(On Cable TV, June 2018) As a first glance, there isn’t much to Here Comes the Boom than your usual guy comedy from the Happy Madison assembly chain: What if a high-school teacher discovered a talent for Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)? Pretty much everything in the movie seems assembled according to a formula, and there are very few surprises along the way of this underdog sports comedy. Kevin James does have some charm, and it goes a long way in keeping the film afloat then the rest of it is so ordinary. This being said, there’s some thematic material worth pondering once you go back to the idea that Happy Madison films are based on fulfilling contemporary suburban male power fantasies. How about this: What if you found a way to help your friends, get the girl, contribute to the arts, vex your nemesis, inspire the younger generation and make money while punching someone? You really don’t have to look any farther to understand the film’s appeal for its target audience, and once you factor in that the film is competently made to achieve that storytelling objective, then you understand Here Comes the Boom. Seeing Henry Winkler in a solid supporting role isn’t a bad bonus, even though Salma Hayek is wasted as one of James’s increasingly unlikely string of on-screen love interests. Less familiar actors include a number of MMA stars, of which Bas Rutten does best in a supporting role—plus Joe Rogan appearing as himself. Otherwise, the film does feel on autopilot … which may count as a plus if viewers are indeed looking for nothing more than a slight comedy.
(On TV, December 2016) As far as I’m concerned, there is just one thing worth mentioning about Paul Blart: Mall Cop: It was shot in the only American shopping mall that I know well — The Burlington, Massachusetts Shopping Mall that’s not too far away from the hotel of the Readercon SF convention that I attended from 2005 to 2011. I didn’t even realize it during the film: I watched it and was amazed at how similar it was to the mall I knew, down to the exact same restaurants. Yet I shrugged off the similarities, thinking—eh, what would be the odds? But it was, and you can imagine my amazement. But there’s a film attached to the mall footage, and that’s when I run out of things to say. Paul Blart: Mall Cop is a product of the Happy Madison lowbrow comedy factory, which is to say that it features an underachieving protagonist forced by circumstances to grow up, impress the girl and save the day. The straightforward plot can be summarized on a napkin, and the various pratfalls only need a portly guy willing to fall down. Kevin James (who also writes and produces) is not unsympathetic as the hero, but he works with and against bad material. Meanwhile, Jayma Mays’ eyes specifically steal whatever scenes they’re in. Otherwise, there’s not much to say—this is as basic a comedy as you can get, and its chief asset is that it can be played in just about any setting without upsetting too many people. On the other hand; I have great memories of Burlington Mall at that time (At some point, I’ll tell you the tale of the Lego store), and it’s kind of cool that there’s a Hollywood production that will immortalize the place forever.
(On TV, August 2015) Social progress can be measured in laws and statistics, but it’s also a matter of unsaid stereotypes and evolving culture. Watching I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry eight years after its initial release, I’m stuck most strongly about the film’s uneasy relationship with gay stereotypes, as it presents two heterosexual men marrying for obscure (and frankly nonsensical) administrative benefits. On one hand, the film is good-natured enough to (eventually) argue firmly in favour of progressive values, show homophobia in a bad light and affirm that sexual orientation isn’t something that should be discriminated against. Coming from the mid-naughties, after Canada had legalized same-sex unions but before most of the US followed suit, that wasn’t too bad. But then again I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry crassly makes a lot out of stereotypes, characters spouting regrettable epithets and a barely-repressed attitude that “isn’t it hilarious to pretend to be gay???!?” as a freak-show. I certainly hope that the very same plot wouldn’t be developed in the same way today. It’s best to consider I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry as a relic of its time, at a moment when same-sex marriages were past reprobation, but well before they were normalized. More shocking is the realization that this review spent nearly two hundred words discussing social progress before mentioning that this is an Adam Sandler film, and that he is more or less up to his usual crude shtick here. He is, of course, portrayed as a strongly heterosexual man (and the film stops just as a same-sex kiss with Kevin James was coming up.) Don’t think that the film is all harmless: As disturbing than the gay stereotypes is seeing Rob Schneider in yellow-face, with a broad and unfunny imitation of an Asian character. Otherwise, the dumb comedy of I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry pales in comparison to its socially-risky premise: it’s all dumb gags, obvious developments, flat direction and an expected conclusion. There may be something interesting to say about slipping a dose of progressive values to Sandler fans under the deceptive guise of a dumb comedy, but I’ll let others tackle that train of thought –I’ve blathered long enough about the film already.