YOUR HIGHNESS: The Film Babble Blog Review

YOUR HIGHNESS (Dir. David Gordon Green, 2011)

Sometimes really funny people make really unfunny films.

The comic pedigree of the folks involved in this medieval mess is strong – director David Gordon Green, actor/co-writer Danny McBride, and actor James Franco were all key players in one of my favorite comedies of the last 5 years: PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, but this comes nowhere near the laughter level of that manic marijuana-tinged movie.

It sure tries to, with scores of drug, sex, and bloody slaughter gags, yet none of them elicited even as much as a slight giggle out of me.

Here’s the plot anyway – McBride is an oafish prince who reluctantly joins his heroic brother (Franco) on a quest to rescue Franco’s fiancée (a dim witted Zooey Deschanel) from the clutches of an evil wizard (Justin Theroux).

Along the way they encounter natalie Portman as a warrior princess, and they travel together taking on a five headed serpent monster, treacherous knights working for Theroux, and every profane expression known to be ever spoken by man.

On the surface YOUR HIGHNESS has everything necessary for a fantasy action comedy set during the Dark Ages – it’s got tons of sword play, silly sorcery by way of not-bad CGI, a horse-drawn chariot chase, severed limbs, gratuitous forest nymph nudity, and gorgeous locations in Northern Ireland.

Everything that is, except for legitimate laughs.

Reportedly much of the film was improvised, which makes sense because the dialogue is awful without any lines worth quoting.

McBride is simply doing his predictable slimeball schtick that he does on the HBO series East Bound And Down, and it wears thin really fast in this set-up.

All of McBride’s characteristics come off as clunky as the armor he wears.

Franco and Portman are both slumming it after their loftier turns in 127 HOURS and BLACK SWAN respectively, and it’s obvious they did this because they thought it would be fun, and I’m not doubting they had fun on set, but on screen they sadly look like they are wasting a lot of energy on extremely moronic material.

Deschanel seems detached from it all, maybe a result of certain substances that no doubt were passed around by the cast and crew.

As for the rest of the supporting players like Rasmus Hardiker, Toby Jones, and Charles Dance, I’ll let them off the hook – it’s bad enough for them to be in this film.

YOUR HIGHNESS is a crude cringe-inducing crap-fest devoid of wit and invention. I doubt even teenage stoners will laugh at it. I’m seriously surprised McBride, Franco, and Green think it would be funny, because they are capable of so much more comically.

“This quest sucks!” McBride complains at one point. I heartily agree.

More later…

DUE DATE: The Film Babble Blog Review

DUE DATE (Dir. Todd Phillips, 2010)

As surely every critic has said this is essentially a remake of PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES except the trains are replaced with drugs and much more scatological humor.

In the Steve Martin role is Robert Downey Jr. who is trying to get from Atlanta to Los Angeles for his wife’s c-section and he’s saddled with Zack Galifinakis in the John Candy role.

Galifianakis is an air-headed pot-smoking eccentric with a perm toting around a small dog who dreams of going to Hollywood to become an actor.

Downey Jr. is, uh, I forget his profession, but he’s an uptight jerk.

Mix in Michelle Monaghan as Downey Jr.’s pregnant wife and cameos from Jamie Foxx, Juliette Lewis, Danny McBride (the only one who’s slightly funny here), and RZA and you’ve got yourself a wasted cast.

Downey Jr. and Galifianakis wreck a rental car, get in a high speed chase in a stolen Mexican security vehicle, and get stoned as well as other not worth mentioning shenanigans.

All the while Galifianakis has his recently deceased father’s ashes in a coffee can. Inevitably somebody accidentally brews it as coffee. This actually results in one of the few good lines when Galifianakis says: “Well, that’s the circle of life – my father enjoyed drinking coffee, and we enjoyed my father AS coffee.”

There are laughs here and there in DUE DATE, but not enough to make this anywhere near a solid comedy.

Like in “The Hangover” Phillips shoots like he’s making a drama with too many close-ups and unnecessary crane shots.

It’s the parts that try to get personal that fall flattest. The much much funnier PLANES, TRAINS, AND AUTOMOBILES had a satisfactory sentimental tone in its earned conclusion, but this film’s heart is shoehorned in.

I mean what’s the point of giving Downey Jr. a serious monologue about how his father left when he was a kid? Oh yeah, I remember – it was a set-up to a lame joke by Galifianakis about how his father wouldn’t do that because he loved him. Ugh.

There’s also the badly handled subplot that Downey Jr. gets into his mind that his wife may have cheated on him with his best friend Foxx. Again that’s only there to set up another lame joke.

Both Downey Jr. and Galifianakis are likable credible actors, but here they are 2 guys that most people would want to stay away from. The same can be said about the movie.

But hey! If you like humor about slugging kids in the gut or masturbating dogs – this may be the movie for you.

More later…

OBSERVE AND REPORT: The Film Babble Blog Review

OBSERVE AND REPORT (Dir. Jody Hill, 2009)

Last weekend on Saturday Night Live, Kristen Wiig playing an audience member in a Q & A, said to host Seth Rogan: “You’re in a second mall cop movie? Good luck with that!” It was an obvious dig at his new movie, but once you get past the seemingly similar premise, Rogen’s deluded schlub of a character recalls such an alienated legend in their own mind like De Niro’s Travis Bickle in TAXI DRIVER more than it does Kevin James’s PAUL BLART: MALL COP. An old school trenchcoated flasher is terrorizing shoppers and employees alike at Forest Ridge Mall and Rogen as head of mall Security is determined to serve up justice. “Hot plates of justice” he specifies to the vein-popping annoyance of the hard nosed police detective (Ray Liotta) called in to investigate.

There is also vandalism and a robbery that Rogen also feels he can handle as he attempts to flirt with Anna Farris as a superficial make-up counter clerk. Rogen trades insults with a kiosk salesman (comedian Aziz Ansari) – one of his many mall adversaries resulting in one of the film’s funniest scenes. Between crude confrontations Rogen gulps free coffee served to him by Collette Wolfe, a sweet girl-next-door but with a leg in a cast, who we know immediately is a better love interest for him than Farris but following Rogen’s every misguided move is the name of the game here. Frustrated with Rogen’s wannabe Police state, Liotta drops him off in a bad neighborhood but it backfires making our would be hero go with gusto into the enlistment process to become a full fledged officer of the law.

Darker than the Judd Apatow produced playgrounds of Rogen’s former films, OBSERVE AND REPORT alternates between edgy and goofy with just the right tone. It’s the best acting I’ve witnessed from Rogen and he’s well matched with the crusty Liotta working his worry lines to great effect, Farris being all too convincing as a vapid vulgar slut, Michael Peña as fellow mall security, and Celia Weston as Rogen’s alcoholic, though supremely supportive mother (as incoherent as she is). Nice comic turns from Danny McBride and Patton Oswalt also fill out the funny.

A much more accomplished and layered film than Jody Hill’s previous piece (THE FOOT FIST WAY), OBSERVE AND REPORT may not be up to the manic comic levels of SUPERBAD or PINEAPPLE EXPRESS (even with the most gratuitous and grotesque display of flabby male nudity this side of BORAT) but it’s still a worthy, if crass, character study that will satisfy fans of lovingly lowbrow comedy such as BAD SANTA or Comedy Central’s Reno 911. Not too shabby a predicament for “a second mall cop movie”.

More later…

I Love The Smell Of Napalm In The Morning; Smells Like…Parody!

TROPIC THUNDER (Dir. Ben Stiller, 2008)

The comedy fortunes of Ben Stiller have fallen a bit lately (THE HEARTBREAK KID, anyone?) so it ’s a certainly a treat to see him in the full-on mockery mode that worked so well in ZOOLANDER taking on the industry that made him famous and bringing along a crew of above par talent (including Robert Downey Jr., Jack Black, Steve Coogan, Nick Nolte, and one unrecognizable Tom Cruise who buys back a huge chunk of street cred here). Unless you’ve been locked in a sound proof vault with no windows over the last few weeks you know that this movie features A) Robert Downey Jr. in black face as an Australian Academy Award winner who is playing a jive talking African American. B) A group of actors (Stiller, Downey Jr., Jay Barochel, and Bradon T. Jackson) trying to achieve A-List status making a Vietnam war picture but get stranded in the jungle and have to become real soldiers in order to fight their way out a la ¡THREE AMIGOS! and GALAXY QUEST. C) The before mentioned Tom Cruise as a bald pudgy foul-mouthed executive who nearly walks off, that is hip-hop dances off with the whole film.

Steve Coogan as the frustrated frizzy-haired film maker of what Access Hollywood calls: “the most expensive war movie never made” (a line likely drawn from pop culture punditry response to Francis Ford Coppola’s extremely over schedule production back in the late 70’s: “Apocalypse When?”) decides to deposit the actors into the jungle with only a map and a script and he’ ll film them with hidden cameras and rigged explosives. This plan immediately derails, in a crude but hilarious moment I won ’t spoil, and they run up against a heavily armed gang called Flaming Dragon who have a heroin producing work camp. They capture Stiller and hold him for ransom once the leader (fiercely played by child actor Brand on Soo Hoo) recognizes the actor from his career damaging flop “Simple Jack”. Meanwhile Stiller’s hotshot agent, Matthew McConaughey in chilled “alright, alright” mode, fights Cruise’ s heartless exec character for TiVo to be contractually provided for his client before realizing the severity of the situation. The real cause of the botched conflict is a grizzled Nick Nolte as the author of the book “Tropic Thunder” and the inspiration for Coogan ’s “Guerilla style” tactics. Nolte and explosive expert Danny McBride (fresh off almost stealing PINEAPPLE EXPRESS) also get captured by the Dragon gang and all the pieces are in line for a ginormous and outrageous shoot-em-up finale with every player getting his shot at glory.

Before the film proper of TROPIC THUNDER begins (before the Dream Works logo even hits the screen that is) there are funny fake trailers that introduce us to the quartet of protagonists. They set us up to embrace Stiller as a high grossing action star in “Scorcher 6” – an obvious dig at big overblown unnecessary franchises, Black as a pandering fart joke machine comic superstar in “The Fatties: Fart 2” – yep, a beyond obvious swipe at Eddie Murphy’s sad state of fat suit affairs, an ad spoof featuring Jackson as an “Booty Sweat” energy drink hawking rapper, and most amusing “Satan’s Alley”, complete with a FOX Searchlight logo announcing it as a prestige picture, giving us Downey Jr. and Tobey Macguire (who once shared a bed together in WONDER BOYS) as monks in a forbidden homosexual relationship. These and the many other digs at Hollywood cookie-cutter commerciality are the heart of this overblown but surprisingly not obnoxious comedy. The in-your-face-ness of the self aware atmosphere keep it from having to live or die joke to joke. Downey Jr. is undoubtedly the best part of this project, his unflinching take on Russell Crowe-esque maniacal method acting results in many of the movies biggest laughs like for one: “Huh! What do you mean ‘You People?’ ” Downey Jr. angrily asks Stiller at a stressful juncture. Jackson, who is authentically African American says, with an even angrier tone to Downey Jr., “What do you mean You People?’”

For all its over-the top silliness TROPIC THUNDER has a great gritty widescreen look; it has shots that look exactly like the excess-riden war epics its parodying like, of course, APOCALYPSE NOW and PLATOON – the poster of which Stiller tries to imitate, with his pumped up arms raised to the sky, every 10 minutes it seems. I experienced uncountable successions of giggles but not all out guffaws during this movie. It never lagged on the laughs but they’ re of the small smirking kind for the most part. Still, it noisily announces itself as the mega comedy you can t ignore with performances that will be talked about for years and lines that will be endlessly quoted I predict. I have to say that Stiller himself as an actor is not doing anything we haven’ t seen before – with his wide eyed pathos and tampered ego posturing his character is basically Derek Zoolander as if he were an action star and not a super model. But as a director and writer, Stiller is doing something I want to see more of, that is making comedies with a wide scope of inspired tangents and most importantly casts full of talented energized folk who aren ’t afraid to make wicked fun of themselves while taking crazy chances too.

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PINEAPPLE EXPRESS – The Film Babble Blog Review

So THE DARK KNIGHT is still holding steady at #1 at the box office but riding on its ass at #2 is:

PINEAPPLE EXPRESS (Dir. David Gordon Green, 2008)

“Stoner Action Comedy” – those are the key words in all the publicity blitz surrounding this movie. Also the ‘buzz’ (Can’t resist) was that this entry in the juvenile yet thoughtful Judd Apatow produced movie sweepstakes was helmed by David Gordon Green best known for film fare like ALL THE REAL GIRLS, GEORGE WASHINGTON and SNOW ANGELS which has raised a few cineaste’s eyebrows. What we’ve got here is a self-effacing Seth Rogan re-united with his Freaks And Geeks (also an Apatow creation) co-star James Franco as the leads going through some of the same stressful stoned situations that Cheech and Chong (or more recently Harold & Kumar) went through back in the day but this time out we’ve got more heart (of the John Hughes variety), more inventive sideline characters (of the Quentin Tarantino ilk), and lots of sloppy yet involving action (shout outs to the white trash fight scenes of the Coen brothers’ RAISING ARIZONA) to keep us rolling. Sure, on the surface this is SUPERBAD with murder but look closer and you’ll see that PINEAPPLE EXPRESS has a movie mojo of its own.

Rogan plays a process server (funnily called a protest servant at one point by Franco) who spends his days smoking weed between delivering subpoenas, dreaming of being a talk radio personality, and visiting his 18 year old girlfriend (Amber Heard). His new dealer (James Franco), who seems to spend his days watching reruns of 227 while dreaming of being a civil engineer, hooks him up with a rare species of super potent marijuana called “Pineapple Express” which as events go places Rogen at the scene to witness a murder committed by an evil drug kingpin (Gary Cole) and a corrupt cop (Rosie Perez). After that the buzzed buddies are on the run wrongly thinking a fellow dealer named Red (Danny McBride) will help them and that it’s a good idea for Rogen to still make a dinner engagement with his girlfriend and her parents (Ed Begley Jr. and Nora Dunn) while eluding Cole’s hired thugs (Kevin Corrigan and Craig Robinson). Gross-out humor prevails as our high heroes endure a rowdy car chase, clashes with each other, and finally a warehouse shoot-out with the Ninja-like attack of an Asian gang and many many grotesque woundings.

The premise is so slight that it nearly disintegrates but that hardly matters as there are so many funny lines and a smile inducing joy throughout. Rogan and Franco have a hilarious chemistry especially when disagreeing on their next move with Rogen’s bemused reactions to Franco’s mangling of old cliched sayings: “the monkey’s out of the bottle, man!” Danny McBride, such a stiff in THE FOOT FIST WAY, plays an incredibly amusing character here who steals every scene he’s in as he gets abused more than any one else and even killed over and over a la Kenny on South Park. The only weak scenes are the ones with Cole and Perez who, likable as they are, don’t match the over the top tone as they gruffly flirt while their crooked worlds collide. Likewise Rogan’s girlfriend subplot could be cut altogether which would confirm McBride’s repeated “bros before hos” stance. These are minor grumblings for PINEAPPLE EXPRESS is the funniest movie I’ve seen at the theater this year and has enough laughs for many repeated viewings. With Green’s sturdy direction and Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s gloriously silly screenplay the Apatow universe expands once more with another of a strong line of consistent comedies; movies so full of mayhem and mirth that you don’t have to be stoned to enjoy because they’re baked enough for all of us.

More later…