REVIEW: Zoolander 2

2 03 2016

Decades-delayed sequels from “Anchorman” to “Scream” and even “Monsters University” tend to fall into some trap of relying on nostalgia for or nodding towards the original film. To some extent, if the makers do not strike while the iron is hot, they have to remind people that the iron existed in the first place. And, not to overload the metaphor, but by employing a heavy hand with said iron, they can burn a hole through the cloth of the new creation.

Given the fashion origins of the “Zoolander” series, it would only make sense that the 15-years-in-the-making second installment would hew all too close to its predecessor. In many ways – and perhaps in the ones that count – it does. But multi-hyphenate Ben Stiller does have a few new tricks up the sleeves for his old character, and even more than just a new signature look to go alongside Blue Steel and Magnum.

In another delightfully absurd caper, the pretty, dumb Derek Zoolander once again gets caught up in a tale of international intrigue. This time, it involves a conspiracy to murder good-looking celebrities and bring the fashion elite of the world to the slaughter. And, once again, it sidetracks so Derek can resolve some familial issues as well as tension with fellow model Hansel (Owen Wilson). Oh, and there’s a music montage

All in all, however, “Zoolander 2” breaks enough from the original to make the team’s efforts worthwhile. Much of the fun comes from the new characters like Kyle Mooney’s Don Atari, a pitch-perfect parody of über-trendy hipsters, and Kristen Wiig’s Alexanya Atoz, an en vogue fashion designer with enough Botox in her face to rejuvenate an entire school’s worth of soccer moms. (It’s best not to mention Penelope Cruz’s Interpol agent Valentina Valencia or Benedict Cumberbatch’s transphobic punchline All.) The whole affair is predictably stupid, though anyone who remembers the first “Zoolander” ought to expect just that. Nostalgia sometimes makes people remember things as better than they really are, and “Zoolander 2” is essentially a chip off the old block. B2stars

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REVIEW: Neighbors

12 08 2014

If you’re Zac Efron, how do you get people to take you seriously as an actor?  See you as something more than a Disney Channel star without feeling yourself with a foam finger half-naked on television?  Treat you as something more than a Google Images search?

Taking a page from the Channing Tatum/”21 Jump Street” playbook, Efron took on a role in “Neighbors,” a comedy where his entire archetype of the ultra-macho pretty-boy is a consistent butt of jokes.  The arrangement works out well for everyone.  Those who choose to watch the movie will enjoy the self-parody of Efron’s relentless shirtlessness and his over-the-top portrayal of a self-deluded frat lord.  And those fans who just want another look at Efron’s chiseled figure are indulged in the process.

Initially, Efron didn’t seem to be meshing with his character, Delta Psi Beta president Teddy Sanders.  Perhaps I was expecting him to fit a certain model of the fraternity meathead that I knew, but it’s clear that “Neighbors” knows what it’s doing with him.  There’s pretty consistent and purposeful fetishization of Efron throughout the film, by Seth Rogen’s older and squarer Mac as well as within his own fraternity.  The desire for a firm bond with him is laced with some homoerotic undertones and really provides some interesting commentary on the kind of brotherhood fostered within fraternities.

Teddy’s relationship with Dave Franco’s Pete Regazolli, another high-ranking Delta Psi officer out to preserve his legacy, provides ample hilarious opportunities to analyze the implications of the bromance.  One particular exchange of rhyming affirmations of their friendship, which sounds like something potty-mouthed teenaged girls would exchange in gym, sounds so preposterous that it’s clear “Neighbors” does not intend for its portrayal of fraternity life to be taken at face value like “Animal House.”

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REVIEW: The Five-Year Engagement

3 12 2012

Almost every comedy features a supporting cast of hilarious actors who can always be wheeled in front a camera to produce laughs.  Unlike the romantic leads, who have to undergo a journey and serve plot functions, these characters can literally be poorly developed and have little motivations of their own – and no one minds as long as they make us chortle in delight.

The Five-Year Engagement” does a very peculiar thing with its characters.  Tom and Violet, the betrothed played by Jason Segel and Emily Blunt doomed to suffer the titular delay, are the ones who suffer from the pratfalls of the supporting characters.  Sure, the two have chemistry and are fun to watch.  But it’s Jason Segel and Emily Blunt, both of whom could charm a dishwasher into marrying them!

I definitely enjoyed the two of them in their playful engagement bliss and when they got into tough arguments; however, they got upstaged, outdrawn, and outshown in a major way by the couple that was supposed to be a comic relief and foil.  Guess that means directors need to think twice before they cast the uproarious Chris Pratt (who steals every “Parks and Recreation” episode these days) and dynamic Alison Brie (who I’ve heard is just as good on “Community”).

Pratt plays Tom’s best friend Alex, who is of course the usual Pratt goofball (unless we are talking “Moneyball“).  At the engagement party, he meets Brie’s sharp-tongued Suzie … who also happens to be Violet’s sister.  The two have quite a night, and very quickly, a very different kind of wedding is on the horizon.  A shotgun wedding.

Alex and Suzie provide most of the humor for Nicholas Stoller’s “The Five-Year Engagement” because of Pratt and Brie’s immense comedic capabilities.  Yet they also carry most of the heart of the film, too.  As Stoller’s running commentary on how hard marriage really is no matter how long and hard you’ve worked on it, I started rooting for them and becoming more emotionally invested in the two of them.  Perhaps it’s because the marathon length of the film left me craving Alex or Suzie to get back on screen, but I think it was really just me wishing someone would make one of these movies with Chris Pratt as the leading man.  B