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Thursday
May242012

Battleship

A movie based on a board game with no real discernible story is clearly the last sign of desperation from Hollywood studios that are bankrupt of ideas. With Candy Land, Monopoly and even a Ouija Board game on the horizon, cinema lovers can’t help but feel like their passion is on a decline. When I first heard of this week’s board game turned movie adaptation, Battleship, I, like so many others, thought, “There’s no way this will be good.” But I never imagined it would be this bad. There isn’t a single moment of Battleship that works the way it’s intended to. It’s an aggressively loud, utterly incompetent film without a single redeeming factor. If the film isn’t a stone cold lock for a Worst Picture Razzie nomination (along with a handful of other equally deserving category nominations), then I don’t know what is.

The film, in as far as a departure from its source material as it could possibly go, follows Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch), a former slacker who was coasting by on the generosity of his brother, Commander Stone Hopper (Alexander Skarsgard). However, after meeting and falling in love with Samantha Shane (Brooklyn Decker), daughter of Admiral Shane (Liam Neeson), he cleaned up his act and joined the Navy. Old habits are hard to break, however, and his rambunctious behavior eventually gets him in hot water. He has just head out to sea to participate in the Naval War Games, but because of his transgressions, he is told that once he arrives back on shore, he’s going to be kicked out of the Navy. While out there, though, the participants in the game see a fleet of spaceships crash into the ocean. Upon closer examination, the ships fire upon them and the planned war games turns into an all too real war against intergalactic space travelers who are planning on wiping out the human species.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because this same exact story has been told so many times, it’s practically ingrained in our heads. Only the most cinematically ignorant will be unable to map out what’s going to happen far before it actually does. But the derivative path it takes to the post-movie credits is so clumsy, hokey and nonsensical that other similar (arguably terrible) films suddenly look like picturesque masterpieces, including Michael Bay’s Transformers series. Yes folks, the definition of “suck” has been redefined.

Battleship is a movie that doesn’t just fail in what it’s trying to do, however; it actually manages to achieve the exact opposite of its intention. For instance, when it attempts to be funny, it fails and when it attempts to be serious, it’s funny. Any and all laughs to be had in this void of mental bankruptcy are of the unintentional type, but they make the film no more enjoyable. Its staggering inaptitude isn’t isolated, though, and spreads throughout every facet of its production, including the performances. Taylor Kitsch, in his second bomb in only a little over two months, is lifeless and boring, completely incapable of carrying a film. Liam Neeson, who’s barely in the thing in the first place, looks bored. One can only imagine he received the offer for the part after a long night of drinking and was coaxed into accepting. The most egregious offender, though, is first time actor Gregory D. Gadson. A real life soldier who lost both his legs to a roadside bomb in Baghdad, he plays Lieutenant Colonel Mick Canales, a war veteran who is struggling to cope with his disability. And boy is he awful. While certainly worthy of praise for his selfless actions and sacrifice for our country, he nevertheless has no business starring in movies. Despite the cornball dialogue he’s forced to recite, his performance is one of the worst (starring or supporting) I’ve seen in a big Hollywood movie in a very long time, maybe ever.

The film, perhaps because it felt obligated to, forces in some nods to the classic game. The most obvious comes in a scene where the characters measure water displacement from computer monitored buoys to determine where the ships are. Shaped like a “Battleship” grid and marked with letter and number coordinates, the characters stare at a screen and fire missiles at the most likely location of the ships (“E-11!” someone shouts at one point, to which a response comes, “It’s a miss!”). It’s both clever and contrived; clever because it actually pertains to the story at hand, but contrived because there’s no logical reason to keep the alien invaders tied to the ocean. If you’ll remember, these are spaceships that crash into Earth, not marine vessels. They can fly wherever they want, but instead “jump” from buoy to buoy. It’s a gap in rationality that simply can’t be overlooked.

Then of course there’s the alien species’ motivation. Despite their supposed desire to destroy all life (which is helpfully and unnecessarily deemed an “extinction event” through expositional dialogue), they tend to attack manmade structures more often than they do actual men, which includes bridges, cars, ships and more. When they have the chance to dispose of one of us, like in a scene where a scientist wanders directly into the middle of their camp and comes face to face with one of them, they instead leave us alone. The reason behind their actions is left hazy, not that you’ll care one way or the other while watching. They could kill all humans or the humans could discover their weakness and bring them down; whatever will end the movie quicker. Battleship is a waste of money, resources and theater screens. Watching it is a waste of life. It’s lose-lose no matter how you cut it.

Battleship receives 0/5

Friday
May182012

What to Expect When You're Expecting

If What to Expect When You’re Expecting is indicative of real life experiences for waiting parents, then childbearing must be full of clichés, caricatures and contrivances. It must be like a desperate, unfunny screenplay that thinks it’s exploring the spectrum of pregnancy possibilities when really it knows no more about the event than the characters that are going through it. This sad excuse for a film takes the miracle of childbirth and trivializes it with cheesy dialogue, over-the-top melodramatics and bad comedy. It’s not one of the worst of the year thanks to a solid cast that does as much as they can with very little, but it’s still fairly awful.

The story is comprised of individual vignettes of characters who are all, whether they like it or not, expecting a baby. First we meet famous health guru, Jules (Cameron Diaz), a current contestant on the latest celebrity dance show, who discovers she and her dance partner, Evan (Matthew Morrison), are expecting after throwing up on stage at the end of a live taping. Later we are introduced to Holly (Jennifer Lopez) and her husband Alex (Rodrigo Santoro) who are unable to have babies and are looking into adoption. Meanwhile, baby crazy Wendy (Elizabeth Banks) and her husband Gary (Ben Falcone) are so eager to raise a child that they set their phones to alert them when Wendy is ovulating. Their careful planning eventually works and Wendy soon finds herself with a baby bump. In an interesting coincidence, Gary’s dad, former racecar driver Ramsey (Dennis Quaid), and his young trophy wife Skyler (Brooklyn Decker) are also expecting. Finally, there’s a young couple, Marco (Chace Crawford) and Rosie (Anna Kendrick) who have sex just one time in the heat of the moment and find themselves facing something they aren’t ready for.

As is a problem with many movies of this type where multiple stories are juggled in a small amount of time, What to Expect When You’re Expecting is sloppy. Nearly all of the stories are rushed through, underexplored and underdeveloped and the result is a disconnected mess. Most movies will try to somehow link these stories together so it feels like there’s a reason for them to be told, but the majority of these characters never cross paths, unless you’re speaking in the literal sense in that they occasionally walk by each other, a lazy transition between already lazy stories if there ever was one. The longer this goes on, as you wait for it make a point or take an unexpected turn or, well, do anything at all, the less tolerating it becomes.

Any promising moment is ruined by its need to tell its stories quickly for the purpose of shortening the runtime (an unfortunate effect of vignette movies). For instance, when the young one time sexual offenders, Marco and Rosie, find out they’re pregnant, one would suspect them to contemplate abortion because, regardless of your stance on the issue, it’s a natural thought for scared young people who suddenly find themselves facing a responsibility they’re not sure they can handle to have. Marco does indeed allude to it by asking what Rosie’s going to do about her situation, but then it’s glossed over, almost like the question was never raised in the first place. When the movie eventually gets back to them after spending time with the other characters, their decision has been made and they’re fully devoted to having the baby. Their evolution is far too fast and strips the film of any realism.

Normally with these types of films, there are at least one or two stories that outshine the rest, but that’s not the case here. All, including the supposed-to-be-funny group of dads who support each other’s parental negligence, are bland and thinly written. The cast is game and most retain their charm—Elizabeth Banks is still affable and Anna Kendrick is as lovely as ever—but the best cast in the world couldn’t make these characters come to life. Simply put, there just isn’t much to What to Expect When You’re Expecting. I would say it’s a failure, but I’m not sure it was even trying.

What to Expect When You’re Expecting receives 1/5

Friday
Feb112011

Just Go With It

I’ve come to terms with Hollywood having run out of ideas. With years of examples to back it up, it’s fairly easy to make the claim that the bigwigs at the major film studios have no idea what else to do. So, to compensate, they release remakes, not because they have a fresh idea on the story or think they can improve on the original, but because they know a movie with a recognizable name will sell tickets. While I’m not flat out opposed to remakes, I believe the classics should be left alone. If you’re going to remake a movie, make it one that had an interesting idea or a lot of potential, but failed to live up to it, a modern update that could indeed be better than the original. Cactus Flower, which is now being remade as Just Go With It, falls somewhere in the middle of “classic” and “worth an update.” It's a classic only in the sense that it’s old, not that it’s considered one of the best films of all time, but it’s still wonderful, full of heart and whimsy and multi-dimensional characters you can care about. This 2011 update doesn’t improve on it, but it differs enough to stand apart from it and, although it’s a wildly erratic film in terms of quality, it’s watchable.

The story follows Danny (Adam Sandler), a plastic surgeon who pretends to be married to pick up women. His manufactured sob stories about his neglectful “wife” tug at the heartstrings of the women who listen, which allows him to make his way into their beds. However, at a party one day, he meets Palmer (Brooklyn Decker), a stunning girl who instantly smites him, but when she stumbles onto his ring, she mistakes him as a married man. Instead of telling her the truth, he lies to her and creates a whirlwind of deceit. When he tells her he is divorcing his made up wife, Palmer insists on meeting her, so he coaxes his secretary, Katherine (Jennifer Aniston), into pretending to playing his soon-to-be ex. But when Palmer overhears Katherine talking to her kids on the phone, she assumes they are Danny’s as well, so the lie spreads further, which leads Danny to realize something about himself.

Some remakes can be directly compared to their originals, but in the case of Just Go With It and Cactus Flower, the two share only certain aspects. Aside from the initial concept, they each go down fairly separate paths. What they share in common is that the setup is caused by a bad decision, to not come clean to their girls. The differences from here on out are vast, but none more so than the much more excessive and less believable nature of Just Go With It. The situations and conflicts that arise in this movie are brought on by extreme and incredibly unlikely coincidences, like when Katherine runs into her nemesis, Devlin (Nicole Kidman), while in Hawaii pretending to be Danny’s wife, thus making the ruse trickier to pull off. Cactus Flower may not have been perfect, but when characters bumped into each other, it made sense. The rationale behind their actions was indicative of their personalities, so even as you imagined how differently you would have handled the situation, you understood why they acted as they did.

But to criticize the believability factor in a movie like this is frivolous. It’s a comedy, after all, and the real level of its quality is measured in how many laughs it produces, which is precisely what makes Just Go With It so difficult to discuss. It’s a movie I liked one minute and didn’t like the next. It was like my opinion was riding a Ferris wheel, ascending to the highest of peaks before descending to the lowest of lows. There are a surprising amount of laugh out loud moments (especially given the poor quality of other Happy Madison productions like Grown Ups and Paul Blart: Mall Cop), but it also gets into funks. Jokes are stretched too thin (the name “Devlin” as slang for going to the bathroom is referenced no less than seven times), mean spiritedness seeps through and slapstick humor pervades the movie.

When the film reaches its back half, it goes completely overboard with idiotic nonsense—what relevance performing the Heimlich Maneuver on a sheep has to the overall picture I haven’t the slightest clue—but the actors are game and I enjoyed the chemistry between all of the characters, including the two children, played by Bailee Madison and Griffin Gluck, who are both terrific and squeeze out some of the film’s biggest laughs. Sandler still works better as a dramatic actor (as seen in movies like Punch-Drunk Love and Reign Over Me) and struggles to hold himself together in the funnier moments, shedding conspicuous smiles when he should be straight faced, but there’s still charm to Just Go With It. It’s slight, but it’s there and you won’t blame yourself for having a look.

Just Go With It receives 2.5/5