★★★★ / ★★★★
On a last-minute effort to win over his stewardess girlfriend, Elaine (Julie Hagerty), Ted (Robert Hays) decided to buy a plane ticket for Trans American Airlines. Elaine was far from impressed because she made it clear prior to boarding that their relationship was over. Ted, a former squadron leader in the Air Force, had too much baggage like his trauma from the war. When the passengers began to show classic symptoms of food poisoning, including the pilot (Peter Graves) and co-pilot (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), it was up to Ted, with the help of an air traffic controller (Lloyd Bridges) with a penchant for sniffing glue and Ted’s former captain (Robert Stack) out for revenge, to land the plane safely in Chicago. Written and directed by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker, the jokes in “Airplane!” did not always work but it almost didn’t matter because so much was thrown at the screen every five seconds, the ones that did stick were uproariously funny. Not one group was safe and I appreciated that even though some of the jabs were potentially offensive, the film was able to deliver them with wit and infectious energy. Some of these groups included a pair of jive-talking African-American who were subtitled every time they spoke even though some of us were able to get the gist of what they were talking about in the first place, a little girl scheduled to get a heart transplant who was subjected to more pain when Randy (Lorna Patterson) the stewardess played a nun’s acoustic guitar, a homosexual who failed to take anything seriously as his colleagues scrambled to find ways to land the plane safely, and even individuals who liked to sleep with animals. Since everyone was fair game, it never seemed to run out of funny one-liners and situational humor. I’m particularly difficult to please when it comes to slapstick comedy, but I found myself consistently laughing out loud, for instance, when we were shown excrement literally hitting the fan when things turned from very bad to much, much worse. Sitting through it was enjoyable because although the screenplay parodied disaster movies, specifically the clichés that defined them, the overall product was not a carbon copy. Each cliché had an unexpected twist to them. For example, when it made fun of the famous kissing montage in Fred Zinnemann’s “From Here to Eternity,” a catfish could be found next to Elaine and Ted while they were sprawled on the beach. What would a typical-looking catfish be doing in salt water? It was one of the many moments where I was caught completely off-guard and I couldn’t help but embrace its silliness. However, the film was not without superfluous prattle. One or two montages of Ted reminiscing about his past was enough. The joke was that whenever he sat next to someone, he would tell his story. By the end of it, the listener committed suicide. The joke was amusing but the flashback sequences were not. It didn’t help that his moments of recollection felt overlong, at times awkward and unfunny, forced–even in a grab bag of treats. Shirley that some of the jokes found in “Airplane!” had become outdated. But so what? The film went for it. My advice: given the choice to eat steak or fish while on a flight, choose steak. Even if you’re a vegan.
★★ / ★★★★
A syndicate of fashion designers assigned Mugatu (Will Ferrell), a fellow successful fashion designer, to find an extremely dim-witted male model and brainwash him to assassinate the Prime Minister of Malaysia, the man who would be responsible for passing laws against child labor. Mugatu thought Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) was perfect for the job. Zoolander was blessed with great bone structure but he lacked brain power. The poor man-child couldn’t even spell the word “day” (he spelled it “d-a-i-y-e”). Written and directed by Ben Stiller, “Zoolander” was an effective spoof of the fashion industry when its humor wasn’t all over the place. Strangely enough, it had a one-dimensional main character but it worked because he was supposed to be unaware about everything that was happening around him. Much of the film played upon the stereotype about models being dumb and self-centered. For instance, Zoolander claimed he wanted to find meaning in life so he decided that he would establish a center for kids who wished to learn. However, Zoolander didn’t know the first thing about charity or education. His hypocrisy was wild but still amusing to watch because we knew he meant well. There were two scenes that were downright hilarious. The first was Zoolander’s reaction to Mugatu’s model for the children’s center. The man-child was at the forefront; it was as if he had no concept of representation, something that children normally learn during an early age. The other was the walk-off between Zoolander and his blonde rival named Hansel (Owen Wilson). It was cheesy, ridiculous and completely unnecessary, but I couldn’t help but smile because the lead actors and the spectators were obviously having fun. I could just imagine how many takes it must have taken the actors to complete a scene as they struggled to keep a straight face throughout the farce. I do wish, however, that there were more models that were featured. Milla Jovovich was great as Mugatu’s villainous assistant with an edgy haircut and Tyson Beckford milked every second he was given during the walk-off. I wouldn’t have minded crazy Tyra Banks appearing out of the blue and lecturing how important it was to “smize” (smiling with your eyes). There were also some surprising appearances from a young (and barely recognizable) Alexander Skarsgård and David Duchovny, an expert in delivering lines in a monotonous voice but still keeping us interested. “Zoolander” lacked in story and character development but it had memorable lines and manic energy which helped the picture stay afloat. It’s one of those movies I won’t watch for a long time but when I do see it playing on cable while flipping through the channels, I couldn’t help but sit down and enjoy the ride.
★★ / ★★★★
Jason Bateman stars as the owner of a company who had to deal with an increasing number of personal and professional problems after one of his workers (Clifton Collins Jr. who continues his streak of being a chameleon in every role) had a gruesome accident. On one front, Bateman wanted to sleep with another woman (Mila Kunis) with criminal tendencies because his wife (Kristen Wiig) used every excuse on the book to not have sex with him, unknowing of the fact that Kunis seduced Collins so that she could get the settlement. On another angle, with the help of Ben Affleck, Bateman hired a pool boy (Dustin Milligan) to seduce his wife so that he would not feel as guilty when he finally did make a move on Kunis. But Milligan eventually fell in love with Bateman’s wife. Written and directed by Mike Judge, I found myself laughing out loud as I watched the film but when the credits started rolling, I felt like it could have been funnier. Although the situational comedies were so unbelievable because everything felt planned to a tee, I found myself going along with it because the characters were so vibrant. My main problem with the movie, however, was that it didn’t quite know whether it wanted to be a dark comedy, a spoof, or a safe mainstream comedy. It had elements of each of those and that was a problem because the tone did not feel right. I felt like it held back with the politically incorrect jokes instead of really embracing them and pointing the fingers on the audiences. There were some clever writing here and there (like the main character being so unhappy with his life even though a lot of people–people who he was surrounded by–would be more than happy to trade places with him) but sometimes the writing succumbed to typicality–something that we can see on television shows like “The Office” or “Better Off Ted.” There were also elements of “Office Space”-like jokes such as the very idiosyncratic workers (led by the always fantastic Beth Grant) and the very annoying neighbor (David Koechner) who can’t take a hint but such scenes felt like secondary appendages instead of being part of a whole and enhancing the thesis of the picture. Perhaps if “Extract” had not been afraid to be a bit darker and edgier with its material, I would have given this film a higher rating. The movie satisfied but didn’t impress me.
★★★ / ★★★★
It’s interesting to me when I look back on how the “James Bond” franchise changed over several decades. I can understand why many people consider Sean Connery as the best 007 because he can be dangerous and charming at the same time–and looks like he’s having fun. “Thunderball” is the fourth Bond picture and it’s different from the first three because it has so many cheesy but (sometimes) amusing one-liners. I consider this movie to be uneven because even though rousing action sequences are still present, they are immediately followed by tedious dialogue that only occasionally push the story forward. It’s a shame because the picture truly shines when the audiences are actually seeing SPECTRE’s plan in action, all the while knowing that Bond will somehow keep them from succeeding. It’s hard for me not to recommend this Bond installment because the femme fatales are interesting (Claudine Auger as Domino and Luciana Paluzzi as Fiona Volpe). The audiences know their motivations but that doesn’t mean their goals are predictable. Adolfo Celi as Emilio Largo (also known as SPECTRE #2) is a good villain because he can go head-to-head with Bond. Celi’s character has been parodied many times such as in the “Austin Powers” franchise. And there are many memorable scenes such as the underwater battle scenes in the ocean, when the wounded Bond evades his enemies during a parade, the scene where Bond is trapped in a swimming pool infested with sharks… I just wish that the script would’ve been written better. When it’s time to take a scene seriously, it falls apart because someone would say or do something unintentionally funny. Still, I say go see it for the gadgets, interesting use of color, realistic fight scenes, and memorable side characters.
Tropic Thunder (2008)
★★ / ★★★★
This is not as funny as everyone made it to be. I thought it spent too much of its time showing people shooting guns and not enough time telling Hollywood jokes. For a two-hour film, I thought it would reach some sort of balance. Written and directed by Ben Stiller, he has some really funny sketches such as the fake trailers prior to the main feature, Robert Downey Jr. as a method actor, Tom Cruise as the over-the-top movie mogul, and not to mention the Oscar scene. Other than those few elements, I simply chuckled through the rest (if they were at least somewhat funny). Jack Black and Ben Stiller weren’t as funny as they could have been. Compared to Downey Jr. and Cruise, Black and Stiller were trying too hard to get noticed; instead of enhancing the experience, it became distracting. But I appreciated the cameos from Tyra Banks, Jennifer Love-Hewitt, Lance Bass, and Alicia Silverstone. They made me pay attention when nothing was going on on screen. What made this movie slightly above average at times was its self-awareness. It’s unabashed when it comes to making references to war pictures like “Platoon” and “Full Metal Jacket.” I love the scene where Downey Jr. recalled the films and actors that focus on mental retardation: Dustin Hoffman in “Rain Man,” Tom Hanks in “Forrest Gump,” and Sean Penn in “I Am Sam.” If they would have appeared, it would have been that much better. But what really did not work for me was the jungle scenes. When people are shooting guns and running away from the artillery, it becomes chaotic. Those “action” scenes feel like fillers when the jokes are not in the foreground. This is supposed to be a comedy but I didn’t see the comedy behind the violence. Perhaps if this had been a dark comedy film, it would’ve worked… but it wasn’t so it didn’t. The story becomes slow and it feels like the actors are not reaching their full potential because they are left to just run around screaming. If this movie would have been tilted toward the show business instead of the actual war scenes, I think I would’ve enjoyed it that much more.