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December 26, 2005

Quickie DVD/PPV Movie Reviews

Gotta have something to show for the last week or so...

Sky High. I'd recommend this one more strongly but I suspect that low expections help the film out. But of the recent batch of movies I've seen, this is easily the stand out.

The premise is cute and kid-friendly, but it's enjoyable enough for adults. Children of superheroes are taken (by flying bus) to Sky High, a high school lofted in the stratosphere by anti-gravity generators. The movie adroitly mixes and spoofs two staples-- the superhero flick and the high school flick. Sky High is even more socially stratified than, say, Westerburgh High in Heathers, because all would-be superheroes are segregated on their first day of school according to their powers-- those with terrific powers are in the "Hero" track, while those with less-impressive powers (such as shapeshifting into a guinea pig, and only a guinea pig) are put into the "Hero Support" track, also known as "Sidekicks." Or "Losers." The film immediately puts the typical high-school pecking order into a superheroic context, with Heroes (jocks, rich kids, cheerleaders) and Sidekicks (dweebs, fleebs, Ducky from Pretty in Pink).

While the main character, Harry Potter-like, is a celebrity on campus because of his super-amazing superhero parents, he actually hasn't developed any powers yet-- a fact he hides from his dad.

The cast is really very good. None of the kid actors annoy, and the adult actors -- especially Kurt Russell as the sorta-clueless superhero The Commander -- are great. Kevin MacDonald is terrific as "Mr. Medulla," a giant-craniumed super-genius who teaches "Mad Science" at the school (and, presumably, is advisor to the Mad Science Club and a judge at the Mad Science Olympics). Bruce Campbell is enjoyably hammy as the stereotypical semi-sadistic gym coach, who just also happens to be the mid-level superhero Sonic Boom, gifted with the power to shout extremely loudly.

Don't be put off by what you imagine is a kid's movie. It's really not, or rather, maybe it is but it's a smart enough kid's movie for adults.

Four Brothers. I have no use at all for director John Singleton, so this is another title that was helped by low expectations, but the film easily exceeds those. Mark Wahlberg (who, as shocking as it seems, has turned out to be a reliably strong actor) and three no-names play mixed-race adopted brothers of a saintly woman. She's killed in the opening of the film, and the brothers reunite with the intent of avenging her death.

Most of the brothers seem to be criminals and thugs to one extent or another, but a cop assures us that, thanks to their saintly mother, they're "Congressmen compared to what they would have been." It's a good thing they have those criminal and thug type skills, of course, because they go on a mission of beating, threatening, and executing everyone involved with their mom's death.

It's pretty enjoyable throughout, with a halfway decent plot and some good brotherly chemistry between the actors (read: constant chops-busting), let down a little by a somewhat silly plot point at the end. (I think Hollywood should retire the conceit of getting an evildoer to confess and then revealing -- SURPRISE! -- the whole confession was caught on tape. Yeah, right.)

Fever Pitch. It's shocking that this is a Farrelly Brothers comedy, because there's little real jokes in it. It's neither outrageous nor very funny.

That's because it's based on an early Nick Hornby book, once again about a man-boy who refuses to grow up. How many times can he write this book, I wonder? Here, Jimmy Fallon plays a man-boy obsessed to the point of actual lunacy with the Red Sox. (In the original novel, the man-boy was obsessed with the Arsenal soccer team.)

It begins well-enough, with Fallon charming enough and Drew Barrymore looking pretty cute (and demonstrating, again, she's got a gift for light comedy), but the comedy is a little too light. Half of the jokes past the first five minutes are basically Jimmy Fallon making jokes in-character. I don't think these sorts of jokes ever really work -- it's funnier to have people be funny inadvertantly, through stupidity, cluelessness, or clumsiness -- and he spends half the movie doing a bad Robin Williams in Dead Poet's Society impression.

The other half of the movie is about the Red Sox... and man, do you have to be a Red Sox fan to get through all the game-footage you're going to see.

The film's biggest flaw is that Fallon's obsession is neither cute nor plausible. What it is is insane. In a romantic comedy, you have to root for the couple to overcome the obstacles to come together; here, you start just saying "DUMP HIS CRAZY ASS!" in the first half-hour. Drew Barrymore's character is willing to make all sorts of concessions to Fallon's mania, but Fallon just won't let up, insisting the woman come with him, three or four times a week, to long baseball games, despite the fact she has a very demanding job and is currently working extremely hard in order to secure a promotion.

Rather than just say, "Okay, you work late, I'll see the games, we'll meet at midnight" as Barrymore (quite reasonably) suggests, no, this freakazoid insists on bringing a bored and overworked woman to half of the home Red Sox games. And he can't even take one night off to attend a party that's particularly important to her.

The ridiculous romantic obstacle aside, the film just isn't funny. Never have I been so annoyed at the end of a romantic "comedy" that the couple gets together. She should have gone for the Wilson brother (a brief romantic rival part given to the Wilson brother you rarely see, Andrew).

It's really a misconceived romantic drama with a particularly absurd premise and few laughs to show for it. A feathered fish-- a fish that will neither swim nor fly.

The 40-Year Old Virgin. Don't believe the critics. Or your friends. I think this movie gets the good-will that American Pie did-- a movie that seems like it's going to be a nasty, obscene, misogynistic sex farce and yet turns out to be a somewhat sweet romantic comedy with "heart," so everyone raves about it.

I would have preferred that a nasty, obscene, misogynistic sex farce, because I was just bored senseless by this "romantic comedy with heart."

Paul Rudd and his buddies try to get Steve Carrell laid, and give him lots of advice (ranging from sensible to silly), and we're supposed to care if he gets laid or not. Steve Carrell is a nice, likeable protagonist, but really, I just couldn't care less. There are very few laughs in this movie, and the biggest laughs come from stuff that guys just do when they bust each other's chops -- there's a long, somewhat funny exchange between Paul Rudd and a stoner buddy about how each knows the other's gay. It's eh-funny, about as funny as the typical dumb conversations you have with your friends.

I saw the unedited, unrated version, which may account for the movie's undue length. There's a few decent scenes here and there -- Leslie Mann's drunk-driving terror-ride, a girl with big tits popping one out at a speed-dating meet-up -- but it's a big skip in my book.

Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo. Not nearly as funny as promised by K-Lo at the Corner, but enjoyable throughout, and with a really super-cute female lead you've never seen before. Most of the laughs are just smiles or small chuckles, but all in all it's worth watching. Unlike Fever Pitch or the 40 Year Old Virgin, it's an actual comedy, and it isn't nine and half hours long.

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posted by Ace at 03:25 PM

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