Blades of Glory is just another one those foolproof Will Ferrell comedies in which he plays someone on top who falls from grace only to come out of it a wiser person. OK maybe wiser is a strong word but at least he’s a better person. Maybe better is the wrong word too. Oh whatever. You catch my drift. This time Ferrell plays Chazz Michael Michaels a male figure skater who is all id and uses his improvisational techniques on the ice to woo the ladies. Chazz’s only real competition is Jimmy MacElroy (Jon Heder) a precision skater who is all about the details especially when he executes his trademark peacock move. Of course they hate each other and in an embarrassing no-holds-barred fight at the World Championships they are stripped of their gold medals and banned from the sport for life. Now three-and-a-half years later they’ve found a loophole that will allow them to compete: If they can put aside their differences they can skate together--in pairs’ figure skating. Let the games begin! Even though he has proven to be successful at this kind of stuff Ferrell is still considered an acquired taste by some. But for those of us who know he could make a Coke Icee blow out of our noses just by reading the phone book he never grows tiresome. He had some excellent support in Blades of Glory as well. Finally starting to really shed his alter ego Napoleon Dynamite Heder is in top form as the prissy MacElroy the smart one--if you can believe it--in the duo. He ends up getting a romantic interest as well in the form of Jenna Fischer. Slightly less mousy than she is on The Office Fischer plays the hapless sister/slave to the brother and sister pair figure-skating duo and reigning champs Fairchild and Stranz Van Waldenberg played to malicious hilt by SNL’s Amy Poehler and Arrested Development’s Will Arnett respectively. Also watch out for Craig T. Nelson as the boys’ unorthodox coach; Romany Malco (The 40 Year-Old Virgin) as their hip-hop choreographer; veteran character actor William Fichtner as Jimmy’s adoptive millionaire father and many other well-placed cameos. Blades of Glory must have been an easy sell for producer Ben Stiller and his Red Hour Productions partner Stuart Cornfield who were able to stock the film with some great comedic talent. Newbie co-directors Will Speck and Josh Gordon are more an afterthought since all they really have to do is point and shoot. Maybe not as edgy as say Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy but certainly more cohesive than Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby Blades simply follows a tried and true formula with very little missteps but hardly any surprises either. The best part? The opening sequence from the skating routines to the fisticuffs which lead to setting a mascot on fire. Good stuff. Blades is just dumb fun.
It's not like Andy Stitzer (Carrell) hasn't attempted to lose his virginity. It just never worked out so he stopped trying. It hasn't really bothered him though. He's got a cushy job stamping invoices at an electronics superstore rides a bike has a nice apartment with a proud collection of action figures and comic books--and above all has an upbeat attitude. You know a regular guy except for that one itty-bitty thing. But that's all about to change. Once his co-workers--lovelorn David (Paul Rudd) womanizer Jay (Romany Malco) and horny Cal (Seth Rogan)--get wind of Andy's predicament they take it upon themselves to get the man laid. But nothing seems to work--until that is Andy meets Trish (Catherine Keener) a 40-year-old mother of three and sparks fly. Although Andy and Trish decide to take things very very slowly with a mutual no-sex policy (at least for awhile) the deed may finally be at hand. Or not depending on whether Andy can get over his hang-up with women.
Carrell's star is definitely on the rise--and with just cause. Getting his first real break on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart the Second City alum has basically been stealing scenes from bigger comic stars--such as Jim Carrey in Bruce Almighty and Will Ferrell in Anchorman--ever since. Now it's Carrell's turn to take the lead and oddly enough he chooses to play a big old dork. Imagine that. But honestly if anyone can play a sweet lovable if slightly peculiar 40-year-old virgin it's Carrell; he's just got one of those faces. The other great thing about Carrell is how well he plays with others. He's really not at all a showboat and is definitely at home in an ensemble situation especially when the ensemble is just as hilarious as he is. The 40 Year-Old Virgin's eclectic supporting cast holds true to this theory. Rudd has moved away from that pretty-boy persona he perfected in his earlier movies (The Object of My Affection Clueless) and is delightfully twisted as the self-destructive David. Rogan (Donnie Darko) too does a nice spin on Cal's frat-boy qualities. Even Keener gets to hang with the guys and mix in her own eccentricities. Only Malco (Showtime's' Weeds) as the brash Jay seems a little out of place but he holds his own when he has to. As does the string of wacko women Andy is paired up with including Leslie Mann as one of Andy's very drunk prospects and Elizabeth Banks as one who can get her freak on. Which of course scares Andy to death.
Director-writer-producer Judd Apatow creator of the stellar but short-lived TV series Freaks and Geeks as well as the producer of several hit comedies such as Anchorman just further enhances the camaraderie on the Virgin set. It really seems like a big boys' club. Apatow and Carrell go way back; Rudd and Carrell worked together on Anchorman; and Rogan starred in Apatow's Freaks and Geeks. In other words these guys know each other pretty well. Maybe that's what keeps us interested while Virgin's sketchy plot plays out. Sure we've seen guy flicks before plenty of them in fact. But not from this particular group. The film is at its best when they are sitting around rifting off a particular subject or razzing each other. Rudd and Rogan's "You know how I know you're gay" one-upmanship is hilarious. But Virgin starts getting a little long in the tooth waiting for our hero to get to pleasure town. It's like we are getting a bird's-eye view on what these boys think about sex--and if truth be told Andy is the one who comes out looking the most normal after all is said and done.
Graham Granville is a highly neurotic jerky nerd from Kansas who journeys with his hip Los Angeles-based brother Allen (aka Rex) to the rundown French chateau they have both inherited from a long-lost French relative. While Allen is much more together than his klutzy bro neither bonds comfortably with any of the help who remain at the chateau. These include Isabelle the maid with a secret and Jean the elderly servant with a secret. The brothers break the servants' hearts with news that they have decided to sell the dilapidated castle but Graham impulsively assures them that their positions will be included in the sale as a package. Business-savvy Allen who has learned the fine art of making a profit by running a sex-oriented Web site is eager to find a buyer. A coarse American party animal arrives on the scene to buy but Graham hasn't the heart to unload on such a creep. Mercenary instincts are further waylaid when the brothers confront revelations about some of the downstairs staff who have a more personal stake in the fate of the chateau.
Depending on one's tolerance for jerks Paul Rudd as heir Graham Granville will either charm or annoy to death. Romany Malco as brother Allen/Rex has great charisma and like Rudd is a fine and confident actor who will one day rise to the occasion when it presents itself. In supporting roles French stars Sylvie Testud as Isabelle the maid and Didier Flamand as Jean are more than adequate although neither is afforded the opportunity to chew up the ragged scenery. Donal Logue as a crass party-boy American who may buy the chateau amuses as France's worst nightmare of the loud-mouthed Yank with plenty of bucks but no style.
First-timer Jesse Peretz who directs from his own idea doesn't embarrass with his debut. Nor does he show unassailable promise. He lets The Chateau smack ever so subtly as a vanity project and suggests there's more self-indulgence than intelligence behind this sloppy goofy but well-meaning effort. Still Peretz daring to do the ridiculous comes up with an original. Like the chateau the film is a sight for sore eyes but has enough bright moments to spark mild interest. The often grainy digital visuals and improvisational style mesh perfectly with its let's-just-have-fun-and-amuse spirit. Videophiles may want to check out how the film manages to get so much definition from candle-lit scenes. Whatever its cinematic and commercial challenges at least The Chateau dares to deal pungently and amusingly with the social and cultural chasms separating Frogs and Yanks. In English and occasional French with some subtitles the film often pleases because its goals are obviously so modest.