SEE HOW THEY RUN (2022) – Playful Murder Mystery Comedy More Amusing Than Funny

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SEE HOW THEY RUN (2022) brings together two of my favorite actors working today, Sam Rockwell and Saoirse Ronan, and pairs them as Scotland Yard detectives in a playful mystery/comedy that is full of spirit and gumption yet has a script that only partially delivers.

And while Rockwell and Ronan do share some onscreen chemistry, it’s Adrien Brody who delivers the film’s best performance. Unfortunately, Brody’s character is killed off before the opening credits, and it’s his murder that the detectives have to solve. Now, we do continue to see Brody’s character in flashbacks, and while SEE HOW THEY RUN obviously isn’t on the same level as the classic SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950), in which the story was told by William Holden’s deceased character, Brody even in flashbacks pretty much dominates the film.

The opening pre-credit sequence, which just might be the best sequence in the whole film, introduces us to Hollywood film director Leo Kopernick (Adrien Brody) who is in London in the early 1950s to prepare for a film version of Agatha Christie’s hit play, The Mousetrap, and in this lively sequence, we learn of Kopernick’s contempt for the murder mystery trope which he views as cliche, and we also see that he is pretty much a complete jerk, insulting or getting on the wrong side of nearly all the players involved with The Mousetrap, and so it’s no surprise that someone jumps out of the shadows and kills him. Just before this happens, he laments that somehow, he unwittingly has become a victim in the type of story he disdains!

Enter Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) and Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan) who are assigned to the case, and Stoppard has also been tasked with training the very green Stalker. It’s their job to solve the crime, and pretty much all the suspects are the folks involved in both the play and film versions of The Mousetrap, making this a mystery within a mystery.

Sam Rockwell, who has been brilliant in so many different roles, from George W. Bush in VICE (2018) to the racist cop Dixon in THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI (2017), to, going way, way back, the whiny “red shirt” crew member Guy Fleegman in the hilarious GALAXY QUEST (1999), to name just a few. Here, he has the thankless role of playing the straight man to both Ronan’s character and the rest of the supporting players, who are all over-the-top larger than life suspects. His take on the sad, dour Stoppard is of a man deep in melancholy and in need of a drink. While the other actors all appeared to be having a fun time playing their roles, Rockwell here was playing the heavy. He’s convincing, as you would expect. And we are spared any voice-over narration from the depressed detective.

Saoirse Ronan fares better as Constable Stalker who takes things so literally, she often seems like a bumbling Inspector Clouseau, but she’s no fool, and her meticulous notes actually help crack the case. But she is a source of a lot of the humor here, as she does take things literally, like when one of the characters steps up to Stoppard and says, “I did it!” in reference to something she just did, but Stalker misinterprets that as a confession and announces, “I arrest you for the murder…!” Ronan gets most of the laugh-out-loud moments in the movie. The only issue I had is most of these moments were shown in the film’s trailers, and they didn’t save all that much for the movie, so her best bits, I had already seen.

Still, it’s another terrific performance by Ronan, who has wowed me in such movies as LITTLE WOMEN (2019) and LADY BIRD (2017). This is the most fun performance I’ve seen her deliver.

And other than Adrian Brody’s scene stealing performance as a deceased director, it’s the best performance in the movie.

The rest of the cast is fine, although none of these folks, in spite of their eccentricities, really come to life as much as expected. David Oyelowo plays annoying screenwriter Mervyn Cocker-Norris, and Ruth Wilson plays the arrogant theater owner. My favorite Ruth Wilson role remains her recurrent role as the explosive Alice Morgan on the gritty Idris Elba cop TV series LUTHER (2010-2019).

Director Tom George holds nothing back and has made a murder mystery that pokes fun at the genre and looks fabulous while doing it. However, the screenplay by Mark Chappell, in spite of going all out in an attempt to not be the genre it’s spoofing and doing creative bits like breaking the fourth wall at times, simply isn’t as sharp as it needs to be. Briefly put, the laughs simply aren’t there. SEE HOW THEY RUN is far more amusing than it is funny.

I loved the cinematography, and it nails the 1950s London look. I enjoyed all the characters, although with the exception of Brody’s Leo Kopernick and Saoirse Ronan’s Constable Stalker, they don’t really come to life. They remain caricatures of the characters they are playing. Even having Agatha Christie (Shirley Henderson) herself show up doesn’t cut through the surprisingly wooden characterizations.

There’s a lot to like about SEE HOW THEY RUN, even as a lot of it doesn’t work. I wish the jokes had been sharper. Let’s put it this way. It’s not Mel Brooks or Neil Simon. It’s not even Agatha Christie. But it sure tries like heck.

It does have a snappy music score by one of my favorite film composers these days, Daniel Pemberton, who wrote memorable scores for THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E (2015) and KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD (2017).

SEE HOW THEY RUN is fun and entertaining and doesn’t take itself too seriously. In a way, I wish that it had. It may have resulted in a stronger, tighter, and ultimately funnier script.

I give it two and a half stars.

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DAY SHIFT (2022) – Horror/Action/Comedy at Its Worst

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The mindless action/comedy tour continues, and with DAY SHIFT (2022), you can throw horror into the mix.

In recent weeks, I’ve been writing about the plethora of mindless action comedies at the movies these days, films filled with clever rapid-fire banter between main characters but with stories so ridiculous and over-the-top that they possess no semblance of truth and are about as interesting as watching someone else play a video game. Yawn. These movies have become absolutely wearisome, but since they continue to make money, they aren’t going away anytime soon.

They run the gamut from generally entertaining and fairly well-written, like BULLET TRAIN (2022), to not-so-well written and too-ridiculous-to-be-believed-and-enjoyed, like THE GRAY MAN (2022), to the horribly dreadful and uber boring because not only is the action mindless but the characters as well, like UNCHARTED (2022).

DAY SHIFT, a new horror/action/comedy which premiered this weekend on Netflix, falls into the latter category. It’s pretty bad.

The movie opens with swimming pool cleaner Bud Jablonski (Jamie Foxx) entering a home and immediately being attacked by an old lady who in reality is…. a deadly vampire! We learn everything we need to know about the rest of this movie in this opening action sequence. It goes on for a while, the stunts and action are impeccably polished, and it’s generally entertaining for an opening scene of an action movie, and when it’s done, Bud wins, and he makes a wisecrack.

And that’s what DAY SHIFT is all about. See, Bud’s not really a pool cleaner. He’s a vampire hunter! And in this movie, Los Angeles is crawling with vampires, and so Bud is plenty busy! The gimmick here is that Bud’s ex-wife Jocelyn (Meagan Good) has threatened to move to Florida with their young daughter Paige (Zion Broadnax) because they can no longer afford her private school which costs $5,000, or her need for braces, which will cost $6,000, so in order to keep his family in L.A. with him, he has to come up with $11,000 real fast! So, he has to get extra aggressive with the vampire hunter gig. However, this plot point is a head-scratcher. Moving to Florida isn’t going to remove Paige’s need for braces or the expense that goes with it, and private schools in Florida are just as expensive as private schools in California, so Bud, if he took two minutes to think about things, should have realized he has other options for keeping his daughter with him in California. But that would suggest some intelligence here, which is something that the script lacks.

Bud is paired up with the dorky Seth (Dave Franco) who has been tasked with making sure that Bud follows all the rules of the vampire hunting company, something that Seth isn’t interested in doing because he likes his desk job and isn’t interested in working in the field. And the main villain here, a female vampire named Audrey (Karla Souza) is intent on two things, populating the city with vampires, and exacting revenge on Bud since the old lady he killed in the film’s opening was her daughter. Don’t ask. The explanation doesn’t make sense. So, eventually Audrey goes after Jocelyn and Paige, and it’s up to daddy Bud to save the day.

As stories go, this one is very lame.

DAY SHIFT reminded me somewhat of another Netflix action/horror/comedy movie, ARMY OF THE DEAD (2021), only in that movie, which was directed by Zach Snyder and starred Dave Bautista, the good guys were battling zombies, not vampires. This similarity comes as no surprise as screenwriter Shay Hatten wrote both movies. Here, Hatten shares screenwriting credit with Tyler Tice.

It’s a pretty ineffective screenplay. The dialogue and banter is neither funny or clever, and there’s nary a laugh to be found. There is one amusing conversation between Bud and Seth about the TWILIGHT series, but that’s about it. It tries to be clever and creative with the vampires, as Seth offers an explanation into the different types of vampires, but the movie never makes an effort to make this part of the film’s lore, and so it’s quickly forgotten. The characters are shallow, and the plot forgettable. Vampire Audrey has the upper hand once she captures Bud’s ex-wife and daughter, and the only reason she doesn’t succeed is she went to the Dr. Evil School of Villainy and talks about all her plans but never acts on them. It’s pretty stupid. And finally, the story embraces one of the worst plot contrivances in the movies, where after the dust settles, mommy realizes that her ex-husband and daddy of their child really isn’t so bad after all since he’s a vampire hunter hero, and they decide to get back together. Gag! That simply is not how people act. This plot point is almost as bad as the “it was just a dream” shtick.

DAY SHIFT was directed by stunt man J.J. Perry, and the result is what you would expect. The action sequences are really well done and slick, and they are the best part of the movie, but that’s pretty much all DAY SHIFT has to offer. The horror and comedy are pretty nonexistent.

Jamie Foxx is pretty much hit or miss with me. Sometimes I enjoy his work, and other times I don’t. I really enjoyed him in DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012) and RAY (2004), but he did little for me in another recent Netlix actioner PROJECT POWER (2020), and he was rather ineffective in BABY DRIVER (2017). Here, he’s okay, but it’s a terribly written role.

But he fares much better than co-star Dave Franco who plays one of the most embarrassingly pathetic characters I’ve seen in a movie in years. Seth is a disaster. Let’s put it this way: the running gag in the movie is that every time Seth gets scared, he pees himself, and so after each action scene, we get to see Seth humiliate himself, and the other characters plus Seth himself make jokes about it. I can’t believe Franco would even play this role. It’s so bad. And then once you think he’s been put out of his misery, after he is turned into a vampire, and Bud beheads him, it turns out he can put his head back on to survive and become a “good” vampire.

Your guess is as good as mine.

One of the best performances in the movie belongs to Natasha Liu Bordizzo in a small role as Bud’s neighbor who also turns out to be a “good” vampire, and late in the film, she helps Bud and Seth. She’s fun to watch, and she makes for a better action hero than either Bud or Seth. We just saw Bordizzo play a very different character in the thriller THE VOYEURS (2021).

Also making an impact in a small role is Eric Lange, who plays a shady character who buys goods from Bud. It’s the kind of role Lange is good at, having played a similar shady type in the TV series NARCOS (2016-2017). He was also memorable in a dark role in the effective horror movie ANTEBELLUM (2020).

But Karla Souza is ineffective as the one-note vampire villain Audrey. She holds all the cards, yet she loses in pathetically stupid fashion.

Rapper Snoop Dogg is on hand as experienced vampire hunter Big John Elliott, but he, like everyone else in this movie, is let down by the script. He has nary a memorable line.

DAY SHIFT is not only the most recent example of the action/horror/comedy movie trope that is already passe and cliche, it’s also one of the worst examples.

If I were you, I’d request the night shift instead.

—END—

EMERGENCY (2022) – Exceptional Eloquent Drama About Racism Intense Yet Funny

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My favorite movies often are the ones in which the script is spot on and honest and taps into truth, so that regardless of where its story goes, it’s believable and clicks, because the audience knows where its coming from and understands what’s going on.

EMERGENCY (2022) is such a movie, with an exceptional script by K.D. Davila that speaks to race relations in the here and now, specifically the treatment of black men by the police, and it does so in a way that not only isn’t overbearing and heavy-handed, but instead is wild and insane and even funny.

EMERGENCY, now available on Prime Video, tells the story of two black college students, Kunle (Donald Elise Watkins) and Sean (RJ Cyler), who on the eve of spring break, are on their way to an epic night of partying, but first they return to their campus apartment and there discover the door open and an unconscious body of a white girl lying on their living room floor. Their video game playing dorky roommate Carlos (Sebastian Chacon) is in his room playing on his computer and doesn’t even realize there’s a girl sprawled out on their floor.

Kunle wants to call 911, but the streetwise Sean stops him from doing so, explaining that if they call the police, no one is going to believe them that this girl just showed up on their doorstep. They will suspect Kunle and Sean of foul play, and worse, things could get out of hand quickly and they could be shot. This plot point isn’t hard to believe because… it’s true.

Kunle, who is responsible to a fault, eventually convinces his two friends that they should drive this girl to the hospital, as she definitely seems intoxicated or perhaps worse, drugged, and needs medical attention. Sean and Carlos agree, and they covertly carry the girl out to Sean’s car where they hope to drive her across town and leave her at the emergency room.

And thus begins an odyssey of a night that gets crazier and more intense by the second, as what could go wrong does go wrong, and then some.

While director Carey Williams obviously seems to have been influenced by the work of Spike Lee and Jordan Peele, two other films come to mind when describing how EMERGENCY plays out. In terms of sheer intensity and frenetic stress, I was reminded of brothers Benny and Josh Safdie’s GOOD TIME (2017), the film which told the story of the harrowing efforts of a bank robber played by Robert Pattinson trying to spring his mentally challenged brother from a hospital before he was transferred to prison. EMERGENCY also calls to mind the original THE HANGOVER (2009), the insane comedy starring Bradley Cooper and Zach Galifianakis, where three men awake after a bachelor’s night out to find the groom missing and their lives in complete disarray, and their attempts to locate the missing groom only make things worse. THE HANGOVER of course was played completely for laughs, whereas EMERGENCY isn’t, but the two films share the zany unpredictability of the best of intentions gone awry.

EMERGENCY captures that same HANGOVER- type journey blowing-up-in-your face vibe as things continue to unravel for these three young men as they try to do the right thing, even as they remain afraid of the simplest solution, calling 911, fearing it could cost them their lives.

Things that go wrong include the girl becoming more intoxicated when Carlos offers her a sports drink which he doesn’t realize is an alcoholic concoction created by Sean; the tail light on their car isn’t working, something that could get them pulled over by the police, and so they try getting another car; they learn that the girl, Emma, is underage, and Emma’s sister Maddie (Sabrina Carpenter) is hot on their trail with her friends, as she is tracking Emma with her cell phone.

I really enjoyed EMERGENCY. As I said, the script by K.D. Davila is as real as it gets, and it makes its points while also telling a compelling and entertaining story. Carey Williams’ direction is equally as good. The in-depth characterizations do not come at the expense of plot, as the film moves quickly through one ordeal after another. This is a high energy tale that does not sacrifice storytelling for poignancy.

Donald Elise Watkins is excellent as Kunle, the student with a bright future, described as the Barack Obama of the science world by his buddy Sean. Watkins plays Kunle as a young man who disagrees with his friend’s Sean’s take on the world and wants to call 911 and do the right thing, but ultimately, he doesn’t.

He also gets one of the best moments in the movie, the moment where his view of the world changes. When they are finally stopped by the police outside the hospital and are ordered at gunpoint to get out of the vehicle, Kunle is shoved to the ground after having a gun pointed directly in his face, even after he says that he is only trying to save the girl. The most interesting aspect of this scene is that the police do not overreact, but there is still a marked difference between the way Kunle is treated and the way the other students who are all white, are treated. It’s almost imperceptible, since this isn’t an overdramatic “shoot first ask questions later” scene, but it’s there. The experience not only frightens Kunle but traumatizes him, as shown by the last shot of the film, when he hears a police siren in the distance, and his expression goes cold.

RJ Cyler is also excellent as Sean, the street wise friend who knows a bit more of the real world than Kunle does. Sebastian Chacon as Carlos largely serves as the comic relief, and he’s very good at it. And although she spends most of the movie unconscious, Maddie Nichols makes her mark as Emma, and when she’s not vomiting and gets to speak some dialogue, has some key moments. Likewise, Sabrina Carpenter is explosive as Emma’s older sister Maddie, who is guilt ridden over bringing her sister to a college campus and then losing her. She has her own issues with racism which come out over the course of the movie, even as she pushes back and claims she’s not racist.

K. D. Davila’s screenplay provides first-rate dialogue throughout.

EMERGENCY is a superior movie, a film that tells a story of our time that as a wild and oftentimes funny vehicle is about as far removed from a preachy sermon as one can get. Yet, it makes its social and racial points as eloquently as any well-written speech or diatribe.

It’s one of my favorite movies of the year so far.

—END—

THE BUBBLE (2022) – New Netflix Comedy Amusing but Uneven

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What happens when a group of actors filming the sixth installment of a popular action movie series are forced to quarantine together at the outset of a pandemic?

Mayhem. Pure mayhem.

And hopefully some hilarity.

That’s the high concept in THE BUBBLE (2022), a new Netflix movie comedy by writer/director Judd Apatow, the man who gave us THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN (2005) and TRAINWRECK (2015).

And while there is indeed plenty of mayhem throughout, there’s not all that much hilarity, as the crazy shenanigans don’t always translate into laughs. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t, and so THE BUBBLE, while not a laugh fest, isn’t a total misfire either.

The screenplay by Apatow and Pam Brady struggles because it too often overplays its hand and goes over the top when it doesn’t need to. Many of the situations, while grounded in the reality of a pandemic, which is fresh in our minds since it is still ongoing, don’t stay real for long and many of the situations deteriorate into unfunny goofiness. That being said, the script throws a ton of gags and jokes at the audience. Most don’t work, but the bits that do are often very funny. So, you have mixed bag of a comedy that is more amusing than it is laugh-inducing.

It also has a fun cast who do their best with roles that aren’t exactly fleshed out, but the talent here makes the most of the material.

Karen Gillan plays Carol Cobb, the actress in the series who left the previous installment to make a different movie, and so when she returns to the set of this latest flick she faces the ire of some of her castmates who are upset that she abandoned them. If there’s a main character here, it’s Cobb, as she gets ample screentime. The ongoing gag of her reasons for quitting the previous movie goes on too long, but the flashback sequence where we see the movie she did make is good for a laugh, which is how THE BUBBLE plays out. You have to get through lots of unfunny bits before you enjoy a payoff.

Gillan is fine here, although I enjoyed her much more in the lead role of last year’s GUNPOWDER MILKSHAKE (2021). Probably my favorite bit here for Gillan is having Cobb, a character in her 20s, having to argue that she’s not old to the young TikTok star in the cast.

Leslie Mann and David Duchovny play formerly married actors who get back together during the quarantining. Their fiery on-again-off-again relationship is good for a few laughs, but more often than not misfires. Duchovny’s better bits are when his character, who sees himself as the protector of the series, constantly fights with the director over re-writing the script. Mann is a wonderfully comic actor, memorable in such films as THE OTHER WOMAN (2014), for example, but the material here doesn’t give her a lot to do.

Pedro Pascal, the Mandalorian himself, gets one of the best lines of the movie, late in the game when the actors are all at their wits end, and Pascal’s actor Dieter Bravo says, “There are no answers. But there are drugs.” Which sets up one of the funniest scenes in the movie, one of the few where I actually laughed out loud, where they all get high, which is kind of a low brow way to get a laugh, but the sequence is rather creative and definitely funny.

Pascal currently plays the lead character on Disney’s STAR WARS TV show THE MANDALORIAN (2019-2022), where he’s terrific. He was equally as good as DEA Agent Javier Pena on the Netflix TV show NARCOS (2015-17), which goes a long way to helping us forget his less than stellar performance as the main villain in the dreadful Wonder Woman sequel WONDER WOMAN 1984 (2020).

Guz Khan plays Howie, a sex-starved high-strung actor who gets some laughs in his brief screen time. Keegan-Michael Key plays Sean, an actor who is constantly positive, trying to get his fellow actors on board with his quasi-religious beliefs of positive thinking, until he reveals himself to be a fraud. The gag where he only learns to fly a helicopter to go up and not forward is about as unfunny as it sounds.

Peter Serafinowicz is very good as the onsite producer who is tasked with keeping everything together. His cool, calm collected persona makes him the perfect straight man to all the insanity. Fred Armisen makes his mark as the inexperienced director who shot his previous movie while working at Home Depot.

Iris Apatow, the daughter of Leslie Mann and Judd Apatow, is on point as the young TikTok star Krystal Kris.

And Kate McKinnon delivers a scene-stealing albeit brief performance as Paula the Studio Head, the icy cold venomous studio boss who is so cutthroat she hires a security detail that actually shoots any of the actors who try to leave the bubble.

The cast his huge. There are a ton of characters I haven’t mentioned, which is part of the problem with THE BUBBLE. There are so many characters here, each enjoying a small moment or two, but no one really carries this one. There are also many cameos, including Daisy Ridley, John Cena, and James McAvoy, but none really have much of an impact.

One of the funnier parts of THE BUBBLE is when we get to see the actors actually filming their movie, CLIFF BEASTS 6. Their series, CLIFF BEASTS, is about our heroes taking on these mammoth flying monsters. The dialogue is spot on here. It’s awful and sounds a lot like dialogue we’ve heard over the years in the types of action flicks this movie is spoofing.

I had some fun watching THE BUBBLE, but not as much as I had hoped for. The film runs just over two hours, which is a long time for a movie that doesn’t fire on all cylinders. It’s the type of movie where you have to sit through four or five unfunny gags before you get to one that works. A 90-minute version would have been more welcome.

While I found THE BUBBLE amusing, there were just too many misfires in this one for it to be a successful comedy.

I had high hopes, but you might say, it burst my bubble.

—END—

I WANT YOU BACK (2022) – Romantic Comedy is Sincere, Honest, and Very Funny

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Just in time for Valentine’s Day comes a romantic comedy that gets nearly everything right.

I WANT YOU BACK (2022), a new Amazon original movie, works because unlike a lot of other recent comedies, it doesn’t get bogged down with over-the-top vulgar humor or lose its way with unrealistic situations for the sake of trying to be funny. The script by Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger in spite of its comedic shenanigans remains rooted in reality which results in a surprisingly fresh take on love and relationships in the here and now.

The movie opens with two break-ups. Noah (Scott Eastwood) breaks up with Emma (Jenny Slate) after a six-month relationship, as Noah feels like Emma just doesn’t have her life figured out, and he wants to move on to someone who does. Anne (Gina Rodriguez) breaks up with Peter (Charlie Day) after a six-year relationship because she feels he is stuck, and she wants to pursue her hopes and dreams, but feels she won’t be able to as long as she is with Peter.

Shortly thereafter, Emma and Peter happen to meet in the stairwell of their office building, as they work for different businesses on different floors inside the same building. They’re both in the stairwell crying over their break-ups, and they strike up a conversation. Later they agree to go out for drinks, and they get plastered as they commiserate. They agree to become each other’s “sadness sisters,” meaning that to help each other resist the urge to call their exes, they will call each other instead. Later, when they learn that both Noah and Anne are seeing new people, they come up with a plan to break up each relationship, hoping that this will lead to Noah and Anne “coming to their senses” and returning to Emma and Peter.

So, Emma volunteers at the middle school where Anne teaches English to insert herself in between Anne and her new crush, the drama teacher there, Logan (Manny Jacinto). Meanwhile, Peter joins the gym where Noah works and allows Noah to become his personal trainer in the hopes of becoming best buddies so he can help guide Noah away from his new girlfriend Ginny (Clark Backo) and back to Emma. Let the comedic games begin!

And while Emma proves very adept at being the seductress and getting in between Logan and Anne, Peter finds his job more difficult as Noah turns out to be an incredibly nice guy, and the two become real friends, and most importantly, Noah is really in love with Ginny.

I WANT YOU BACK is full of so many moments that work, from genuine sincere moments, like Emma’s friendship with a troubled middle school boy, to hilarious comedic ones, as in the sequence where Peter and Noah allow themselves to be picked up by a group of women at a club. Or the scene where Peter finds himself trapped in the bedroom when Noah plans to propose to Ginny. Everything plays out in satisfying fashion, including the climax, which takes place at a wedding on a river boat which brings Peter, Anne, Emma, Logan, Noah, and Ginny all together, and the ending, which the film gets right.

I really enjoyed I WANT YOU BACK, and I was probably most impressed by the screenplay by Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger. First off, I laughed a lot during this movie, which is the true indicator of how good a comedy is. The writing and dialogue were spot on. The conversation between Peter and Emma, for instance, over whether you should put on your own oxygen mask first or put the mask on your loved one first on a plane is a keeper.

Director Jason Orley makes sure we get to know all the characters well, especially the four main ones. The film takes its time fleshing out these folks, and the movie is better for it. Part of the reason the comedy works so well is that we know the characters, and what they are thinking and feeling. The situations are also genuinely amusing.

Charlie Day is very funny as Peter, the nice guy who Emma says is the type of man someone could fall in love with… over a long period of time. And while he’s not sure how to take that, she says it’s a compliment, that the “slow burn” guys are the best. What I liked best about Day’s performance here is it never becomes too over-the-top. He keeps Peter grounded in reality which actually makes the guy even funnier.

Jenny Slate is equally as good as Emma. She has the arduous task of playing a quirky character who most people just don’t understand, but she succeeds in getting the audience to understand Emma. And as Emma, she gets most of the best scenes in the movie.

Scott Eastwood exudes sincerity as Noah, and it’s one of Eastwood’s best performances yet. Noah could have been such a cliche character: the dumb hunk, the handsome guy who tries to be loving but sucks at it, or the complete jerk. But Noah is none of these things. He really is a decent, insightful person. The scene at the club where he says he can’t go too far because of Ginny but gets drunk anyway and goes home with the women along with Peter, is ripe for him to fail at keeping his word, but things don’t play out that way. He even has a poignant conversation later with Emma saying that she never seemed happy with him and that they had so little in common, and so he asks her point blank why she thought he was her true love? And Emma answers that she just wanted the process to be over, she wanted to have found somebody so badly. It’s a wonderfully sincere and honest moment, and I WANT YOU BACK is full of similar moments just like this.

Gina Rodriguez draws the short straw with Anne, as she is probably the least likable of the four characters, as she seems the shallowest. But she still gets to enjoy some sincere moments as well.

Manny Jacinto also enjoys some fine moments as Logan, the middle school drama teacher who really wants to be working on Broadway. And Luke David Blumm is very good as the middle school student who Emma befriends and helps out with.

I WANT YOU BACK is that rare comedy which understands that realistic, honest situations can be just as funny as over-the-top exaggerated ones, sometimes even more so.

If you’re looking for a satisfying romantic comedy this Valentine’s Day, look no further than I WANT YOU BACK.

It’s the perfect match.

—END—

DON’T LOOK UP (2021) -Adam McKay’s On Point Satire Is One of the Best Movies of the Year

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If the human race survives long enough, and we’re able to look back years from now at DON’T LOOK UP (2021), the new movie by director/writer Adam McKay, a satire which asks the question what if an extinction-event asteroid were on a collision course with Earth, and nobody cared because they were told it wasn’t really happening, we might say, “What was that all about? I don’t get it.

And if not for the times we now live in, and the absurd shenanigans of the prior Trump administration, I wouldn’t get it either. I certainly wouldn’t believe it. But the events depicted in DON’T LOOK UP while supposedly meant to be satiric and funny are in reality terrifying because of what happened during the years of 2016-2020.

Some people have complained that DON’T LOOK UP isn’t as funny as it should be. I disagree. The humor is definitely there, but more importantly, so is the truth, and the truth is, as ridiculous as this movie plot sounds on paper, it’s not any more ludicrous than what has happened in real life. I found this story frightening.

And that’s why I loved this movie. It scared the sh*t out of me and made me laugh while doing it. I hope we survive long enough to be able to look back and laugh at this one, at these insane times. I imagine it’s how audiences felt after first viewing Stanley Kubrick’s brilliant satire DR. STRANGELOVE OR: HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB (1964), a film which poked fun at a possible nuclear holocaust.

In DON’T LOOK UP, Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his Ph.D. doctoral candidate assistant Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) make the shocking discovery of an asteroid that is on a collision course with Earth and that upon impact will destroy all life on the planet. Their findings are corroborated by NASA scientist Dr. Teddy Oglethorpe (Rob Morgan). Because this is an obviously dire situation, they are granted an audience with the President, President Orlean (Meryl Streep), but their meeting doesn’t go as expected. They are met with doubts and skepticism and are told to sit tight and wait for the president to get her own people to check into the situation, even though they know with near absolute certainty that the cataclysmic event will indeed happen in six months.

Try as they might, Mindy, Dibiasky, and Oglethorpe just can’t get their message out, and eventually, when the asteroid does get close enough to become visible, the political lines become drawn, and the president’s party’s rallying becomes “don’t look up!” which people at her rallies continually chant, the argument being, the opposition party “just wants to scare you. You are free not to look up.” Sound familiar?

DON’T LOOK UP is sharp satire with a lot to say about where we are right now as a society, and Adam McKay is able to make his points successfully because he shakes things up just enough to prevent any obvious political lines being drawn. The fact-avoiding president is a woman, and so while many of the criticisms are aimed at the prior Trump administration, the president in this movie is not a white conservative male. Political parties are never named or mentioned. Even traditional conservative/liberal divisions aren’t identified. Streep’s President Orlean has a photo of Bill and Hillary Clinton on her desk, for example. What McKay aims for with DON’T LOOK UP is what happens when you play fast and loose with the truth, and he mostly hits his mark with a satire which doesn’t quit.

McKay has done this before, with films like THE BIG SHORT (2015) and VICE (2018), where he mixes humor with sharp hard-hitting points.

DON’T LOOK UP is full of so many on-point moments, from little ones like the news host on an unnamed news network who even as the asteroid is hitting the earth refuses to give the event any airtime, instead talking about “the big news event of the day, topless urgent care workers.” Again, years from now people might raise an eyebrow and wonder WTF? But you only have to watch news coverage today to see that the same things happens every day.

There are larger moments. DiCaprio’s Dr. Mindy finally loses it near the end, and on a national news magazine TV show goes off on a “mad as hell” rant that is obviously reminiscent and inspired by the classic Peter Finch scene in NETWORK (1976). It’s no less upsetting.

The cast is spectacular.

Leonardo DiCaprio plays a role he doesn’t often play, a neurotic nervous type who can barely get a cognizant word out when first on the national stage. It was fun to watch DiCaprio play someone who wasn’t cooler than cool. It was also eye-opening to see him playing someone his own age or older, with adult sons. DiCaprio is a terrific actor, and I’ve been a fan for a long while. He nails this role, which comes as no surprise.

It was good to see Jennifer Lawrence back on screen again. While she’s a bit more subdued here than we’ve seen her in the past, her Kate Dibiasky is still a fiery character and fun to watch. Because she is outspoken, she gets considerable pushback from people in power and also from viewers at home, and she gets pummeled in real time on social media, which is another target of McKay’s satire. What he depicts happening on social media is absolutely insane. It’s also true. Dibiasky also has to endure her boyfriend breaking up with her on a social media platform.

Meryl Streep is Meryl Streep, and she nails President Orlean, keeping her from being just a caricature. Cate Blanchett knocks it out of the park as TV news host Brie Evantee, who finds Dr. Mindy attractive and initiates an affair between them. She is so on point she makes her character almost nauseating to watch.

Jonah Hill, while once again playing a role that is within his comfort zone, nonetheless enjoys many fine moments as Orlean’s son Jason, who’s also Chief of Staff. His “prayer” near the end of the movie for “all the stuff we’re going to lose” is priceless.

Mark Rylance delivers the most inspired and disturbing performance in the film, as Peter Isherwell, one of the richest men on the planet who is also something of a feel-good digital age techno guru. It’s Isherwell who convinces President Orlean to ignore Mindy’s science and follow his own, which of course has not been verified by other world scientists.

Rob Morgan is solid as Dr. Oglethorpe, and Ron Perlman is hilarious as Benedict Drask, the foul-mouthed astronaut of “another generation” who is chosen to lead the mission to destroy the asteroid. The cast also includes Tyler Perry, Timothee Chalamet, and Ariana Grande.

Director McKay wrote the screenplay, based on a story by David Sirota. It’s a fabulous screenplay, as nearly everything about it works.

I loved DON’T LOOK UP, and while it’s showing up here late in the year, it just might be my favorite movie of the year. It’s a Netflix movie, and right now is showing both at theaters and on Netflix.

Check it out. This is one you definitely do not want to miss.

And unless you’ve had your head in the sand the past several years, you’ll get exactly what McKay is talking about. He’s giving us DON’T LOOK UP as both a frightening look at where we are and a wake-up call. The asteroid hurtling towards Earth is a perfect metaphor for any major problem we face in the world today and what happens when those in charge decide not to tell the people the truth but instead feed them lies.

DiCaprio’s Dr. Mindy’s final few lines are chilling and come after he and his family are enjoying a last dinner together, reminiscing about their happy memories and what they’re thankful for. He says, in effect, we really had everything, didn’t we?

We too have everything. And that shouldn’t be taken for granted.

There’s an asteroid on a collision course with Earth. You can see it if you just look up. Or you can listen to those who tell you that looking up is a sign of weakness, that it’s politically motivated, and that you need to stand up for your rights and not look up, and that the threat isn’t as dire as others say.

But it is, and to see for yourself, all you have to do is look up.

Do you?

—END—

IRRESISTIBLE (2020) – Cynical Political Tale by Jon Stewart Depressing Statement of the Obvious

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Steve Carell and Mackenzie Davis in IRRESISTIBLE (2020)

IRRESISTIBLE (2020) is anything but.

Written and directed by Jon Stewart, of THE DAILY SHOW (1996-2020) fame, IRRESISTIBLE tells the tale of a Democratic strategist Gary Zimmer (Steve Carell) who travels to a small Wisconsin town to help a folksy farmer Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper) win a mayoral election.

Why is a national Democratic strategist from D.C. who led Hillary Clinton’s failed presidential campaign interested in a rural mayoral election? Your guess is as good as mine! Actually, the movie makes it clear. He’s interested because he believes the only way to save the Democratic party is by winning back the heartland, one small section at a time. I guess. I just found this central plot point to be a stretch and not very believable.

Anyway, since IRRESISTIBLE was written by Jon Stewart, you can expect biting cynical commentary on the current state of politics, and to this end Stewart doesn’t disappoint. However, none of it is all that insightful or anything we don’t already know. The film is billed as a comedy/drama, and the drama stems from that commentary, but the comedy is seriously lacking. The film has its moments of levity, but mostly the cynicism here keeps things from being all that fun. As such, IRRESISTIBLE is a strange title for this one. It’s about as irresistible as a Trump/Biden debate.

So as Gary assembles a team of mostly locals to work on Jack’s campaign, led by Jack’s daughter Diana (Mackenzie Davis), he attracts the attention of his biggest rival, Republican strategist Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne) who arrives in town to use her political machine to re-elect the Republican incumbent, Mayor Braun (Brent Sexton). The battle lines have been drawn. Let the mudslinging begin!

Part of the problem with IRRESISTIBLE is that it constantly reminds us that the current state of U.S. politics is a complete sh*t show, and unless you’ve been living under a rock, this isn’t exactly something we need reminding of. It’s evident every single day. And so without anything new to add, IRRESITIBLE comes off as rather depressing statement of the obvious.

It works best when it allows itself to go the route of the goofy, like when the volunteers on Jack’s team mix up the voters’ list with the volunteer list, and as they hit the phone bank, all their own cell phones start ringing and they all start talking to each other, to which a frustrated Gary has to admonish them to stop gabbing and use the right list!

The sequence where Gary is introduced to small town America as he is flabbergasted when the next day everyone in town already knows his name is a good one. If you’ve ever lived in a small town, you have certainly had this experience!

But more often than not, the humor just isn’t there.

Steve Carell does what Steve Carell does, and you’ve seen this shtick before, from THE OFFICE (2005-2013) to his latest Netflix TV show SPACE FORCE (2020). Incidentally, IRRESISTIBLE isn’t much funnier than the lackluster SPACE FORCE. I prefer Carell when he stretches his acting chops more, as he has done in such films as BATTLE OF THE SEXES (2017) and THE BIG SHORT (2015).

I’m a big fan of actor Chris Cooper, having enjoyed his performances in such films as LITTLE WOMEN (2019), A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD (2019), and way back when as Jake Gyllenhaal’s dad in OCTOBER SKY (1999). Strangely, he doesn’t have a lot to do here as Jack Hastings. Most of the film focuses on Steve Carell’s DC Gary. I was hoping Cooper would be going for a Jimmy Stewart vibe, and he does have a couple of key moments, but for the most part the screenplay ignores the character, which doesn’t do the film any favors.

Mackenzie Davis, who’s been making big impressions in films like BLADE RUNNER 2049 (2017), TULLY (2018), and TERMINATOR: DARK FATE (2019), is solid here as Diana, the daughter who wants to do well by her dad and her town, although ultimately, it’s a role that never quite rises to its potential.

Rose Byrne delivers a one-note performance as the icy cold Faith Brewster, a role that has cliche written all over it.

The supporting cast is impressive and features Brent Sexton, C.J. Wilson, and Topher Grace, among others, in small roles.

IRRESISTIBLE has its moments and makes the social commentary it wants to make, but it simply isn’t clever or funny enough to work. It also, strangely, features a major plot twist towards the end which I found to be a head-scratcher. I get what the film is saying about what’s wrong with politics these days, and the twist speaks to that, but I couldn’t help but find it to be contrived and phony.

I can’t say I enjoyed IRRESISTIBLE all that much. And judging by what writer/director Jon Stewart had to say about politics in this one, that may have been the point.

Nonetheless, you don’t have to watch IRRESISTIBLE to understand what’s wrong with politics, and that’s my biggest issue with the movie. It adds little that is new to the conversation, and it’s simply not creative enough to make a lasting impression.

At the end of the day, it’s as painful to watch as the political campaigns it’s mocking.

—END—

 

 

 

UNKNOWN ORIGINS (2020) – Strange Hybrid of Superhero/Serial Killer Movie Doesn’t Really Work

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Before I get to the review, a bit of reality: Christopher Nolan, one of my favorite filmmakers working today, released his latest movie this weekend to theaters, TENET (2020). I really want to see it. However, here in the United States, things are still so bad with COVID-19, that to go to a movie theater now would be a very risky endeavor. And so, I passed and will continue to pass until things improve. Sadly, this may be a while yet. Most medical experts agree that things will get worse before they get better, due largely to the poor choices being made regarding masks and social distancing by so many in the country, thanks in large part to the completely incompetent and reckless leadership— lack of leadership really— of the Trump administration. And so, for the foreseeable future, I will continue to review movies accessed at home, rather than at the theater.

And now on to our review:

A couple of weeks back, I reviewed PROJECT POWER (2020), a superhero movie about a pill that gives people superpowers, a different and not overly successful tweak to the superhero genre. Up today it’s UNKNOWN ORIGINS (2020), which adds a tweak of its own: a serial killer who bases his murders on superhero origin stories. Yup, a superhero serial killer movie. A strange hybrid indeed.

UNKNOWN ORIGINS, which hails from Spain, and is now available on Netflix, tells the story of police detective David Valentin (Javier Rey) working his first case, and it’s a doozy: a serial killer who displays his victims in elaborate situations which seem to have no connection, that is until retired detective Cosme (Antonio Resines) notices a superhero connection while looking at some of the evidence upon David’s request. And Cosme is familiar with superheroes because his son Jorge (Brays Efe) who runs a comic book store is a complete geek on the subject and has an encyclopedic knowledge of all things superheroes.

Norma (Veronica Echegui), the idiosyncratic head of homicide, decides to hire Jorge as a consultant and immediately makes him David’s partner on the case. Jorge’s first contribution is that he informs them that the murders are all based on superhero origin stories. As the murders continue, it’s up to this oddball duo to find and stop the mysterious serial killer.

As I said, UNKNOWN ORIGINS is a weird hybrid of superhero and serial killer. The trailer on Netflix definitely highlighted the comedic aspects of the movie, and so when I sat down to watch this one, I expected it to be a lighthearted farce, perhaps even a spoof, but that’s not how this one plays out at all.

It begins all rather dark, as the serial killer aspects are lurid and disturbing. The opening segments have R-rated serial killer movie written all over them. But then things take a comedic turn once Jorge and David are paired together, a strange juxtaposition after the serious opening. But the film never becomes a full-fledged comedy either. Instead, it gravitates towards the straight superhero tale, and this is where the film falters the most, with an almost ridiculous plot point of David becoming less a cop and more a superhero.

At the end of the day, even though this one is full of potential, the story just didn’t work for me, and as such, I didn’t enjoy the screenplay by director David Galan Galindo and Fernando Navarro as much as I thought I would. The comedy is way too subdued, and the same can be said for the darker serial killer parts. The film starts off creepily enough but then pulls back. For a while, it looked like this one would have a WATCHMEN (2009) or KICK-ASS (2010) feel, but UNKNOWN ORIGINS is never as tight or as consistent as those movies.

And I thought the supehero stuff towards the end didn’t work at all. It’s supposed to be a homage to superheroes, particularly Batman, but it just didn’t work. The number one reason is I didn’t believe any of it, which goes back to the writing. Jorge is a believable character, and his character remains consistent. However, David hates superheroes, and so to believe he undergoes a transformation where he actually agrees to become a supehero, that just didn’t work for me.

And sadly, the poorest written character is the female lead, Norma. She’s the least believable character in the movie, and her romance with David is one of the most forced and least believable screen romances I’ve seen in a while.

Also, the twist here, where we learn the killer’s secret identity, is the same exact one I saw last week in the serial killer film THE SILENCING (2020).

Director David Galan Galindo scores highest when working darkest, but unfortunately, this only occurs in the film’s early moments which are actually quite creepy. The bulk of the movie is about superheroes and their need to exist, and that part to me never won me over.

And the comedy never really takes off either, which is too bad because the two main characters do share some chemistry. David has a Clint Eastwood vibe about him, and there’s a lot of Zach Galifianakis in Brays Efe’s portrayal of Jorge. So, imagine a buddy cop movie starring a young Clint Eastwood and Zach Galifianakis and you get the idea, and for parts of this movie, this chemistry really works, but it never becomes a dominant part of the tale.

I enjoyed both Bray Efe’s and Javier Rey’s performances, Efe in particular. And while I said Rey’s performance reminded me of a young Clint Eastwood, he’s also dressed like Chris Noth used to be on the classic TV show LAW AND ORDER. In fact, there’s a line in the film where Norma chastizes him for dressing like a 90s TV cop.

Speaking of Norma, while Veronica Echegui delivers a spirited performance, the role was my least favorite in the film, mostly because she was the least believable.

And Antonio Resines adds fine support as the not-so-retired cop Cosme.

UNKNOWN ORIGINS also suffers from two other major problems. It doesn’t have a strong hero, nor does it have a strong villain. Technically, David and Jorge are the heroes, but in the framework of the story, the hero is supposed to be the superhero which David becomes, and this doesn’t happen until the end of the movie. And by the way his superhero costume is rather lame. Likewise, the identity of the killer is not revealed until the end either, and so for the majority of the film he operates in the shadows.

If you’re in the right frame of mind, you might enjoy UNKNOWN ORIGINS. Its heart is in the right place, as it gets all the geeky references right and tries really hard to be a love letter to superheroes, but I found the tone and feel of this one to be all over the place and never consistent or believable enough to really win me over.

It tries hard, but at the end of the day, it’s just too superficial to become a major part of superhero movie lore.

—END—

Books by Michael Arruda:

DARK CORNERS, Michael Arruda’s second short story collection, contains ten tales of horror, six reprints and four stories original to this collection.

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Waiting for you in Dark Corners are tales of vampires, monsters, werewolves, demonic circus animals, and eternal darkness. Be prepared to be both frightened and entertained. You never know what you will find lurking in dark corners.

Ebook: $3.99. Available at http://www.crossroadspress.com and at Amazon.com.  Print on demand version available at https://www.amazon.com/dp/1949914437.

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

How far would you go to save your family? Would you change the course of time? That’s the decision facing Adam Cabral in this mind-bending science fiction adventure by Michael Arruda.

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com. Print version:  $18.00. Includes postage! Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

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Michael Arruda reviews horror movies throughout history, from the silent classics of the 1920s, Universal horror from the 1930s-40s, Hammer Films of the 1950s-70s, all the way through the instant classics of today. If you like to read about horror movies, this is the book for you!

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, first short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

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Print cover

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Ebook cover

 

Michael Arruda’s first short story collection, featuring a wraparound story which links all the tales together, asks the question: can you have a relationship when your partner is surrounded by the supernatural? If you thought normal relationships were difficult, wait to you read about what the folks in these stories have to deal with. For the love of horror!

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DESPERADOS (2020) – Vulgar Rom Com Actually Has Charm and Provides Laughs

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Sarah Burns, Nasim Pedrad, and Anna Camp sending an off-color email in DESPERADOS (2020), setting the stage for the ensuing madcap comedy.

DESPERADOS (2020), a new rom com currently available on Netflix, is getting deplorable reviews.  But I enjoyed this one. I liked the characters, and I laughed quite a bit, which for me is the true indicator of a good comedy. Make me laugh, and I’m in.

DESPERADOS made me laugh.

Wesley (Nasim Pedrad) is having a tough go at it. She can’t get a job, as her efforts to land a position as a school guidance counselor continue to be fruitless. She’s having no luck with dating, as the men she’s interested in keep marrying other women, and her latest blind date with a guy named Sean (Lamorne Morris) is over within minutes. But when she meets Jared (Robbie Amell) she is swept off her feet, and the two hit it off immediately and share a night of passionate lovemaking.

However, the following week, Jared ghosts her, as he doesn’t reply to her texts. Frustrated, she and her two best friends, Brooke (Anna Camp) and Kaylie (Sarah Burns) get drunk and decide to write Jared the nastiest email ever, which they do. And just as they are sending it, Jared calls Wesley and tells her he’s in a hospital in Mexico recovering from a nasty accident, and that he’s been in a medically induced coma all week.

Oops!

Wesley decides that there is no way she can allow Jared to read that email, and she deduces that the only way to do this is to go to Mexico herself, find Jared’s computer, which is in his hotel room, and delete the email herself before he’s released from the hospital. Brooke and Kaylie agree to go with her.

And so the rest of the movie follows their madcap attempts at finding that computer and deleting the email.

As stories go, the one told in DESPERADOS is nothing new or special, but there’s just something amiable about it that had me chuckling throughout. In spite of its frequent and not always successful vulgar humor, there’s a simple playfulness present in this movie that hearkens way, way back to the classic rom coms of yesteryear, those Doris Day/Rock Hudson gems from the 1950s-60s.

And DESPERADOS wastes no time. Its pre-credit sequence where Wesley interviews with a nun for a guidance counselor position at a Catholic school, and she’s pretty much got the job, but she keeps on talking about her views on sex and masturbation, for instance, is— well, flat out hilarious is what it is! I was laughing out loud before the opening credits, and that for me was a very good sign.

The screenplay by Ellen Rapoport is very funny. It does get lewd and crude, and not always with good results. For instance, there’s an explicit bit with a dolphin that I did not find funny at all. Nor did I enjoy the running gag about Wesley being accused of being a pedophile because she keeps crossing paths with a young boy in various unintended sexual situations, and the boy obviously develops a crush on her. Honestly, I found nothing comical about this plot point.

However, the frank and colorful conversations among Wesley and her best friends Brooke and Kaylie about sex I found hilarious. There’s a line about going down and “would you rather” that made me laugh out loud.

The physical comedy is also very good. Director LP sets up lots of slapstick scenes, from Wesley’s attempts to climb an electric fence to a dubious leap from a hotel balcony.

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE alum Nasim Pedrad excels as Wesley, and she really does carry this movie. She’s extremely entertaining, and since she’s in nearly every scene, I couldn’t help but enjoy watching from beginning to end.

She also shares strong chemistry with Lamorne Morris, as his character Sean by chance also happens to be in Mexico. He helps her on her mission to rescue her relationship with Jared. Of course in doing so, he and Wesley begin to fall for each other. Again, not the most original plot point, but it works here thanks to solid writing and first-rate performances by Pedrad and Morris. Morris starred in the TV show NEW GIRL (2011-18), and interestingly enough Pedrad also co-starred on that show for a time as Morris’ love interest.

Anna Camp and Sarah Burns round out the cast as Wesley’s friends Brooke and Kaylie, and they each enjoy fine moments in the movie. The scene where they attempt to pick up two guys at a bar in Mexico is one of the crudest yet funniest scenes in the movie.

And Heather Graham shows up towards the film’s end as a spiritual guru Angel de la Paz in what could have been a total throwaway role, but it’s not. She hangs around long enough to have a key scene in the movie.

Does all of DESPERADOS work? Nope.  Some of it doesn’t, like its depiction of the Mexican hotel workers, which I found to be cliche and beneath the type of characterizations we should be seeing in the here and now. But overall I laughed much more than I thought I would.

 

I actually enjoyed DESPERADOS more than the well-received rom com THE HALF OF IT (2020), simply because I laughed more. I also thought it was far funnier than THE LOVEBIRDS (2020), COFFEE & KAREEM (2020), and LIKE A BOSS (2020), some other recent comedies I’ve reviewed this year.

If you’re looking to laugh, and you don’t mind your rom coms on the vulgar side, look no further than DESPERADOS. Ignore what critics are saying. It’s the real deal. In spite of its formulaic plot, it has a romantic story tucked away neatly inside its frank sexual conversations and crass sight gags, culminating in a movie that somehow manages to capture the spirit of the classic romantic comedies of yesteryear, and it does this by giving us flawed characters who mean well, and comedy that actually makes us laugh.

And these days, where finding a good movie comedy is proving as difficult as finding disinfectant cleaners at the grocery store, that’s saying quite a lot.

—END—

 

COFFEE & KAREEM (2020) – Dumb Comedy Provides Some Laughs

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Sometimes I find myself shaking my head and asking, why did I choose to watch this movie again?

That’s what I did with COFFEE & KAREEM (2020), a new comedy on Netflix starring Ed Helms about a white cop in Detroit dating a black woman who gets involved in a madcap misadventure with the woman’s 12 year-old son after the youth attempts to have him killed. Doesn’t this sound like a fun movie? Nope.

But the trailer actually looked funny, I like Ed Helms, and I thought that perhaps this interracial plot would have something redeeming to say for our current troubled times.

And while COFFEE & KAREEM is far too dumb to provide any relevant social commentary, the one saving grace and the one thing that kept me from hating this movie is a lot of its jokes are really pretty funny. I laughed frequently, which for a comedy, is a good thing.

Coffee (Ed Helms) is a rather ineffective police officer on the Detroit police force. In fact, after he allows a drug dealer to escape from his custody, he’s relegated to traffic duty. But his problems are just beginning. See, he’s dating the lovely Vanessa Manning (Taraji P. Henson), who happens to be black, and her wannabe-gangsta twelve year-old son Kareem (Terrence Little Gardenhigh) is having none of it. His mom dating a white guy? Who’s a cop? Not on his watch! So, Kareem hatches a plan to pay a drug dealer— the same one who escaped from Coffee’s police cruiser— to teach the officer a lesson.

Of course, this being a screwball comedy, things don’t go as planned, and the next thing you know Coffee and Kareem are fleeing for their lives from violent drug dealers and crooked cops, and to survive, they have to set aside their differences and work together. Yep, it’s an old fashioned buddy comedy, this one of the father and son variety. Step-son, that is.

As plots go, this one is silly, trite, and relentlessly stupid. In fact, the plot is the worst part of the movie. It’s one of those films where because the story is so phony you wish you weren’t stuck watching it. It’s also one of those plots where every cop is crooked. Of course, in this day and age, you might be thinking, that’s not so unrealistic, but seriously, it is. And no effort is made to make any of what happens here real or believable.

But a lot of the jokes work, enough to save this one from being a complete turkey. There are some laugh out loud visual gags, one involving a hand grenade, another involving Taraji P. Henson’s violent take-down of two henchmen. Ed Helms and Terrence Little Gardenhigh share frequent funny moments together, and the three drug dealer heavies channel a Three Stooges vibe throughout which is most welcome, like one scene where before they break into a house one of them rings the doorbell, and there’s a whole ensuing discussion about the stupidity of doing so.

The screenplay by Shane Mack provides plenty of comical moments, but they’re all stuck in a plot that is as boring as a routine traffic stop.

I like Ed Helms, and he’s humorous here, but Officer Coffee is a difficult character to rally around. He’s the cliche last honest guy on the police force, and while he has plenty of admirable qualities, he’s more a buffoon than anything else. Helms has been far funnier before, especially in THE HANGOVER movies, the insanity of which COFFEE & KAREEM tries to capture, but the advantage THE HANGOVER movies had, or at least the first one anyway, was that in spite of the crazy happenings, somehow it was all rooted in reality. It all seemed real, which is not the case with COFFEE & KAREEM. Helms also knocked it out of the park in dramatic fashion in CHAPPAQUIDDICK (2017), in which he played it straight as Ted Kennedy’s advisor and friend Joseph Gargan.

Terrence Little Gardenhigh has a field day as twelve year-old Kareem, and much of the movie seems to be tailored around him. Trouble is, I just didn’t find this foul-mouthed youth to be a very likable character. The R-rated comedy GOOD BOYS (2019) took a similar route with a bunch of fifth graders and turned up the vulgarity, but that film worked because one, the kids were endearing, and two, much of the raunchiness in that story happened to the kids, and the comedy was their reactions to it. Here, Kareem is anything but endearing, as his plot to have his mom’s boyfriend killed isn’t funny at all, and he’s not simply reacting to vulgar events. He’s vulgarity personified.

I like Taraji P. Henson a lot, as she has delivered some powerhouse dramatic performances in such movies as HIDDEN FIGURES (2016) and THE BEST OF ENEMIES (2019). Here, she plays things for laughs, and while she’s not in this one all that much, she makes her few scenes count.

On the other hand, Betty Gilpin is wasted in a completely cliche role as the aggressive crooked cop Detective Watts. The role has no range, and Gilpin plays it one note throughout. Gilpin, who for me was the best part of the recent thriller THE HUNT (2020), is not allowed to do much here other than be combative and crazy.

I did enjoy RonReaco Lee, Andrew Bachelor, and William “Big Sleeps” Stewart as the three drug dealing baddies, who as I said channeled a Three Stooges vibe throughout and made me laugh nearly every time they were on screen.

COFFEE & KAREEM was directed by Michael Dowse. He must like buddy comedies, because he also directed STUBER (2019), a buddy comedy starring Dave Bautista as a cop who recruits the help of his Uber driver Stu, played by Kumail Nanjiani. STUBER was an amiable comedy, but it also wasn’t anything to write home about.

COFFEE & KAREEM is a subpar comedy that will not have you reminiscing about the buddy cop comedies of old, except to recall how much better they were. There are laughs to be sure, and this is to be commended, but the unrealistic story was a snooze, so in spite of the jokes, I found this one hard to sit through.

As much as I like coffee, this one had me yearning for tea.

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