Rewind Review: Grown Ups

Introduction

As those who know me, and if such a person exists, cyberstalk me, know I created this blog after writing on another site, which shall remain nameless, for a while. The point is, I have material sitting around waiting to be re-used on occasion I will re-post them here. Some of those articles or reviews may have been extemporaneous at the time but are slightly random now, hence the new title and little intro, regardless enjoy!

Grown Ups (2010)

The film Grown Ups starts simply enough. It shows what may be the apex of these five friends lives collectively (a championship basketball game). It uses the death of their coach effectively to not only reunite these somewhat estranged friends but also to introduce them to us.

While this film passes with marginal colors one way in which it does excel is in that it it is rare for an all-star cast (granted how much of an all-star cast is open to some debate) to fit together this comfortably within the confines of a feature film. Some of that familiarity is due in part to the fact that Sandler, Rock, Spade and Schneider were contemporaries during the last true halcyon days of Saturday Night Light but Kevin James doesn’t fall by the wayside and fits in very comfortably with the aforementioned foursome.

The bottom line is that the film is funny, quite funny in fact. It absolutely revels in the nearly lost art of the one-liner especially in the one-line put down and as a straight comedy it works with absolutely no question. The film has other designs, however, and in trying to see those designs through that’s where some its failings shine through.

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One oddity, though not entirely a bad thing, is that the sports angle of the film is almost entirely subjugated. It is ultimately a good thing because then it might’ve wandered into the uncomfortable mildly funny Semi-Pro area and that would’ve been bad.

What that angle might’ve done for the film is drive it a little bit because the pace does struggle a little bit in the second act as each character, as head of the household, deals with their own issues. This slight lack of focus and insisting on inclusion rather than having the protagonist, Sandler, be a more driving force than he is does hurt things slightly.

The two things outside of just being funny that this film really tries to tackle head on are somewhat intertwined. They are: returning children to simpler pleasures and away from technology and modernity and not always putting career before family. These are both illustrated through the Hayek- (credited in this film as Salma Hayek Pinault) Sandler relationship. Things develop slowly and are infrequently at the forefront but because they are not developed quickly and addressed immediately the film lags slightly even though the resolution to these issues are ultimately satisfying.

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Another side-effect of the basketball being pushed into the background is that the antagonist and antagonism in general aren’t very present. The conflicts, when they occur, are typically intra-relationship. The antagonizers are the team they beat in said championship game years ago, thus making the lessening of the game seem an odd choice, until you see how it turns out, which in the end does fit the bigger picture but you just wish so much talk and time wasn’t spent on the rematch if it ultimately would not matter.

Looking at it from a purely comedic perspective it is a funny film and if you’re just out for a laugh it is enjoyable, if you want to have your cake and eat it too, meaning get a great movie along with the chuckles, you may go hungry.

6/10

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The Lone Ranger’s Unbankable Intrigue

At the beginning of Matt Zoller Seitz’s review of The Lone Ranger he encapsultes exactly what’s right and wrong with the film in my eyes:

Like “Speed Racer” and “John Carter” before it, “The Lone Ranger” is a movie with no constituency to speak of. It’s a gigantic picture with a klutzy, deeply un-cool hero (Armie Hammer of “The Social Network”), based on a property that most young viewers don’t know or care about. It arrives in theaters stained by gossip of filmmaker-vs.-studio budget wars, and concerns that its star and co-executive producer, Johnny Depp, would play the Ranger’s friend and spirit guide, Tonto, as a Native American Stepin Fetchit, stumbling around in face-paint and a dead-crow tiara. The film’s poster image might as well have been a target. Too bad: for all its miscalculations, this is a personal picture, violent and sweet, clever and goofy. It’s as obsessive and overbearing as Steven Spielberg’s “1941” — and, I’ll bet, as likely to be re-evaluated twenty years from now, and described as “misunderstood.”

You really should read the whole review it’s simply replete with brilliant observations about the movie, but what struck me most was that beginning wherein it enumerates not only kind of how I walked out of the film feeling but also what was miscalculated about it in terms of its being a tentpole.

The Lone Ranger (2013, Disney)

As I tweeted when the numbers started coming in, and I should’ve put it out there earlier, you could’ve seen the box office failure of the film coming. It was a film that almost didn’t happen and after John Carter flopped you thought it might not. It’s almost like they went back to a well that ran dry hoping to find water this time because they brought Johnny Depp along.

Lack of Bankability

The Lone Ranger (2013, Disney)

Not to sound too crass, as I did like it, but clearly the same inherent issues that John Carter had in terms of bringing out the masses The Lone Ranger was sure to have. It seems tiresome but every time there’s some sort of box office bomb it makes me want to list who is involved. Yes, there are still plenty of good actors and movie stars, but guaranteed draws are very few.

Off the top of my head it seems only Tom Cruise and Adam Sandler get people to show up, but even Cruise had the under-viewed Jack Reacher just recently. As with Sandler, I have to wonder how much of that is morbid curiosity because after seeing Grown Ups 2 I wanted to curl up into the fetal position, weep and wish it was still 1999.

So, in spite of the fact that this film also is a good one, likely a much better one than John Carter, I never saw it as a money-maker. I couldn’t have predicted how insanely Despicable Me 2 would open (It really is Universal’s year it seems; R.I.P.D. notwithstanding) but in a vacuum this is not one I had high hopes for in that regard.

Disney Issues

The Lone Ranger (2013, Disney)

It’s even more frustrating because if you follow what Disney does you know they acquired Lucasfilm and will be bringing Star Wars back. Sure that cost a lot of money both in acquisition and the production of the five announced films, but could they just grin and bear it for a while and know they’ll see a return on that investment, especially with the Marvel leviathan growing ever bigger? No, they just had to gut their hand-drawn animation staff.

Yes, hand-drawn is costly, but it did all begin with a mouse and all those investments will yield dividends but you can’t forget where you came from. New Mickey cartoons are great but it’s bittersweet to say the least.

Reflexive Western

The Lone Ranger (2013, Disney)

Back to The Lone Ranger, as for the film itself, it’s constructed in such a way that we can likely go back to it and start parsing the visual cues and narrative references to diagram the deconstruction of the western, as Zoller Seitz does and this review does.

It takes an old character, and perhaps a cynical, nihilistic advantage of older connotations of Disney films and toys with expectations and creates this The Lone Ranger perhaps the only way he can exist now and re-creates Tonto perhaps as he always should have been.

Does Depp being Depp undercut some of the commentary being made on race and the old west, Manifest Destiny and all the rest? That was something I grappled with as the film played. In the end, I don’t think it does for narrative perspective has to be taken into account. This is really Tonto’s story from the opening shot to when he tells The Lone Ranger to “Never do that again,” after finally breaking out the anticipated (by those who know something of the character) catch phrase “Hi-yo, Silver, away!” at the very end.

The Lone Ranger (2013, Disney)

There’s lamentation and regret from both characters in this tale: The Ranger for his lost ideals, and Tonto for his naive mistake. In some ways the film plays like a lament of the loss of the old Western, not the Old West. When film and society was more naive the Western was the canvas of absolute ideals, as we’ve come to terms with our past as a nation and further world events have stripped that naïveté; the Western had to grow up. The films are now adult tales for adults who remember the genre as children and don’t cater as well to a young audience anymore because it’s not really in the pop culture landscape anymore, not for kids.

While this allows the film to do some interesting thing in terms of commenting on genre, history, race, the country in general; it’s not box office material, especially considering the amount of money invested in this film.

Lastly, the character of Tonto, for how it used to be portrayed, is likely a racist symbol to many. Honestly, the only exposure to the character I had as a kid was in SNL parodies of Tonto, Tarzan and Frankenstein. I don’t think there will be a consensus of where this rendition falls. All I know is in culturally sensitive matters there is never a unanimous sentiment and hardly ever a consensus. From my perspective, as one who had my defenses up waiting for something that crossed the line, I really don’t think it did. Especially when the tribe s introduced and explains Tonto’s story.

The Lone Ranger (2013, Disney)

When one went in not knowing what to expect it was far too easy to be caught off-guard by the film; far too easy too take it at face value as over-produced, overly-expensive fluff, but there’s more to it than meets the eye, which is what makes it interesting even if it won’t make it profitable.

Review- Zookeeper

Kevin James in Zookeeper (Columbia Pictures)

Upon hearing about the film Zookeeper one would think and hope that there’s got to be more to it than just talking animals. The good news is that there is. The bad news is that there really isn’t that much more to it. Sadly, the film aside from not being that funny gets bogged down in a transparent and overly predictable love plot that makes the entire thing seem like an exercise rather than an attempt to create.

While the film starts well enough with a humorous and slightly heartbreaking inciting incident of a failed proposal attempt there comes a point where all the cards are laid out on the table and you start to see where it’s heading. Now I harp on this because this isn’t your usual amount of predictability, I’m talking about an experience wherein you can predict how and when all the dominoes of the story will fall with a great amount of accuracy, this lack of the unexpected leads to a lack of joy and a lack of real comedic impact despite the occasional half-hearted chuckle.

When there is a twist, and I use that term lightly here, it’s like a breath of fresh air and what you’re witnessing becomes exponentially more enjoyable than it should be. When you combine two old hat concepts like talking animals and chasing after a dream girl that doesn’t make the story different or unique by default there needs to be a bit more to it than that but the film never quite gets there.

Typically, with material of this ilk the performances can raise it to a level where it ought not be able to reach but that sadly doesn’t happen here. Rosario Dawson, who let me state for the record is a great actress, can’t really elevate the film at all. A majority of the laughs that this film can muster are thanks to Joe Rogan, as our lead’s rival for the affections of his beloved. He is a crazy, over-the-top type of character but at least he’s well-defined and there’s an energy to his scenes. Kevin James’ scenes with him are the best he has really, as a romantic lead and a no-nonsense-business-man he connects less and isn’t as convincing.

The casting of the voices was a bit odd. Cher and Sylvester Stallone are always very obviously themselves and never really become their characters or invisible as I like to call it in voice work. Adam Sandler does well by seemingly impersonating Gilbert Gottfried as the monkey but of course Nick Nolte is the stand out of the voice cast not because he has the most versatile voice but because he’s the strongest actor of the bunch by far.

Of course, in comedies it all comes down to “How funny is it?” If it can hold water as a compelling narrative it can almost be looked at as a bonus. Clearly as a story the film has its failings but it’s really not terribly funny either. It’s the kind of movie that you might see on cable (a lot) and if you had nothing better to do you’d still likely change the channel.

The ultimate failing of this film is that it tried to get a little too cute by creating an excessive amount of symmetry in the story. This symmetry makes the design of the film apparent and instead of being engaged the film just hits you and you just take it. Sadly, there are very few redeeming qualities about this one.

3/10