After making a sparkling debut in 2004 with his first feature film the slacker comedy Napoleon Dynamite offbeat writer-director Jared Hess seemed poised for a fruitful career as an earnest more accessible alternative to hipster auteur Wes Anderson. But he stumbled a bit with his sophomore effort the uneven Mexican wrestling flick Nacho Libre despite Jack Black’s desperate mugging for laughs. And he falls apart completely with his latest comedy the crude maddeningly insipid Gentlemen Broncos.
It’s a shame too because Gentlemen Broncos held so much potential. Its trailers promised a lively battle of wits between a pompous sci-fi author played by Flight of the Conchords’ Jemaine Clement and the teenage protege (Michael Angarano) from whom he plagiarized his latest bestselling novel. It could have been Hess’s Rushmore. But what the trailers don’t tell you is that Clement plays merely a supporting role in Gentlemen Broncos and that his character Dr. Ronald Chevalier virtually disappears after the film’s splendid setup. Clement is by far the best part of the film and when he isn’t on the screen the story devolves into an increasingly irksome blend of manufactured quirk and lame sight gags. Hess’s sense of humor has regressed to sub-adolescent levels with Gentlemen Broncos. Defecating snakes breast-puncturing blowdarts and jars of human testicles are just a few of the lowbrow delights that await the brave soul who attempts to make it through a viewing. When Clement returns at the end of the film and mounts a quixotic attempt to rescue it from the mire his heroic effort is sadly for naught: The disastrous fate of Gentleman Broncos was sealed long before.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
Connor Mead is a womanizing commitment-phobic bachelor whose carefree antics nearly destroy his brother’s wedding weekend when his constant mockery of the sacred institution throws cold water on the event. But then straight out of the afterlife comes Connor’s philandering late Uncle Wayne (whose legendary cocksmanship inspired his current lifestyle) to lead him through a spooky Dickensian tour of the ghosts of all his many female conquests from the past present and future. As he realizes what a sorry state he’s in and how he blew his relationship with Jenny the one girl he truly loved and lost Connor will find out if there’s really a second chance in life.
WHO’S IN IT?
Matthew McConaughey plays Connor with little distinction from the myriad of other skirt-chasing cads he’s played in a string of unmemorable chick flicks like How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days Failure to Launch and Fool’s Gold. His immature chauvinist act is getting a little old and poor Jennifer Garner his latest leading lady can’t do much to save him. There’s little chemistry between the two and in fact both stars don’t seem to have their heart in this lame lustful takeoff on Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Instead of Scrooge it’s Screwed — and the crude tone doesn’t make for the merriest of romantic comedies. For some inexplicable reason Michael Douglas took the thankless role of the late Uncle who mostly just throws out lots of double entendres. Breckin Meyer is OK as the hapless groom while Lacey Chabert is just plain annoying as his shrill bride-to-be. Acting vets Robert Forster and Anne Archer do what they can to maintain their dignity in smaller supporting roles.
The trailer for Ghosts of Girlfriends Past was much better than the actual film and showed the premise had great promise. Unfortunately they had to release the rest of the movie and the jig was up.
The screenplay just doesn’t deliver. There are few laughs in Ghosts of Girlfriends Past and most of them are forced as in an endless slapstick kitchen scene where McConaughey tries desperately to keep a wedding cake from completely collapsing. He proves physical comedy is not his forte. Where’s Lucy when you need her? The overall tone is just crass and sleazy and the fantasy sequences involving the ghostly visits are flat and uninspired.
MOST PROPHETIC LINE:
At one point McConaughey utters “Wake me when there’s an action sequence will you?” We would have but there aren’t any.
NETFLIX OR MULTIPLEX?
Read a book instead. How about A Christmas Carol?
After 20 years with the LAPD Det. Mitch Preston (Robert De Niro) just wants to catch the crooks finish the paperwork and retreat to his mundane life at home where he eats TV dinners and pursues his hobby of making bad pottery. Patrolman Trey Sellars (Eddie Murphy) really wants to be an actor--he's only a cop because he made a lousy waiter. When Sellars bungles Preston's undercover case and media hounds catch it all on tape the irate Preston shoots up a news camera that gets in his face. Over-caffeinated network exec Chase Renzi (Rene Russo) upon seeing the damning evidence that could have killed her cameraman is captivated by Preston's complete lack of charm and convinces her superior she can save his crappy network by pairing Preston and Sellars up on a reality show. As expected Preston is reluctant--and even more so when he's forced to take the mugging Sellars as his partner. The two take impromptu acting lessons from iconic actor/director William Shatner (playing himself) and set off to attract an audience boost the ratings become celebrities and get the bad guys in a televised reality christened Showtime. Meanwhile the evil Cesar Vargas (Pedro Damian)--whom we know is evil 'cause he hides in the shadows he's flashy and well groomed and he mumbles in an unfathomable Third World/ European accent--is stockpiling guns powerful enough to knock down houses and blow the doors off a Brinks truck.
The movie offers a few good yuks--a coke-sniffing dog an unprecedented cameo by jive-rhyming lawyer Johnnie Cochran and William Shatner satirizing William Shatner (who does this better than anybody else satirizing William Shatner). Unfortunately we've seen a lot of his funniest stuff like the scene in which he demonstrates how to roll over a car hood cop-style in the previews. Rene Russo gives an effective souped-up Lethal Weapon-type performance with her hyper pushy fast-talking network exec desperate to make her name in the industry. De Niro's straight-man comedy is in his facial expressions--or lack thereof--and Murphy is…well Murphy. It's their first outing together and they play off each other like a foul-mouthed version of Abbott and Costello (guess who plays who?). We've seen De Niro play grumpy (Midnight Run) and Murphy play obnoxious (almost everything) before. But as you may suspect it's their grade-A chemistry that holds this badly stitched predictable though occasionally funny flick together--especially in regards to the jokes on Hollywood and the current bounty of reality TV.
You can smell the gags and The Odd Couple-versus-Goldfinger plot unfolding a million miles away. You just know Preston is hiding a gun inside that Big Gulp when he goes undercover to investigate a pawn shop and you know Vargas will make bad-guy errors in judgment like staging a robbery in downtown L.A. the day after he's confronted by our star cops in a populated disco. But that may lead you to wonder why the police--who are likewise not presented as being particularly bright in this movie--weren't trailing him as Vargas is the prime suspect in the gun-trafficking subplot. Some of the comedy borders on satire but isn't played up enough for you to tell if it was meant that way or not. The action scenes are so badly edited it's hard to tell who's chasing whom until the camera cuts back to Murphy's toothy grin and a cement-faced De Niro shooting out his car window. And speaking of commercial-laden reality TV the product placement in this movie is shameless--we get a full-length commercial for Apple Computers played not once but twice.