REVIEW: The Lego Batman Movie

7 02 2017

Spoof movies largely do not exist American cinema anymore, or, at the very least, they do not reach a wide audience anymore. We’re about a decade removed from the heyday of the “Scary Movie” franchise and their ilk, which eventually went off the rails because they lost sight of what allows this particular style of humor to work. It’s ok to rib and roast, sure. But when they moved from playful lampooning to pointed lambasting, the jokes started feeling mean-spirited.

The Lego Batman Movie” arrives in the wake of last year’s “Deadpool,” another superhero movie that took potshots at its own genre. The “merc with the mouth,” however, decried too many tropes that movie itself lazily embraced. Meanwhile, the latest burst of creative building block energy affectionately sends up the Nolan Batman movies and gets in a few jabs at lesser-loved outings with the Caped Crusader. The film even satirizes his macho posturing by making him struggle with waiting for food to heat up and bungling which HDMI connection he must select to watch a rom-com. And dare I say, it’s even gently – albeit with a wink – progressive.

Writer Seth Graeme-Smith, along with a plethora of other credited scribes, embrace and lean into the necessity of juvenility for their target audience. Their embrace of simplicity leads to a work that achieves two different goals for two different age groups. Adults will recognize the common skeletal structure of the modern superhero movie from the writers scaling back the narrative’s scope to child-comprehensible (and appropriate) levels. We know the dramatic beats so well that we can predict them. So does “The Lego Batman Movie,” which has an uproarious, subversive twist at every moment when we catch wise.

This laughter at recognizable, perhaps hoary elements of the superhero flick does not discredit or disparage the genre. Rather, it reaffirms their power, and that’s why sharing it with incredulous younger viewers is such fun. For many, a physical Lego Batman might be the only version of the hero they know. Will Arnett’s parodic voice work provides a gentle introduction to the darker stories that surround the vigilante antihero. Combining his pitch-perfect embodiment of Batman’s essence with the boundless imagination of the animators and storytellers makes “The Lego Batman Movie” earnest family fun. Though it sounds contradictory to say a film can function as both a genre primer and a critique, director Chris McKay pulls it off. A-3halfstars





REVIEW: The Lego Movie

31 07 2014

Back in 2012, “Zero Dark Thirty” gave audiences a pulse-pounding conclusions as it showed SEAL Team 6’s bold mission to kill Osama bin Laden in stunning detail.  Yet even as gripping as that was, I couldn’t help but chuckle a little bit when I saw who they cast as the finger behind the trigger: Chris Pratt, who I knew and loved as Andy Dwyer (and his FBI alter ego Burt Macklin) on the TV comedy “Parks & Recreation.”

Well, as it turns out, Kathryn Bigelow was as right about Pratt as an action star as she was about Jeremy Renner as a fine dramatic actor.  And now it’s Pratt who’s laughing all the way to the bank.  “The Lego Movie” proves that Pratt doesn’t even have to be present in the flesh to lead a movie towards some very fun adventure.

Pratt is like the world’s oldest 7-year-old, a lovable, innocent kid that you can’t help but root for because he reminds you of all the naive optimism of a simpler state of mind.  When his plastic Lego teddy bear of a character, Emmet Brickowoski, chants the film’s theme “Everything Is Awesome,” it’s hard not to smile a little bit.  He’s not just singing from a place of pure naïveté like Selena Gomez on “Barney,” but also from a position of contagious optimism that makes Emmet quite irresistible.

Thankfully, the writing/directing dynamic duo of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (they who blessed us with the gift of “21 Jump Street“) matches Pratt’s enthusiasm throughout “The Lego Movie.”  They bring a boundless imagination to the project, resembling the kind of creativity that Legos themselves spark in children all over the world.  What they ultimately construct is wild, wacky, and quite inspired. Read the rest of this entry »





REVIEW: When In Rome

29 08 2010

I was preparing for the worst when I popped “When In Rome” into my DVD player.  It’s a romantic comedy, so that means a marriage to formula and the same old gimmicks for an easy laugh.  But the thing about low standards is that it becomes a whole lot easier for a movie to really surprise you.  Such was the case here.

Shockingly enough, it’s not half bad.  I’m sure you are shaking your heads, saying it’s not possible for a romantic comedy that looked pretty uninspired from the previews to actually be any good.  And I’m not saying that this a new classic for the genre or that it has successfully introduced a new formula into the romantic comedy lexicon.  It’s nothing highly original or innovative.  All I’m saying is that something about “When In Rome” … works.

At the start of the movie, I was preparing to hate Kristen Bell’s character Beth after she can’t stop rambling to herself about a bad experience in an Applebee’s.  It’s even worse because she’s a high-brow art curator and Guggenheim obsessive, something regular Applebee’s customers usually aren’t too fond of.  Yet at her sister’s wedding in Italy, she gets a little too much champagne in her and makes an impulsive decision, yanking coins out of a fountain of love.

All of a sudden, that paradoxical facade is wiped away, and Beth is someone we can actually like as she is thrown into a crazy situation.  She had never been the kind to actively seek love, but by taking the coins, the men who threw them come looking to her for love.  Four men are over-the-moon smitten for her: a sausage mogul (Abe Froman, anyone?) played by Danny DeVito, an Italian painter played by Will Arnett, a model in love with himself as much as Beth played by Dax Shepard, and a loopy magician played by Jon Heder.

And then there’s a wild card thrown into the mix: the best man at her sister’s wedding, Josh Duhamel’s charming Nick, seems to be quite interested in Beth after they had a connection at the reception.  Her concern at first is that these four men will ruin her chance with Nick, but she soon realizes that he could just easily be one of her head-over-heels lovers.  It’s a bit of a romantic mystery, enough to keep a little bit of suspense throughout the fun and funny “When In Rome.”  B /