Thursday, February 28, 2013

Review: 21 and Over

There is something to be said for the comfort one takes in walking into a movie that is sure to be bad. The viewer is under no false illusion that what they are about to watch will be life changing, something that will make them feel better about the world around them. No, if you buy a ticket for something that advertises itself as siblings fighting steampunk monsters in 3D, you don’t expect The Artist.

Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why I hated 21 and Over so much. Surely the ads didn’t hide the fact that this was a low budget “kids getting drunk and naked” flick, with its only calling card being “from the guys that wrote The Hangover.” That being said, it has been years since I have felt this much anger toward a film for treating its audience as drooling numbskulls, with arrest worthy crimes being treated as sophomoric hi-jinks for our half-hearted chuckles.

I’m getting ahead of myself, though. Let’s take a look at the plot, since that is oh so important in flicks like this.

Miller, Casey, and Jeff, three young men who were best friends in high school, find themselves holding a mini reunion on the occasion of Jeff’s 21st birthday. Miller is our ne’er do well, the Bradley Cooper of our great of college-aged Hangover-esque miscreants. Casey is the straight-laced one in the group; the young man who seems to have everything together, with his only complaint being that he is staring at a career in finance that will bring wealth, but bore him to tears. Jeff has an interview for entry into medical school early the next morning, set up by his overbearing father, so he has the most to lose by going out and going wild. So of course that’s what he does.

It wasn’t five minutes into the film that I realized that this would be a painful experience. Miller (played by Miles Teller) is the first character that we are introduced to, a bro that is ecstatic to cut loose with his buds for the night. Cracking open a tall-boy PBR in the back of a cab, it’s clear the actor was going for a young Vince Vaughn vibe, but all that was coming through the screen was a character modeled after Max Tucker.  Casey (performed by Skylar Astin, last seen in Pitch Perfect) is the straight man, the Ed Helms of the group if you will; milquetoast, seemingly only there for Miller to bounce Jew jokes off of every five minutes. The taxi driver is the only character in the film to show that he has a grasp on reality by calling the two men “assholes” before dropping them off.

That leaves us with the character of Jeff, or more to the point, Jeff Chang. Think about your group of friends growing up. I’m sure you had a couple that, by coincidence, had the same first name. To be sure everyone knew two Michaels growing up, right? When talking to them, how did you differentiate between the two? Maybe one was Michael, the other Mike, right?  Well, in the world of 21 and Over, the only way to talk to or about a close friend is to tack on that last name, whether there is another Jeff within 30 miles.

Within minutes of the introduction of Jeff Change, you realize that the only reason the character is Asian has to do with the writers’ finding Asians inherently funny. Think about it…Asians are the only race that Hollywood writers feel safe in making jokes about now. Remember, the guys responsible for this film are the same ones that stuck Ken Jeong in the trunk of a car naked in The Hangover. Seriously, if you want to hear characters referred to unironically as yellow bastards or treated as walking caricatures, this is the movie for you!

Actually, the only filmgoers I could recommend this film to would be folks that think The Hangover would have been better without Zach Galifianakis’ character, or those that think Superbad would be great if the two main characters openly hated each other throughout the movie’s runtime. The trio of leads has such low levels of chemistry with each other, I believe it dipped into the negatives at times.

The issue that really bothered me the most during this nothing of a movie, however, is the fact that there are countless crimes committed that would lead to arrests, if not serious jail time, if this film had even the smallest amount of consciousness to it. Among the crimes committed: multiple sexual assaults (on both male and females), kidnapping, physical assault, battery, and the threat of gun violence on a student. None of the scenes featuring these charges were funny, but then again, it’s only a comedy and maybe I’m expecting too much.

When members of the press enter a screening, we are given little surveys to fill out, only asking for favorite scenes and our general thoughts on the film. For the first time, I had to fill out the Favorite Scenes section with a big ol’ “N/A”, because I couldn’t even fake a scene that may have gotten a smile out of me. If any of the preceding sounds interesting to you, may God have mercy on your soul.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Snitch Review

Hollywood’s handling of the career of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has been fascinating to watch. Upon making his feature film acting debut in 2000’s The Mummy Returns, it was clear that the former WWE World Champion brought the same amount of charisma that the big screen as he had used to catapult himself to become one of the most popular stars in wrestling history; the problem has always been the inability to turn him into the role he was seemingly born to play: his generation’s Ahnold or Sly.

In Snitch, Johnson plays John Matthews, a successful businessman torn from his comfortable life by his son’s arrest for distribution of narcotics. Even though this is the kid’s first offence, the boy is looking at serving ten years in prison due to mandatory minimum sentencing for drug trafficking. Attempting to cut a deal with the Feds in order to spring his son, John offers to work undercover to ensnare local drug dealers. His plan works a little too well, and soon his family is being threatened by Mexican drug cartel members.

What should be a fairly simple action revenge tale is held back by its “based on true events” origins. Now, I have no idea what the real story is here; it’s probably safe to say that one of the filmmakers heard a story about someone getting busted for dealing drugs and here we are. The failure here is that by attempting to bring reality into a film that begs for a 30 minute shoot-out action sequence, we are left with a middling family drama with an awkward moral calling for leniency toward felons.

Johnson does a solid job with the material given to him, and its understandable why he would sign on to the film, but his is just one of several roles miscast. He is playing a father throwing himself into a world of drugs and violence, and his attempts to portray a man frightened by the people he surrounds himself with land with a thud of failure. Audiences waiting for Johnson’s first great role will only be left with disappointment once again after watching Snitch.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Warm Bodies Review

One of the most scrutinized genres of film is the zombie flick. From endless arguments based on whether an undead cannibalistic corpse should have the ability to run, or just wander around slowly with their arms outstretched toward their victims, many horror nerds have spent years of their lives debating the attributes of these fictional monsters. Well folks, if you thought Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake was hotly contested amongst creature-feature fans, you haven’t seen nothing like the fits people are about to throw over Warm Bodies!

Warm Bodies is the tale of R (Nicholas Hoult), a zombie of unknown age who spends his days pacing around an airport. Serving as our narrator, he tells the audience that he has no recollection of how everyone became a zombie, or why some have made homes in areas that seemingly brought them comfort at one time.

While on a hunt with a group of zombies, including his best friend M (Rob Cordrry), R stumbles upon a group of living survivors from a local fortified settlement. After a brief skirmish, the zombies completely massacre the humans, leaving only Julie (Teresa Palmer) alive. Falling in love at first sight, R saves Julie from the horde of flesh-eaters. They quickly develop a friendship, and R attempts to help Julie return to her home and father (John Malkovich).

I took notice of director Jonathan Levine last year upon the release of 50/50; I felt some scenes in that dramedy were among the most inventive of all 2011. A young man with a checkered filmography (The Wackness underwhelms, while All the Boys Love Mandy Lane never received a proper release), I put Levine on my mental list of directors to keep an eye on in the future. Well, this is his first feature since 50/50 and this is a huge misfire. Seemingly a simple paycheck job, there is no personal touch to be found from the auteur, with the actors left on their own to make the romance work.

Hoult and Palmer are fine, if mediocre, in the starring roles of the mismatched couple. Hoult is all grown up since starring in About a Boy in the titular role of Boy, but shows little in the way of the charisma most would assume to be necessary for a rotting corpse to attract a beautiful young lady. Palmer does okay as Julie, but it seems as if someone on the filmmaking side of the production just threw a copy of Twilight at her and said, “Be this.” While certainly better than Kristen Stewart in that franchise, Palmer is called to do little more than bite her lip from time to time and act demur around the dead folks.

While not an embarrassment for those involved, Warm Bodies is a trifle that will soon be forgotten by the public and will work its way down the resumes of those responsible. If you are a zombie completist knock yourself out; all others steer clear and catch one of those Best Picture nominees you’ve been putting off.