In a World

August 30, 2013 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Lake Bell, Fred Melamed, Ken Marino
Directed by: Lake Bell (debut)
Written by: Lake Bell (debut)

Satirical comedy is such a challenging genre to write, which is why when someone actually gets a tight grasp around their ideas without having to strain too much to make it funny, said writer is due some credit.

So is the case with actress Lake Bell (“It’s Complicate”) and her directorial debut “In A World,” a creative and often witty film that starts off strong before pumping the breaks midway. Before its slow descent into a more ordinary narrative, however, Bell is able to introduce audiences to an intriguing world very few people get the chance to see. It’s a clever look into part of the entertainment industry that literally speaks for itself.

In “In a World,” Bell stars as Carol Solomon, a struggling vocal coach who gets a break in her career when she books a gig to do a voice-over for a movie trailer. It’s a close-knit industry her father Sam (Fred Melamad) and the real-life (and now deceased) Don LaFontaine have monopolized for years, but one that is looking for a fresh new voice to lead a new generation of professional narrators. Hoping to be that voice, she must find a way to prove to her father (and studio honchos) that a female voice can flourish in a business just as well as any man.

As a writer, Bell’s script is filled with crafty cynicism and a sweetness that fits in well with a story that really doesn’t try be offensive in any way. More often than not (especially in the first half), the subtle jokes hit their target and Bell and company deliver their lines with a sort of awkward charm. Actors including Ken Marino, Rob Corddry, and Nick Offerman (all of whom have worked with Bell on the TV series “Children’s Hospital”) add to the gawkiness of the roster and do it effortlessly. As Carol’s father, Melamed is perfectly cast as the bass-voiced legend that is fine with the way the good-old-boy industry works.

While the voiceover industry and the struggles Carol faces are the most interesting aspects of the film, Bell tosses in a secondary storyline that follows her sister’s marital problem, which doesn’t quite work in the grand scheme of things. The subplot is funny, but takes away from what should have been the real focus of the story. Still, Bell and her cast have some hilarious one-liners and there’s enough social commentary about the way cutthroat Hollywood works to keep the film from sputtering out completely in the final act.


February 28, 2012 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Paul Rudd, Jennifer Aniston, Justin Theroux
Written by: David Wain (“Role Models”) and Ken Marino (“Role Models”)
Directed by: David Wain (“Role Models”)

When ultra-hippie Seth (Justin Theroux) rattles off a litany of technology he feels normal people are too reliant on, he keeps listing things that are wildly obsolete. He goes on about how people can’t get by without their Walkman, VHS tapes and Zip drives. It’s a joke that is actually really funny at first, but keeps going and going until it’s gone on for way too long. It’s a theme  readily apparent in “Wanderlust,” a mostly enjoyable film that stops just shy of wearing out its welcome.

After George (Paul Rudd) is fired from his job, he and his wife Linda (Jennifer Aniston) are forced to sell the apartment they just bought and move out of New York City. On their way to stay with George’s brother in Atlanta, they stop for the night at Elysium, a strange hippie commune disguised as a bed and breakfast. Uncomfortable at first with the group’s all-night parties, practices of “free love” and nonchalant take on nudity, George and Linda start enjoying their time and wonder if Elysium is the place they were meant to be.

The film is anchored by Rudd, who is quickly becoming one of the go-to lead comedic actors after years of supporting roles. Rudd stays in familiar territory with a character stuck in the middle of the craziness around him. His normal charm and improv skills are on display. A good portion of the comedy comes from Rudd being flustered in some way. Playing his on-screen wife, Aniston shows, like she did in “Horrible Bosses,” that she is a great fit for raunchy rated-R comedies. Theroux, who is another character with extra screen time, is a mixed bag. Much of the failed material with Theroux’s character comes from the fact he is written as a caricature. Another problem with “Wanderlust” is its lack of fully-formed supporting characters. The ensemble is huge and each actor gets a laugh or two, but then each of them fades into the background. None of the secondary cast ever really congeal with the exception of the oft-underused Ken Marino, who steals every second of screen time he has playing George’s obnoxious, dolt brother.

Director David Wain seems to take the “throw everything out there and see what sticks” approach to “Wanderlust.” There are jokes flying out at a rapid rate, as well as the occasional absurdist gag that might spur a handful of laughs in the theater. With this film, Wain teams up with producer Judd Apatow (“Knocked Up”), who is no stranger to letting his actors improvise dialogue on set. Apatow’s knack for the unscripted seems to have rubbed off on Wain, as many moments of “Wanderlust” appear to be heavily improvised. The joint result of these aspects is a film that feels a little cut and pasted in the editing room and strangely put together at times. While there are some long form takes such as Rudd’s amazing improvised sexual pep talk in a mirror, there are a lot of scenes that carry on with very little reward.

Though Wain’s team could have been a little more judicious in the editing room, “Wanderlust” is  funny more often than not and gets plenty of mileage out of the eccentricities of the unconventional community.  Still, what truly makes“Wanderlust” work is the hilarity and unmatchable likability of Rudd.

Role Models

November 1, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Paul Rudd, Seann William Scott, Christopher Mintz-Plasse
Directed by: David Wain (“The Ten”)
Written by: David Wain (“The Ten”), Paul Rudd (debut), Ken Marino (“The Ten”)and Timothy Dowling (debut)

When you look back at some of the roles actor Seann William Scott has played over the years, the term “role model” isn’t one of the first things that comes to mind. Most of them tend to center around chauvinistic, moronic, and promiscuous characters. (His Steve Stifler alone probably caused fathers of high-school-aged daughters to scale way back on curfew hours.) In “Role Models,” his alpha-male tendencies are balanced out well with the softer Paul Rudd.

Working as energy-drink peddlers and anti-drug spokesmen, Wheeler (Scott) and Danny (Rudd) visit high schools to give students a caffeinated alternative to getting high. Wheeler loves his job as the company’s official mascot, the mythological Minotaur, because it allows him to half-ass his way through life and focus on more important things, like getting laid. Danny, however, is bored and frustrated, and it’s affecting his relationship with his successful-lawyer girlfriend (Elizabeth Banks), who is fed up with his resentfulness. When Danny reaches his boiling point (they have a little mishap with their company monster truck), he and Wheeler are sentenced to 150 hours of community service at Sturdy Wings, a Big Brother-type organization run by rehabilitated bad girl Gayle Sweeny (Jane Lynch).

There, Wheeler and Danny are matched up with two kids: Augie Farks (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, aka McLovin from “Superbad,” who avoids the Jon Heder “Napoleon Dynamite” typecast trap by actually staying funny after his nerdy breakout role), a lonely teenager caught up in his own little world of medieval role-playing, and Ronnie Shields (Bobb’e J. Thompson), a foul-mouthed grade-schooler raised by a single mother and obsessed with “boobies.” Ronnie has managed to scare off every one of his “bigs,” but Wheeler knows if he doesn’t get through this mandated mentoring program he’s going to be thrown behind bars, where he’s more than sure his pretty-boy image will attract unwanted physical attention. While Wheeler has trouble with his “little,” Danny is just trying to pass the time watching Augie pretend sword fight without really connecting with him on a personal level.

Many viewers might be unfamiliar with director David Wain’s comedy (he helmed and starred in the short-lived MTV series “The State” in the ’90s), but “Role Models” is a version of what he and some of the show’s original cast members can do with a more mainstream script. It’s not nearly as deadpan as “The State” (the vulgarities are many), but Rudd, as a first-time screenwriter who has probably been taking notes while on the set with director-writer-producer Judd Apatow on so many occasions, adds a hipper sense of humor and heart that has made comedies like The “40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up” more entertaining than your run-of-the-mill R-rated shtick.