(On Cable TV, January 2015) I don’t have a lot of patience for ambiguity these days, so when I have to confront a film like The Double, which deals in fantasies and metaphors and unanswered questions, my first tendency is to retreat to the surface level and stop digging. Jesse Eisenberg stars as a corporate office drone who comes to confront a doppelganger who’s far more charismatic than he is. Slowly, the double takes over his life, steals his girlfriend, makes inroad at the office and dominates his thoughts. Shot as it if was set somewhere behind the Iron Curtain in the mid-seventies, The Double is thankfully replete with humor and ironies –if nothing else, that aspect of the film works without too much trouble. Seeing Eisenberg play both the beta and the alpha is a good use of his developing screen persona – his first few roles were nebbishly undistinguishable from Michael Cera, but his post The Social Network career so far has fully embraced alpha-nerddom. Writer/director Richard Ayoade manages a few entertaining moments before the film sinks into a closing act of mounting ambiguity and oh-so-profound symbolism. It’s those moments that save The Double from terminal self-absorption. See the film in a double-feature with Enemy for more doppelgänger madness.
(On Cable TV, December 2013) This may be the fifteenth alien-invasion film in the past four years, but it’s certainly one of the most inconsequential. As a peaceful suburban community hosts an imminent alien invasion beachhead, the mysterious death of a Costco™ security guard prompts a few post-adolescent males to gang up into a neighborhood watch in order to catch the killer. Part Costco™ product placement, part adult male fantasy fulfillment, part more-of-the-usual from Vince Vaugh, Ben Stiller and Jonah Hill, The Watch never hesitates to reach for the lowest-common-denominator joke when it’s within reach, and the result feels as immature as you’d think. For all of the premise’s potential, and occasional good work from either Stiller or scene-stealing from relative British newcomer Richard Ayoade, The Watch quickly finds its level by allowing Vaughn and Hill to wallow in their usual screen persona (or, more fairly, in Vaughn’s usual man-child character and Hill’s early aggressive-teen shtick.) It should work for anyone who already likes that stuff; otherwise, it’s just a dreary way to go from one plot point to the next, leading all the way to the Costco™ store showdown. (The product placement is even more blatant considering that in order to shoot the film they had to convert a closed-down store into a Costco™.) From a Science-Fictional perspective, The Watch is hollow: it doesn’t have a single new idea to offer, and merely treats the alien invasion as a plot-driver for juvenile comedy. From a comic perspective, the film has little more to offer, but it does land a chuckle or two. Alas, it feels compelled to insert a few scenes of a more serious emotional nature in the middle of the dumb jokes, creating more forced atonality. Perhaps the most intellectual thing The Watch has to offer is a not-so-unwitting study of the modern American suburban male’s uneasiness: Which SUV-driving North-American doesn’t dream of killing dangerous foreigners, punching their daughter’s creepy boyfriend, being invited to secret orgies, increasing their sperm count and earning the macho respect of authority figures? If you don’t share those obsessions, well, The Watch may feel a bit long.