(On TV, November 2015) Charm can beat ludicrousness, and so it is that this modern take on The Parent Trap doesn’t suffer too much from its reality-stretching premise thanks to the comic talents of no one else but… Lindsay Lohan in her debut feature film role. Lohan’s fate since then has been the stuff parental nightmares are made of, but in 1998 she is pure teenage bubbly charm as she plays a pair of long-lost twins reunited at a summer camp. The rest of the plot is predictable as the twins conspire to change lives and bring their estranged parents back together, but Lohan is a delight as she goes from British stiff upper-lip to Californian whimsy. Dennis Quaid and Natasha Richardson are fine as the parents targeted by their daughters, but it’s really Lohan who steals the show here. In her feature film debut, director Nancy Meyer is at ease depicting the same kind of over-privileged characters in wish-fulfillment settings that would characterise her subsequent films. The broad strokes of the plot are familiar (all the way to how a romantic suitor for the father is conveniently and definitively dispatched) but this is a film best served by its execution, small sequences and actors doing their best to be charming. As such, it fulfills its goals and leaves the audience smiling. Don’t ask too many questions about the premise, though, otherwise your brain will melt trying to figure out how to get there. In retrospective, The Parent Trap is now more powerful as a striking beginning for Lohan and, to a lesser extent, Meyer, than a standalone comedy.
(Netflix Streaming, September 2015) I have very dim memories of seeing the original 1976 Freaky Friday as a kid, but I don’t think that it changed me or anything. This remake won’t have much of an impact either, given how closely it sticks to its body-switching premise and the most obvious implications of it. Here, Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan play a mother/daughter pair who, thanks to mysterious Chinese magic, swap bodies on a most inconvenient day. It goes without saying that the mom is an overachieving control freak and that the daughter is a just as stereotypically rebellious teenager. Both of them learn valuable life lessons, they learn about walking a day in the other person’s shoes and the universe goes back to normal. The script slickly sets up all of the target it later takes down, leading to an experience that’s as professionally put-together as it’s intensely predictable. Given that it’s aimed at teenagers, the film plays dumb often, failing the “would this happen in our reality?” test several times. The shortcuts to show adolescent rebelliousness are crude, which is reinforces by a mildly annoying soundtrack that repurposes older songs in a punk style. (Let’s face it, though; as a teen I probably would have thought this would have been awesome. Alas, I’m closer to parent of a teenager than a teenager nowadays.) Still, Freaky Friday does have its redeeming qualities: Jamie Lee Curtis is pretty good when she’s letting her inner teenager run rampant, and a pre-downfall Lindsey Lohan shows what comic skills she once had. There are a few chuckles here and there despite the rote nature of the film, and I suppose that everything could have been a lot worse. The film’s heart is in the right place, and by the time the happy ending rolls around, I doubt that anyone cares.
(On Cable TV, February 2014) The art of the parody movie has eroded so dramatically since the ZAZ heydays of Airplane! and Top Secret! that contemporary standards for those kinds of films are, to put it mildly, abysmal. If it’s not from Friedberg/Seltzer, then it’s already a notch above the worst. If it’s not wall-to-wall covered with sadistic slapstick violence, it’s another rung up. (But I repeat myself) If it tries something slightly funnier than simply re-create scenes from well-known movies then we’re already comfortably above the bottom of the barrel. Sadly, this doesn’t mean that Scary Movie 5 is a good movie; it just means that it’s not as bad as it could have been. I suppose that anyone willingly choosing to watch this film can’t complain if it sucks: The previous installments of the series have ranged from terrible to mediocre, so it’s not as if the series has a reputation to maintain. This time around, Scary Movie 5 rounds up sequences and references to films ranging from 2010 to 2013, curiously choosing the inconsequential Mama as a framework, Paranormal Activity as methodology and delving into both Black Swan and Rise of the Planet of the Apes for extended sequences. (There are smaller, lamer riffs off Inception, The Help, Sinister and Evil Dead, as well as an attempt to spoof 50 Shades of Gray before it even comes out) It occasionally gets a few grins: The opening sequence with Charlie Sheen and Lindsey Lohan works well because Sheen handles most of the comedic heavy lifting and Lohan looks surprisingly good. There’s a beautifully absurd pool-robot-party sequence late in the film that had me giggling like an idiot, and a few gags here and there earn at least a chuckles. Anna Faris and Regina Hall are sorely missing from this fifth entry, but Ashley Tisdale does her best to step up in the lead role, understanding that in this kind of film you don’t have to be good as much as being game to do the silliest things. To its credit, Scary Movie 5 doesn’t just rely on cartoon violence and laugh-free recreations. But it rarely manages to go beyond the cheap laughs and easy targets. It seldom trusts the viewers to figure out the joke, explaining it in far too much detail and killing it in the process. (Tellingly, the best running gag of the film are the split-second glimpses of the antagonist running around in the background.) Scary Movie 5 struggles to make it to 75 minutes before adding a 15-minutes-long credit/outtake/cookies sequence. While the film has enough grins to avoid raising outrage like many of the worst examples of the genre, it’s not good enough to get more than a lukewarm okay-if-you-like-that-kind-of-thing. Frankly, when it comes to dumb Paranormal Activity spoofs, A Haunted House –itself no paragon of comic filmmaking– did it first and did it better.