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Entries in Tracy Morgan (3)

Friday
Apr152011

Rio

Fair or not, I set a high standard for animated films because I adore animation. The format has given me some of my most memorable and magical trips to the cinema—Pixar, Studio Ghibli, DreamWorks, all have given me enough reasons to hold onto the child within me with their fantastical tales of adventure and wonder—so when I sit down to watch one, I expect something great. Unfortunately, not all movies are worth writing home about (including a few of the aforementioned DreamWorks films). Rio is one of those movies. If the audience reaction at my screening is indicative of how it is going to be received, Rio will be a smash hit at the box office, but for my money, it’s not quite worth the price of admission.

As the film begins, a baby Blue Macaw is being taken from its natural habitat in Brazil and shipped overseas to be sold in an American pet shop. However, its cage falls out of the truck it is riding in before reaching the shop and is picked up by Linda (voiced by Leslie Mann). She imaginatively names him Blu (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg) and they spend the next 15 years living happily together. However, she soon finds out that Blu could very well be the last male of his species and to keep the Blue Macaw from going extinct, she is forced to take him back to his original home in Rio de Janeiro to mate with the last known female, Jewel (voiced by Anne Hathaway).

Of course, things don’t go as planned. The two birds naturally don’t like each other, but are forced to work together when they are birdnapped and chained by the feet by a man who plans to sell them for loads of money. Naturally, they escape and begin to find a fancy for each other as they go along their adventure. That’s obvious and shouldn’t be regarded as a spoiler. What matters in this case is whether or not it’s funny and, as sad as it is to say, it’s mostly not. Aside from a handful of passable chuckles, the jokes fall into one of two categories (and sometimes both). They’re either simpleminded (monkeys texting each other “Ooh ooh ahh ahh!” is far too easy) or they’re unoriginal. You’ve heard these jokes, or at least variations of them, before. Many, many times. It's so derivative, in fact, that it even replicates a joke from last week’s abysmal R rated stoner comedy, Your Highness, which itself had been used previously in many other earlier films. The joke in question is a person singing badly out of tune. It wasn’t funny in Your Highness (although to be fair, nothing was funny in Your Highness) and it’s not funny here either.

If there’s anything to squeeze out of the jokes, it’s the delivery. The voice actors do a relatively good job of bringing forth some enthusiasm, especially Jamie Foxx and will.i.am, who play two birds who just love to break out into song at every chance possible. The complication, however, is that the voices are so recognizable it becomes distracting. On top of those already mentioned, there’s Wanda Sykes, Jane Lynch, George Lopez, Tracy Morgan and more. All, especially Lopez and Morgan, are so familiar that it becomes nearly impossible to separate the characters from the voices behind them.

As should be expected at this point, Rio is in 3D, which only serves to detract from the experience even more. A few weeks ago, Rango, the first non-3D animated movie to come along in quite some time, proved once and for all that the extra dimension isn't needed. It was a wonderful movie, one of the best of the year so far actually, and it worked without resorting to the overused gimmick. Even when 3D works as intended by extending the depth of field, it comes at a price and dims the visuals due to the tinted glasses. And in a film about colorful animals set in as lively a place as the tropical Rio de Janeiro, stripping the brightness is the last thing you want to do. Usually, 3D is merely an annoyance, but in Rio, it’s a serious and unforgivable problem.

Still, I suppose the animation is good, but that’s hardly a compliment anymore given how much computer animation technology has progressed. Even smaller animation studios have to try pretty hard to look ugly. To put it simply, Rio is merely average, but if that must be noted, it should also be noted that it’s completely harmless. But consider this, if you will. The funniest part of this experience is the Ice Age short that comes before called Scrat’s Continental Crack-up (and it was even funnier the first time I saw it in front of last year’s Gulliver’s Travels). If the unrelated short at the beginning is more enjoyable than the feature length film that comes after, can Rio really be considered a success?

Rio receives 2.5/5

Friday
Apr162010

Death at a Funeral

Rarely does a movie come along that is so funny you laugh until you can't breathe. The British 2007 comedy Death at a Funeral is one of those rarities. While a lot of British humor is hit and miss with American audiences, Death at a Funeral successfully bridged that gap and made itself accessible to everyone domestic and abroad. The remake can only wish to attain that status. It tries hard, but ultimately this Americanized Death at a Funeral feels like a shoddy rehash of the wonderful original.

The film stars Chris Rock as Aaron, the oldest son of his recently deceased father. Today is his burial day and the turnout is great. Everyone from his family, as well as many of his friends, have all shown up to give him a fond farewell. Among them are his brother Russell (Danny Glover), his author son Ryan (Martin Lawrence), his nephew (Columbus Short), his niece Elaine (Zoe Saldana) and her boyfriend Oscar (James Marsden). But thanks to some hallucinogenic drugs and a little person named Frank (Peter Dinklage), who claims to have had some, shall we say, uncouth rendezvous with him, his funeral is about to get a little more zany than the usual.

Death at a Funeral follows its British predecessor to the letter. The writer, Dean Craig, penned both scripts, though it really seems more like a copy and paste job than a whole new script in and of itself. This version follows the original, quite literally, scene by scene and rehashes the exact same jokes word for word. There are minor differences here and there, but by and large this is the same movie.

Which is to say the writing is brilliant. The absurd twists and turns both movies make are delightful and work despite their inherent goofiness. The writing takes a morbid subject and somehow wrings laughs out of a period normally set aside for grieving.

Or at least that's how the original worked. What this remake proves is how crucial comedic delivery is to a film. Despite using the same jokes that came from the same writer who more or less used the same script, this version of the film lacks laughs because the actors simply aren't up to the challenge. Rock is a poor replacement for Matthew Macfayden, who played his part in the original. Macfayden brought the character to life. He played him in a soft spoken kind of way. You could tell he was grieving over his father and in distress by the crazy events unfolding around him. All he wanted was to get the day over with and move on. Rock doesn't do that. You never sense that he, or any other attendee for that matter, is grieving in any way. He stands up there and does his usual schtick better suited for a stand-up routine, but never brings any depth to his character. Most actors fall into this category.

That is except for James Marsden. Playing the role Alan Tudyk knocked out of the park in the original, Marsden breaks from the monotony of the rest of the cast and switches his performance up. Rather than simply mimicking the cast of the original, he is allowed to roam free and be as goofy as he wants. Being the unfortunate victim of an accidental acid hit doesn't hurt of course, but nevertheless he plays his part wonderfully and produces the most laughs of anyone in the film.

But that doesn't change the fact that this is simply an inferior product to the original. Contrary to last week's Date Night, which had bad writing, but was saved by excellent performances from two hilarious leads, Death at a Funeral has terrific writing, but is hurt by poor performances from actors who don't know what to do with their characters. I wouldn't say I hated this Americanized remake, but why would I recommend it when I can simply point readers to the far superior original?

Death at a Funeral receives 2.5/5

Friday
Feb262010

Cop Out

Never before have I walked out of a movie and felt so bad for the people involved in its production. Cop Out is one of those films where you look at the talent and find it hard to believe that they actually think it's good. Kevin Smith, director of such films as Clerks, Mallrats, Dogma, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and Zack and Miri Make a Porno, helms this travesty, marking his debut directing a movie not written by him. If Cop Out is any indication, he needs to stick to his own stuff. It's only February, but I'm confident this train wreck will be on my worst of the year list.

The film is a humorous (a word I use very loosely here) take on the buddy cop action picture, akin to movies like 48 Hours and Lethal Weapon. But where those oozed with style and provided laughs despite not necessarily being comedies, Cop Out fails miserably. In what is the worst onscreen pairing since Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez in Gigli, Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan play Jimmy and Paul, partners who have been together for nine years. Jimmy's daughter, played by Michelle Trachtenberg, is about to get married and wants a huge wedding, $50,000 huge. Jimmy is expected to pay for it, but he and Paul get suspended for a month without pay after a stakeout goes awry and a clerk at a local store gets murdered. Now, the only way to cough up that cash is to sell a rare baseball card he's had since his childhood. Unfortunately, he is assaulted and robbed of the card, which he quickly finds out is now in the hands of the gang suspected of murdering the store clerk, so he and Paul break the rules, as they always do in these types of movies, and set off to crack the case.

I struggled writing that synopsis. The actual movie isn't quite as clear cut. What I just detailed to you above makes more sense and has a better flow to it than the actual film itself. I left out the unnecessary side story about Paul's wife, played by Rashida Jones, and his suspicion that she's cheating on him. I also left out how inconsequential that opening murder is to the story. I even skipped over Jason Lee's part as Jimmy's daughter's new stepfather who is loaded with money and insists on paying for her wedding, which Jimmy's pride won't allow. Besides, he needs some type of motivation to track down the gang. The ruthless murder of an innocent man plays second fiddle to the recovery of that precious baseball card.

But the story's problems lie with more than just the lunacy of it all. It's told haphazardly, like a first time film student editing random scenes together, interrupting action scenes to interject a scene of exposition in the mix. I edited my college video project tighter than this mess.

Kevin Smith, who is solely responsible for the edit hack job, deserves berating for his poor direction as well. Somebody once said that Smith was the Quentin Tarantino of comedies because he can write amazing dialogue and create endearing characters that we want to spend time with. That is true and is the main reason his movies succeed. His directing skills, on the contrary, have never been anything to note, but you were able to ignore that based on his talent as a writer. This is the first film he has ever directed that he didn't write, which makes the lack of competent direction that much more noticeable. Watching him try to stage an action scene is like watching a cat play with a ball of yarn. Just as the cat swats at the ball, never grabbing hold, Smith reaches out and tries to latch onto something exciting, but never gets there. It doesn't take long for that cat's ball to unravel. Smith's action scenes fall apart even faster.

What really kills Cop Out, however, is its utter lack of laughs. The dialogue is missing that Kevin Smith touch and each and every joke crashes down faster than a fat kid's face into pie. The leads have zero chemistry together and Morgan in particular is insufferable. I'll admit I've never liked the guy, but never has a dislike turned into hatred faster than it did here.

Cop Out is one of the most pointless movies I've seen in a long time and is easily the worst film of the year thus far. It pains me to say this because I adore Smith's previous work, but I've only scratched the surface of its problems. It's shocking how inept this production is and I can only hope that Smith looks back on this with a good heart and realizes what a mistake it turned out to be. If he has gotten to the point where he actually thinks this tripe is funny, then God help the future of comedy. We've lost a real talent.

Cop Out receives 0/5