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 Hangover

June 4, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis
Directed by: Todd Phillips (“Old School”)
Written by: Jon Lucas (“Ghosts of Girlfriends Past”) and Scott Moore (“Ghosts of Girlfriends Past”)

If you were to make an educated guess on which director could get close to recreating the type of comedy Judd Apatow has become famous for over the last four years, Todd Phillips’ name would not be near the top of that list. With popular albeit pointless comedies like “Road Trip,” “Old School,” and “Starsky & Hutch,” it’s never been Phillips’ forte to reach for anything that resembles cleverness. (Crotch pancakes, yes, witty dialogue between two main characters, not so much).

Maybe that’s why for his newest film, “The Hangover,” Phillips takes a step back and relinquishes his screenwriting duties to a couple of young scribes who also have a history of unimpressive comedies (“Rebound,” “Four Christmases,” “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past). Why take two lumps when you only have to take one, right?

The funny thing is, for whatever reason, the Phillips-Lucas-Moore combination works oddly well when Phillips isn’t pretending he’s still working with Will Ferrell and actually buys into the idea that less is always more. It doesn’t always happen in “The Hangover,” but the mostly unknown leading men keep the raunchy comedy from going into Tom Green-mode. And while it’s considered a dark comedy, it never crosses the line into the abyss like 1998’s “Very Bad Things,” another Las Vegas-based bachelor party movie.

As unbalanced as “The Hangover” is, actors Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis manage to keep the story grounded most of the time even when they’re running amuck in Sin City trying to find the friend they lost the night of his bachelor party.

When soon-to-be-groom Doug Billings (Justin Bartha) is no where to be found the morning after a drunken night in Las Vegas, his best friends Phil (Cooper) and Stu (Helms) and his awkward, grizzly-like future brother-in-law Alan (Galifianakis) attempt to sort though the clues left throughout their trashed suite and locate Doug before his wedding in two days.

Evidence of their wild night, however, only leads them to more questions. Why does the valet driver think they are police officers? Why is Stu married to a stripper (Heather Graham)? How the hell does former heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson know who they are? It’s all very mysterious in a sort of silly way until the third act when the whole misadventure slowly wears out.

Nevertheless, there’s still a shockingly hilarious pay off just when you think “The Hangover” can’t dig itself out of its dark-comedy hole. Add to that a strong dynamic between the three main leads and Phillips has suprisingly given us his best work to date.

Ghosts of Girlfriends Past

May 9, 2009 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Michael Douglas
Directed by: Mark Waters (“The Spiderwick Chronicles”)
Written by: Jon Lucas (“Four Christmases”) and Scott Moore (“Four Christmases”)

What do you get when you cross a classic holiday story like Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” with a nauseating romantic comedy? With Matthew McConaughey playing a character as cynical as any rendition of Ebenezer Scrooge over the last 150 years, “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” can’t find enough enchanting moments and depth to make it worth any kind of homage to the late literary icon.

In “Ghosts,” McConaughey is Connor Mead, an arrogant bachelor photographer who knows a lot about sex and little about women although he’s bedded his fair share of them in his life. An unbeliever of love and monogamy, Connor drags himself to his little brother’s wedding where he is reunited with his childhood crush Jenny Perotti (Jennifer Garner) whose heart Connor had broken years before.

Connor’s past, however, soon catches up to him when his deceased Uncle Wayne (Michael Douglas), the man that raised him and taught him everything about dating and dumping women, tells him that he will be visited by three ghosts who will take him on a journey through the relationships of his past, present, and future.

It’s an interesting idea done way better (and without ghosts) in “High Fidelity” when John Cusack revisiting his old flames to find out why he is still single after so many years. In “Ghosts,” McConaughey doesn’t really change throughout these life-altering moments. Even when he meet his final ghost, the Ghost of Girlfriends Future, an incredibly attractive blond spirit, Connor still tries to make a move on her even though he just relived half of his life and saw the mistakes he had made. Isn’t the point supposed to be that he learns to be a better all-around person?

Still, the transformation from sleazebag to gentleman is miraculously completed with a little shove by screenwriting partners Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, who scripted the unfunny “Four Christmases” at the end of last year. Here, McConaughey’s cinematic reputation precedes itself. It’s the kind of movie he was born to star in, which, in the last eight or so years, hasn’t been a real positive statement to make.

Four Christmases

November 28, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Vince Vaughn, Robert Duvall
Directed by: Seth Gordon (“The King of Kong”)
Written by: Matt Allen (debut), Caleb Wilson (debut), Jon Lucas (“Rebound”), Scott Moore (“Rebound”)

You have to feel a little sorry for director Seth Gordon. After helming 2007’s “The King of Kong,” a well-received and very entertaining documentary about a video game rivalry between two Donkey Kong world-record holders, he somehow finds himself stuck with four unproven screenwriters during his first feature, “Four Christmases.”

To make matters worse, “Four Christmases” isn’t the kind of holiday family movie a writer can really use to spread his or her wings. It’s a basic Christmas slapstick comedy where most of the characters end up on their backs in the most painful ways and someone learns a valuable lesson about the importance of family.

Unlike other crappy Christmas comedies in recent years like “Christmas with the Kranks,” “Deck the Halls,” and “Surviving Christmas,” the only thing “Four Christmases” has going for it is likeable albeit mismatched lead characters. Vince Vaughn (who was also pretty bad in last year’s holiday horror “Fred Claus”) and Reese Witherspoon star as Brad and Kate, a couple who decides to take a vacation to Fiji instead of visiting their families for Christmas.

The weather, however, doesn’t cooperate with their plans and Brad and Kate are forced to make four separate trips to their divorced parents when they’re caught on the local news trying to make a break for it at the airport.

Each home visit brings along its own cliché family calamity. For example, at the backwoods home of Brad’s dad Howard (Robert Duvall), social statuses clash when Brad’s cage-fighting brothers Denver (Jon Faveru) and Dallas (Tim McGraw) are offended when he buys the family expensive gifts. Other parents on the list to receive a yuletide house call: Brad’s mom Paula (Sissy Spacek) and her much-younger lover, Kate’s mom Marilyn (Mary Steenburgen), who has started dating a church pastor (insert baby Jesus jokes here), and Kate’s dad Creighton (Jon Voight), who’s really the heart of the whole movie but is cut short by a thinned-out script.

Cheesy joke after cheesy joke, “Four Christmases” might not make you gag as badly as Brad does when he sees a baby puke, but you definitely won’t feel good after watching these family members butt heads under the mistletoe. Nor should director Gordon feel too terrible for squeezing as much as he possibly could from the mess he was handed. Making mansions out of matchsticks probably isn’t easy either.