Vacation

July 31, 2015 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Skyler Gisondo
Directed by: John Frances Daley & Johnathan M. Goldstein (debut)
Written by: John Frances Daley & Johnathan M. Goldstein (“Horrible Bosses”)

The “Vacation” series of movies have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Before “Star Wars,” even before “E.T.” I remember watching “National Lampoon’s Vacation” at what must have been five years old on VHS, all because my dad has a soft spot for raunchy comedy.  Hell, he took my younger sister and me to see the sequel, “European Vacation,” in the theater during his day off from work, and that movie had boobs in it! The last movie I can remember my entire family watching at once in a movie theater is “Christmas Vacation,” long before it became a beloved modern holiday classic. And “Vegas Vacation,” the too-late 1997 sequel, is something I have a fondness for when no one else seems to, even going so far as to say as much to the film’s self-deprecating director Stephen Kessler, who then proceeded to tell me how that movie’s Rusty—Ethan Embry—could have been the next Leonardo DiCaprio, had casting directors given him something more to do that be “the boy next door.”

I don’t know about that, but I do know that with all the variations in quality and cast members over the years, the “Vacation” series isn’t some tight-knit epic that a recast, semi-reboot would upset too much.  The movie even plays the series’ weird cast changes for laughs, opening with an adult Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms) looking through old family vacation photos featuring pictures of previous Rustys Anthony Michael Hall, Johnny Galecki, Embry, and, uh, whoever the guy is from “European Vacation.” Hold on; let me look…Jason Lively. Anyway, the film kicks off with Rusty deciding to take his wife Debbie (Christina Applegate) and sons James (Skyler Gisondo) and Kevin (Steele Stebbins) on a road trip vacation to Walley World, just like he and his family did more than 30 years ago. An off-putting car is purchased, weird family members are visited, and stops at roadside attractions go horribly wrong along the way, in much the same fashion as Chevy Chase encountered time and time again. And you know what? It’s pretty damn funny.

First-time directors John Frances Daley and Johnathan M. Goldstein stick close enough to the formula so the film feels like it fits in the loosey-goosey “Vacation” universe (ugh, thanks Marvel), but update the style and delivery of the jokes so it doesn’t feel like a relic from the ‘80s—meaning there are less boobs but more foul-mouthed kids and references to dicks. Helms plays Rusty as if he’s Andy from “The Office” in witness protection, and while he can’t match the simmering lunacy Chevy Chase delivered as the elder Griswold (he and Beverly D’Angelo cameo here), Helms’ clueless, positive Rusty running afoul of the universe is some funny stuff. Throw in sharp cameos from comedy ringers like Tim Heidecker, Charlie Day, Nick Kroll, Kaitlin Olson, and Michael Peña and you’ve got a road trip comedy more enjoyable than most.

Anchorman 2

December 20, 2013 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Will Ferrell, Christina Applegate, Paul Rudd
Directed by: Adam McKay (“Step Brothers,” “Anchorman”)
Written by: Will Ferrell and Adam McKay (“Anchorman,” “Step Brothers”)

My day job puts me in a bonafide local TV newsroom every day, wherein 2004’s “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” is held sacred. Hardly a day goes by that doesn’t feature some anchor or reporter or producer throwing out one of the many absurdist quotes that turned the comedy into a true cult classic. Will Ferrell’s mustachioed, buffoonish newsman has become his most endearing creation, yet it still took nine years of studio wrangling to get a sequel up and running. After months of Ferrell doing in-character talk show appearances, SUV commercials, and genuine local newscasts, Ron Burgundy and the Channel 4 News Team has finally reassembled on the big screen in “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.”

Picking up several years after the first film, “Anchorman 2” opens with Ron Burgundy and Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) anchoring the network news as the first-ever husband and wife duo. When veteran anchor Mack Harken (Harrison Ford) decides to step down, he taps Corningstone as his replacement and fires Ron. When Ron’s jealously toward Veronica boils over, the couple splits, sending a drunken Ron back to San Diego, where he hosts dolphin shows at Sea World in between sexually harassing the trainers. Burgundy is offered a second chance, though, when Freddie Shapp (Dylan Baker) shows up offering Ron a new job in broadcasting: reading the news on the world’s first 24-hour news network.

Moreso than the first go-round, “Anchorman 2” has a definite satirical edge. All the affronts to real journalism that 24-hour cable news showcases—wall-to-wall coverage of car chases, rampant speculation in place of facts, mindless jingoism—are the creation of Ron Burgundy in this universe. Thankfully, though, Ferrell and co-writer/director Adam McKay understand that the audience isn’t there just for a “Daily Show”-style takedown of the news media. The duo (and the rest of the cast, by virtue of on-set improv) have packed the movie to the rafters with jokes which, of course, are hit and miss. As can be expected, jokes that became cultural touchstones in the first film, like the epic battle featuring rival news teams and tridents, are rehashed here with the absurdity turned up to 11, and Ron Burgundy belts out even more quotes that will dance around in your brain for years to come. “By the hymen of Olivia Newton-John!” is a early personal favorite.

While Ferrell and McKay could have coasted on pure goodwill generated by the original movie, its clear they shot for the moon with the sequel which, after one initial viewing, is extremely funny…but short of legendary. But, as with the first film, more viewings are likely to change that.

Grade: B

Going the Distance

September 3, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Drew Barrymore, Justin Long, Charlie Day
Directed by: Nannette Burstein (“American Teen”)
Written by: Geoff LaTulippe (debut)

In a typical romantic comedy it’s usually an unwritten rule that a best friend character is given just enough material to steal a scene or two and then spends the rest of his or her time providing sound advice or a shoulder to cry on. But in “Going the Distance” you don’t have to get too far into the film before it becomes evident who is really carrying the rom-com where it needs to go. It is unfortunate Drew Barrymore and Justin Long had to come along and cramp their style.

In “Going the Distance,” Barrymore and Long take a backseat to comedians Charlie Day (TV’s “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”) and Jason Sudeikis (TV’s “Saturday Night Live”), who play Dan and Box, the best friends of Garrett (Long), a record label employee living in New York City who falls for Erin (Barrymore), a newspaper intern, six weeks before she’s scheduled to finish up her internship and move back home to San Francisco.

Despite the short amount of time they have to spend together, Garrett and Erin start their cutesy courtship and first-time screenwriter Geoff LaTulippe makes sure to squeeze as much out of their clever personalities before they retire to opposite sides of the country. Before Erin departs, however, the two decide they want to try a long-distance relationship.

Alone in their respective cities, the new couple, through formulaic montages and rom-com romance revolving around text messages and Skype, Garrett and Erin journey through the vast emotions one would feel if their significant other was thousands of miles away. There to balance out all of Garrett’s jealously and loneliness are Dan and Box, who inject some much needed humor into all his pouty moments. Meanwhile on the West Coast, Christina Applegate plays Erin’s concerned sister Corinne, a character shamelessly cut from the same cloth as Leslie Mann’s in “Knocked Up.”

But like most wannabe Judd Apatowesque comedies, “Going the Distance” has neither the charm nor enough laughs to drag it from the trenches. Aside from the few secondary characters that brighten up all the lame lovie-dovieness that Garrett and Erin share both from afar and when they have the cash to fly in for a visit, Oscar-nominated documentary director Nannette Burstein (“American Teen”) just can’t make the profanity-laced script mesh well enough with eyelash-fluttering romance. 

What’s left are gags about dry humping, pop culture references of “Top Gun,” and a mishap in a tanning salon that set the bar fairly low even for Long’s lack of slapstick-comedy prowess. Barrymore’s still as accessible as ever, but if she’s trying to find some edge in her roles she’ll have to travel farther than this.

Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore

July 30, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: James Marsden, Nick Nolte, Christina Applegate
Directed by: Brad Peyton (debut)
Written by: Ron J. Friedman (“Chicken Little”) and Steve Bencich (“Chicken Little”)

Aptly named “Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore” in reference to the character played by actress Honor Blackman in 1964’s “Goldfinger,” the new talking-animal sequel doesn’t have nearly enough bark or bite for anyone to take notice. Despite the number of James Bond references director Brad Payton and screenwriters Ron J. Friedman and Steve Bencich try to inject into it, the spoof is still as annoying, useless, and lightweight as the pet dander you’d find fused to a couch cushion.

In “Kitty Galore,” a sequel to the first film in 2001, Bette Midler lends her voice to the title character, a hairless, villainous feline who has come up with a dastardly plan to turn all the dogs of the world against his or her owners by broadcasting a high-pitched sound that will cause all canines to go insane.

Enter the team of secret cat and dog spies who put aside their differences and join forces to stop Kitty before she takes over the world. This includes Diggs (James Marsden), a former hot-shot police dog who is released from the force for his risky behavior; Butch (Nick Nolte), a snippy old hound who recruits him; and Catherine (Christina Applegate), a stealthy cat with ninja skills. Even a pigeon named Seamus (Katt Williams) joins up as a feathered informant who might be able to lead them to the bad kitty.

As far as talking-animal movies go, “Kitty Galore” could be worse. Remember the fluffy special agent gerbils in the terrible animated movie “G-Force” last year? At least “Kitty” is able to use a combination of real and CGI pets instead of relying completely on computers to create their heroes. Some of the dogs are huggable enough to capture a kindergartener’s attention, but without any real humor and charm coming from any of these fuzzy characters, it’s difficult to defend a movie that simply refuses to be even a bit original.

Instead, Peyton’s only concern is in how many 007 jokes and references he can squeeze into the short 75-minute runtime (even Roger Moore cheapens his link to Bond to be part of this). After those fail, Peyton goes for the obvious, witless gags: cat nip, dogs sniffing butts, fur balls. There’s even an uncreative parody of “Silence of the Lambs” that turns up for no real reason except to maybe jolt parents from dozing off by giving them something they’d recognize.

As easily forgettable as the original, “Kitty Galore” will trigger some reaction from the youngest moviegoers (probably in the form of “look at the doggy, mommy!”), but even a caboodle full of cute kittens isn’t reason enough to drag the entire family out for a weekend matinee.