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Entries in Kevin James (7)

Thursday
Jul232015

Pixels

If there’s one actor working today that is hated by seemingly every moviegoer and critic across the globe, it’s Adam Sandler. There’s a good reason for that, as he pukes out a new film every year, each one seemingly worse than the last. After the train wrecks that were “Jack and Jill” and “Grown Ups 2,” which are easily two of the most mind-numbing, soul crushing, rage inducing, insipid cinematic abortions of the last few years, it would be easy to write off his newest, “Pixels,” as more of the same, but that would be unfair. While it still succumbs to many of the problems most Adam Sandler movies do, there was some genuine effort put into this one and while it won’t blow anyone away, it’s unlikely to be the subject of derision among those willing to give it a shot.

Sandler plays Brenner, an electronics expert at a Geek Squad-esque retail company, and his best friend, Cooper (Kevin James), has overshadowed him in their adulthood and has worked his way up to the highest office in the country, residing as the President of the United States. As kids, Brenner was a video game expert, competing in the 1982 Worldwide Video Arcade Championships and falling short to only one other competitor, Eddie (Peter Dinklage). As part of an initiative to find potential life in the universe and introduce our customs to them, NASA sent video feeds of this tournament out into space. Over 20 years later, it’s learned that we did indeed stumble upon aliens, but they have misinterpreted those video feeds as a declaration of war. Using intense bundles of energy disguised as classic games such as Galaga, Pac-Man, Centipede and more, they begin their attack and the only way to save the world is to abide by the rules of the games and defeat them. After the world’s militaries struggle in battle, the President figures, who better to defeat the aliens than the best arcade gamers in the world?

As someone who grew up with classic video games, has an affinity for them and still enjoys them to this day, I approached “Pixels” with trepidation, fearful that they may take some of the most beloved pop culture icons of all time and ruin them with a plethora of bodily fluid and fat jokes, as Sandler and James movies are wont to do; “I guarantee Kevin James will attempt to eat a Pac-Man fruit at some point in the movie,” I joked to a co-worker prior to the film’s pre-screening. However, “Pixels” shows a surprising amount of restraint; aside from one quip from Dinklage to James, the jokes rarely took the low road with slapstick and fat jokes. More importantly, it treats these classic games with the respect they deserve. It could be argued that not enough was done with them to justify their inclusion—games like “Paperboy” and “Frogger” show up for no other reason than for viewers to acknowledge that they’re there—and such an argument wouldn’t be wrong; “Pixels,” for all of its potential, is decidedly lacking in imagination.

But while it doesn’t fully utilize these games to the extent it could, nor does it abuse them. There is a clear love for these games that shines onscreen and the very nature of the story only proves this fact, as the characters discuss classic gaming strategies and the mechanical patterns those old arcade games were known for. While gaming today is more randomized, games of old were meticulously programmed and, with some effort, the entire game could be memorized and beaten by following a pattern and “Pixels” revels in that. At times, certain gaming mainstays are forced into the proceedings, particularly one scene involving a cheat code that makes absolutely no sense, but the affection is there. So if you’re worried your memories of your time with these classic games may be tarnished, fear not. “Pixels” treats them with respect.

Still, “Pixels” stumbles heavily with a weak story and a forced in romance—evidently, Sandler can’t go through an entire movie without kissing a pretty girl, this time played by Michelle Monaghan, in a surprisingly more intelligent role than most female fodder in Sandler’s movies as a military weapons specialist. Most egregious, however, is Sandler’s continued insistence to pack as many noticeable faces into his films as he possibly can, including cameos from Dan Patrick, Sean Bean and a nothing role for Jane Krakowski as Cooper’s just-for-show wife. It also plays into the worst gamer stereotypes—you know the ones: they’re lazy, they don’t have friends or socialize, they live in their parents’ basements—but it also celebrates gamers, as it’s ultimately the gamer geeks who have to save the day.

With all that said, “Pixels” remains both a pleasant surprise and a disappointment, as it’s largely a give-and-take affair. It doesn’t feel like your typical inane Sandler movie, but it doesn’t do anything to stand out from the crowd. The humor is amusing, but it’s never truly funny. The action is competent, but overall underwhelming, as the film never capitalizes on the inherent abilities of the very games and characters it portrays. But it does just enough to work. Perhaps low expectations contributed to my overall enjoyment of it—an understandable state of mind given recent Kevin James and Adam Sandler films—and it may be slight, but “Pixels” is admittedly fun.

Pixels receives 3/5

Thursday
Jul112013

Grown Ups 2

Critics of waterboarding say that its results are not conclusive and don’t prove guilt. This is due to an eventual degradation of the recipient’s willpower, to the point where they’re willing to say whatever the torturer wants to hear so they can gain a reprieve from their endless onslaught. It’s a criticism that can be levied at many torture tactics, but if that’s the desired effect, none are as potent as watching “Grown Ups 2.” Halfway through this thing, I was ready to admit guilt to any number of horrible atrocities, just so long as it meant the movie would end. Plainly put, this isn’t just the most unfunny comedy of the year. It’s one of the most unfunny comedies of all time.

While the first movie was certainly no gut buster, it at least had a script. It had a story for the characters to exist in and progress, even if minimally. Conversely, the sequel feels more like a sketch comedy show. It doesn’t have a story so much as it does a series of random encounters that put our characters in allegedly goofy situations. There are unconnected scenes that take place at a ballet recital where the beautiful, big breasted teacher overshadows the children on stage, a female aerobics class where the skeevy janitor pretends to be the instructor and gets the women to perform sexually suggestive maneuvers, a doctor’s office where the “hilarious” payoff results in the doctor pulling out a flask from behind his lab coat, a finale where the old timers face off against an invading frat led by a character IMDB refers to as “Frat Boy Andy” (Taylor Lautner) and more. Quite literally, none of these scenes have anything to do with each other.

Continuing in the tradition of such lowbrow comedies as pretty much any Adam Sandler movie in the last five or six years, “Grown Ups 2” is riddled with potty humor so misguided and poorly delivered that it does a disservice to the values of actual excrement. The very first joke in the movie involves a deer urinating in Lenny’s (Sandler) mouth and it’s all downhill from there. Simulated defecation while standing on a chocolate ice cream machine, actual defecation in a retail store toilet and “burp snarts” (when you start with a burp as a sneeze is coming out, which pushes out a subsequent fart) become the order of the day. And if you don’t find burp snarts funny the first time, you won’t the second time either. Or the third. Or fourth. Or fifth. Or when the film wraps itself up with one, the final joke in a movie so full of scatological humor like this that I wouldn’t be surprised to hear the pages of the completed script were accidentally used as toilet paper and the filmmakers couldn’t tell the difference.

When the film can’t find an organic (used in every sense of the word) way to include a pee or poo joke, “Grown Ups 2” reverts to slapstick humor. If your idea of a good time comes from watching people fall over, get hit with any number of odd assortments, accidentally spray pepper spray in their faces and have their crotch eaten by a deer, then this is the movie for you. In particular, Nick Swardson, playing a character imaginatively named Nick, exists solely to inflict harm upon. He takes so much abuse in this movie, I actually felt bad for him. His career has plummeted so far (if you can actually find a peak somewhere, that is), that he is relegated to a literal punching bag, the lowest point of a movie that already sinks so low it passes by the bottom of the barrel and digs a trench under it.

For every joke that delivers the mildest of chuckles (which would total, if my math is correct, one), there are about 150 that are so bad, they actually diminish your faith in humanity, especially if the crowd you’re watching this abomination with is actually laughing. Frankly, if this is what we find funny, there’s no hope for the future of American comedy. With a runtime of an hour and 40 minutes, “Grown Ups 2” is about an hour and 39 minutes too long and is an absolute embarrassment for all involved.

Grown Ups 2 receives an easy 0/5

Friday
Oct122012

Here Comes the Boom

It has become far too easy to dismiss Kevin James movies. If his name is attached to it, one can fairly reason that they should be expecting lots of fat-guy-fall-down jokes and slapstick humor of all kinds. If there’s a painful part of the body someone could take damage to, chances are James will endure that pain. Looking through his filmography is like watching a painfully unfunny highlight reel of what amounts to the lowest form of comedy. His best movie, one could argue, is 2005’s Hitch, but not because it’s an outstanding film; it was just nice enough to give us a script and an idea, regardless of how mundane they were. His latest, however, breaks his trend of unwatchable disasters. Here Comes the Boom is certainly not high art, but then again, it never claims to be.

James plays Scott Voss, a high school Biology teacher whose love for the job has dwindled over the years. He doesn’t really do all that much for his school because of it, but he’s soon called to action when the school announces budget cuts and that they’re getting rid of the music program, run by the high spirited and loving Marty Streb, played by Henry Winkler. The school is short $48,000 and at the end of the year, the man will lose his job, but Scott decides to take matters into his own hands. He wrestled in school when he was younger and was actually pretty good, so he decides to take up mixed martial arts after learning some fighters earn $10,000 just for losing—besides, the two sports can’t be all that different. Also a teacher of an evening citizenship class, Scott eventually employs his student Niko, an ex-MMA fighter played by Bas Rutten, to train him and save the school.

It’s not unusual to see Kevin James fall down and get hit, but most of the time, it’s contextually inappropriate, a lazy ploy to garner a cheap laugh, but in Here Comes the Boom, the constant abuse he takes comes from the inherent violence of the sport itself. Aside from one early moment where he crawls through an open window and crashes to the floor, the slapstick is kept to a minimum. The most obvious attempt at forced slapstick humor comes when his trainer kicks a medicine ball in disgust through a gym and it hits someone in the head, though even then, even when the movie is taking the low road, you can take solace in the fact that it’s not James subjecting himself to such embarrassments. In Here Comes the Boom, he keeps his head held high and his pride intact, which results in him flexing his acting skills instead of his uncanny ability to absorb damage. While by no means an award winner, he’s quite good here and crafts a sympathetic character who longs to do the right thing.

Although characters like him are a dime a dozen in the movies, it’s the timeliness of his intentions that resonate the most. In a time when the public school system seems to be getting worse and worse by the day, it’s refreshing to see a film that portrays a teacher (or, more specifically, teachers) who actually care enough about their students and co-workers to stand up and fight for them, in this case literally. This is a guy who ends up finding meaning in his life by helping others. Sure, his transition from uncaring, disgruntled teacher to high school hero is obvious from the get go (as is his eventual relationship with the school nurse, Bella, played by Salma Hayek), but it would be disingenuous of me to say I didn’t care about what he was doing or that I wasn’t rooting for him to win.

Here Comes the Boom clearly wants you to feel that way, but it tries far too hard, piling on so much cheese that the actual film reel starts to smell. Supposedly touching moments are so overbearing to the point of uncomfortableness; only the talented Henry Winkler manages to pull them off. His love for music and his desire to share that love with others is infectious and heartwarming. When he opens up to Scott near the end, it’s actually kind of moving. Of course, this moving moment wouldn’t have come had it not been for the horribly contrived twist that strips Scott of all the money he had made up to that point, forcing him to win the final match to save the music program and Marty’s job, so it’s a give and take.

But what it amounts to is perhaps Kevin James’ greatest starring role. That may be faint praise when compared to the atrocities he’s subjected us to in the past, but this is a good step towards maturity. Here Comes the Boom has meaning, heart, a radiant Salma Hayek and a very much missed Henry Winkler. It’s also a good showcase for  how James can carry a movie when not relegated to bodily harm and gross-out humor. It’s certainly a mixed film and it’s barely recommendable, but the fact that it’s recommendable at all is cause for celebration.

Here Comes the Boom receives 2.5/5

Friday
Sep282012

Hotel Transylvania

Hotel Transylvania may pretend to be something other than an Adam Sandler movie, but make no mistake, it is an Adam Sandler movie from beginning to end. It stars all of his usual movie pals and has the same obnoxious toilet humor he always seems so drawn to. If you haven’t liked his other recent films, there’s really no reason you’ll enjoy this, but I’ll give it one thing. At least it doesn’t hide under the guise of adulthood. The immature humor and forced messages are still here, but at least they fit the targeted audience. Aimed largely at children, the film stresses the importance of accepting others regardless of their differences and if lowest common denominator humor is the only way to get that point across to the little ones, then I guess it succeeds.

Dracula (Adam Sandler) is an overprotective father. His daughter, Mavis (Selena Gomez), wants nothing more than to see the world, but he insists leaving will only bring her harm because the humans she’ll run into are evil. To protect her, he has built a giant mansion (that doubles as a hotel) far away from humankind and protected on all sides by haunted forests, zombie graveyards and more. Only monsters, ghouls and goblins can get in and boy, do they. Mavis is about to turn 118 and monsters from all over flood in to celebrate. There’s Frankenstein (Kevin James), Wayne the werewolf (Steve Buscemi), his wife Wanda (Molly Shannon), Griffin the Invisible Man (David Spade), Quasimodo (Jon Lovitz) and many more. However, a human named Jonathan (Andy Samberg) has somehow infiltrated Dracula’s hotel. His presence threatens to ruin both his daughter’s party and the hotel’s patronage, given that he promised security from those awful human beings.

If Adam Sandler’s movies could be judged solely by how few poop and fart jokes they contain, then Hotel Transylvania would be his best in quite some time. It has, I don’t know, probably less than ten (and at least four in the first ten minutes) in the entire movie, which may be some sort of record for the man who is seemingly obsessed with all kinds of bodily fluids and secretions. Luckily, the movie has more merits than its reduction of poop jokes (in comparison). It may have a simple premise like many of Sandler’s other movies, but the idea of bringing classic monster movie creatures together into one building allows for more creativity than the one-joke idea of slapping a wig and some make-up on Sandler and trying to pass him off as his own sister.

Hotel Transylvania, though hardly visionary, at least manages to make good with its source material, in particular evoking memories of “fire bad” from the Frankenstein monster (which is more a reference to a Frankenstein spoof on Saturday Night Live than the actual Frankenstein movies themselves) and having fun with the whole idea of the Invisible Man, like the question on everybody’s mind: if you put your hand in the Invisible Man’s mouth, would it disappear? Further fun includes pantsing the Invisible Man, which exposes his invisible genitals, and a Twilight reference (“Is this how we’re represented?” asks Dracula) that’s bound to make the more cultured movie fans chuckle.

But aside from those humorous moments that spoof classic monster movies, there isn’t much here for adults. Hotel Transylvania is a kids movie through and through. It’s one of the more tolerable ones, mind you, and it teaches a valuable lesson that is too often ignored in a world full of hate: none of us are monsters and we all deserve love and respect. You could do a whole lot worse this weekend than taking your kid to see it, but despite its good intentions, it feels too much like mild spoof when it should be intelligent parody to be recommendable.

Hotel Transylvania receives 2/5

Friday
Jul082011

Zookeeper

I have to imagine Kevin James is a likable fellow. He strikes me as the type of person who, if approached on the street, wouldn’t mind chatting with fans, signing autographs and taking a few pictures. However, that affableness doesn’t make up for the fact that he’s made us sit through some of the trashiest, most foul, unwatchable pieces of garbage to come out in recent years. While he may be a nice guy in real life, he has never impressed in his films, which are almost always heavy-laden with physical comedy, an area where his abilities rest somewhere between slight and non-existent. He’s the type of comedian we’re supposed to laugh at simply because of his large visage, but laughing at someone’s weight is comedy of the shallowest order. James has starred in such abominations as Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Grown Ups and The Dilemma, but, if it can be believed, his newest film, Zookeeper, is his worst yet.

James plays Griffin, a zookeeper who is beloved by his animals. Five years prior, he popped the question to then-girlfriend, Stephanie, played by Leslie Bibb, but she shot him down because she was embarrassed by his occupation. Now, she has returned and Griffin once again finds himself falling for her. After overhearing a conversation one night, the animals learn that Griffin may be leaving the zoo. They’re none too happy with this news—besides, he’s the best zookeeper they’ve ever had—so they divulge their secret to him: they can talk. In an attempt to keep him around, they teach him mating techniques so he can snag the girl of his dreams without having to give up his job.

It would be easy to say that Zookeeper is absurd. Any movie with talking animals is, but as a colleague of mine pointed out, it’s weirder than usual and it gets weirder as it goes on. It’s strange enough watching James walk like a bear and learn to attract his mate with urine, but when the gorilla ends up at T.G.I. Friday’s, buys drinks for some cute ladies and ends up courting one of them, the film has clearly gone overboard. If anything can be said for it, Zookeeper doesn’t try to be anything other than what it is.

The problem is that what it is is a movie so desperate for laughs, it quickly resorts to tired slapstick and gross-out humor. In the first ten minutes alone, you’ll see Griffin fall over at least three times, break a tree limb that can’t carry his weight, get shot twice with porcupine quills and get splashed in the face with a lioness’s saliva. I suppose I should be grateful nobody gets covered in feces, especially given the nature of these types of films, but not throwing crap on someone comes off as faint praise for a movie with metaphorical smears all over it.

Zookeeper is juvenile, inane and utterly devoid of anything even remotely interesting, sure, but it’s surprisingly offensive as well, with traces of mild sexism and veiled homophobia throughout. While certainly minute in the big scheme of things, their diminutive nature makes them no less distasteful. For an entire scene, we watch as Griffin insults Stephanie and orders her to do things for him, playing up verbal abuse towards women as funny. Though not funny in any context, it’s especially shocking here given its PG rating and marketing towards children.

The only person treated with respect in the film is the zoo vet, played by Rosario Dawson, but even she is trapped in the archetypal “plain before pretty” role that has been outdated since Freddie Prinze Jr. fell for Rachael Leigh Cook in 1999’s She’s All That. It’s a shame because the filmmakers have gathered a great supporting voice cast that includes Nick Nolte, Adam Sandler, Sylvester Stallone, Cher, Judd Apatow, Jon Favreau, Maya Rudolph and Don Rickles, yet they are all squandered here, forced to recite insipid lines of dialogue about having thumbs and throwing poo. Frankly, it’s an embarrassing farce. Zookeeper is torturous, and that’s enough to make it one of the most unwatchable movies to be released this year.

Zookeeper receives 0.5/5