REVIEW: Identity Thief

19 03 2013

I walked into “Identity Thief” after having a pretty dismal week.  I knew I wanted to blow off some steam in the form of laughter, and I was willing to sit through just about anything to get that satisfaction.

Thankfully, Melissa McCarthy delivered.  She didn’t do it big time, but she brought enough fun and humor with her improvisational comedy that it gave me the bare minimum of the need I was looking for the movie to fill.  Now, I was hoping it would do a little bit more … but as Osgood would say in “Some Like It Hot,” well, nobody’s perfect.

The movie is enjoyable and fun when McCarthy gets to have free play and improvisation with Jason Bateman, an average joe who gets his identity stolen by her habitual plastic kleptomaniac.  Sadly, his Sandy Patterson and her “Diana” do not get nearly enough of this unstructured time.

They are often reduced to gimmicks and clichés that are beneath McCarthy’s talents for sure.  I don’t mean to suggest Bateman isn’t a capable comedian or actor; indeed, I think he plays an easily identifiable everyman that resonates with a lot of people.  He has excelled in supporting roles in Jason Reitman’s films “Juno” and “Up in the Air,” yet his starring vehicles all seem to totally miss the mark.

From “Couples Retreat” to “Horrible Bosses” to “The Change-Up,” Bateman has yet to prove himself as a capable comedic leading man.  I think this might have something to do with his persona’s defining characteristics of rigidity, though I will admit I have never watched “Arrested Development” – and that might change my opinions on Bateman.

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F.I.L.M. of the Week (July 8, 2011)

8 07 2011

It’s always interesting to see the humble roots of Hollywood directors.  Some of them start in short films, others in behind-the-scenes work like cinematography or unit direction.  In the case of Seth Gordon, who directs this weekend’s big opener “Horrible Bosses,” it was documentary film.  His first feature length film, “The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters,” is actually much better than any of his narrative work and is thus my pick for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”

Gordon’s movie seems to have a whole lot more in common with the classic mockumentary “This is Spinal Tap” than it does with “Inside Job” or any of the other Academy favorites this year.  At times, it is so ridiculous that it makes you question whether it’s actually real.  But as the saying goes, sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction, and that DEFINITELY applies here.

However, questioning plausibility isn’t the only question that “The King of Kong” makes you ponder.  It cleverly asks the audience, without preaching or making it plainly obvious, to reconsider what they think is a sport and who they think is an athlete.  We’ve so narrowly defined athletics to games played on fields and courts by people with enormous physical prowess.  But basketball and baseball took time catch on – so are we entering the age where videogaming becomes a sport?

We are entering the fourth decade of gaming, and Donkey Kong champions Billy Mitchell and Steve Wiebe sure fit the bill of an athlete.  They have learned the ins and outs of their game; they have practiced nonstop; they have trained and toned their minds to meet the game.  So why can’t they be called athletes?  What makes their rivalry any different that Larry Bird and Magic Johnson’s?  We laugh now, but they sure think they will be the Cy Youngs of their sport.  The joke could one day be on us when more people watch the HALO championship than the Super Bowl.

REVIEW: Horrible Bosses

6 07 2011

We are now inhabiting the post-“Hangover” world, and in case you needed any proof that studios are looking to locate the success gene in the hit comedy’s DNA, I submit “Horrible Bosses” as evidence.  It really shouldn’t surprise you; it’s a page straight from the television networks’ playbook.  As soon as Fox premiered “American Idol,” every network wanted a singing competition.  After ABC had a big hit with “Dancing with the Stars,” every network suddenly had a dancing show.  We live in a culture of thinly veiled rip-offs that barely bother to disguise their ever-so-slight variations from the original success story.

The good news for Seth Gordon and the “Horrible Bosses” team is that, at least at this moment, I still find the formula amusing and funny.  The next movie shamelessly pressed from the “Hangover” mold, however, will probably not be in my good graces, so at least they got the timing right on this one.  But the fact that some movie other than the sequel has tried using a similar blueprint for high cash and laugh returns signals a foreboding era in comedy.  (Then again, I said the same thing last summer about “Iron Man 2” being the first of many “The Dark Knight” rip-offs, and nothing seems to have materialized there.)

The film invites these comparisons by using what may be the most recognizable aspect of “The Hangover” for laughs – the Wolfpack.  From now on, any comedy that has a ragtag alliance of three thirtysomething guys will inevitably have to be measured against the ridiculously high standard set by Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, and Zach Galifianakis.  Unfair?  Probably.  Justified?  Definitely.

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