For those of you who like me have in recent years come to regard “chick flick” as a purely pejorative term Bridesmaids directed by Paul Feig (Unaccompanied Minors) and starring Kristen Wiig (MacGruber) is nothing less than miraculous: A broad female-driven comedy that is both sharply observed and genuinely funny capable of inducing howls of laughter from both sexes in equal measure. What's more unlike other offerings from the genre it actually respects its audience’s basic intelligence. How refreshingly novel.
Wiig who also co-wrote the film’s screenplay with Annie Mumolo plays Annie 30-something and stranded. Since losing her business and subsequently her boyfriend to the Great Recession she’s resigned herself to mediocrity slogging through a dead-end job at a jewelry store where she labors vainly to conceal her cynicism from the bright-eyed folks shopping for engagement rings and BFF bracelets and clinging to a dead-end relationship with a handsome but solipsistic creep (Jon Hamm) who very plainly regards her as nothing more than a convenient booty call.
Annie’s lone source of relief from the drudgery and ennui is the close bond she shares with Lillian (Maya Rudolph) her lifelong best friend. When Lillian reveals that she’s gotten engaged and that she’s chosen Annie to be her maid of honor at the wedding Annie’s already shaky emotional footing threatens to give way entirely. Wiig is fairly brilliant here (and indeed throughout the film) subtly and humorously conveying both overt happiness for her friend’s milestone and internal terror over the sudden realization that the music has stopped and she’s the only one without a chair.
Lillian’s engagement sets up the film’s main comic conceit: the rivalry of passive-aggressive one-upsmanship that develops between Annie and blue-blooded Alpha bridesmaid Helen (Rose Byrne) a pretty prissy blue-blood who clearly covets Annie’s maid of honor role. Pressured to prove herself against the would-be usurper Annie leads the bridal party into one disaster after another starting with a Brazilian luncheon that results in a violent case of food poisoning in the middle of their gown-fitting.
As you might gather from the above example some of the film’s comic set-ups verge on the predictable but Wiig a comedienne equally adroit as the brunt of jokes or the source of them keeps things fresh and lively – and funny – throughout. I’d be remiss however if I didn’t recognize the scene-stealing efforts of Melissa McCarthy as Megan the mannish potty-mouthed sexually aggressive sister of the groom the bridal party’s oddest — and ultimately its most grounded — member.
At times Bridesmaids tries a little too hard to be an all-female version of The Hangover Wedding Crashers or any of the other films to which it has been copiously compared. The needless intestinal comedy of the wedding-gown dysentery scene in particular serves as little more than proof that women are just as capable of reaching for easy laughs via telegraphed gross-out jokes as men. (I suspect this as well as the film’s overlong running time stems in part from the creative influence Judd Apatow who produced the film.)
Bridesmaids is at its best when it’s not reaching or forcing matters but rather when it puts its trust in its talented cast. The relationship that blossoms in fits and starts between Annie and Rhodes an Irish-American traffic cop played by Chris O’Dowd is heartfelt and its evolution stunted at various points by Annie’s penchant for neurotic self-sabotage feels genuine. Wiig and O’Dowd establish an easy endearing chemistry devoid of the pat screwball give-and-take that so often characterizes rom-com courtships and it helps keep the movie aloft when its comic energy ebbs.
You can’t buy happiness so why not waste millions of dollars betting on illegal drag races between rare exotic cars. That’s just what L.A. pimp/record producer Infamous (Eddie Griffin) movie mogul Jerry (Tim Matheson) and a sociopath counterfeiter known to his family as Uncle Mike (Angus MacFadyen) like to do with their free time and seemingly endless piles of cash. These guys will gamble on just about anything: For example they bet $1 million Uncle Mike’s nephew can drive from L.A. to Las Vegas in under two hours. An impossible feat made more so by driving at night racing at speeds of over 200 mph through windy desert roads using special night goggles and zipping past CHiPs unnoticed like the Road Runner. But the annual multi-million dollar race is coming and Infamous needs a driver. Enter the movie’s hero and narrator Natasha (Nadia Bjorlin) who has retired from racing and is busy pimping rides and fronting a hair-metal band. After some teasers the mega-stakes illegal drag race kicks off deep in the Nevada desert where a fatal mistake costs one racer their life and another their freedom. The script gives little if any help to the actors in this scattered camp-fest meets a misogynistic hip-hop video—starting with funnyman Eddie Griffin basically doing standup and one-liners throughout. Angus MacFadyen (Saw III) brings some presence to the drowning film with his shell-shocked Martin Sheen/Apocalypse Now parody—strange drunken dances to boot. Veteran actor and man of a thousand bad parts Tim Matheson--who has managed to stay afloat with B movies since his glory days as Eric “Otter” Stratton in Animal House--actually seems to be having a little fun here. Sadly though the rest of the supporting cast is easily forgettable and at times comes off a little too much like the cast of a late night Cinemax skin-flick. Too bad Redline is PG-13. Redline is Andy Cheng’s (End Game) second time helming a feature film but he is no stranger to movie sets as his past credits include a myriad of stunt coordination work in films like Rush Hour and The Scorpion King. A lot of his early work was spent on Jackie Chan films which explains a lot about his directing style with Redline. Part of the charm of a Jackie Chan film is well Jackie Chan and all his amazing moves but take out Chan and leave the ridiculous cartoon characters and inane plots that surround his Hong Kong reels and you have Redline. Amidst the awkward one-liners and misplaced acrobatic fight scenes choreographed to unidentifiable hip-hop music some of the car races--as when a Porsche 911 takes on a $1.2 million Ferrari Enzo--are actually quite cool. This is where Cheng really shows his chops and he makes the most of his limited resources creating a really tacky however absolutely superbly bad-funny cult classic. Redline would have made an excellent double-feature back in 1975 alongside Death Race 2000 boasting: “See the world in the year 2007 where decadence rules and reckless millionaires live and die by fast cars and even faster women.”