(On Cable TV, December 2018) In the pantheon of comedy characters, the icon of a parent trying to stop their daughters from getting in trouble (for euphemistic values of “trouble”) ranks highly enough that Blockers not only based its entire premise on it, but multiplies the parent/daughter pairing by three for good measure. The film’s success starts with a decent script, but is fully realized by great casting with none other than Ike Barinholtz, Leslie Mann and the ever-dependable John Cena as the parents, as well as newcomers Kathryn Newton, Geraldine Viswanathan and Gideon Adlon are the daughters. (Viswanathan, in particular, makes an impression.) The plot itself goes back to the good old prom day premise, as the daughters plan on losing their virginities and the parents vow not to let that happen. The rest is one comic episode after another, punctuated by such things as a spectacular car crash, wild parties, and bonding between the parents chasing their daughters. It all ends on a surprisingly mature note (especially by notoriously juvenile sex comedy standards), reflecting contemporary morality rather than questionable old-fashioned standards. The fast pace helps, as does a script that seeks to go beyond the easiest answers. Expectations may count for much here, as the film is significantly better than expected. Still, a good movie is a good movie, and Blockers does have the advantage of feeling like a 2018 movie, and not a 1980s one dressed-up with cell phones and new car models.
(On Cable TV, July 2017) After the relatively successful 7 Days in Hell, HBO is back with Tour de Pharmacy, another 45-minute comedy special tackling a pseudo-historical sports event—in this case, the 1982 Tour de France, in which so many athletes were disqualified for doping that only five participants remained … and special participants they were. A mixture of talking heads reflecting upon the event and low-budget mockumentary footage, Tour de Pharmacy is in line with the inspired lunacy of 7 Days in Hell: the humour is often absurd, taking off in tangents whenever it feels like it. A bunch of good comedians help sell the results, from Jeff Goldblum to John Cena to Andy Samberg (who also produced and whose signature on the result is obvious) to Will Forte to Orlando Bloom to Maya Rudolph and many, many others. As you’d expect from a modern R-rated comedy, there is a lot of full-frontal male nudity. More daringly, the film does have a string of gags revolving around Lance Armstrong as an “anonymous” source who ends up blatantly revealed early on. It all works relatively well, but largely because the film doesn’t overstay its welcome—at barely 41 minutes, it delivers the jokes and concludes without too much slack. For HBO subscribers, it’s a small tasty summer treat.
(Video on Demand, November 2015) Much has been said about how Trainwreck is director Judd Apatow’s first film for which he did not write the screenplay; the prevailing hope being that writer/star Amy Schumer’s script would avoid a number of Apatow’s most problematic tics, in particular his tendency to meander and deliver bloated films with largely-unnecessary third acts. Now that the film is here, though, critics have a good proof that all scripts are filtered through their director’s quirks, and so Trainwreck doesn’t exactly improve a whole lot on the indulgent ramblings, tangential subplots, improvised dialogues and low stakes so characteristics of other Apatow films. Do note that his strengths also carry through: it’s a convincingly naturalistic exploration of modern relationships, with some good set-pieces, persona-stretching performances, frank discussions and down-to-earth situations. Trainwreck should appeal, as labeled, to fans of Apatow’s previous films or Schumer’s increasingly familiar comic persona. Plot-wise, there isn’t much to see here: It’s a fairly standard romantic comedy formula, used as a foundation on which to play character-driven comic moments. As the philandering, weed-using, underachieving lead, Schumer navigates a tricky line as a somewhat unlikable protagonist who gets to grow a bit during the course of the film. Far more likable are some personalities in bit-parts: John Cena is unexpectedly hilarious in a small but merciless role, while Lebron James (of all people) gets more than his share of laughs playing himself. Still, much of the film is pretty much everything you’ve come to expect from the Apatow laugh factory: Those who aren’t fans (or worse; those who aren’t fans and are not in sports), may not find themselves as entertained by Trainwreck as those who are.
(In theaters, October 2006) For once, the trailers weren’t lying: If you thought that dumb action movies starring bodybuilders went out of vogue with the end of the eighties, take heart in this renaissance. The Marine is exactly the type of movie where stuff blows up real good, allowing the hero to escape with only nanoseconds to spare. The plot is as simplistic as it can be (robbers kidnap hero’s wife; chase ensues) and the action never attains a superior level of interest, but the film proves to be relatively enjoyable on its own terms. The car chase is particularly fun, and the dozens of explosions never get old. What helps is the film’s self-awareness: It’s stuffed with small inconsequential scenes that almost act as self-parody, from a car-shop discussion on the inappropriateness of minivans to the villain flirting with the heroine in the middle of a chase. Small nonsense touches such as an Iraqi “Al Quaeda compound” with tanks and the South Carolina Highway patrol force using a high-performance sports car as a cruiser (!) add to the fun. Two of the film’s best gags come from a mirror glance and a small musical cue, both meant as references to classic films. Robert Patrick chews scenery like he’s enjoying the raw taste of it, while John Cena doesn’t have to do much but look stoic. Still, what keeps The Marine from being considered a classic guilty pleasure is that despite the potential of its elements, it keeps holding back on its own insanity. Worse: it’s never entirely tonally consistent, goofing up by (for instance) making a bad guy somewhat sympathetic before killing him thirty seconds later. Oops. Action fans craving some old-school payback action will find a lot to like here, but I suspect that the film will have no cross-over appeal for anyone else.