The Croods

March 22, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Nicholas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds
Directed by: Kirk De Micco (“Space Chimps”) and Chris Sanders (“How to Train Your Dragon”)
Written by: Kirk De Micco (“Space Chimps”) and Chris Sanders (“How to Train Your Dragon”)

They may not be the modern-Stone Age family most are familiar with in the cartoon caveman world, but “The Croods” is just as satisfying as any brontosaurus burger you’re likely to find at a prehistoric drive-thru. Sure, the characterizations can sway into familiar territory, but with some overall rock-solid voice acting and directors/writers Kirk De Micco (“Space Chimps”) and Chris Sanders (“How to Train Your Dragon”) digging deep into their imaginations for some fun storytelling, “The Croods” is a family-friendly winner in any era.

While the title of the film isn’t a great way to introduce us to the family (they might as well have called them The Uncooths or The Roughinskys), “The Croods” makes up for it in entertaining albeit recognizable characters. Grug (Nicholas Cage) is the overly-protective patriarch of the family, who uses fear-mongering to get his family to always stay safe in the confines of their cave. Monstrous cat-like creatures roam the terrain, after all. His rebellious teenage daughter Eep (Emma Stone), however, is curious to know what she is missing in a world so full of wonder (“Little Mermaid” anyone?). Rounding out the family tree is Eep’s mother Ugga (Catherine Keener), the logical thinker of the family who understands where her daughter is coming from; Eep’s dopey brother Thunk (Clark Duke), who is basically Chris Griffin (“Family Guy”) in woolly mammoth clothing; Gran (Cloris Leachman), who technically isn’t a Crood since she’s Grugs’s mother-in-law, but still delivers some old-lady laughs; and Sandy (Randy Thom), a toddler that acts more like a Gremlin than baby.

When the family meet Guy (Ryan Reynolds), a more civilized version their Neanderthal selves, Ugg is skeptical of all the fancy inventions he introduces them to like fire and shoes. Driven from their home after a natural disaster, the Croods are forced to journey through strange lands to find a new place to inhabit. During their barefoot road trip, the family learns that experiencing new things is all part of life and doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be eaten whole by a Sabre-Toothed Tiger.

It’s a wonderful message for kids and stops short before rubbing their faces in it. The colorful and incredibly striking animation and funny sight gags and slapstick are what will keep children under the age of eight the most fascinated anyway. Parents, too, shouldn’t find themselves bored with a collection of exotic animals and settings. The creativity makes the Croods’ cave-hunting all the more exciting. The deeper family story also never slow the narrative down in any way. In fact, “The Croods” says a lot more about the father/daughter relationship than Pixar’s “Brave” said about mothers and daughters last year.

Like in some animated films, there is a scene-stealing secondary character like the Minions in “Despicable Me” or the sly penguins in the “Madagascar” franchise. So take heed parents because Belt, Guy’s loveable sloth who he keeps around his waist, will keep everyone laughing with his cliffhanger-inspired crooning. If you’re lucky, the plush version (and not the stinky alive version) will be on your kids’ Christmas lists this year.

Hot Tub Time Machine

March 26, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: John Cusack, Craig Robinson, Rob Corddry
Directed by: Steve Pink (“Accepted”)
Written by: Josh Heald (debut), Sean Anders (“She’s Out of My League”), John Morris (“She’s Out of My League”)

Until “The Hangover 2” hits theaters sometime next year, comedy lovers will be itching to find a male-bonding movie as juvenile and riotous as the original Las Vegas romp of last year. The closest they’ll get so far this season is with “Hot Tub Time Machine.” Despite its similar comedic elements and disregard for levelheadedness, the blast-from-the-past flick doesn’t have more than obvious jokes in its arsenal.

Like “The Hangover,” “Hot Tub” features four friends who find themselves on the biggest misadventure of their lives. Instead of Sin City, however, Adam (John Cusack), Nick, (Craig Robinson), Lou, (Rob Corddry), and Adam’s nephew Jacob (Clark Duke) are vacationing at a Nevada ski resort where the three middle-aged friends used to party back in high school.

Bored with their lives, the trio wants to recapture the glory days when they were all younger, dumber, and full of aspiration. Their trip takes a bizarre twist when the foursome climbs into a mysterious hot tub and are magically transported back to the year 1986 for one more chance to relive their adolescence.

Not only do the boys travel back in time, they also transform back into their teenage bodies (with the exception of Jacob who is already a teen). Since Jacob hasn’t technically been born yet (and since he begins to flicker like Marty McFly in “Back to the Future”), they guys realize if they don’t do exactly what they did 24 years prior, Jacob might disappear and never be born.

The whole idea of the “butterfly effect” is used loosely throughout the film as Adam, Nick , Lou and Jacob search for the hot tub repair man (Chevy Chase in a wasted role) who can get them back to the present day (think Don Knotts in “Pleasantville” without the personality) and run around the resort trying to remember specific aspects of their past so they can keep the future intact.

Most of “Hot Tub” is a one-joke homage to the 80s. It has a number of hilarious moments (especially when Robinson is involved), but wears out the nostalgia after a while. Yes, cassette players and Jheri curls have their place in a movie like this, but why fixate on the obvious?  It’s one thing to create an 80s-inspired world and build a comedy around it, but “Hot Tub” relies too much on the references to get the bulk of its laughs. Legwarmers are funny, but not that funny.