(On Cable TV, June 2018) I’ve been gorging on classic movies lately, so it’s even more of a shock than usual to take in one of the dumbest and most repulsive Adam Sandler movies yet. That’s My Boy is unusual in the Sandler oeuvre in that it’s clearly R-rated (Sandler is, temperamentally and intellectually, more closely aligned with the PG-13 rating) and it really doesn’t waste any time in establishing that fact: Once a film starts with statutory rape played for laughs, you have to wonder if it has anywhere lower to go. Alas, it does: incest, granny-lusting and priest-punching are only some of the not-so-delightful surprises that the film still has in store. Most of it plays limply despite the film’s incessant bombardment of curse words and shock images: Like most teenagers discovering the R-rating, Sandler seems convinced that everything is funnier with four-letter words and if he’s not entirely wrong (I did catch myself laughing once or twice) he does overdo it. It’s a mixed blessing to see gifted actors such as Susan Sarandon, James Caan and arguably Andy Samberg being dragged into the mess—although Ciara is cute as a peripheral love interest who shows up in two scenes. Still, much of the film is bottom-grade raunchy comedy, too crude to be interesting and too trite to be surprising. I usually see those films in order to know what I’m talking about when I’m dismissing comedians such as Sandler, but at the moment, That’s My Boy is having an unexpected impact: Making me like the classic Hays Code comedies I’m watching even more.
(On Cable TV, July 2017) After the relatively successful 7 Days in Hell, HBO is back with Tour de Pharmacy, another 45-minute comedy special tackling a pseudo-historical sports event—in this case, the 1982 Tour de France, in which so many athletes were disqualified for doping that only five participants remained … and special participants they were. A mixture of talking heads reflecting upon the event and low-budget mockumentary footage, Tour de Pharmacy is in line with the inspired lunacy of 7 Days in Hell: the humour is often absurd, taking off in tangents whenever it feels like it. A bunch of good comedians help sell the results, from Jeff Goldblum to John Cena to Andy Samberg (who also produced and whose signature on the result is obvious) to Will Forte to Orlando Bloom to Maya Rudolph and many, many others. As you’d expect from a modern R-rated comedy, there is a lot of full-frontal male nudity. More daringly, the film does have a string of gags revolving around Lance Armstrong as an “anonymous” source who ends up blatantly revealed early on. It all works relatively well, but largely because the film doesn’t overstay its welcome—at barely 41 minutes, it delivers the jokes and concludes without too much slack. For HBO subscribers, it’s a small tasty summer treat.
(On Cable TV, February 2017) Not everyone likes the kind of humour that comedy group The Lonely Island prefers, and movies like Hot Rod or Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (eleven years apart) clearly show it. The best feature of Popstar is, indeed, that it never stops never stopping: it throws so many jokes on-screen than some of them are bound to stick. Celebrity cameos help (including Ed Sheehan, in a third appearance in my single evening of viewing in-between this, pre-Grammy TV shows and A Lego Brickumentary), especially when they’re as ludicrous as telling Justin Timberlake to stop singing, having Seal maimed by wolves or Michael Bolton play an integral part of the conclusion. Andy Samberg makes for a rather good pop-icon hero, but the star here is the script and its willingness to go after today’s music scene in its full insanity. Some moments could be factual in a year from now, but it doesn’t make them any less funny. Some material doesn’t work, or goes on for far longer than necessary. Sometimes, it’s hard to say whether more or less restraints would have been better: The TMZ parody, for instance, is both overacted yet at its best at its most overdone moments. As I said: Humor is subjective, and Popstar’s aggressively absurd style is going to be more polarizing than most. I found it more controlled than Hot Rod, but that may be due to its grandiose subject matter more than anything else. Those with a good understanding of today’s music scene will get more out of Popstar than others, but there are laughs for everyone.
(On Cable TV, November 2016) Humour is subjective, and it doesn’t take much more than a movie attuned to a different kind of comedy to remind us of that. So it is that Hot Rod aims for a mixture of goofy surrealism, eighties-movies homage, Napoleon Dynamite-esque Midwest Pathetic Kitsch and underdog comedy played straight. It’s an exceptionally ironic film, and it’s not surprising if it doesn’t land most of its punches—does it even care if it doesn’t? On the other hand, it does own up to its kind of comedy, and doesn’t seem particularly apologetic if much of the audience doesn’t react well. Andy Samberg stars and contributes to the script along with his Lonely Island co-stars and the result is definitely theirs. Surprisingly enough, this film about an amateur stuntman does contain a surprising number of awe-inspiring stunts—dangerous pratfalls and failed attempts performed on camera in a way that suggests real danger and pain. White Hot Rod, as a whole, isn’t all that good or enjoyable, it does have a go-for-broke distinctiveness that almost makes it respectable. It may not be for everyone, but it clearly knows what it wants to be. For there to cult status is something that will belong to others to decide—a decade later, Hot Rod still gets mentioned once in a while, although it remains unclear whether it has picked up much of a following beyond its initial audience.
(On Cable TV, September 2015) At 45 minutes, this HBO sports mockumentary barely qualifies as a feature film, but to its credit, it doesn’t try to outstay its welcome. The joke seems simple enough: In 2000, two tennis players end up playing a seven-day match at Wimbledon. But from a Very Serious introduction featuring a mixture of comedians and real-life sport personalities giving mock interviews (and being inspired by the real-life 2010 three-day Isner-Mahut Wimbledon match), 7 Days in Hell soon turns sillier and sillier, leaving reality far behind as it portrays fantasy portraits of Sweden, raunchy streakers, an aggressive Queen Elizabeth II and more deadly violence than you’d expect in tennis matches. It’s not always even nor focused (there’s a curious diversion about Swedish courtroom cartoons that’s not unfunny, but seems completely out of place) but it’s decently amusing, even as it turns darker toward the end. Andy Samberg is pretty good as a wild-man of tennis, while Kit Harrington has a remarkable turn as his dim-witted opponent. Sports personalities such as Serena Williams and Jim Lampley (this is an HBO production after all) help blur the line between reality and mockumentary, but both John McEnroe and David Copperfield get a few good laughs on their own. The absurdity of the humor is only topped by its crudeness, but it works and at 45 minutes 7 Days in Hell feels like something that will get a few more re-plays than longer traditional films. Best of all; you don’t need to know much about tennis to enjoy it.