I’m a sucker for behind-the-scenes movies on scrappy genre indies, following a band of creatives come together, build camaraderie, and serve as the underdogs we root for as they put on their fun show, so Dolemite is My Name is right up my alley. It’s a biopic on Rudy Ray Moore (Eddie Murphy), who by the 1970s rebranded himself in his 40s when he began performing as an outrageous, rhyming pimp character named Dolemite. He recorded crude comedy albums, sold them out of the back of his trunk, and reached a new level of fame, but he sought a blaxploitation movie to get him to even further heights. This movie is akin to The Disaster Artist where we watch a lot of artists pull off a bad movie with little money, as well as 2004’s Baadasssss!, where Mario Van Peebles recreated the making of his father’s 1971 blaxploitation hit, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song. Chances are, if you enjoyed either of those two movies, or the hilarious blaxploitation spoof Black Dynamite, you will be smiling aplenty with this new Netflix movie (given a short theatrical run and soon to be widely available via streaming). The movie belongs to Murphy, who hasn’t had a part in three years, and he comes roaring to life as Moore, a man who won’t let anything stand in the way of his dreams. Murphy is fully captivating in every scene as he turns the Dolemite persona on and off, sharing moments of personal insight and fear, like when he’s nervous over his physique with an upcoming sex scene for his movie. He’s a determined hustler and it’s hard not to fall for his grinning charm. The Dolemite movie has a special appeal because it was intended as a comedy, so the shoestring, scrappy nature of it works nicely with the good intentions of simply making a big, silly, kung-fu-filled action comedy with what audiences want. I’ll confess I never found any of Moore’s standup to be funny as the audiences at the time. However, the filmmakers have already answered this, as Moore and pals go see The Front Page, a movie dubbed by critics as a laugh-out-loud comedy, and the men sit stone-faced and confused throughout the pithy, erudite comedy that seems to be amusing the largely white, WASP-y crowd. Humor is subjective, but not only that it’s the kind of entertainment with the shortest shelf life. It’s naturally going to expire quickly. Comedy routines we found hilarious decades ago might not still be funny today, and that’s okay. Dolemite came out at the right time and influenced other artists and filmmakers. A behind-the-scenes film is destined to be a movie with a definite ceiling. Moore is an interesting success story but there’s only so much to be gleaned from this underdog tale. Thanks to writers Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander (Ed Wood, The People vs. O.J. Simpson) and the energy of Murphy, Dolemite is My Name is a fun two hours with a bunch of cut-ups.
Nate’s Grade: B
Adam Sandler keeps his friends from the unemployment line with this lowbrow, middle-aged themed, yet still entirely juvenile, comedy, Grown Ups. The movie is really a giant fetid waste of potential. It’s Sandler and his old Saturday Night Live buddies (David Spade, Rob Schneider, Chris Rock, and Kevin James obviously filling the Chris Farley spot) chumming it up and decrying the foibles of being 40. They don’t get the kids today, nostalgically reflect on their summer camp days, and try to recreate some of that old magic with a combined family get-together. Each man falls into a rigid type and will learn some half-hearted, disingenuous form of a life lesson by film’s end. The entire dimwitted plot is as stunted as the male characters. These guys just pal around and it’s termed a movie. The female characters are all one-note: figures of lust, saintly significant others who never get to be in on the joke, shrews, or Schneider’s older wife who is a constant butt of some mean-spirited jokes. The actors do have an amiable chemistry that allows the film to coast for some time before the whole affair just becomes wearisome. These guys have played these types for many many movies, and so everyone just operates on autopilot. The heavy slapstick momentarily distracts from the truth that Grown Ups is an unfunny, crass attempt by Sandler to get audiences to pay for his class reunion. The fact that this junk won the Best Comedy Award from the People’s Choice Awards illustrates the limitations of democracy.
Nate’s Grade: D+
Does anyone else remember an episode of South Park from the 2004 season where Eric Cartman dresses up as a robot named AWESOM-O? The best part of the episode came when Cartman stumbled into a Hollywood meeting and they asked the robot to pitch a movie idea. He came up with idea after idea of Adam Sandler in some wacky yet predictable situation, each a slight variation from the last. The Hollywood execs ate it up and scribbled everything down, chanting, “Goldmine!” I imagine The Longest Yard remake, the latest Sandler comedy vehicle, came about through similar creatively bankrupt circumstances.
Paul Crewe (Sandler) is at a low point in his life. The once star quarterback has been banned from football for throwing a game. His girlfriend (Courtney Cox) thinks they should split, and after being chased by police for drunk driving, he?s been sent to prison. The warden (James Cromwell, your go-to guy if you need someone old) has big plans for Crewe. He wants the young stud to organize an all-inmate football team to play against the cruel guards. Crewe gets help from a fellow inmate Caretaker (Chris Rock) and they set about finding the right men for their team. A former Heisman-winning football player (Burt Reynolds), who happens to be in the same prison, becomes the coach. Slowly but surely the group becomes a team united to get some revenge on their tormentors.
The Longest Yard is an Adam Sandler comedy in the worst way possible. The film is sloppy and sophomoric but generally unfunny. It sets its comedy heights on kicking people in the nuts and making fun of gay people. Mission accomplished. The sex jokes, while in abundance, generally fall flat because the movie is so ineptly transparent when it comes to comedy. It lets all the air out of the supposed punch lines. The humor is typically homophobic but infuriatingly also anti-women. You see, one of the guards is taking steroids in a bottle with a giant label that says, “Steroids?”(so much for keeping a low profile). The boys replace the steroids with -hee hee- estrogen pills. And in three days time, which would of course have no effect in such a short period, the guard is now crying, and overly emotional, and empathetic, and he has hot flashes, though I don’t know how in the world a man comes to that conclusion. Apparently it’s funny because women are weak and care about each other. I would be offended by this whole joke if it wasn’t so incompetently done. The Longest Yard exists in its own inept world where inmates have cells within arms reach of each other and there’s a prison football league. Lest we forget, this prison also keeps a star system to rank its inmates. Little did you know of Roger Ebert’s unorthodox side projects.
Sandler plays Adam Sandler as he does in most of his Hollywood flicks. He’s likable, he’s a goofball, and it all works out. I wonder if we’ll ever see the true thespian side of Sandler again, like in Paul Thomas Anderson?s deconstructionist Punch-Drunk Love. Rock’s abrasiveness is toned down but he also loses his comedic edge. He’s basically another stereotypical black character in a movie making tired jokes about the difference between black people and white people. Cromwell and Reynolds both appear to be having fun mucking it up with the youngins. The rest of the supporting cast have their moments but aren’t very memorable. The movie fills out the athletes by having real football players and wrestlers.
What’s worse is that The Longest Yard wants to also be taken as a serious movie. This causes some intensely jarring scenes intended for dramatic impact but they just stick out sorely and are misplaced. Every time the movie goes from kicking people in the nuts to dealing with something like racism or death, the movie flounders from the tonal whiplash. The original movie was more of a prison drama than a sports movie, let alone a comedy. The Sandler remake wants to be all three and isn’t good at any of them.
This movie is so formulaic that it could have been written on a string of napkins, likely only totaling three. The Longest Yard feels like 2005’s greatest example of a cut-and-paste studio approved movie. Of course the embattled hero will once again face his demons and his past. Of course the motley crew of idiots and convicts will come together for something greater than themselves. Of course the evil guards will all get their comeuppance in appropriate ways. I expected all this from the start, but where The Longest Yard goes terribly wrong is when even the details can be correctly guessed. I watched the film with a couple friends and we accurately guessed every character move, scene transition, character development, and sadly, every punch line. This is a film that spells everything out, including the jokes. Here’s an example of the film’s shortsighted thought process: the dastardly warden soaks the player’s field and makes it all muddy with the intention of demoralizing the team. What? These are prisoners, and you think mud is going to demoralize them? Don’t even get me started on how insane it is sending Burt Reynolds into the game as a running back. There’s more attention spent on the limp football scenes than the story or the comedy.
Another example of how weak the comedy is comes during the football game. It’s being telecast on ESPN and Chris Berman is providing the play-by-play. His sidekick in the booth is an inmate who doesn’t say anything. Berman even broaches this fact on air. Now, if The Longest Yard knew the facets of comedy, the natural payoff for this sequence would be for the silent inmate to say something at the very end, something funny or unexpected or even verbose. Instead, the film has the inmate talk two or three times and he adds no comedy. That’s The Longest Yard in a nutshell: all set-up and no return. And seriously, stop with the Rob Schneider cameos already.
The humor is a cocktail of physical slapstick and the occasional one-liner. There just isn’t anything satisfying to the comedy The Longest Yard has to offer. The jokes typically don’t build to anything greater and the humor is simply immediate with no lasting results. There’s nothing that will make you keel over with laughter, nothing that rises above a smirk or a slight giggle. The jokes are way too predictable and there’s nothing funny about the expected. That’s why most people don’t chuckle when the mail arrives. This just isn’t an entertaining comedy, plain and simple.
The Longest Yard is a tirelessly formulaic affair that is so ham-fisted with comedy it can’t even deliver jokes properly. This is a dumb, sanitized, audience-friendly easily digestible piece of puff that will get caught in your throat. This is a Franken-movie, with various parts crammed together for the best possible results by some studio overlord. The Longest Yard‘s comedy is sophomoric and generally insipid, the drama is a complete misstep and tonally out of place, and the football scenes are vapidly jazzed up. This is a sports move that doesn’t work as a comedy and a comedy that doesn’t work as a sports movie. Sandler’s devout army of fans will likely be satiated with this latest effort, feeling the flick to be stupid fun. For me, it was just stupid. Very stupid.
Nate’s Grade: D
Kevin Smith returns back to his comedy roots. No more movies with a message (Chasing Amy and Dogma) it’s back to good ole’ snowballing and stink palming. His latest, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, is like a giant thank-you card to all his fans that have made the man who he is today. It ties up the entire View Askew universe so Kevin can drift off into uncharted ventures of film making and not have to keep referencing the same damn characters. Plus there’s plenty of good-natured vulgarity to go around.
The plot of Jay and Silent Bob is nothing too heavy but seems to keep the film on a continuous pace, unlike the sometimes stagnant feel Mallrats had (what, they’re in one location for 90 minutes). It seems that after getting a restraining order at the Quick Stop on them, Jay and Silent Bob learn that Miramax is making a movie from a comic book that is in fact based off of them. Learned of the riches they could make they seek out the comic’s author Holden McNeil (Ben Affleck’s first appearance in the film) and demand a piece of the pie. Holden tells them that he long ago sold his right to his partner Banky Edwards (Jason Lee, in his second appearance in the film) and that there’s nothing they can do to stop the film. Jay suddenly gets the idea that if they stop the movie from ever getting made then they don’t have to worry. So off go our stoner duo on a mission to sabotage and satirize Hollywood.
Along the way are a hitch-hiker (George Carlin) advising the best way to get a ride is to go down in your morals, a confused nun (Carrie Fisher), the cast of Scooby Doo offering a ride (which will be 100x funnier than the feature film coming out this summer), a beautiful band of international diamond thieves (Eliza Dusku, Ali Larter, Jennifer Swalbach-Smith, Shannon Elizabeth), a rescued chimpanzee, a dogged Wildlife agent (Will Ferrell), and a full barrage of hilarity once Hollywood is finally hit.
The best barbs are laid out by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon bickering about the other’s film choices on the set of Good Will Hunting 2: Hunting Season. This moment is truly inspired and full of great humor from Gus van Sant too busy counting his money to yell action to Damon turning into a vigilante hero. I almost fell on the floor laughing during this sequence.
When Jay and Silent Bob hit Hollywood is when the comedy starts hitting its stride as this Jersey Greek chorus interacts with the Hollywood life and encounters many a celebrity. The jokes are usually right on target except for Chris Rock’s performance of a racism obsessed film director. Rock’s portrayal becomes grating to the moviegoer far before it’s over, though he does get a few choice lines.
Smith as a director has finally elevated his visual art into something that can sustain itself instead of his earlier just-hold-the-camera-and-shoot movies. There are pans, zooms, quick cuts, cranes, action sequences, and even CGI. Smith is evolving as an artist but still staying his “dick and fart joke” self, and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is evidence. And that’s fine by me.
Nate’s Grade: B
Can a fairy tale have a dark undertone below all the bubbly whimsy? Hell, the Grimm tales were barbaric before they became homogenized, sanitized, and finally Disneytized. Nurse Betty presents a modern day fairy tale with the strike of reality always below it — the strike of darkness and disappointment. Fairy tales are an escape from this, but what if one creates her own fairy tale and chooses to believe in it over the drab reality she presides in?
Neil LaBute, the director of the incessantly dark In the Company of Men and Your Friends and Neighbors, collects together a whimsical modern day fable with a top-notch cast. Yes, to those fans of earlier LaBute offeriengs his name doesn’t seem synonymous with whimsical comedy – but in this flick LaBute cuts his teeth in the mainstream and earns his stripes if ever.
Baby-voiced and rosy-cheeked Renee Zellweger plays our heroine in diner worker and soap opera fanatic Betty. Betty finds solace from her life featuring a sleazy spouse, played with marvelous flair by Aaron Eckhart, in her favorite soap opera. When her louche of a hubby isn’t wiping his hands on the kitchen curtains or banging his secretary he tries proposing drug deals for shady characters. A recent drug peddling snafu sets him up to an ominous encounter with hitmen team Morgan Freeman and Chris Rock. Through a jarring scene of violence Betty’s husband is left brutally murdered and the only witness is Betty herself. The event causes Betty to slip into a fractured psychological state where she believes the world of her soap opera is alive and real with herself a vital character. She hops in one of her dead hubby’s used cars and drives off toward California to meet the doctor/soap star of her dreams in Greg Kinnear.
Morgan Freeman and Chris Rock mistake Betty for a criminal mastermind and believe her to have taken the drugs and run. They embark on their own mad dash to capture her and finish the job they were paid to complete. Along the way Betty encounters many people that are at first confused but ultimately charmed by this delusional dame. Through a series of events she meets up with the eternally smarmy Kinnear and begins to learn what happens when a fantasy is corrupted by the disappointment of reality. Allison Janey has a small part as a network executive that shines strong, and Crispin “McFly” Glovin is just nice to see in a film again. He doesn’t seem to age though. Maybe he has that Dick Clark disease.
The flow of Betty is well paced and a smart mix between drama, whimsy, and dark humor. Overlooking some sudden bursts of violence bookend the film it comes across as a sweet yet intelligent satire and fable. Betty is looking for her Prince Charming but will later learn that she doesn’t need one, that she is the fairy tale happy ending inside her.
The acting of Nurse Betty is never in danger of flat-lining. Zelwegger is a lovable and good-natured heroine. Freeman is a strong and deceptively hilarious actor along side a caustic yet down-to-earth Rock. And I make an outgoing question if there is an actor alive out there that can do smarm better than Kinnear — I think not.
Nurse Betty is a wonderful surprise. Check into your local theater, take one showing, and call me in the morning. You’ll be glad you did.
Nate’s Grade: A-
In a time where simply having faith in anything, let alone religion, is scoffed at, Kevin Smith daringly and passionately expresses his personal search for answers and understanding. But while the zealots decree Dogma as blasphemy, what they truly miss is the biggest commercial for faith and God that American audiences have seen in decades of cinema.
The story of the religious epic causing all the hubbub begins with a pair of fallen angels (Ben Affleck and Matt Damon) spurned from the pearly gates of Heaven and banished to Wisconsin. One discovers a re-dedication of a church imploring a little used Catholic practice of plenary indulgence allowing whoever to enter through the church’s arches to have their slate cleaned of all sin. The two seize this opportunity of a dogmatic loophole to sneak back into heaven. The only slight problem is that by doing so they reverse a decree of God and disprove the Almighty’s unfallability, and thus will wipe out all of existence. The voice of God (Alan Rickman) recruits a lapsed Catholic named Bethany (Linda Fiorentino) for a Holy Crusade to halt the scheming angel’s plans for the good of the universe. Along the way she is aided by two unlikely prophets (the dynamic duo of Jay and Silent Bob), an racially discredited 13th Apostle (Chris Rock), and a shapely strip-teasing muse (Salma Hayek) as they engage with demons, seraphims, angles, and all sorts of celestial “who’s who” to stop the end of existence.
Smith’s direction has taken strides since the point-and-click days of his earlier works; however, there’s still an awkward flatness to his framing and action. Fiorentino plays the role of a grounded character well. Rickman as the bitter Brit shows why he can still take anyone toe-to-toe for acting chops. Affleck and Damon have terrific chemistry together and play off one another for great comedy. Jason Mewes has never been funnier as the terminally stoned and foul mouthed Jay. Rock shows he can restrain his abrasive personality. Salma shows… well she shows she can dance. Jason Lee as an air conditioning-adoring demon and George Carlin as a used car salesman type Catholic Cardinal are so commanding in their presence and excellent in their performances that it’s a sin most of their scenes were cut during editing. Even Alanis Morrisette works as a humanly childish God. She’s given no lines but expresses great feeling and humor anyway.
Dogma is rambunctiously hilarious and a never ending joyride of fun as it jumps from jokes about demons made of excrement to “Buddy Christs” to insightful and sensitive thoughts on religion. Rarely does it bore even with the large plot it must always keep in successive movement. The only drawback Dogma suffers from is the amount of religious points it desires to make. The characters will reach a subject, chat, then directly move on to the next. The sporadic nature can easily keep an audience’s head spinning, but is brought back down to gentle rest from Smith’s Divine wit and sharp writing. Some of the opus’ many characters appear for only brief stretches as Hollywood’s A-list battle for valid screen time among each other.
Smith is not one to shy away from controversy, or his quota of sexual innuendos and profanity. But the protestors for this film attacking its vulgarity are beyond missing the point; Dogma is reaching people the church hasn’t and can’t. It may be an audacious tweaker of a flick, but ultimately it’s bringing up religion into open debate and discussion amongst the masses where there was none before. And isn’t that in itself glorifying some type of achievement?
It would do well the opponents of Dogma to venture into a darkened theater sometime to see the movie and realize it is a humorous affirmation of faith and beliefs. The story of a crisis of faith is relatable to a society too jaded and cynical. Smith’s wrestle with theology is the public’s gain, and his halo only glows a little brighter for having the courage to do so.
Nate’s Grade: A-