(On TV, March 2017) Body-swapping comedies are a weird enough subgenre, but gender-swapping comedies featuring Rob Schneider are all the way out there between “gross” and “really?” Still, there are a few surprises in this fifteen-year-old film—most notably seeing Rachel MacAdams (two years before her Mean Girls/Notebook breakthrough) slumming it up in the lead role as a popular high school girl who unwillingly swaps bodies with an older male petty criminal. McAdams is good, and so is Anna Faris in a supporting role … even though the rest of the film is almost unbearably dumb. I say almost because, for all of its sins, The Hot Chick can’t help but explore a bit of the gender-bending queerness (in the best sense of the word) that its premise would suggest. Those fleeting moments almost make The Hot Chick interesting on its own terms. Still, much of the movie clearly shows its Happy Madison lineage—at the time, Schneider was perhaps at the height of his fame as a comedian, and he didn’t get there by being clever or refined. Unbearable at times, almost interesting at others, The Hot Chick is perhaps best seen today as an early film for people who then did better … or faded away like Schneider.
(On DVD, October 2016) Slightly raunchier than the usual romantic comedy, What’s Your Number? works best as a showcase for the comic charm of Anna Faris and Chris Evans rather than anything worth pondering too deeply. Once again straddling the conflicted attitudes toward sex in mainstream American comedy, the titular number refers to the total number of sexual partners for any given person. Our protagonist tortures herself in implausible plot twists in an effort not to shamefully exceed a total of twenty—meanwhile, the male romantic lead is never questioned for whatever exponentially higher number he has. But delving under the hood of romantic comedies never works in their favour, so the point here is rather to see Faris and Evans develop an easy chemistry, waiting for the lies to catch up to the protagonists and seeing the amusing episodes in which the lead character reconnects (or doesn’t) with her ex-boyfriends. It ends pretty much as expected fifteen minutes in, which isn’t necessarily a compliment (even for someone with a high tolerance for romantic-comedy conventions) given the unbelievable contortions the third act has to undergo in order to prevent it from happening too quickly. The rest of What’s Your Number? is mildly amusing if you’re in the mood for such things. And if that sounds like faint praise, well…
(On DVD, October 2016) As a film, The House Bunny may work best as a showcase for Anna Faris’s comedic charm than anything else. Taking on campus sorority comedy via a disgraced playboy bunny forced to find a way for herself, this is a film that doesn’t aim too high and seems content with executing its own goals modestly. As it confronts beauty with authenticity, the script laboriously moves through synthesis, antithesis and synthesis is a measured fashion, most plot points perceptible long in advance. Despite the all-inclusive ending, there’s still something uncomfortable in the film’s first half, as playboy-centric beauty seems to be promoted as the ultimate goal. Fortunately, Faris is likable enough as the ditzy heroine to keep the film enjoyable no matter how far away it gets into its short-lived promotion of superficiality. The characters making up the underdog sorority rescued by the protagonist are fun (with particular props to Emma Stone in a pre-stardom role and Dana Goodman for boldly throwing herself in a hilarious character). The moral lessons of the film are deeply muddled (one suspects that giving a supporting role to Hugh Hefner himself is enough to blur whatever good intentions The House Bunny may have about an empowerment message) but the various laughs that the film gets, often through sheer mugging, are good enough to forgive many other transgressions. The House Bunny may be confused, but it is good-natured and, like its animal namesake, is cuddly enough to like despite its flaws.
(Video on Demand, August 2016) Noted comedy duo Key & Peele (Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele) make their big-screen debut in Keanu, an action comedy revolving around a cute kitten sought by two criminal groups and our pair of nebbish protagonists. Defying stereotypes, Key & Peele take on personas closely associated with white actors (a stoner, a square family man) and sends them in the middle of a gang war. Blending comedy with suspense requires a deft touch, and one of Keanu’s most distinctive traits is that it’s shot like a thriller (with shadows, depth-of-field, slow-motion action sequences) by director Peter Atencio despite a succession of visual gags and rapid-fire dialogue. The mix is not perfect: There are times, such as the end of the Anna Faris scene, where the film errs too much in one direction. But while the joke density is on the low side, Keanu delivers what it intended, and the result is a fair bit of entertainment. The cute kitten, obviously helps make everything better and funnier.
(Netflix Streaming, September 2015) I wasn’t expecting much from this romantic comedy, but got a little bit more than I thought. Much of the film’s laughs come straight from Ryan Reynolds, who plays a bit of a double role here as an awkward overweight teenager and then a womanizing music executive. Stuck in his hometown while caring for a deliriously neurotic pop-star singer, Just Friends blends friend-zone dynamics with holiday scenery for a going-home story that sparkles once in a while. Reynolds has impeccable comic timing (although the film loves him just a bit too much in gawky overweight makeup), and Anna Faris also has decent material to play with as the unstable diva. (Meanwhile, Amy Smart is dull as the romantic lead… but she doesn’t have much to do.) There’s something curiously sentimental in how the protagonist rediscovers his estranged hometown, picking up past relationships along the way. Just Friends strings along its comic set-pieces, hitting the usual rom-com expectations along the way, but falters with its perfunctory ending, which basically mouths the words we’d been waiting for. Still, this is not a film to see for the plot – it’s best appreciated as a collection of comic moments, set-pieces and character traits… and if you squint slightly, you’ll recognize that the movie was shot in a real Canadian winter and mentally adjust the script accordingly.
(On Cable TV, May 2014) In theory, science-fiction doesn’t always require a big budget: you can set a pretty good science-fiction story in a mundane present-day location, just by evoking the impossible. Frequently Asked Questions about Time Travel takes up the gauntlet of delivering a low-budget, high-concept SF comedy by trapping its characters in a localized time-loop centered on their neighborhood pub. Add a sympathetic lead character (played with modest charm by Chris O’Dowd), a fetching spatiotemporal agent (Anna Faris, in a role that asks for interesting scene transitions), impending apocalypse, self-aware genre commentary from a screenwriter who’s obviously up to his classic SF references and the film becomes a bit of a hidden gem. Not everything works: the opening takes a bit of time to rev up, some of the hidden temporal surprises can be seen coming well in advance and the means at the film’s disposal aren’t quite up to the task of portraying the latter-movie revelations. Still, for an obviously limited budget, Frequently Asked Questions about Time Travel has a welcome charm to it, and does good things with what it has at its disposal. Don’t expect a classic, but do expect a decent time.
(In theaters, April 2006) Roughly similar in tone to the previous Scary Movie 3, this one is a comedy grab-bag that chiefly goes after (in decreasing order of importance) War Of The Worlds, The Grudge and The Village, with other assorted pokes and tweaks at other films (Saw, Million Dollar Baby and Brokeback Mountain) and pop-culture icons. Scary Movie 4‘s biggest problem is that it’s quite happy to pastiche other films, but seldom goes for the jugular: Movie critics had funnier jabs at War Of The Worlds during the summer of 2005 than the parody ever manages to put together. (The constantly-screaming little girl shtick isn’t even mocked.) Scary Movie 4, alas, is almost completely bloodless in its parodies: it recreates the original with some goofiness but seldom more. (This being said, the production values are often impressive, especially considering the short shooting schedule) Even the rare political gags only make us wish for much more. It’s no surprise, then, if some of the film’s cleverest moments stand completely apart from previous films. As for the actors, well Anna Faris is still cute in an increasingly irritating clueless shtick, while Craig Bierko does well with the thankless task of parodying Tom Cruise. Still, it’s Regina Hall who steals the show as the insatiable Brenda: her arrival in the movie kicks it up another notch (plus, doesn’t she look unbelievably cute in founder’s-era clothing?) Yes, Scary Movie 4 will make you laugh. Dumb, cheap, easy laughs but still; consider it your reward for slogging through endless mainstream horror films.
(On DVD, October 2002) The first film was a genuinely amusing satire marred by gratuitous gross-out gags. This one is a poor attempt at a comedy marred by even more gratuitous gross-out gags. It’s not that you’re not grinning (to be fair, the sequences referring to The Exorcist, Mission: Impossible 2 and Charlie’s Angels are worth a discount rental alone if you’re a fan of the original films), it’s that you feel quite guilty for doing so. And whereas the prequel’s gross-out gags had some amusing value, the ones in here are simply mystifying: did someone truly believe, at any moment during the production, that these would be funny? Particularly annoying is Chris Elliot’s character, whose antics are simply perplexing. The rest of the cast is so-so, with Anna Faris doing her best to be as bland as possible and Tim Curry shamelessly collecting a pay-check. (James Woods, however, is as good as usual in his quasi-cameo.) Big fans of satiric comedies might enjoy (“Let’s fight Mad Cow style! Moo! Mutherf…”), but I’d recommend Shriek If You Know What I Did Last Friday The 13th… well before this one. The DVD contains some forty-odd minutes of deleted and alternate scenes, and it’s telling that they are roughly of the same quality than the rest of the film.