In just about every one of Kevin Hart's scenes in Ride Along, there's a joke that is just aching to find its way out of the diminutive, rascally comic actor. Hart is a small-scale physical comedian — of the same ilk as Jack Black — who puts nuclear-degree energy into his facial contortions, anatomical outbursts, and the delivery of every gag in general. If only he had material that was crafted with the same energy.
Unfortunately, nothing else about Ride Along seems at all "hard at work." Not the script, which pads a lifeless story with lazy comedy, and certainly not his screen partner Ice Cube, whose only stage direction seems to be "frown, and be taller than Kevin Hart." So lifeless is Ice Cube that even his machismo-obsessed straight man bit doesn't really work. Instead of the virile and intimidating "bad cop," he comes off as a disapproving middle aged dad without much to show for his own life.
But the script pairs the wily, overzealous high school security guard and video game junkie Ben (Hart) with no-nonsense lawman James (Ice Cube) on the titular ride along, with the scrappy cop-wannabe hoping to prove to the force veteran that he's good enough to marry the latter's younger sister. In earnest, he's not. Ben never puts any respectable effort into learning the tools of the trade, insisting on employing his amateur style and controlling the radio despite his proclamations that he wants, and deserves, James' trust. And James is no saint either — he's irresponsible on crime scenes, violent with perps, and disgruntled to the point of being unable to work with anybody else on the force. These are not good police officers... of course, you'll say, this is a comedy. But where are the laughs, then?
They're not absent entirely, you just have to look for them. In a movie so focused with big, broad humor, it's the smaller comedy that actually lands best. Hart's background mutterings and fumblings, his emoticon-laden texts to girlfriend Angela (Tika Sumpter, whose only stage direction seems to be "smile, and never wear a full outfit of clothing"), and a bizarre repetition of the word "weird" from supporting player John Leguizamo. All good for unexpected chuckles, while jokes like Hart facing off with a pre-teen or being blown backwards into a brick wall after firing a large gun are all lazy, familiar, and flat.
Structurally, the script is a mess. Ride Along spends far too much time on set up — we get it, Hart and his soon-to-be-brother-in-law Ice Cube don't get along — and far too much time on wrap-up — there's a gigantic, dramatic warehouse shootout that, in any other movie, would be the climax, but there's plenty more to go after that — without any cohesive middle to make the movie feel like... a movie.
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Hart, who leaps at every comic opportunity like a kangaroo (wallaby would be more appropriate), is suited just right for a buddy cop comedy, but he needs something fresh with which to work — a real character, an interesting story, actually funny jokes. Even just one of these would be fine!
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Warning: This article reveals a pretty shocking spoiler, so be wary!
Last night's episode of Community seemed like a standard concept episode parodying the recent influx of dark detective dramas, until it ended with a shocking twist: Pierce Hawthorne, wet-wipes mogul, 14-year Greendale student and "expert faker of heart attacks," had suddenly passed away. As Pipes-of-Steel Neil said on his radio broadcast, Pierce is survived by seven ex-wives, about 30 step-children, the Greendale student body, and the enduring hope that he recorded enough hologram messages to last us through the rest of the season. While we're sure that the study group will take the time to process and grieve over the loss of their oldest friend, we feel it's only appropriate to remember Pierce in our own way.
As we look back on Pierce's time at Greendale and Chevy Chase's tenure on Community, we remember the good times, the bad times, and the times that he went completely off the rails (which were plentiful). You will be missed by all of us, Pierce. Except Vicky. She still hates you, and your hologram still isn't invited to her Halloween party.
Pierce and the Study GroupAlways the most divisive member of the study group, he prided himself on articulating the things that nobody else was brave enough to say out loud. He was often brash, aggressive and offensive, although he would probably describe himself as being "streets ahead." He was the natural antagonist within the study group, causing fights and making people uncomfortable, which resulted in him being left out of the group's activities. Which would then, in turn, led to him becoming upset and attempting to destroy his friends' happiness. But after he got over his pain pill addiction and discovered "Buddhism," he managed to get that urge under control. He was there to insult and tease people, and then surprisingly step up at the last moment when everyone was depending on him.
He offered Troy a place to live when he got kicked out of his house. He helped Shirley overcome her fear of public speaking, invested in her business, and then dropped the lawsuit against her. He called in a favor with Susie B. Hawkins so that Britta wouldn't be humiliated yet again. He wanted to give Annie a genuine inheritance when he pretended to be on his deathbed. He was a living example of all of the ways Jeff's life could go wrong, and as such, was always there to advise him. Sure, he and Abed never really got each other, but hey, he saved Neil's life in a game of Dungeons & Dragons. That counts for something.
When Pierce wasn't being a surprisingly decent human being, he was busy being the best supervillain the show has ever created. Chang may have taken over the school, but Pierce bought Troy and Abed's handshake and misused it, stole all of the elementary school's flu shots so that he would become a living god, and pretended to be dying just to mess with everyone's minds, and done it all in a way that was strange and hilarious in equal measures. No matter how many grabs for power Chang makes, or how many minuses Professor Hickey gives out or how many former students try and sue the school, Community will never again have a villain as completely unhinged and completely brilliant as Pierce.
The Empty ChairThus far, the fifth season has compensated for Chase's absence with the excellent addition of Jonathan Banks as Professor Hickey, and the writers spent much of last season transitioning him from the forefront of episodes to the back, so that it makes his departure feel more natural within the show. However, without Pierce, all of the group's antagonists must now come from outside of the group, which takes away the element of them learning to understand and accept Pierce despite him behaving in terrible ways. Pierce was also an asset in that it was hard to predict how he would react to events or remarks, or just how far he was willing to go in order to prove a point. He ran for school office purely as a way to enact revenge on Vicky for never lending him a pencil. He pretended to be on his death bed to teach his friends a lesson. He was a completely unhinged character, which meant the writers had every path open to them when developing plots.
Unlike some of the other insane characters that Community has, Pierce was able to be at the forefront of a plot, and go totally off the rails without becoming unbearable. He was a fully realized character, and the writers always made his motivations clear, which helped keep him from becoming a caricature. His crazy schemes and revenge plots helped make his moments of growth more poignant, and that balance is what drives Community as a show. We're sure the show will continue to come up with wilder and wilder plots, but the loss of Pierce means that the show is losing a small piece of what made it so weird and wonderful in the first place.
Remembering PierceCommunity has always excelled at poking fun at itself, and we have no doubts that the death of Pierce will be no exception. So far, they have done a great job at referencing his absence without having it drag down the episodes, and so we hope that things continue in that manner. We've mentioned the hologram before, we know, but it's so perfectly in-character, that it would be great to see it pop up again to dispense life advice to the study group at random intervals. Pierce's death is also ripe for call-backs and in-jokes, which Community and its fans love to sprinkle throughout every episode. Maybe someone in the study group can inherit his hairpiece, like Jeff did when he killed Pierce's dad. Maybe he will be "reincarnated" as a vial of purple sludge that can sit in the study room with them. With a character as erratic as Pierce, anything is possible.
His Greatest MomentsBecause this is Community, the only way to properly memorialize Pierce is through a "montage" of his funniest and most memorable moments. Insert your favorite poignant and topical television reference here, in your best Abed voice.- Causing the greatest freakout of all time by introducing Troy to LeVar Burton when he knew full well that all Troy wanted was an autograph- "You know, when I was 30, people used to wish I was dead to my face. Now, that was respect."- Coining and minting the "verbal wildfire" that is "streets ahead"- His long-standing feud with Vicky over her never lending him a pencil- On the paintball tournament prize being "TBD": "If that's what I think it is, I had it for a month in the '70s."- Choreographing a ridiculous and over-the-top skit with Jeff for Spanish class that involved tiny sombreros, afro wigs, and a robot battle- Joining and leaving Vaughn's band, resulting in the classic songs "Getting Rid of Britta" and "Pierce, You're a B"- And his greatest moment of all: pretending to be Jeff's dad and getting bodily dragged out of a car and beaten up
We'll miss you, Pierce. Feel free to play yourself out.
This year was a fantastic one for entertainment and pop culture, and discussion about that entertainment reached a fever pitch with weekly recaps for Breaking Bad, X-Box launching a new device that requires an Internet connection, forcing gamers to interact with one another, and every single album leaking weeks early (… except one).
But what was missing this year was some good old fashioned earnestness. Well, not too old fashioned. The world has plenty of Doris Day musicals. But a nice, balanced amount of earnestness. Unfortunately, artists are all too quick to flip the dial to ironic detachment, afraid of putting themselves out there when every moment of unironic joy looks absurd and endlessly GIF-able. Behold, 2013's pop culture judged on a metric of earnestness:
Community: What made Community popular was the audacity with which it attempted to take down titans of pop culture on the budget of a network sitcom. But, after seeing that lackluster Season 4, which all but tipped over into terribleness, what made the show special was its heart. At its best, the show used parodies to express what the characters were feeling. This past season, we saw the shrill attempt at parody, but with absolutely no soul. Occasional glimpses of light peeked out from a skilled writer or an actor, but even promising trailers for the newly Dan Harmonized Season 5 had a lot to overcome.
Man of Steel: Superman is a superhuman being created to live up to the ideal values of humanity. He's kind, he's courageous, and instantly self-sacrificing. That's why to see him in a feature-length Ford commercial that featured 10 times the usual destruction of a superhero film and literally none of the heroism was sickening. Superman alternately seems blandly invested in saving random individuals and yet simultaneously caring not at all about the multitudes in the skyscrapers he ripped down.
Kanye: Kanye West's 2013 album, Yeezus, was a collection of aggressive, experimental tracks that did some interesting things musically but was nowhere near the level of genius Kanye himself proclaimed again and again all summer, fall, and now winter long. But if Yeezy had even left it at bragging, he might have escaped a negative distinction. But instead, he meta-commented on all of his meta-comments about black men in the public eye by refusing to take a single joke at his expense. No matter how fair the jabs were, he insisted each and every time that they were an insult to his, again, supposed genius. In the end, his anger only justified the critics who believe him to be nothing more than an immature thug with delusions of grandeur.
Frances Ha: Frances is a mess. But one of the many reasons she's floundering is because she's too guileless to survive among her hispter Brooklyn friends and the larger surroundings. She doesn't know when to start a play fight and when to be quietly thankful. She doesn't know how to be cutthroat. And she's summed up perfectly when accused by a see-through-the-B.S. friend that calling herself "poor" is insulting to the actual poor. Frances acknowledges he's right, but then counters with, "If you were me, you'd say you were poor too." She's not always right, but she doesn't obscure how she feels with posturing.
Mad Men: Mad Men's sixth season disappointed many in how it dealt with 1968 and how that very dark, depressing year, full of revelations and assassinations, impacted (or didn't impact) its characters' lives. But this year marked Don Draper's revelation of his past. Finally, after covering it up time and time again, Don Draper finally revealed himself as Dick Whitman and his worst nightmare — he was outcast immediately. Mad Men has always been a very mannered and restrained show, but this season showed the humanity underneath the restrictions of the period. Peggy is a conservative social climber. Pete is angry and cruel, but also cannot stop himself from feeling empathy. Joan is quickly reaching the glass ceiling of not just business, but her own skills. And Don finally admitted who he is.
BEYONCE: Beyonce's secret album dropped just in time for Christmas wish lists and best of 2013 lists. And it's a great pop album, perhaps tinged too heavily by the sheen of newness, but still ambitious, impressive, and as confident in its message as Yeezus was confused. Beyonce is a proud woman and directly stated her feminism isn't lessened because she's also a wife and mother. Her straightforward declarations made up for the past year of hemming and hawing from basically every other female pop star afraid to brand herself a feminist.
The World's End: The end of Edgar Wright's fantastic genre pastiche, The World's End should be on my unreserved "Love" list — after all, it's one of my favorite films of the year. But while Wright and Simon Pegg created a satisfying conclusion to their Cornetto Trilogy, they also suffered from some of the emotional disconnect systemic of lesser efforts, often using pop culture references as a shorthand to express intellectual ideas that didn't necessarily land as much as an emotional resolutions for the characters played so brilliantly by Pegg and Nick Frost.
Bangerz: Miley Cyrus had her coming out party this year, and she's about as far from Hannah Montana as possible. But her album was featherweight, not quite a summer jam or a more substantial release. It sold well, but broke no records, and the months-long rolling out process spent most of the hype before there even was an album. And for all the twerking and grinding, there wasn't much sexual agency represented in her performances and videos. Instead, Miley objectified herself, which is her choice to make, but does make it harder to endorse her particular brand of modern sexuality.
American Horror Story: Coven: The concept and the surface details of the third installment of Ryan Murphy's anthology series were thrilling. And though the episodes of Coven will continue in the new year, juxtaposing footage of the Civil Rights activists being hit with fire hoses and attacked by dogs while a white male witch hunter stalks and kills all but one of the black characters on the show doesn't inspire much confidence. Even if it's being done with the best and most genuine of intentions (which is generous of me to assume), the high camp style of the show makes it impossible to use the real world as a backdrop in that way.
And the Most Earnest Item of Pop Culture in 2013: Bob's Burgers
Simply, Bob's is my pick for the best thing in pop culture this year because it manages to be completly earest and yet has no shortage of humor. It's warm, it's funny, it's acerbic and frequently heartbreaking. But perhaps a lucky benefit because of its place on a major network, it's also somewhat gentle to its characters, giving them 30 minutes' worth of a break from their stressful lives working at their failing business or being middle school students. It's also one of the most ingeniously weird shows on television, and yet grounds a rain of shrimp, a talking toilet, and a musical tribute to a murdered elephant in character motivations and real stakes. Watching it take off this year and become a hit was satisfying proof that audiences will watch things that aren't cloaked in a protective layer of ironic detatchment.
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.