(On Cable TV, August 2017) I’ve been curious about Lottery Ticket all the way since seeing its trailer back in 2010, but it took until now to finally have a look at it. Having done so, I’m not going to pretend it’s anything more than a hood comedy featuring high financial stakes, as a young man with a variety of issues wins a gigantic jackpot and has to hold on to his ticket for the next three days. Most of the time, Lottery Ticket plays according to the standards of so-called black comedies: depiction of ghetto life, stereotypical humour, threats of thuggery and so on. That it takes place near Atlanta rather than in Los Angeles isn’t particularly important. As such, what you get with Lottery Ticket is roughly what you can expect from it. It could certainly use more tweaking, though: there’s often a tonal mismatch between the silly comedy of the protagonist’s entourage with the more violent scenes that come later on, or the middle section that deals in lavish excess. The jokes are merely fine, the film does indulge in its own depiction of the male gaze given its treatment of female characters, and there is little doubt as to what role each character has to play in the plot. At least there are known faces in the mix. While rapper Shad “Bow-Wow” Moss is featureless as the protagonist, Ice Cube has a small but important role as an ex-boxer, Terry Crews has a typically very funny small role as a reluctant bodyguard, and Leslie Jones shows up for a line or two. Lottery Ticket isn’t a particularly memorable or significant film, even as the black comedies subgenre goes, but it’s likable enough to be watched without too much effort.
(Netflix Streaming, September 2016) White Chicks is far from being the first movie in which what we see falls short of what the film wants us to see, but this cross-dressing comedy in which two black men impersonate two white women is notable for the chasm between visuals and screenplay. The two Wayans brothers (Shawn and Marlon) playing upper-society white girls do so under layers of top-notch makeup appliances, but the result is squarely inside the uncanny valley hideousness. We, as viewers, never believe. It’s a fair bet that the film itself never think we’re going to believe either, but the damage has been done by then. It certainly doesn’t help that all of this cross-dressing white-facing effort is in the service of a dead-simple script in which the criminal plotline is merely a clothesline on which to hang various comic set pieces. It’s not hard to dig into the film and come up with examples of social critique of gender and racial roles, but let’s be honest: This is a dumb comedy, not a piece of cutting satire. As such, it’s hit and miss: The film feels too long, with unwarranted cheap shots and lazy set pieces. The Wayans do OK as the leads, but they curiously get upstaged by Terry Crews, who manages to overcome repellent writing by sheer force of charisma: When his character is not written as offensive, Crews is downright charming. (Something that’s true of a surprising number of his early roles.) Otherwise, there isn’t much to say: White Chicks is comedy based on contrivances, not the least of them being the conceit that white-faced cross-dressers can pass as attractive upper-class young women. It only works with a generous amount of belief, which presupposes that viewers are willing to work with such a broad kind of comedy.
(On Cable TV, February 2015) Low expectations are a powerful thing: Given my track record with Adam Sandler’s most recent comedies, my overall lack of affection for Drew Barrymore, my general exasperation at broad family comedies and the rather pointed criticism of Blended as a borderline racist comedy, I really wasn’t expecting much from the time. But it turns out that once you’re willing to cut a pick of slack to the film, Blended work relatively well as your average Hollywood family comedy. Sandler of late seems to be settling into an innocuous father-figure comic archetype, not particularly funny but more palatable than his younger angry man-child persona. Barrymore is unremarkable and there is some truth to the racism accusations (still, signing Terry Crews is hilarious even in his thankless role), but the African scenery is spectacular, the feeling of being in a five-star resort is credibly rendered, and there are amusing character moments here and there. It’s not much (and Blended does not end on a high note by stretching out its foregone conclusion past the resort experience) but with the power of lowered expectations it’s just enough to be entertaining.