AIR (2023) – Director Ben Affleck Knows How to Tell a Story, Even a Lackluster One like Nike’s Signing Michael Jordan


If you’re a fan of the 1980s, the opening montage in AIR (2023), with its 80s songs and pop culture clips including movies, celebrities, politicians, athletes, and even TV commercials— Where’s the beef? –— is worth the price of admission alone.

It’s a fun way to get things started in this story of how Nike went from chasing Adidas and Converse in the sneaker market to achieving number one status by developing a basketball shoe line exclusively for Michael Jordan, before he had even played one game in the NBA. It was a gutsy move that no one had done before, but it paid off, as Jordan did indeed become arguably the best basketball player of all time, and because of this deal, his career lifted Nike to new levels.

Everything about AIR is fun and amiable. There is no question that this is one very entertaining movie. But the bigger question is, why should anyone care?

For example, upon leaving the theater, I overheard a conversation between two moviegoers, where one was complaining to the other that he didn’t like the movie because this was a movie about Michael Jordan, and Michael Jordan really isn’t in this movie at all. That’s a legitimate concern. Of course, the answer is that AIR really isn’t about Michael Jordan. It’s about Sonny Vaccaro, the Nike talent scout who came up with the plan to build a shoe line around just the one athlete, Jordan, and who convinced Nike to agree to his controversial plan. So, at the end of the day, AIR is not a story about the greatest basketball player of all time, but a story about a shoe deal that made some folks in the sneaker business an awful lot of money. Not exactly a rags to riches story.

AIR opens with Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) lamenting that the basketball department doesn’t have a big enough budget to compete with Adidas and Converse, but Nike CEO Phil Knight (Ben Affleck) tells him he’s lucky he has any budget at all because the basketball division continues to underperform. He tells Sonny the board wants to dismantle the basketball division entirely. Frustrated that they’re about to sign the usual three lackluster NBA players to contracts, Sonny struggles to come up with a different plan. While watching a video of Michael Jordan’s NCAA championship game winning shot, he sees something he hadn’t seen before, and with a new way of looking at the game’s final seconds, decides that Jordan has what it takes to be a championship caliber player.

Sonny comes up with the idea of using their entire budget on Jordan alone. That will enable them to be competitive with Adidas and Converse. Plus, unlike Adidas and Converse, Nike will be able to say to Jordan that they will be the only company to design an entire shoe line for him and him alone, in effect already telling Jordan that they see him as the future of the NBA, that they’re not placing him alongside Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. They’re placing him above Johnson and Bird. It’s a controversial idea, especially since Jordan was already on record as saying he did not like Nike and was going to sign with Adidas.

But Sonny decided to gamble, and once he convinced Knight to go along with the plan, it became a bet that could make or break the company, and as history showed, it was a bet that paid off.

So, really, what this story is about is a bunch of middle-aged white guys trying to save their jobs by signing a basketball player to an exclusive shoe contract even before he has even played one game in the NBA. Which, honestly, isn’t the most inspirational story going. Sorry.

Now, this is not me knocking AIR or finding fault with it, because truthfully, I enjoyed AIR quite a bit. And why shouldn’t I? It has a lot of things going for it.

It’s directed by Ben Affleck, for starters, whose body of work I really like. I like the way Affleck directs movies. He knows how to tell a story. I’ve enjoyed nearly all his previous directorial efforts, films like ARGO (2012), THE TOWN (2010), GONE BABY GONE (2007), and even LIVE BY NIGHT (2016) which wasn’t as critically acclaimed, I thought was a very good movie. And Affleck is back doing his thing here with AIR. While I don’t find this to be the most inspirational story, it’s nonetheless masterfully told by Affleck.

And the screenplay by Alex Convery is a crowd-pleaser. The dialogue is sharp, snappy, and funny. The movie is filled with many laugh-out loud moments. I saw this in a crowded theater, several weeks after its initial release, which is saying something for its popularity, and there was plenty of laughter in all the right places, and people seemed to genuinely like this one. I certainly did.

Matt Damon is likable as Sonny Vaccaro. He plays Vaccaro as a guy who thinks outside the box and goes the extra mile to get the job done, attributes that make him a likable character. The last time I saw Damon in a major role was in FORD V. FERRARI (2019), in which he played a somewhat similar role to this one, as in FORD V. FERRARI Damon was a race car designer trying to design a car to defeat the much-heralded Ferrari cars which were dominating the racing industry at the time. With its thrilling race car scenes, I enjoyed FORD V. FERRARI slightly more than AIR, but thematically, their stories and Damon’s roles in them are similar.

Jason Bateman plays department head Rob Strasser, Sonny’s immediate boss, and Bateman and Damon enjoy some notable scenes together, one in particular where Rob tells Sonny just what he stands to lose if Sonny’s gambit fails, and pretty much tells Sonny he wishes he hadn’t put the company in this position.

Chris Tucker has a field day as Howard White, the one person of color on the team whose smooth-talking skills usually helps them with their basketball clients. It was fun to see Tucker on the big screen again. It had been a while.

Viola Davis delivers a very understated and rather subdued performance as Deloris Jordan, Michael Jordan’s mother who pretty much made all the business decisions for him. The fact that Sonny impressed her with his honesty about what Nike would do specifically for her son and why, because he believed Michael was going to become bigger than the NBA itself, was a major reason why Michael Jordan even agreed to meet with Nike in the first place.

Chris Messina also impresses as Michael Jordan’s agent David Falk, a cutthroat shark of a man who is all about making lots of money. The fiery conversation between him and Sonny where he lambastes Sonny for visiting the Jordan home, in effect circumventing him in the negotiation process, is a highlight of the movie.

Matthew Maher is terrific in a small role as Peter Moore, the sneaker designer who came up with the design for Jordan’s shoe, and who also came up with the name “Air Jordan.”

And Ben Affleck effortlessly plays Nike CEO Phil Knight, who divides his time between berating Sonny for his poor performance and giving him and all his employees philosophical and self-help advice. Knight also isn’t deaf to Sonny’s entreaties that the company needed to return to its roots, words that remained with Knight and ultimately led to his buying into Sonny’s decision. Affleck is a terrific actor who is starting to become underrated because of his success.

The best scene in the movie is the sequence where the Jordan family arrives at Nike for the big boardroom pitch by Sonny and his team. You can feel the tension in the room when it seems as if they are losing their pitch, as their efforts continually appear to fall flat, which leads to Sonny making an eleventh-hour inspirational speech.

It’s a terrific moment in the movie, but one that reiterates that the story told in AIR is limited. After all, what is at stake here if the deal goes south? A bunch of men don’t make a lot of money, and some might lose their jobs. Michael Jordan signs with Adidas and most likely still goes on to become the best player in NBA history. Not exactly a pivotal moment in history.

So, is this a strike against the movie? Yes! This story didn’t interest me at all. However, the way Ben Affleck told this story, and the way the actors performed in it, made it a damned fine entertaining flick! I liked AIR. I just didn’t think its story was all that important.

The best part of AIR is the work behind the camera by Ben Affleck. He knows how to tell a story. Clint Eastwood once said he made movies that his dad would like. And I got that. Eastwoods’ films were often “guy” films, but more importantly, they were films which told stories that worked. Eastwood as a director has always known how to tell stories. Ben Affleck shares this gift, and like Eastwood, has a real flare for telling stories from behind the camera.

The story AIR has to tell isn’t all that remarkable, but it’s a very good movie, because its director knows how tell it.

I give it three stars.



Four stars – Perfect, Top of the line

Three and a half stars- Excellent

Three stars – Very Good

Two and a half stars – Good

Two Stars – Fair

One and a half stars – Pretty Weak

One star- Poor

Zero stars – Awful

Worst Movies of 2021


Welcome back! As promised, here is my list of the Top 10 Worst Movies of 2021.

As I did with my Best Movies List, I’m placing an asterisk next to this one, as once again, the pandemic has prevented trips to the movie theaters from being a safe activity, and so with this in mind, I know we haven’t all seen the same movies since we are not all heading out to the movie theaters to see the same national releases. I know there are plenty of movies I missed this year.

Okay, let’s get on with it. Without further hesitation, here is my list of the Top 10 Worst Movies of 2021:

10. CRY MACHO – probably the dullest movie I watched all year. Clint Eastwood directs and stars in this tale of a former rodeo star (Eastwood) who goes to Mexico to bring back his boss’s teenage son to the States, and along the way, the two form a bond in this underwhelming buddy movie. While I am in awe of Clint Eastwood, who at 91 years old, is still making quality movies, the story here in CRY MACHO doesn’t do him any favors. The storytelling is muddled, and Eastwood seems to be playing a character who is much younger than 91, although the script never makes this clear. Not much to like about this one, even for Eastwood fans.

9. FEAR STREET: PART TWO – 1978 – Yeah, I know. For a lot of folks, this second installment in the Netflix FEAR STREET horror movie trilogy was the best of the lot, but for me, it was the worst. Each part served as an homage to a particular horror movie genre, and here in FEAR STREET: PART TWO – 1978 that genre is the FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH movies. I’m going to ruffle more feathers here as well when I say honestly that I’ve never liked the FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH movies and have found them all to be particularly bad. FEAR STREET: PART TWO does a nice job capturing the feel of these movies, but at the end of the day, it’s yet another variation of teenagers at a summer camp being slaughtered in the most unrealistically gruesome of ways. If that’s your cup of tea, you probably love this movie. But it’s not mine. I prefer intelligence in my horror.

8. GODZILLA VS. KONG – Again, this is one that a lot of people really liked, but for me, even as a fan of giant monster movies, especially King Kong movies, and Godzilla movies as well, this one was simply bad. I find it difficult to understand why this movie has so many fans when its script is so weak. The human characters are all forgettable, the situations unrealistic and uninspiring, and the dialogue is pretty poor. So, all you have left are the giant monsters in combat. And even those scenes didn’t do much for me. I know the argument is out there that that’s how the old Toho Godzilla movies all were. That’s a fair argument, up to a point. What always saved the Toho films was that Godzilla and his friends all had personality. The monsters in these modern-day versions do not. Plus, movies like KING KONG (1933) and THEM! (1954) did have superior scripts. These new giant monster movies do not. Instead, the modern-day giant monster movie (mostly Godzilla and Kong these days) has been reduced to special effects only, without any interest in creating any kind of a story worth telling.

7. COMING 2 AMERICA – the original COMING TO AMERICA (1988) starring Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall was very funny. This sequel, in spite of the return of Murphy and Hall, is not. Next movie…

6. TYGER TYGER – this was a movie that I fully expected to like, because it was so different and quirky, with a sense of style that I thought would make it a winner. But this tale of a pair of selfless robbers who kidnap a drug addict before they all find themselves hiding out in a bizarre psychedelic city is probably better enjoyed when you’re high! Seriously! The longer this one went on, the less sense it made, and by the time it was all over, it largely had become a wasted opportunity. No pun intended!

5. THE LITTLE THINGS – in spite of the presence of Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, and Jared Leto this one just doesn’t work. Washington plays a former detective who’s called in to help with a serial killer case, and the character he plays is known for spotting the little things others miss in these cases. Trouble is, the script barely shows him doing this. Malek plays the hotshot detective who calls in Washington for help, but the choices he makes throughout the movie make him seen anything but a hotshot detective. And Leto plays the man they suspect is the serial killer. This one should have been awesome. Instead, it’s a muddled meandering tale that gets worse as it goes along with a particularly weak ending.

4. WITHOUT REMORSE- With a script by one of my favorite screenwriters, Taylor Sheridan, I fully expected to like this adaptation of a Tom Clancy novel, but instead it proved to be Sheridan’s first real misfire. Michael B. Jordan plays an elite Navy Seal who’s gone rogue to solve the murder of his wife, only to find— of course— that it’s all part of a larger conspiracy. What. A. Surprise. Yawn.

And now, the drum roll please. Here are my Top 3 Worst Movies from 2021:

3. SWEET GIRL -Hands down, the worst action movie of the year. Jason Momoa plays a man who vows revenge against a pharmaceutical company after its “business decision” pulled a drug from the market which could have saved his terminally ill wife. So, hubby goes insane and plots to kill the heads of this company, who, while they are undesirable, probably don’t deserve to be killed. So, there’s that initial problem. But wait, there’s more! There’s a larger conspiracy! Of course, there always is. Plus, Momoa’s character against his better judgement is constantly bringing his teenage daughter with him and training her to protect herself and be an assassin vigilante like him… and then, thanks to a bizarre plot twist, his character disappears from the second half of the movie. So, yes, you have an action film headlined by Jason Momoa, that halfway through ditches its star. Ugh.

2. MADRES – the worst horror movie of the year. This tale of a Mexican American couple who move to a new community in 1970s California that seems to have a weird sinister secret involving pregnant women, doesn’t know how to get out of its own way. The film aims for a ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968) and THE STEPFORD WIVES (1975) vibe but fails on both counts. This one is based on true events, and its reveal at the end is actually very good, but the problem is the film tries so hard to hide this reveal with a supernatural tale that is so lame it makes the movie completely ineffective. Had the filmmakers chosen to focus on what this film is ultimately about, it would have been a far darker, more memorable movie.

And now, drum roll please, the Worst Movie of 2021:

1. THUNDER FORCE – by far, the worst comedy of the year. Melissa McCarthy plays a woman who inherits superpowers thanks to her scientist friend played by Octavia Spencer. They then take on the world’s supervillains. Should have been funny. But it’s not. Jason Bateman fares the best as a supervillain known as The Crab. Written and directed by McCarthy’s husband Ben Falcone.

And there you have it. My picks for the Top 10 Worst Movies of 2021. Now, let’s move on to 2022.

As always, thanks for reading!


THUNDER FORCE (2021) – Latest In Long Line of Unfunny Movie Comedies


I was really in the mood for a comedy this weekend. I needed to unwind and laugh and was looking for a movie to help me do just that.

Sadly, I chose THUNDER FORCE (2021), the new Netflix superhero comedy starring Melissa McCarthy and Octavia Spencer.

THUNDER FORCE is the latest in a long line of movie comedies that simply aren’t funny. I’ve said this many times, but it bears repeating: the movie comedy right now is the one movie genre that is in the most trouble. You just don’t see many good ones any more. Where have all the great comic geniuses of the world gone? They’re not out there making movies, that I can tell you!

THUNDER FORCE also isn’t helped by its plot, the idea that every day people suddenly inherit superpowers and become superheroes. This theme has been overdone in such recent films like UNKNOWN ORIGINS (2020) and PROJECT: POWER (2020), two serious superhero movies that also weren’t all that good.

But the biggest problem with THUNDER FORCE is it is simply not that funny. Director/writer and Melissa McCarthy hubby Ben Falcone has written a script that includes potentially humorous scenarios but without clever crisp jokes to pull these scenes off, leaving the audience with nary a chuckle. I barely laughed. In fact, within the first few minutes of this one, I was seriously bored, and the film runs a very long one hour and forty six minutes. That’s an excruciatingly long time to not be funny.

And to be bored by a movie which stars Melissa McCarthy and Octavia Spencer, two actors I really enjoy, says a lot!

McCarthy and Spencer play best friends Lydia and Emily, and they’ve been friends since high school, and the movie actually spends a good chunk of its opening minutes playing out their entire back story, which is as dull a way to open a superhero comedy as one can imagine! You have to wait 10-15 minutes before McCarthy and Spencer even show up. They live in Chicago during a time when evil super powered Miscreants terrorize the world. Spencer’s Emily lost her parents to Miscreants, and she has vowed to defeat them in her parents’ name. Hmm. Where have I heard that before? I’m surprised she doesn’t live in a cave and have a butler named Alfred. Anyway, Emily has worked her entire life on finding a way to give ordinary people superpowers, and one day while hanging around inside her best friend’s lab, Lydia accidentally receives those powers, and the next thing you know, she and Emily are a pair of unlikely superheroes who go by the name of Thunder Force taking on the city’s villainous Miscreants, led by the corrupt politician The King (Bobby Cannavale) and his henchmen The Crab (Jason Bateman) and Laser (Pom Klementieff).


Actually this plot would have been fine had the jokes been funny. But they’re not. This is as unfunny a comedy as I’ve seen in a while. If you want to understand the level of humor here, it reminded me of another awful Netflix comedy which also used Force in its title, the excruciatingly mundane TV series SPACE FORCE which starred Steve Carell and John Malkovich. Both of these projects are prime examples of forced humor!

This is also about as unfunny as I’ve seen Melissa McCarthy, and I’m a fan. She has a few minor moments here and there, but that’s about it. Octavia Spencer pretty much plays it straight, which means she fits in with the overall tone of the movie, which in spite of supposedly being a comedy, can’t seem to garner a laugh.

The villains fare the best, which isn’t saying much. Bobby Cannavale as The King is at least interesting to watch, even if the running gag of him not knowing his henchmen’s names is never all that comical. Jason Bateman enjoys the best moments in the movie as The Crab, a human Miscreant hybrid with crab claws for hands. He gets some of the better lines in the movie, and he pulls them off with ease, and his scenes with Melissa McCarthy were about the only times in the movie where I felt compelled to pay attention. The rest was a snore fest.

If Pom Klementieff as Laser looks like she walked off the set of a Marvel superhero movie, that’s because she plays Mantis in that Cinematic Universe, and the two characters resemble each other. She’s actually funnier as Mantis.

Melissa Leo is completely lost in a nothing role as Allie, the third member and behind the scenes operative of Thunder Force.

Ben Falcone has written and directed other Melissa McCarthy movies. I didn’t see their most recent collaboration, SUPERINTELLIGENCE (2020), but their film before that, LIFE OF THE PARTY (2018), which also opened to negative reviews, I actually liked and laughed quite a bit. Not so here with THUNDER FORCE. Too much time is spent on the super hero plot, which is lame and forgettable, and not enough time is spent on honing the humor.

If you are looking for laughs, you’ll need to keep on looking because you won’t find them in THUNDER FORCE. It’s one of the dullest comedies I’ve seen in a long time.


GAME NIGHT (2018) – Gimmicky Comedy Will Make You Laugh




Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams in GAME NIGHT (2018)

Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams) love to play games.

In fact, that’s how they met, at a pub trivia game night, as seen in a pre-credit sequence. And they love games so much that Max even proposes to Annie at a game night, and the theme of their ensuing wedding— you guessed it, game night!

Yes, Max and Annie love game night.

But will you love the movie GAME NIGHT (2018), the latest comedy by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, the guys who wrote HORRIBLE BOSSES (2011)?

Chances are you will, because it’s a pretty funny film.

So Max and Annie host game nights regularly at their home with a group of close friends, although they try their best to exclude their neighbor Gary (Jesse Plemons) who is somewhat of an odd duck. When Max’s brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) shows up and invites them all to what he calls the ultimate game night at his house the following week, they all agree.  Max and Annie agree because they find Brooks arrogant and annoying, as he always seems to win the games they play, and he constantly insults Max in the process.  Max and Annie plan to win the game at Brooks’ house.

Brooks explains that his ultimate game night is going to be a live action mystery game, and he’s hired actors from a game company to perform a kidnapping storyline, and whoever finds all the clues and solves the kidnapping mystery wins. But real life thugs show up and engage in a fierce fight with Brooks, since Brooks has run afoul of some pretty nasty people, but Max and Annie and their friends watch in amusement, thinking it’s all part of the game, and when Brooks is whisked away, they believe the game is for them to find him.

And that’s the gimmick of GAME NIGHT, at least for the first half of the film. Things change when they figure out what’s happening, and then the comedy is all about trying to save Brooks for real.

GAME NIGHT is a very gimmicky comedy, but it’s a gimmick that works.  There are plenty of laughs, the pacing is good, and this one flies by fast. The audience I saw it with seemed to like it a lot, as there was plenty of loud laughter.

As I said, John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein wrote HORRIBLE BOSSES, a comedy I liked a lot, but this time they didn’t write the screenplay.  They directed GAME NIGHT. The writing honors went to Mark Perez. The jokes do work, but the humor isn’t as dark or outrageous as in HORRIBLE BOSSES. Most of the comedy comes from characters not knowing what’s really going on and acting in ways which they wouldn’t act had they known.

As plots go, the one in GAME NIGHT is contrived and not at all convincing, but the jokes work, and that’s because the film’s gimmick works. It’s fun to watch these folks in action in situations they’ve got figured all wrong.

One of the funniest bits is the sequence where Annie has to extract a bullet from Max’s arm.  It had the audience howling with laughter.  But there aren’t many of these raucous laugh-out-loud moments.  GAME NIGHT is not on the level of a film like THE HANGOVER (2009) which pushed the envelope throughout.  Mark Perez’ screenplay has its moments, but most of them are of the smaller chuckle variety, although there are lots of these moments throughout.

As directors, John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein keep the pace moving fast.

For the most part, Jason Bateman is funny as Max, although at times he’s a bit too mellow for what’s going on around him. I enjoyed Rachel McAdams more as Annie.  I thought most of her scenes were hilarious. While not on the same level as her work as reporter Sacha Pfeiffer in SPOTLIGHT (2015), it’s still a fun performance, more so than her recent role as Christine Palmer in DOCTOR STRANGE (2016).

Kyle Chandler is at his roguish best as Max’s annoying brother Brooks, and Jesse Plemons, who continues to turn up everywhere these days, does a nice job playing oddball neighbor Gary. This is the third film I’ve seen Plemons in this year, following on the heels of THE POST (2017) and HOSTILES (2017). Plemons of course had a memorable role as Todd during the last season of BREAKING BAD (2012-13).

Sharon Horgan stands out as Sarah, a character who’s new to game night, as she’s the latest date for Ryan (Billy Magnussen) who brings a new date to each game night, only Sarah is different.  Usually Ryan brings beautiful but shallow dates to the contests, but this time, since he wants to win, he invites Sarah, who’s a bit older and wiser. Sarah spends her time exposing Ryan for the mental lightweight that he is.  And in the role of Ryan, Billy Magnussen is pretty funny.

Rounding out the game night friends are Kevin (Lamorne Morris) and his wife Michelle (Kylie Bunbury). Morris currently stars in the TV show NEW GIRL (2011-2018).

GAME NIGHT isn’t a particularly realistic comedy, and at times this hurts the movie, since the characters as a whole aren’t very believable.  But the majority of the jokes work, and at the end of the day, that’s still the best way to judge a comedy.

Other scenes that worked were Max’ misadventure with Gary’s dog, the sequence where Max and Annie force the real thugs on their knees at gunpoint, and Annie suggests they do so in a yoga position, and the chase involving the stolen egg.

Not everything works.  The subplot of Max and Annie struggling to have a baby is meh. Likewise the storyline involving Kevin’s trying to figure out which celebrity his wife Michelle once slept with is forced and goes on too long.  The jokes certainly could have been darker and more outrageous, but GAME NIGHT is funny enough to overcome these weaknesses.

GAME NIGHT is an uneven comedy that still provides plenty of laughter, thanks to a clever gimmick and fun performances by the entire cast.

At the end of the day, GAME NIGHT is a winner.







Horrible Bosses 2 - poster

Here’s my CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT review of HORRIBLE BOSSES 2 (2014) which went live this past weekend at, your home for nonstop movie content posted nearly every day.


Movie Review by Michael Arruda

(THE SCENE: A dentist’s office.  MICHAEL ARRUDA sits in the dental chair, as a beautiful female dentist approaches him with a seductive walk.)

DENTIST BABE (in a sultry voice):  I’m going to blow— your mind.

MICHAEL ARRUDA (smiles dreamily at the camera):  The things I do for this column.

DENTIST BABE:  And after that I’ll stroke— your ego.

MA:  My ego is looking forward to it.  But first I have a movie to review.

DENTIST BABE:  Review the movie later.

MA:  I wish I could, but a movie reviewer’s job is never done.  We’ll finish this conversation later.

DENTIST BABE:  We’ll do more than that. (Whispers in MA’s ear.)

MA:  Wow.  I think my deductible just went up.

Welcome everyone to another edition of CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT.  I’m flying solo tonight as L.L. Soares is off on another assignment.

Tonight’s movie is HORRIBLE BOSSES 2 (2014), the inevitable sequel to HORRIBLE BOSSES (2011), a film I liked a lot, but seriously, did it really need a sequel?  I don’t think so.

Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, and Jason Sudekis are back once again as three hapless friends who once more find themselves on the wrong side of an inept crime attempt, only this time it’s not murder but a harebrained kidnapping scheme.

The film opens with Nick (Jason Bateman), Dale (Charlie Day), and Kurt (Jason Sudekis) trying to make it in the business world on their own.  Since they had such horrible bosses in the first movie, they’ve decided to start their own business and be their own bosses.  Their idea is the “Shower Buddy” a type of shower head that not only sprays water but shampoo as well, an idea they modeled after the contraptions used in car washes.

They’re approached by businessman Bert Hanson (Christoph Waltz) and his son Rex (Chris Pine) who agree to finance their “Shower Buddy” venture.  But when Bert and Rex double cross Nick, Dale, and Kurt, and steal their business idea from them, the three buddies decide to fight back.  Realizing that their attempts at murder didn’t work out very well last time, they decide this time to try their hand at kidnapping.

They plan to kidnap Rex and force his father Bert to pay a huge ransom for his return, and to this end they turn to their old friend MF Jones (Jamie Foxx) for advice.  As you would imagine, things don’t go as planned, and Nick, Dale, and Kurt spend the rest of the movie getting into one bind after another.  The harder they try to make their plot work, the worse things get for them.

One of the best things about the first HORRIBLE BOSSES was that it had a fun story that made sense.  Three guys, each with a horrible boss, decide to take a page out of Hitchcock’s STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (1951) and murder each other’s bosses.  It had a proven gimmick, and it was funny.

HORRIBLE BOSSES 2, however, doesn’t have this gimmick.  The idea that these three guys would try to kidnap someone after they failed so miserably at their attempts at crime in the first film makes little sense.  I didn’t believe the plot in this one for a second.

DENTIST BABE:  But it’s a silly comedy.  Why do you care about the plot?

MA:  Well, it’s not so much about caring about the plot.  It’s more a matter of having the story make sense so the film plays out like a comic story rather than just a series of random jokes by three funny guys.

DENTIST BABE:  I don’t see what the big deal is.  Speaking of big, you’ve got the biggest- smile.

MA:  Gee, thanks.

Anyway, getting back to the review, the story in HORRIBLE BOSSES 2 is secondary.  It’s goofy and implausible, and so while there are plenty of funny parts in this movie, it’s never as fun as its predecessor, which in spite of its over-the-top humor did have a solid story.

HORRIBLE BOSSES 2 definitely plays out like a sequel.  It’s got the same characters from the first film back again for another go at crime, only this time it’s all rather unnecessary.  Give me a better more plausible story and I like this movie much more.  It also scores high on the raunchy meter, at least in terms of language, but this doesn’t always translate into laughs, and it doesn’t here.

DENTIST BABE:  Raunchy?  That sounds like my type of movie.

MA:  Yes, you probably would like this one more than me, no doubt, but then again, my reasons for not loving it have little to do with it being raunchy.  I just wanted it to be funnier.

DENIST BABE:  I like raunchy.  (Again, whispers in MA’s ear.)

MA:  Enough of that.  I need a clear mind until I finish this review.  Okay?  Clear!

DENTIST BABE:  Clear, as in this.  (With her back to the camera, she opens her white dentist coat and flashes MA.)

MA (looks at camera): What movie am I reviewing again?


MA:  Yes, of course.

DENTIST BABE:  Are you done yet?

MA:  Not the words I want to hear from a woman.  But, I am almost finished with the review.  Onward!

Jason Bateman as Nick is the one guy with a head on his shoulders.  He spends the movie telling his friends Dale and Kurt what idiots they are and how bad their ideas are, and of course they don’t listen to him.  Bateman’s pretty much the straight man throughout, and he’s much more enjoyable here than he was in last year’s BAD WORDS (2013).

Jason Sudekis as Kurt and Charlie Day as Dale play equally inept buffoons, and seriously, I don’t remember them being as completely clueless in the last movie as they are in this one.  Sometimes they were a little too idiotic and did things that were so stupid they weren’t really funny.  In one scene their plan for breaking into a home was contingent on the door being unlocked.  Seriously?  Still, Sudekis and Day are both pretty funny, and they get most of the laughs in the movie, but I enjoyed them both more in the first film than in this one.

Chris Pine has a field day playing the wildly unpredictable Rex Hanson, and while it was fun to watch Pine ham it up, unfortunately the character really wasn’t all that funny.  Christoph Waltz as Rex’s father Bert plays the heavy here, but it’s a do-nothing standard villain role for Waltz, a role way beneath Waltz’s acting abilities.

Jamie Foxx gets a decent share of laughs in his reprisal of the character MF Jones from the first movie, but it’s a shtick we’ve seen before and in this movie it’s nothing new.  Incidentally, this film reunites Foxx for the first time with his co-star Christoph Waltz from DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012) although they don’t share any scenes in this one, and that’s too bad.  It might have been fun to have a little in-joke featuring the two of them, but this movie isn’t that clever.

Speaking of rehashing things from the first movie, both Jennifer Aniston and Kevin Spacey return, as they also reprise their roles from the first movie.  Aniston fares better than Spacey, who pretty much just has a glorified cameo.  Had the writers actually decided to give Spacey’s character something to do it would have made things interesting.  Aniston returns as her sex-addicted dentist Dr. Julia Harris, and she gets a couple of amusing scenes, but they’re not as good as her scenes in the first film.

DENTIST BABE:  She sounds like someone I know.

MA:  Doesn’t she?

And for fans of TV’s BREAKING BAD, Jonathan Banks, who played Mike on BREAKING BAD shows up here in a thankless role as a hard-nosed police detective.  Banks gets to go around spouting tough guy lines in a role that’s ultimately not very important, but it was still fun to watch him do his thing.

HORRIBLE BOSSESS 2 was written and directed by Sean Anders, who just wrote DUMB AND DUMBER TO (2014), as well as WE’RE THE MILLERS (2013), and HOT TUB TIME MACHINE (2010).  I enjoyed last year’s WE’RE THE MILLERS more than HORRIBLE BOSSES 2.

Admittedly, some of the jokes are pretty funny, like when Nick finds himself at a sexual addiction support group and thinks he’s at an AA meeting, but there are also plenty of misfires.

I wish the film had shown more creativity and imagination.  For example, there’s a sequence where Nick, Kurt, and Dale are interviewing for their company and they keep hiring unqualified beautiful women, and it’s a funny scene, but it’s also a sequence that misses the chance to do something more.  It would have been fun to see Nick, Kurt, and Dale attempt to be bosses, and I hoped there would be some scenes where we’d see them interact as bosses with the characters they hired, but the film doesn’t go in this direction.

I laughed here and there, but overall, HORRIBLE BOSSES 2 is like so many other movie sequels.  It’s okay, but ultimately it’s nothing more than a rehash of the first film, only not as good.

I give HORRIBLE BOSSES 2 a mediocre two knives.

Okay, now that I’m done with the review, I can turn my attention to— where did she go?  Hello?  Did she leave?  (Finds note and reads it.)  “Come into the X-ray room.”  Hmm.  Okay.  I guess I need some x-rays.

Well, folks, that wraps things up here, and I’ll see you again next week with a review of another new movie.

(Opens door to the x-ray room)  Hello?  I’m here for my x-ray.


MA:  I’m not sure my policy covers three x-rays.  (Looks at camera)  Well, that is what we’re talking about, after all, isn’t it?   (smirks).

(Enters the x-ray room and closes the door behind him.)


BAD WORDS (2014) Is Simply BAD


Bad Words PosterHere’s my review of BAD WORDS (2014), originally published last week at

By Michael Arruda

BAD WORDS (2014), a new comedy directed by and starring Jason Bateman, is— well, bad. It’s more than bad. It’s awful. What attracted Bateman to this project is a mystery to me.

BAD WORDS is about a bitter forty year-old man Guy Trilby (Jason Bateman) who enters a middle school spelling bee with every intention of winning it and then moving on to win at the national level. Even though school officials and parents try to prevent Trilby from participating, they are powerless to do so because Trilby has read the rules, and he fits within the parameters. For example, the rules state that a participant must not have advanced beyond the eighth grade, and Trilby never went to high school. The rules also state that participants must be sponsored by a national media outlet, and Trilby is sponsored by an online publication, whose lead reporter Jenny Widgeon (Kathryn Hahn) follows Trilby around trying to learn his “fascinating” story as to why at age forty he wants to win a spelling bee.

Trilby wins the spelling bee and moves on to the national competition. The coordinator of the national spelling bee, Dr. Bernice Deagan (Allison Janney) assures parents not to worry, that there is no way Trilby will win the event, especially since he hasn’t gone beyond an eighth grade education. However, what Deagan doesn’t know is that Trilby happens to be a genius with a photographic memory. He’s not about to lose.

This doesn’t stop Deagan from trying to make things as difficult as possible for Trilby. For example, she arranges for the hotel to only offer him a storage closet for a room, with just a bed. It doesn’t even have a bathroom, but Trilby is undeterred. Just why is he so determined to win this spelling bee? That’s the question everyone wants to know.

A young boy, Chaitanya Chopra (Rohan Chand) with no friends decides that Trilby is the best guy ever and tries to be his best buddy. Trilby, being the acrimonious man that he is, does his best to tell the cute kid to screw off, but the boy is persistent, and before you know it, the two are buddies. However, Trilby learns that Chai isn’t as innocent as he seems, setting the stage for a competition in the finals between Trilby and the boy. Seriously?

If this sounds exciting to you, you might like BAD WORDS. I for one found it to be one of the oddest and most unlikable movies I’ve seen in a long time.

For starters, the main character Guy Trilby is an extremely unpleasant character. His mouth is a sewer, and he uses words as weapons, ambushing people left and right, which in the right circumstances— if the targets are deserving of these put downs, for example— could be really funny. But this isn’t the case in this movie, as Trilby vents his angry language at young children and their parents. He’s really not a nice guy. In fact, he’s downright merciless. Now, I wouldn’t have a problem with any of this if in fact he and this film were funny, but the sad truth is, the film takes on a dark tone rather than a comedic one, and never generates the types of laughs needed to make this a successful comedy.

And that’s because the driving force of this movie is the question, why is Trilby so intent on winning this spelling bee? What in his past has made him this bitter? That’s what Jenny the reporter spends nearly the whole movie trying to find out. And once we find out, it’s just not that compelling a reason, and it certainly doesn’t justify Trilby’s behavior. He’s not the first person to experience this particular problem.

Trilby comes off as such an obnoxious character, he’s nearly impossible to like, and I certainly didn’t care what happened to him, nor did I feel any sympathy for him because of his unpleasant past.

Strangely, BAD WORDS plays more like a drama than a comedy. We have this bitter man intent on winning a spelling bee, and he’s not above sabotaging the efforts of both the other children and their parents. Handled in an over-the-top way, this movie could have been amusing, but the film plays it straight. The “comedy” supposedly comes from Trilby’s foul-mouthed tirades, but the problem is they’re not comical. Instead, his words come off as mean and hurtful, and there’s just not much that’s funny about that.

Then there’s the relationship between Trilby and the young boy Chai. Their buddy antics are supposed to be humorous, but again, they are anything but. Trilby’s behavior with the boy should have gotten him arrested. Let’s see, he brings the boy to a bar and buys him alcohol, takes him to see a stripper, teaches him to steal, encourages him to play mean practical jokes on people, and takes him on a high speed chase in a car. Yeah. Nice role model. Now, I would be ready to forgive all this if in fact the story was funny. But the bottom line is BAD WORDS is not funny.

The screenplay by Andrew Dodge is exceedingly odd. Let’s start with the premise. The idea of a grown man entering a middle school spelling bee is a strange one. I’ll admit. I was somewhat curious about it, but within the first five minutes of the film my curiosity was replaced with repugnance. Guy Trilby is such a despicable person, I couldn’t believe I was going to have to sit through a 90 minute movie about this guy. And since he’s the main character in this comedy, he’s the main reason the comedy doesn’t work.

Let’s watch Guy sabotage his fellow student participants. Let’s watch him pour ketchup on a chair and convince a young girl that she’s having her first period, humiliating her to the point where she can’t take the stage. Let’s watch him verbally attack and assault a young boy’s mother. Let’s watch him get a young boy drunk. You get the idea.

I may have laughed once during this movie.

Why Jason Bateman chose to direct this movie I have no idea. As Guy Trilby, Bateman is okay, but it’s such a weird character. He’s too vicious to be funny, and his background story just isn’t dark enough to justify his behavior.

Then there’s the cute kid, Chai, played with sweet enthusiasm by Rohan Chand, who seems to be in this movie for the sole purpose of being corrupted by Guy Trilby.

Kathryn Hahn is okay as reporter Jenny Widgeon, and Allison Janney does what she can in a dull role as Dr. Bernice Deagan. Janney is a very good actress who deserves better film roles than this.

However you slice it or spell it, BAD WORDS is pretty bad. In Spelling Bee speak, it’s simply flagitious.

I give it one knife.