Open Road Films via Everett Collection
There is something about The Nut Job that will appeal to the old school cartoon lover — the Bugs Bunny aficionado who revels in the ne'er-do-well antics of scrappy anti-heroes, who appreciates the comic sensibilities of bumbling crooks, who likes watching woodland creatures and doofy humans get konked in the head time after time after time. But where Bugs Bunny cartoons always succeeded was in their wit, a department in which The Nut Job is severely lacking. Just under an hour and a half long, The Nut Job has a minute's worth of genuine laughs, favoring the ostensible charms of goofiness over actual funniness.
Usually, when a children's cartoon lacks good humor, it makes up for it (or tries to) with warmth. Here, The Nut Job is also lacking... not entirely devoid, but lacking. The story follows the lazily, albeit appropriately, named Surly Squirrel (Will Arnett, affecting an occasional New York accent to drill home that his character is a jag), who is a self-serving survivalist who hordes as many nuts as he can find for his own safekeeping without concern for his fellow park-dwelling animals — all of whom subscribe to a strange socialistic society led by a solemn raccoon (Liam Neeson). The only animals who sympathize with Surly are his mute pal Buddy, a rat, and his diplomatic fellow squirrel Andie (Katherine Heigl), the latter of whom endures a constant battle to convince Surly to employ his superior food heist skills to help the other rodents. But he won't... and we're never quite sure why.
Open Road Films via Everett Collection
On the one hand, it could be that he's just a Darwinian individualist. On the other, he drops lines disparaging the aforementioned raccoon for never accepting him, and laments his banishment from the parkgrounds after an unfortunate incident with an inflamed tree. There isn't much work done with the Surly character, so there isn't much of a payoff for his inevitable emotional turnaround. We don't quite understand if he wants to be accepted for who he is, welcomed lovingly into the park community, or adorned with the kind of praise that thick-headed hero squirrel Grayson (Brendan Fraser, giving the funniest performance in the film as a cocky but affectionate dolt) regularly receives.
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When it comes to films directed at young kids, there's usually the hope that there will be something learned, or some semblance of an emotional lesson carried forth. You can pick from the usual grab bag to piece together whatever it is that The Nut Job wants you to feel: accept other people, it's better to help others than help yourself, friendship is important, never trust a raccoon. But more than any of these, the primary takeaway is screwball cartoon mania that you don't often get to see in Disney, or even DreamWorks. And yes, it'll remind you of Loony Tunes in function, but you'll wonder then just why you aren't laughing.
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Plenty of sitcoms change their course after the first season. 30 Rock tightened up its form and got rid of Rachel Dratch playing a whole host of characters, Family Matters enlisted Urkel to go from a family comedy to a giant excuse for him to drop his signature catch phrase, and even The New Girl relied less on Jess and more on her breakout roommates. Things change. That's cool. But nothing in modern memory has changed as much or as drastically as Up All Night. The first episode of the show's second season aired last night on NBC and we barely recognized it.
When the show debuted it was supposed to be about Reagan (Christina Appelgate), a working mother who was balancing the needs of her baby, her lawyer-turned-stay-at-home-dad husband Chris (Will Arnett), and her daytime diva boss Ava (Maya Rudolph). In season two, it is not about any of that at all. In fact, it's about the opposite.
As the episode kicks off, we learn that Ava's show has been cancelled, leaving both her and Reagan out of a job. Chris decides to go back to work as a lawyer so Reagan can stay home with the baby. But then he changes his mind. Instead, he quits his new/old job and decides to start a construction business with Reagan's newly-introduced younger brother Scott (Luka Jones). Yes, the show has gone from being about what happens when formerly hip people have a baby to being a crazy workplace drama about a working mother with pressures at home to being yet another show about how all women want to raise their babies while a father goes out and pursues his ludicrous dreams. This new show is not what I signed up for when I put the season pass into my DVR last September.
It took awhile for Up All Night to find its groove, but by the end of season one it was something really different an interesting, hence the season pass. It was a funny take on women having it all and the sacrifices men must make for that to happen. That is not like anything else that has ever been on TV. Also, everything involving Ava was hysterical. Rudolph's character is the funniest thing on the show (I would give her the Outstanding Funny Lady on a Comedy Show Emmy if I could) as was her dim bulb assistant Missy and her ongoing rivalry with a former protege turned fellow talk show host played with great bile by Megan Mullally. These were the things I loved most about the show, and now they are all gone.
I always said that the show would need more interesting characters if it wanted to survive for the long-term and yes, it needed a shift from Season 1, but I think this was the wrong direction. If I were running the show (and there is a reason I am writing about it and not actually running it) I would have bet everything on the Ava show, since that was usually the funniest and most rewarding part of the half hour. Instead it got the chop altogether. And Molly Shannon's wacky nanny and Will Forte as Chris' silly best friend don't seem to be around either, sadly. Where are all the great things about this show that I loved?
What's most troubling is this seems like the dramatic repositioning that a show goes through once it's in decline, when its best years are behind it, its big stars are leaving, and it needs a new hook (there's a reason you don't remember Laverne and Shirley moving to LA). The core cast of Up All Night, always its best asset, can do wonders with even the worst material (remember Arnett making it through the awful Running Wilde?) and they may have great new material to work with but where is the show we know and loved? If it was going to be overhauled so dramatically, why not just give it the axe and start over? What was great and refreshing was this was a female-centric show that looked at motherhood and family life in a totally revolutionary way. What we have now is a woman at home, a guy at work, and a standard sitcom formula. Let's hope these are just growing pains (not the Kirk Cameron show) and not a death knell.
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[Photo Credit: NBC]
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John (Will Arnett) and Dean Solomon (Will Forte) are as much related by blood as they are by their stupidity but apparently there’s room for them to grow even dumber. When their father (Lee Majors) slips into a sudden coma the brothers rush over—after stopping to rent a video—to be by his side. Once at the hospital they learn that their dad had but one unfulfilled wish: to become a grandfather. So begins the search for a female to impregnate in order to the brothers believe keep their father alive. It doesn’t take long after posting an ad on Craigslist for the bros to find their mate—or at least a woman named Janine (Kristen Wiig) who agrees to become artificially inseminated and bear their child for $12 000. As Janine’s trimesters pass by John and Dean prepare to become fathers by baby-proofing their apartment with strategically placed combination locks and by running practice drills for potential disasters—like what to do when the newborn jumps off the stairwell from 15 stories up. But nothing can prepare them for the third-trimester shocker delivered by Janine and her on-again off-again boyfriend (Chi McBride). Will Arnett desperately needs Arrested Development to come back and Will Forte—well he’s just lucky to have Saturday Night Live to fall back on a place where he can commiserate with fellow cast member/recent big-screen failure Andy Samberg. Arnett who has made some awful post-TV decisions but none worse than this excels at dry smart comedy so while he can make due with some of the smirk-worthy moments in Brothers the overtly moronic material falls well beneath his range and thus flat. Forte is better suited for such stupidity with his trademark imbecilic grin but as is the case on SNL his scenes tend to be more annoying than funny. Another SNL-er Wiig at least saves face by not even attempting to play it funny or sarcastic; however that just shifts the mood from too-goofy to awkwardly non-goofy. McBride (Boston Public) scores a few stereotype-exploiting laughs while Cameron Diaz look-alike and hope-to-be Malin Akerman (HBO’s The Comeback) in a role that’s completely inessential to the story is really only there for looks. And so maybe there is something redeeming about this movie! With the Judd Apatows and Seth Rogens of today brilliantly covering the whole spectrum of hilarity—from dumb to smart—doofus comedy is as dead a sub-genre as torture porn (i.e. Hostel: Part II). That said The Brothers Solomon’s concept courtesy of writer/star Forte might’ve actually worked in the vein of the aforementioned Apatow-ian system. But director Bob Odenkirk—another great-at-TV (Mr. Show) bad-at-film (Let's Go to Prison) casualty—aims very low. As with similar movies most gags are predictable overlong and unrewarding; call it “The Saturday Night Live Effect ” which expressly states that a feature-length film must try and stretch what may be mildly funny in a three-minute sketch into 90 minutes. The stretching-humor theme is in fact rampant throughout. Case in point: During an airplane-billboard scene towards the end Odenkirk displays some inventiveness for about a minute before dragging the same gag out for at least five more minutes (though it’s a challenge to keep track of time at that point).