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Entries in Comedy (104)

Friday
Mar162012

Casa de mi Padre

At first glance, Casa de mi Padre looks to be a change in Will Ferrell’s increasingly redundant career. Movie after movie, he plays what is essentially the same character with the same mannerisms performing the same type of shtick. His range as an actor is brought into question time and again. Casa de mi Padre isn’t like his other films—it’s a spoof on those silly, overdramatized Spanish soap operas (for which he actually learned Spanish)—but his approach to acting has changed little. While a novel idea, simply speaking a foreign language doesn’t make a performance (or movie, for that matter). Will Ferrell yet again plays Will Ferrell in a moderately clever, but inconsistently funny comedy that doesn’t have the material to support its concept.

Armando (Will Ferrell) is a simple rancher in Mexico. Having been one his entire life, it’s the only thing he knows. Unfortunately, his family’s ranch is having financial problems and is in danger of being taken away. Soon, Armando’s wealthy brother, Raul (Diego Luna), shows up with his beautiful fiancée, Sonia (Genesis Rodriguez), claiming he can save the ranch. Their troubles seem to be over, but Armando soon finds out that Raul’s wealth is due to his mingling in the drug trade. This eventually leads him down a path he didn’t see for himself; he’s in a war with Mexico’s biggest drug lord, Onza (Gael Garcia Bernal).

In its desire to mimic old Spanish telenovelas, Casa de mi Padre is intentionally bad. The animals are unconvincing puppets, missing responsive dialogue is replaced by looped footage and the sets are poorly designed, no doubt so they will be noticed for their obvious artificiality. There are a number of obvious jump cuts too; a couple are so small it makes you wonder if they were indeed intentional or if they were simply oversights by the filmmakers (though it works either way, so it’s a moot point). These calculated inconsistencies are clever and funny, even if they sometimes do more closely resemble an old Grindhouse film than a Spanish soap opera, but it isn’t nearly enough.

A large part of the film’s humor is meant to derive from the fact that Ferrell, a pudgy, white American, is speaking Spanish and attempting to blend in with actors of actual Spanish ethnicities, but such a premise is not inherently funny. It’s admittedly amusing for a few minutes, sure, but it certainly doesn’t hold up for a full length feature. Furthermore, Ferrell speaks the language so fluently that one can’t wonder about the point of it all. Although it would have deviated from its already bare spoof of telenovelas, a form of broken Spanish would have been far more amusing and, at the very least, fit comfortably in with its intentionally bad approach. As is, however, anybody could have played his role and the effect would have been nearly identical.

Casa de mi Padre’s overacted narrative, complete with hilariously overemotional back stories, is indicative of its inspiration, but its one joke premise is stretched out for far too long. With production values that are meant to look like the actors are standing on a shoddy soundstage, this could have just as easily been filmed as a six minute short on Saturday Night Live. And therein lies its problem. It’s an interesting idea, but not interesting enough to be a movie. Ferrell aficionados may be interested in seeing him deviate from his normal type of role (even if only by a little bit), but there isn’t much else in this half-hearted send-up of Spanish soap operas to be worthy of your attention.

Casa de mi Padre receives 2/5

Friday
Mar162012

Jeff, Who Lives at Home

In one way or another, all movies are about destiny. The journey a character takes from a film’s opening moments all the way to its conclusion can easily be defined as such, yet critics and filmgoers still criticize those films for their contrivances and happenstances. Jeff, Who Lives at Home opens with a quote, directly telling the audience that the film they’re about to see is about fate, which will give certain critics a reason to look past the film’s contrived situations, but expressly stated or not, contrivances are contrivances and Jeff, Who Lives at Home is full of them.

Jeff (Jason Segel) still lives at home with his mother, Sharon (Susan Sarandon). He’s 30 years old and nobody understands him. One day, he gets a call from a wrong number looking for a man named Kevin. Jeff sees this as a sign to look for someone named Kevin because, who knows, that person might just need his help. On a trip to the supermarket that same day, he spots on a man wearing a basketball jersey with the name “Kevin” etched on its back, so he follows him only to be robbed, beaten up and wandering the street where a whole mess of contrived situations lead him to what he thought he was looking for.

If I went through every single one of those aforementioned contrivances in an attempt to defend my stance on the film, I’d be giving away the entire story beat by beat because they continue on, quite literally, until the very last scene where characters who hadn’t seen each other the entire film just happen to intersect at a crucial point in time, so instead let me just give a few early examples. After taking a beating from the kid wearing the basketball jersey, Jeff takes a stroll down the road, the very same one that his brother, Pat (Ed Helms), just happens to be having lunch on (and only spots him because he leaves his table to take a conveniently timed call from his mother). Pat offers to give Jeff a ride home, but after some reckless driving, he slams into a tree, only for the two to spot Pat’s wife, Linda (Judy Greer), across the street at a gas station with another man (both of whom are oblivious to the fact that a sports car at top speed just slammed loudly and violently into a tree).

Jeff and Pat then decide to tail Linda and the mystery man, but eventually lose track of them, so they part ways after an argument. Pat hails a cab and out of all the streets in the entire city it could have driven down, it drives down the one with a Hampton Inn on it and where Linda’s car is parked. Meanwhile, Jeff has hitched a ride on a snack food truck because the company name just so happened to have the name “Kevin” in it. Guess where the truck’s next delivery is? You guessed it. The Hampton Inn. What happens after this point is too story sensitive to discuss due to potential spoilers, but you can be sure moments like those previously mentioned continue to occur, bringing about what can only be described as a mega-contrivance.

Frankly, it’s tiring. This movie is either too stupid to realize the opening quote doesn’t negate its contrivances or it’s so smart it realizes putting that quote there will fool people into thinking it’s something more than what it is. If it’s the latter, it’s a clever ruse, but something tells me the Duplass brothers, the directors behind this and other so called mumblecore films Cyrus and Baghead, aren’t smart enough to pull such a sham, given that they still haven’t even realized how to operate a camera. Like their previous films, Jeff, Who Lives at Home still looks (perhaps intentionally) like an amateur home video, complete with poor framing, little headroom (if any) and misplaced zooms both in and out.

An uninteresting side story involving Sharon’s secret admirer co-worker is just another drop in the fail bucket when stacked up alongside the film’s bigger problems, but it’s not all terrible. A few of the jokes are laugh out loud funny and the lead is quite likable. He’s a bit of a slouch and spends more time smoking weed than looking for jobs, but he genuinely cares about people, as evidenced by a number of scenes, including one where he helps an old lady cross the street. Segel’s sympathetic portrayal of a character that could have easily come off as little more than a loser carries Jeff, Who Lives at Home, but without strong supporting content to aid him, it’s still difficult to care.

Jeff, Who Lives at Home receives 1.5/5

Friday
Mar092012

A Thousand Words

Back in college, I was lucky enough to nab a one-on-one, in person interview with Clark Duke, who was in DC promoting his upcoming film, Hot Tub Time Machine. As a nervous, first-time-interviewing college student, I asked your typical interview questions because I was unable to handle myself in such situations. Near the end of the interview, I asked him what he had coming next because, aside from the little seen Sex Drive, he hadn’t done much and wasn’t well known (Kick-Ass had not yet been released). He said to me that later that year, a movie he had done with Eddie Murphy called A Thousand Words would be released. This was in January of 2010. Now here we are, over two years later, and it’s just now seeing the light of day. Originally filmed in 2008 and delayed multiple times, it’s been sitting on the shelf for four years. Directed by Brian Robbins, the same man behind recent Eddie Murphy travesties Norbit and Meet Dave (and taken with the fact that it wasn’t screened for critics), chances were A Thousand Words would be unwatchable dreck, but it’s not. I know I’m in the minority on this one and it’s certainly not a great movie, but there’s more to it than Robbins’ other directorial efforts, which is a happy surprise.

Murphy plays Jack McCall, a literary agent who claims he can sign anybody to do anything. When he discovers the popularity of a New Age spiritual guru, Dr. Sinja, played by Cliff Curtis, who has just written a new self help book, he sets off to make him his next big paycheck. When he arrives, he stumbles upon a tree that cuts him when he touches it. Upon arriving home, he mysteriously finds that same tree in his back yard. At first, he doesn’t think much of it, but soon he realizes that with every word he speaks, a leaf falls off. He and the tree are connected, so whatever happens to it, happens to him. Once it loses its leaves, it will die and so will Jack.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, A Thousand Words is not very funny. While it’s not as immature as Norbit or as family friendly as Meet Dave, it never seems to take off. It has a chuckle or two here and there (one scene in particular where Jack’s assistant, played by Clark Duke, acts like Jack in a high pressure situation, which includes excessive language and over-the-top mannerisms—in typical Eddie Murphy style—is quite funny), but the comedy fails far more often than it succeeds. For about half of the film’s 90 minute runtime, it’s practically unwatchable, but then something strange happens. It transitions from a zany comedy to a well meaning and moderately effective drama.

Jack is someone who takes language for granted. His job requires him to say whatever is necessary to close a deal, even if it means lying through his teeth, but when he discovers his connection with the tree, his words are taken away. His relationship with his wife, played by the beautiful Kerry Washington, is simultaneously falling apart and she’s threatening to take their infant son and leave. He has used his words throughout his entire career to accomplish many things, but none ever really meant anything to him. When he actually needs his words to save the one thing in the world that’s important to him, he finds he doesn’t have enough left. Although this certainly isn’t the most profound movie in the world, I appreciated the thematic juxtaposition of a man who spoke and spoke without saying much of anything at all discovering how powerful his words can be.

There’s an additional side story involving Jack’s mentally weakening mother that doesn’t really work and has no true bearing on the story at hand (despite a solid performance from screen veteran Ruby Dee) and a couple of out of place visions are far too on the nose to be effective, but A Thousand Words surprised me with its sincerity. This isn’t just crudeness for the sake of crudeness like Norbit. This is a moderately intelligent movie that actually aims to make a point. It may not fully live up to its potential, but it also far exceeds its expectations. I may be chastised for this one, but consider this my recommendation.

A Thousand Words receives 3/5

Friday
Mar092012

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

I’ve put a lot of thought into it and I’m pretty sure Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is the most boring movie title I’ve ever read. Going into it, you can’t help but hope it’s not one of those titles that’s spot on like Snakes on a Plane or Zombie Strippers. You hope it’s a metaphor for something else that is perhaps a bit interesting, but it’s not. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is, at its core, about salmon fishing in the Yemen, yet it’s not boring. It’s actually kind of heartfelt. It’s certainly no perfect movie and not good enough to be considered a surprising gem, but the performances are grand and its story is life-affirming. It won’t blow you away, but it’s worth a look.

The film follows Fred (Ewan McGregor), a fisheries expert who is approached one day by Harriet (Emily Blunt), a consultant whose boyfriend has just gone off to fight in the war. Along with a visionary Sheikh (Amr Waked), she wants to start a project that will bring the sport of fly fishing to the Afghanistan desert. To do this, they need a lot of money, manpower and even more luck, considering the area’s aridity is unfit for such a project. So with the backing of the British government that is looking to shed some positivity on foreign relations, they embark on a plan that only has a minor chance of success.

When taken as a whole, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is underwhelming. Looking back on it reveals many narrative problems and contrivances. But in the moment, individual scenes work brilliantly and it makes you feel good about what the people onscreen are trying to do. Despite its flaws, it’s inspirational to watch these people from all different backgrounds come together to work toward a common goal. Such diversity is absent in most films and although such a simple fact certainly doesn’t make this movie anything special, it’s worth noting all the same.

What Salmon Fishing in the Yemen does best is develop relationships. Although it does rely too heavily on soapy, feel good dramatic tricks at times, you come to care about everyone you’re watching. McGregor and Blunt, two terrific performers in their own right, craft a believable relationship that blossoms over time. At first, they’re at odds, Blunt ever the optimist that they can pull the project off and McGregor a cynical man who thinks it has no shot, but eventually they spur a friendship. McGregor’s character begins to find hope and passion for the project, which brings the two together in a sweet and charming way. Unfortunately, as is expected with nearly any movie these days, a man and woman can’t simply be friends and a romance sparks between the two. This is precisely where the film begins to go downhill, not only due to the fact that it’s not unlike every other movie romance you’ve ever seen, but also because this inevitably leads to forced drama late in the movie after a surprise plot twist involving Blunt’s boyfriend.

The events that transpire in the film are grounded and simple—this is not a fast paced movie, to be sure—except for perhaps a couple of remarkably silly moments, including one where Fred saves the Sheikh’s life by swinging his fishing reel towards an oncoming attacker and hooking him, forcing the gunshot to stray off course. It’s moments like these that make the film so hard to love. To hear that many didn’t like it much at all would even be understandable, but what can I say? It worked for me. It made me laugh, it moved me and it ended. In the end, that’s what we go to the movies for and despite its problems, that’s why Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is recommendable.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen receives 3.5/5

Thursday
Mar082012

Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie

I’ll be the first to admit it: I don’t get the humor for Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim program, Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! I understand that stupid humor can be appealing after a hard day or when you’re just simply in the mood for it, but after a while, their senseless shtick becomes tiresome. Similar to Adult Swim’s last theatrical endeavor, Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters, Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie is insipid drivel, as quirky and creative as it is pointless and inane. As they say, a little goes a long way and in small bursts, Tim and Eric can be mildly diverting (an 11 minute runtime for their television show is testament to that). Having to sit through their idiocy for over 90 minutes is a waste of life. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

There’s something resembling a story in Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie, though it acts less like an actual narrative and more like a strange series of skits to ensure they run into all sorts of strange characters and situations. At the beginning of the film, Tim (Tim Heidecker) and Eric (Eric Wareheim) show their new movie to their financier, the head of Schlaaang Corporation, Tommy Schlaaang (Robert Loggia). He gave them one billion dollars and what they produced was complete garbage, so he threatens to take their lives if they don’t pay him back. After seeing a commercial calling for new managers to take over a local mall that promises they’ll make a billion dollars, they head on over to meet Damien Weebs (Will Ferrell), who immediately gives them the job. Soon, they find themselves in the middle of a renovation, but first they need to get rid of the homeless people, the wolf running amok and close down certain stores, including one that sells only used toilet paper.

It’s incredibly difficult to explain this movie’s style of humor. I doubt even ardent fans of the Adult Swim show could. It’s just plain stupid and you either like it or you don’t. Tim and Eric run with their arms straight down and palms facing out, which is intercut with footage of two horses galloping over the plains, there are homoerotic montages that are supposed to be funny because, well, two men are rubbing each other, and the strange editing style, similar to how a broken record might skip, requires characters to repeat themselves over and over for no real reason other than to be unconventional. None of that is funny, though many have argued that Tim and Eric are actually comedic virtuosos. A good example of their so called prodigious talent can be seen in an early scene where Tim, Eric and Damien watch Top Gun and then (wait for it) watch it again. Clearly that’s hugely clever and hilarious. Still, one must admit that the duo is at least doing something unique. I’m pretty sure this is the only movie I’ve ever seen where four small children submerge an ailing man in a bathtub with their excrement while across the hall an elderly woman fellates a giant black dildo suction cupped to someone’s forehead.

But just because something is different doesn’t make it good. Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie is all about excess. They stretch jokes out for far too long, push the envelope beyond what many would consider basic human decency and their gross out sight gags are just that: gross. Tim essentially becomes a child predator in the film and tries to kiss a little child, the gangsters at the Schlaaang Corporation beat up a couple of fragile old ladies and cut one of their fingers off and disgusting visuals like a semen covered hand and the aforementioned bathtub poo scene are on prominent display. Any non-offensive, moderately amusing joke is immediately overblown with repetition, like when they honk the horn on their golf cart while parked in front of one of the stores. Instead of honking it once or twice, they do it fifteen times, which I suppose is meant to be funny.

It’s easy to hate this movie, but at the same time, it’s hard to be angry at it because, again, at least it’s different. If nothing else, Tim and Eric know what they’re doing. You can’t accidentally make something this stupid. What it all boils down to is whether or not you’re a fan of the show and think you can tolerate over an hour and a half of their foolishness. I personally couldn’t wait for the film to be over and my experience with it was unbearable, so I really have no choice but to declare Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie as one of the worst films of the year.

Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie receives 0.5/5