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Entries in Steve Buscemi (4)

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
Mar152013

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

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
Jan082010

Youth in Revolt

I should have known better. Everybody knows that January is dump month, the month of the year where movie studios release the films they have no faith in. After the holidays, where they release the films they think could be big money grabbers or Oscar contenders, theatrical attendance generally goes down a bit. So instead of releasing something of quality, they take whatever they have lying around and plop it here just so they will have something on screens nationwide while they await their next big blockbuster. Despite this, Youth in Revolt looked promising. The trailers were amusing and seemed like only a glimpse at an overall better, raunchier, funnier movie, but naturally, that isn't the case. Youth in Revolt is quite bad and Michael Cera's relatively impressive filmography is now on a running streak of two bad movies in a row with the inclusion of the wretched Year One released earlier this year. Perhaps his usual brand of awkward humor is beginning to wear thin.

The film follows Nick Twisp (Cera), the typical nerdy, virgin teen that usually crops up in these types of pictures. He lives with his mother (Jean Smart) and her boy toy whom he hates named Jerry (Zach Galifianakis). After three Navy men come around to lay the beat down on Jerry, they pack up and take a road trip to a camper site where Nick meets the love of his life, Sheeni (Portia Doubleday). His overwhelming emotions get the best of him and in his desire to win her over, he creates a supplementary persona whom he dubs Francois (also played by Michael Cera), the suave, uncaring, foul mouthed side of him who says what's on his mind and does what he wants. Unfortunately, Nick has to leave the camper site and Sheeni behind, so he comes up with a master plan. He will do terrible things and make his mother's life miserable. This way, she will kick him out and he will have to live with his father (Steve Buscemi) who lives near Sheeni. After blowing up a store with the help of his alternate personality, he gets his wish, but the cops are now looking for him as well.

Youth in Revolt is one mess of an unfunny movie, in large part due to the creepy nature of Francois and the questionable mental state of Nick. The crutch of the film is his split personality, but Francois comes off more as a child predator than he does the cool bad ass side of Nick. Essentially, Nick is talking to himself in the scenes with Francois and forces himself to do things he doesn't want to do. He's mentally unstable, sick of his repressed, secluded self and growing weary of his mother's sluttiness that his kind, gentle demeanor is overtaken by the power of Francois. His brain is so diluted with the foolish thought that he simply can't go on being a virgin (because no 16 year old anywhere is still a virgin) that he basically snaps. This is a guy we're supposed to root for, but I found myself more inclined to root for the police so he could get the proper psychiatric treatments he so desperately needed.

Though it does offer up a few laughs here and there, roughly half are in the trailer (equaling out to about seven or eight total) and they're better edited in it than the actual picture. Similar to the overrated Fantastic Mr. Fox, Youth in Revolt takes a funny joke that was edited with terrific comedic timing in the trailer and adds in an extra shot or two that throws the whole punchline off track. It just goes to show how important editing is. You can have the funniest joke ever on paper, but if it doesn't come across pitch perfect in the movie, it loses its impact.

Michael Cera, though undeniably likable and charming, has more or less played the same character in every movie, including this one. His awkward, nerdy physique and sarcastic humor are intact in Youth in Revolt, but it's old at this point. While Francois is a departure from his usual performance, he is underutilized, only showing up in a handful of scenes, only one of which is funny in the slightest.

I'm not quick to point the finger at anybody in particular when it comes to the failings of Youth in Revolt. The actors do a capable job, the direction is fine and the writing was decent enough, but "capable," "fine," and "decent" aren't exactly impassioned adjectives. The whole affair just seems lazy, with nobody doing anything too awful, but nobody on the opposite end picking up the slack either. The new year is off to a poor start indeed.

Youth in Revolt receives 1.5/5