(On DVD, January 2017) Teenage sex comedies are a dime a dozen, but there’s something better than average in Sex Drive’s execution that makes it float above most of its genre. The idea to combine a road movie with a more typical sex comedy isn’t new, but it makes for a clever way to structure the film, culminating in a ridiculous ending in which a bunch of characters converge on a single location. Josh Zuckerman is the likable anchor of the film, but he’s not nearly as interesting as secondary or tertiary characters such as Clark Duke’s improbable teenage Casanova, Seth Green’s trolling Amish or James Marsden’s confused older brother. The gags hit or miss, but there’s a forward rhythm to the road movie as it gets its protagonist closer and closer to his stated goals. Parents should rest easy in knowing that like most other sex comedies, Sex Drive ends up promoting good old solid American values after all. Watchable without being exceptional, it’s nonetheless is better than much of its genre. Note: The “unrated” DVD contains an extended edition that features blatantly gratuitous nudity (green-screened in existing footage), alternate takes and bloopers inserted within the film. None of it is essential, and the filmmakers are quite right to feature a PSA before the movie telling newcomers to watch the “rated” version of the film first.
(On DVD, October 2016) Katherine Heigl as a neurotic shrew whose personal anxieties prevent her from finding true love? Well, that actually works—especially given that it describes maybe half of Heigl filmography so far. I’m not sure she got the screen persona that she wanted, but it doesn’t matter: It’s consistent and even a gnawing feeling that we’re supposed to dislike her works in 27 Dresses’ favour most of the time. As a freelance wedding planner who can’t manage to tie the knot, Heigl gets to go through the usual romantic comedy gamut of emotions regarding the male lead of the story, from exasperation to love. A rom-com in the classical mould, 27 Dresses can be confounding in its plot logic, lazy on its reliance on idiot plotting and not quite smooth in the way it lines up its set pieces, but it’s a generally harmless piece of fluff that can be watched easily and forgotten almost immediately. Judy Greer gets a few laughs as a deliberately promiscuous friend of the heroine, while James Marsden makes for a serviceable male protagonist. Some of the cynical commentary about the wedding industry is amusing, but would have been deployed to better effect in a darker kind of film. Much like the use that the film makes of the titular 27 dresses, this is a film that aims for the average rom-com and achieves it … leaving the full reactions to the viewers.
(On Cable TV, May 2013) One of the unsung tragedies of parenthood is the cold realisation that tales of teenage rebellion don’t quite seem as cool as they once were. But, of course, this isn’t the main problem with Hop –a bad script is. As the story is intent on uniting two teenage losers (a human slacker, and the runaway son of the Easter Rabbit) who seem determined to waste every advantage given to them, Hop forgets to give us a reason to care for them and focuses on various idiot-plotting pratfalls. At least there is something worth watching in the film’s more fantasy-driven sequences: The film’s introduction answer questions nobody ever thought about asking about the mechanics of Easter Egg distribution, while Peter de Seve’s creature design is almost too cute for words. Otherwise, there isn’t much to say about the film’s straightforward plotting, short duration or routine direction. The CGI-bunny/live-action integration is well done, but the human actors are so bland (with James Marsden apparently taking up roles that Seann William Scott is now too old to play) that it’s enough to make us wish for more CGI. Oh well; More special effects wouldn’t have softened the grating feeling left by Hop’s unpleasant characters. If nothing else, there are pretty bunnies everywhere in this film –might as well focus on the positive.
(In theaters, September 2010) Chances are good that you will never see Tomorrow, When the War Began in North-American theaters: Despite its generous production values and good action sequences, this is an Australian production based on a series of young-adult books largely published for Australian audiences. (I was lucky enough to be in Australia when it was released, with a strong marketing push that included public transit buses plastered with the film’s promotional art.) A quick summary of the film would probably be something like “Red Dawn for Australian teenagers”, as a group of plucky teen protagonists comes back from a quick bush holiday to discover that their country has been taken over by a foreign invader. Stuck behind, they strike back… with the expected action sequences and fast-paced growing-up that active resistance involves. As such, it’s really not bad: Some of the writing feels forced and everyone keeps making stupid decisions to advance the plot, but the entire film is entertaining, and many sequences pack some punch. The characters are sympathetic, and the development of the links between the six protagonists is fascinating to watch. A few details feel different from the Hollywood standard: The emerging leader of the group is female, she gets involved in a romance with a male of Asian origins, and the ending isn’t a triumph as much as it’s a victory with potentially dramatic consequences. As a piece of slick blockbuster entertainment, Tomorrow, When the War Began is ripe for worldwide success… pending distribution deal and favourable word-of-mouth. As for the rest of the series, there are five more books in James Marsden’s “Tomorrow” cycle and three more in the “Ellie Chronicles”: even if the rest of the series isn’t adapted, the story as written will always be there. Will the film ever make it to North America, even as a straight-to-DVD film? I’d bet on it. There’s certainly many worse home-grown movies out there.
(In theaters, May 2003) Faster, meaner and, yep, better than the often-tepid original, this is one sequel that assumes everyone’s seen the original and so dispenses with the usual load of dull exposition. The motif of bigotry is still present -and so is the unsettling political subtext-, giving weight to the film. Despite sometimes-unconvincing special effects, those action sequences are indeed spectacular, with particular props going to the opening sequence and a very cool sequence involving iron-enriched blood. The most spectacular part of X2, however, is how it can juggle a cast of a dozen (including three Oscar winners) without too many lapses. Hugh Jackman once again steals the show, endowing Wolverine with the most steadily engrossing presence. Others deliver mixed performances: Halle Berry is better than in the original, but she, like Famke Janssen, looks bored with what she’s given to work with. (And the least said about James Marsden’s Cyclops, the most appropriate.) As summer entertainment, X-Men 2 is a strong entry, even with the rather overlong third act which degenerates in a “sacrifice” that feels contrived. But by the time the credits roll, everyone’s had enough entertainment for their money. Until the third instalment, then…