Ep. 111 – Annihilation, Game Night

February 28, 2018 by  
Filed under Podcast

This week on The CineSnob Podcast, Cody and Jerrod review “Annihilation” and “Game Night.” The guys are also baffled by James Gunn’s revelation that Baby Groot isn’t Groot reincarnated, but actually Groot’s son.

Click here to download the episode!

Game Night

February 22, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Rachel McAdams, Jason Bateman, Jesse Pleamons
Directed by: John Francis Daley (“Vacation”) and Jonathan Goldstein (“Vacation”)
Written by: Mark Perez (“Accepted”)

What happens when a seemingly normal evening goes awry? It’s a trite comedy formula that has lived through plenty of cinematic reiterations over recent years, many of which center around an adult-orientated party, the heavy consumption of hard liquor and a lot of poor decision making. When all is said and done, movie characters usually end up doing something stupid like accidentally killing a prostitute or stealing a tiger from Mike Tyson.

The so-so 2010 comedy “Date Night” starring Steve Carell and Tina Fey attempted to put more of a nerdy, everyday spin on the subgenre and ask what would happen if an ordinary, middle-aged married couple went for a night out together and got caught up in some seedy activities. The new “Game Night” aligns more with this pair of square characters than it does with those looking to snort coke off strippers. “Game Night,” however, takes the idea of average couples doing average things and runs with it. With broad strokes of self-awareness, a screwy screenplay that sometimes crosses the line into parody, and one specific supporting character that steals the entire movie, “Game Night” is more gratifying than hearing an opponent say, “You sunk my battleship!”

In “Game Night,” Oscar nominee Rachel McAdams (“Spotlight”) and Jason Bateman (“Bad Words”) star as Annie and Max, a married couple that share a love for competitive games. The two meet-cute when they simultaneously answer a random question about Teletubbies during a trivia event at a bar. Although their lives are more fun than a barrel of monkeys, Annie and Max are having trouble conceiving a child. Max’s stress-related fertility problems are stemming from the issues he has with his hotshot brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler). The only way to overcome his shortcomings is to confront him head on.

Luckily, with Brooks back in town, he can join the regular rotation in Annie and Max’s weekly game night where some of their friends come over to partake in games like charades and Pictionary. Little do Annie and Max know that Brooks has planned a special surprise for them during one of their game nights when he hires a local entertainment company to pull off a simulated murder mystery, so everyone can search for clues and play along. When Brooks, however, is actually kidnapped by masked men who break into his house during the game, Annie and Max think the incident is all part of the elaborate contest until they finally realize it’s not. With a pair of armed criminals making demands, the friends find themselves wishing their lame night ended with some warm wine and Yahtzee instead.

Although they failed in their attempt to reboot the Chevy Chase vehicle “Vacation” in 2015 with Ed Helms in the lead role, don’t hold it against directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein for too much longer. The filmmaking duo, who also wrote both “Horrible Bosses” movies, turn a real corner with this dark comedy partnership that feels edgy without going into places that are out of sync with the tone. Yes, “Game Night” is rated R, but it really isn’t a full-throated hard-R like some might imagine. Instead, the film leaves room for some heart and internal exploration, although it might be difficult to think too deeply with all the well-earned laughter, especially in the film’s first half.

Although it’s McAdams and Bateman leading their cast of misfits through the story, a major secondary player in the game is actor Jesse Plemons (“Observe and Report,” “The Master”). Plemons plays Gary, the couple’s creepy police officer neighbor who once attended game nights with his wife at Annie and Max’s house before their divorce, a fact that doesn’t deter him from making things awkward by asking when the next game night is and ultimately forcing Annie and Max to avoid contact with him. Make no mistake; as a character, Gary’s got the goods and Plemons delivers a perfect comedic performance in only a few short scenes. In a dry, dour and unsettling kind of way, he’s that impressive.

All in all, the raucous comedy is more enjoyable than, well, a traditional game night. With sharp jokes and queasy-worthy violence, some nicely timed movie and celebrity references, and a lively electronic score by Cliff Martinez (“Contagion,” “Drive”), “Game Night” scores.

The Gift

August 7, 2015 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, Joel Edgerton
Directed by: Joel Edgerton (debut)
Written by: Joel Edgerton (“The Rover”)

On the surface, “The Gift” appears to be nothing more than a run-of-the-mill thriller about a creepy guy who inserts himself too aggressively into the lives of our heroes. Dogs go missing, expensive fish are poisoned, and nightmares are had featuring Gordo the Weirdo (Joel Edgerton, in his directorial debut) executing classic jump scares. But then the film evolves into something different, twisting the relationships sideways and transforming “The Gift” from a too-familiar domestic thriller into…well, a domestic thriller with some motivational ambiguity.

When young professional couple Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) move back near Simon’s home town for a fresh start, a chance encounter at a home store with Simon’s former classmate Gordo—who Simon barely remembers—throws a wrench in their plans. After tracking down the couple’s address, Gordo begins dropping by unexpectedly and leaving gifts on the front porch, starting with a bottle of wine. In an effort to remain polite, Robyn keeps inviting Gordo inside as Simon’s frustration grows. When an aborted dinner party at Gordo’s house goes wrong, catching him in an elaborate lie, Simon and Robyn break off ties with Gordo, but slowly the secrets about how he and Simon know one another begin to unravel, leaving Robyn wondering just who her husband really is.

Lots of praise has been heaped on actor-turned-director Edgerton for his first time behind the camera, and it’s a promising if somewhat safe and predictable debut. After threatening to turn the adult thriller genre on its head with ambiguous protagonists and antagonists, Edgerton instead goes for the low-hanging fruit of a nigh-implausible revenge fantasy resolution. Perhaps the most interesting aspect is the character of Robyn, to whom the movie really belongs…until a last minute twist turns her into nothing more than a tool for vengeance in the film’s off-putting climax involving what may or may not be a horrible crime. Hall’s drug-dependent Robyn slowly comes to realize Bateman’s Simon may be hiding something from her, pushing their relationship to the breaking point, only to have Edgerton pivot and hand the movie back to Simon. Edgerton has some talent as a director and a storyteller, and with some more time to polish his resume, he could afford to avoid taking roles in junk like “Exodus: Gods and Kings” and become the Australian Ben Affleck.

Horrible Bosses 2

November 28, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day
Directed by: Sean Anders (“That’s My Boy”)
Written by: Sean Anders (“Dumb and Dumber To”) and John Morris (“Dumb and Dumber To”)

In an alarming trend that has been documented on this site many, many times, the cornucopia of sequels released every year is becoming absurd. Most of the time, either with a follow up to a financially successful first installment or the fervor of a fanatical fanbase, most sequels have at least some element that is beneficial to the studio. Then you get something like “Horrible Bosses 2.” It made a respectable $117 million domestically (though a far cry from the ridiculous $277 million that the first “Hangover” movie that spawned a franchise) and was a decent enough comedy, but it certainly did not have people clamoring for a sequel. But this is the film landscape we inhabit, and as a result, clueless amateur criminals played by Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day are back for more in this unnecessary follow-up.

After being put in a position to have their new company and invention completely fail, friends Nick (Bateman), Kurt (Sudeikis) and Dale (Day) decide the only thing they can do to keep their business afloat is to kidnap their rich offender’s son and hold him for ransom. But as we know, the trio are far from criminal masterminds and must once again figure out how to get away with a serious crime without screwing up.

In the worst symptom of “sequelitis,” this is where the film, with a shaky premise at best, begins to retrace its steps from the first movie. The film hits repeated comedic beat after repeated comedic beat and tells the same jokes as the first film under slightly different circumstances. They completely botch breaking into places and risk their identities being compromised, only this time, they are somehow dumber than before.

Beyond plot points, the character designs are also extremely similar. Jennifer Anniston is still completely sex crazed, Kevin Spacey’s character is still ruthless and mean and Jamie Foxx’s “Motherfucker Jones” continues to give worthless advice in exchange money or goods. It is here where the jokes start to feel completely stale. The novelty of Aniston’s character, for example, was one of the most memorable things about the first film. Here, it feels obligatory and passé as the novelty of it has completely worn off. As far as peripheral characters, the most notable is the one inhabited by Chris Pine, who is ironically enough rehashing a character type of his own, playing a cleaner and slightly less crazy iteration of his rich character from Joe Carnahan’s “Stretch.” Still, Pine is game here and fits in well with the gang proving himself to be pretty talented at comedy.

It would be unfair to say that “Horrible Bosses 2” is completely humorless. The sheer talent of the three leads and their undeniable chemistry allows the film to be occasionally funny, mostly at one-liners rather than its bigger, broader moments. Like the first film, Day probably garners the most consistent laughs, but everyone here is clearly having fun. But even though there are some laughs to be had, it doesn’t change the fact that “Horrible Bosses 2” has no real reason to exist and is less funny and inferior in every way to its predecessor. It’s almost as if they played “Mad Libs” with the beats and inserted a new crime. What a waste of a fantastic comedy trio.

Jason Bateman & Kathryn Hahn – Bad Words

March 21, 2014 by  
Filed under Interviews

In the obscenity-laden “Bad Words,” actor Jason Bateman (TV’s “Arrested Development”) takes on a dark comedy with a bit of a mean streak and chalks up his first feature film as a director. Seeking revenge for something audiences aren’t privy to until the end of the movie, grown man Guy Trilby (Bateman) finds a loophole in the national spelling bee rules and weasels his way into the competition where he grudgingly befriends a fellow speller (Rohan Chand) and teaches him that there just might be more to life that spelling 10-syllable words. Kathryn Hahn (TV’s “Parks and Recreation) plays Jenny Widgeon, a reporter trying to uncover what is actually motivating Guy to go through the trouble to beat a bunch of eight year olds in a spelling contest.

During an interview at the 2014 South by Southwest Film Festival, we talked to Bateman about his foray into the directing chair, and asked Hahn how comfortable she is in real life dropping a few F-bombs every now and then.

Cody Villafana: Jason, did you find that working in TV for so long gave you an advantage to where you’re learning from different directors over the course of a season rather than one director over the course of a film shoot?

Jason Bateman: Yes. Certainly actors have a great advantage in that if they want to transition into directing we work with a ton of directors. Other directors don’t ever work another director so they have no idea whether their process on the set is slow, fast, inspiring or boring. So, we get to cherry pick all these things. The other advantage of working in television is that you usually have a pretty short schedule and you’ve got a high page count to shoot every day. You’ve got to be good, fast. With comedy, that sometimes is even more difficult because you’re trying to make it believable but heightened believable. So, you’ve got to make scenes work really quickly with the blocking, with the performance, with where the cameras are. So that’s really helpful with directing cause you’ve gotta be pretty nimble.

Kiko Martinez: Kathryn, this film, of course, got a rated a hard R for some rather salty dialogue. Some people might say the classier the woman, the less she curses. Would you agree?

Kathryn Hahn: No! I like a broad!

KM: What are some life situations you’d have to be in to start letting the expletives fly?

KH: (Laughs) Oh, I mean, anything! Name your poison! I love a swear word. I really do. But I have the two peanuts at home. I have to edit myself big time because they take it all in.

KM: Jason, your co-star in this film, Rohan Chand, seems like a very mature young man. With that said, was it challenging to curse with him around, especially when the expletives were aimed his way?

JB: Not really. The film wasn’t improvised. He and his parents knew everything that was coming. They were certainly prepped for it. I had extensive conversations with him and his parents about the kind of tone and spirit of all these prickly scenes and where it was coming from and what the deeper, slightly more sophisticated agenda was that was at play underneath, hopefully the whole movie and certainly Guy’s journey. I just asked them to trust me that I was going to build a film aesthetic that wasn’t going to feel gratuitous or arbitrary to the audience. This wasn’t going to be something embarrassing, hopefully. This was a drama to everyone inside the movie. This guy got his feelings hurt and he wasn’t properly equipped to deal with that. We, the sane audience, laugh at his inability to manage his life. But it is a drama to them. We hoped that would be the spine of the movie so those more prickly things would feel a little less sophomoric.

KM: Kathryn, you’re known the comedies you’ve made over the last 10 years, including “Step Brothers” and “Anchorman.” How funny were you actually allowed to be during your time in the school of drama at Yale University? I would’ve guessed it would be more classic theater training.

KH: Not funny at all. (Laughs) There’s nothing funny about Yale. (Laughs) No, we did a lot of comedy. We laughed a lot. We had an awesome class. I loved my class there. We had a clown teacher out there who was important to us. We did some commedia. We didn’t do a lot of improvising. That didn’t happen for me until after I graduated. I never took any improv classes or anything like that. I think being introduced to [director] Adam McKay and that group cracked that open for me. I will never forget that experience at Yale. It was such a rigorous, blessed three years. I didn’t have to worry about anything except the work that was in front of me. I mean, we were rehearsing plays at 1 a.m. It was heaven, heaven, heaven. I didn’t have a television. It was the best. I will hold that experience to my heart forever. I was just accruing loans. (Laughs)I knew I would eventually have to pay that off, but you didn’t really have to think about it while you were there. It was pure. But, yeah, comedy is hard. Really hard. But we had a ball.

CV: Kathryn, where do you feel like your character’s interests lied? Do you think she wanted to see him succeed or getting the story or do you think there was any growth with that throughout the film?

KH: That’s an interesting question. I think she starts off just trying to find out why and then I think she gets invested. I think she gets invested and when she finds out why he’s doing what he’s doing…I think she really, really wants him to bail. I think that’s what pushes her over at the end. They both moved into something deeper with each other at the end because she sees that he was able to move past it and grow up. I love a movie that is about the underdogs – the fringe. None of the people that you meet in this movie are at the cool kids’ table, which I love. It’s its own beautiful world that has its own power structure and dynamics and politics. It’s so complete. Guy and Jenny are really frozen adults. You see [Guy] on that stage and he’s a man-child. He is frozen in this petulant child. Now you know why, but that’s why I think some of the things he does to those children are bad. Obviously he’s smart enough, but I think he’s lashing out. We find out he is smart enough to get through that spelling bee on his own merit and yet he still does these reprehensible things to these kids, so there’s a lot operating. He doesn’t trust himself. What I love about the casting is that those kids really meet him as equals on that stage. It’s really strange he’s like a kid on that stage with them. That’s such a tricky thing to pull off.

“Bad Words” screened as a part of SXSW 2014.

For more coverage of SXSW 2014, click here.

Bad Words

March 21, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Jason Bateman, Kathryn Hahn, Rohan Chand
Directed by: Jason Bateman (debut)
Written by: Andrew Dodge (debut)

As the actor who had his career completely rejuvenated by the classic TV show “Arrested Development,” it is perhaps fitting that those words are the best description of Jason Bateman’s character in a seminal moment of his filmmaking career. Playing the role of Guy Trilby, a man who enters a spelling bee for children, Bateman makes his feature film directorial debut in the foul-mouthed comedy “Bad Words.”

Finding a loophole in the rules for “The Golden Quill” spelling bee, Guy Trilby (Bateman) decides to hijack a children’s spelling be for motives unknown. As he gets to the big contest, he runs into a 10-year-old named Chaitanya (Rohan Chand) who follows Guy around, wanting desperately to be his friend. Annoyed by both Chaitanya and the reporter following him around for his story played by Kathryn Hahn, Guy must avoid distractions laid forth by the spelling bee organizers to try and achieve his goal.

For a guy who has been playing straight-man roles for years, (with the exception of a couple of projects) Bateman proves to be fully adept at playing a petulant prick. In fact, the films highest moments come as Bateman and first-time screenwriter Andrew Dodge combine to create some truly creative obscenities, in front of children no less. As his onscreen partner for most of the film, Chand’s personality is infectious. While he might give the occasional overenthusiastic line reading, he provides a really fun companionship and foil to Bateman’s character.

After the fast and often hilarious beginning of Trilby weaseling his way into the contest, the narrative begins to unravel, and to a certain extent, so does the film. The mysteries of Guy’s actions and motives are very slowly revealed, to the point where it feels a little too drawn out. The ending of the film also feels a little thrown together, and the cursing/getting into trouble schtick wears a touch thin. As a result, the film feels a bit messy and frontloaded with its most entertaining scenes.

Possibly the biggest issue facing “Bad Words” is the delicate balance between having moments in the film be humorous and just plain mean-spirited. It’s a line that is toed finely by Bateman and company throughout the course of the film. For the most part, “Bad Words” stays on the funny side of things. Faults aside, “Bad Words” has some truly big laughs at the expense of its sheer inappropriateness. It may not be the best comedy of the year, but Bateman has certainly shown himself to be a capable director.

“Bad Words” screened as a part of SXSW 2014.

For more coverage of SXSW 2014, click here.

Identity Thief

February 10, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Jason Bateman, Melissa McCarthy, Jon Favreau
Directed by: Seth Gordon (“Horrible Bosses”)
Written by: Craig Mazin (“The Hangover Part II”)

Though Kirsten Wiig might have been the star and creative force behind the smash hit “Bridesmaids,” perhaps nobody benefited more from the films success than actress Melissa McCarthy. Not only did she have the entire country talking about how funny she was, but she rode that level of acclaim and popularity to heights like hosting “Saturday Night Live,” winning an Emmy for her work on “Mike and Molly,” and even being nominated for an Oscar for her performance in “Bridesmaids.” Like many before her, McCarthy’s status now gives her the chance to jump from scene-stealer to leading lady. She starts that venture off in the new comedy “Identity Thief.”

When Sandy Patterson (Jason Bateman) notices that his identity has been stolen, he must travel to another state to catch the person who is using bank accounts. His trip leads him to Diana (McCarthy), a long-time criminal who uses illegal schemes to excessively spend other people’s money. When Sandy and Diana’s safety is threatened by a crime boss Diana scams, they must travel cross country together before trouble finds them both.

With the television show “Arrested Development,” Bateman proved himself to be one of the best straight-man comedic actors around. His seemingly normal character surrounded by complete chaos served as a perfect springboard for others to play off of him. What made Bateman so great, however, was his ability to find laughs himself through reactions and subtle humor. Unfortunately, Bateman’s post “Arrested” career has him stuck in a similar role to the Michael Bluth character he played on the show. Like his characters in “Horrible Bosses,” “The Switch,” and “Extract,” Bateman once again plays an uptight, seemingly normal man who can’t catch a break. In “Identity Thief,” most of Bateman’s purpose is to stand back and let McCarthy do her thing. Because of this, he does not get to showcase the comedic talent he possesses. It’s unfortunate to see a talented actor fall the victim to typecasting, but Bateman can’t seem to shake this particular persona.

In her first post-“Bridesmaids” leading role, McCarthy whiffs in the humor department, though it isn’t entirely her fault. Flat out, the biggest issue is that director Seth Gordon banks on the most of the humor in the film coming from the audience finding McCarthy unconditionally funny. Time and time again throughout “Identity Thief,” the audience is expected to laugh at the barrage of unfunny scenes and situations simply because it is McCarthy doing it. Simply put, it is putting faith that audiences find her inherently funny. It’s the same thing that happens with Will Ferrell. Someone pitches “Will Ferrell as a figure skater” or “Will Ferrell as a 70’s basketball player.” They skimp on quality, bank on people to find laughs because they find everything that Will Ferrell does funny, and end up with massive duds like “Blades of Glory” or “Semi-Pro.” There are more than a few scenes in “Identity Thief” that dig for cheap, lazy laughs rooted in a woman of McCarthy’s size doing physical acts or acting over the top.

Of course, the main reason why the comedy in “Identity Thief” fails is because of screenwriter Craig Mazin, who penned “The Hangover Part II” and the last two movies of the “Scary Movie” franchise. It’s hard to tell what the goal of the film is, but whatever pieces that are attempted fall short. The film doesn’t evoke the mismatched chemistry and build the complex and humorous relationships that road-trip comedies typically have. This also includes the few scenes of raunchy, gross-out comedy. The films few amusing moments come from clear improvisation from its two leads. There is a tonal shift towards the end of the film that features some attempts at dramatic moments that don’t fit. Even though the scenes don’t work in the context of the film, McCarthy is able to show her emotional range as an actress and proves that if perhaps given better material, she can really shine in a role that calls for humor and dramatic chops.

One of the more interesting storylines to follow with “Identity Thief” will be if McCarthy can prove herself to be a big box-office draw as a lead actress. Perhaps there are enough people who do find her funny in any situation and will devotedly show up at the box office for her latest films. While her time as a burgeoning lead comedy star is off to an inauspicious start, one wonders what she can do if she’s not forced to be the female version of Kevin James.

The Change-Up

August 5, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jason Bateman, Ryan Reynolds, Leslie Mann
Directed by: David Dobkin (“Wedding Crashers”)
Written by:  Jon Lucas (“The Hangover”) and Scott Moore (“The Hangover”)

Body-switching comedies like “The Change-Up” are tough to wrap your head around. Typically they involve ordinary people living ordinary lives in an ordinary world suddenly and inexplicably visited upon by some sort of magic. In the real world, such a thing would probably destroy the psyches of the people involved. Questions of their place in the universe would arise, and likely they would be driven mad because really, who would believe you were the victim of a magic spell instead of just a simple mental illness? Instead, in these movies, the switched parties are initially shocked but then end up accepting the enchantment, playing pretend, and admiring their new private parts in the mirror.

The victims of this free-floating sorcery in “The Change-Up” are workaholic lawyer Dave Lockwood (Jason Bateman) and sporadically-employed actor Mitch Planko (Ryan Reynolds).  Dave is married with three kids, stuck in a rut of late-night diaper changes and “dialogue nights” meant to save his marriage. Mitch is single, prowling around an adolescent bachelor pad with a samurai sword and a steady stream of sexual conquests streaming through the door. The lifelong friends reconnect after a night of drinking and baseball, each envious of the other‘s life. An impromptu bathroom break in a downtown fountain, coupled with a power outage and a simultaneous wish, conjures up the body-switching magic.

What follows is Body Switching Comedy 101: wouldn’t you know it, today is the most important day in Dave’s career. He has to close The Big Deal in order to make partner, but his consciousness is stuck in Mitch’s body. And of course Mitch has a big “acting” gig lined up today, but, as you remember, they’ve switched bodies. Still, they might as well get used to it because they can’t just go pee in the fountain again because it’s been moved, you see, and the government bureaucracy involved in finding it will mean lots of waiting and living each other’s lives. Yes, this random magic is beholden to paperwork.

The cast is likable. It’s refreshing to see Bateman play a callous jerk instead of just the flustered straight man, and it’s nice to see Reynolds in something that isn’t “The Green Lantern.” And Leslie Mann and Olivia Wilde are on board for the requisite R-rated nudity. While “The Change-Up” does have laughs, far too many of the attempts come from things like CGI-enhanced babies and their high-velocity poop.

The Switch

August 20, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jennifer Aniston, Jason Bateman, Jeff Goldblum
Directed by: Josh Gordon (“Blades of Glory”) and Will Speck (“Blades of Glory”)
Written by: Allan Loeb (“Things We Lost in the Fire”)
While any pitch that starts off with the words, “By the two guys who directed ‘Blades of Glory’” isn’t necessarily an effective selling point, “The Switch” finds a way to avoid becoming the sitcom-type movie it sets itself up to be by delivering some surprising sentimentality and an honest script by screenwriter Allan Loeb (“Things We Lost in the Fire”). Despite a lack of hearty laughs, this is the kind of dramedy where it feels just as good to smile.

In “The Switch,” originally titled “The Baster,” Hollywood sweetheart Jennifer Aniston (“The Break Up”) stars as Kassie Larson, a TV producer who can’t ignore the thumping of her biological clock any longer. She wants a baby, but without any potential relationships lined up Kassie decides that all she really needs is a suitable sperm donor to make her a mommy.

Jason Bateman (“Juno”) plays Wally Mars, Kassie’s cynical analyst best friend who isn’t keen on her plans to conceive artificially. During her sperm donor party (what, you’ve never been to one?), Wally replaces the sperm sample of Kassie’s preferred donor Roland (Patrick Wilson) with his own, although he was under the influence when he made the, er, deposit.

After Kassie moves away from New York City and back again in the span of seven years, Wally finally meets his son Sebastian (Thomas Robinson in a scene-stealing role) who he doesn’t really know is his offspring until he starts noticing peculiar little similarities they share while he spends time with him. Not only does Sebastian have some of his quirks, he’s also quite neurotic for a kid his age.

But how does Wally bring up a secret he’s never been aware of until recently? Things get even messier when Kassie begins to date the original sperm donor, who has always thought he contributed to her happiness.

Despite a fairly predictable screenplay, directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck and screenwriter Loeb aren’t tied down to any lowbrow humor a film like “The Switch” could have easily relied on. Instead, there are some genuine, heartfelt moments especially during the scenes Bateman and young Robinson share together. It’s through these tender moments when “The Switch” wears its heart on its sleeve and becomes a sweet film that explores the complications of parenthood and friendship.

Couples Retreat

October 9, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Vince Vaughn, Jason Bateman, Kristen Bell
Directed by: Peter Billingsley (debut)
Written by: Vince Vaughn (debut), Jon Favreau (“Swingers”), Dana Fox (“What Happens in Vegas”)

Pack light. “Couples Retreat” might seem like an island paradise at first glance, but the star-powered date movie quickly turns into something as enjoyable as the most annoying parts of a free timeshare vacation.

Directed by Peter Billingsley (he played Ralphie in “A Christmas Story”), “Couples Retreat” is not the kind of comedy anyone should take their fiancé (or fiancée) to if they plan to keep the thought of marriage positive before the big day. With so many unlikeable and featureless characters and a script that reads like a fall TV sitcom begging to get axed after six episodes, “Retreat” recoils into childish and repetitive jokes, character clichés (Carlos Ponce steals Hank Azaria’s role from “Along Came Polly” and plays a macho womanizer) and a whole lot of unfunny foolishness.

Basically, the film capsizes right from the start. Married couple Jason and Cynthia (Jason Bateman and Kristen Bell) are thinking about getting a divorce. They’ve weighed all the pros and cons of splitting up, but don’t think they can come to a conscious decision unless they make one last effort by going to a tropical island resort where they can spend quality time with each other and get some much-needed marriage counseling.

Problem is, Jason and Cynthia can’t afford the trip on their own (here’s an idea: plan a cheaper trip), so they ask their friends to go with them so they can take advantage of the group rate. It takes some groveling on Jason’s part, but before anyone can say Beach Blanket Bingo Dave and Ronnie (Vince Vaughn and Malin Ackerman), Joey and Lucy (Jon Favreau and Kristin Davis), and Shane and Trudy (Faizon Love and Kali Hawk) are getting off an airplane at a destination described as “Disneyland for adults.”

But what is supposed to be a fun-filled week for a majority of the group becomes a dreaded marathon of couple-building exercises when relationship guru Monsieur Marcel (Jean Reno) makes everyone wake up a the crack of dawn to talk about their feelings and participate in other nonsensical icebreakers (who knew throwing bloody chum at sharks could save a marriage!).

Each couple has their specific problems, but none of them are of much significance in the hands of screenwriters Favreau, Vaughn, and Dana Fox (“What Happens in Vegas”). What the writing trio identifies with the most isn’t the deep-seeded problems of a broken relationship, but instead how far they can push their couples (and the audience) to the brink of boredom.

The funniest scene of the movie comes when the men are discussing whether or not thinking about other women while having sex with your wife should be considered cheating. It’s not a groundbreaking joke or anything, but the guys refer to it as a personal “highlight reel” (the best sexual experiences of one’s life), which is fairly clever in terms of sports metaphors. A few misplaced chuckles, however, don’t make up for the movie’s major limitations.

“When you’re married, love is having someone to go to Applebee’s with,” Vaughn’s Dave proclaims by the end of the movie. It might sound like the same kind of cute gibberish you would hear someone like actor Michael Cera deliver in a romantic comedy, but something about “Couples Retreat” makes us think all the characters involved are just dense enough to believe it.


September 10, 2009 by  
Filed under CineStrays

Starring: Jason Bateman, Mila Kunis, Kristen Wiig
Directed by: Mike Judge (“Office Space”)
Written by: Mike Judge (“Office Space”)

As a frustrated owner of a flavor extract company, actor Jason Bateman is as good as the role allows him to be. That’s the problem with Mike Judge’s screenplay. The majority of the characters are one-trick ponies. It works for characters like Milton in “Office Space,” but an entire film crammed with these people is just too much to bare for a feature-length film. Still, there are some humorous situtations that play out fairly well.


July 2, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Will Smith, Charlize Theron, Jason Bateman
Directed by: Peter Berg (“The Kingdom”)
Written by: Vincent Ngo (debut) and Vince Gilligan (“Home Fries”)

With Marvel and DC Comics reaping all the superhero glory over the last few years, it was about time someone else came in to attempt to claim their position in the genre again.

While “The Incredibles” was successful in doing it for animated films in 2004 and “My Super Ex-Girlfriend” failed to do it for action-comedies in 2006, someone else was bound to try again before another textbook “Hulk” or “Spider-Man” made a return to the big screen.

Enter two-time Academy Award-nominated actor Will Smith as the rough-edged superhero title-character in “Hancock.” What Hancock possesses in superhuman strength, speed, and flying ability, he lacks in people skills and finesse. While Superman will fly in to save the day with style, Hancock would rather cause more unnecessary damage to the city streets of L.A. before actually saving lives.

Because of his misguided acts of heroics, the citizens of L.A. view him as more of a public nuisance than a superhero. When Hancock saves Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman) from getting hit by a train, the struggling public relations specialist decides he will thank him by helping revamp his image into one that is more clean-cut and praiseworthy. He does this as his wife Mary (Charlize Theron) cautiously looks on with a few reservations about the whole situation.

Although the premise is a unique take on superhero mythology and could have probably filled an entire film on “Hancock” himself, screenwriters Vincent Ngo and Vine Gilligan throw a wrench in the second half of the film after the first half proves to be spiffy fun. You’ll know when this unjustified twist in the story takes place because “Hancock” becomes amateurish in storytelling as it veers off inside the writers’ heads and onto the script when it should have been more up-front and humorous.