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Entries in Steve Coogan (3)

Wednesday
Jul032013

Despicable Me 2

When I originally wrote about the mediocre “Despicable Me” back in 2010, I ended my review on somewhat of a snarky note, saying that it was “like a fat kid running down the street” and that “it probably won’t get far, but at least it’s trying.” Three years later, my foot has been firmly planted in my mouth and the film has found enough success to warrant a sequel. Yet some things never change. What worked before works here and what didn’t is still ever prevalent. This isn’t a case of a sequel trying to improve on the original. It’s a case of a studio looking at their product, seeing how closely it resembled its predecessor and saying, “Good enough.” Fans of the original will likely enjoy this as well and bring it plenty of success, so I guess I should update my snarkiness to fit a more believable outcome. “Despicable Me 2” is like that surprisingly athletic fat kid running down the street. It shouldn’t get very far, but it somehow does.

Gru (Steve Carell) has given up his evil ways. Those three kids he fell in love with in the first movie, Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Agnes (Elsie Fisher) and Edith (Dana Gaier), are now his entire life and he wants to support them through legitimate means, namely by producing the most awful tasting jelly imaginable. However, he’s soon recruited by Agent Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig) and the Anti-Villain League, an organization dedicated to stopping crime on a global scale. Their current investigation has to do with the disappearance of a top secret research facility in the Arctic Circle that contained a dangerous transmutation serum. Given that Gru was once the most brilliant villain on the planet, they need his help, so despite his initial reluctance, he sets out to find the serum and stop the mastermind behind its disappearance.

Like the previous installment, “Despicable Me 2” does not lack an imagination. The sight gags, particularly that come from the mall Gru and Lucy spent most of their time in, are clever and well placed and the minions, those adorably clueless little yellow guys, are just as loony as ever. Their expanded roles in this movie that, without spoiling anything, are central to the overall plot, make way for some great moments that are easily the most memorable and enjoyable of the entire thing. The problem is that much of their humor and, indeed, the entire film’s humor derives from slapstick comedy, the laziest, cheapest, most lowbrow from of humor there is.

Within the first 10 minutes alone, someone falls off a roof, gets hit with a medieval type mace and car, sprayed with a hose and tasered. The movie clearly has a young demographic in mind, an understandable focus, but it caters to them not by offering witty and well written stories like the majority of Pixar or DreamWorks animated films, but rather by appealing to their most basic senses, not unlike when a baby laughs at their parent getting hit in the face with something. What little story it does have is rudimentary and predictable: another love story. The kids, as much as they love Gru, want a mother, so they pressure him into dating, which leads to an overarching theme that is no more effective than the underexplored blossoming of young Margo.

What “Despicable Me 2” is sorely missing, and what “Despicable Me” had in abundance, is a strong antagonist. Vector, voiced so wonderfully by Jason Segel, was a strong character whose eccentric personality and ideals conflicted with Gru’s, leading to a battle of wits that added an ever-so-subtle layer to the original film. This movie lacks that. Because the bad guy is a mystery for the majority of its runtime, no real threat or character is every really established, just the veiled persona the villain hides behind.

Still, “Despicable Me 2” does offer up the same charm of the first movie, even if it is less significant in what amounts to little more than a rehash. It’s inoffensive, goofy and bound to put smiles on the faces of the children and parents in the audience. But with a plethora of other, more meaningful animated films with wonderful messages about growing up and coping with the harshness of life (including the recent “Monsters University”), this just feels like a time waster. It’s by no means terrible, but “Despicable Me 2” needs to do a whole lot more than throw its characters around like abused ragdolls to make it worth the price of admission.

Despicable Me 2 receives 2/5

Friday
Aug262011

Our Idiot Brother

Paul Rudd is an infinitely likable guy. Regardless of what one may think of his movies, I find it hard to believe anyone could look at him as anything other than goofy and lovable. But never has he been more lovable than he is in Our Idiot Brother. His character, Ned, is a shining example of how we should all act. He is unselfish, kind, trusting and he loves those around him. It’s these characteristics that apparently make him an idiot, but if he’s an idiot, sign me up.

From the minute the movie begins, Ned’s kindness is established as he gives a free bowl of strawberries to a little girl passing by his fruit stand. It’s his next act of kindness, however, that lands him jail. He gives weed to a uniformed cop who tricks him into trusting him. Some months later, he is released from jail and heads home, but not before saying his goodbyes to the prison guards (with whom he is now on a first name basis). When he returns, he finds his girlfriend, Janet (Kathryn Hahn), shacked up with a man named Billy (T.J. Miller). It’s enough to make any man lose his temper, but Ned is as polite as can be, especially to Billy. He only wants his dog, Willie Nelson.

Now that he’s out of a home, he is forced to move in with his three sisters, Miranda (Elizabeth Banks), a journalist looking for her first big story, Liz (Emily Mortimer), a stay at home mom who is married to documentary filmmaker, Dylan (Steve Coogan), and Natalie (Zooey Deschanel), a struggling stand-up comic who is in a lesbian relationship with Cindy (Rashida Jones). While none really want him to stay in their homes, they have no choice, so he jumps around at their whim. He lands a job, at Liz’s insistence, working with Dylan on his documentary. He is just happy to be helping and doesn’t think for a minute, despite all the clues, that Dylan may be having an affair with his documentary subject. When he walks in on them naked, he still doesn’t figure it out, buying Dylan’s lie that nudity can sometimes make the interviewee more comfortable.

As is evident, Ned has a naïve view of the world, similar to that of a child. He doesn’t see the infidelity happening in front of his eyes, or the news story in someone’s words, or the humiliation in rejection (after asking someone out and being shot down, he merely smiles and shrugs. “No big deal” he must have been thinking). He always sees the positive side of things and feels bad when he lets someone down. When he turns down a threesome involving another man, he actually apologizes, as if the fact that he is straight is somehow something for which to be sorry. When he counts his money on the subway and hands a wad of cash to the guy next to him to hold, the thought never crosses his mind that that person could rob him. It’s ignorance, sure, but it’s also bliss (as the old saying goes). Some believe that children don’t see evil and are born with an inherent trust in people. If that’s true, then Ned is just a big child.

He’s an intrinsically happy person, which makes a late movie breakdown all the more powerful. At this point in the film, he is being blamed for ruining Liz’s marriage, killing Miranda’s career and destroying Cindy’s love for Natalie. None of those things are his fault, but his sister’s keep telling them they are, which leads him to, for the first and only time, raise his voice. It’s enough to make them feel sorry for what they said and realize how much Ned loves and cares about them; they’ve never seem him act that way and neither have we. So while the resolution feels a bit rushed, it makes sense based on how Ned has acted up to that point.

In a way, Ned is too much of an exaggeration—being blamed simultaneously for such horrific things would break a real family apart—but that’s where his charm lies. He’s willing to forgive and forget, but for him it’s not a choice; he simply doesn’t know any other way. Life is wonderful to him, a belief not expressly stated, but obvious anyway. Why spend it holding grudges? Ned is a clueless individual and at times deserves the idiot moniker, but he loves unconditionally and exudes joy at every possible moment. As it turns out, some idiots can teach you a thing or two.

Our Idiot Brother receives 4/5

Friday
Jun042010

Marmaduke

Live action talking animal movies are the lowest form of cinema. Watching one is like taking a really sharp, rusty needle and twisting it in your eye until it pops. They kill brain cells, dilute imaginations and corrupt our youth with their infantile humor, yet they're pumped out constantly. Compared to garbage like G-Force or the more recent Furry Vengeance, I suppose Marmaduke is okay, but that’s like saying breaking a finger is better than breaking a hand. It's painful either way.

Based on the long running, unfunny comic strip, the films follows Marmaduke (voiced by Owen Wilson) as he and his family move from Kansas to California. His owner Phil (Lee Pace) has landed a great job, which forces his family to move, much to their chagrin. While at a doggy park one day, Marmaduke learns what it will take to survive on the west coast thanks to a trio of dogs named Mazie (voiced by Emma Stone), Raisin (voiced by Steve Coogan) and Giuseppe (voiced by Christopher Mintz-Plasse) who take him in as one of their own. He is told to stay away from Bosco (voiced by Kiefer Sutherland), the alpha dog of the park, but he has an eye for his girlfriend Jezebel (voiced by Fergie) and sets out to prove himself as a leader.

There’s a scene in this movie, one of the earliest in fact, where Marmaduke is in bed with Phil and his wife. He is giving her the good news about his job and they start to romantically kiss. Marmaduke then passes gas, looks directly at the camera and says, “I know it’s juvenile, but it’s all I’ve got.” Never before has a movie so accurately described itself. It has nothing of note but a relentless barrage of jokes that only a child of single digit age could laugh at.

Those jokes not disgusting are simply eye rollers with visual gags that are about as funny as a dog on a surfboard. Oh wait, that’s actually in this movie and the result is as idiotic as you’d imagine. Phil’s new job tasks him with putting doggy product on retail shelves and his plan to promote it is to have a dog surf-off, pitting Marmaduke against Bosco in head to head wave shredding. The CGI that follows takes big old Duke and tosses him into the barrel of the wave where he overcomes his fear, busts through and flies sky high winning him first prize and putting Bosco in his place.

It’s hard to top something as idiotic as that, but this film’s idiocy knows no bounds. Once all the dogs stood up on their hind legs and started dancing on a pseudo Dance Dance Revolution arcade game, I was ready to dance my way out the door. Then when you tack on ridiculous canine phrases like "a new leash on life" and plays on words like "bone-illionaire," it becomes clear the filmmakers have zero ambition for their project.

The very few laughs this picture provides rest solely on Christopher Mintz-Plasse who actually sounds enthusiastic about being in such a lowbrow movie and at least fakes like he cares. He comes across well and, although his voice is easily recognizable, he saved the picture from being terrible.

Of course, being only relatively terrible is hardly a ringing endorsement. I suppose Marmaduke is harmless. It’s brainless and appeals to the lowest common denominator, but there’s nothing truly objectionable here and there will be those who like it. For them, I am happy. As for my experience with it, I was not.

Marmaduke receives 1.5/5