There were two driving reasons why I chose to go see Movie 43, the collection of 13 comedy sketches from different writers and directors. First, the red band trailer made me laugh, so I figured it was worth a shot. If one sketch didn’t work, there was always another ready to cleanse my comedic palate. The other reason is that I have been compiling sketches written by myself and my friends with the intent to make my own sketch comedy movie in 2013. Part of me was also concerned that something so high-profile might extinguish my own project; maybe we came up with similar material with sketches. After watching Movie 43, a tasteless, disconnected, and ultimately unfunny collective, I have renewed hope for my own project’s success.
Like most sketch comedy collections, Movie 43 is extremely hit or miss. This ain’t no Kentucky Fried Movie or even the Kids in the Hall flick. Rating this worth viewing depends on which side racks up the most. Unfortunately, there’s more terribleness than greatness on display, but allow me to briefly call out the film’s true highlights. The best segment in the movie, the one that had me laughing the longest, was a bizarre fake commercial that does nothing more than presuppose that machines, as we know them, are really filled with small children to do the labor. Seeing little urchins inside a copy machine or an ATM, looking so sad, with the faux serious music welling up, it made me double over in laughter.
With the actual vignettes, “Homeschooled” and “Truth or Dare” where the standouts that drew genuine laughter. “Homeschooled” is about a mother and father (real-life couple Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber) giving their son the total high school experience, which amounts to degrading humiliation. Dad makes fun of his son’s penis in the shower. Mom and Dad throw a party with the cool kids but don’t invite their son. Dad tapes his son to a flagpole. The kid gets his first awkward kiss thanks to his mom. It’s outrageous without falling victim into being crass for the sake of crass, a common sin amongst many of the vignettes. “Truth or Dare” starts off innocuously enough with Halle Berry (Cloud Atlas) and Stephen Merchant (Hall Pass) on a blind date. As the date progresses, they get into an escalating game of truth or dare that each has them doing offensive acts, like blowing out the candles on a blind kid’s birthday cake. This segment knows when to go for broke with it silliness and it doesn’t wear out its welcome, another cardinal sin amidst the other vignettes.
But lo, the unfunny sketches, or more accurately the disappointing sketches, outnumber the enjoyable. Far too often the sketches are of the one joke variety and the comedy rarely leaves those limited parameters. So a sketch about a blind date with a guy who has testicles hanging from his chin (Hugh Jackman) is… pretty much just that. There’s no real variation or complications or sense of build. It’s just that. A commercial about an iPod built to model a naked lady is… exactly that and nothing more. A speed dating session with famous DC superheroes like Batman (Jason Sudeikis), Robin (Justin Long), Supergirl (Kristen Bell) and others should be far cleverer than what we get. While I laughed at the sports sketch “Victory’s Glory,” it really all boils down to one joke: black people are better than white people at basketball. That’s it. “Middleschool Date” starts off interesting with a teen girl (Chloe Grace Moritz) getting her period on a date and the clueless men around her freaking out that she is dying. However, this is the one sketch that doesn’t go far enough. It really needed to increase the absurdity of the situation but it ends all too quickly and with little incident. “Happy Birthday” involves two roommates (Johnny Knoxville, Sean William Scott) interrogating an angry leprechaun (Gerard Butler) for his gold. It pretty much just sticks to slapstick and vulgar name-calling. That’s the more tiresome aspect of Movie 43, the collective feeling that it’s trying so desperately to be shocking rather than, you know, funny.
The worst offenders of comedy are the scathingly unfunny “Veronica” and “The Proposition.” With “Veronica,” Kieran Culkin tries to woo his lady (Emma Stone) with a series of off-putting sexual remarks, delivered in an off-putting “bad poetry delivery” manner, while the film is off-puttingly shot with self-conscious angles that do nothing for the comedy. It’s a wreck. “The Proposition” is just one big poop joke. It’s far more gross than gross-out.
The frame story connecting the varied vignettes is completely unnecessary. Well, I suppose there is one point for its addition, namely to pad out the running time to a more feature-length 94 minutes. The wraparound storyline with Dennis Quaid pitching more and more desperate movie ideas never serves up any good jokes. Its only significance is to setup an ironic counterpoint that gets predictable and old fast. Example: Quaid says, “It’s a movie with a lot of heart and tenderness,” and we cut to a couple that plans on pooping on each other. See? You can figure out its setup formula pretty quick. I don’t understand why the people behind Movie 43 thought the perfect solution to pad out their running time was a dumb wraparound. These sketches don’t need a frame story; the audience is not looking for a logical link. For that matter why is the guy also pitching commercials? I would have preferred that the frame story was completely dropped and I got to have two or three more sketches, thus perhaps bettering the film’s ultimate funny/unfunny tally.
There will be a modicum of appeal watching very famous people getting a chance to cut loose, play dirty, and do some very outrageous and un-Oscar related hijinks. The big name actors do everything they can to elevate the material, but too many sketches are one joke stretched too thin. I suppose there may be contingents of people that will go into hysterical fits just seeing Hugh Jackman with chin testicles (I think the Goblin King in The Hobbit beat him to it), just like there will always people who bust a gut when a child or an old person says something inappropriate for their age, or when someone gets kicked in the nuts (the normal ones). I just found the majority of Movie 43 to be lacking. It settles far too easily on shocking sight gags and vulgarity without a truly witty send-up. It wants to be offensive, it gleefully revels in topics it believes would offend the delicate sensibilities of an audience, but being offensive and being funny are not automatically synonymous. You have to put real work into comedy. Movie 43 isn’t it.
Nate’s Grade: C-
What loser doesn’t attend their 13th high school reunion? Who even organizes such an untimely event? The generally unnecessary American Reunion is being dished out to the public for a number of reasons. The studio would like to revive their once lucrative sex-comedy-meets-baked-goods franchise, and most of these actors could desperately use the work. Remember when the likes of Chris Klein, Mena Suvari, and Tara Reid were above-the-title names? What I recall, now that the gang is together again, is that I found most of these characters to be dullards. They’re in their 30s, have careers and families, and stupidly comfortable lives, yet they’re up to the same old hijinks, which just seem a bit more desperate and embarrassing this time around. Seann William Scott, the franchise’s true wild card, is still amusing as ever, but I couldn’t swallow the forced nostalgia for characters that are unappealing. Jason Biggs and Alyson Hannigan still make a nice pair, but rehashing the old gang mitigates their screen time. Comedy-wise, the movie has a few memorable gross-out moments but nothing really hilarious. I laughed from time to time but mostly I was bored, and Klein, especially in his new post-Street Fighter ironic version of himself, is rarely boring. It’s a pleasant enough experience and I suppose fans of the original films will get a kick out of seeing who ended up where and, in particular, what he hell happened to Reid’s leathery face. Otherwise, American Reunion is a gathering that nobody called for and fails to justify all the effort. Then again, my favorite of the American Pie films is the second one, so take my words with caution.
Nate’s Grade: C
As an avid Kevin Smith fan, it pains me to say this but Cop Out might be one of the least funny movies of the year. Sure it made me chuckle here and there, but mostly I sat staring slack-jawed, yawning, and wondering how this movie went so completely wrong. Smith is known without exception as a talent behind the typewriter, not the camera. He’s an ingeniously crass playwright in a filmmaker’s body. To hire Smith solely as director/visual storyteller is like hiring Picasso to mow your lawn — not the best use of his talents. To Smith’s credit, the film has a much stronger visual pulse than anything he’s ever committed to celluloid before, however, it still only looks like a marginal, mediocre Hollywood movie. Is that considered a success? The movie wants to parody the buddy cop action films of the 1980s. One of the more amusing additions is that Harold Faltermeyer (Beverly Hills Cop, Top Gun) fashions a brand new 80s style synth and guitar styled score. It’s the best and funniest part of the movie. Cop Out spends an inordinate amount of time and attention to a tortuous plot that nobody should care about. Another miscalculation is that the tone never really settles and often Smith and company attempt a light touch when it comes to parody, which makes the film just look like an incompetent retread of 80s action movies. Just because we’re familiar with stuff doesn’t mean it can be funny without comment. The movie looks even shabbier in comparison with Will Ferrell’s similarly aimed The Other Guys, a far more winning and funnier venture. I wanted to laugh; I strained to find something to appreciate, which was especially hard as the movie tilts more toward action in the final 20 minutes. The slack pacing, lame dialogue, poor chemistry between lead cops Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan (who just comes off as an unfunny idiot with a loudspeaker for a mouth), disjointed tonality, and ill-conceived comic setups (car chase in a cemetery leads to? nothing? Morgan chases a suspect while he wears a cell phone costume … *crickets*) all take their toll and make me seriously question what drew the interest of so many, otherwise, talented people. Smith got hours of stories after shooting a small role alongside Willis for Die Hard 4. I hope Smith can justify this load with a few more hours of entertaining and juvenile stories for his road shows and podcasts. If that sounds like a faint attempt to find a silver lining for what is otherwise a tremendously botched comedy, then let it be seen as such.
Nate’s Grade: C-
Is there an actor alive more charming than Paul Rudd? The always-affable actor has a terrific sarcastic yet lovable presence that never dips into being glib. Role Models is a great showcase for his sly comedic talents. The plot of irresponsible adults (Rudd, Sean William Scott) learning to be responsible by being big brothers to problem kids (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Bobb’e J. Thompson) is mostly conventional, but it’s the character camaraderie that makes the movie special. Watching the cast interact is a great pleasure, and they constantly add sustained laughs that seem organic to the plot and the characters. I found myself laughing out loud steadily, and although the ending is a bit formulaic I was amused that film didn’t break character once. It goes for gusto when it comes to embracing the geekery and cheesiness of a climactic medieval battle. There are witty running gags, rewarding payoffs, and the film even packs some heart, though it never gets sentimental. Combine a wicked comedic turn by the daffy Jane Lynch and some added Elizabeth Banks sparkle, and it all adds up into what might be the most satisfying mainstream comedy in a non-Judd Apatow-directed year.
Nate’s Grade: B+
Richard Kelly is a talented writer/director who scored big with his first film, modern cult classic Donnie Darko. I was in love with the ominous yet inspired Darko from the moment I saw it, which, not to toot my own horn, was February 2002, way before the cult got started. I have been eagerly anticipating Southland Tales, Kelly’s writing/directing follow-up, even after its notorious 2006 Cannes Film Festival reception where critics readily cited terms like “indulgent,” “bloated,” “messy,” and, “disaster.” My love of Darko shielded me from such negative affronts, and so I watched Southland Tales undaunted and with as open a mind as possible. The regrettable truth is that even after Kelly shaved off a half-hour from the Cannes version, Southland Tales is every bit a mess as had been advertised; however, it is occasionally worthwhile and subversively ambitious.
Kelly begins his massive yarn with a nuclear attack on Abilene, Texas in 2005. America is plunged into World War III and fights, simultaneously, Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, and North Korea, while the conflict with Iraq continues. The Internet is now in control of the government, who passes sweeping security measures, chief among them IdentiCorp. This government arm uses thousands of trained cameras to keep watch over the lives of ordinary citizens, including when they duck into public bathroom stalls. Violent neo-Marxist groups have placed cells around the country, ready and willing to strike to destroy the last vestiges of American capitalism.
Fuel resources have almost run dry and the world looks to scientist Baron Von Westphalen (Wallace Shawn, hamming it up and having a good time) for a solution. The Baron has devised a substance known as Fluid Karma, which works under the properties of the churning oceans and will produce a radius of power. Fluid Karma also works as a powerful hallucinogenic drug and the Baron tested it on wounded Iraqi vets like Pilot Abilene (Justin Timberlake). Coldly narrating the film, Abilene stands guard outside the Baron’s laboratory and also peddles the drug on the side.
It is the summer of 2008 and the presidential election is months away. The Republican candidate, Senator Bobby Frost (Holmes Osborne), is in crisis mode. His spoiled daughter (Mandy Moore) is frantic because her husband, actor Boxer Santaros (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), has vanished. He’s awakened in the California desert with amnesia and shacked up with porn star Krysta Now (Sarah Michelle Gellar); the duo has written a prophetic screenplay called “The Power.” Krysta and a pair of tattoo babes (Nora Dunn) plan to blackmail the Frost campaign with video of Boxer frolicking with the adult movie star. They want the campaign to endorse Proposition 69, which would rescind the encroachments on civil liberties by the U.S. government.
A group of neo-Marxists, led by pint-sized Zora Carmichaels (Cheri Oteri), have kidnapped a police officer, Roland Taverner, and are using his twin brother Ronald (both played by Seann William Scott) to frame the police and Boxer. And I haven’t even begun to talk about Senator Frost’s wife (Miranda Richardson), the president of Japan having his hand lopped off in a loony sequence, the frequent inverting of T.S. Elitot’s quote about the way the world ends, a commercial where two cars literally have sex, and a rip in the space-time continuum that people are putting monkeys inside.
Extraordinarily messy and scattershot, Southland Tales has 1000 ideas rolling around inside without much traction. It’s as if Kelly thought he was never going to get the chance to make another movie again so he crammed every thought and topic he ever had into one 144-minute cross-pollinated jumble. The movie veers wildly and chaotically from political satire, to crude comedy, to sci-fi head-trip, all the way to Busby Berkley musical. There’s a little of everything here but few of the dispirited elements mesh and the film runs a good two hours before any sort of overall context becomes remotely approachable. One second the movie is satirizing a Big Brother control state and the loss of American civil liberties, and in the next second a character is threatening to kill herself unless Boxer allows her to orally pleasure him. You got, among other things, zeppelins, global deceleration, perpetual motion machines, Zelda Rubenstein, drugs, holes in time, twins, a murderous Jon Lovitz, ice cream trucks that house military-grade weapons, blackmail, Kevin Smith in a ZZ Top beard and no legs, reality TV, the American national anthem cut together with an ATM robbery, Biblical Revelation quotes courtesy of Timberlake, and, why not, the end of the world. What does it all mean? I have no idea but I credit Kelly for his ambition.
Plenty of stuff happens for a solid two hours but little to nothing feels like it amounts to anything, and several subplots just get dropped. There are long stretches where I cannot explain even “what’s happening” from a literal description. This sprawling, magnificently self-indulgent meditative opus consists too much of side characters running into each other and having vague, pseudo-intellectual conversations that go nowhere. There are a lot of nonsensical speed bumps in this narrative. Sometimes the screen is just nothing but a series of newscasts overloading the audience with details on the reality of this alternative America; it’s filler. The conclusion is rather frustratingly abrupt; after slogging through two-plus hours of oblique questions it finally seems like we may reach some tentative answers, and then Kelly pulls the pin on his grenade and collapses his tale. Krysta tells Boxer in a moment of clarity, “It had to end this way.” Really? It did? This way?
The movie feels like a giant garage sale with scattered treasures hard to find but buried beneath loads of kitsch. Kelly clearly has bitten off more than he can chew and yet there is a bizarre undeniable power to some moments here. Roland (or is it Ronald) Taverner watches his mirror reflection a step behind; it’s unsettling and eerie and very cool. Timberlake has a drug-induced dance number where his scarred (both physically and mentally) Iraq veteran character is covered in blood, drinks beer, and lip synchs to the Killers’ song “All the Things I’ve Done,” which has the pertinent lyrics, “I’ve got soul but I’m not a solider,” and “You gotta help me out.” All the while, leggy dancing girls in blonde bobs strut and coo around him. It’s weird and tangential to the plot but it has a certain draw to it. The conclusion featuring the Taverner twins seeking forgiveness even generates some redemptive quality. Religious questioning and the philosophy of souls occupying the same realm plays a heavy part and gives the film an approachable reflection that tickles the brain, even if Timecop, sort of, visited the same ground, albeit secular, first (you’ll kind of understand when you see the movie). Southland Tales is grasping at profound and relevant messages, and yet some images achieve this easily, like a toy soldier crawling on the L.A. streets or a tank with Hustler stamped across its side for product placement. These simple images are able to transcend Kelly’s pop manifesto.
None of the actors really equip themselves well with the outrageousness. Scott comes off the best but that’s because his character(s) is/are the only figure(s) the audience is given a chance to emotionally connect with. The Rock, listed for the first time simply as Dwayne Johnson, is an actor that I genuinely like and think has tremendous comic ability, as evidenced by 2003’s The Rundown. With this film, however, he comes across too constantly bewildered and shifty, like he really needs to pee and cannot find a bathroom. Gellar is woefully miscast and I think she knows it given her leaden performance. Southland Tales is the kind of film where every role, even the two-bit nothing parts, is played by a known face, be it Christopher Lambert, John Larroquette, Curtis “Booger” Armstrong, Will Sasso, and a horde of Saturday Night Live alums.
Kelly’s previous film succeeded partially because an audience was able to relate and care about the central characters, which is not the case with the comically broad Southland Tales. Kelly seems to work best when he has some restraint, be it financially or artistically; the director’s cut of Donnie Darko explained far too much and took some of the magic out of interpreting the movie on your own terms. Southland Tales runs wildly in the opposite direction and is a giant mess unseen in Hollywood for some time, though for the doomsayers comparing Southland Tales to studio-killing, self-indulgent, era-defining Heaven’s Gate, may I argue that Oliver Stone’s Alexander was far more self-indulgent, longer, wackier, and duller. Due to its unpredictable nature, you can never say Southland Tales is boring.
Southland Tales the movie begins as Chapter Four of Kelly’s saga, the first three chapters being made into comic books, and really, when I think about it, a comic book is the right medium for this material. The confines of narrative film are too daunting for Kelly’s overloaded imagination. Southland Tales is oblique, incoherent, strange, and unfocused but not without merit. I doubt Kelly will ever be given the same artistic legroom to create another picture like this, so perhaps Southland Tales has helped to reign in Kelly’s filmmaking. A reigned-in Kelly is where he does his best work, and I look forward to Kelly’s remake of Richard Matheson’s story, “The Box,” presumably with no dance numbers and sexually active motor vehicles.
Nate’s Grade: C
In the beginning of the new action comedy The Rundown, Beck (The Rock), a bounty hunter, is entering a club on a job. On his way in Arnold Schwarzenegger passes him by and says, ”Have fun.” Consider it a proverbial torch passing, because while Schwarzenegger is going to be busting the campaign trail, The Rundown establishes The Rock as the fresh and capable marquee name for all future action films. This man is a star.
Beck is offered a chance to square off all debts to mobster Billy Walker by agreeing to journey into the Brazilian jungle. His mission is to retrieve Travis (Seann William Scott), a hyperactive screw-up who happens to be Walker’s son. One Beck travels to the Amazon he runs into Hatcher (Christopher Walken) who claims to own the jungle and whatever contents dwell within. He asserts that Travis has stumbled upon a wealthy artifact in his jungle and therefore refuses Beck to leave with Travis. It’s at this point that the chase is on.
I don’t care what your little sister told you, Vin Diesel is not the next face of action, no, it’s The Rock. Despite only appearing in three movies (and he was only in The Mummy Returns for like three minutes), The Rock displays a razor-sharp sense of comedy. He’s also huge, likeable, and he can even emote well during smaller moments, not that The Rundown will stretch you as an actor. He’s also honed in excessive eyebrow arching.
Walken exists in a plane of brilliant weirdness that we simple human will never be able to coexist upon. His Hatcher is one mean villain who exploits indigenous workers, wears his pants up to his armpits, and says he put the heart in the darkness. Walken’s hysterical tooth fairy monologue is worth the price of admission alone.
Director Peter Berg (Very Bad Things) adds a delectable cartoonish flavor to the film. His action sequences pop with exaggerated energy and zestful humor, like when Travis and Beck roll down a hill for a near minute. This is everything an action film should be: lively, funny, with keen action sequences that are low on CGI but filled with characters we care about. The Rundown is the best summer film not released during the summer.
The Rundown is an adrenalized punch of fabulous action and hilarious banter. When youre not laughing and spilling your popcorn youll be sitting straight up to catch every lovely eyeful of spectacular action. Its a terrifically entertaining and fun flick. The Rock has arrived.
Nate’s Grade: A
So it looks like Jim (Jason Biggs) and his bang-camp lovin’ girlfriend Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) are going to tie the knot. As the wedding approaches hilarious hijinks ensue. Thats really about it plot-wise. Steve Stifler (Seann William Scott) makes a return to goose every one up for a wedding, which also promises bridesmaids and a bachelor party. More hijinks ensue until the wedding.
The best thing the American Pie makers did was shaving down their overloaded cast. Gone are Chris Klein, Mena Suvari, Natascha Lyonne, Shannon Elizabeth, and Tara Reid. And good riddance I say. What made American Pie 2 an improvement, for me, was that they focused on the interesting characters (Jim, Michelle, Stifler, Finch) and then gave the others some scant storyline. The comedy worked better when it wasnt so divided among characters that weren’t equal in being compelling.
Scott is a whirling comic Tasmanian devil; with his twitchy weaselly grin, his drunken leer, and near spitfire delivery of such profanity-laden lines. The Stifler character has come a long way since having only 11 lines in 1999’s American Pie. He emerged as a strong supporting character in the 2001 sequel, igniting the screen whenever he entered. Now Scott has become the de facto star of the American Pie trilogy: it’s really all about the rise and evolution of Stifler. Hes gone from being the sneering jerk to becoming a lovable loudmouth. American Wedding is really the Steve Stifler show. He shouts, dances, and eats dog crap all for your enjoyment people. Scotts efforts and energy are so transcendent that he rightfully owns the film, much in the same way Johnny Depp entirely owned Pirates of the Caribbean.
Biggs and Hannigan have a lovely charm to them and both are blessed with radiant smiles. Eugene Levy is still hilarious as the dad who has a problem with over sharing. The other actors serve out their roles from straight-guy (Thomas Ian Nicholas) to horrible-reaction-guy (Eddie Kaye Thomas). The woman, who plays Michelles sister, and the object of both Finch and Stifler’s eye, is named January Jones.
Not everything works as smoothly the third slice around. Some jokes are inspired like the one-upsmanship of a bachelor party gone awry when Michelle’s parents interrupt (which, like the second film, provides the gratuitous nudity). Some jokes feel dull, especially some misbegotten pubic hair belonging to Jim. And then some jokes just lose their momentum as they seem to stretch. Stifler dancing in a gay bar just to prove he can make even gay men want him? Funny. Have it go on and on with substandard dancing for a dance-off? Loses the funny. But with any comedy, and especially ones following the gross-out expectations, everything is hit-or-miss.
I also noticed something quite odd about American Wedding: Its terribly directed. Many scenes are shot at oblique angles often with characters not even facing the camera. The cutting seems awkward as well as the framing. The film was directed by Jesse Dylan (How High), who is, no joke, a son of the legendary Bob.
American Wedding seems like a fitting end to these characters journeys. Its a comedy ripe with laugh-out-loud moments and groaners, mostly supplied by Scott. Theres also a degree of sweetness. In a summer drenched in sequels, at least one of them fulfilled some of its promise.
Nate’s Grade: B-
This is one of the dumbest movies you will ever see. I don’t mean to sound overly sensational or alarmist, but this is the honest truth if you sit and watch all of Bulletproof Monk. Item #1: The bad guys in the film are –get this– the grandchildren of Nazis. Yes, that’s right, Nazis. We had to have Nazis as the bad guys. There’s actually a scene where a blonde-haired blue-eyed grand daughter wheels her decrepit Nazi grandpa around. Oh yeah, and one of the Nazis runs the –get this– Museum of tolerance. Oh stop it, you’re killing me. Item #2: The titular monk (Chow-Yun Fat, pray for him) recruits pick-pocket Kar (Seann William Scott) to be his apprentice. Kar is an idiot. The Monk doesn’t help. His big mystery is –get this– why hot dogs and hot dog buns come in different numbers? Man, haven’t heard that one since the third grade. I could swear the screenwriters of this are third graders. That would heartily explain why a character is called “Mr. Funktastic.” Item 3#: The monk teaches in stupid opposite talk (“You cannot be free until you have been taken. You cannot be cold until you are hot. You cannot die until you have lived,” you try some). One of the monk’s lessons is that the laws of physics, mind you the LAWS of physics, can be bent just by putting your mind to it. He says gravity can be overcome if you just don’t believe in it. This is insane. At least in The Matrix it had some plausibility. Item #4: The movie is a complete rip-off of The Matrix. I’m not just talking style, no, I’m talking everything. There is a scene where the monk and Kar run through a street and building, defying gravity, being chased by men in suits and sunglasses, and they get to a roof where they must combat a helicopter. What movie does this sound like, hmmm? Item #5: The visual effects are done by –get this– Burt Ward’s effects house. Yes, that’s right, the guy who played Robin on the campy 60s Batman show has an effects company. And they did the horrible work on Bulletproof Monk. This movie is so terrible at every level of filmmaking that it becomes enjoyable to watch, in the same vein as 2001’s stinker Dungeons and Dragons. I defy anyone to find merit in any of it. Sometimes you have to wonder what Hollywood was thinking.
Nate’s Grade: F
There’s something to be said for stupid comedies. Not necessarily the ones that are centered on large men getting hit in the head or crotch. Or films that climax with pie fights. Or any film where a wild animal plays some kind of pro sport. Or any film where Rob Schneider transforms into something and learns that life is indeed tough from a different perspective. As you can see, the stupid comedy has a very dubious history but when it succeeds at creating those hearty belly laughs, the kind where your face is sore afterwards from laughing so hard, few movies are as entertaining. Billy Madison is every bit as perfect in its humor as the more critically lauded comedies Rushmore and Raising Arizona. So then, is the crass college comedy Old School funny, stupid or both? It’s safe to say its makers did their homework and admirable achieve an unrepentant uproarious stupid comedy.
Mitch (Luke Wilson) is a real estate numbers cruncher who catches an early flight home from a business retreat only to discover his girlfriend (Juliet Lewis) blindfolded and ready to engage in an orgy. Mitch moves into a house on a local campus with the help of his two friends, smooth talker Beanie (Vince Vaughn) and man-child Frank (Will Ferrell). The trio of thirty somethings comes up with the idea to start their own fraternity and relive their youth. Their rebellion from adulthood leads to wild parties, underage girls, KY Jelly wrestling, drunken streaking, birthday party tranquilizers, eulogies featuring White Snake songs and, of course, taking it to the man that just wont let these kids have their fun.
Wilson is relegated to the role of the straight man, which means he pretty much gets to make faces at the antics of Ferrell and Vaughn. Wilson is the nice guy of the film, which in comedy terms means hes the individual tortured by others. And in other terms, means hes normally quite bland. Consider both checked with Wilson in Old School. Wilson is a very capable actor but he’s more or less backdrop.
Ferrell is like instant comedy, just add water and he can make anything funnier. Much has been made of Kathy Bates strutting around in her 54-year-old birthday suit (which may have led to a Best Unsupported Actress nomination) but Ferrell equally jogs around jiggling his goods with glee. Ferrell is hysterical as the films biggest party animal. He takes everything to another level of comedy. Stick around during the end credits just to see him kick some woman’s shopping cart. I’m telling you this simple action is one of the funniest things in the movie.
Vaughn has made a career of playing fast-talking louts that would normally incite people with his caustic remarks if he weren’t so damn charming. What happened to ole Vince and his oodles of sex appeal? Circa 1998 or so he was going to be Hollywoods next leading man, especially after massive exposure from Spielberg’s Lost World. Yes, starring in the very ill conceived remake of Psycho (now with masturbation at no extra charge!) was a bad career move but it shouldn’t have been a killer. I mean, Anne Heche went on to other films after it and this was before she was communicating with aliens with her made up language. Hell, I’m just kind of glad to see Vaughn in films again. His running gag with a bread maker is great.
The plot of Old School is really nothing more than a paper-thin device for the jokes to spring forth from. There are only stock characters in these kinds of films. Theres the nice girl (Ellen Pompeo) that will eventually get together with our protagonist in the end. There’s her smug boyfriend played by the smug Craig Kilborn. Jeremy Piven is a stuffy dean trying to shut the boys down to settle old grudges with them.
The women of Old School are really left with nothing to do. Either they are there to have sex with the men or, when older, marry and control them. Lewis is the opposite of the good girl as the oversexed former flame of Wilson. Leah Remini has a very brief role as Vaughns wife who knows when to lead him by a chain. 24‘s Elisha Cuthbert is a naughty schoolgirl that could get Wilson in trouble after one unexpected night. The ladies of this world are really tools for the guys, but what kind of feminist analysis is needed for a film that features Snoop Dog and not one, but two correspondents from The Daily Show?
Old School is from the director and co-writer of Road Trip, a crude yet very entertaining and lively comedy. Old School is kind of a big brother companion to Road Trip, and while not rising to the level of Animal House (as every college comedy wishes to be now) the film is indeed a pristine example of a gloriously stupid comedy aided by a very game cast. See it and be prepared to laugh a few pounds off.
Nate’s Grade: B
First and foremost I disliked the first American Pie movie. It just rang very transparent for me and I didn’t laugh once – a capitol crime with a comedy in my book. So I wasn’t exactly looking forward to another addition with the American Pie family, but ventured out with friends and found myself enjoying this second helping of raunch. And this time I genuinely laughed at several points and found it overall less insipid.
To American Pie 2‘s benefit all the characters have been introduced prior and are familiar to the audience, therefore no time is wasted on pointless set-up. The movie jumps right out to the familiar faces and decides to further the AP2 universe. Jim (Jason Biggs) and friends are returning back home after their first year of college. Jim has not had a sexual experience since his prom night with Michelle the band geek (Alyson Hannigan) and he is completely in doubt of his abilities in the bedroom. Complicating matters is the news that the Czech student of his fantasies Nadia (Shannon Elizabeth) is on her way back and is eagerly anticipating another tryst with Jim. Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) is still hung up on his ex Vicky (Tara Reid) and worrying that his friends will grow apart and college will change everything. Oz (Chris Klein) seems to be doing fine with his monogamous relationship to Heather (Mena Suvari), despite the taunting of Stifler (Sean William Scott) that he needs to spread out. Finally Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) is still chasing after the only woman that ever caught his heart, Stifler’s mom.
After the boys return back to their roots the police bust a party at Stifler’s pad, and they are without a place to party for the summer. Kevin brings to their attention the idea of renting a cabin on the beach for the summer. The place serves as a spot for the boys to enjoy their sunshine-y days away from school and stay together as friends, as well as attempt to get an abundance of tail. Hi-jinks ensue.
AP2 almost seems to follow the formula of the first one to the letter. The opening scene has Jim’s dad (the always hilarious Eugene Levy) walking in on an embarrassing moment for Jim (you think he’d learn that doors have locks at this point). Jim encounters a horrific sexual accident that he must discuss with his father afterwards. Stifler gets a not-so-nice encounter with a bodily fluid in the beginning party. And it all ends with a big party to end all parties with everyone hooking up with a partner for some post-coital spooning. The script was written by the same writer of the first yet he seems to be playing connect the dots with his own formula.
What American Pie 2 does to separate itself as more enjoyable than the first is give the interesting characters the majority of the time and leave the least interesting sputtering for air. The interesting ones follow: Jim is a nice guy full of the same insecurities that plague a teenager and intimacy, and Biggs plays him as an everyman who somehow always seems to come into sadistic moments of embarrassment. With Jim’s wish to be more sexually adept he visits the infamous band camp and finds Michelle once again who agrees to coach him on techniques and pointers. Hanigan is given an incredible amount more of screen time and she’s glowing in every second of it.
Also the man-you-love-to-hate Stifler has a larger role leading his group of lakeside roommates into encounters with lesbians and other sexual calamities. Scott may be playing Stifler as a jerk but he’s entertaining and genuinely funny, and at one point you can’t help but root for the crass frat boy. Finch has learned that Stifler’s mom will be paying a visit to their cabin at the end of the summer and spends his time studying up on Tantra and Zen to fully explore his inner sexual prowess.
The entire cast from the first American Pie romp does return, though not everyone has equal time. Mena Suvari (still looking so young) leaves in the beginning of the film and then comes back at the very end. The insatiably annoying Reid (who has eyes that I can’t tell where her whites end and irises begin) thankfully is only in the film for two short scenes which leads me to question was she even necessary in the first place? Natasha Lyonne is only in scenes alongside Reid, so her stint in the sequel is equally as brief. Elizabeth’s role might be central to Jim’s quest for sexual fulfillment, but she only pops up in the last eight minutes of the film – and doesn’t show her breasts this time. Now that I think about it Klein and Nicholas really weren’t in the film too much either except for standing in the background while another character talked.
The soundtrack is a collection of every pop “punk” band that’s been playing on MTV since May of that year. It’s like the producers just watched the channel for a week and would point to the ones they wanted.
The film still is a mishmash of gross out sexual humor and sentimentality, but for some reason it’s a lot easier to swallow the second time around. For all its bodily fluids and crudeness, American Pie 2 has a stickily sweet secretly conservative old-fashioned heart. Though the makers would never tell you so. In a summer almost bankrupt on entertainment value I’ll leisurely take a slice of American Pie 2.
Nate’s Grade: B-