Playing second fiddle to a more famous sibling can be rough. Just ask Fred Claus (Vaughn) a regular guy who has had to grow up under the shadow of his little brother Nicholas Claus (Paul Giamatti) aka Santa. That’s a big shadow to say the least both figuratively and literally. As an adult Fred has pretty much steered clear of his family but when he finds himself in dire need of some fast cash he calls his brother. Pleased as punch to hear from him Nicholas nonetheless makes him a deal: If he comes up to the North Pole for a visit and to help out the few days before Christmas then Fred can have the money. Fred reluctantly agrees and soon he’s being whisked off in Santa’s sleigh by head elf Willie (John Michael Higgins). But once Fred gets to the North Pole nothing seems to go right and soon he is the cause of much chaos--which unbeknownst to Fred causes Nicholas even more stress since his North Pole operation is one step away from being shut down by a cold-hearted efficiency expert (Kevin Spacey). Can Fred quit being bitter in time to save his brother’s livelihood? Of course he can. Hmmm Vince Vaughn minus the R-rated Wedding Crashers/Old School irreverence? It’s a stretch. Seeing the comic actor playing it PG is a little weird but you might enjoy how Vaughn infuses his unique energy into Fred Claus. From getting all the elves to boogie down in Santa’s workshop to going on one rant after another (on his brother: “He’s a clown a megalomaniac a fame junkie!”) to pilfering money on the street and then being chased by Salvation Army Santas it’s all good. Giamatti too seems a little out of his comfort zone as the saintly St. Nick. The actor who usually plays such endearing sad sacks has already played against type to great effect this year as the maniacal bad guy in Shoot ‘Em Up but he isn't nearly as successful in doing the flipside of that in Fred Claus. And what the hell is Kevin Spacey doing in this? As the villain of the film he fills the shoes nicely but he is almost too good at it (natch) for such a feel-good family film. Even Higgins--a character actor who is usually so hilarious in films such as The Break Up and all of Christopher Guest’s movies—has to shed the cheekiness and sugar himself up for Fred Claus. There’s also Rachel Weisz as Fred’s beleaguered girlfriend (you heard right) and Kathy Bates as the Claus boys’ mother who always sees Fred as inferior to her other son to fill out a cast of big names doing family fare. Director David Dobkin is a Vince Vaughn favorite having directed him in Wedding Crashers and Clay Pigeons but like his muse Dobkin seems a little out of place guiding this material. Granted Dobkin creates a pretty magical North Pole complete with an entire city of little dwellings a Frosty Tavern and a huge domed Santa’s Workshop. The montage of Fred delivering presents on Christmas Eve—falling down chimneys stuffing cookies in his face zooming around in the sleigh—is also well done. But overall Fred Claus is a Vaughn vehicle—even as sugary sweet and family-friendly as it is--and all Dobkin really does is turn the camera on and let the man do his stuff. Dan Fogelman's script is also so very bland full of any number of holes and only picks up once Vaughn starts to improvise. Bottom line: If you’re looking to take the kids to a sweet Christmas movie and are a Vince Vaughn fan then Fred Claus is for you.
SpongeBob creator Stephen Hillenburg understands that to turn what is in essence a series of 10-minute segments into a 90-minute feature it's necessary to keep things very simple. With that he's envisioned a sort of Pee-Wee's Big Adventure for SpongeBob in which the hapless hero sets out on a quest to find the balding King Neptune's treasured crown. We all know it's been stolen by that tiny green megalomaniacal one-eyed sea creature known as Plankton--who sold it and has framed SpongeBob's boss Mr. Krab with the crime so he can be rid of him and rule the world--but the rest of Bikini Bottom doesn't including King Neptune who wants to turn Mr. Krab into an appetizer. Now even though he has just been passed over for the promotion of his dreams SpongeBob still believes his boss is innocent and convinces the king to spare Mr. Krab's life long enough to allow SpongeBob to go retrieve the crown. Along with his best pal Patrick SpongeBob embarks on the treacherous mission battling any number of obstacles in order to save Mr. Krab's life restore order in Bikini Bottom and prove once and for all he can be a real man…wait a grown up…er a big bad sponge? Yeah something like that.
The whole gang is here including standup comic Tom Kenny who provides the high nasal voice of SpongeBob; Bill Fagerbakke (TV's Coach) who voices the dopey but lovable Patrick; and the booming I'm-master-of-the-universe voice of Mr. Lawrence as the evil Plankton. There are also a few celebrity voices thrown in for good measure including Arrested Development's Jeffrey Tambor as the vain and insecure King Neptune; Scarlett Johansson as his kind and patient daughter Mindy (who looks a little like Velma from the Scooby-Doo series); and Alec Baldwin as a malevolent hit man. But the best cameo of all belongs to David Hasselhoff appearing as himself--in Baywatch mode of course. Hasselhoff helps SpongeBob and Patrick who find themselves in the "real" world get back to Bikini Bottom safely and looks like he's having a ball poking a little fun at himself--as well he should.
Hillenburg a former marine science teacher created SpongeBob after he decided he wanted to do a sea cartoon and thought a square sponge wearing shorts who lives in a pineapple house in a world of real sea animals was just the ticket. Sure we get why the kids love it. The cartoon is madcap slapsticky gross-out fun with SpongeBob and Patrick just big ol' kids themselves living in an undersea community where eating Krabby Patties showing your underwear and blowing bubbles are the bomb. It's the parents you gotta wonder about--the ones who say they are only watching it because their kids do but who secretly look forward to SpongeBob SquarePants episodes so they too can laugh their asses off. "It's about keeping your kid-nature in life and not totally becoming a curmudgeon " Hillenburg explains--but it's more than that. SpongeBob's humor is oftentimes aimed completely at the adults following the habits of some stellar predecessors such as the old Looney Tunes shorts and even more recently Ren and Stimpy. Examples: SpongeBob and Patrick laughing manically for five minutes longer than they should; the two of them getting totally blasted after eating too many ice cream sundaes and then waking up the next morning in a puddle of their own sick; and confused side glances at the camera from some scary-looking sea monsters who stop short from eating SpongeBob and Patrick after the two start singing about being real men er well you know what I mean. Funny funny stuff.
Dodgeball is the classic big guy vs. little guy
can-do tale featuring your least favorite P.E. activity. Peter La Fleur
(Vince Vaughn) is the irresponsible manager of Average Joe Gymnasium a
low-end workout center that is losing business to Globo Gym America Corp.
run by former fatty food fetishist White Goodman (Ben Stiller). Peter
discovers that he has 30 days to come up with $50 000 of payments or else he
will lose his gym to Goodman. With the help of the bank's lawyer Kate Veatch
(Christine Taylor) and a ragtag team of gym regulars Peter plans on
winning the Las Vegas International Dodgeball Open and its first place
prize money. Yes folks all of your favorite sports clichés are here: the
salty experienced coach (Rip Torn) with his inspirational
non-sequiturs the nerd with a girl to impress a love triangle between the two
rivals and of course pirates. What? You were expecting a high concept and clever plot twists perhaps? C'mon.
If you want character development go see the folks at Merchant-Ivory. This
is irreverent comedy folks. And truth be told it's nothing we haven't seen
before. Vince Vaughn hones his too-cool-for-school good-guy persona against
Ben Stiller's lycra-covered over-the-top overachiever with a '70s porn
moustache. Stiller's performance is colored with shades of the dim-witted
Zoolander and the granny-thrashing nurse from Happy Gilmore but it
works. The two actors play off of each other and their co-stars quite well.
(Stiller's codpiece alone deserves its own screen credit.) But like a good drummer carries a band the movie's costars are what keeps the audience's attention. And as always Rip Torn does crazy
like no one else as dodgeball manager Patches O'Houlihan. He
chews the scenery spouting nuggets of wisdom such as "If you can dodge a
wrench you can dodge a ball" before heaving a tool at one poor kid. As for the team of Average Joes Stephen Root Justin Long and Joel Moore keep the gags rolling as do the actors who make cameo appearances. This laugher has more guest stars than a
two-hour Love Boat special. With a list that includes David
Hasselhoff Chuck Norris Jason Bateman Hank Azaria I was almost expecting
Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise to show up in a red Ferrari. The
highlights? Well Gary Cole shines in his bow to the great Vin Scully but
nothing could beat Lance Armstrong who laid down the best guilt trip I've
seen since I moved to the dorms.
This is Rawson Marshall Thurber's first time out playing with the big boys.
Quite a burden for a Tinseltown newbie but Thurber pulls it off agreeably.
All of your favorite sports movies will be mocked and you will enjoy it.
Thurber uses everything he can to get a laugh. Whether he's clowning Tony
Robbins parodying '50s instructional videos or using pizza in a perverse
and unholy manner Thurber keeps his audiences attention with enough
breakneck shtick to make Mel Brooks proud. But most importantly he never
forgets the fundamental rule to slapstick comedy: hitting people with stuff
is very very funny especially if it's in the nether regions or some area
of the human body that could potentially hurt or bleed a whole lot.
The Lizzie McGuire Movie is similar to the TV program and features the same cast and characters except here Lizzie McGuire (Hilary Duff) and friends leave the confines of Disney's Los Angeles studio headed for a class trip to Italy where you're hit with the preposterous storyline: In Rome Lizzie is mistaken for a famous pop star named Isabella and before long she is asked to impersonate the singer at a huge Italian music award show. Turns out Isabella had agreed to perform at the ceremony but backed out at the last minute leaving her singing partner Paolo (Yani Gellman) in a legal lurch. Lizzie agrees in part because she has a crush on Paolo and spends the rest of the trip prepping for the big night. There are so many things wrong with this ridiculous plot it's tough to know where to begin. The worse part is the Lizzie so many kids relate to on the tube is transformed here into a self-indulgent fashion plate who changes outfits more often than Celine Dion in concert. The result is an obvious promotional tool for the Lizzie McGuire TV phenomena rather than a movie about change growing up and the awkwardness of transitioning from middle school to high school.
Sixteen-year-old Duff recently made her big-screen debut in Agent Cody Banks but it was her two-year-old TV series Lizzie McGuire that catapulted her into 'tween idol status. In The Lizzie McGuire Movie Duff who appears in practically every scene bears the whole weight of the movie. That's an impressive feat for such a young actress and Duff does it quite professionally: her character stutters nervously when addressing her middle school graduating class and bites her lips in a kittenish manner when uncertainty sets in. Duff plays to the camera like a pro and knows how to maximize her cutie-pie image for the big screen. It's a shame her relatable Lizzie McGuire character was transformed into such a shallow teenager with very few redeeming qualities. Here's a girl who puts her own interests before that of her friends and gets them to lie for her so she can embark on a romance with a flaky pop star while stealing another one's identity. But Duff is a trooper and grins through it all despite being shrewdly marketed by studio execs like a scented Strawberry Shortcake doll.
Director Jim Fall's The Lizzie McGuire Movie is not a movie at all; it's a 90-minute advertisement for Duff. Since the handful of scribes hired to pen this sad script couldn't come up with a quasi-decent storyline Fall resorts to stringing together one montage after another of the ultra-cute teen idol. There's Lizzie singing Blondie's "The Tide is High (Get the Feeling)" in her bedroom while trying on a trillion different little outfits. There's Lizzie on the back of a dragon-red Vespa pointing and gasping at Roman landmarks like the Fontana di Trevi and the Coliseum. There's Lizzie…well you get the picture. The film's shameless self-promotion of its star overshadows any thematic elements and whatever bit of a story it had. And with a full line of Lizzie McGuire apparel and accessories coming soon to a store near you the reasons are all too clear. Sadly the opening screen credits in which Lizzie's animated alter ego spells out names with beauty products including a mascara wand and lipstick are the only entertaining thing about this 'tween pic.