Get Hard

March 28, 2015 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Will Ferrell, Kevin Hart, Tip “T.I.” Harris
Directed by: Etan Cohen (debut)
Written by: Jay Martel (debut) & Ian Roberts (debut) and Etan Cohen (“Tropic Thunder”)

There are two distinct types of Will Ferrell comedies. The first is the variety he’s heavily involved in with writing partner and director Adam McKay (here only a producer), turning out a screenplay that feels like it’s been work shopped in Ferrell’s absurdist head for years before funding for the film came through, like the legendary “Anchorman” or “Step Brothers.” Then there’s the other type, where Ferrell is an actor for hire, adding some surface-level lunacy to a ho-hum script. You can feel him being a team player, but he’s not really invested in the material. Ferrell’s latest, “Get Hard,” featuring the currently-hot Kevin Hart as his co-star, falls squarely into the lesser Ferrell movie category, likely with more racism and homophobia than you might expect from an R-rated comedy in 2015.

Ferrell stars as James King, a somewhat dim multi-millionaire Wall Street broker set to marry the gold-digging daughter (Alison Brie) of his cutthroat boss (Craig T. Nelson). King crosses paths daily with Darnell (Hart), the hard-working owner of a car wash service for the rich brokers in the firm, looking to scrape together $30 grand to move his family to a new home in a nicer part of town. When King is framed and convicted of fraud, a judge throws the book at him, foregoing the typical white collar minimum security sentence and instead sending King off to San Quentin for 10 years. Terrified for what will become of his life–and, frankly, his anal virginity—behind bars, the lily-white King solicits help from Darnell who, because he’s black, King assumes has been to prison. Darnell has not, in fact, ever been incarcerated, but he takes King’s money to become his prison coach anyway, which mostly amounts to scene after scene of the two men discussing how to prevent ass rape.

Sure, there are a few good laughs in “Get Hard,” but there’s also a weird discomfort to the whole thing. While I personally don’t see the film crossing the line into blatantly racist or homophobic territory (as a straight white man, I have little to be offended about personally by either topic, I admit, so maybe I’m not the best one to ask), the movie just isn’t sharp or funny enough to give it the bulletproof satirical armor it needs to defend itself from the attacks it knows it will provoke. Is it funny for a group of black inner-city males to joke about how much they love murdering people? Is it funny to see Will Ferrell revolted-yet-determined to suck a dick in a bathroom stall? Well, yeah, I guess, but in 2015, you need to make sure people are laughing for the right reasons, otherwise you have to explain yourself, and that’s the death of comedy.

Men in Black 3

May 25, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin
Directed by: Barry Sonnenfeld (“Men In Black”)
Written by:  Etan Cohen (“Tropic Thunder”)

Released in 1997, the first “Men In Black” was a breezy, quirky summer movie hit that succeeded in blending an original, humor-and-alien-laden script with big-budget action and special effects. In the process, it also confirmed Will Smith’s mega-star status after he starred the year prior in the blockbuster hit “Independence Day.”  Of course a follow-up was a no-brainer, and everyone’s worst instincts took over. Infected with deadly sequel-bloat, 2002’s “Men In Black II” was a half-baked mess, an empty collection of CGI strung together by a limp screenplay that seemed more concerned with expanding minor kid-friendly jokes from the first film into full-fledged main characters than recapturing the satirical edge that made the original so enjoyable. What was once a promising franchise had been spectacularly mishandled, and when years went by with the summer movie season being ceded to comic book superheroes, the world at large figured the series had been left for dead. Never underestimate the power of an established name brand in Hollywood. No matter how creatively compromised, there’s always room to make money.

Directed once again by Barry Sonnenfeld, “Men In Black 3” opens deep within the walls of a lunar prison built to house dangerous intergalactic biker-ish criminal Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement, one half of Flight of the Conchords). With the help of a beautiful woman and a cake concealing a spidery/crabby cohort, Boris is able to escape and set in motion his plan to seek revenge on the man who locked him up and took his arm: Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones). When K’s partner Agent J (Will Smith) learns Boris’ plan involves traveling back in time to kill K before he can deploy a planetary defense system, J jumps back to 1969 just before Boris’ arrival. J’s plan goes awry, however, when a young Agent K (Josh Brolin) apprehends him, forcing J, once again, to break through his future partner’s stoic demeanor in an effort to save the planet.

While this second sequel is easy to dismiss sight unseen, taking into account how much the last movie missed the mark and the fact that these characters have been in a deep freeze for 10 years, the end result is surprisingly enjoyable. “MIB 3” effectively ignores the second film entirely, with nary a mention of K’s five-year hiatus as a postmaster or Frank the Welcome-Wearing-Out Talking Bulldog. Instead, it tosses us directly into the day-to-day duties of K’s and J’s decade-and-half partnership as if they never missed a beat. While Jones comes off a little tired and disinterested (and really, his role is more or less a cameo), Smith seems invigorated by being back in the action/comedy/sci-fi saddle. Being the fish out of water suits Smith well and the movie really kicks into gear when he arrives in 1969. Credit Sonnenfeld and screenwriter Etan Cohen (“Tropic Thunder”) for not shying away from the perils an outspoken, well-dressed black man would face in the late-‘60s, especially when he’s driving a stolen car and carrying a weapon. The real standout, though, is Josh Brolin’s killer take on Agent K. Perfectly matching the cadence and demeanor of Tommy Lee Jones, Brolin makes the perfect foil to the wizened Smith, evoking with a wink the relationship established in the first film that made the characters so appealing. Clement also shines as the menacing, slightly-underwritten Boris, especially when he’s given the chance to dole out some trademark deadpan humor. And a cameo by SNL’s Bill Hader as Andy Warhol flies in the face of what you’d expect and brings big laughs in the process.

So whip out the neuralizer, zap away all memories of the second movie, and enjoy the film as the satisfying “Men In Black” follow-up adventure we should have gotten years ago.

Tropic Thunder

August 24, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Robert Downey  Jr.
Directed by: Ben Stiller (“Reality Bites”)
Written by: Ben Stiller (“Zoolander”), Justin Theroux (debut), and Etan Cohen (TV’s “King of the Hill”)

If you know who director/screenwriter Aaron Seltzer is, then you probably know that his contributions to movie spoofs in the past 12 years have been some of the lamest attempts in the comedy genre. From the superfluous “Scary Movie” sequels to bombs like “Date Movie” and “Epic Movie,” Seltzer has in someway been involved in a major portion of Hollywood’s parody awfulness.

So, when a movie like “Tropic Thunder” comes along and proves that satirical jokes can have a bit more snarky bite behind them, you have to scoop it up and consider it a nice surprise at the end of the summer movie season.

As a director, actor Ben Stiller doesn’t have much proof that he can carry a film like this. Although “Zoolander” had its moments, his only other outings as a filmmaker were with 1996’s “The Cable Guy” and 1994’s “Reality Bites.” Those films, however, didn’t have what Stiller is working with here, namely Robert Downey Jr. Yes, Downey Jr., like he does in his summer blockbuster “Iron Man,” steals the show.

In “Tropic Thunder,” Downey Jr. plays Kirk Lazarus, a multi-Academy Award-winning actor, who undergoes a controversial procedure to darken his skin for a role in a Vietnam War movie. The movie within the movie, “Tropic Thunder,” is having major production problems starting with its novice and frustrated director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) and its pre-Madonna cast.

Along with Kirk, the role players on the set are Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), a drugged-out comedian who relies on his half-wit humor in Hollywood to earn him a paycheck (hope you’re watching Eddie Murphy), and Tugg Speedman (Stiller), an action movie star whose latest role as a mentally retarded man earns him career-damaging criticism.

When Damien is confronted by Four Leaf Tayback (Nick Nolte), the real life war hero portrayed in his film, he decides that the only way he is going to get true performances out of his cast is if he shoots the movie deep in the jungles of southeast Asia, which are overflowing with dangerous drug lords. He’s also getting pressure from film producer Les Grossman (Tom Cruise, who shows his critics that he doesn’t always have to be stone-cold serious; remember “Goldmember?”), who’s demanding the crew finish the big-budget war epic without bankrupting the studio.

When Downey Jr., who is downright entertaining, is on screen, is when “Tropic Thunder” is its best. As a mixed bag of exaggerated comedy and action, I’d recommend “Pineapple Express” before this. Still, everyone involved in “Tropic Thunder” is never afraid to poke fun at all things taboo in Hollywood, and sometimes being that ballsy goes a long way.