REVIEW: Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates

6 07 2016

Did we need a new “Wedding Crashers?” Serious question because I wouldn’t know if we do; my family stops it every time it plays on TBS and laughs all the way through to the finale. Over a decade later, it still has them cackling. (I have always been a little less sold, even from the beginning.)

Regardless of whether we need a new version of the film, we just got a Millennial-fied one in “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates.” Jake Szymanski’s raucous nuptial comedy replaces the successful thirty-something professionals with fresher, younger comedic blood in Zac Efron and Adam DeVine’s lovable yopro slacker brothers. Tied together by biology but living together supposedly still by choice, these hapless fools get a wake-up call from their family when told to curb their antics for the upcoming wedding of their sister.

Mike and Dave were the party crashers of family gatherings past but now must clean up their act with a classy broad on their arm to keep them in check. Rather than just showing up magically in the right place like John Beckwith and Jeremy Grey, they seek their magical connection in the classiest of fashions – the Internet. Mike and Dave’s destination date plea ends up in the lap of Alice (Anna Kendrick) and Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza). Semi-talented actresses, they respectively pass themselves off as a hedge fund manager by talking about Fannie Mae and Bernie Mac as well as a teacher from what feels like a schoolboys’ fantasy.

The film then takes off to Hawaii, where a dual “Step Brothers”-style dynamic takes place between each gendered camp. They all have hilarious internal bickering before attempting to put on a game face for all the guests. Then a further division of tracks appears in Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien’s script, one that oddly mirrors “Wedding Crashers” once again. Dave and Alice play into a sincere, honest romantic plotline, while Mike and Tatiana end up playing ribald, raunchy broad comedy surrounding her decision to withhold sexual contact.

“Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates” unfolds quite pleasantly and hilariously because it breaks off its four talented leads in such a way and allows each to play to their strengths. Efron and Kendrick are the actors of the bunch, just as Devine and Plaza are the comedians. But the film might have benefitted from just going for broke and keeping the all-out humor throughout. “Neighbors 2” demonstrated Efron has the comedic chops to rival a giant like Seth Rogen, and practically every Anna Kendrick film role or press interview shows off her immense wit and charm. Their balls to the wall material, assuming it exists, could easily have functioned in the finished film – not just as deleted scenes on a Blu-Ray extra. B / 2halfstars

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REVIEW: The Intern

23 09 2015

If I could live within the universe of a single filmmaker, I would probably choose Nancy Meyers.  For the two hours or so when I watch one of her movies, the noise of the world goes silent and her soothing presence reassures me that good people and common decency will ultimately prevail.  Her latest cinematic creation, “The Intern,” continues her grand tradition of optimistic wisdom worth embracing with wide arms and an open heart.

In a cynical age, dismissing such a hopeful vision as naive or simplistic would be all too easy, but Meyers’ film never feels facile.  If “The Intern” seems like sunshine and rainbows, it’s merely a retraining of the eye to see the sunshine through the clouds and rainbows through the rainstorm.  Her characters know pain and must draw the strength from within to come out on top.

Meyers’ protagonist of choice is Ben Whittaker, played by Robert DeNiro as the polar opposite of Travis Bickle or Jake LaMotta.  A 70-year-old widower, Ben tires of retirement and looks for a way to become needed once more.  He finds that at About the Fit, an e-retail start-up with an internship program for senior citizens.  After an inspiring video lands him the position, the old company man quickly charms the entire company.  Ben even manages to command a trio of younger workers, including Adam DeVine’s chummy Jason, into a posse that Meyers often photographs like the boys in an “Entourage” episode.

The only person unenthused by Ben’s presence is the site’s embattled founder and CEO Jules Ostin, who is played by Anne Hathaway.  She had the right idea at the right time yet struggles to inspire confidence among investors.  They think a more seasoned executive can help sustain the company’s growth, and try as she might, they do not buy that Jules has the business acumen of a Mark Zuckerberg.

Still, she is an enormously capable businesswoman just trying to find a more sustainable balance between the demands of work and home life.  Ben sees right through her smoke screens, and it absolutely terrifies Jules.

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REVIEW: Pitch Perfect 2

16 06 2015

While I was a repeat listener of the “Pitch Perfect” soundtrack, I most certainly had no desire to return to the film itself.  In my (admittedly harsh) review of the first film, I dubbed it “a comedy that inspires more groans than laughs and thinks it has a whole lot more insightful things to say about growing up than it actually does.”

So color me surprised to count myself a fan of “Pitch Perfect 2,” the rare Hollywood sequel that actually learns the correct lessons from the success of the original.  The music is tighter and catchier than before; the message, more potent and impactful.  The characters, too, are more relatable and hilarious the second time around.

Writer Kay Cannon, returning to script the series’ follow-up, cuts down the “aca-nnoying” pun humor to much more reasonable levels and finds great hilarity in just having the Barden Bellas interact with each other.  At times, she does this to the point of fault, as the many subplots of “Pitch Perfect 2” often overpower the main narrative of the group trying to regain their former glory after an ignominious display at the Kennedy Center.

That preoccupation with the personal hardly does harm to the movie, though, as these scenes are the highlight of the film.  Watching Anna Kendrick’s Beca attempting the tricky balance of professional exploration at a music company with her duties to the Bellas rings so true, and it also gives the actress a chance to showcase her vibrant range of emotions beyond the scowl she was limited to in the first “Pitch Perfect.”  Rebel Wilson’s Fat Amy is another undeniable highlight, given a hysterical romantic arc with Adam DeVine’s Bumper; the two play off each other with remarkable comic intuition.

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