Archive for the ‘Boxoffice’ Category

Country Strong

Sunday, January 16th, 2011

Country music makes for great melodrama. Its fans believe that a comeback is a Christian right; their superstar transgressors are forgiven faster than an ex-con rapper can yelp “Free Weezy!” Writer-director Shana Feste’s drama tracks a three-show tour where a stadium-filling alcoholic (Gwyneth Paltrow) self-destructs before her husband (Tim McGraw), ambitious opening acts (Leighton Meester and Garrett Hedlund) and the state of Texas, all of whom still remember when she fell off a stage, miscarried and flung herself into rehab. (The Heartland pardons her lost child only because most are too polite to mention it.) Both sincere and cynical in its view of country stardom, Country Strong is a charmer that makes you forgive all of its false notes simply because the talent plays them with conviction. The crowds who cheered for last year’s The Blind Side and rallied for Crazy Heart will help it make a little noise at the box office.

Gwyneth Paltrow is curious casting to play disgraced singer Kelly Cantershe’s associated more with microgreens than Merle Haggardbut she’s got the long legs, blond curls and big smile of a six-time Grammy winner. In fact, she bears a passing resemblance to movie husband Tim McGraw’s real life wife Faith Hill (Grammys: five). Kelly and husband James partnered up as teens: she sang, he booked the shows. Decades later, the tabloids still say they’ve got “the best marriage in country music,” though Kelly’s got a cheating heart and James’ favorite mistress is money. (One hopes the McGraw-Hills, subjects of the biographies Faith Hill & Tim McGraw: Soul 2 Soul and Perfect Harmony: the Faith Hill & Tim McGraw Story, are faring better.) When we meet Kelly she’s already pale and drained from her stint in rehab, and though James has shoved a mic in her hand, we know the curtain has dropped on her best days on the stage. Still, we see flashes of who she used to be: winning over a tough press conference, charming a boy with leukemia, writing smart lyrics on the spot, ordering her hairdresser to tease, tease, tease. In these moments, she still moves with a rarefied ease. Every other minute, she’s a mess.

To really understand Kelly’s past, look to her opener Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester), a beauty queen who makes success look easy. With her sweet voice and guileless PR act (she’s very sincere about her faux naivety) Meester’s got that glow about her that makes record executives smile. She’s pure pop country and primed to get swept up into the machine. By contrast, fellow opener Beau Hutton (Garrett Hedlund) has the skill and the soul, but is too authentic to care about cash. A magazine deemed him the second coming of Townes Van Zandt, the flagrantly anti-fame songwriter who drank himself to death at 52. (It also dubbed Meester the new Carrie Underwood.) Hedlund was the male ingénue in Tron: Legacy, but couldn’t hold his own against the flashing lights and pummeling visuals. Here, in this quieter, simpler flick, we see he just might be a movie star. When not smothered by a synthetic extravaganza, Hedlund’s very casual, almost offhand, in front of a camera. He’s got a killer grin and scraggly chin scruff that his agent should let him keep, if only to distinguish him from every other buff, blue-eyed what’s-his-face.

As the foursome travels between Houston, Austin and Dallas for Canter’s comeback tour, they flirt and argue with savage selfishness. Shana Feste doesn’t trust us to understand their strugglesshe even tacks on a baby bird meant to represent Canter’s failed motherhoodbut while the cast gives in to her need to play it big, they pass off the clunky lines as people play-acting at their own emotional honesty. In one powerful scene, James walks away from his wife to sit and think and the supposed villain comes into focus as a man quietly carrying his own pain. These two couples are written flat, but in glimpses we see that they’re flawed and full; as Jeff Bridges did for Crazy Heart, this cast is feverishly giving life to schlock. ‘Course; sometimes there’s a time for schlock, especially when it sings.

Click here for Country Strong in Boxoffice Magazine

All Good Things

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

In 1982, Katie Marks disappeared. Vanishings happen every week in New York City, but newspapers took particular note because Katie was blonde, pretty and married to David Marks, the third generation of a family who made millions from midtown Manhattan real estate, and wasn’t shy about shaking rent from the scum who still ran 42nd Street. Director Andrew Jarecki’s 2003 documentary Capturing the Friedmans positioned the director as Hollywood’s family therapist, and here he works out the kinks of Katie’s unsolved disappearance in broad strokes that point to David, and back further still to David’s childhood under the cold thumb of dad Sanford (Frank Langella). And it’s the truth, or at least an educated guess, what happened to the real-life Katie Durst who went missing after marrying into the Durst real estate dynasty. But this is a soap opera that stands at a distance from its characters (that distance being the length of a lawyer’s briefcase) and, though handsome and capable, feels as inert as mannequins in a shop window. Expect mild interest, moderate acclaim and small box office. As Douglas Durst, brother of the accused, told the New York Times, “Fortunately, this movie will be seen by so few people that litigation would be superfluous.”

Ryan Gosling plays David Marks, née Robert Durst, a poor little rich boy who saw his mother commit suicide when he was 7 years old. The film opens with his last happy birthday as his mom, with help from the maids, brings out the cake and beams before traipsing out of reach. In the corner, dad (Langella) glowers. Jarecki’s quick cut to the adult Gosling loitering at a liquor store in a tuxedo is disorientingthe family’s fortunes have fallen, but by how much? Little, we later realize. Dad and brother are fine, it’s just David who’s drowning.

But with the entrance of Kirsten Dunst as Katie, a blue-collar blonde from Long Island, David starts to see himself through her eyes. He’s no black sheep; he’s a knight in shining armor. And she’s naïve enough to play along with the charade: she laughs at his jokes and looks to him with the adulation of a politician’s wife. And Jarecki’s a shrewd enough study of human nature to realize that Katie’s hero worship of her whirlwind hubby is doomed to drive them apart. David can’t measure up to her high expectations (though he even gives scream therapy a try) and when his flaws emerge, he disengages and then detonates.

But Jarecki’s not free to show a knife to the neck. And with the real Katie gone and the real Robert uncooperative, he can’t shape them into people. Gosling and Dunst are just pawns in his reenactment. They’re fine, but they’re never fully alive, and while their battle scars feel true, they’re also the stuff of cliché: a coke habit, a lost child, a Daddy complex. Gosling’s emotionally crippled killer is especially adrift, so much that when his character goes off the rails entirely, it hardly makes a splash. Langella has a slimmer, but stronger turn as his fiercely WASPy pops, the type of suit who could hob nob with senators and still know a guy with a shiv. And after all of the blood and two more bodies, it’s still not clear what Jarecki is driving at: a puzzle he’s hungry to solve or a good-looking j’accuse!

Click here for All Good Things in Boxoffice Magazine

Morning Glory

Friday, November 12th, 2010

Rachel McAdams stars as a plucky TV producer in an old-fashioned comedy that respects brains, ambition and, as McAdams’ anchor dubs, her “repellent moxie.” The chipper humor is so classic Hollywood that when McAdams gets excited and balls up her fists, the victims of her cheery speeches ask if she’s going to break into song. With a gruff Harrison Ford macho-ing up the screen and a romantic subplot between McAdams and go-to Mr. Perfect Patrick Wilson, Roger Michell (Notting Hill) has directed as good a date movie as you’ll find in theaters today, a time when studios are repeatedly racing their heroines to the bottom of the shame index. (Poor Katherine Heigl.) And Morning Glory’s good-hearted charm could win it a broader fan base still-it’s a grower, not an opening weekend juggernaut.

Every morning, McAdams wakes up at 1:30 am, the time most young singles in the big city are slipping into bed. Fueled by coffee, she charges down to the IBS studios (an unfortunatedeliberate?acronym) and corrals her Daybreak team to pin down that day’s stories: host Diane Keaton’s On-Air pap smear, a psychic parakeet, Mario Batali’s lasagna. That’s infotainment! And it’s pumping through McAdams’ veins along with what looks like six cups of joe a day. This is also why her enforced new hireveteran journalist Harrison Ford, a man who once “laid a cool cloth on the forehead of Mother Teresa during a cholera epidemic”thinks she’s the new plague.

The fine print in Ford’s contract says he’ll lose $6 million if he refuses to do the network show. Unfortunately, it also says that he can demand a tropical fruit plate in his green room, have final say over TV promos and refuse to do any story he considers demeaning. Which on Daybreakis all of them.

Ford is hilarious and brooding, deeply wrinkled and deeply intimidating. He’s got the best lines, courtesy of screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna (of the repellent 27 Dresses and the much better The Devil Wears Prada) and his relationship arc with McAdams is more important to the script than her makeouts with Wilson, who plays a story producer Ford calls “Sir Dipshit.” As his co-anchor, Diane Keaton kills it in her smaller role as the show’s longtime host, a former Miss Arizona. Channeling her usual mania into a useful purpose, she’s a diva who only breaks out a smile for the camerashe can go from “Screw you!” to “Good morning!” in two seconds.

I’d like to see McAdams get more gorgeous go-getter roles. Heck, I’d like to see all of young, female Hollywood get decent parts, but at least when McAdams puts on a sensible suit, she doesn’t look like she’s playing dress-up. Her can-do TV exec is smart and capable and, unlike most hapless ingénues, she doesn’t walk into walls. (Though she does bang her head on them on purpose.) Comedies about driven career women stick them in teetering Louboutins and make fun of them when they stumble. For a scene or two, even Morning Glory is guilty of that, but by the end, McAdams lopes gloriously through midtown Manhattan on pink needle-heeled stilettos, just one sharp cookie inviting us to run with her as she chases her dreams.

Click here for Morning Glory in Boxoffice Magazine

For Colored Girls

Friday, November 12th, 2010

Tyler Perry makes melodramas. That’s not a bad thing–ask D.W. Griffith, Douglas Sirk or even Charles Dickens. But emotional manipulation’s gone out of style. (Except in Washington, of course.) Written as an Obie-award winning tone poem in 1975 by Ntozake Shange, née Paulette Williams, a well-off, well-educated feminist who adopted her Zulu name after a tough divorce, For Colored Girls is defiantly retro right down to its name. (The actresses seem to pause a beat each time they say “colored.”) That this florid weepie has made it to the screen at all - especially after Oprah cluck-clucked her disapproval - is a triumph of Perry’s will and his trust that there’s an audience out there for deeply felt tragedies about girls they might have known back on the block. Last fall, that audience spent $47.5 million in support of Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire, and Girls‘ high profile cast means Perry can bank on at least making his money back.

On the stage, For Colored Girls is a seven-woman ensemble reciting 20 poems about the toughest moments of being black and female. Here, their stories are compressed into a city block crowned by a five-story Harlem walk-up where man-eating bartender Thandie Newton, battered wife Kimberly Elise and snoop Phylicia Rashad live in three apartments on the top floor and try to keep everybody - including each other - out of their business. On the bottom floor, Newton’s teenage sister, Tessa Thompson, tries to slip loose of mom Whoopi Goldberg’s religious zealotry. Meanwhile, social worker Kerry Washington and floundering feminist advocate Loretta Devine pop by on their own passionately personal crusades while outside the brick walls, dance teacher Anika Noni Rose and fashion editor Janet Jackson are brutally schooled that you can’t trust a man.

In fact, in this neighborhood, you can’t trust anyone. Like Precious, this is a collage of terrible true things: rape, molestation, shame, abuse, addiction, promiscuity, abortion, murder, self-hate, cheating and AIDS, all pressed together so tightly as to block out the light. The enemies are men, even if you have to go back a generation to the original attack. Perry’s approach is to slap them all flat on the screen as if daring you to look away (or roll your eyes). There’s no depth or surprise in the assaults; their strength is merely that 35 years ago, Ntozake Shange demanded you know they exist - truths that have lost their power since Oprah, Tyra, Maury and Dr. Phil served up pain as TV’s daily diet. (And Perry’s adopted Precious‘ editing flourish of cutting to boiling food as a woman gets raped.)

At least we’re shepherded through this hood of horrors by a stable of great actresses. There’s not a weak link in the ensemble, though the face you take home with you is Kimberly Elise’s, who brings a raw, shattered nobility to her role as a wife and mother trying to make the best decision from her bad options. Miss Jackson is frosty, Thandie is screamingly beautiful (”I am the wrath of woman!” she howls), and while Whoopi is unshakably Whoopi, she manages enough menace to pull off the job. But the heartbreaker is soulful comedienne and stage actress Loretta Devine, a strong-shouldered single gal with a voice that aches with vulnerability. These are women of might playing women brought low. And while these two hours of hopelessness seem to argue that being an inner city black woman is the unluckiest roll of the dice, these ladies - even at their weakest - carry themselves with the confidence of winners, and we cling to their strength like a life raft.

Click here for For Colored Girls in Boxoffice Magazine

Hatchet II

Friday, November 12th, 2010

Mosquitoes bite. Gators tear. But only Victor Crowley strangles a man with his own intestines until his head explodes. Adam Green’s follow-up to the 2007 cult hit returns to the swamp where a hunting party shoots to see if the backwoods killer is man or ghost. Adam Green’s inventively gruesome slasher is the widest unrated release in 25 years. (”Your parents must be so disappointed in you,” an MPAA board member allegedly scolded Green.) Sure, the kills are surprising, but equally so is Green’s craft in sketching the human chum, a dozen distinct characters with their own personalities, motivations and secrets. Genre fans will love it; the question is will they buy enough tickets to spook the ratings board?

Hatchet II picks up right where the original ended. Crowley, an overalls-wearing bayou boy with a face like a gouged potato, slaughters everyone who dares enter his corner of the marsh. After a swamp tour gone wrong, Marybeth (Danielle Harris of the Halloween reboot) stuns Crowley (Kane Hodder) long enough to escape back to “civilization” (the nearest city is New Orleans) which Green introduces with a close-up of vomit. There, she enlists her Uncle Bob (Child’s Play director Tom Holland) and Reverend Zombie (Candyman star Tony Todd, swiveling like a charmed snake) and a pack of in-over-their-head hustlers to return to the muck to reclaim the bodies of her murdered dad and brother.

Can they take out Crowley, too? If audiences agree to believe their villains can be taken down but never defeated, fright franchises are giddy to reincarnate their killers. Director Green faces cliché head-on, transforming the question of Crowley’s immortality into a plot point, and concocting several competing theories about plausible means of death (including human sacrifice). He’s also given poor Crowley a back story that seeks to elevate him from man to myth, though he, like most horror directors, likes his death bringers to be strong, simple types, not wise-cracking Kruegers.

There are jokes here, but they’re all made by (or at the expense of) these pigs brought to the slaughter. Comedian Colton Dunn gets in some good laughs as a broke charmer who sings songs about chicken and biscuits, and scored nearly as many chuckles when he and another victim were sawed in half by a chainsaw built for two. When the hatchets start swinging, there’s a death every four minutes. But casually–and dare I say, elegantly–Green has laced the swamp with betrayals and lies so that each character realizes another has done them wrong before Crowley stomps in for the final insult. His fanciful fatalities will get the hoots, but Green’s craft cuts deep–he’s a smart, brutal puppet master who knows the power in his strings.

Click here for Hatchet II in Boxoffice Magazine


Saturday, September 18th, 2010

Rodrigo Cortes’ sparse thriller plays as if the ghost of Alfred Hitchcock dared him to one up Lifeboat. Set in a coffin hidden several feet deep in the Iraqi sand, Cortés‘ flick sticks to the constraints of Chris Sparling’s script; lighting every scene with whatever sole star Ryan Reynolds’ kidnapped truck driver digs up in his living tomb. Lionsgate snatched up the picture at Sundance and there’s no doubt everyone behind this minimalist stunt will make their money back from those curious to see how well they pulled off the feat. (Answer: reasonably.) 
Buried pins us in Reynolds’ perspective from the start: the screen is black, the sound is hushed. We hear Reynolds wake up in the dark, his shallow sleep breathing turning into panic and hyperventilation as he beats the ceiling and walls of his box. Together, we discover his horror. And when he finds a Zippo in his pocket—the film’s MVP—we get weak yellow light that splays across the cheap wooden boards. Reynolds has been gagged and bound. But freeing himself is still just a marginal improvement.

When your only character is helpless and set-less, there isn’t much your movie can do. Reynolds can’t even stand, and to the film’s credit Cortés doesn’t sneak in any flashbacks or dream sequences. Reynolds can only do one thing: make calls on the Arabic cellular planted by his captors. A whole genre of horror flicks has found ways to block their victims from calling 911. Reynolds can make all the 911 calls he wants—the operators can’t and won’t help this crazy crackpot who claims he’s trapped in a coffin.

The best parts of Sparling’s script play like an absurdist snuff film. Reynolds’ truck driver isn’t smart—watching him make one dumb move after another is agony. But when one stateside dispatcher after another puts him on hold or treats him like a crank, we wonder if the terrorists’ torture plot is to make him dependent on the kindness of American strangers. Even when he calls his employer, he’s shunted to an answering machine. (That’s one way to make your point about dispassionate bureaucrats.)

Yes, this is a film where every plot point is a phone call. When Reynolds’ cell loses a bar of power its like a bomb detonated. But by that point, an hour in, our energy’s flagging like his reception and the flick fumbles its attempts to give us any juice. The melodramatic score is overkill and in one scene Cortés invents a new meme: “jumping the snake.” We’re intimate with Reynolds’ stubble and the nervous sweat beading on his chest. But there’s just enough bleak humor to keep us on the hook. There are bitter giggles at his captor’s demands for “Five million money,” and the quick beat when Reynolds wonders if its okay to bill him 25 cents for the operator to automatically connect his call. We slowly realize that Cortés is willing to take us as morally (and politically) dark as we dare. The FBI asks Reynolds not to call the media and create an international incident. Should he trust them? Do we? Like him, we can’t see out of his box—we can’t see the big picture of the struggle in Iraq. We only see one man’s fear, and ultimately, that’s what wars are made of.

Click here for Buried in Boxoffice Magazine

Alpha and Omega

Friday, September 17th, 2010

The caste system thrives in our national parks, where Alpha (or leader) wolves simply can’t slum it by hooking up with their lame Omega kinfolk. For wild animals, they’re bound by an awful lot of rules. This 3D cartoon tracks the furtive romance between Alpha Kate (Hayden Panettiere) and Omega Humphrey (Justin Long) after match-maker scientists capture the couple in Canada and relocate them to Idaho to “repopulate.” With the sharp fangs of its stars tearing chunks out of the dreamy Barry White score, it’s a precisely adequate film best for young girls who will respond to Kate’s strong female huntress who naturally takes on being the breadwinner–or, really, beast-winner–of her pack.

Most animal cartoon romances stop at kissing. Alpha and Omega has the distinction of covertly being about full-on mating, here coded as “howling,” as in, “You know, they can’t howl together.” Howling is the goal for the leaders of the Western Pack (Danny Glover) and Eastern Pack (Dennis Hopper, in his last role), who want their Alpha children, Kate and Garth, to marry and unite the packs, thus ending the bitter Caribou War.

Trouble is, Kate doesn’t like the way Garth howls. (When done right, howling sounds like a duet between Luther Vandross and Celine Dion.) And Kate’s fierce mother–a wolf who somehow manages to have a soccer mom bob–has only advised her on what to do if Garth gets too fresh: “Go for the throat and don’t let go until the body stops shaking.”

Like that line, the best parts of Anthony Bell and Ben Gluck’s movie take advantage of their leads’ Tao of Wolfness. While you can’t call a movie with lupine log-sledding biologically accurate, it’s a wickedly funny touch when Kate and Humphrey shrug at a French Canadian goose that can’t give them good directions (because, at least they can eat him). Even if their boppy hunting style looks like Sonic the Hedgehog, their ethics are authentically carnivore.

The romance that builds between Kate and Humphrey as they trek back to Canada is also more natural than the typical, “I hate you! I hate you! I love you!” schlock; these are two well-meaning, bright teen wolves with mutual respect. Making them both likable is a low-bar achievement, but it’s rare enough in this breed where smart girls are shrews and low status guys are goons. And as Humphrey is the Omega leader among his posse of Omegas, there’s an argument that he should at least get promoted to Delta or Gamma status.

Alas, like Humphrey’s half-baked jokes (sample: “Two bears are eating a clown when one of the bears says, ‘Does this taste funny to you?’”), the animation is sub-par. The 3D allows for bold, deep shots that swoop over cliffs and waterfalls, but can’t distract from the wolves’ clotted fur, which looks a decade behind the textures Pixar created for Toy Story 3. However, this isn’t a film howling to be placed in the canon–it’s content to be seen at all, and parents with restless, animal-loving children may as well throw it a bone.

Click here for Alpha and Omega in Boxoffice Magazine

Piranha 3D

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

Are you a breast man? An ass man? Or a fish man? Either way, there’s plenty of all three in this bloody spree by French director Alexandre Aja. The script is ridiculous, the bodies are great and the film skates so long on the line between knowingly bad and bad that by the time the body count hits 100 and the booby count hits 1000, we’ve lost track of the difference. The post-production 3D lacks depth, but at least unlike Clash of the Titans, the shots were always meant to be a converted; it’s a cheap way out, sure, but fan boys blown away by a shot of 3D DD jiggling underwater have other priorities. Piranha will take a bite out of the next two weekends’ box office and quickly go extinct, but will linger on in its target audience’s fantasies.

Sunny, scenic Lake Victoria is under attack from invaders. Not man-eating fish (yet), but 20,000 spandexed Spring Breakers, all in various degrees of intoxication and undress. Deputies Ving Rhames and Elisabeth Shue (playing a mom of three) are entrusted to keep order when into their harbor swims an oily predator: Jerry O’Connell, the producer of Wild Wild Girls trolling for fresh flesh. Model Kelly Brook lures Shue’s 17 year old son, Steven R. McQueen, and his crush, Jessica Szohr, into O’Connell’s net–or really, his luxury yacht–and they set sail for a day of soft core porn shoots just as scientist Adam Scott realizes a fissure underneath the lake has unleashed prehistoric piranhas. “There’s thousands of them–and they’re pissed!” he yelps.

Piranha 3D isn’t Jaws. Steven Spielberg himself couldn’t get this script an Oscar. But even a mocking comparison is good enough for Aja, who swipes the line, “Do you think a propeller could have done this,” and enlists Richard Dreyfuss to play the opening scene chum. (With 3D, we go inside Dreyfuss’ mauled spleen.) And for good measure, Aja’s also enlisted Christopher Lloyd to resurrect Doc Brown in his hilarious, over-excited cameo as a local ichthyologist. (”These fish have been dead for 200 million years!,” he warbles in Doc’s sing-song science.)

What’s terrible about a piranha kill is that they don’t have a Great White’s tell-tale fin. And worse, their victims are nibbled to death. When pulled out of the water, the flesh hangs off their bones like red, ropey algae. The piranhas themselves look like bullets with beer bellies and teeth. They’re as ugly on the outside as their prey is on the inside. The bros and bimbos served up as jerk tartare are so repellent we’re almost on the side of the fish. On Lake Victoria, wearing a Pixies shirt will get you called an “asswipe,” and there’s an ever-expanding lexicon for “boobs.” My faves were “coconuts,” “weapons of mass-turbation” and Eli Roth’s gift for drawling “titties” across eight syllables. Even Shue’s two young kids are sexist, the daughter asking grownups about their cup size and the youngest son telling her to “be a girl and just sunbathe or something.”

Ruthless and ridiculous, Aja’s horror comedy has a purity of vision. Even when a babe is sliced in half, first her bikini top falls off for a booby shot. And why not? It’s August, vacation time is almost over, and if you haven’t yet hit your bikini quota, buy a ticket and get a summer’s worth in 90 minutes. When the blood starts gushing, wet t-shirt contests get a whole new meaning. Go, fish, go!

Click here for Piranha 3D in Boxoffice Magazine

The Other Guys

Friday, August 6th, 2010

When a bomb explodes before Bruce Willis, his cheekbones are highlighted with ash. When one explodes before Will Ferrell, he collapses in a puddle sobbing, “I’ve got blood blisters on my hands! I call bullshit on that!” The joke isn’t just that he’s a wuss (he is), it’s that movie violence never measures up to the human pain of the real thing. Does The Other Guys measure up to a dumb summer comedy? Sure: it’s dumb and consistently funny, and the weekend high in Manhattan is 88° which means the sizable audiences who’ll escape to the movie theater for some air conditioning will find The Other Guys as good and fleeting as a street corner popsicle.

In dog years (or dog days of summer years), it’s been eons since big-ticket action films were pure, raw action. (Though Sylvester Stallone is out to change that with The Expendables.) Instead, in a nod to audiences who fake-gripe that, “There’s, like, no way he could have survived all those bullets, man!” Hollywood’s made action flicks where comedians joke through hailstorms of lead, where there’s no risk that Seth Rogen might actually die and, therefore, no real thrill or flutter of tension.

Into this mock-machismo climate struts–or really, tiptoes–Will Ferrell, who’s spent his career lampooning masculinity. He’s either under the bar (Step Brothers, Elf) or far, far over it (Anchorman, Talladega Nights). Here, he’s femme. According to sour new partner Mark Wahlberg, demoted to a desk job after accidentally capping Derek Jeter in the knee during Game 7, even the sound of Ferrell’s pee is feminine. Wahlberg is half a foot shorter than Ferrell, but he makes up for the height with a glower that could kill pigeons. His career’s being kneecapped by this namby pamby transfer from Forensic Accounting who drives (gasp!) a Prius, which in this world is like cruising in a Barbie bike. (Quick! Somebody warn Leonardo DiCaprio!) And now while real cops Damon Wayans Jr. and Rob Riggle, and superstar cops Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson are out cracking skulls, these two are stuck at NYPD headquarters where Ferrell whistles the theme to I Dream of Jeannie while Wahlberg plays solitaire and grumbles.

With the entrance of shyster stockbroker Steve Coogan (whose motto is “Live for Excess!”) and the $32 billion lost investment he’s scheming to recoup, director Adam McKay gives this undynamic duo a chance to prove their mettle. Problem is, no one else cares, not Captain Michael Keaton (having a lark) and definitely not the audience. How can we when even McKay and co-writer Chris Henchy’s script would rather squander time on Ferrell’s sonorous Irish singing and supremely hot wife, Eva Mendes? (It’s meant to be funny that the goon treats her like garbage despite having a doctorate and a killer push up bra, but that joke wears thin fast.)

At least unlike those uppity, over-achieving women, the movie knows its place as multiplex fast food. Or does it? At the credits, McKay runs infographics on real life Ponzi schemes, as if to suggest all the earlier shenanigans were just a warm-up for some learning. And it turns out that fact still beats fiction. While Coogan’s scrambling for $32 billion, McKay reminds us that Bernie Madoff swiped double that ($64.9 billion). Of course, by this moment in the running time, choppers have now exploded next to Ferrell and left him without a scratch; they’re fittingly harmless in a movie that will sell you anything for a laugh.

Click here for The Other Guys in Boxoffice Magazine

Happiness Runs

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

When you’ve been raised in a hippie commune, how do you rebel? Especially when mom’s still having loud threesomes and dad is more likely one of two leaders (Rutger Hauer and Mark Boone Junior) who have spent two decades hypnotizing, seducing and robbing the womenfolk. According to this ’80s period piece, teens take up selling drugs and punk rock, and even so their odds of escaping sane and unscarred are slimmer than a hit of acid. There’s more boobs than brains in Adam Sherman’s semi-true tale of heedless, bored debauchery-it’s the Kids of the campfire-but Strand Releasing hopes this salacious but dull drama will draw in the curious who wonder how paradise can turn into hell on earth.

Sherman opens his flick with a retro newsreel montage about the start of the commune-ist era, when idealistic men and women flocked to cheap land and recreated (or really, reinvented) an agrarian, egalitarian utopia that never actually existed. The hippies came close-at least, for a few years-and in these opening minutes, it’s easy to see why so many answered the call of the flower child. Who knew? Maybe this utopia could work, since its roots were deep in self-analysis and feminist theory, and the sexual revolution. These founders were smart kids and some had the money and ambition to make it happen.

The flick flashes forward two decades. Those moony teens and twentysomethings now have teens of their own, and just like their parents they’re a mess. The grown ups-the truly devout who never matured out of the camp-are narcissists who only passingly school their kids in formalities like how to roll a joint and the etiquette of setting the table for a dinner party orgy. Hanna Hall is a promiscuous self-cutter, Kirsten Berman an angry punk rocker, Jesse Plemons a drug dealer-a gig as mundane on the commune as a job at McDonald’s would be outside. Mark L. Young is the most normal of the bunch-we assume Sherman has channeled his own commune childhood into him-but he’s got his own problems. Not only is his first love, Hall, dating Plemons, but mom Andie MacDowell is in a constant fog enabled by Mark Boone Jr., the sandal clad despot who, along with Rutger Hauer, tends to the women of the camp like an ant sucking the nectar from an aphid. And these aren’t teens of the innocent ’60s-their rebellion is from peace to hate, as though the punk rock movement spawned as much from the farms of Maine as the alleyways of London. They’ve taken free love to mean cheap, and Hall flings herself at anyone willing for an hour of distraction.

Sounds sexy but, despite the tits on display, this is a moralistic emo snooze. We get the broad strokes of how the hippies corrupted their own movement, but there isn’t a single lead character we’d give a dollar to on Haight Street. In the margins, we see the even younger kids pop up in trees, as wild and rabid as squirrels-too young to mope, we’d rather hang with them. But we’re stuck with the teens and as they’re desperate for the next quick fix thrill, so are we. What we both really want is meaning. And unlike everything and everyone else in this utopia-gone-wrong, that’s not for sale.

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