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Entries in Steve Carell (8)

Friday
Jul302010

Dinner for Schmucks

Evan Almighty aside, Steve Carell doesn’t make bad movies. The same can be said for Paul Rudd. Easily two of the funniest men working in Hollywood today, Rudd and Carell have continually put out quality films and have collaborated on a number of previous pictures. Now they're back together for the first time since 2005’s The 40 Year Old Virgin, but don't expect that magic to strike again. Instead, meet Dinner for Schmucks, a loathsome, abysmally unfunny comedy that takes the talent of its stars and squanders it.

Tim (Rudd) is a businessman at Fender International, a private equity firm. However, he is stuck as a low level employee and dreams of the day when he can move up. That day comes when a superior is fired, leaving his job and his office open. Naturally, Tim jumps at the opportunity to climb the corporate ladder and soon finds himself among the company big wigs. Before he has even settled in, his boss (Bruce Greenwood) informs him of a dinner party he hosts once a month. He and his colleagues all try to find the biggest idiot they can and bring them to dinner to make fun of them. To fit in, Tim must do the same. Soon he runs into (with his car) Barry (Carell), the king of idiots who has an affinity for taking dead mice and positioning them in famous paintings, like Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.” So a friendship blossoms, but Barry is ignorant to the fact that Tim is using him as a patsy to get his promotion.

This movie further supports my theory that the word “schmucks” is really difficult to realistically fit into dialogue. It’s not a common word these days (and is usually replaced by something far more vulgar). I say this because, despite the title, the word is never used, replacing the hurtful term with the more direct “idiots.” The word is forced into the title when it doesn’t belong, which perfectly illustrates the nature of the writing. The weak jokes, the cheesy speeches on love and the exaggerated personality of Carell’s character all seemed excessive and taken off the page with little artistic interpretation.

Coincidentally, it’s not funny. When I Love You, Man came out, many critics bashed it for what appeared to be indulgent ad-libbing. They claimed the dialogue never felt natural because real people didn’t talk like that. It’s a legitimate complaint, but when you have Paul Rudd, why not let him go off the rails a bit? Here he seems tied to the script, as do the rest of the cast, and the script is humorless.

The perplexity of Dinner for Schmucks is that it takes quite some time to get to the titular dinner, despite it being the main attraction. In fact, the film goes through its whole narrative arc—the meet up, break up and reconciliation of Tim and Barry—before they even arrive for the meal, so when it finally does come, you don’t really care.

Of course, I suppose you wouldn’t care regardless because the whole set-up of the dinner is contrived and the importance laughable. Similar to the ridiculous bet in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, there’s a big business deal, a 100 million dollar deal to be exact, that hinges on the success of the dinner because, naturally, all business deals hang in the balance of such trivial matters.

I truly hated Dinner for Schmucks and it hurts me to say that, but Rudd, Carell and director Jay Roach (who also directed Meet the Parents, Meet the Fockers and the Austin Powers trilogy) have all been involved in bigger and better things. However, even with this debacle under their belts, I expect great things from them in the future. If that future somehow doesn't play out, the cinema world will be in mourning. We will have lost a trifecta of funny.

Dinner for Schmucks receives 1/5

Friday
Jul092010

Despicable Me

At this point, it almost seems unfair to compare every computer animated movie to Pixar. Who can compete? Outside of a select few DreamWorks Animation pictures, none have been good to the point where I thought Pixar may have some competition. So whose fault is it? The random assortment of animation studios for putting out less than stellar movies or Pixar for setting the bar so high nobody can reach it? I suppose it doesn’t matter, but after the debut of the recent Toy Story 3, one can’t help but look at Despicable Me with an exhausted chagrin.

The film follows Gru (voiced by Steve Carell), an evil mastermind who has not only stolen the Jumbotron from Times Square, but also the Statue of Liberty (the tiny one from Vegas). He considers himself the most evil of all in the land, but a young villain by the name of Vector (voiced by Jason Segel) has just stolen one of Egypt’s pyramids and replaced it with an inflatable version. The media is calling it the greatest heist ever pulled off. Gru, taking offense, decides to do one better. He plans to steal the moon. But to do so, he needs a shrink ray, the one that Vector has in his palace. After discovering Vector’s love for cookies, Gru adopts three little orphan girls named Edith (voiced by Dana Gaier), Margo (voiced by Miranda Cosgrove) and Agnes (voiced by Elsie Fisher) who have the delicious edible resources necessary to distract him, allowing Gru to break in and snag the device. Little does he know he’s about to face some self discovery and may actually come to love the girls.

When people tell me animation is only for children, I become distraught. They clearly have no idea what they’re talking about. To counter, I point them in the direction of Wall-E, Up or even the Toy Story movies. Those films may be accessible to kids, but those who will get the most out of them are adults. They are about love and loss, identity, holding on to old memories and more. With that said, Despicable Me's messages, however admirable they may be, will only work for those who haven’t yet had the life experience to discover them on their own.

Still, as far as kid-oriented films go, this isn’t so bad. Compared to Planet 51 or the atrocious Furry Vengeance, Despicable Me comes off like a sparkling gem. It teaches kids the importance of family while also showing that it’s never too late to make things right. Children, as rotten as they can be, will watch as Gru finds the value in love, displacing his evil ways in the process, and they’ll take something from it.

It’s simpleminded to be sure, which is why it may not work for the adults in the audience who have already gained the knowledge that family is important, as evidenced by the fact that they’re most likely sitting in the theater watching it with their children. This thematic pandering to the young bleeds through its messages, however, and infiltrates the jokes, most of which go the easy route of making kids laugh, complete with farting, puking and the tired sight gag of a seemingly fragile granny suddenly break her stereotype.

I think children will enjoy Despicable Me. But where it succeeds in hitting its target audience, it fails at notarizing itself as anything more. To put it plainly, it lacks the visual artistry and emotional depth of a Pixar film. It’s hard to criticize a movie for wishing to appeal to kids and succeeding, considering how recent dreck like Marmaduke can’t even do that, but I’m not a child and can only speak for myself. While not a vapid waste of time, Despicable Me is like a fat kid running down the street. It probably won’t get far, but at least it’s trying.

Despicable Me receives 2.5/5

Friday
Apr092010

Date Night

What do you get when you combine the two hottest actors working on the two funniest sitcoms on television? You hope for the answer to that question to be more than a reluctant shrug, but here we are. Combining Steve Carell and Tina Fey should make for a hilarious and fun adventure, but the material in Date Night simply isn't there and doesn't accommodate their talents.

Carell and Fey play Phil and Claire Foster, a married couple who go about their humdrum lives repeating the same menial tasks daily. They spend their days at work and come home to two young children who occupy their lives at night. Their sex life is basically non-existent, though they try to keep things fresh by having a date night every so often. After they learn that their two best friends are going to get a divorce, they decide to make their next date night extra special and travel to New York for an evening at a fancy restaurant. However, they didn't call in a reservation beforehand and their chances of getting a table are slim. Fortunately for them, a couple by the name of Triplehorn hasn't shown up for their reservations, so the Fosters pretend to be them and take their table. What happens next is less fortunate. Two thugs show up claiming that they have stolen a prized possession from them and want it back. It's a case of mistaken identity and the Foster's find themselves in more trouble than they could imagine.

The premise of a couple seeking excitement only to run into more excitement than they bargained for is nothing new in the world of cinema. In fact, it's been played out by this point. Date Night is merely another blip on the radar of the tired subgenre, featuring mediocre writing and a ridiculous plot that nobody could take seriously. But the dream pair-up of Carell and Fey, two of the funniest people working in Hollywood today, do more than enough to salvage it. This movie works because of them. Without them, it fails.

Their chemistry together--romantic and comedic--is second to none. Their witty banter back and forth is a blast to listen to and they are capable of taking jokes that really aren't that funny and making them so. Considering how hilarious their two shows, The Office and 30 Rock, are, it's shocking how long it took someone to realize how perfect they would be together on the big screen.

Still, this movie is merely tolerable, far from what a movie starring the two should be. Where's the heart? Where's the emotion? Date Night tries to include some, but the outlandish situations the two find themselves in don't lend well to emotion. When you have Carell climbing onto the front of a speeding car and diving into another one, you start to get too far away from reality and the heartfelt conversations start to feel kind of pointless.

What else is there to say, really? Humor is subjective and opinions on the movie will surely be split. I'm not even completely sure how I feel about it. It's one of those rare films that I walked out of and didn't feel like discussing or analyzing. I only wanted to get home so I could write this and get it out of my mind. I'll revisit it one day just to spend more time with the charismatic actors, but the mediocrity of the movie may make it a long before that happens.

Date Night receives 2.5/5

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