Dinner for Schmucks (2010)
★ / ★★★★
Tim (Paul Rudd) wanted to be a more powerful executive in the company he worked for. But in order to become one of them, his boss (Bruce Greenwood) invited Tim to attend a dinner party in which the company men were required to bring an idiot with whom they could make fun of as they enjoyed their meal. Plagued by thoughts about why his girlfriend (Stephanie Szostak) wouldn’t accept his marriage proposal, Tim accidentally ran over Barry (Steve Carell), an IRS agent who had a penchant for collecting dead mice and putting them in a box for display. Desperate to impress his girlfriend, he invited Barry to attend the mean-spirited dinner. Based on Francis Veber’s “Le dîner de cons,” “Dinner for Schmucks” committed an unforgivable sin: It was a comedy that was devoid of humor. Forty minutes into the picture, I stopped and wondered why not once did I laugh at the craziness that was happening on screen. There was a lot of yelling, particularly between Tim and Barry, but Jay Roach, the director, had mistaken screaming for energy. Instead of exploring the relationship between the pathetic Barry and the even more pathetic Tim, the movie spent more time with unnecessary distractions. Worse, the distractions were supposed to be amusing. There was Lucy Punch as Tim’s insane one night stand from a few years ago. Her character was taken out of a horrible pornographic film. Jemaine Clement as the vain French artist made me feel uncomfortable and seeing him made me wish he put on a shirt. Even Ron Livingston and Zach Galifianakis’ appearances as Tim and Barry’s rivals, respectively, were uninspired. Each scene was like watching a bad sitcom that lasted for almost two hours. I kept waiting for the film to slow down and take the time for Tim to realize that what he was doing to Barry was not only wrong, that his actions said a lot about himself. In an early scene, he told his girlfriend that there was a version of him that she didn’t know and she should find a way to deal with it. But maybe there was a version of him that he himself wasn’t aware of. There were times when I thought Rudd was miscast. When he was supposed to summon a bit of darkness and malicious intent, it didn’t quite work. He remained harmless and adorable. The lack of focus in terms of the relationship between Tim and Barry ultimately felt forced when Tim’s conscience was finally at the forefront. I couldn’t help but feel that “Dinner for Schmucks” was supposed to be a man and his blind ambition to further his career so that he could live the so-called American Dream. The gags should have been secondary and, more importantly, the humor should have had range.
Hall Pass (2011)
★ / ★★★★
Rick (Owen Wilson) and Fred (Jason Sudeikis), best friends, were married but couldn’t help checking out other women in the streets even if they were right next to their wives. So Maggie (Jenna Fischer) and Grace (Christina Applegate), Rick and Fred’s wives, respectively, decided to give their husbands a hall pass–a week off from marriage that allowed them to do whatever they wanted, even if it meant sleeping with other women. Maggie and Grace believed that their decision would ultimately strengthen their marriages. Directed by Bobby Farrelly and Peter Farrelly, “Hall Pass” was supposed to be a comedy but it wasn’t funny because it wasn’t brave enough to really look at the dark corners of human psychology and behavior and critique its characters in an insightful way. It took the easy way out instead of taking necessary risks. Most of the scenes not only ran for too long, they lacked a punchline. For instance, the conversation between Rick and the babysitter while the latter was being dropped off was a lazy attempt at looking at a young woman hitting on a married man. It didn’t work because it lacked the art of tease; both had transparent motivations driven by simple reward and punishment. The script was poorly written. Rick and Fred had sex on the brain and I was disappointed in the fact that their characters were rarely allowed to bathe in double entendres. The duo wanted to have affairs but the material wouldn’t allow them to be dirty and conniving. It settled on featuring kids with smart mouths. It had no reason to hold back other than the fear of offending the majority of its audiences. It wanted to be commercially successful so it sacrificed edge. But edge is exactly what a movie like this needs. Since it was afraid to take risks, the material was painfully one-note. In its desperation to get laughs, it even had a scene with a black man with a big penis and a white man with a small penis. Why was that even necessary? Seeing a small penis is not funny. However, seeing a small penis with an accompanying joke or the perfect alignment of circumstances can be hilarious. And what was a person like Coakley (Richard Jenkins) even doing in this film? A man who could magically see through objects felt like crumbs on the bottom of a barrel. Why not focus more on the men’s emotions when their wives gave them the so-called hall pass? All the men in the movie were portrayed like sex-hungry dogs. It was insulting. “Hall Pass” was a bland meal when it could have been a tasty, ravenous feast. A comedy, like the best foods, is supposed to have different (and subtle) flavors. If something tastes bland, don’t you just want to stop eating or add something to the food in order to make it more bearable? That was exactly what I wanted to do with “Hall Pass.”
Due Date (2010)
★ / ★★★★
Peter Highman (Robert Downey Jr.) was on his way back to California because his wife (Michelle Monaghan) was expected to give birth soon. But Peter’s luck turned for the worse when he met Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis), an aspiring actor with a dog, at the airport. They both got into a car accident. Then they accidentally switched each other’s luggages. They even ended up sitting near each other on the plane. The two ended up talking about bombs on terrorists before take-off which prohibited them from flying. Despite all the unfortunate events and the fact that Peter couldn’t stand Ethan’s crazy antics, they decided to go on a cross-country road trip. Directed by Todd Phillips, the film was a broad comedy with two main characters we couldn’t help but dislike. Peter had a faux confidence about him but he was very sensitive to comments that one could easily let go. When threatened, he showed his mean-spirited sense of humor. One of the ugliest scenes was when he actually hit a kid in the stomach and the boy was left writhing in pain on the floor. It was supposed to be funny. On the other hand, Ethan, having the gall to try to pass off as twenty-two years old, was a total imbecile. I wondered how he made it through life not taking anything seriously. Or worse, living a life so completely unaware that other people needed their personal space. However, the film had few moments of hilarity. The bathroom scene was particularly memorable as Peter gave Ethan hypothetical situations and the aspiring actor had to prove that he had the talent to make it in Hollywood. Even though they didn’t necessarily get along, I felt a strange camaraderie growing between them. Unfortunately, with each good scene, a bad one always came after. Writers should know that when they feel like they should throw in an obligatory car chase, their material is in trouble. I just didn’t see what was so amusing about regular people doing their jobs and they ended up getting hurt because Peter and Ethan had a one-track mind. Casting actors like Jamie Foxx, Danny McBride, and Juliette Lewis was a waste. They were asked to play stereotypes, but I wasn’t convinced, in the five minutes of screen time they were given, that they injected something unique to their characters in order to make their roles memorable or worth watching. They certainly didn’t make Peter and Ethan any funnier or more charming. “Due Date” failed to make me laugh on a consistent basis. I chuckled (and was grossed out) during the masturbation scene and smiled when Ethan discussed getting a perm. But it wasn’t enough. Maybe the writers should have aspired to write a dark comedy screenplay instead.
The Back-Up Plan (2010)
★ / ★★★★
Jennifer Lopez had been absent from being a female lead actress for quite some time so I was really looking forward to Alan Poul’s “The Back-Up Plan.” Zoe (Lopez) made a proactive decision about having a kid via artificial insemination because she thought she would never find the guy for her. But the moment she stepped outside the clinic, she met Stan (Alex O’Loughlin), a nice, down-to-earth guy who wasn’t bad on the eyes with dreams of leading his own humble business. They didn’t get along initially but after a series of coincidences, the two eventually fell for one another. While I did like the two characters because they were charming and had undeniable chemistry, the material was just not funny. Some aspects of the film that were supposed to be funny but actually dead on arrival include the Single Mothers and Proud support group, Zoe’s incredibly transparent friends, and its lack of commitment in dealing with the serious questions about being a single parent. There were moments when Zoe had a chance to think about her future and whether she really wanted to stay on the path she had chosen but as soon as mood turned a little too serious, the movie would cut to a different scene and deliver slapstick infantile comedy. Not only did it take me out of the moment but I also felt emotionally cheated. The picture also lacked focus. I got the impression that the material was supposed to be from a mother’s perspective but it eventually lost track of its vision by establishing a series of scenes when Stan would meet a stranger at a park and discuss the struggles of fatherhood. While it was nice on the surface, I thought it was completely unnecessary. I already liked Stan and hammering the point that he was a good guy left me impatient. For me, I just saw it as another excuse to not deal with Zoe’s increasingly difficult preganancy, physically and emotionally, as she struggled with trusting Stan to stick around because the father and her child were not biologically connected. I think the movie would have been so much better if it had decided to take either the comedic or dramatic route. In an attempt to balance both, it managed to excel at neither path because every single step was formulaic and uninspiring. In the end, the elements of true exploration about how it was like to be a middle-class single mother were there but it tried too hard to be everything at once. The message of the film was vague–assuming that it wanted to communicate something in the first place. But then again maybe it just wanted to be a typical and too safe a romantic comedy.
When in Rome (2010)
★ / ★★★★
Have you ever seen a movie in which you wanted it to end approximately ten minutes in? Kristen Bell stars as a curator who decided to go to Rome for her sister’s (Alexis Dziena) wedding despite the fact that she was married to her job. In Rome, she met a charming guy (Josh Duhamel) who was also the best man of her brother-in-law. However, the lead character caught him kissing another woman so she decided to go to a fountain to complain about how much she did not believe in love and steal a few coins. The owner of the coins (Will Arnett, Jon Heder, Dax Shepard, Danny DeVito) became desperately in love with her and followed her when she returned to America. The main problem with the movie was the fact that it just wasn’t funny. I quickly grew tired of it because there were too many clichés, too many slapsticks, and too many illogical reasoning. When the main character found out about the potential solution to all of her problems forty minutes into the picture, she found one excuse after another to not accomplish her goal. I simply did not believe that the decisions she made were true to her character because she started off as someone who accomplished what needed to get done in the most efficient way possible. Even though Bell and Duhamel were nice to look at and they did have some sort of chemistry, I did not really feel any sort of real tension between them and why they should ultimately get together in the end. Chances are, if one has seen the worst romantic comedies out there, one would know where “Where in Rome” was going. It offered no surprises and I got the impression that it didn’t even try to be funny, which was what bothered me most about it. I found myself trying to chuckle at some of the jokes but I couldn’t find myself to do so because the material was just not up to par. There was absolutely no confidence in the material; if it did, it would have tried to do something different with the characters or how the story unfolded. A twist within a twist would have been more than welcome because perhaps it would have been less soporific. Instead, I wished for the movie to shift its focus on Anjelica Houston’s character, the main character’s boss, because she had presence, as intimidating as she was, when she entered a room. Presence was exactly what the film needed and since it did not know what it was supposed to be, the project ended up being a mess.
I Love You, Beth Cooper (2009)
★ / ★★★★
I had a feeling that “I Love You, Beth Cooper,” directed by Chris Columbus, tried to summon those great teen ’80s flicks but instead of being nostalgic, the film fell flat on its face because it ultimately lacked intelligence in its script and its characters. During his speech, the high school valedictorian (Paul Rust), predictably an awkward nerd, decided to declare to the whole school that he loved Beth Cooper (Hayden Panettiere), predictably one of the cheerleaders, from the moment he laid eyes on her through the years when he sad behind her in class (creepy). Along with that declaration, he put the spotlight under the mean girls and mindless jocks and claimed that they were losers and they would remain losers after high school. Naturally, our protagonist and Beth Cooper ended up talking to each other after graduation, got into a number of misadventures and learned that first impressions weren’t always accurate. Just typing all of that made me bored because I’ve seen it all before. There was nothing original about this movie that I can specifically point to and say that I was impressed with. In fact, I was just annoyed with it especially when the lead character’s best friend who happened to be a film geek would make the most random movie references. That character made people like me look bad; just because we’re film buffs (or getting there), it doesn’t mean that we’re going to reference to every single movie that existed every other second, especially to people we just met. It’s just ridiculous and not funny. I think that was this movie’s problem: it tried too hard to impress when it shouldn’t have because the flaws became that much more glaring. Everything was loud and obnoxious especially the jocks who, I must say, had antisocial personalities and needed serious psychological help. Each character was one-dimensional and it was no fun watching the movie because it lacked depth. Teen movies like “Superbad” or “Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist” have proven that substance and comedy don’t have to be mutually exclusive. With movies like “I Love You, Beth Cooper,” obviously I expect certain things like plotlines involving losing one’s virginity, sex jokes and even gay jokes. However, can’t help but love the subgenre because it does have the potential to surprise and even inspire. Unfortunately, “I Love You, Beth Cooper” was a disaster and a total waste of time.
Surf’s Up (2007)
★ / ★★★★
Cody Maverick (voiced by Shia LaBeouf) was a penguin who knew how to surf but did not know how to have fun while doing it because his brother and mother did not always show their support for him. So when a recruiter for surfers visited Cody’s hometown, Cody did not think twice about competing in the Penguin World Surfing Championship. On his journey to the finals, he met an oblivious but very entertaining chicken (Jon Heder), a cute penguin lifeguard (Zooey Deschanel), a highly competitive penguin (Diedrich Bader) and a surfing legend (Jeff Bridges) who decided to hide from the world. I feel like I am the only person that did not enjoy this animated mockumentary. In what people found inspiring, I found recycled jokes, or worse, jokes that were just not funny. At first I thought it had potential because I have never seen an animated film take on a mockumentary style of storytelling. But I quickly got bored with it because even though everyone had a lot of energy, there really was no story and a defined main character. The images were cute (especially the baby penguins) but the movie did not have enough substance for me to really get into. As for the star-studded voices, I found them to be very distracting. Instead of seeing the penguins come to life, I was forced to think of the actors instead. I was pretty excited to watch this movie because it was light entertainment and I needed a break from a series of serious films. And when I heard that this movie was nominated for an Oscar, my expectations were that much higher but it did not deliver in a way where I could be entertained by the jokes while at the same time getting me to invest in the story. I will say, however, that this film was quite atmospheric at times. I loved the first few scenes when it went back in time to tell the audiences what made Cody feel so inspired to go after his dreams. There was a certain campiness and cleverness about it. Unfortunately, the rest did not hold up especially the scenes where the legendary surfer taught Cody “the ways” of being a real surfer. It was cheesy and, as a person who is not interested in surfing, I found the whole thing quite boring. I’m not sure if kids can enjoy this movie with bright colors alone. It needed a bit of edge, a bit of sadness and a whole lot of originality. Instead of elevating the picture, the mockumentary style felt like a bad gimmick.