Is THE OTHER GUYS Worth Cashmoney?

10 08 2010

Adam McKay’s THE OTHER GUYS is as funny as STEP BROTHERS, his last film with key collaborator Will Ferrell, and that’s a real compliment. Their newest is another loose, confident comedy of male posturing – and it even takes a stab at social relevance, though in a very silly way.

Ferrell plays Allen Gamble, an NYPD paper pusher who’s partnered with hothead detective Terry Hoitz, a game Mark Wahlberg. If this were any sort of straight cop film, or even a more standard cop comedy, Gamble would be the tightly-wound straight man – Murtaugh to Wahlberg’s twitchy Riggs. But THE OTHER GUYS’ Hoitz and Gamble are equally loopy. So, this isn’t a real satire of cop movies, as much as it is a bunch of banter held together under the canopy of a cop movie just as much as it needs to be, in order to keep focus on the laughs. And if you want more from a comedy than laughter, really, you must be European. Americans wanna laugh, and we want it now. Give us it.

We outgrossed INCEPTION?

STEP BROTHERS made it far on the idea that Ferrell and his co-star John C. Reilly were children, played more-or-less straight. The Ferrell/Wahlberg dynamic relies similarly on overreaction, and Mr. Mark is, in his way, as perfect a Ferrell foil as Reilly. But unlike Reilly, a better actor with a lot more range, Mr. Mark simply gets funnier the angrier he gets. That’s OK, too.

While director McKay gives this film the same basic ‘Machismo Olympics’ setup as he did his last one, his sights are, apparently, higher now. Specifically, he’s pissed off at Bernie Madoff… Or something. Hey, we all are. But when it comes to infusing this yukfest with anti-corporate message, McKay’s reach exceeds his grasp. It’s good that for the most part, the film’s embezzler villains (Steve Coogan, Anne Heche, Ray Stevenson) don’t distract from the dense riffing that comprises THE OTHER GUYS’ first great hour. But when the maybe-sorta-muckracking finale arrives, it feels half-baked, if not schizophrenic. Depressing statistics about the Wall Street bailout accompany the end credits. Way to kill my buzz, old man! What movie did you think you were making?

McKay’s not a great director, he can’t keep all the plates spinning, and his movies are consistently unpolished. More than anything, he’s a writer and comic himself, one who understands how to assemble comic performances – and his cast here serves him well with raw material. Will Ferrell in particular seems to be in his stride as half of the GUYS. After nearly a whole half-decade of inferior product, Ferrell’s recent output has been revitalized. (YOU’RE WELCOME AMERICA, his Broadway show/HBO special is a must-see, as is his work on that network’s EASTBOUND AND DOWN.)

Ferrell’s maturing relationship with his most famous character, the ‘chest-beating self-convinced moron,’ is, shockingly, getting funnier. He marshals his affect here, and loses none of the effect. Who knows if it’ll last, but McKay & Ferrell’s groove is beginning to feel reminiscent of Blake Edwards & Peter Sellers’, in their prime, almost fifty years ago. (Sorry if that makes you feel old, dad.) And THE OTHER GUYS is worth comparing the Edwards/Sellers PINK PANTHER caper comedies, even if it never hits the heights of that series. Those weren’t perfect films either, but they were hilarious. So’s this.

THE OTHER GUYS

Cinemark Theaters, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S.A.

Sunday, August 8, 8:50pm showing (CST)

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Put SALT In Your Eyes.

7 08 2010

As SALT ended, I felt something I don’t think I ever had before in a movie theater. The credits rolled. “That was it?” I asked out loud – not upset, or let down – I just thought the film was only about halfway through. I looked at my watch: just under two hours had passed. “WHAT?” I’m not ashamed to admit, friends, I was confused. You should have been there, you would have thought I looked like an idiot.

I smiled through SALT, but I didn’t really like it until the moment it stopped. It’s rare for a movie of this genre to end so abruptly, without all the i’s crossed and t’s dotted and ‘b’ plots tied up. And the sparse SALT delivers a jolt. Maybe, now that you’ve read this, that jolt has been spoiled for you. But I have a feeling you’ll enjoy this movie anyway.

Angelina Jolie, in mid-MacGyver

Angelina Jolie plays Evelyn Salt, a CIA agent leading a double – or is it quadruple? – life. One evening, interrogating a Russian defector, she’s told that there is a Russian mole in her department. The mole’s name: Evelyn Salt. Awwwkwaaard. And, we’re off to the races! That about covers it. But what works about SALT, apart from its confident stride, and its Angelina (in a part Tom Cruise was originally meant to play, no joke,) is that it frequently upends expectations, without any sign of self-satisfaction. Director Phillip Noyce brings to SALT the same unostentatious craft he’s displayed in his best efforts (THE QUIET AMERICAN, PATRIOT GAMES) and keeps foot firmly on pedal from start to finish. Like Martin Campbell, another director from downunder of the same generation and genre, Noyce is a talent whose films’ biggest defining characteristic is, simply, their consistent quality. They’re (mostly) solid films, without being Phillip Noyce Films. The same can’t be said for the man whose behemoth is currently dominating SALT, Chris Nolan. INCEPTION has received the velvet glove treatment from many eager to hail its writer-director as visionary, while ignoring the flaws of his latest as a piece of entertainment foremost.

Is SALT better than INCEPTION? Eh, probably not, in the scheme of things. But it is a whole lot more efficient, and forty-five minutes shorter. Which, when I thought about it on my way out of the theater, was probably why I found the end of the film so arresting. When it comes to the modern blockbuster, bloat is the norm. These days, it’s downright uncommon to see one that runs under two hours – if not much, much more than two hours. SALT is nothing new, it’s basically a repackaged, full-lipped BOURNE franchise looking to get its first chapter out of the way. The cliffhanger isn’t reinvented here – but it is refreshing to see a thriller that makes with the thrills,  and then has the good taste just to cut to black.

SALT

Los Feliz 3 Cinemas, Los Angeles

Tuesday, August 3, 9:45pm showing





GET LOW. Or don’t. It’s totally your call.

7 08 2010

A precious spice, from around Chicago.

Let’s agree: Bill Murray is the funniest man who has ever lived. In all likelihood, really, he is no mere mortal at all, but a God. (A god. Not the god.) Bill Murray is the Light, the Way, the Truth, the Shiznit. It’s not that any given Bill Murray movie is ever good, or bad, in my estimation.  Whatever films he graces with his Holy presence, he brightens instantly – at least for the moment he’s in them. (See: WILD THINGS, or ZOMBIELAND… but only the Bill Murray parts.) When Murray’s the lead in a mediocre film, I don’t notice it’s mediocre. I literally can’t tell. “Bill goggles,” if you will… Is LARGER THAN LIFE bad? I don’t know, you tell me. And THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO LITTLE. Not four stars? No, you’re wrong, it’s four stars because Bill Murray’s in it.

So it’s hard for me, truthfully, to judge Aaron Schneider’s new GET LOW. It is a movie, and Bill Murray is in it. So, you see it. And you give it four stars. That’s what you do. Also, Robert Duvall’s in it and Sissy Spacek, and they’re all well and good, thanks, but they just aren’t Bill Murray. Duvall’s character, Felix Bush, is a crotchety old hermit who hires funeral home director Frank Quinn (Bill fucking Murray) to throw him a funeral party where he can get a few things off his hermity chest – and in the process he creates something of a frenzy in his small rural town.

Somebody shave that vagabond!

It’s an interesting enough setup, and yes, the cast and production are classy, but the film’s minor at its core: a slow build to a climactic revelation that has no bearing, finally, on Bill Murray. His Frank Quinn, who gets the hermit’s share of the great lines in GET LOW – and there are a few – is given almost nothing to do after helping to arrange Duvall’s funeral party. He stands, and watches, with the rest of the cast. And unfortunately, ‘party’ really becomes a misnomer, after the promising setup. Ultimately, there’s very little partying – not a Spuds MacKenzie in sight – just awkward silence and a sad life story un-spooled. It’s all very somber, without being particularly gripping.

That the movie has no real use for Murray after a certain point is an unforgivable sin – its only real sin – but one that had me standing up in the theater and shouting “Blasphemers! BLASPHEEEMERRRS ALLL!!!” at the top of my lungs as soon as the lights came up. (My apologies, again, to the good people at AMC Century City.) It’s a foregone conclusion that Bill Murray is the best thing about GET LOW. What’s disappointing is, you really feel it.