(On TV, October 2017) Given the subject matter (a man discovers that his romantic flings all go on to find their true love), it’s no surprise if Good Luck Chuck plays significantly coarser than the average romantic comedy. And therein lies a problem, because for all of its potential as a hard-R erotic comedy, the film is only too happy to pour itself in the usual R-rated rom-com mould, using its soft-R rating as an excuse for crudity rather than an honest treatment of its premise. It’s also ludicrously unaware of anything close to female agency. The case-in-point example scene has to do with a conventionally unattractive employee of the lead character throwing herself at him in romantic desperation—Good Luck Chuck plays the scene for laughs whereas there’s a lot more to explore here if it had the guts to do so. If the film works, it’s almost solely because of the charm of the lead actors—while Dane Cook may not be highly regarded as a stand-up comedian, he does play a likable lead, and Jessica Alba is up to her usual standards as the lead heroine. Still, there are plenty of missed opportunities—I kept waiting for a revelation that the lead female character’s impressive klutziness was a curse equivalent to the protagonist’s own, but that seems to have been forgotten somewhere along the way. The film picks up one lone point for having been obviously shot in Vancouver—the entrance to the aquarium is instantly recognizable even to a tourist. Otherwise, Good Luck Chuck is the kind of instantly forgettable romp, less obviously offensive than the slew of gross-out comedies from the early 2000s, but wasting so many opportunities along the way that it becomes vexing the moment you think too long about it.
(On TV, December 2016) Some film pundits often refer to The Love Guru as the film that killed Mike Myers’ film career and while that’s a harsh assessment (I suspect that Myers’ own oft-reported personal issues largely played a role in his disappearance from the big screen—studio executives are more forgiving of box-office failure if they happen to people they like) it does acknowledge the fact that it’s simply not a good film. This being said, there are bits and pieces that sound great on paper: A movie largely revolving around the Toronto Maple Leaf hockey team? Faux-Indian rendition of songs such as The Joker and 9 to 5? Featured roles for Jessica Alba, with appearances by John Oliver and Stephen Colbert? Justin Timberlake as a secondary character gleefully perpetuating the stereotype of French-Canadians with legendary intimate attributes? How can I not get on-board with that? Alas, it takes a remarkably short time for the wheels to fall off The Love Guru. The stereotypical humour begins from the first shot of the film, while various comic bits feel old barely two minutes after being introduced and repeated. It gets progressively worse, as the film’s self-satisfied comic arrogance mugs for laughs that don’t exist, introduces pauses for laughter that never comes and revels in gross-out humour ten years after everyone else … all the way to a strikingly inappropriate animal sex sequence played on ice. (There’s a joke about Mariska Hargitay that’s as dumb as anything else ever dreamed up—the kind of stuff that should never survive a first draft.) Given Mike Myer’s roles as producer writer and star, as well as the example set by his previous feature films, it’s not hard to find someone to blame for The Love Guru’s unfunny pileup. In any other film, the portrayal of Hindi culture would have been offensive—here’s it’s just stuck in a much bigger mess. Despite my best intentions, the film simply doesn’t work.
(Netflix Streaming, January 2016) While Into the Blue wasn’t favourably reviewed upon release, it’s the fast-paced thrills-and-romance tropical adventure that it wants to be. Who doesn’t love sympathetic protagonists being stuck between two criminal groups as they hunt a lost Spanish treasure and discover a downed plane filled with drugs? With Paul Walker in the kind of charming-action-hero role he did best, Jessica Alba looking remarkably good, director John Stockwell capturing immersive underwater sequences and clean cinematography, this is an unassuming and enjoyable B-grade thriller. (It’s quite a bit more memorable than the similar Fool’s Gold, for instance.) The Caribbean scenery is used judiciously, the underwater set pieces successfully navigate a line between excitement and ridiculousness, everyone is ludicrously good-looking and there isn’t much time to get bored as the plot goes from one thing to another. This is not a great movie, but it’s an enjoyable one for what it tries to do. Keep your expectations in check and the result will leave you smiling and possibly booking a flight to the Bahamas.
(On Cable TV, May 2013) As much as I’m favourably predisposed toward writer/director Robert Rodriguez’s work (including his movies aimed at kids), it feels as if I’ve been making more and more excuses in order to enjoy his latest work. The first two Spy Kids movies stand tall as fine examples of adult-friendly kid cinema, but this fourth entry is a bit of a disappointment closer to Shorts or The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D: The script is easy, the themes are close to the surface, the dialogues are often too obvious (the endless puns on time eventually take their toll) and the originality of the previous films seem toned down. It’s still fun to watch on account of pure forward rhythm and interesting visuals, but it does leave viewers a bit unsatisfied by the end of the show. Still, I would call it anything harsher than a disappointment: It’s fun to see Jessica Alba as a spy-mom, Alexa Vega, Daryl Sabara and Danny Trejo all make short-but-welcome appearances to tie this fourth installment to the first four films in the series, and the family-positive message of the film shouldn’t be discounted. It does all amount to a thin new film by Robert Rodriguez, though, and looking at the rest of his recent-or-upcoming filmography (filled with Machetes and Sin Citys) it would be nice to see him attempt something more ambitious than spinoffs of his previous films.
(On DVD, October 2010) Medium-budget films featuring a cast of known actors but popping up unexpectedly on DVD shelves always present a challenge for viewers: Is it possible to guess why the film wasn’t given a wide theatrical release? In the case of The Killer Inside Me, the truth gradually dawns that in-between the period setting, awkward staging, rough sex and unconvincing script, the film would have been savaged by reviewers looking for a middle-of-the-road thriller. And yet, the cast remains impressive, with a few standouts being Jessica Alba as a prostitute who gets the worst of a bad deal, whereas Kate Hudson is strangely credible as a white-trash woman and Casey Affleck becomes as repulsive as he can be as a deputy sheriff gradually revealed as a full-blown psychopath. The period setting is a hint that the film is adapted from a classic noir novel by Jim Thompson, but a bigger clue is found in the strikingly clumsy staging and character motivations as portrayed on-screen: Novels allow for inner monologues that don’t always translate harmoniously to the big screen, and The Killer Inside Me often feels forced in its graphic violence against women, unexplainable character motivations and repellent protagonist. A novel getting in the head of a criminal is something that a film simply portraying that violence can’t aspire to. Numerous decisions, such as the graphic brutality directed at women, the loathsome protagonist and the slow pacing, end up grating more than they convince. As such, the adaptation can’t aspire to much more than a curiosity for noir fans, even though the period detail is convincing (except for the anachronistic trailer-tanker that shows up during a chase sequence) and the acting talent does the best with the script it’s given. By the end of the film, there’s no doubt that its proper place is on DVD shelves, and then on to oblivion for most viewers.
(In theaters, September 2010) When a trailer for then-fake film Machete appeared attached to Grindhouse three years ago, the joke worked pretty well. But would it survive being turned into a feature-length film? As it turns out, Machete the film is what Machete the fake-film trailer had promised: A fully entertaining mixture of exploitation filmmaking, populist indignation and self-aware cinematic winks. Bolstered by one of the most amazing cast in recent memory, Machete finally gives a much-deserved featured role to the mesmerising Danny Trejo, with fun parts for such notables as Robert De Niro, Steven Seagal, Lindsey Lohan, Jessica Alba and Michelle Rodriguez. Everyone looks like they’re having fun, which is in keeping with the film’s mexploitation theme: if you’re going to make a movie that plays to the audience’s bases desires for nudity, action and revenge, why not do it well? Writer/Director/Editor Robert Rodriguez certainly knows what he’s doing: the editing lingers on the nudity, stays long enough on the action and flashes past the goriest violence so that we can enjoy the film’s dark humour without being repulsed by its excesses. (Rodriguez may not have been the film’s sole director, but it’s unmistakably his film.) It’s a terrific piece of grindhouse cinema, but it comes with quite a bit of populist decency. The Latino diaspora is colourfully represented by food, more food, Catholic symbolism and a distinctive aesthetics: Add to that a striking case for respecting immigrant rights, and Machete becomes a film that speaks loudly about basic human rights while still delivering a hefty dose of disreputable entertainment. In short, it’s a film that works on a number of levels, not the least of which is a considerable amount of sheer movie-going pleasure. Knowing Rodriguez’s considerable personal charm and fondness for explaining the movie-making process, I can’t wait until it comes out on video.