Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
October 24, 2016Posted by on
Mike Myers has long been considered an egomaniacal nightmare in Hollywood, but the success of both the Austin Powers and Shrek franchises largely allowed him to run roughshod all over Hollywood for the better part of a decade. Because his films brought in big box office receipts, Myers’ self-indulgent ego went completely and utterly unchecked. Even his relative box office misses, 2003’s The Cat in the Hat for example, still somehow made money. This all changed in 2008 when Myers’ notorious The Love Guru not only bombed spectacularly, but also drew some of the most dire reviews of any major theatrical release ever. So what exactly went wrong?
Let’s start by going back to 1992 for a moment. In the winter of 1992, Wayne’s World (Myers’ first starring role), shocked box office pundits, grossing over a hundred million dollars domestically. The film, based off of a Saturday Night Live sketch, was also met with enthusiastic reviews and is still funny today, almost 25 years later (I re-watch it about once a year and feel it’s one of the best comedies of the 90s). The film was a resounding success for Paramount, beginning a long and mostly successful relationship between Myers and the film studio. However, behind the scenes Myers was considered a nightmare, so much so that the film’s director, Penelope Spheeris, did not direct the sequel, Wayne’s World 2.
Speaking of Wayne’s World 2, that Stephen Surjik (who?)-directed sequel grossed less than half the original film despite its placement as a big Christmas season would-be blockbuster. Though I (mostly) like Wayne’s World 2, it’s hard to argue that it’s as good as the first (because it isn’t). It was met with lower critical reviews and audience disinterest. The film, released in 1993, would be Myers last big theatrical-starring release until four years when the first Austin Powers movie came out. That film, shot on a budget of about 16 million dollars, turned a modest profit at the box office but immediately caught on with home video, becoming a significant cult crossover hit.
The post-theatrical success of the first Austin Powers movie was so enormous that it led to Austin Powers 2 grossing a whopping 300 million dollars worldwide, becoming one of the biggest hits of 1999. Back on top of the world, Myers gained even more prominence voicing the title character in the Shrek series of films, beginning in 2001. The four theatrically released Shrek films have grossed over one billion dollars in the United States alone. A third Austin Powers film grossed over 200 million stateside despite mediocre reviews, becoming another significant hit for Myers back in 2002. Shrek 2 became one of the biggest animated hits ever in 2004, but the cracks began to show in 2007 with the release of the third film in the franchise.
Though it grossed a healthy amount upon release in 2007, it was almost universally disliked (and failed to build off the success of part two). Franchise fatigue had set it, as it had with Wayne’s World and the Austin Powers films. Additionally, Myers had a falling out with Universal Studios over a proposed “Dieter” film. Based on a recurring character from Saturday Night Live sketches in the early 90s (where have we seen this before?), the Dieter film was expected to be the next Austin Powers-type franchise. A script disagreement between Myers (who helped pen the script, it should be noted) and Universal execs led to a lawsuit, the results of which are fascinating and easily Googled. I suggest checking it out. The Dieter lawsuit began around 2000 but followed Myers for years afterwards, contributing to the perception that he was a perfectionist at best and an egomaniac at worst.
Whatever made Myers rescind the Dieter contracts obviously didn’t stop him from making The Love Guru, however. The critically derided Love Guru (14% on Rotten Tomatoes), released in the summer of 2008, became Myers biggest and most notorious flop. For a guy who had only had two significant career flops (Wayne’s World 2 and The Cat in the Hat, the former of which was still a good movie and the latter of which still made money), the failure of The Love Guru hurt Myers so badly that he essentially took refuge in Shep Gordon’s famed Hollywood famous person retreat in Hawaii. Myers has not starred in a comedy film since, opting to appear in minor roles for mainstream directors like Quentin Tarantino or make documentary films instead. Myers has admitted publicly that the failure of The Love Guru caused him to spiral into depression, which is honestly something I hope he received professional help for.
It wasn’t that The Love Guru was just a bad movie that makes it a significant What the fuck? in Hollywood history – it’s that it is considered one of the worst movies of all time. Littered with product placement (Hotdog on a Stick, Cinnabun), celebrity worship/cameos, and all of the stuff Myers finds personally interesting (pseudo-Hindu mysticism, Maple Leafs hockey, Canada in general), The Love Guru isn’t just any old commercially released comedy film. It’s a passion project meets a big Hollywood studio release that cost millions of dollars, lost millions of dollars, and ended up appealing to no one except for the egomaniacal person at the center of the production – in this case, Mike Myers. The Love Guru was such a failure that it killed Myers’ career as a leading comedy film actor. He hasn’t appeared in a leading role since.
August 29, 2016Posted by on
Mallrats is an awful movie with almost zero redeeming qualities whatsoever. It was a considerable box office flop that instantly made a ton of critics as well as the general public immediately reconsider writer/director Kevin Smith’s talent only two movies into his career. Mallrats is an unpleasant, amateur affair that’s about as stupid as Clerks, Smith’s first effort, is good. That is to say, Clerks is a quality piece of entertainment that holds up as a time capsule of the early to mid-90s (with some truly inventive and funny dialogue), while Mallrats is a garbage film perhaps best remembered for its clunky, forced dialogue about superhero penises Jason Lee’s breakout performance (the film’s lone highlight). I have not seen Mallrats in years, but I unfortunately remember it almost beat-by-beat (it is not a complicated movie). I hate that film so much that I really want to write about it and relish in my hatred.
I remember Mallrats so well because I have actually seen it dozens of times, despite never really liking it all that much in the first place. In the late 90s, I rented this film multiple times from the rental store and watched it on a near loop with friends and siblings for months at a time. I spent the majority of the years 1999 and 2000 watching everything Kevin Smith and his cohorts had a hand in. I purchased Chasing Amy and Clerks and watched them dozens and dozens of times as well. Dogma had recently been in theaters, and I watched that one over and over again as well. To my 17 year old self, there was no one cooler than Kevin Smith. Except for Mallrats – I never truly liked Mallrats. I liked then (and still like now) Clerks and Chasing Amy, but I always thought Mallrats just didn’t fit in with those films.
One particular difference is that Mallrats is Smith’s sole film from his early days not released by Miramax. Miramax very famously purchased and distributed Clerks in 1994 and then Chasing Amy (which had a budget of $250,000 amazingly) in early 1997. But Mallrats is immensely different from those two, as it was a Universal production backed by a budget of several million dollars (estimated to be seven million). It is shot and directed like a studio film from the 90s, and thus suffers in comparison with the other two, as they are far more “indie” looking. Mallrats is also different in that there is actually a very complicated story behind what appears (and is) to be a simple movie.
The originally filmed opening took place in some sort Revolutionary War-era reenactment/governor’s ball, wherein Jeremy London (who spends the entire movie looking uncomfortable with his hands in his pockets and who was clearly not cast by Smith) accidentally shoots a musket (why was he carrying a loaded musket in a reenactment) at the governor. This sets up a chain of events wherein London’s girlfriend Brandi’s father loses his job. Brandi wants to cut ties with London (his name in the movie is T.S. but I’m just gonna call him London), so she breaks up with him, inspiring him to find solace in a shopping mall with best friend Jason Lee, who was also recently dumped by Shannon Doherty. The theatrical cut of the film excises most of this, up until the point where Brandi breaks up with London. Hence, the film takes almost 30 minutes to get to the mall setting. The film is already painful at 94 minutes. I can’t imagine watching a two-hour version of this movie.
The edits, reshoots, rewrites, etc also lead to several continuity errors throughout the film, but these are only a few of the bizarre errors/things that make no sense present throughout Mallrats. Other than the dialogue that doesn’t fit in because the first 30 minutes of the film were redone, there are also moments of inaudible/barely audible dialogue that you can see in the captions but cannot actually hear. Moments like this include a the scene where fans wait to meet Stan Lee, where a child is trapped on an escalator, and where Brandi’s father Jared (Michael Rooker, who is usually money but is awful here) fires an underling. I have to imagine this was not done on purpose despite it being so prevalent throughout the film.
I mentioned earlier that Jason Lee, playing lovely slacker Brodie Bruce, is the sole highlight of the film. He truly shines in this film and it’s easy to see why the ex-professional skateboarder went on to have a solid career in Hollywood. He’s charismatic, funny, and a naturally good actor. There are groan-worthy moments throughout Mallrats, but few involve him. He seems to be the only one who understands the kind of movie he’s in. Contrast this with co-star London, who seriously spends the entire fucking movie with his hands in his pockets. He looks uncomfortable with Smith’s (admittedly dumb) dialogue as well as with his co-stars. There’s very little chemistry between he and Brandi. I hate to pile on the notoriously difficult Shannon Doherty, but she’s just about as awful as London. It’s hard to believe she’d ever even be seen with Jason Lee’s character, let alone date him.
I really like Clerks and Chasing Amy. I really like how they managed to be small-scale movies but still have really investing and emotional stakes. Clerks is about the daily grind of a man who has absolutely no direction in his life. He can’t make a decision about which girl he wants to date and he feels like life is slipping past him at age 22. There’s some pretty serious, heavy material in the depths of that film. Chasing Amy is about one man’s failure to keep the past in the past, which negatively impacts his relationship with the woman of his dreams as well as his relationship with his best friend and business partner. Ben Affleck’s Holden is too short sighted to look past things that happened in high school and move on to the next chapter in his life, not unlike Bryan O’Halloran’s Dante from Clerks. London and Lee aren’t deep enough as characters in Mallrats to get invested in.
Clerks and Chasing Amy garnered critical acclaim and awards for being mature looks at life in the 90s for people in their 20s. No one else was really doing that. Mallrats has a character fly face-first into a ladies dressing room for no reason that to show off a pair of tits. Clerks sees its main character struggle to balance a job, a relationship with a woman he doesn’t have much in common with, and a previous toxic relationship with a high school girlfriend. Chasing Amy explores how fluid human sexuality truly is. Mallrats’ final act hinges on a sex tape that exposes a clothing store manager as a sexual deviant. Simply put, Clerks and Chasing Amy are smart and mature movies, whereas Mallrats is immature, obnoxious, repellant, and just plain dumb.
I’ve spoken to a lot of people my age about Mallrats – many of them really like it. They are, of course, entitled to their opinions (just as I am). Though I suspect they view the film with a heavy dose of nostalgia, because I truly find it difficult to find merit of any kind in Mallrats outside of a charismatic Jason Lee performance. Roger Ebert once claimed to sit in on a panel with Kevin Smith where Smith claimed he’d be happy to make the kinds of movies studios want as long as the studios were paying. Ebert thought Smith was joking until Mallrats came out. The best I can say about Smith as that he hasn’t truly gone mercenary since. Zack and Miri was not a good movie, but it attempted to be heartfelt at least. Cop Out could have (and should have) worked, but was at least a fun misfire at worst. The movies he makes now (such as Tusk and Yoga Hosers) couldn’t be less commercial. I’ll commend him for making what he wants to make, but I still get to hate Mallrats. I’ll always hate Mallrats.
August 28, 2016Posted by on
I’ve written many times in the past how I enjoy the little genre films that often get thrown into the big summer season and generate little fanfare. I absolutely loved A Perfect Getaway, one of 2009’s best films. I similarly loved the second and third sequel films in The Purge franchise (ok, those were high profile but did anyone really expect that franchise to break out?). I thought last years The Gift was super interesting and incredibly adult – something rare in today’s Hollywood. Last Julys Nerve, which was released with relatively little fanfare, is similarly another great genre film, though this time targeted at the teenaged crowd. And while I don’t fall into the teen demographic whatsoever, I still found Nerve to be incredibly engaging, smart when it needed to be, and overall a really solid genre film.
Emma Roberts (who, much like Blake Lively in The Shallows is great here) stars as Vee, a high school senior living in Staten Island who has dreams of attending art school in California. Living with her single mom (Juliette Lewis!), an overworked nurse struggling to get past the death of her son, Vee is somewhat sheltered and never seems to take risks in her life. When her safe ways result in rejection from the class jock, Vee takes it upon herself to change her image. How does she do this? By participating in Nerve, a viral online game popular with millennials. The game is controversial after being linked with a teen’s death in Seattle, but millions of people participate as “Watchers” rather than “Players.” They pay a fee to watch people live out a real-world version of Truth or Dare, with the dares typically being dangerous and/or life threatening.
It is while participating in Nerve that Vee meets Ian (Dave Franco, who at this point is a better and more interesting actor than his older brother), a loner with a motorcycle who seems just dangerous enough to be interesting. The two are paired up together by Nerve users, and thus must participate together throughout a dare-filled night in New York City. This makes up the bulk of the film and is the most interesting part of the movie. Vee’s friends round out the cast, but I can’t be bothered to look up any of their names because they’re not as developed as the main characters. There’s also a somewhat villainous role played by a guy who goes by the moniker of Machine Gun Kelly, so kudos to him for picking out a totally righteous stage-name.
Nerve was shot on a budget of 20 million and directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, the two responsible for Catfish, Catfish: The Series, and two of the later Paranormal Activity films. These guys have their fingers on the button of social media and cheap filmmaking. As such, Nerve looks like a 50 million dollar production and feels realistic when it needs to despite having a ridiculously presented premise. There are moments where the film dives headfirst into liquid cheese, but it’s presented stylishly and in an interesting manner. Nerve is kind of like Saw meets Hackers meets Now You See Me in that respect. It keeps you intrigued, guessing, and interested while also being just corny enough to work.
Some parts of Nerve work better than others. The setup of the film is just fine – Vee gets into an argument with her best friend. This is something we can all relate to after all. The best parts of the movie start with the introduction of Franco and go all the way until Franco and Roberts attend a party together in NYC. The film had previously been super quickly paced, jumping from dare to dare with tight editing. The NYC party scenes slow the film down considerably unfortunately. In fairness, the film needs to slow down in order to help establish character growth and further the plot. It’s just that the side characters are rather uninteresting and the plot is secondary to the intriguing dares. Fortunately things ramp up again for a finale that works despite ramping the melodrama up to 11 and straining believability considerably (this is the part most akin to 1995’s Hackers, one of my favorite bad films).
This summer has been almost a complete slog, filled with crap after crap. It’s nice that studios will still take a chance on a film like this. It’s high concept and high energy – super entertaining and fun. Not every film in the marketplace needs to cost 250 million dollars. I would argue that more films should be made like Nerve. It’s a low-budget thriller film that actually has some important things to say about technology and social media, even if the things it says are clunky at times. Like last year’s The Gift, Nerve is a thriller film that is better than it has any right to be. I recommend checking it out for those sick of the two and a half special effects marathons we get so much of these days.
August 19, 2016Posted by on
I’ve always been a Jackie Chan fan. It’s hard to think of a time when I wasn’t amazed by the man. Though his recent output hasn’t been amazing, I’m still interested in the projects he chooses and how they come to be. Skiptrace, which has been released all across Asia but not yet in the states, is a fun film but far more interested in concept than in reality. Skiptrace is the work of Chan, Finish director Renny Harlin, Chinese superstar Fan Bingbing, American comedy actor and human groin-punch Johnny Knoxville, and rich Chinese film producers. It seemingly came together under the wackiest set of circumstances since that time Nic Cage starred in a Chinese production with Hayden Christensen. Unfortunately, all these elements don’t make for a great film; Skiptrace is interesting for sure, but decidedly flawed.
The film revolves around Jackie Chan, playing hotshot Hong Kong detective Bennie Chan, and Johnny Knoxville, playing American gambler Connor Watts, teaming up to take down The Matador, a Hong Kong gangster responsible for the death of Yung, Chan’s partner in the Hong Kong police. On paper, this reads like gangbusters, a sort-of Midnight Run meets Rush Hour. The execution is somewhat botched however by an obvious low budget and the not-so-deft touch of director Renny Harlin. Harlin has made some solid action films in the past (Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger, Deep Blue Sea), but he is not at his best with Skiptrace, as it appears his directing is all over the place.
This is most evident in the fight scenes and the added silly comedy. The fight scenes in a Chan movie need more room to breathe, but Harlin confines Chan and Knoxville too often to stairs, slides, and even river rafts. It doesn’t seem like Chan is given the freedom to wind up and then go. It seems restrictive and limiting. Say what you will about Brett Ratner, but he’s a Western director who definitely knows how to frame a Chan movie. Harlin is an action director first and foremost, and his inability to properly stage Chan’s fights show. The little bits of added in comedy, crucial to Chan’s films, don’t quite work either. Sure there are funny scenes, but mostly due to the chemistry and line readings between Chan and Knoxville. Again, Harlin doesn’t really give his talented cast any help here.
The film’s budget (estimated at about 60 million dollars) is stretched due to location scenes, which are definitely gorgeous. Unfortunately, there is some atrocious green-screen work going on in Skiptrace. One of the funniest scenes in the film, in which Chan and Knoxville are confined to a zipline, suffers somewhat as a result. Some of the sets and costuming likewise appear to be cheap, but it isn’t as noticeable as the special effects. Certain set pieces, such as the casino chase towards the beginning and the sinking yacht at the end, work just fine, however. The film has a slick and polished sheen overall; it just appears somewhat cheap in places.
I don’t want to sound too negative about Skiptrace because I actually enjoyed the film quite a bit. However, it is ultimately something of a missed opportunity. But let’s focus on the positive – Chan and Knoxville have great chemistry together and their scenes together are a blast mostly. The script is just fine, though probably could have used another lay of polish. Knoxville gets most of the laughs of course, and is able to do some of the schtick that he brought to the Jackass franchise over the years. Chan is getting very visibly old, but remains a delight to watch on screen. Fan Bingbing is definitely a solid screen presence, but would most likely work better in a Chinese language movie. She is absolutely beautiful however, and does not detract from the film in any way.
Probably my biggest qualm about Skiptrace is that it opens with such a bang before slowing down considerably. Chan and Knoxville’s journey through Mongolia and China should just be funnier and more interesting. Once the two finally get closer to Hong Kong, the pace picks up again in time for a very interesting and exciting finale. The first twenty minutes of the film are really good work, particularly from Knoxville who looks to be having the time of his life. I hope he got a significant paycheck for doing this movie, because he absolutely earned it. I wish the film had kept up with that initial pace however, because there’s a goofy and lovable energy within it that I really enjoyed.
Though I sound overly negative, I actually enjoyed quite a bit about Skiptrace. Knoxville and Chan’s chemistry is a definite high point, and there are some inspired action set pieces and good laughs. I went in with somewhat high expectations, and the film just couldn’t properly live up to them. No matter what, it was good to see Chan back on the big screen having a good time and being in a relatively enjoyable movie. I’m not sure if this film is going to get a wide release in theaters (it has the tone and feel somewhat of a very solid direct-to-video production) or not, but I’d say it’s worth it if you’re a diehard Chan fan like me, and maybe not so much if you could take or leave Chan’s work.
July 25, 2016Posted by on
I’ve seen a decent number of the 2016 summer season offerings, but I honestly have neither the interest nor the time to write a detailed review of everything I’ve seen. Hence, I’ve decided to compile a few mini-reviews as a site update and a way to express a few opinions. I typically have Wikipedia open during a movie review as a reference, but I’m not going to do that this time. So don’t be surprised to find minor errors throughout this post.
This movie, intended by Universal Pictures and videogame company Blizzard to be the first in a series, is terrible and famously bombed in American theaters (Chinese audiences saved it from being a total disaster). The acting is not the problem here. Travis Fimmel, Ben Foster, and Toby Kebbell are all pretty great in their roles. I really liked Kebbell’s performance as Durotan actually. Duncan Jones’ direction seems weirdly rushed. The whole movie seemed quickly paced, which limited character development and emotional investment from the audience. Outside of the acting, I also appreciated the production design and special effects. The movie looks great in theaters. The big problems, besides the directing, are in the film’s lackluster script and in its worldbuilding. It seems limited, restrained, held back. It should have been epic and it just was not. That being said, I still probably liked it more than most people. It is not typical of a summer movie, and I can appreciate that. It is still not good.
I’m not a fan of Pixar movies. This movie didn’t change my opinion of them for the better. Yes, it has grossed a metric ton of cash but then again most Pixar films that aren’t about dinosaurs do. I just don’t care for Pixar movies that much. Highlights include Ellen Degeneres’ and Ed O’Neill’s voice acting performances, beautiful computer animation, and a fairly strong script that doesn’t just rehash the first movie. It is still sappy and emotionally manipulative and it still straddles the line between “for kids” and “for adults,” so again it just isn’t for me. I just don’t think I’ll ever like a Pixar movie again and I’m ok with that.
Anyone who has read my writing on here from the beginning knows I’m a huge fan of “man vs. nature” movies. This is a special case as it is woman (Blake Lively) vs. nature, which hasn’t been done that much. I absolutely loved it! I seriously hope Lively gets some awards season attention for her role in this film as she is fantastic. The movie follows Lively as she is menaced by a shark in the Pacific ocean off the coast of Mexico. Too far from shore and with a gaping wound from a bite, Lively must survive against the elements and outwit Mother Nature herself. Well shot, well directed, well acted, well scripted… this low budget thriller has it all, including really decent special effects despite its limited budget. This is the best “(wo)man vs. nature” film since Liam Neeson’s The Grey from 2012.
Though it received overall pretty terrible reviews, I actually really liked this movie. It is gorgeously shot and although paced glacially at times, it never failed to keep my interest. It is colorful throughout, which is a change of pace from typical modern blockbusters. Stellen Skarsgard’s son (Peter I think?) is fine as Tarzan, but Samuel L. Jackson (who I’m usually not a big fan of) steals the show. He’s the most interesting character in the film and is a huge asset here. Christoph Waltz is also fine as the villain, though I would have liked to see him get even crazier. Special effects are excellent (they should be as this film cost 180 million dollars to produce) with special credit going to the gorillas, who look realistic and terrifying throughout. This movie was a huge summer surprise for me and I really enjoyed it.
The Purge: Election Year
I really enjoy The Purge series of films. The first started small, the second greatly expanded on the idea, and the third expands even further on the excellent sequel. Election Year is the best film in the franchise. It is topical without losing its violent, visceral appeal. Bringing Frank Grillo back as ex-cop Leo was an excellent idea, as was adding Elizabeth Mitchell as a Bernie Sanders-esque presidential candidate. These films get better and better with each installment and its nice to see them thrive at the box office as well. I really appreciate films that skimp on the budget but not on the thrills. It helps that The Purge series is built on a fantastic concept and that the filmmakers have expanded that concept so successfully. This may be my favorite film of the summer, give or take a Now You See Me 2.
I have the controversial opinion on the new Ghostbusters film: I thought it was just okay. It’s nowhere near as odious as militant fanboys on the internet would have you believe (Overzealous fanboys on the internet? Well, I never!), nor is it as great as obnoxious left-leaning bloggers would want you to think. It is decently funny in places and its characters are well worth spending the time with. I just think the movie could have been so much better. Unfortunately the villain is completely undercooked and I just couldn’t find him particularly interesting. Likewise, I’m about sick of the Hemsworth family and this film is no exception. I never found Chris Hemsworth funny as bumbling secretary Kevin. The good here are in the performances from the four main characters and the special effects. The script could have used a fine-tuning and the direction is lifeless at times, which is detrimental to a comedy. Again, it’s just an okay movie.
Star Trek Beyond
I did not like Star Trek Into Darkness but I loved the initial installment of this reboot series. Beyond thankfully is more of the first movie and less Into Darkness. I still love this new cast and I really like some of the ideas presented in this movie. It was entertaining and crowd pleasing, but just not that special. It’s a very solid summer movie but also very indicative of the 2016 summer season. It unfortunately doesn’t really stand out on its own. Highlights include the aforementioned cast (RIP, Anton Yelchin), the direction (Justin Lin fits in fine here), the production design, and the special effects. The script is ok, with some good ideas, but is mostly perfunctory. It’s a shame though that it just doesn’t feel as special as that first movie. It is a perfectly good summer movie and I certainly enjoyed it more than Into Darkness.
July 10, 2016Posted by on
A sequel to Independence Day, the gargantuanly epic 1996 Fox summer blockbuster, was never a good idea, particularly some odd twenty years after the release of the original. It’s hard to capture lightning in a bottle twice, as we’ve recounted time and time again on this blog. Independence Day was a huge movie. It ruled the summer box office with an iron fist, becoming the number one film of 1996 far and away. It gave Jeff Goldblum another distinctive summer blockbuster movie role after Jurassic Park to put on his resume. It introduced America to the movie star version of Will Smith. It made Bill Pullman the president of the United States of America, thus putting him front and center in the great Pullman/Paxton war of the 1990s. It was, simply put, a great summer movie. And everything great about it doesn’t exist in its crappy sequel.
To put things bluntly, Independence Day: Resurgence is a terrible film all around. From its title (Resurgence? Ok…) to its cast to its script to its direction, nothing about the film works at all. There’s almost nothing epic about Emmerich’s filmmaking this time around, with the movie feeling instead like the pilot for a bad science fiction television series. Memorable characters from the first film (with one big exception in Brent Spiner) are about as forgettable as can be. I have no idea what happened to the real Jeff Goldblum, but I hope he escapes from the clutches of his apparent evil clone and goes back to having a personality (and a serious movie career) sometime soon. And I’m not sure what happened to Roland Emmerich either, as at least his bad films are usually entertaining. There’s nothing entertaining about ID:R whatsoever.
The biggest offender in all this mess are the awful new main characters, including an aged Will Smith’s kind-of son from the first movie, an aged Bill Pullman’s daughter (no longer played by Ann from Arrested Development unfortunately), a Hemsworth brother (those Hemsworth guys have really outstayed their welcome), a Chinese girl, and a dorky, smart guy. None of these characters are interesting or worth exploring on a deeper level in any meaningful way whatsoever. They all used to be in the air force together or something, but who cares? The journey they take is not compelling, and every time they show up on screen I found myself wanting the film to get back to what characters like Jeff Goldblum and Brent Spiner were up to. Yes, Goldblum is underwritten and thus underwhelming, but what he’s doing is light years more interesting than most of the other characters in this film.
Anyway, all the younger characters in this movie kind of suck. Hemsworth number 3 (I think) is in love with Bill Pullman’s daughter, but he’s also a smarmy, “charming” would-be rogue who doesn’t cotton to his military leaders’ orders. Yet, he’s still allowed to gallivant around the military free from consequence. Oh, and Hemsworth also has a rivalry with Will Smith’s not-son for reasons that aren’t really important and seem kind of dumb. The aforementioned smart guy is Thor’s kid brother’s sidekick who is always on the lookout for a hot piece of ‘tang. The Chinese girl is unfortunately said ‘tang, serving no other purpose in this film than to be won as a prize by the end (and to apparently appeal to Chinese audiences, which is shamefully becoming more and more common place). Not Mae Whitman is close with her dad, played once again by Bill Pullman, who acts like a mental patient and is treated with all the dignity of an Alzheimer’s patient in a third rate old folks home despite being the heroic ex-president who saved the entire planet. There is literally nothing else interesting about Not Mae Whitman’s character, just as there is nothing else interesting about anyone else in this intrepid group of nobodies.
The plot of the film is ridiculous and nonsensical. Twenty years after the events of the first film (by the way the war continued in Africa for a further ten years, so great job there, United Nations), earth is once again visited by a mysterious spacecraft. Instead of waiting to see what it could be, the Americans decide to shoot first and ask questions later. This is a bad idea because the ship is carrying an intergalactic friendly robot traveller who has the keys to defeating the bad aliens. Keep in mind the bad aliens haven’t show up in twenty years. However, because the script demands it, just after the kindly robot traveller is nearly murdered by the United States, the old aliens show up once again, only this time in a spaceship that is 3,000 miles long and covers like half the earth at once, which makes no sense because the earth is round and the spaceship presumably is not.
Thus, it’s up to Jeff Goldblum, an African Warlord played by a guy who kind of looks like Delroy Lindo but probably isn’t, some presumably British or Australian lady psychologist that Goldblum used to plow, and a tax accountant (seriously) to save the earth. Also, Brent Spiner is still alive only in a coma. He wakes up once the friendly traveller makes an appearance and nearly saves the movie all on his own. He’s brings an energetic and fun presence to the movie which is sorely lacking elsewhere. So Spiner figures out how to operate the friendly traveller, only this attracts the alien queen, who is not at all a rip-off of the alien queen from the Alien movies, no sireebob. Our rather lackluster group of heroes, young and old, must band together and take out the alien queen or all of humanity (and the friendly traveller) will be doomed perhaps.
There’s a reason why none of this sounds epic – it’s because it fucking isn’t. Remember how awesome it was in Independence Day when the spaceships first showed up? People were either legit terrified or acting crazy sauce banana pants over them. Remember how fucking hopeless humanity felt after the first few big cities fell? Remember when Bill Pullman nuked fucking Houston in a last-ditch attempt to destroy the alien ships? There’s nothing like that in this movie at all. This movie follows the most video game logic of any film script I’ve ever seen. There’s a requisite action scene about every ten to fifteen minutes, but none of it matters at all. There’s no sense of scale, no sense of urgency, no sense that our main characters are in any kind of abject terror or danger whatsoever. Again, compare this to the first film. Remember how legit terrifying it was when the alien that Will Smith captured finally woke up and terrorized Brent Spiner? Remember how hopeless and scared people were? This is not the same kind of movie at all.
It almost feels like this is Independence Day: Lite rather than Resurgence. The stakes feel incredibly low, the movie is bafflingly short at just two hours (the first film ran two and a half), characters are barely fleshed out and spoiler alert the film ends on a fucking cliffhanger. Are you kidding me? I want my money back for sure. It’s hard to believe that this was made by the same people that brought us Independence Day. And look, I’m not saying the original film was a cinematic masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination. But it was an important 1990s blockbuster just a tier below Jurassic Park in terms of how it changed the summer movie and how it dominated the landscape for an entire summer. It came out at just the right time before computers and the internet exploded, allowing us to see just how dumb its plot was. Back in 1996 I surely thought a computer virus was a terrible thing that absolutely could bring down a spaceship. Of course now we know better, but at the time that shit made sense. The first film also allowed its characters plenty of time to move and breath, becoming fleshed out in the process. This film gives us absolutely no reason to give a shit about Mr. and Mrs. Hemsworth’s youngest and most special boy.
It is difficult to understate just how much I didn’t enjoy this film. I felt excited and titillated during absolutely no point in it whatsoever. This film was made with the express purpose of giving us more installments in the Independence Day franchise. I would totally be on board with that if this movie were any good. Problem is, it’s fucking terrible. Devlin, Emmerich, and 20th Century Fox should be ashamed of themselves for this mediocre garbage. It is a nostalgia grab that has absolutely blown up in their faces. When adjusted for inflation, the first film would have grossed $594 million dollars, putting it in rarified air, nearly that of films like Avatar, The Avengers, and Jurassic World. Independence Day: Resurgence will barely gross over $100 million, making it a massive disappointment. I’m not surprised audiences have rejected it; it’s a fucking terrible movie. What an embarrassment all around.
June 17, 2016Posted by on
I have a weird thing where I’ve seen a bunch of sequels in movie theaters without seeing the originals first. I saw Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen on opening weekend for some reason. I caught a mid-day showing of The Hangover 2 when it was released a handful of years back out of sheer boredom. I saw Scary Movie 2 in theaters twice, for fuck’s sake! What is wrong with me? Well, it happened again with Now You See Me 2, except this time the movie was actually pretty good. I’ve never seen the original, but I was able to easily follow the highly cerebral storyline without a hitch. I had a lot of fun making assumptions about characters and then letting the movie fill in the blanks. I recommend it!
Now You See Me 2, directed by John Chu (who also took over the GI: Joe film franchise), is the sequel of course to the 2013 film Now You See Me, which became a surprise global hit that fell nowhere on my radar. Starring, among others, Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg, the film concerns a group of magician thieves called The Horsemen, and their apparent plot to take down a corrupt insurance magnate and a black guy played by Morgan Freeman. The sequel ditches Isla Fisher (who couldn’t reprise due to pregnancy) for that girl from Mean Girls (not Lindsey Lohan) whose name I won’t bother to look up. She’s ok. Also joining the cast is a bearded, elfin, cracked-out Daniel Radcliffe, who of course played Harry Potter. Mark Ruffalo and James Franco’s little brother round out the cast.
The plot of this movie is ridiculous and incomprehensible but involves The Horseman stealing a computer chip that will allow Daniel Radcliffe to erase his digital footprint and maybe do something else quite heinous. It doesn’t really matter because this movie is pure style over substance in the best way possible. Each of the The Horsemen has a different “magic power” that they use a few times during the film. Woody Harrelson is a hypnotist, for example. Chu’s direction really puts a spotlight on the magic tricks and works well. Harrelson’s hypnosis, Franco’s card throwing, Eisenberg’s slight of hand, and Mean Girls girl’s escape acts (maybe?) are all stellar and intense.
You wouldn’t think the special effects would be a highlight in a movie like this, but damned if it doesn’t look fantastic. There’s a scene where Eisenberg uses his magician’s prowess to stop rain in the middle of the air and it looks gorgeous. The background music is also really well done. Again, Chu is well suited to this type of film. I’m also quite partial to heist films, and this very easily fits that bill. The only downsides to Chu’s direction are in the fight scenes, which are of the jump-cut, quick edit variety. Fortunately there’s not too many of them.
Once again, having never seen the original film, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Now You See Me 2 is a silly, hokey film but man is it fun! It’s definitely not to be taken seriously and it’s not high art, but it works very well as slick, summer escapism. The script, which is largely irrelevant in an okay way, aspires to talk about privacy in the digital age, and it’s silly but fine. It definitely works in a way that I didn’t expect it too. It helps that the actors are all game for the material, particularly Harrelson (in a surprise dual role!), Ruffalo, and Freeman, who really shines as a secondary antagonist. I kind of want to go back and watch the first movie now to compare the two. This has been a pretty shitty summer for movies, but I definitely recommend Now You See Me 2. It’s the best kind of silly, summer escapism.
June 2, 2016Posted by on
The release of last week’s (fairly terrible) X-Men: Apocalypse has got me thinking: which is the best X-Men film? Alternately, which is the worst? Which ones are ok, just lying smack dab in the middle of the order? I’ve been a fan of the X-Men film franchise since its inception in 2000. I remember when the film was originally due for release in 1999 and was to star Dougray Scott and Zod himself, Terrence Stamp, in the roles of Wolverine and Magneto. We all know how that went – Hugh Jackman and Ian McKellen would never have to work another day in their lives if they chose not too after successfully appearing multiple times and starring in multiple X-Men features. So again, with the release of last week’s X-Men: Apocalypse, I’ve decided to try and rank all 97 X-Men movies now available for viewing. Let’s see how this goes…
- X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
Many people shit on this movie because it was directed by Brett Ratner, but Ratner is not the problem here. Ratner’s direction, obviously modeled after Bryan Singer’s work in the first two, is just fine. In fact, some of the action sequences are downright inspired and good. The problem here is with the script, first and foremost. Fox wanted to rush The Last Stand into production, which shooed away both Singer (who was angling to direct a new Superman movie with Warner Bros.) and Matthew Vaughn (a hot property after 2004’s excellent Layer Cake). The script had to incorporate the Dark Phoenix saga and the Joss Whedon-penned “cure” storyline while also integrating elements of the previous films into the new one. It was no small task, and long-time series vet Simon Kinberg’s script just isn’t very good. Brett Ratner is a fine studio director who gets an obscene amount of hate online, but again this wasn’t really his fault. The most disappointing thing about The Last Stand is that it completely wasted the goodwill generated by the first two X-Men films. And even still, The Last Stand is not the worst third entry in a superhero series by far. That dishonor still goes to the shitshow that was Spider-Man 3.
- X-Men: Apocalypse
The issues with Apocalypse are many, and are detailed in my review, found here. In short, Apocalypse is a bad villain with dumb motivations, Kinberg’s script leaves a lot to be desired, the film doesn’t make good use of its 1980s setting, Jackman’s cameo as Wolverine is silly and unnecessary, Magneto is getting boring as a character (and completely self-contradictory), it’s obvious Jennifer Lawrence is just here for the paycheck, and James McAvoy is too cool for school by leaps and bounds. The film barely focuses on its new, supposedly important characters. Nightcrawler is used for comedic effect and not much else. Angel and Psylocke are barely characters at all. Storm gets the best treatment but is still under-developed. Tye Sheridan and Sophie Turner have zero on-screen chemistry as Cyclops and Jean Grey. This film is a misfire all around. I might honestly like The Last Stand better, but I put Apocalypse at #8 for now because the special effects are better and because it’s newer, so it at least has a pretty sheen to it. I don’t care if that’s fair or not.
- X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
Directed by Gavin Hood (who spent a long time in director’s jail after this film’s critical failure), X-Men Origins: Wolverine served as the opening summer flick of 2009. Grossing 85 million in its first weekend, it quickly petered out with less than 200 million at the domestic box office against a massive 150 million dollar budget (none of which went to making Wolverine’s claws look good apparently), making it less successful than X2: X-Men United and the previous film in the franchise, X-Men: The Last Stand. Origins suffers from some similar problems to The Last Stand. It has a completely overstuffed plot, shoe-horning in characters who just didn’t need to be there. Gambit and Deadpool are completely wasted, for example. The most interesting characters in the film, the Weapon X team up, is over just as quickly as it gets started unfortunately. If the film was anything like that first 20 minutes, it might have been awesome. There are things to like about Origins, however, such as Jackman and Liev Schreiber’s chemistry. Schreiber makes a great addition to the cast as the villainous Sabretooth, and his action sequences with Jackman’s Wolverine are fantastic. The film has a definite “so bad it’s good” vibe. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the online leak of this film a good six weeks or so before release. An unfinished workprint of the film was released online, which undoubtedly lead to bad press and affected the box office numbers negatively almost certainly.
- Deadpool (2016)
The film that kicked off the supposed R-rated renaissance (we’ll see how that goes), Deadpool finally got made after years of very public begging and pleading from Hollywood actor Ryan Reynolds. Low budget and straightforward in its plot, Deadpool is nevertheless a lot of fun. Reynolds shines as the titular hero, who breaks the fourth wall and exacts righteous vengeance upon nameless thugs worthy of the film’s R-rating. Shocking in its brutality and humor, it’s easy to see why Deadpool caught on with the movie-going public. The film is, believe it or not, the highest grossing X-Men film domestically. I like what the Deadpool does with its ancillary characters, especially Colossus, who is done better here than in any of his previous appearances in the film franchise, and Negasonic Teenage Warhead, who captures the “don’t give a fuck, leave me alone” attitude of the typical brooding teen. T.J. Miller is also hilarious as Deadpool’s sidekick/whatever. I like Deadpool quite a bit for what it is, even if I have to criticize certain aspects of it, like the basic plot and rote love story. But still, Reynolds is winning in the main role, his charisma easily making up for a lack of budget. I could see this film either becoming a definitive film franchise on its own or wearing out its welcome quite quickly. For now, I’m going to stay positive and hope for the best.
- X-Men (2000)
The film that kicked off the franchise is also recognized (right or wrong) as the comic book movie that started the comic book movie renaissance of the 00s. Though Blade (1998) technically should get at least some of that credit, X-Men is arguably the superior film and also a film made specifically as a blockbuster for a four-quadrant audience, whereas Blade was made for niche audiences (combining horror, action, vampires, and techno into one movie). X-Men doesn’t quite hold up as well as I’d like, particularly due to the obvious budget cuts the film faced. But those cuts caused director Bryan Singer to be creative, focusing on the character drama between comic mainstays Wolverine and Rogue and Xavier and Magneto instead of spectacle. This is something that future comic book tent-pole films would take away from X-Men, for better or worse. We might not have gotten scenes of The Avengers talking about shawarma without Singer’s film having done little dialogue notices first. Ultimately, it is fair to say that X-Men ushered in a new age, and for that it deserves its spot in history. The best work in the film is not done with computers, but with Shakespearean-trained actors Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, and with a previously unknown Australian actor named Hugh Jackman who would become one of the most recognizable movie stars in Holllywood. I have very distinct memories of seeing this film in theaters in summer 2000 and being super blown away that Singer and Fox were able to so adequately pull it off. X-Men was a huge risk at the time, as hard as that is to believe. It paid off and then some.
- X-Men: First Class (2011)
I like First Class less than most people, but I still like it quite a bit (even though I didn’t like it when I first saw it!). This is the film where the on-screen chemistry between Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy really shines. Matthew Vaughn put a lot of class, no pun intended, back into the franchise with this installment. It is tense and well directed, and anchored by Kevin Bacon’s excellent performance as the villainous Sebastian Shaw. I also like what First Class does with history, blending real events with fictitious ones so eloquently (something that Days of Future Past would take advantage of too). Jennifer Lawrence is great as Mystique here, and it’s easy to see why she would go on to become arguably the biggest female movie star on the planet. There’s a ton of great world building in this film and a lot of great ideas that again Days of Future Past would build on. I don’t much care for some of the new mutants (Havoc is ok, but Banshee and Angel are kind of terrible and Beast still looks incredibly silly). Though the film has its share of cringe-inducing comedy, it is still a really strong effort and a great return to form for the franchise. It did not do well at the box office, but that was probably a result of The Last Stand and Origins not being well-received by audiences. First Class is a really good comic book movie, however.
- The Wolverine (2013)
Perhaps the best way to do a standalone comic book movie, The Wolverine is a really impressive action movie anchored by Jackman at his very best in the role. Clearly trying super hard after the disappointing Origins, Jackman looks focused, ferocious, and intense as the titular character. The film, directed by studio director James Mangold (who consistently does solid, underappreciated work), is a great contemplation on mortality wrapped up in a comic book movie. There are few moments of cheesiness, and they are of the acceptable variety and work perfectly in the context of a comic book film (and are mostly contained until the final act, where they feel more appropriate). Supporting players are also great here, including the welcomed Hiroyuki Sanada (Lost, Sunshine). The film is perhaps a bit long at 126 minutes, but its consistent high quality cancels that out for me. The direction is great, the action sequences consistently high quality, the script decent (it pretty faithfully adapts a famous Frank Miller run of Wolverine), and the setting lovely (the film is beautifully shot). It more than makes up for the faults of Origins, and it has me super excited for the next (and final) installment of Jackman’s Wolverine films. Sadly, The Wolverine didn’t gross that much domestically, as it had to deal with the stink of Origins as well as being released in the summer of 2013, which saw great competition from action films throughout the season (Ironman 3, Star Trek Into Darkness, Man of Steel, World War Z, Elysium, Pacific Rim, etc etc). But don’t let that sway you, as critics were kind to the film and it is very good.
- X2: X-Men United (2003)
Summer of 2003 kicked off with a huge bang thanks to X2: X-Men United, which doubled down on everything that made the first film a huge success three years earlier. X2 is still highly regarded as one of the best comic book film sequels ever, and with good reason. The plot, the script, the acting, the special effects – Singer really upped his game, as did Fox Studios, increasing the budget and allowing Singer a lot of creative control. Jackman anchors the film as Wolverine, and his X-Mansion rampage is still one of the best action sequences in the entire X-Men filmography. Supporting players like Famke Janssen, Anna Paquin, and Shawn Ashmore are given plenty to do as well. But it is Alan Cumming as Nightcrawler who steals the show. From the opening reel where he attacks the white house, you know you’re in for something special. Ian McKellen’s Magneto actually seems super threatening and badass (his prison escape remains awesome). Everyone in the film is able to get their due time on screen, something that a lot of comic book films screw up. The film also continues to world build magnificently, and even though The Last Stand took some of that shine away, it was really exciting to see this on screen in 2003. Singer took a lot of influence from both Richard Donner’s Superman films as well as the original cast Star Trek films (particularly Wrath of Khan) and this shows on screen as well. Comic book movies just don’t get as good as X2: X-Men United very often. Though it’s a bit dated by 2016 standards, I still really like this film.
- X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
One of my favorite blockbuster films of all time, Days of Future Past just does so much right as a comic book movie. Like X2, DoFP doesn’t waste its characters; everyone gets a turn at the helm, and it shows. McAvoy and Fassbender again shine as Xavier and Magneto, Jackman’s performance anchors the film and drives the plot, and new characters like Quicksilver (Evan Peters) are handled very well. Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique particularly shines. She is focused and on point throughout the film, serving as both protagonist and antagonist eloquently. The best thing about the film, however, is how it balances old and new and makes great use of two very distinct settings. The future stuff is excellent, from the design of the Sentinels to the display of on-screen powers. Blink’s teleport is super cool to see on screen, like a live-action movie version of the videogame Portal. Iceman has never looked better, either. In fact, all the minor characters are handled pretty well. But it is Jackman, Stewart, and McKellen who once again lend gravitas to these scenes. Once Jackman is sent back in time, the film becomes a smaller scale adventure to the tune of the earlier X-Men films, and this works extremely well. Singer’s return to the franchise is welcome and heralded, and one of the best things he does is handle the multiple generations of heroes, give everyone their due credit, and attempt to bring the continuity of the series back to something resembling coherence. X-Men: Days of Future Past is just such a good summer blockbuster, and my pick for the best X-Men film thus far.
So, there you have it. Thoughts? Concerns? How would you rank the X-Men films?
May 29, 2016Posted by on
Just yesterday I caught a matinee showing of Bryan Singer’s latest entry into the X-Men film franchise, subtitled Apocalypse. I had been looking forward to this film for quite some time, especially considering the momentum the franchise built up after the excellent Days of Future Past, released almost two years ago to the date. Unfortunately, Apocalypse is quite possibly the worst film in the franchise in ten years, and a complete and utter letdown following Days of Future Past, The Wolverine, and Deadpool, each of which was unique and entertaining in its own way. In contrast to those films, X-Men: Apocalypse is a gigantic slog and a total mess of a film. It’s a letdown on such a large scale, that I wouldn’t be surprised if Fox did something drastic with future installments.
The biggest problems with the film lie with its script, setting, and main villain, the titular Apocalypse. The scripted, by series vet Simon Kinberg, fails to build off the momentum of the previous installment. The film is set in the 1980s, but except for a few musical cues and an impromptu trip the mall, you’d never know it. This is a huge missed opportunity, because Days of Future Past got a lot of mileage out of its futuristic as well as its 1970s settings. Additionally, the film never really builds up a sense of the incoming apocalypse either, mostly because the titular villain kinda sucks. Oscar Isaac is an incredibly talented and charming actor, but he exudes absolutely zero personality as the main villain. It’s almost impossible to believe this guy ever commanded a doomsday cult in the first place, that’s how milquetoast he is.
Other than a lack of charisma, Apocalypse the character suffers from other issues as well. He’s weirdly underwritten, especially where it concerns his powers. His mutant powers are never fully explained. I don’t require a lengthy explanation for everything that happens in a movie, but nevertheless some explanation for Apocalypse’s powers would have been nice. It just seems like at moments he can do anything he wants, and at other moments he can’t. Why, for example, is he able to kill a factory full of workers without breaking a sweat, but he can’t kill Quicksilver, Mystique, and Beast in the same manner? He also seems contradictory as a character. He denounces technology, but then uses it to his own purposes. The script can’t seem to figure out what to do with him, and Isaac performance suffers as a result.
The side villains aren’t really much better than Apocalypse himself. Angel, who looks like he might as well be a member of 80s hair metal band the Scorions, has about five lines, most of them in German. Psylocke has no personality to speak of, and probably says about three things throughout the movie. Storm looks great on-screen, but again isn’t give much time to develop her personality that much. She probably comes off looking the best of the three. The fourth horseman, Magneto, joins after the death of his wife and daughter, even though he doesn’t seem to care that much about family he already abandoned back in the US. And as a side note, Magneto has kind of become the “Wolverine” of the later X-Men films. Singer could stand to use the character less.
I have various other issues with this film as well. Speaking of Wolverine, for example, he makes possibly the silliest cameo in the history of cinema. This is something like the third time we’ve seen his origin on screen – and people like to complain about Spiderman and Batman’s origins in movies… I also take issue with the length of this film, which runs at a butt-numbing 144 minutes but still seems undercooked. The timeline of the film also seems to not make any sense at all. Despite taking place 10 years after the events of Days of Future Past, no one looks like they’ve aged at all. According to the timeline of the new films, Charles and Erik should be at least 50 years old each, but they still look about 35. It all makes very little sense. The X-Men film timeline has always been wonky, but Days of Future Past was supposed to make this stuff clearer, not more confusing.
It’s hard to overstate what a disappointing mess X-Men: Apocalypse is. I didn’t even mention how Jennifer Lawrence and James McAvoy seem to be completely phoning in their performances. Lawrence, who might be the biggest female movie star on the planet, clearly considers herself above this, and why not? This film is awful. McAvoy is just plain too cool for school here and I again can’t blame him. I also didn’t mention Sophie Turner and Tye Sheridan as Jean Grey and Scott Summers, respectively. I didn’t mention them for a reason. I can’t believe just how badly Singer and crew screwed up with this film, particularly considering just how well audiences responded to Deadpool and how nicely the next Wolverine stand-alone film was shaping up. But X-Men: Apocalypse is an utter piece of crap that honestly left me thinking that X-Men: The Last Stand might be the superior “third” film between the two of them.
May 27, 2016Posted by on
I’m not a huge fan of the National Lampoon’s Vacation series of movies, but I can say that I like them and I’ve seen them all (even the weirdo European Vacation and the awful Vegas Vacation). The initial film in the series is regarded as a comedy classic, and I think that’s just fine; it’s pretty funny and Chevy Chase is fantastic as the Griswold patriarch. The script (from 80s vet John Hughes, based loosely on his own family experiences) is funny and memorable as well. Christmas Vacation is a great seasonal comedy movie that I try to watch every year. It’s infinitely quotable and off the wall without being entirely unrealistic (at least until the fourth reel). I like them all just fine, sure, why not?
But do I like them well enough to be interested in a series reboot? Nah, not really. I probably never would have even seen 2015’s Vacation reboot (starring Ed Helms as Rusty Griswold, previously played, among other actors, by The Big Bang Theory’s Johnny Galecki) at all if not for the HBO Go service. Having recently renewed HBO Go in order to watch Game of Thrones (among other shows and films as well), I happened to notice a few recent films available on demand, and decided to check out Vacation on almost a total whim. I had only heard bad things, and upon seeing it I now understand why. It is not a particularly good film. In fact, it’s downright unpleasant.
Here’s the (extremely thin) premise: Ed Helms’ Rusty notices his family is not getting along lately. His kids are fighting a lot and his wife seems bored and uninterested in him romantically. So instead of jet-setting off to Paris with his wife to rekindle their romance like she wants, he decides to drive the family across the country to Wally World, the Six Flags-like adventure theme park the Griswold family visited in the first film in the series. Helms’ Rusty wants to recapture the magic he felt upon first visiting Wally World as a child come hell or high water. So the family rents a van (a constant source of unfunny ridicule) and heads out for adventures, making various stops along the way just as the Griswold family did in the original film.
Vacation has copious amounts of issues, first and foremost with its script. Penned by Freaks and Geeks alum John Francis Daley (who also wrote the equally atrocious Burt Wonderstone and co-directed this film with Jonathan Goldstein), the film simultaneously relies on cheap family nostalgia and gross-out gags. The tone is wild and varying throughout. We’re meant to both laugh at Helm’s Rusty Griswold and also sympathize with or pity him, but the script never seems to have his back, nor does it give us a reason to care about his journey. There’s no reason whatsoever to cheer for this schlemiel of a man. The entire premise of the film is predicated on his selfishness, putting his needs before those of the family that is crying out for their patriarch. These people need Rusty Griswold, but he’s only interested in recapturing what he experienced as a child 30 years ago.
The rest of the Griswold family is as equally unpleasant as Rusty. Christina Applegate plays Rusty’s disaffected wife who is equal parts unpleasant and nasty. I truly expected her on multiple occasions to just up and divorce Rusty and abandon the family on the spot, and I can’t say I would have blamed her. The two Griswold children are also unpleasant, with the older one giving off serious creeper vibes and the younger one an obnoxious pre-teen desperately in need of a toning-down by the horrible script. Leslie Mann, perhaps the most annoying actress in the history of American comedy, makes a cameo as Rusty’s sister Audrey, and hams it up with an embarrassing Chris Hemsworth, portraying an American cowboy without an ounce of authenticity. By the time Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo show up for their requisite cameos, it’s so late in the film I could barely muster the energy to give a shit.
It’s hard to overstate just how awful this film is. It’s somehow derivative of films that are also awful, like We’re the Millers or the 2006 Robin Williams vehicle (no pun intended) RV, but I’d rather watch We’re the Millers and RV a hundred times in a row one after the other than endure another five minutes of Daley’s awful new Vacation film. If you happen to like nasty and vile characters who spend great lengths of time bickering back and forth, hitting each other, and covered in human shit (sometimes all three at once!), perhaps this is the film for you. If you want to see a man covered in cow entrails while another cow cannibalizes said entrails, again check out this film. If you’re interested in quality, entertaining products that aren’t horrible and cheap, go ahead and skip this one. You’ll probably be better off.