Starring: Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Albert Brooks
Directed by: Judd Apatow (“Knocked Up,” ‘Funny People”)
Written by: Judd Apatow (“Knocked Up,” “Funny People”)
Were you aware that director Judd Apatow’s last film, “Funny People,” has a runtime of 2 hours and 26 minutes? Yes, the crude-yet-thoughtful comedy clocks in at just 20 minutes shorter than the epic fantasy adventure “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” and that disparity drops to 13 minutes if you count the extended edition available on DVD. It’s the most glaring weakness built into the DNA of nearly every project Apatow’s name is attached to: an intelligent script and top-notch comedic performances stretched too thin by pacing that sometimes devolves from storytelling to simply hanging out with the characters. While Apatow has arguably earned such indulgences after re-shaping modern cinematic comedy as a hit-making producer and director, it’s tough to keep the laughs going for that long without testing the patience of the audience.
Though not as egregious an offender, “This is 40″ still manages to stick around at least half an hour too long. As a quasi-sequel to 2007′s “Knocked Up,” the film features Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann reprising their roles as Pete and Debbie, first introduced as the extended family of Seth Rogen’s and Katherine Heigl’s lead characters. The lived-in feel of their relationship fleshed out the edges of that film in ways that often overshadowed the chief plot line. Five years later, Pete and Debbie are front and center and on the cusp of their 40th birthdays. Well Pete is, anyway. Debbie has been weaving an elaborate web of lies about her age culminating in her claim to be turning 38 instead. Pete and Debbie are also dealing with the trials that plague similar couples across the nation: financial problems, unpredictable children, and the boring familiarity that inevitably rears its head in long-term relationships.
“This is 40″ has little to speak of in they way of plot, with the only real threads that stretch from beginning to end being the very loose planning and execution of the birthday party and the dire financial struggles of Pete’s boomer-skewing record label. Newly-minted Apatow players Lena Dunham and Chris O’Dowd turn up to deliver laughs as Pete’s co-workers, with O’Dowd rewarded later in the film by sharing an extended (though highly unnecessary) exchange with Apatow all-star Jason Segel. A couple of comedic heavyweights check in along the way: Albert Brooks drops in as Pete’s dad, an old man with a new young family, and Melissa McCarthy stops the show as a mother defending her son with an hilariously insane rant (curiously absent, though, are Rogen and Heigl). Despite all the talent on hand, though, the film belongs to Rudd and Mann. The honesty of their relationship is never in doubt, and the familiarity each have with Apatow’s voice help turn already funny lines into quotable and hilarious one-liners.
Yeah, the film overstays its welcome, but so what? Like the rest of Apatow’s characters, these people are fun to hang around with.
Starring: Paul Rudd, Jennifer Aniston, Justin Theroux
Written by: David Wain (“Role Models”) and Ken Marino (“Role Models”)
Directed by: David Wain (“Role Models”)
When ultra-hippie Seth (Justin Theroux) rattles off a litany of technology he feels normal people are too reliant on, he keeps listing things that are wildly obsolete. He goes on about how people can’t get by without their Walkman, VHS tapes and Zip drives. It’s a joke that is actually really funny at first, but keeps going and going until it’s gone on for way too long. It’s a theme readily apparent in “Wanderlust,” a mostly enjoyable film that stops just shy of wearing out its welcome.
After George (Paul Rudd) is fired from his job, he and his wife Linda (Jennifer Aniston) are forced to sell the apartment they just bought and move out of New York City. On their way to stay with George’s brother in Atlanta, they stop for the night at Elysium, a strange hippie commune disguised as a bed and breakfast. Uncomfortable at first with the group’s all-night parties, practices of “free love” and nonchalant take on nudity, George and Linda start enjoying their time and wonder if Elysium is the place they were meant to be.
The film is anchored by Rudd, who is quickly becoming one of the go-to lead comedic actors after years of supporting roles. Rudd stays in familiar territory with a character stuck in the middle of the craziness around him. His normal charm and improv skills are on display. A good portion of the comedy comes from Rudd being flustered in some way. Playing his on-screen wife, Aniston shows, like she did in “Horrible Bosses,” that she is a great fit for raunchy rated-R comedies. Theroux, who is another character with extra screen time, is a mixed bag. Much of the failed material with Theroux’s character comes from the fact he is written as a caricature. Another problem with “Wanderlust” is its lack of fully-formed supporting characters. The ensemble is huge and each actor gets a laugh or two, but then each of them fades into the background. None of the secondary cast ever really congeal with the exception of the oft-underused Ken Marino, who steals every second of screen time he has playing George’s obnoxious, dolt brother.
Director David Wain seems to take the “throw everything out there and see what sticks” approach to “Wanderlust.” There are jokes flying out at a rapid rate, as well as the occasional absurdist gag that might spur a handful of laughs in the theater. With this film, Wain teams up with producer Judd Apatow (“Knocked Up”), who is no stranger to letting his actors improvise dialogue on set. Apatow’s knack for the unscripted seems to have rubbed off on Wain, as many moments of “Wanderlust” appear to be heavily improvised. The joint result of these aspects is a film that feels a little cut and pasted in the editing room and strangely put together at times. While there are some long form takes such as Rudd’s amazing improvised sexual pep talk in a mirror, there are a lot of scenes that carry on with very little reward.
Though Wain’s team could have been a little more judicious in the editing room, “Wanderlust” is funny more often than not and gets plenty of mileage out of the eccentricities of the unconventional community. Still, what truly makes“Wanderlust” work is the hilarity and unmatchable likability of Rudd.
Starring: Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, Zach Galifianakis
Directed by: Jay Roach (“Meet the Parents”)
Written by: David Guion (“The Ex”) and Michael Handelman (“The Ex”)
It would have been torturous enough if the movie “Dinner for Schmucks” had remained truthful to its title and only forced us to sit through a single meal and maybe a couple of drinks. Instead, director Jay Roach (“Meet the Parents,” “Austin Powers” trilogy) extends the idiot-filled evening into a collection of unbearably tacky scenarios that might have worked better as an episode of “SpongeBob SquarePants.”
Sure, it’s obvious certain things need to lead up to a dinner with a bunch of sad-sack morons, but what Roach and screenwriting partners David Guion and Michael Handelman (“The Ex”) come up with makes the hilariously daft “Dumb and Dumber” feel like a thinking-man’s movie.
Cast in the least of these cartoonish roles is Paul Rudd. Rudd plays Tim, a bottom-feeding analyst in the corporate world who sees an opportunity to climb the totem pole when his company fires one of their top executives. When Tim makes an impression on his boss Lance (Bruce Greenwood) by introducing the company to a potential billionaire client, Tim is invited to attend a top secret dinner held every month for the company big wigs.
At these dinners, executives are asked to bring the strangest guest they can find so he or she can be insulted throughout the night. While the idea goes against Tim’s strict moral code, he decides he can’t pass up a chance at a promotion especially now that his girlfriend Julie (Stephanie Szostak) is at the brink of finally accepting his marriage proposal. When she finds out about the dinner, however, she isn’t pleased.
The schmuck himself comes in the form of Barry (Steve Carell), a normal-enough looking guy whose remarkable qualities come from his taxidermy work. Basically, Barry stuffs dead mice, dresses them in costumes, and places them into dioramas for display. Barry calls his creations “mousterpieces.” Although Tim finds his odd hobby disgusting, he also sees it as a way to impress the execs and invites Barry to his dinner for dummies in hopes of landing a corner office.
Barry, however, misunderstands dinner plans and shows up at Tim’s apartment a day early. This is where the botched comedy of manners begins as Barry manages to muddle up Tim’s life in less than 24 hours. He starts by inviting Tim’s psycho one-night-stand to his apartment and continues by talking Tim into thinking Julie is cheating on him with a ridiculous artist (Jemaine Clement of TV’s “Flight of the Conchords”). Who knew schmucks could be so influential?
Like Jim Carrey’s Lloyd Christmas and Jeff Daniel’s Harry Dunne in “Dumb and Dumber,” Barry lacks an awareness of his idiocy, but does so less convincingly. In “Dumbe,r” when Harry thinks Aspen is located in California, it’s funny. In “Schmucks,” when Barry drags out a joke about believing Tim invented the saying, “Everything happens for a reason,” it’s not. Even if someone could be that clueless, “Schmucks” begs us to have sympathy for these characters and learn something from the mean-spirited narrative.
At times unbearable to watch, “Dinner for Schmucks” is disguised as a movie with profound life lessons about friendship and acceptance. If you really get swindled into believing this comedy has heart, please raise your hand. There’s this dinner I’d like to invite you to.
Starring: Jack Black, Michael Cera, Oliver Platt
Directed by: Harold Ramis (“Groundhog Day”)
Written by: Harold Ramis (“Analyze This”), Gene Stupnitsky (TV’s “The Office”), and Lee Eisenberg (TV’s “The Office”)
Just when you thought terrible comedic parodies were recently monopolized by the two-headed monster known in Hollywood as filmmakers Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer (“Date Movie,” “Epic Movie,” “Disaster Movie,” etc.), director Harold Ramis (“Groundhog Day”) tosses his name into the mix for at least one satirical take on a genre that really hasn’t seen the light of day since Universal Pictures ruined “The Flintstones” with a pair of live-action duds.
Before that, prehistoric comedy was rocky at best with movies like 1981’s “Caveman” starring Beatle Ringo Starr and 1992’s “Encino Man” about a thawed-out Neanderthal who is taught how to party hard. Now we have “Year One,” a timeline-jumping spoof starring Jack Black (“Nacho Libre”) and Michael Cera (“Juno”) that feels 20 years too late and a handful of well-executed gags short of keeping anyone’s attention.
In the film, Black and Cera play Zed and Oh, two simpletons who are shunned by their tribe for their inadequate hunting and gathering skills. Tired of being ridiculed by the other tribesmen and rejected by the tribeswomen, Zed decides to take a bite out of a forbidden apple from the Tree of Knowledge. When the rest of the tribe finds out he has broken the law of the land, he is cast out of the village for fear that he is cursed.
With nothing to live for back at the village, Oh joins his hairy friend on a road trip by foot through undiscovered lands and time periods. During their adventure, the odd couple dive into the Old Testament where they meet Biblical characters such as Cain and Abel (Paul Rudd and David Cross in an unfunny exchange of sibling rivalry and violence) and even stop Abraham (Hank Azaria) from sacrificing his only son Isaac (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, AKA McLovin of “Superbad” fame). Later on, Abraham reveals he is the mastermind behind circumcision when he recommends to Zed and Oh that they should allow him to perform the surgery because “it’s going to be a really sleek look that’s going to catch on.”
The rest of the film follows our journeymen to the unholy city of Sodom (described here like a first century version of Las Vegas) where they travel to save the women they love after they are captured and forced into slavery. It’s a storyline that is knocked out of sync by one uncreative skit after another.
Relying on cheap and childish jokes (most revolve around bodily excrement and an oily Oliver Platt) and unmemorable one-liners, “Year One” falls face first somewhere in the rear of the evolution line (maybe between the amoeba and the chimpanzee). It’s a primitive, pun-filled hodgepodge that screams Monty Python without any of the wit or style.
Starring: Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, Rashida Jones
Directed by: John Hamburg (“Along Came Polly”)
Written by: John Hamburg (“Meet the Parents”) and Larry Levin (“Dr. Dolittle”)
Making friends was always easiest in kindergarten. Running around the playground pretending to be a stealth ninja was an automatic invitation for anyone your age to jump on board with their imaginary nunchaku and go to town with your imagination. It was so uncomplicated not to have to pass judgment on a potential buddy at the age of five.
In “I Love You, Man,” Peter Klaven (Paul Rudd) is a little older and a little more desperate than your average sociable grade-schooler. Never really experiencing what it was like to have a male best friend (his family describes him as a “girl friend guy”), Peter is pressured into searching for a new friend who can become the best man at his upcoming wedding.
While his fiancée Zooey (Rashida Jones) is brimming over with bridesmaids, Peter is a friendless, softhearted real estate agent who starts envying other man-to-man relationships once he’s assigned the task of finding someone he might like to hang out with. He starts his manhunt by going on a few “man-dates” with some prospects and spending some time playing poker with Barry (John Favreau), the husband of one of Zooey’s friends (Jamie Pressly). It doesn’t help, however, that Barry literally hates Peter and both have nothing in common with each other.
Things take a turn for the better when Peter meets Sydney Fife (Jason Segel), a laid-back, outspoken bachelor who crashes one of Peter’s open houses for the free food. The two hit it off right from the beginning and Peter starts spending more time at Sydney’s “man cave” jamming out on the bass and, well, doing things guys do when the significant other isn’t around. All is well until their bro-mance begins to affect Peter and Zooey’s relationship towards the film’s final act. (What is Peter supposed to do when Sydney wants to go out Sunday, the night when he and Zooey cuddle up and watch HBO?).
As many other comedic filmmakers are starting to do, John Hamburg (“Along Came Polly”) does his best to give us shades of Judd Apatow humor, which is even more evident with the casting of Rudd, an Apatow favorite. It’s a great choice, really, since Rudd can usually do no wrong (with the exception of “Over Her Dead Body”). His sweetly sensitive guy role while typical does mesh fantastically well with Segel.
Aside from the evident chemistry between the two, there are a few ongoing jokes in “I Love You, Man” that stray from the freshness Apatow has built his franchise on. This includes a bit where Peter’s social awkwardness has him constantly spitting out the most incomprehensible expressions when there’s nothing left to say. During these moments, it’s fairly easy to tell where Rudd and other actors are given more room to improvise. That’s when the comedic timing seems to hit a few speed bumps, mostly when a scene is about to wrap up.
Despite some fluffy moments, “I Love You, Man” can still be considered part of the recent onslaught of comedies defined by their quality mix of vulgarity and heart. While Apatow isn’t behind this one, it’s obvious he’s a major influence.
Starring: Paul Rudd, Seann William Scott, Christopher Mintz-Plasse
Directed by: David Wain (“The Ten”)
Written by: David Wain (“The Ten”), Paul Rudd (debut), Ken Marino (“The Ten”)and Timothy Dowling (debut)
When you look back at some of the roles actor Seann William Scott has played over the years, the term “role model” isn’t one of the first things that comes to mind. Most of them tend to center around chauvinistic, moronic, and promiscuous characters. (His Steve Stifler alone probably caused fathers of high-school-aged daughters to scale way back on curfew hours.) In “Role Models,” his alpha-male tendencies are balanced out well with the softer Paul Rudd.
Working as energy-drink peddlers and anti-drug spokesmen, Wheeler (Scott) and Danny (Rudd) visit high schools to give students a caffeinated alternative to getting high. Wheeler loves his job as the company’s official mascot, the mythological Minotaur, because it allows him to half-ass his way through life and focus on more important things, like getting laid. Danny, however, is bored and frustrated, and it’s affecting his relationship with his successful-lawyer girlfriend (Elizabeth Banks), who is fed up with his resentfulness. When Danny reaches his boiling point (they have a little mishap with their company monster truck), he and Wheeler are sentenced to 150 hours of community service at Sturdy Wings, a Big Brother-type organization run by rehabilitated bad girl Gayle Sweeny (Jane Lynch).
There, Wheeler and Danny are matched up with two kids: Augie Farks (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, aka McLovin from “Superbad,” who avoids the Jon Heder “Napoleon Dynamite” typecast trap by actually staying funny after his nerdy breakout role), a lonely teenager caught up in his own little world of medieval role-playing, and Ronnie Shields (Bobb’e J. Thompson), a foul-mouthed grade-schooler raised by a single mother and obsessed with “boobies.” Ronnie has managed to scare off every one of his “bigs,” but Wheeler knows if he doesn’t get through this mandated mentoring program he’s going to be thrown behind bars, where he’s more than sure his pretty-boy image will attract unwanted physical attention. While Wheeler has trouble with his “little,” Danny is just trying to pass the time watching Augie pretend sword fight without really connecting with him on a personal level.
Many viewers might be unfamiliar with director David Wain’s comedy (he helmed and starred in the short-lived MTV series “The State” in the ’90s), but “Role Models” is a version of what he and some of the show’s original cast members can do with a more mainstream script. It’s not nearly as deadpan as “The State” (the vulgarities are many), but Rudd, as a first-time screenwriter who has probably been taking notes while on the set with director-writer-producer Judd Apatow on so many occasions, adds a hipper sense of humor and heart that has made comedies like The “40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up” more entertaining than your run-of-the-mill R-rated shtick.
Starring: Eva Longoria Parker, Paul Rudd, Lake Bell
Directed by: Jeff Lowell (debut)
Written by: Jeff Lowell (“John Tucker Must Die”)
Remember the scene in 1990’s “Ghost” where Patrick Swayze keeps Whoopi Goldberg from going to sleep by singing “I’m Henry VIII, I Am” repeatedly while she tosses and turns in bed? Take that scene and stretch it over 95 minutes and you have yourself “Over Her Dead Body.” It’s just as annoying but not nearly as funny.
Taking a break from “Desperate Housewives,” Eva Longoria Parker (yes, she’s added Tony’s name to her moniker) stars as Kate, a blushing bride-to-be who is crushed to death by an ice sculpture on her wedding day.
Landing in some sort of limbo waiting room after she dies, Kate can’t shut her mouth long enough to get instructions from an angel as to what she has to do next. She decides for herself that her calling in the after-life is to protect her ex-fiancé Henry (Rudd) at all costs.
In solitude for the last year, Henry has no will to get over the tragedy despite his the constant – and mostly annoying – support from his sister Chole (Lindsay Slone), who wants him to find happiness again. To help out, she drags him to Ashley (Bell), a caterer and part-time psychic who hopes to communicate with Kate from the beyond and get her to give Henry her blessing to move on with his life.
Henry, of course, is unconvinced that Ashley can do anything for him. What he doesn’t know, however, is that his sister has given Ashley one of Kate’s old diaries, so she can con Henry into thinking she knows more about Kate than she really does. The plan backfires when Ashley and Henry begin to fall in love and, in turn, stir up jealous feelings from his corpse bride. Thinking she is there to save Henry from heartbreak, Kate decides to destroy his relationship with Ashley by dipping into her ghostly bag of tiresome tricks.
Playing like a supernatural novela, “Dead Body” is dead on arrival. Director/writer Jeff Lowell, who was responsible for the equally inferior “John Tucker Must Die” has no idea how to get passed the predictability of the story and dry performances by Longoria Parker and Bell. Their rivalry never becomes more than the equivalent of a girl-on-girl hair-pulling session in a middle school locker room.
Egos may be bruised a little with the critical potshots “Dead Body” will soon get, but fear not for Longoria Parker. If she can manage to stop drifting away from Wisteria Lane, maybe she can continue to hide the fact that her acting skills will never amount to more than catty antics.