(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.
(In French, On TV, July 2016) Stephen King’s Misery is a memorable novel (even and especially now, touching upon the themes of fannish entitlement that have grown so tediously familiar latterly), and its movie adaptation (partially thanks to screenwriter William Goldman) manages to be as good, in its own way, as the original book. James Caan ably plays a best-selling author who, thanks to an accident, comes to rest in an isolated farmhouse under the supervision of his self-professed “number one fan” (a terrifying Kathy Bates in a career-best performance) who turns out to be completely crazy in dangerous ways. What follows is so slickly done as to transform King’s writer-centric thriller into a horrifying experience for everyone. Director Rob Reiner is able to leave his comedic background behind in order to deliver a slick thrill ride, gradually closing off the protagonist’s options even as it becomes clear that he’s up against a formidable opponent. While the film does soften a few of the book’s most disturbing or gory moments, it does not lack for its own unbearable scenes. A solid, competent thriller, Misery easily ranks near the top of King’s numerous adaptations, and remains just as good today as it was a quarter of a century ago.
(On DVD, April 2010) Some worthwhile films fall through the cracks, and this is one of them: A slick mixture of laughs and thrills set against the turn-of-the-century internet porn rush, Middle Men features slick editing, a snappy soundtrack, plenty of nudity, some good screenwriting, a surprising number of recognizable actors and slick cinematography to deliver a fairly enjoyable film. The voice-over narration wraps up a film that pleasantly jumps back and forth in time (sometimes for mere seconds), explains the way pornography has been a significant factor in the internet’s popularization and reaffirms why doing business with the Russian mob is always a bad idea. (The unrated DVD also has a bravura long-shot set at an orgy that actually manages to make a narrative point.) Luke Wilson is the film’s likable protagonist, a businessman who accidentally becomes a porn mogul. Surrounding him are such notables as James Caan as a crooked lawyer, Kelsey Grammar in a memorable one-scene sketch, Kevin Pollak as a sympathetic FBI agent and a near-unrecognizable Giovanni Ribisi as a paranoid inventor. Taken on its own terms, Middle Men is a fast-paced film that feels considerably bigger than its small budget, with enough good narrative moments to leave a good impression. It has a few flaws, like a few unnecessary emotional flashbacks, a too-innocent hero and a script that could have been tightened, but nothing major. But the film isn’t the whole story: the behind-the-scenes drama is almost as interesting as the end result. Some digging quickly reveals that Middle Men is not only based on a true story, but that the businessman whose story it is actually financed the production of the film itself… and lost most of its money when the movie failed at the box-office. The post-film real story features accusations of fraud, broken bones and other unpleasantness… enough to set up a sequel or two.