It’s Complicated

December 24, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, Steve Martin
Directed by: Nancy Meyers (“Something’s Gotta Give”)
Written by: Nancy Meyers (“Something’s Gotta Give”)

It may be hard to relate to any of the confounded characters in Nancy Meyers’ new grown-up romantic comedy “It’s Complicated” unless divorce is a favorite pastime of yours, but the director/writer behind such recent films as “Something’s Gotta Give” and “The Holiday” has sure got a flair for charming spectacles. It works perfectly with characters that ought to know better when it comes to the complexities of love.

With veterans Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, and Steve Martin springing into action, there are plenty of hearty laughs that will resonate most with mature audiences who might describe Judd Apatow comedies as juvenile.

In the film, Streep plays Jane, a bakery owner whose 10-year-long divorce to Jake (Baldwin) has come full circle and entered a very awkward stage. As she says goodbye to her youngest child who is going off to college, Jane decides to secretly revisit her defunct relationship with her ex-husband even after he left her for a younger woman (Lake Bell).

Family life isn’t going too well for Jake. Jane is perfectly situated to be the cozy option to turn to when he needs an escape. Jane, however, isn’t playing the  dependant or revenge-seeking divorcee waiting by the phone for her lover’s call. Instead, she realizes the role she has taken when becoming “the other woman” and embraces it as an extracurricular activity she deserves to partake in.

But when Jane’s home contractor Adam (Martin) beings to drop hints that he is interested in her, her confusing relationship with her ex becomes more of a risk than a enjoyable throwback to old times especially when he starts falling in love with her all over again.

Much of “It’s Complicated” should not work as well as it does with all the broad strokes Meyers has given us in her witty script. For every classic rom com scenario that plays like a French bedroom farce there’s hints of cushiness that makes the film tightrope a fine line between episodic gags and what Meyers really wants.

At the end, however, these characters are so likeable; from Baldwin and his scene-stealing smile to Streep’s  unfettered happiness to even Martin’s slightly-underwritten third-wheel nice guy, Meyers has it all under control and doesn’t let it get, well, too complicated.  It’s like a buffet of comfort food. While you can overstuff yourself quite a bit, there always seems to be enough room for a few more guilt-free nibbles.

The Pink Panther 2

February 1, 2009 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Steve Martin, Emily Mortimer, Jean Reno
Directed by: Harald Zwart (“Agent Cody Banks”)
Written by: Steve Martin (“The Jerk”), Scott Neustadter (debut), Michael H. Weber (debut)

It’s so dispiriting to remember when Steve Martin was actually funny.

The eccentric things he did during his stand-up act with just a pair of Groucho glasses and a few balloons; sulking through his mansion collecting his essential belongings (e.g. a paddleball) in “The Jerk”; prancing around with Martin Short to “My Little Buttercup” in “¡Three Amigos!”; spooning with the late John Candy in “Planes, Trains & Automobiles”; coming up with “20 something betters” during a dart game in “Roxanne.”

There are so many hilarious scenes Martin has taken part in over the years (most of them in the ’80s), it’s difficult not to wince when you watch him devote his entire self to something as cushy as “The Pink Panther 2,” see it implode, and wonder why no one bothered to tell him how lousy the first one was.

As he did in the film’s 2006 predecessor — a pointless remake of the Blake Edwards 1963 comedy — Martin plays Inspector Jacques Clouseau like a shoddy carbon copy of Peter Sellers’ original French detective. Where Sellers embodied the character, Martin seems to clock in just long enough to trip over police tape and mispronounce the word “hamburger” for the umpteenth time.

In this predictable addition to the franchise, Clouseau is promoted from his “top-level” post as a meter maid to the leader of an “international dream team” of detectives on the trail of a globetrotting thief known as the Tornado who has stolen precious artifacts from around the world, including the Magna Carta, the Shroud of Turin, and the Imperial Sword. Summoned moments before the Pink Panther diamond is pocketed from Paris, Clouseau teams up with fellow gumshoes (played by Garcia, Molina, Bachchan, and Yuki Matsuzaki) to track the Tornado to Rome.

Considering the first movie earned an unimpressive $82 million at the box office, one can only speculate why any of these series newcomers (not to mention Lily Tomlin, John Cleese, and Jeremy friggin’ Irons!) decided to sign on. It’s fairly evident Clouseau isn’t the only one who’s clueless here.

Whatever the reason, their enlistment can’t possibly be for the humorless material — written by Martin and first-time screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber — which confuses dry comedy with witless banter. A scene in which Clouseau’s right-hand-man, Ponton (Jean Reno), spends an evening washing his friend’s hair in the sink falls flat from the onset, but director Harald Zwart (“Agent Cody Banks”) gives Martin free reign to do just about anything he wants for as long as he sees fit. The excessively infantile sketch turns into a joke about the pronunciation of “jojoba shampoo” while the duo dance a conga in the kitchen.

The only real evidence of Sellers’ earlier films is, of course, Henry Mancini’s timeless theme song, which only dulls the pain for so long. Then you’ll be paralyzed by dull slapstick and forced to suffer alongside a wasted secondary cast and an unimaginative leading man who, at this point, no punch line could save.

Baby Mama

April 27, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Greg Kinnear
Directed by: Michael McCullers (debut)
Written by: Michael McCullers (“Austin Powers in Goldmember”)

If anyone can make being dorky sexy it’s actress/writer Tina Fey. The former “Saturday Nigh Live” star returns to the big screen for the first time in “Baby Mama” (we won’t hold her cameo in “Beer League” against her) since the 2004 comedy “Mean Girls,” which she also wrote.

Taking the helm as the screenwriter and first-time director is Michael McCullers, who worked on “SNL” as a writer during the 1997-1998 season. This was at the same time Fey jumped on board as one of the shows sketch writers.

In “Baby Mama,” Fey plays Kate Holbrook, a successful businesswoman who finds out she is unable to have children just as soon as her biological clock begins ticking. Actually, the ticking is more like manic banging as Kate decides to do anything she can to have a child before all her eggs dry up.

Putting all her faith in surrogacy, Kate welcomes Angie Ostrowiski (Amy Poehler) into her life as the woman who will carry her baby to full term. The film takes a turn towards something like “The Odd Couple” when Angie, who is only participating in the miracle of birth for the money, breaks up with her boyfriend and moves into Kate’s apartment.

In a wave of predictability, “Baby Mama” turns pregnancy into drudgery when all we really want is some type of comedic elements that are a bit sharper than McCullers is able to deliver. While Fey drops some nice one-liners (“My avatar’s dressed like a whore!”) and a small role by Steve Martin proves he has a bit more to give the genre than “Cheaper by the Dozen” and “Pink Panther” sequels, there’s a disappointing air lingering throughout the film mostly brought on by Poehler’s caricature role and McCullers’ inconsistent humor.