REVIEW: Top Five

22 12 2014

Too bad for “Top Five” that the title “The Interview” was already claimed for 2014.  Chris Rock’s film, a starring vehicle which he also wrote and directed, gets its narrative motor from a day-long conversation between his character Andre Allen and the probing New York Times reporter Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson) for a newspaper profile.

Chelsea happens to catch Andre, a successful comedian struggling for credibility as a dramatic actor, on a particularly stressful day.  Not only is it the opening day of his new film about a Haitian slave rebellion, which resembles “12 Years a Slave” more than “Django Unchained,” but it is also the weekend of his marriage to a Kardashian-style Bravo reality star (Gabrielle Union).  That much pressure all at once is about enough to make him relapse into the alcoholism he has controlled for years.

Rather than chew out his publicist for such horrific planning, Andre responds to the stacked schedule by baring his soul in responses to Chelsea (in a manner similar to Rock’s own refreshing candor on the “Top Five” press tour).  He rambles on about moments both somber and hilarious from his career, and Rock usually captures the back-and-forth in a two-shot.  This character arrangement, perfect for verbal volleying like in “Before Midnight,” allows the simultaneous enjoyment of Andre’s outrageous delivery and Chelsea’s often dumbfounded reaction.

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2 04 2012

2011 will likely go down in the comedy record books as a year where raunch ruled the roost.  Yet it is possible that “Rio,” a G-rated animated comedy from BlueSky, packed the most laughs of them all (save perhaps “Bridesmaids“).  Without ever uttering a curse word or resorting to the profane, the animals take the day in a wholly unexpected and delightful way.

While it may not be able to boast the complex emotions or deep storyline of a Pixar film, “Rio” is just like a beach ball, meant for fun and little else.  And I’m totally fine with that.  Its clean, innocent humor charms anyone willing to resume the persona of a child.

The movie boasts some hilarious characters thanks to very clever voice casting.  Neurotic Jesse Eisenberg plays opposite the sassy Anne Hathaway as a macaw returning to the Brazilian wild after years living in a Minnesota bookstore.  It’s a journey done many times before, but when you take it alongside Tracy Morgan as a drooling bulldog, it can still be fun.  Add in a few toe-tapping musical numbers that are not necessarily well incorporated (but still enjoyable nonetheless) and a setting against the backdrop of the Brazilian Carnaval, and you just might want to book your ticket to Rio for 2016.  Or maybe just watch it repeatedly on TV.  A-

REVIEW: Death at a Funeral

3 09 2010

It’s a funny thing, the remake of “Death at a Funeral.” The British original in 2007 turned the title, which implied the melancholy proceedings of a sacred ritual, into something totally unforeseen – a laugh riot.

There are those of us who think two decades is too soon for a remake, but Neil LaBute turns around the hilarious original for a Hollywood treatment in under three years. Essentially, there’s no reason for this remake to exist other than to make the script more digestible to a mainstream audience. Nothing new is brought to the table, no retooling or adding is done. It’s practically a shot-by-shot remake, claiming that swapping accents is enough to warrant the millions of dollars to produce the movie.

It’s a strange experience to watch these often funny stars, including Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence, and Tracy Morgan, running around doing a half-hearted version of the original movie.  In fact, it’s almost like an out-of-body experience as we watch them utter virtually the same lines and run through the same motions as the British actors did – but never come close to matching their comedic brilliance.  Surprisingly, the funniest member of the ensemble is James Marsden, who truly embraces the farcical nature of his character and plays it up to hilarity.  However, we only get to see glances of the zonked Marsden, never prolonged scenes.

I find there no reason to watch this movie when a clearly superior alternative exists.  Sure, this version has a few laughs and is hardly unfunny, but why choose chuckles over the howls that you can have watching the original?  If you had the choice between a rotting apple that looked nice and a fresh apple with a little bit of dust on top, which would you eat?  This “Death at a Funeral” looks nice on a poster, but at its core, the movie is pretty rotten.  There’s no reason NOT to go off the beaten path to watch the British version.  C /


30 08 2010

The first joke, so to speak, in “Cop Out” involves the mispronunciation of the word homage by Tracy Morgan’s idiotic cop.  He says it as it appears, phonetically sounding like “home-age.”  Any lover of sophisticated art – or really just anybody with common knowledge, like Bruce Willis as Morgan’s brutalized partner – cringes, and perhaps simultaneously laughs.

Although Morgan’s Paul can’t pronounce the word, he is well aware of its meaning.  He loves to pay homage to cinematic tough guys, particularly the “bad cops,” in an attempt to make himself intimidating to the accused criminals.  It works about as well as an iPhone that’s gone through the spin cycle in the washing machine, which is to say not very well.  However, it does provide amusement for the other guys at the station, as well as us, the audience.  It’s like watching a montage of Tracy Morgan’s “SNL” impressions, and it’s hard not to get a kick out of watching him butcher great lines from classic movies.

The joke of paying homage keeps coming up throughout the movie in bits and fragments, always good for a nice chuckle.  But the movie lags and bores when Morgan has to play the hopelessly pathetic character written for him in the script.  One has to wonder how he can choose such hackneyed fare when his day job is working for Tina Fey, one of the brightest bulbs in the comedic universe at the moment, on “30 Rock.”

And then there’s our old friend Bruce Willis, playing the character as bored as we are.  He’s supposed to be the straight man in the routine, but he just looks bored and ready to head back to his trailer.  While such emotions can be a character choice, there has to be some variety to give off the faintest illusion that he’s not on the screen just to cash the paycheck that follows.  I don’t know what he thinks will come first, the AARP check or the offer to reprise John McClane for “Die Hard 5: Just DIE Already!”

In a year where “The Other Guys” cornered the market on making the stale buddy cop genre somewhat bearable, it seems that “Cop Out” is “The Other Cop Movie” of 2010.  This is a title made even more insulting by the fact that it’s directed by Kevin Smith, the mind behind some of the great independent movies of the 1990s.  I haven’t seen any of his earlier movies, but based on this, I’m not very keen to go back and examine his collection.  It seems to me that Smith is like the M. Night Shyamalan of comedy – a meteoric rise followed by a steep fall.  “Cop Out” isn’t bad enough to be called rock bottom, but any worse and Smith gets dangerously close.  C /


2 08 2009

Believe it or not, I really don’t mind talking animal kids movies.  I risk my credibility in saying this, but I actually kind of liked “Beverly Hills Chihuahua.”  I would rather watch “Alvin and the Chipmunks” than several movies nominated for Best Picture this decade.  But “G-Force” does not have the stuff to be a guilty pleasure; in fact, it doesn’t really give any sort of pleasure whatsoever.  There were only small giggles in the theater, even from the kids.  It’s a hodgepodge of kids movie clichés that fails to provide anything new and worthwhile.

The talking animals this time are guinea pigs (voiced by Salma Hayek, “30 Rock”‘s Tracy Morgan, and “Frost/Nixon”‘s Sam Rockwell) who call themselves “G-Force” and are trained to be FBI operatives.  I had struggled over a brief plot summary for the movie, but when I realized that I had written more for this dreadful movie than I had for “(500) Days of Summer,” I decided not to be so magnanimous and to make some massive cuts.  Because anybody who reads this blog would surely not in their right mind go see this movie by choice but rather because they are being dragged by their kids.  In addition, the movie really doesn’t have much of a plot.  So, to summarize, the first half involves G-Force’s escape to a pet store after a failed mission and their eventual reunion, and the second half plays out like a bad parody of “Transformers” where Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox are replaced by guinea pigs.

I know that well-developed characters might be too much to ask from a kid’s movie, but it honestly feels like each of the guinea pigs just say the same thing every time their tiny mouths open.  Tracy Morgan’s is always trying to get Salma Hayek’s to go out with him, Salma Hayek’s is always cryptically speaking about who she likes, and Sam Rockwell’s is always trying to sound valiant.

I do appreciate that kid’s movies try to add a little bit of adult humor to make it enjoyable for all.  The “Shrek” movies are infinitely funnier now that I have grown up and get every little joke.  However, in “G-Force,” it just falls flat on its face.  I have never rolled my eyes so many times in such a short span.  The absolute worst comes whenever one of the guinea pigs fights a coffeemaker that has come to life, it jumps in the air and yells, “Yippie-ki-yea, coffeemaker!”  Yeah, it’s THAT bad.

I was always peeved growing up by how the critics reviewed kids movies.  I thought that they overanalyzed everything as if they expected it to be the eventual Oscar winner for Best Picture.  And although they might have been a little overly critical, I now see it from their perspective.  But I also try to consider the perspective of the target audience, the tykes.  And even they didn’t seem to be riveted by “G-Force.”  It is possible to make a kids movie that is fun for all ages (see: Pixar), and this one doesn’t satiate any age.  C- / 1halfstars