(On DVD, March 2018) About as generic a romantic comedy as it’s possible to put together, A Lot like Love is familiar and forgettable, but not necessarily terrible. Ashton Kutcher and Amanda Peet do well as a couple that repeatedly meets over a seven-year period, eventually discovering that they belong together through personal failures and growth. The nineties sequences already feel nostalgic, not to mention the early dot-com era material. Kal Penn shows up in a small role, as does Kathryn Hahn in a very brief and early role that nonetheless adds to her later persona of playing sex-crazed characters. The episodic, time-skipping structure of the film is equally interesting and frustrating, as we know early on that romantic frustration will be maintained until the story catches back up to present time. On the other hand, the film is decently scripted (witness the mini-romances going on in the background during the seven years of the story) and can depend on capable leads. Sure, the various plot threads are predictable but seeing the film from a perspective twelve years later, it’s a reminder that Hollywood studios have gone almost entirely out of the mid-budget romantic comedy genre. Seeing the film in 2018 is almost inevitably less repetitive than having seen it in 2005 … by lack of similar examples. Still, let’s not fool ourselves: A Lot like Love remains a generic romantic comedy, and it fades away as soon as the final credits roll. You won’t begrudge the time spent watching it … as long as you don’t have a big queue of other movies to watch.
(In theaters, December 2011) I’m not sure there’s a more conceptually offensive film out there in theaters at this end of 2011: Whether you’re talking about characters who enjoy the stoner lifestyle, a toddler doing cocaine, graphically-portrayed phalluses, Santa Claus getting shot in the face, nude nuns, angels performing sexual favours on a cracked version of Neil Patrick Harris or a murderous waffle-making robot, a straight-up description of the film’s content reads like a decadent horror show at the end of civilization. And yet, the series’ considerable irreverent charm is intact, and a solid core of moral value underlies the entire film: the story daringly picks up six years later with a grown-up Harold and a arrested-development Kumar, then throws them together in order to come up with a relatively mainstream-friendly conclusion. In-between, though, there’s plenty of refreshing hijinks, quasi-experimental segments (just wait for the Claymation stuff, or the 3D-tableau “plan”) and meta-fictional laughs about the actor’s other careers/roles, 3D gags (I almost regret not seeing this one in 3D) and more irreverence than you’d think possible. It’s still a silly comedy for people who like silly comedies, but it’s hilarious, fast-paced, sweet without being cloying and a perfectly self-aware third installment in a series –for one thing, it doesn’t seem as if it’s simply coasting on recycling its previous gags. Both Kal Penn and John Cho are great in the title role, with Neil Patrick Harris once again stealing the show and Danny Trejo joining the cast as a pitch-perfect father-in-law. If you’re a fan of the series, don’t miss it.
(In theaters, February 2007) Every time I think I’m a good and forgiving reviewer, a stinker like Epic Movie comes along and sets me straight. I normally like comedies and I’ve got a big soft spot for parodies: I think I may have been one of the few non-teens to give a passing grade to Scary Movie 4, for instance. But the current crop of parodies is a long way away from the classic days of Top Secret!: Rather than honest good jokes, we get re-creations of familiar big-budget films with violent slapstick and hip-hop references. There is little intent to subvert the original films, point out their flaws, or use the material as a stepping stone to a more original story. Epic Movie is among the laziest of this wave of parodies from writing/directing duo Friedberg/Seltzer (and, one hopes against dollars, one of the last). A mish-mash of Narnia, Charlie And The Chocolate Factory and many others, Epic Movie just seems happy to wallow in recent pop-culture references. Alas, none of them play off each other, the laughs are few and the cumulative effect is irritation. (There’s a moderately witty use of the Click remote control late in the film, but it comes far too late to save anything.) Heck, even the normally amusing Kal Penn is wasted in this film. Perhaps the only thing Epic Movie is good for is showing off the cuteness of Faune Chambers (who’s really playing the role of Regina Hall in the Scary Movies), but if the price to pay to be in her fan-club is to see this film, it may be worth waiting for her next role. Lazy, dull and dumbly reaching for the lowest common denominator, Epic Movie seems determined to prove how little laughs can be included in a “comedy” without having the audience ask for refunds.