REVIEW: Friends with Kids

22 12 2012

The title “Friends with Kids” sounds an awful lot like “Friends with Benefits,” the 2011 Justin Timberlake-Mila Kunis sex-friends comedy. Though the two differentiate themselves over the course of their respective films, they actually share quite a bit in common.

Both begin with a ridiculous premise: here, it’s the idea that two people can have sex once, procreate, and be parents without forming any sort of emotional connection to each other. It’s an idea that Jason (Adam Scott) and Julie (writer/director Jennifer Westfeldt) hatch one night after seeing how miserable their once happily married friends become when they have kids. And those same friends, like us in the audience, laugh at their foolishness and know it can only lead to disaster.

Their friends, by the way, are essentially a “Bridesmaids” reunion 15 years early for their People shoot. Kristen Wiig and Jon Hamm are Ben and Missy, a sex-crazed couple whose kids take a toll on their marriage. And on the more reasonable end, Maya Rudolph and Chris O’Dowd are a couple coping with the same issues but on a more authentic scale. All that’s missing is some Wilson Phillips (and perhaps a little defecating in sinks just for fun).

Yet just about every time you think it’s going down the path to predictability or genre, Westfeldt surprisingly turns the tables on you. She’s written a very thoughtful movie in “Friends with Kids,” one that makes some insightful revelations about marriage and parenthood. Though Jason and Julie move on to other people – him Megan Fox’s Broadway dancer Mary Jane, her Edward Burns’ family man Kurt – they find each other and their real feelings through those people. It might seem slightly cliched, but with all the laughs and the honesty, I didn’t really mind. B+ / 3stars





REVIEW: Man on a Ledge

5 12 2012

I think a more appropriate name for “Man on a Ledge” might have been “Baby’s First Thriller.”  By that, I do not mean that you should go show this film to your infant.  Rather, I am making a statement on how rudimentary and textbook Asger Leth’s film is.

His color-by-numbers genre pic is not the worst thing in the world to watch.  There are plenty of predictably thrilling instances where the action heats up and the plot begins to sizzle.  But it’s just so unambitious, reaching for all the buttons that so many better filmmakers have already pushed to death.

Even though I can’t think of any movie that shares the specific plot of “Man on a Ledge,” it felt nonetheless familiar and banal.  Sam Worthington’s Nick Cassidy goes and stands on a ledge and puts on a show for a captive audience in the streets of New York City.  He’s  left to be talked down by archetypical police officer haunted by guilt of a prior incident, here played by Elizabeth Banks.

Meanwhile, a giant diamond heist occurs with Nick’s brother Joey and girfriend Angie (Jamie Bell and Genesis Rodriguez) inside the building across the street to prove his innocence.  And of course, the greed of the big bad capitalist, played by the menacingly frightening Ed Harris!  Both plots are interesting enough to keep our eyes on the screen, but neither really captivate at the level we have come to expect from say, a Soderbergh thriller.  It does what it needs to do and nothing more.

And if that’s all you want from a movie, then perhaps “Man on a Ledge” is the perfect background music to you doing chores around the house.  You don’t need to be paying too much attention to know what’s going on here.  Because after all, you know the narrative.

Ultimately, what I walked away from “Man on a Ledge” with was nothing about the story or the presentation.  To my surprise, it was that superb actors like Elizabeth Banks and Anthony Mackie were still being reduced to this kind of auto-piloted stock studio schedule filler crap.  Casting agents, please sit down with a copy of “People Like Us” and “The Hurt Locker.”  You will find Banks and Mackie, though not nominated for an Oscar (yet), are far above this type of movie.  Find them something suitable for their immense talents, please!  C+