The Oath

November 6, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Ike Barinholtz, Tiffany Haddish, John Cho
Directed by: Ike Barinholtz (debut)
Written by: Ike Barinholtz (“Central Intelligence”)

No matter how tender the turkey or fluffy the mashed potatoes, Thanksgiving dinner is probably not going very well if there is a government official unconscious in the living room with spinal fluid draining from his ears. Nevertheless, grab a fork (or other sharp utensil) and pull up a chair for “The Oath,” a savagely funny dark comedy where participating in the political rancor is the only way to survive through dessert.

Making his directorial debut — and also penning the script and starring in the lead role — is Ike Barinholtz (TV’s “The Mindy Project”), who was seen earlier this year in Blockers helping John Cena chug beer through his butt (known to Brett Kavanaugh as “boofing”). In “The Oath,” Barinholtz plays Chris, an aggravated liberal husband and father who, along with his wife Kai (Tiffany Haddish), decide to host Thanksgiving at their home.

It’s not the best idea for the family to get together, however, since tension is at a boiling point because of the endorsement of “The Patriot Oath,” a state-sponsored loyalty pledge the government is asking every American to voluntarily sign by the deadline on Black Friday. Offended by the dystopian concept, Chris is committed to fighting the system and not sign. His conservative brother Patrick (Jon Barinholtz, Ike’s real-life younger sibling) and his smug girlfriend Abbie (Maredith Hagner) are more than happy to tell Chris they took the Oath months ago.

The heated exchanges between family members about their political beliefs on every divisive subject they can think of blazes into a dumpster fire when two employees of the Citizens Protection Unit, a new division of Homeland Security, pay Chris and Kai’s household a visit to ask Chris some questions about the Oath. Before anyone knows what’s happening, Chris and his family are forced to subdue the two men (John Cho and Billy Magnussen), when one of them becomes aggressive.

At this point in “The Oath,” the sardonic and witty tone — reminiscent of the 1995 political satire “The Last Supper” — takes a sudden turn and abandons the even-handed approach it started with. It becomes a more mean-spirited narrative that favors predictable violence over explaining why people on opposite sides of the aisle want to wring each other’s necks sometimes.

Barinholtz might lose focus during the second half of the movie, but the film lands a good amount of solid gut punches before flying off the rails. By then, however, “The Oath” has reminded audiences that regardless of where their political allegiances lie, it’s probably a good idea to stuff their face with green bean casserole this holiday season, so nothing too stupid comes out of their mouth.

Searching

August 31, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: John Cho, Debra Messing, Michelle La
Directed by: Aneesh Chaganty (debut)
Written by: Aneesh Chaganty (debut) and Sev Ohanian (debut)

The tech thriller “Searching” is a welcome surprise. Although the subgenre is new – a film told exclusively through modern-day technology (iPhones, laptops, hidden cameras, etc.) – “Searching” proves that with enough creativity, a project of this kind doesn’t have to play out like a gimmick.

A movie such as “Searching,” unfortunately, will be copied and re-copied for years to come until Hollywood studios have exhausted its originality – see the found-footage subgenre after “The Blair Witch Project” debuted almost 20 years ago. Other computer thrillers have hit theaters before “Searching” (2014‘s “Open Windows,” 2014’s “Unfriended” and the 2018 sequel “Unfriended: Dark Web”), but it’s safe to say that this film is much more inventive and strikes some important and sympathetic themes.

Directed and co-written by first-time feature filmmaker Aneesh Chaganty, “Searching” begins with one of the most effective setups of 2018 – a quick montage of the happy life of a small family over the span of a few years through home videos, social media posts and other online platforms. When it’s revealed early on that mom (Sara Sohn) has died of cancer, Chaganty and co-writer Sev Ohanian hook viewers emotionally as dad, David Kim (John Cho), and his daughter, Margot, continue their lives on their own.

By laying a strong foundation for a pair of characters we’re about to go through the wringer with for the next 90 minutes, Chaganty and Ohanian understand that without those opening scenes, “Searching” would only resonate on a visceral level. Instead, with these scenes, it’s much easier to sense the frustration and fear David conveys when 16-year-old Margot (Michelle La) goes missing after a late-night study session with friends.

Working with leading Detective Rosemary Vick (Debra Messing) to search for Margot, David starts doing his own investigating by logging onto his daughter’s laptop and poring through her online behavior to see if he can find any clues. However, with Det. Vick and David running into countless dead ends, they both worry their window for finding Margot alive is closing fast.

Like the best true-crime feature dramas and documentaries, “Searching” is a gripping mystery that features a handful of clever plot twists and an underlying feeling of dread that is unshakeable. Skeptical audiences might think a film like this would be limited by the method it chooses to tell its story, but with a smart script and a heartfelt father-daughter relationship at its core, “Searching” is an absorbing and unique achievement.

Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay

April 14, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: John Cho, Kal Penn, Neil Patrick Harris
Directed by: Jon Hurwitz (debut) and Hayden Schlossberg (debut)
Written by: Jon Hurwitz (“Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle”) and Hayden Schlossberg (“Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle”)

Literally starting off right where the first one leaves off (the boys are actually still dirty from their journey to White Castle), best friends Harold Lee (John Cho) and Kumar Patel (Kal Penn) return as the weed-loving duo in “Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay.”

While it’s still not necessarily clear why the first one became a “cult classic” in the bloodshot eyes of stoner’s everywhere (maybe because “Half-Baked” just isn’t as funny the 43rd time you watch it), the following was strong enough to somehow merit a sequel. This time Harold and Kumar are on their way to Amsterdam so Harold can profess his love to Maria (Paula Garcés), the girl he kisses in the elevator in Part 1 for those of you who are too stoned to keep up.

Of course, the boys don’t make it anywhere close to Europe. They’re thrown into the prison in Guantanamo Bay when air marshals identify them as terrorists after another passenger mishears the word “bong” for “bomb.”

And so the story moves along just as the first one did, this time with a lot more nudity and racial stereotypes disguised as jokes and a lot less Neil Patrick Harris. It doesn’t make much of a difference how much Doogie Howser is absent anyway. There are plenty of moronic characters to waste your time and set up for an inevitable trilogy.