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Entries in Johnny Knoxville (3)

Thursday
Aug072014

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

I don’t remember a world when the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles didn’t exist. I had just turned one year old when the original cartoon debuted in 1987 and it was, to my recollection, the first thing outside of friends and family that I fell in love with. I’ve watched every show and movie, played every video game, read many of the comics and even owned much of the merchandise; boxes of various Ninja Turtles paraphernalia are still resting underneath my bed, in my closet and in my attic. While I’ve abandoned much of my childhood loves, the Ninja Turtles are the one thing I still enjoy to this day.

Couple my admiration with pre-release reports of a troubled production and various other controversies and I became sure the newest movie, succinctly titled “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” was going to be a disaster. After all, if they could change the design of the heroes in a half-shell to something so atrocious, surely the rest of the filmmaking decisions would follow suit. I didn’t want to, but I was ready to trash this film if the final product called for it. However, nothing pleases me more than to say that such negativity is unwarranted. Although the design of the Turtles have changed, their personalities remain intact. This is an impressive, action packed film with some terrific humor and an expectedly hokey plot that is both to its benefit and detriment. This new movie won’t convert non-fans, but if they can look past the visual changes, longtime devotees will find much to love.

April O’Neil (Megan Fox) is a television reporter in New York City who has been relegated to fluff stories. Much like any young reporter, she longs to make her big break with an independent investigation on the local criminal organization, the Foot Clan. She gets too close to the story, however, and finds herself stuck in a bad situation, only to be rescued by vigilante heroes that nobody has seen before. Her focus quickly turns to them and she ends up discovering that those vigilantes are actually mutated, walking, talking turtles. Pleasantries will have to wait, though, because a threat is looming over the city. The Shredder (Tohoru Masamune), the leader of the Foot Clan, is in cahoots with business mogul, Eric Sachs (William Fichtner), and together they intend on taking over the city.

As far as story goes, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” isn’t the most creative, nor does it deviate much from the tried and true formula set forth all those years ago in the original show: the Shredder hatches a ridiculous plan while the Turtles fight his goons and crack some jokes along the way, leading to a “close call” finale—when our heroes may or may not foil his plan at the very last second. This is all to be expected.

But as the old adage goes, it’s not the destination that matters, but the journey, and TMNT is filled with enough clever jokes (“That’s stupid” April says at one point after someone mistakes the Turtles as aliens, a clear reference to the pre-release controversy that suggested our heroes’ acronym may need to be modified to TANT, an unfortunate acronym depending on how one pronounces it) and surprisingly impressive action scenes to make that journey worthwhile. In modern cinema, ill-advised attempts to enhance the action through shaky camerawork and rapid editing have put a damper on what would otherwise serve up some serviceable excitement. “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” for the most part at least, avoids this perplexing tactic. Things get hectic, sure, but the camerawork remains fluid; not once does it lose its way. A standout scene takes place on a snowy mountainside (though one must wonder where such a place exists in New York City), as the Turtles and their enemies slide downhill with all manner of chaos revolving around them. This sequence is well choreographed and extremely exciting, marking itself as one of the standout action scenes of the summer.

More interesting is that April’s connection to the Turtles extends beyond the “damsel in distress” role she has been relegated to in previous Turtles iterations. While I hesitate to explain what that connection is out of fear of spoilers, it nevertheless makes her inclusion in the narrative more integral than she has been in the past. In this movie, April O’Neal is a strong female character, a fearless reporter that has dreams of becoming more and not settling for mediocrity. She’s more than just a pretty face, despite what Megan Fox’s casting may suggest, even if the actress isn’t entirely believable in the role.

For fans of the franchise, the largest deficiency will undoubtedly be the design of the characters. Only Splinter (mostly) retains his expected look while Shredder looks like a metallic Edward Scissorhands and the Turtles could rightfully be classified as the Teenage Mutant Hipster Turtles, their design obviously updated to appeal to the young kids out there as they wear sunglasses on their heads and puka shell necklaces around their necks while Donatello’s tech equipment is akin to those obnoxious Bluetooth devices many folks wear even when not actually using them. More than anything else, the character designs leave much to be desired.

Other minor nagging issues rear their ugly heads from time to time, like the voice casting of Johnny Knoxville as Leonardo, whose voice is far too recognizable and clearly stands out from the rest of the gang, and some childish humor that, even though it fits within the context of teenage immaturity, is worthy of little more than an eye roll and disgruntled sigh. Luckily, this type of humor is few and far between, serving only as a minor detour from the spot on self-deprecating and pop culture jokes.

There is much to like in this new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Don’t let the pre-release controversy or lackluster trailers sway you; it is more than the sum of its parts. It may or may not work for the uninitiated, but Turtles fans are sure to have a good time.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles receives 4/5

Friday
Oct252013

Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa

Most know what they’re getting into when they sit down to watch something with the infamous “Jackass” logo plastered on it: over-the-top and increasingly dangerous back-to-back stunts that have no connection to one another other than the jackasses performing them. In this sense, the three movies that were previously released aren’t your typical story driven events. So it may surprise you to know that “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa” actually is. Sure, the story is thin, cliché, poorly written, horribly executed and all around uninvolving, but it’s there. On that level, “Bad Grandpa” fails miserably, but it would be foolish to think those who venture to the theater to see it are going for the story. They’re going for the inanity, the ridiculous situations the make-up heavy Johnny Knoxville can get himself into and on that front, it delivers.

The story is simple (or, perhaps more fittingly, simplistic). Knoxville plays Irving Zisman, an 86 year old man whose wife has just died. He’s thrilled because now, for the first time in many years, he’s a single man and can hit the town and try to pick up women. However, during his wife’s funeral, his daughter shows up and drops his grandson off. It turns out she’s heading to jail, so he is now responsible for young Billy, played by Jackson Nicoll. He doesn’t want this burden, so he sets off on a road trip with Billy to drop him off at his father’s place in North Carolina.

And thus starts a road trip so outlandish it makes Thelma & Louise’s journey look relatively normal in comparison. Irving and the little headache accompanying him shove his dead wife in the trunk of his car, head out to a Bingo event where Irving hits on every woman who passes and even get into some shenanigans at a children’s beauty pageant where Irving convincingly dresses Billy up in a dress and passes him off as a girl. These moments are scripted similar to the way any hidden camera show or mockumentary film is scripted: the two actors are in on the joke while those around them are blissfully ignorant. While the movie itself is wildly uneven, some of these individual moments land so well that many viewers will struggle to find the time to breathe in between each enthusiastic guffaw they produce. Furthermore, due to the unpredictable nature of the people they encounter, the two are required to stay on their toes and adapt to the situation, ad-libbing lines of dialogue that only someone with no shame could possibly say. Indeed, “Bad Grandpa” has moments of absolute hilarity.

But those moments are, sadly, interspersed between stretches of crushingly dull and horribly unfunny nonsense. Perhaps unsurprisingly, “Bad Grandpa” is at its best when Knoxville does what he does best: hurt himself. Although certainly tamer than the “Jackass” movies we’ve become familiar with, the film nevertheless contains enough physical jackass-ery to satiate the appetite of those who miss the group’s enthusiastic craziness. Knoxville’s ability to take physical punishment is again morbidly fascinating to watch, particularly in one scene involving an adjustable bed where his body is more or less folded in half.

What drags down “Bad Grandpa” the most isn’t its stretches of boredom, as even the best “Jackass” films have skits that don’t work, but rather its uninspired story. Irving Zisman has become such a well-known face to the “Jackass” faithful that a loose narrative isn’t necessary to string his antics along. Why not just go from skit to skit as is “Jackass” custom? It’s unfair to lob criticism at a movie that purposely has no structure like those films, but by forcing one in, it’s easy to pick apart that shoddy structure. By becoming more like a traditional film, “Bad Grandpa” loses some of its “Jackass” luster.

Further hurting “Bad Grandpa” are its dramatic shifts in visual quality—mostly due to the different types of hidden cameras that were needed to pull off these moments—and numerous breakings of the fourth wall. This isn’t a mockumentary like “Borat” where the person onscreen is aware he’s being filmed, so every time the characters look into the camera, it’s jarring, though to be fair, it doesn’t pull you out of the story like it would in another film because the story is so lousy anyway. But these problems don’t stop “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa” from doling out at least three or four riotous laughs, though most perceptions of the film will rely on the viewer’s patience. Are the long stretches of unfunny filler material too boring to make this enjoyable? Or do those aforementioned riotous moments make up for it? Answers will vary wildly. As for me, I’m of the latter opinion. In terms of consistent laughs, it’s one of the most uneven films I’ve ever seen, but what it lacks in consistency, it makes up for with some truly inspired immaturity.

Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa receives 3/5

Friday
Oct152010

Jackass 3D

Writing a review for Jackass 3D is useless. It’s like making a gourmet meal for a dog that eats feces. Just as the dog doesn’t care what his meal tastes like, my opinion of this movie won’t matter to fans of the franchise. But here I am anyway, doing my best to be critical of something that’s virtually critic proof. However, I’m a pretty big fan myself, so I suspect my feelings towards the movie will echo those who are yet to see it and, as sad as it is to say, Jackass 3D is, in all likelihood, the end of the franchise.

It seems that the creative well has run dry in this third film installment of the long running television show made popular by the likes of Johnny Knoxville, Bam Margera, Steve-O, Chris Pontius, Jason “Wee Man” Acuna and the rest of the gang. The ante that was upped in Jackass Number Two has gone back down and the crazy pranksters have resorted to the same old songs and dances they’ve been pulling off for years. Remember the bit in the sequel when Bam was quarantined in a small area with a snake? That happens again here. Do you recall when Johnny gets rammed by a bull? If you don’t, you’ll get to see it in this installment. Multiple times.

One particularly uninspired segment sees Knoxville in full football gear getting tackled by an NFL player. Never mind the fact that coming up with the idea is as simple as tuning into ESPN on a Monday night, but consider that even this boring skit has already been done on one of the previous Jackass television episodes.

As one critic pointed out to me after my screening, this doesn’t really come as a surprise because the Jackass guys have been putting different variations on the same stunts for years. That’s true, but the problem is that those variations have always gone beyond anything they had done before. Take the Number Two skit that placed four of the guys on conjoining seesaws in the middle of a bullring. The idea may have been the same—avoid the oncoming bull for as long as you can before taking a hit—but a game was made out of it. Instead of merely sitting there waiting, there was suspense because you never knew who was going to get it first. Outside of a few instances here, the variations on their old skits are so slight they’re almost inconsequential.

But I suppose the big question, even after all of those complaints, is: did I laugh? I did, but considerably less so due to the rehashed gags. However, the gang’s laughter is infectious and they have a certain camaraderie that is unparalleled in the movie world. There’s no other group of guys I’ve seen on the big screen that seem to have a better time with each other than these fellas, even when they’re getting punched in the head by Bam in a hilarious prank influenced by the Rocky movies. Their genuine friendship seeps through and you’ll find yourself wanting to join in on their shenanigans; that is if you’re crazy.

I could go into how unnecessary the 3D is in this little scatological, homoerotic adventure, but the whole existence of this franchise is unnecessary so it seems frivolous. In fact, everything I’ve said so far is trivial because I’d be willing to bet there isn’t a soul out there waiting for reviews to know whether or not this movie is for them. The audience for this knows who they are and there’s nothing I or any other critic can say to dissuade them from seeing it. Though it is still worth checking out (just barely), there’s no denying the disappointment that is Jackass 3D.

Jackass 3D receives 2.5/5