(In theaters, June 2011) There’s definitely something refreshing in seeing a women-centric film trying to one-up the boys in the R-rated comedy department: Bad language, worse behaviour and gross-out gags aren’t the sole province of frat-boys, and seeing Bridesmaids trying to be outrageous carries its own doubtful freshness. I just wish the result would have been consistent, because the entire movie veers between downbeat humiliation and all-out outrageousness. The pacing of the film, particularly in its first half, seems slack to the point of obnoxiousness: mini-sketches go on for far longer than the joke is worth (ex; one-upping memories of the bride-to-be at the engagement party) while the story advances with little wit in its editing. (Things change, a bit, with the trip to Vegas and the “trying to get a cop’s attention” sequence.) It really doesn’t help that the script seems convinced of its ability to combine the cringe-worthy story of a woman hitting bottom while still flying off in far less subtle bursts of crass comedy. Character-driven comedy doesn’t always mesh well with pratfalls and crude silliness, and Bridesmaids shows why: By the time the heroine trashes a sumptuous bridal shower, we’re cringing rather than enjoying the self-destructive nature of the act. (It’s also annoying that at times, the film seems to ape Saturday Night Live, not only in dragging scenes longer than they should be, but building the film as a series of sketches.) Dramatically, the self-destructive lead character is too annoying to be fully sympathetic and the film seems so intent on chronicling her downward spiral that it doesn’t provide much in terms of payoffs. Still, even with mixed feelings about the film in general, I still laughed a bit too much to be entirely dismissive: While Kristen Wiig is better when she’s acting seriously than when she’s trying to mug for the camera, Melissa McCarthy steals practically nearly every scene she has, Wendi McLendon-Covey and Ellie Kemper are both under-used and I’m already on record since Idiocracy as being happy to watch Maya Rudolph in just about anything. There are a few funny lines, successful sketches (the airplane sequence, overlong but ending on a high note), silly sight-gags and absurd non-sequiturs to qualify Bridesmaids as a comedy when it’s at its best –the problem is the time in-between, stuck watching the protagonist as she digs herself deeper in trouble. Those don’t belong in the same movie. Where’s a competent script editor when you need one?
(In theatres, May 2010) Incompetent secret agents are fast approaching cliché after Johnny English, Get Smart, OSS-117 and many others, so MacGruber has a few other issues to worry about aside from its thin inspiration from Saturday Night Live sketches. Sadly, what we get is a coarse, violent and generally unpleasant satire on the action-movie genre. It’s not exactly terrible (it certainly earns its share of laughs), but it could have been quite a bit better. MacGruber, played by SNL’s Will Forte, is not just incompetent but blustery, crass and with few redeemable qualities: He’s a full-time annoyance and sadly he’s in pretty much the entire movie. Bland co-star Ryan Philippe does a bit better, although Kristen Wiig is so conventional in her portrayal of the obligatory love interest that I gladly would have seen her switch roles with the always-cute Maya Rudolph. But character flaws aren’t the biggest of MacGruber’s problems, which betrays its SNL origins by padding 30 minutes’ worth of jokes into an hour and a half of lazy pacing, pauses for laughs and diminishing-returns call-backs to gags that weren’t funny in the first place. (“I’ll do anything to get back on the case?” Funny for ten seconds, not forty. Celery? Never funny.) The direction is hampered by a low budget, which the disjoint editing seems to make even worse. Fortunately, there is about one dumb laugh every ten minutes (how dumb? Well, I was unexpectedly amused by subtitles on “You’re loco, man”), which still places MacGruber a cut above many other comedies out there. It’s not a disaster, but the sense of missed opportunities here feels overwhelming.