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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


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


The Pirates! Band of Misfits

Aardman Animations is like a less successful Pixar or Studio Ghibli. Like those two (at least until Pixar’s Cars 2), Aardman Animations has never released a bad film, but they generally aren’t as magical, wondrous or humorous as those studios’. Granted, they’ve only put out five movies to date, so the best may be yet to come, but they simply aren’t on the same level as those powerhouses. Their latest stop motion animation effort, The Pirates! Band of Misfits has more chuckles than outright laughs and more sight gags than a silent film, but it’s charming, clever and amusing, even if it seems tired at a mere 88 minutes.

The movie begins in London in 1837. The English Navy, as reported to Queen Victoria (voiced by Imelda Staunton), rules almost all of the oceans surrounding them, except for a small pirate controlled area in the West Indies. It’s an area that has more peg legs than actual people, where pirates convene to take part in the Pirate of the Year awards, presented by the Pirate King himself (voiced by Brian Blessed). One such pirate known only as the Pirate Captain (voiced by Hugh Grant) has entered the contest and lost every year for the last 20 some odd years, but this year, he intends to nab the grand prize. This means gathering the largest amount of gold he can. After some unsuccessful looting attempts, he and his crew run into a ship guided by Charles Darwin (voiced by David Tennant). It’s at this unlikely moment that the Pirate Captain learns that his pet dodo (which he thought was a parrot) is very rare and worth a lot of money. If he follows Darwin, he’s guaranteed untold riches, so with his eyes on the Pirate of the Year prize, he sets off to claim his bounty.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits is goofy, affable, fun and funny. It’s sporadic in all of those traits, but when it works, it’s something to behold. Clever spoken jokes followed by hilarious sight gags (like when the Pirate Captain hangs a hammock over an actual bed simply because he’s used to it) followed by inventive action scenes give the film a feeling of ingenuity, like some thought and care went into its production. Unfortunately, it’s also those moments that shed light on how weak other sections of the movie are. After some genuine moments of delight, it hits lulls, almost like a heart monitor with a constant stream of peaks and valleys. You’ll be laughing one moment and staring cold at the screen the next, but as far as its comedic prowess goes, The Pirates! Band of Misfits hits more than it misses.

Much of that is due to the approach the film takes to a group of people who are usually seen as ruthless and barbaric. Pirates both old and new are known for their indiscriminate violence against anyone they come across on the high seas, but the pirates in this movie are more or less kind, even when they’re forcing someone to walk the plank, and they come with real heart. The simple story about winning that award, which at first seems so trivial, is merely a tool to teach a valuable lesson to both the characters and the audience. It shows the unimportance of money and the true value of friends and family. It’s not a revelatory message, to be sure, but it’s one that is nevertheless worth hearing and certainly good for the young ones in the audience.

Where The Pirates! Band of Misfits suffers most is in its villainous portrayal of Charles Darwin and its casual, cynical approach to scientists “playing God,” (as cited in the Royal Society’s motto). Given the rampant ignorance many choose to embrace when confronting science, and Darwin’s evolutionary theory in particular, these choices seem dangerous. Then again, the film is so wacky that these issues are hardly issues at all and will most likely be overshadowed by the movie’s actual intent: to entertain. This isn’t a movie with an agenda (despite its flaccid stance on science and Darwin) and most people won’t see it as such. It’s a step up from Aardman Animations’ last film, Arthur Christmas, but it’s not the hit they need and are surely looking for. It’s simply good natured fun that the whole family can enjoy.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits receives 3.5/5