Sony Pictures via Everett Collection
There is a certain level of enjoyment you are guaranteed when signing on for a movie that boasts a cast of George Clooney, Matt Damon, John Goodman, and Bill Murray. And that's the precise level of enjoyment you'll get from The Monuments Men — that bare minimum smirk factor inherent the idea that your favorite stars are getting to play together. In FDR-era army helmets, no less. But what we also get from the film is an aura of smug self-confidence from project captain Clooney, who seems all too ready to take for granted that we're perfectly satisfied peering into his backyard clubhouse.
So assured is the director/co-writer that we're happy to be in on the game that there doesn't seem to be any effort taken to refine the product for the benefit of a viewing audience. An introductory speech from art historian Frank Stokes (Clooney) sets up the premise straight away: the Nazis are stealing and destroying all of Europe's paintings and sculptures, and by gum we need to stop them! The concept doesn't complicate from there, save for a batting back and forth of the throughline question about whether the preservation of these pieces is "really worth it." Stokes rallies his own Ocean's Seven on a fine arts rescue mission, instigating an old fashioned go-get-'em-boys montage where we learn everything we need to know about the band mates in question: Damon has a wife, Goodman has gumption, Murray doesn't smile, Bob Balaban is uppity, and Jean Dujardin is French.
The closest thing to a character in The Monuments Men comes in the form of Hugh Bonneville, a recovering alcoholic whose motivation to take on the dangerous mission is planted in a festering desire to absolve himself of a lifetime of f**king up. When we're away from Bonneville, the weight disspears, as does most of the joy. Without identifiable characters, even master funnymen like Goodman, Murray, and Balaban don't have much to offer... especially since the movie's jokes feel like first draft placeholders born on a tired night.
Sony Pictures via Everett Collection
But wait a minute, is this even supposed to be a comedy? After all, it's about World War II. And no matter what Alexandre Desplat's impossibly merry score would have you believe (coupled with The Lego Movie, this opening weekend might be responsible for more musical jubilance than any other since the days of "Make 'Em Laugh!"), warfare, genocide, and desecration of international culture all make for some pretty heavy material. But The Monuments Men's drama is just as fatigued as its humor, clumsily piecing together a collection of mini missions wherein the stakes, somehow, never seem to jump. We're dragged through military bases, battered towns, and salt mines by Clooney and the gang — occasionally jumping over to France to watch Damon work his least effective magic in years on an uptight Cate Blanchett, who holds the key to the scruffy American's mission but doesn't quite trust him... until, for no apparent reason, she suddenly does. We never feel like any of these people matter, not even to each other, so we never really feel like their adventures do.
The Monuments Men doesn't have much of a challenge ahead of it. Its heroes are movie stars, its bad guys are Nazis, and its message is one that nobody's going to refute: art is important — a maxim it pounds home with the subtlety of a sledgehammer, through countless scenes of men staring in awe at the works of Michelangelo and Rembrandt. And in this easy endeavor, Clooney decides to coast. How could it possibly go wrong? Just grab hold of the fellas, toss 'em in the trenches, and let the laughs and danger write themselves. "This is what they came to see," Monuments Men insists. "Just us guys havin' a ball." But we never feel in on the game, and it isn't one that looks like that much fun anyhow.
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It worked for Rob Schneider. Why not Dana Carvey?
The popular "Saturday Night Live" alum, largely out of the public eye since his heart surgery in 1997, will get a helping hand in reviving his career from A-lister (and fellow ex-"SNL" guy) Adam Sandler. Today's Daily Variety says Sandler will produce a Disney comedy that will both star and be co-written by Carvey.
The comedian, best known for yukking it up as shy Garth to Mike Myers' metal-head Wayne in the "Wayne's World" sketches and big-screen movies, is in talks with the studio, Sandler and producing partner Jack Giarraputo. They're the team responsible for Schneider's surprise holiday hit "Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo."
Mum's the word on the plot for Carvey's starring vehicle. But he'll get some notice as a supporting player in Sandler's upcoming comedy "Little Nicky." And if "Deuce's" $64 million domestic gross is any indication, the former Church Lady might be taking up a healthy collection.
Carvey underwent an angioplasty procedure in October 1997, at age 42. It was the capper on a down period for the comic, who flamed out professionally in 1996 with the ill-fated run of his ABC primetime vehicle "The Dana Carvey Show."
CAUGHT IN 'TRAFFIC': Harrison Ford and Catherine Zeta-Jones don't mind being stuck in Steven Soderbergh's "Traffic."
Trade-paper reports today say that the two stars have climbed aboard the Fox vehicle, which was once in danger of being junked. It's now parked at the studio's arthouse division, Fox Searchlight.
Ford will play a judge who becomes a U.S. drug czar. The film's based on the British miniseries "Traffik." Things get complicated when the judge's daughter becomes a serious crack cocaine and heroin addict.
The film is Ford's first foray into arthouse filmmaking. According to Variety, the actor will take a major pay cut from his usual $20 million fee. Shooting is set to begin April 2.
GIRLS IN THE 'HOUSE': Actresses Diane Lane and Leelee Sobieski will square off as mother-daughter rivals in "The Glass House." Variety says that the Columbia-based drama starts shooting this spring with television's Daniel Sackheim at the helm.
The 17-year-old Sobieski, last seen strutting in "Eyes Wide Shut," will star as a teen-ager taken in by a Malibu, Calif., couple after her parents die in a car accident.
'MONKEY' BUSINESS FOR NBC: "Dharma & Greg" star Thomas Gibson will be paid $1.5 million to monkey around in NBC's latest Hallmark Entertainment miniseries. The four-hour project, called "The Monkey King," co-stars Bai Ling. Russell Wong is in negotiations to play the title role.
The story, by "M Butterfly" playwright David Henry Hwang, is about a young American businessman and an academic who journey to China to do battle with mythical monsters.