition, a rite of passage in which single men transition from being men to being grooms. It’s the last hurrah for close friends as they lose one of their own to marriage, bidding goodbye forever to his independence and his cojones.

Such is the situation for Doug Billings (Bartha), whose groomsmen plan on taking him to Vegas for a night to remember. Phil Wenneck (Cooper) is the irresponsible one, married and missing the life of a single alpha male. He hopes to reclaim that, at least for one night. Stu Price (Helms) is a henpecked dentist, mortally afraid of his girlfriend (Harris) who is a world-class bitch, but he’s determined to propose to her at the wedding anyway – with his grandmother’s engagement ring, no less. Along for the ride is Alan (Galifianakis), the obese brother of the bride who has a thing about recreational drug use and gambling.

The quartet raise a glass of Jagermeister on the roof of Caesar’s Palace, then head out for a night of debauchery. When they wake up in their hotel room the next morning, they find it completely trashed. They have absolutely no memory of what occurred the night before. Stu is missing a tooth and wearing a wedding ring. The groom-to-be is nowhere in sight, and there’s a tiger in their bathroom. And where did that baby come from?

The boys have a limited amount of time to piece together what happened during their lost night and find the missing groom so they can get him to the wedding on time. Along the way they have to dodge a diminutive Chinese gangster (Jeong) with a real rude streak, two dim-witted but sadistic cops and Mike Tyson, owner of the tiger in question. Time and the odds are against them, but this is Vegas and anything can happen.

Director Phillips (Old School) and writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (Ghosts of Girlfriends Past) have hit a home run. This is one of the best-written comedies in years. Nearly every situation is funny as is most of the dialogue. Phillips has cast an excellent ensemble, mostly from television, and is rewarded with some career-making performances, starting with Galifianakis, who resembled John Belushi physically, but has a personality all his own. He will be catapulted into a stratum with guys like Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill and Jason Segel – and who knows, maybe alongside guys like Steve Carrell and Jim Carrey.

This is also a career-making turn for Cooper, who shows potential as a leading man, and has since his turn in the TV series “Alias.” Here he finally fulfills that potential and makes good use of his considerable charm. The character of Phil could very easily descend into obnoxious cliché, but Cooper makes him believable. Helms rises above his work on “The Office” and shows that he has far more depth and range than most give him credit for.

I have always liked Heather Graham as a comedic actress since her appearance in the Austin Powers series, and she also shows remarkable range as well. The stripper with a heart of gold is a hoary cliché in the film industry, and Graham pulls it off without sinking to formula. Her Jade is a woman with dreams and hopes who has no reasonable chance to climb beyond where she is right now, and yet she still believes. There’s a little bit of poignancy to the role that the likable Graham is perfect for.

This is a movie that has flown beneath the radar, overshadowed by much higher-profile releases, and proves to be a pleasant surprise. The critical praise for the movie has been loud and well-deserved. To be fair, there are a few false steps that the movie takes, primarily in the character of the bitchy girlfriend who might have fit the film’s ethos a bit better if she had some redeeming quality. She’s there mainly to serve as a comic foil for Helms, who doesn’t actually need one here. And, quite frankly, this is a guy’s movie. A lot of women may not necessarily find this as funny or as clever as men do.

Still, any criticisms you might level at the movie have to be minor. I’m all for pleasant surprises and The Hangover is just that, a movie with a premise that in less capable hands could be just crudeness for the sake of being crude. Instead, we get a marvelous comedy that makes you laugh without asking you to leave your brain behind. Color me impressed.

REASONS TO GO: Breakout performances by Cooper, Helms and especially Galifianakis. A smartly-written comedy that relies on believable characters and outrageous situations for its humor.

REASONS TO STAY: Definitely a movie intended for men; some women may find it offensive and not funny.

FAMILY VALUES: There is nothing remotely suitable for family audiences.  

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The characters stay in room 2452, which adds up to 13, which is meant to be a theme for the bad luck the characters experience throughout the movie.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: On the 2-disc deluxe edition, there is an interactive Map of Destruction which details where the movie was filmed. There are also pictures taken by the missing camera (which has been heavily promoted in the advertising of the DVD). There is also a feature on actor Ken Jeong and how he developed his character.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: Tsotsi