(On Cable TV, October 2017) It takes a long time for Fist Fight to even become likable. Part of it has to do with it ludicrous set-up, in which two stressed-out high school teachers in a bad school end up planning to fight each other after the last day of classes. In order to get there, you have to posit a school (and not even a particularly downtrodden school) in which both students and teachers seem to exist in a hellish post-apocalyptic bacchanalia. If anyone wondering when pedophilia would become a major comic point in a Hollywood comedy, well, wait no longer. (Also; if you were waiting for Christina Hendricks to flip that scene from Lost River and tell someone “You need a knife… You need to cut him from his forehead all the way down to his chin,” then Fist Fight is there for you.) Then there’s Charlie Day, whose comic persona is irritating at the best of times—putting him up against a stoic Ice Cube as the antagonist is asking for divided loyalties in which we wish for the so-called protagonist to be beaten down hard. It takes a long while, using the most basic emotional drivers, for us to actually start caring about the so-called hero. While Fist Fight does manage to compress its plot in a scant few hours, its innate meanness can be hard to take at times. Fortunately, a bunch of those problems resolve themselves by the time the third act comes by and the two teachers eventually do (after a few false starts and fake-outs) starting hitting each other. While the result isn’t high art, it may be enough to make you forgive the hard slog of the film’s first hour. Ice Cube, as usual, glides through the chaos with an intact persona. Jillian Bell makes the most of a reprehensible character, which is saying much considering that most of the characters are irremediable. Otherwise, there isn’t much here to remember. R-rated comedies tend to blur together these days and Fist Fight doesn’t escape the trend.
(Video on Demand, October 2013) For many people of the geeky disposition, Pacific Rim reads like a dream project: Fan-favourite writer/director Guillermo del Toro, perhaps one of the most imaginative filmmakers around, taking on both the entire tradition of Japanese kaiju films, and blending it with the mecha subgenre… with a decent budget for once. What’s not to like? And, for much of its duration, Pacific Rim does deliver on its premise. It’s a big blockbuster spectacular, made by someone who loves the genre(s), knows how to make a crowd-pleasing film and approaches the premise with a welcome blend of optimism and determination. The first ten minutes, if it wasn’t for the flat narration, are almost a model for delivering a ton of exposition without undue strain. Pacific Rim requires a significant suspension of disbelief to set up its premise (extra-dimensional monsters are one thing, but giant robots controlled by two mentally-linked people are a tougher sell when nuclear-tipped cruise missiles seem so much more appropriate) but the way it sells a fully-realized world affected by years of kaiju incursion is a good way to ease in even the most nitpicky viewers. Where the film loses points, curiously enough, is in its depiction of monsters-versus-robots combat: For all of ILM’s eye-popping work in setting massive fights in complex environments, it’s not hard to look at the Hong Kong sequence and wish for longer, wider shots and the opportunity to fully take in a sequence rather than the visual confusion made by the neon lights, rain and quick cuts. (This may be an unavoidable issue when hundred of special effects technicians slave for months on the same sequence: the temptation to add more, more, more visual detail may be irresistible, but it works at the viewers’ disfavour when it results in an overdesigned sequence.) In terms of sheer spectacle, the film also peaks at the three-quarter mark. Even though nominal star Charlie Hunnam couldn’t be blander (about a dozen other actors could have done the same, or better), del Toro gets good performances out of his other actors, with a bit of special praise going to Rinko Kikuchi as the emotional center of the film, Charlie Day in a surprisingly compelling comic performance and Ron Perlman for being, well, Ron Perlman. Pacific Rim is a good film, albeit one that I wish could have been great. Del Toro has done terrific work here, but a little bit more oomph could have carried this even further.
(In theaters, July 2011) Two and a half years after a catastrophic global meltdown, movies are starting to reflect the soul-deadened guilt of those who kept their jobs. Playing heavily on wish-fulfillment, Horrible Bosses dares to ask how much better life would be if people could just get rid of their awful supervisors in the most definitive way possible. It takes strong protagonists to keep our sympathy in such circumstances, and Horrible Bosses get two out of three in that matter: Jason Bateman continues his streak of playing endearing everymen, while Jason Sudeikis somehow manages to make us look past his character’s horn-dog issues. As the remaining member of the trio of oppressed worker looking to dispatch their bosses, however, Charlie Day is almost more annoying than useful, and the tic of reverting to a high-pitched whine whenever things go wrong is annoying the moment it happens a second time. Then there’s the other half of the deal: the bosses. Fortunately, that’s where Horrible Bosses wins a perfect score: Kevin Spacey is deliciously slimy as the kind of arrogant sociopath that climbs up the corporate ladder; Colin Farrell is unrecognizable as a loser working to extract as much loot out of the family company before it goes bankrupt; whereas Jennifer Aniston is all sex-appeal with bangs, toned body and racoon eyes as a crazed harasser. They deserve their fate; the protagonists have suffered enough; and the film can stand on its own. It does get better as it develops, mostly due to some clever writing, sympathetic performances (including Jamie Foxx as a criminal consultant), a few twists in which real world problems become comic plot points, and a conclusion that neatly wraps things up. While Horrible Bosses won’t stick around in popular culture, it’s a decent example of the kind of film it wants to be: It’s amoral without being offensive, edgy without grossing-out and polished to an extent that it leaves little if any unpleasant aftertaste. Good enough for entertainment; consecration isn’t an essential prerequisite with a good-time comedy like this.