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February 09, 2009

DVD Reviews

In Bruges, My Best Friend's Girl, Rocknrollah.


In Bruges. Recommended.

I picked this one up off Gabe's recommendation and he was right. A pair of British hitmen -- Colin Ferrel and... um, Braveheart's big red-haired buddy -- are told by crime boss Ray Fiennes to hide out in the nice-but-boring town of Bruges, Belgium, after committing a hit that goes rather badly, and wait for further orders.

Drinking coffee, the pair wonders why they've been sent to Bruges of all places to hide out. "We could hide out in Croyden," says one.

"It's a bit... over-elaborate," one says, and the other agrees. It just doesn't make sense that a crime boss would have the pair hide out in a scenic-but-bland Belgian berg. There's something else going on, but they don't give it much further thought.

And then the order comes down. Violence, betrayal, and midgets ensue.

The movie is pretty funny, so long as you don't mind nonstop use of the f-word and almost as frequent use of the c-word. (And the c-word is deployed very well here; the Brits can use it with aplomb. Ray Fiennes gets called it to particularly humorous effect.)

To the extend it can be faulted: Well, it's sort of a combination drama/comedy which tries a bit too hard for the drama. Oh, not a huge amount, but the film puts more weight on the drama than the comic premise will bear. And the characters begin doing Dramatically Surprising things left and right. Heroic Sacrifices, Selfless Acts of Redemption, and Unwavering Commitment to Absolute Moral Principle become the order of the day in the film's last ten minutes.

Wait-- these are hitmen, right? Do hitmen act this selflessly so frequently?

Wait-- these are human beings, right? Do even good-hearted human beings act this selflessly so frequently?

Drama, I guess, is showing human beings in extreme situations making extreme decisions. But there's an implicit restraint that has to be observed -- if they begin acting so extreme and implausibly that they just don't seem like human beings any longer, and seem like like, well, characters in a movie, just doing what the writer decides to make them do, then the intended drama is lost.

Still, I didn't watch this movie for the drama, and in fact would have liked less of it. I watched it for the profanity and comedy. And it delivered there. (I also watched it for the violence, which it really doesn't deliver on.)

I wouldn't use hype words like "hilarious," but I chuckled a bunch of times and had at least one full laugh, which ain't bad.


My Best Friend's Girl. Recommended, but with some trepidation.

Half of you hate Dane Cook and you can stop reading right now. If you think Dane Cook writes his stage show chiefly to get laid (as I do), wait 'til you get a load of this, in which Cook plays the Ruthlessly Charming and Sexually Masterful Bad Boy secretly harboring a Sweet and Romantic Side and also gets to take his shirt off and show off his muscles.

I've seen gay porn less determined to sell me on the star's sexual attractiveness than this. Well, actually, I haven't seen any gay porn, but I can imagine. (It's not gay if you only imagine.)

Now, add to that a muddled script that tries to do too much dramatically and fails at most of it due to the half-hearted nature of the attempts. Even the titular premise-- My Best Friend's Girl, about a guy feeling horrible about having stolen his best friend's girl -- is quickly forgotten about. Though Dane Cook mentions halfway through how badly he feels about all of this, he goes straight back to Wooing the Girl mode. His best friend gets one thought -- but not a second thought. So if you're expecting to see lots of hijinks of Cook trying to hide his new girlfriend from his best friend Jason Biggs, forget it. The movie sure does. (In fact, the producers realized Biggs all but disappeared from the film a half hour in, and so contrived a subplot to try to put him back in the movie a bit... but then they cut that, too. They should have titled the movie Having Awesome Sex with My Best Friend's Girl Is Friggin' Awesome!!11!!)

Other premises come and go with little thought. Dane Cook, the chronic womanizer, is suddenly the womanized, and has become a "booty call" for a woman who wants him for sex but not for anything else. The film explores this for like, oh, twenty seconds, gets bored with it, and drops it.

Oh, and he grows emotionally. Of course he does.

Anyway.

Now, having panned those aspects of the movie, let me tell you why you should rent it: The beginning and ending are laugh-out-loud, rewind and laugh-out-loud again funny. In fact, I watched this -- or the best parts, at least -- like five times over a 24 hour period, a couple of times myself, again with someone else who wanted to see it, and then again with that person too because she wanted to see it again. And then, actually, I watched the good parts again.

Cook plays Sherman "Tank" Turner, who has learned he has a skill: Although he's charming and can pick up any woman in the world, he's also, at his heart, an utter asshole and total fucking dick. So he is hired by various men who've been dumped by their girlfriends to pick up their now ex-girlfriends and then give them

the

worst

date

of their

entire

lives.

All in order to send them back running for the men they've dumped. To teach them that no matter how bad their former boyfriends are, they're a lot better than the alternatives.

And oh, the dates he gives them. "Tanking," he calls it, deliberately doing everything wrong and trying to offend/disgust/insult a woman until she threatens to call the police or threatens physical violence.

The parts with replay value are, as I say, the beginning and the end. First we see "Tanking" in practice. Later he is asked by best friend Jason Biggs to tank the woman who jilted him, Kate Hudson, and that's pretty funny too, as Kate Hudson has decided she just hasn't dated enough and likes Cook a lot and is determined to make it work with him no matter what he does. Cook gives a funny reaction in this sequence as he looks at Hudson as if she were a psychopath, wondering "What the hell exactly do I have to do to get this woman to dislike me?"

And finally, in the Ultimate Demonic Tank of All Time, he utterly demolishes a... well, a very special event in someone's life. And that's the funniest sequence of all.

In the middle are scattered chuckles. A giggle here and there, nothing to write home about. Sort of run-of-the-mill romantic comedy bits, but with more emphasis on comedy than romance. Eh. Just watchable enough.

But if a movie is going to have only two big laugh sequences, well, starting off with a bang and ending with a huge bang seems like the way to do it.

A warning: The movie is pretty raucous and Dane Cook's behavior is, unless you're in the silly spirit of the thing, repugnant. A lot of reviewers panned the movie because they were (they say) put off by Cook's boorish, misogynist, etc. behavior.

I wonder if they caught the part of the movie where they said it was all a movie.

Still, I saw a lot of reviewers had a lot of problems with the tone of the jokes, so I figured I'd warn you too.

Rocknrolla. What's a step down from actually recommending a movie? I don't know. I'll say Watchable.

In Guy Ritchie's terrific Snatch, the crime lord is a floridly repellent monster of a crime boss called "Brick Top" who feeds his enemies to carnivorous pigs.

In the similar but weaker Rocknrollah, the mildly unpleasant crime boss called "Len" feeds his enemies to... crayfish.

I kind of think that says it all right there. It's like Snatch, only not as visceral, vivid, violent, and funny.

There is nothing quite wrong with this movie, except I've seen the movie it's supposed to be and I know how fun it's supposed to be.

Let's tick down the ways this is inferior to Snatch:

Snatch introduced a huge lot of characters, but many of them were played by high-impact, walk-on-the-set-and-make-an-impression character actors like Dennis Ferrina, Vinnie Jones, and Benecio del Toro. Rocknrolla basically gives us solid but not exactly compelling British actors. It's big attempt at stunt casting? Jeremy Piven. Who's an okay actor, sure, but let's face it, when you see Dennis Ferrina or Vinne Jones you know what these guys are all about and it's not anything good.

When you see Jeremy Piven, you wonder what will happen on the next Entourage.

Other characters in Snatch were played by less well known actors -- like Brick Top -- but were instantly compelling because they were so exaggerated in conception. Even Brad Pitt turned in a hilarious performance as a guy who did not speak a single word of recognizable English.

In Rocknrolla, the characters are more human, less exaggerated, more realistic, more down-to-earth more guys you kinda know... more... boring.

Look, yeah, I'm as tired of the Crazy Psychopathic Russian Crime Boss cliche too, but Guy Ritchie replaces that here with the Fairly Level Headed, Well Mannered, Closet Romantic Nice Sort of Russian Crime Boss. Oh, he'll still kill you and everything. But in a professional, emotionally-detached sort of way.

Different? Yes. But, alas, not as good as the cliche he's running away from.

Gerald Butler is sort of the star here, but not really. His character is very reactive -- he's buffeted about by the whims of others and chance, and doesn't really impose himself on the plot the way, well, Jason Statham did in Snatch. And whereas Jason Statham's friend in Snatch was an idiot and screw-up who caused him loads of problems and funny frustrations, Gerald Butler's buddies here are... competent, reliable people who can be counted on to bail him out of trouble.

Starting to see the problem here? Incompetency = funny. Competency = not funny. Frustration = funny. Gratitude for a Job Well Done = not funny.

Just one more thing. Guy Ritchie's movies play with the tempo and spirit of farce. Quick entrances, quick exits (often bloody quick exits), unexpected intersections and complications. The whole point of introducing such a huge array of characters is to get to the point where these characters start running across each other (often violently), often by chance, as each pursues his own agenda but just happens to stumble across the other.

Here, Guy Ritchie keeps introducing characters all the way through about 3/5ths of the movie, but forgets the part about having them stumble across each other and intersect in surprising ways. Each character begins in "a box" defined by who he knows and what he wants; the fun happens when characters break out of their boxes and into other characters' boxes. But in Rocknrollah, all the characters stay pretty much in their own boxes, at least until the very end, where there is some bit of intersection.

Five minutes of this is not enough. It's the whole point of building up such a large number of characters in the first place.

The thing is, the acting is solid in this movie. The dialog is sharp. The direction is confident. All those things. At no point did I ever say "This is a bad movie" or think about turning it off. I was perfectly fine watching it from start to finish and did not mind I'd spent five dollars on it. There's a good sequence with Gerald Butler trying to rob Terminator-like Russian Spetznaz-super-warriors-turned-mobster-couriers, and a funny example of Guy Ritchie's super-quick-chop-edit style in which he reduces the act of sex to 2.2 seconds.

Those are good bits.

But overall... it's just kinda there. It's an okay enough movie, with nothing really bad about it, except for the fact I've seen this movie before and it was really an awful lot better the last time 'round.

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posted by Ace at 07:46 PM

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