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Game Night (2018)

Very funny and surprisingly satisfying, Game Night is a comedy thriller that further cements my appreciation for the comedic prowess of writer/directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein (Spider-Man: Homecoming, Horrible Bosses). The premise about a group of couples on a wild “game night” they don’t know is real seems like it could go wrong in so many different ways, chiefly being unable to sustain its premise. Fortunately, the film is filled with strong characters who are each given a moment to shine. Jason Bateman and a loose Rachel McAdams are fun as our lead couple, and they’re even better when they’re bouncing off one another, but the real star of the movie is a hilarious Jesse Plemons (Hostiles) as a creepily intense neighbor. Plemons will hold onto certain jokes, taking something that was funny and pushing it into an even funnier, more awkward place. The comic set pieces are well developed and clever, set up earlier and allowed to go in unexpected directions to better complicate matters. While the movie is clearly a riff on David Fincher’s The Game, with some sly visual nods to Fincher’s signature style, the jokes don’t get lost when the action heats up. A good action-comedy makes sure that the action or suspense sequences are still constructed through the prism of comedy. I was laughing often and surprisingly hard throughout the whole movie. Game Night is a wickedly fun movie that has plenty of rewards and enjoyable surprises.

Nate’s Grade: B+

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (2013)

The-Incredible-Burt-Wonderstone-Poster5The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is a far better comedy than it has any right to be. It’s not perfect by any means, but it finds clever or darker angles to take that surprise, at least until it hits the next big marker on its jerk-learns-a-lesson plot playbook. The titular magician (Steve Carell) has a falling out with his longtime assistant and even longer-time (is this a word?) friend played by Steve Buscemi, who is disarmingly affable and warm. Their Vegas act is old hat in the face of younger, hipper, and more danger-seeking magicians, notably the Chris Angel-styled Steve Gray (Jim Carrey). While only a supporting character, Carrey’s bits onscreen are easily the best thing he’s done in a decade, comedy-wise. His physical comedy finds a perfect outlet. Gray’s schtick is more Jackass than David Copperfield, and the movie does well to explore this division and why people gravitate to magic in the first place. It’s ultimately a sweet film about the bonds of friendship, with Carell and Buscemi taking the bulk of the running time, and while it has plenty of silliness there’s also sincerity there. It all builds up to a great climax and a conclusion that left me laughing so hard I was in stitches. Make sure to stay through the credits. The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, from the writing team behind Horrible Bosses, is a charmingly broad comedy that has enough heart, committed comedic performances, takes enough clever turns to justify a viewing.

Nate’s Grade: B

Horrible Bosses (2011)

The true joy of Horrible Bosses, besides the vicarious premise, is the interaction and camaraderie of a rock-solid cast of comedians. Jason Bateman (Juno), Jason Sudekis (TV’s Saturday Night Live), and Charlie Day (TV’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) play the three put upon friends who conspire to kill their not so very nice bosses, respectively played by Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell, and Jennifer Aniston. The comedy is amusing from start to finish, prone to plenty of guffaws and a few big laughs. The film strikes a delicate tone while being nasty without being too brutish or oft putting. This is not a scorched-earth sort of comedy despite its murderous implications. The guys are more bumbling than threatening, which makes even their criminal pursuits clumsy and endearing. It’s got plenty of surprises and I enjoyed how most of the storylines and players wound up back together. It’s a satisfying movie that veers in some unexpected directions. But the real reason to see Horrible Bosses is just how damn funny the cast is. The snappy screenplay establishes a solid comedic setup and lets the leads bounce off one another to great hilarity. Whether arguing over who would be most raped in prison, the ins and outs of killing on a budget, or the dubious nature of hiring hit men under the “men seeking men” section online, the three leads all bring something different to the comedic table, and watching them interact and play around with the situation is a delight. It’s a buddy comedy with a dash of Arsenic and Old Lace. While the characters are more exaggerated stock types, the comedy, kept at a near breathless pace by director Seth Gordon (King of Kong, Four Christmases), is refreshing, smartly vulgar, and not afraid to get dark. Watching Aniston play against type as a sex-crazed man-eater is enjoyable, but hands down, no one does sadism with the same joy as Spacey. That man could melt a glacier with the intense power of his glare. Horrible Bosses is a relative blast of a comedy, one that maintains a steady output of laughs with some easy targets.

Nate’s Grade: B+

Waiting… (2005)

I have always respected restaurant workers; it’s just how I’ve been brought up. Short of elephant in vitro fertilization, being a waiter has got to be one of the hardest, most thankless jobs on the planet. The waiter (or server, the popularized non-gender specific term) is always the last responsible for food and the first to bear the brunt of a customer’s wrath. They’re easy targets. Their livelihood is also dependent on the idea of common decency in mankind. For these tortured, put upon, overlooked lot comes a new comedy aimed to ease the pain. Waiting… is a balls-out (pun very much intended) gross-out comedy that will make you a better, more sympathetic tipper (I generally start at 20 percent).

Welcome to the wonderful, family-friendly world of Shenaniganz. It’s another day of business for the restaurant staff and another day of enduring the slings and arrows of unruly customers. Monty (Ryan Reynolds), the leader of the pack, escorts a newbie (Freaks and Geeks‘ John Francis Daley) through the rules and customs of the Shenaniganz family. The cooks (Dane Cook, Luis Guzman) like to get randy at work, the bus boys (Max Kasch, MTV’s Andy Milonakis) like to hide in freezers and toke up, and the wait staff (Anna Faris, Justin Long) are all dating each other. Meanwhile, Dean (Long) is mulling over whether to take the manager’s job offered to him by his buffoonish boss (David Koechner). He feels his life is going nowhere and he’s stuck in a dead-end job. And there’s a store-wide game where workers try and get other people to inadvertently look at their genitals. God I hope this doesn’t go on when I order my food.

Bishop (Chi McBride) tells two other characters, “You guys are so one-dimensional.” It’s like the movie’s doing my job for me. Waiting… is stocked with underdeveloped characters that don’t even seem used properly. They all have one characteristic of note, from the white wannabe rappers to the bitchy self-loathing server that’s been there longer than anyone else. There’s a lesbian bartender and by the end of the movie that’s still the only thing you know or feel about her. Dean’s girlfriend (Kaitlin Doubleday) has nothing to add to her character, nothing to really say, no personality, she’s just “the girlfriend.” Waiting… has so many lame, poorly developed characters that go nowhere and shed little purpose or personality. It’s a general waste of talent, especially Faris and Guzman.

Reynolds is a charming and gifted comedic actor. He’s got the rat-a-tat-tat delivery down cold and adds a great polish to dialogue that ordinarily wouldn’t seem funny. He can seem at once jerky, knowing, charming, distasteful, and funny. Consider Reynolds a Vince Vaughn Jr. in the making. Long is supposed to play a character dissatisfied with his bearings in life, yet he comes across as disinterested in being in the movie. You almost expect him to shrug his shoulders and just say, “Whatever.” Long too is a very capable comedic actor but he needs far broader roles (Dodgeball) than something where he has to shuffle his feet and mope a lot. As stated earlier, Waiting… really wastes most of its talent by stranding them in thankless roles that don’t give them much to do or add. Koechner is the bright spot as a clueless, leering buffoon of a manager who keeps trying to connect with “the kids” and score with some as well.

The story feels the same way. For a 90 minute movie so much of this feels unbearably plodding. Waiting… sets up the life of a restaurant well but then can’t find much to do. The story feels formless and the characters can?t provide any direction because of their limitations. The plot seems like a group of anecdotes looking for structure. Even the comedy is rather uninspired and bland. Waiting… attempts gross-out guffaws but just ends up becoming, well, kind of gross. Dropping food and serving it doesn’t exactly register on the Ha-Ha meter no matter how many times the act is repeated. The gross-out apex comes when vengeance is heaped upon a very hostile customer with an assembly line of new “additions” to her order. In this one instance the gross-out is transcended because the audience cares about the situation. Most of the humor is juvenile and not even good at it; the penis-showing-game is inherently homophobic and a running gag with little payoff. The best joke in Waiting… is the film’s production design; Shenaniganz looks nearly identical to those homogenized chain restaurants dotting the landscape. If you stay throughout the entire end credits you’ll discover that all the crap on the walls is actually an elaborate, Rube Goldberg-esque device.

Waiting… is a very knowledgeable film about the food service industry, what with writer/director Rob McKittrick spending years and years in restaurants. I think the only way you could seriously enjoy this comedy, while sober, is if you have experience working in food service. My fiancée has spent years as a server and she identified more with the characters than I ever could. There are scenes in Waiting… that are a server’s fantasy, like when Dean returns his measly one-dollar tip back to his customer. The movie is a safe release for people in the field, much like Office Space. McKittrick even thanks Kevin Smith in the closing credits, but Waiting… doesn’t have an iota of the wit, intelligence, and comedic savvy of Clerks. This is a bargain basement comedy that will largely appeal to fellow restaurant slaves yearning to have their beaten voice heard.

Waiting… is an aimless comedy with no characters to feel for, little personality beyond its knowledge of the restaurant environment, and a cast done in by one-note roles and bland gross-out jokes. Reynolds walks away with his dignity and adds a comedic polish to some otherwise ordinary jokes. Mostly, the film feels like a waste of time, energy, and talent. Waiting… will definitely appeal to people who have felt the wrath of working in food service, but objectively this is one comedy that just doesn’t order up any laughs.

Nate’s Grade: C

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