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Dumb and Dumber To

Imagine for a moment that 2003’s disastrous “Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd” never happened and that 1994’s hilarious “Dumb and Dumber” was left untainted as a comedy classic. Having laid dormant for 20 years, would a resurrection of those characters in a not-particularly-asked-for sequel work? The humorously titled “Dumb and Dumber To” is here to answer that question and, sadly, it’s a mixed bag. If the original film can be considered a classic while the ill-advised prequel exemplifies bottom-of-the-barrel comedy, then “Dumb and Dumber To” rests squarely in between.

The catalyst that gets our dimwitted duo out on the road again involves a discovery that Harry (Jeff Daniels), against all odds, has a grown daughter. It turns out that an evening he spent with the beautiful Fraida, who has since grown into an old bag played by Kathleen Turner, produced a baby. So he, along with Lloyd (Jim Carrey), who has spent the last 20 years in a psychiatric hospital just so he could play a joke on Harry, sets out to meet her at an upcoming convention where she will be speaking. Along with them is Travis (Rob Riggle) and a box of unimaginable worth, the contents of which could change the world forever. However, Travis has an ulterior motive, and only dumb luck is going to protect Harry and Lloyd and get them where they need to go.

Which is, of course, the entire conceit of the movie. As with the first film, the duo is oblivious to what is actually going on around them as they stumble into different scenarios that play out in ways that could only be dreamed up in a Hollywood screenplay. Luckily, those scenarios are relatively entertaining, even if they include some unnecessary shoehorning in of characters and props from the first movie. You’ll remember the “pretty bird” blind kid, the Mutt Cutts van and more, though they appear for mere minutes, if that, before disappearing into oblivion. While these moments serve as welcome fanfare for those that remember watching the original 20 years ago, they nevertheless do little to enhance the overall movie.

Many jokes from the first film are repeated as well, but there’s plenty of new content here to make up for it. Aside from a handful of set-ups that pay off later in the film, gags come fast and furious and both Carrey and Daniels, who are now in their 50s, are game to pull them off. Neither of them have missed a beat in the gap between movies, particularly Carrey, who is just as absurd as you remember him. “Dumb and Dumber To” often falls back on slapstick, which I consider to be the lowest form of humor, but if there’s anyone that can pull it off, it’s Jim Carrey and Daniels perfectly complements him. Even at the film’s worst, they’re fascinating to watch together.

What else can really be said about this movie? Sometimes it’s funny, other times it’s not, but it knows what it’s doing. These are dumb characters in dumb situations doing dumb things and making dumb jokes, which is the entire point. “Dumb and Dumber To” doesn’t advertise itself as anything else and delivers exactly what people going to see it will want. If you’re one of those people and can set the proper expectations, there’s no doubt enjoyment will be had. This is no classic, but “Dumb and Dumber To” is good for some cheap laughs.

Dumb and Dumber To receives 3/5


Kick-Ass 2

While far from perfect, and certainly not as good as some fanboys claimed it to be, 2010’s “Kick-Ass” was a welcome addition to a cinematic landscape that was just beginning its superhero boom, arguably brought on by the success of “Iron Man” two years prior. The film took the superhero tropes we had come to know and mocked them, spoofing the genre while simultaneously creating a self-parody; a “Scream” for superheroes. Although inconsistent in that parody, it was nevertheless charming and funny enough to make the movie an easily watchable affair. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for “Kick-Ass 2.” The parody is thin, if not non-existent, the humor falls flat and the drama is inflated to an unmerciful degree. If you’re a big fan of the first movie, prepare to be disappointed here.

Taking place sometime after the events of the first movie, superheroes have become all the rage. The streets are littered with self-proclaimed heroes who, in reality, don’t do much of anything, much less stop evildoers. Once again feeling the need to take action, Dave Lizewski, also known as Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johson) returns to the streets. It’s there he meets Dr. Gravity (Donald Faison) who introduces him to a new league of superheroes forming an Avengers-esque team. There’s Insect Man (Robert Emms), Night Bitch (Lindy Booth), their leader, Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey), and even Dave’s old friend, Marty, now known as Battle Guy (Clark Duke). Their formation couldn’t come at a better time because a league of supervillains is also forming. They’re led by Kick-Ass’s nemesis, Chris D’Amico, who now calls himself The Motherfucker (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). Even worse, Hit Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) has vowed to her new guardian that she would stop putting herself in danger and is unable to help Kick-Ass and his team.

The thing about the superhero genre, especially after all these consecutive years of watching our movie theaters get overrun by them, is that they practically parody themselves at this point. Look at this summer’s “Iron Man 3” as an example, particularly in the way (spoiler alert!) that it handled one of its main antagonists, The Mandarin, as portrayed by Ben Kingsley. It took this mysterious figure, one that threatened death and destruction and was feared around the world and deconstructed him into a joke, and a quite effective one at that (though I’m sure some comic fans will disagree). Like any good parody, it took our expectation of who and what a superhero villain should be and turned it on its head. For “Kick-Ass 2” to remain relevant, it needed to do something vastly different.

And it does, though the decided emphasis is misguided at best and downright disastrous at worst. Surprisingly, this sequel takes a drastic turn from the general goofiness of the original film and ratchets up the drama. While not necessarily a bad thing in theory, the drama was the first film’s primary downfall. Upon my initial viewing, I thought it was because it simply didn’t gel well with the over-the-top antics of the scenes those brief dramatic moments were wedged in between, but if this movie is any indication, it’s simply because it’s just not done well, no doubt enhanced by director Jeff Wadlow’s inexperience with such matters (and whose only other feature length efforts are “Cry_Wolf” and “Never Back Down,” hardly an impressive pedigree).

Whereas the drama in “Kick-Ass” merely bogged down a bit of the fun, the drama hear bogs down the entire movie. If it’s not the embarrassing “Mean Girls”-esque subplot where Hit Girl is trying to fit in at school as a normal teenager, it’s heavy handed dialogue and ridiculous slow motion shots (including the obligatory “phone dropping to the floor after receiving bad news” shot). However, none of it is done in jest, rarely acknowledging its self-aware undercurrents that were so prevalent in its predecessor. The only person who seems to understand the absurdity of the movie he’s in is Mintz-Plasse as The Motherfucker, who, despite an overall darker character turn, transitions well from the previous movie, bringing what little fun he can to a movie that is anything but.

It would be unfair to place blame on the other actors, though. Carrey, in particular, is fantastic as Colonel Stars and Stripes while the rest of the cast similarly does what is called for. The problem lies in the screenplay, which slaps them in far-too-dark, overly emotional nonsense. While some clever moments remain intact, the bulk of the film fails to elicit the excitement, fun or humor of what came before. The action is serviceable, but nowhere near as stylish, the laughs are few and far between and the story lacks polish—loose ends are left unresolved and recognizable characters from the last installment show up briefly for a line or two before disappearing, never to be heard from or mentioned again. “Kick-Ass 2” had the potential to be bigger and better, to take the solid foundation of “Kick-Ass” and make it something special, but it fails on nearly all fronts.

Kick-Ass 2 receives 1.5/5


The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

"The Incredible Burt Wonderstone" is a movie that’s easy to like. Its cast is charming, committed and they get into enough interesting antics that it will hold your attention. Unfortunately, it’s also very easy to hate. With frequent comedic dry spells in a somewhat dull script with satire that is anything but timely, the film just lacks that special something. It will certainly muster some laughs out of even the most hardened viewer, mostly due to its willingness to embrace the goofier side of magic, but for every joke it nails, another lands with a thud. It’s easily the most uneven movie of the year so far and is bound to sharply divide critics who have to decide whether or not to give it a recommendation.

Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) was a lonely kid. He didn’t really have any friends, was picked on mercilessly by his peers and his mother was never there for him, to the point where on his birthday, she went to work and didn’t leave him a cake, but rather the ingredients to make one. On that fateful birthday, however, he’s given one gift: a magic set endorsed by famed magician Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin). This changes his life forever and, along with newly formed pal Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi), he makes it big and becomes a famous Vegas magician. Unfortunately, a new trend is popping up called street magic. The most famous purveyor of street magic is Steve Gray (Jim Carrey) and he’s stealing Burt and Anton’s patrons. This leads to the closing of their show, a falling out of their friendship and a feud between Burt and Steve. Having never planned for the future, Burt never put away any money and is now broke, so what’s he to do?

The answer to that question is fairly clear, following a narrative trajectory that’s been around since we first started telling stories through moving pictures. If broken down to the most simplistic analysis, "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone" a story of the rise and fall and rise again of a popular character with contrived plot turns and obvious, trite romances. But to focus on narrative inconsistencies would be silly with a cast like this. What matters is how often it brings the laughs and when it does, it’s really funny.

In a great example of inspired casting, Jim Carrey steals the show as Steve Gray, the street magician shooting his television show “Brain Rapist,” a clear parody of Criss Angel’s “Mindfreak.” His rubber face and over-the-top antics are a perfect fit for the over-the-top nature of street magic. He, and the writers who wrote the character this way, understand that street magic is all about showmanship and macho posturing and with this knowledge, Carrey creates a character that is as absurd as he is amusing. He amplifies the inherent ridiculousness of street magic tenfold, capturing the essence, albeit exaggerated, of street magicians like Criss Angel. Jim Carrey, in a welcome return to form, saves this movie.

Yet one can’t help but realize that the parody is coming a bit late. With "Mindfreak" having been off the air for three years (and having lost its relevancy far before that) and Criss Angel a speck in our memories, what was the film trying to accomplish? The best satire relates to the present, making a point about something that is happening now and needs to be addressed, from big government decisions to silly pop culture fads. "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone" feels like it was written during a week long DVD binge watching session of “Mindfreak” and quickly loses its relevance in a world that has moved on.

Some of its satirical bite, however, is not out of date, like when Anton heads overseas to impoverished countries devoid of food and water to teach kids magic. When asked by a reporter if he’s also bringing food and water, he replies with a smile, “No, just magic.” It’s a great jab at those who travel around the world preaching their own beliefs, be they religious or simply ideological, without providing the actual elements that are truly needed in those areas, but it’s not fleshed out. It’s little more than a side note in a movie that repeatedly shows it has no idea when it has something good going on.

Its best thematic endeavor comes with the idea that magic is, well, magical. It believes strongly that magic can instill a sense of wonder in everyone, from the smallest of tykes to the oldest of adults and it’s right. Magicians, for the brief time an audience is watching them, can make the impossible possible and the film taps into this idea and uses it to bring its characters full circle. Granted, there are better options out there if that theme is all you’re looking for, like the wonderful 2010 documentary, "Make Believe," but the fact that it’s there at all shows that the filmmakers at least had their own childlike wonder, if not passion, for the art of magic. It’s just a shame it’s stuck in such a middling movie.

I suppose at the end of the day, I have to join all the other critics and make a decision on where my opinion falls with "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone" and I sadly fall on the side of a non-recommendation. It’s a decision I make with a heavy heart because there is a lot to enjoy here, but it’s impossible to overlook such glaring flaws. It definitely has an audience, though, so if you think you’re in it, go for it. At the very least, you won’t hate it.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone receives 2.5/5


Mr. Popper's Penguins

Jim Carrey doesn’t get the respect he deserves. This is most likely because most people remember him as “the guy who talked out of his butt” in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. But since that (admittedly funny) movie, he has branched out and tackled films with serious dramatic intentions, hitting home runs in The Truman Show, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and, to a lesser extent, Man on the Moon. He’s such a versatile performer that I can't help but wonder why he accepts roles like the one in Mr. Popper’s Penguins. He is capable of so much more. Still, despite my wanting to see him in more dramatic roles, he puts his all into this movie, a respectable effort in a film that doesn’t fully deserve it.

Based on the children’s book by Richard and Florence Atwater, the film follows Mr. Popper (Carrey), a hard working businessman with two children and an ex-wife who he more or less ignores. It’s a neglectful trait he took from his father who was too busy exploring the world to spend time with him as a child. Now, he receives word that his dad has died and is sending him a package as defined in his will. Much to his surprise, it’s a penguin. Before he can even get rid of it, five more arrive at his door. Unfortunately, this happens on the day of his son’s birthday and the little guy mistakes the penguins as gifts, which forces Popper to keep and care for the penguins.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins is not a film to be overanalyzed. Those who do will find enough lapses of logic to drive them crazy. Popper lives in a New York apartment building, surrounded by other tenants trying to live peacefully, yet only one seems to hear the loud squawking penguins at night. That person tries to make a complaint, to no avail, and is essentially forgotten afterwards. Then later in the movie, Popper takes his children and all six of the penguins out to Central Park for a game of snow soccer and there isn’t a person in sight. Moments like these are impossible to ignore, but aren’t meant to be intellectually dissected.

However, the largest of these gaffes is a narrative problem so big you’d have to be sleeping to miss it. The “villain,” the person who is trying to take the penguins away, comes in the form of zookeeper and penguin expert, Nat Jones (Clark Gregg). In the film, he is played as cold and cruel, only wanting to bring emotional turmoil to Popper and his children by stealing away the penguins they’ve come to love so much. But, realistically, that’s the right thing to do. In one scene, Jones tells Popper he doesn’t know how to care for penguins and they could come down with a number of diseases if not properly kept in a zoo or in their natural habitat. Well, he’s right. Jones, the animal expert, clearly knows what’s best for the penguins. Popper and his children do not.

That problem strips away much of the emotion because we’re supposed to want Popper to keep the penguins, even though we all know he shouldn’t. But I don’t suppose most people are going to see Mr. Popper’s Penguins for its oversimplified story. No, I figure they’ll be there for the laughs and, surprisingly enough, the movie delivers. While it’s by no means a gut buster, it produces more laughs on a more consistent basis than many comedies so far this year (“It’s funnier than The Hangover 2” a colleague of mine said). While primarily for children, there are some great adult jokes, including some fun comparisons between the mannerisms of the penguins and Charlie Chaplin.

When all is said and done, though, it comes right back to Jim Carrey, who has always had a talent for physical comedy going all the way back to his days on “In Living Color.” He has such a knack for it, he manages to make getting hit in the groin seem fresh. Because of his physical prowess, these moments are genuinely funny (as opposed to someone like Kevin James who we’re supposed to laugh at because, oh ha ha, he’s kind of fat). Mr. Popper’s Penguins is not a great movie (and there are far too many scenes of penguins defecating), but it sets a goal and reaches it. And that’s more than you can say for a lot of other movies.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins receives 2.5/5


I Love You Phillip Morris

The road to release can be a long and grueling one for certain films. I Love You Phillip Morris can attest to it. While many factors contribute to the thought process of how and when a movie should be released, many believe the problem here came from the explicit homosexual content. Despite not having much of a problem finding a distributor in foreign countries, American distributors were hesitant to pick it up because homosexuality is still considered taboo and frowned upon (though it’s about time we all grow up and get over it). It’s a sad predicament because I Love You Phillip Morris is quite good. I don’t find myself bitter that I had to wait so long to see it—it’s no masterpiece—but now that I have, I’m glad I did.

Of course, the stated reason it took so long to find a distributor is purely speculative. In all honesty, I Love You Phillip Morris is a tough film to sell. It’s based on a true story of Steven Russell (Jim Carrey), a church going man with a wife and a kid. He’s even a cop and has sworn it as his duty to protect the law. Except all of that is a lie. He is gay, he doesn’t seem to be all that religious and he’s a con man. One day, on his way back from a rendezvous with one of his lovers, he decides to come out to his wife and live the way he wants to, as an openly gay man. However, his illegal, conniving ways catch up with him and he is thrown in jail. While incarcerated, he meets Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor) and falls in love.

While it may sound like your typical romance where two lovebirds meet under the unlikeliest of circumstances, it’s not and that’s why the marketing department has had such trouble with it. Its demographic isn’t clear. Its intended audience clearly isn’t conservatives, but to be fair, they aren’t the only ones that can feel uncomfortable with the subject matter. Its homosexual nature can irk even the most liberal of viewers. Older folks, set in their old ways, may find this morally wrong, while younger audiences are too immature to watch a movie about two people of the same sex falling in love. Is I Love You Phillip Morris for anybody?

I think so. It’s for the people who can look past the explicit male on male sex scenes and see the surprisingly sweet love story surrounding them. In that regard, I guess I’m the target audience. The lengths Steven goes to see Phillip, sometimes even putting his life in real danger, is something anybody who believes in love (of all kinds) can relate to.

Still, I Love You Phillip Morris is a bit uneven. It suffers from subplots that give a flimsy reason for the duo to have some money in a context that makes them feel extraneous to the main story and the latter half stumbles by giving us too much rather than keeping it simple. In what is essentially an overlong montage, Steven breaks out of multiple jails, which is meant to show how cunning he can be (and how strong his love is), but previous plot points (like when he fakes his way into a position as the CFO at a major company) have already done enough to get that point across.

With all this talk of love, I’d almost forgotten to mention this is a comedy more than anything else and a funny one at that. The laughs are sporadic, but the ones that work are hilarious. The climax of the movie at first feels out of place due to what seems like melodramatics, but when the incredible twist comes, you’ll feel like a fool for having jumped to that conclusion. This final satisfying cinematic sucker punch sends the film out with a bang. It’s clever, funny and, most of all, it makes sense. The habitually drab nature of Hollywood means we end up watching the same old song and dance over and over again. I Love You Phillip Morris breaks that trend.

I Love You Phillip Morris receives 3.5/5