Commercials for MacGruber have been airing for weeks proudly boasting quotes that refer to it as “the best SNL skit movie since Wayne’s World” and “arguably the best action-comedy since Beverly Hills Cop.” Such outsized blurbs — usually accompanied by miniscule attributions — have long been a sine qua non of movie marketing strategy but what makes MacGruber’s case unique is that its praise came not from the usual studio fluffers but from The Atlantic the venerable 150-year-old publication that counts the likes of Longfellow and Ralph Waldo Emerson among its founders. Calling anything “the best SNL skit movie since ...” may be faint praise akin to "You're the smartest stripper I've ever met " but it’s still impressive for a film based on a shtick that typically struggles to conjure enough laughs to fill a two-minute sketch.
And it’s true. MacGruber star Will Forte and director Jorma Taccone (who also co-wrote the film along with John Solomon) much like the character Richard Dean Anderson they mercilessly parody took the scrap that was their middling SNL sketch and somehow turned it into one of the funniest films of the year.
The film which pits the super-handy MacGruber against his sworn enemy a nuke-stealing terrorist named Dieter Von Cunth (Val Kilmer gracefully entering the self-mocking stage of his career and selling it like a champ) works in part because it heartily exploits all the advantages unavailable to its television counterpart: a hard-R rating that lets it showcase among other things MacGruber’s unmatched throat-ripping skills and his willingness to suck a c**k to save American lives (let's see Jack Bauer try that); a script that clearly took more than a week — possibly as many as two — to construct; and guest stars who actually care enough to learn all of their lines. Forte's SNL co-star Kristen Wiig is fantastic as MacGruber's partner/love interest — a role more crucial to the comedy than you'd think — and even the much-maligned (by me mainly) Ryan Phillippe is pleasantly serviceable opposite Forte as his beleaguered straight man. In fact — dare I say it — he’s almost likable.
Don’t tell him I said that.
Hostel: Part II picks up where the first Hostel left off—and then Paxton (Jay Hernandez) wakes up. It’s the last nightmare he’ll ever (be able to) have. Cut to Rome where three American girls—wealthy Beth (Lauren German) sex-craving Whitney (Bijou Phillips) and naïve awkward Lorna (Heather Matarazzo)—have completed their art class after painting a nude model (Vera Jordanova) and are off to Prague via train. While en route they bump into that same nude model who convinces them to change their plans and come with her to an exclusive hot-springs spa in Slovakia. And so their fates are sealed. Once they check in at their hostel with the bellboy who might as well be Satan’s little helper the bidding begins. All around the world the well-to-do-but-not-well-meaning vie for a chance at torturing and savagely murdering these fresh American college gals. And the winners are: Stuart (Roger Bart) and Todd (Richard Burgi) two Americans with WAY too much money on their hands. Thus begins the torturing—of the audience. There is an underrated skill in being able to act scared to death for your life—and in Hostel II’s case whatever prop cutlery was used to poke at the victims’ bodies probably made acting spontaneously easier. Most of the cast however tends to overdo it here. The lone exception is German (A Walk to Remember) making this by far her biggest acting splash to date as the heroine…type. She more so than the others is forced to emote rather than just shriek and she shows ability that reaches beyond horror movies. Phillips (Bully) and Matarazzo (Welcome to the Dollhouse) meanwhile though disparate character-wise both over-act: Matarazzo especially tries too hard to be gawky even if it makes for a starker contrast when her character is well you know. And grossly—pun intended—miscast is Desperate Housewives actor Bart who--no matter the volume and amount of F-bombs he drops--isn’t game for the uber-depravity that writer-director Eli Roth was going for. In fact the foreign unknowns outperform their American counterparts quite a bit in this sequel. First thing’s first: If Hostel II managed to snag an R rating then hardcore porn should be rated G! Now on to writer-director Eli Roth. To his credit the horror god possesses a mind sicker than any other contemporary filmmaker including returning exec-producer/endorser Quentin Tarantino but that doesn’t mean he knows how to tell a story. There's not a whole that goes on between the jaw-dropping scenes of torture the audience has come to half-see which begs the question: Would Hostel II be anything at all if not for said sadism? In addition a lack of true story brings to light another potential flaw in the Roth system—he doesn’t frighten us so much as disturb. But therein lies the good as well. If you like to be disturbed in a strictly I’d-never-do-this-but-maybe-it-happens-somewhere kind of way Roth is most certainly your man. Of course if you like to be disturbed by a film in any way Roth is most certainly your man. He’s got a wild and prolific imagination and when he turns it on the resulting images are unlike anything you’ve ever seen or want to see again—impossible to look at or away from. If only he could expend it on the stuff surrounding the imagery.
Dogtown centers on three teenagers in the 1970s--Jay Adams (Emile Hirsch) Stacy Peralta (John Robinson) and Tony Alva (Victor Rasuk)--who just want to ride. At first it's waves. Living in "Dogtown " a tough and gritty area in Venice Calif. these guys do everything they can to get in with the Zephyr surfers lead by the charismatic owner of the Zephyr surf shop Skip Engblom (Heath Ledger). But the boys are soon transferring their aggressive wave-riding moves to the concrete turning empty pools into arenas of wild beautiful athleticism and revolutionizing a new style of skateboarding. Skip recognizes great money-making potential when he sees it and takes these freestyle wizards on urethane wheels out on the road to show off their skills dubbing them the Z-Boys. The skating world goes nuts. Conventional competitors don't know what to make of their "extreme" ways. Girls are wild for them. And promoters see dollar signs wanting to grab a piece of the action. But what started out as fun way to blow off steam soon turns into big business. Can the friendship between this tightly knit trio survive inflating out of control egos and fast-paced famous lifestyles? Dude that's a tough one to call.
What better way to make a movie about three hot California skateboarders then by casting three hot young male leads to play them. As Tony Alva and Stacy Peralta--the two talented skateboarders on the opposite ends of the spectrum--newcomers Rasuk (Raising Victor Vargas) and Robinson (Elephant) aptly bring sincerity to their portrayals. As the fiery Alva the wild-haired Rasuk is full of bravado taking to the jet-setting life with ease and ultimately becoming the more well-known name. The soft-spoken Robinson plays the easy-going Peralta with quiet determination proving he doesn't have to showboat in order to show how good he is. But it's the more seasoned Hirsch (The Girl Next Door) playing the gifted but ultimately screwed-up Jay Adams who has the harder acting job. As the Z-Boy with probably the rawest talent but nevertheless gives up his chance for fame Hirsch handles Adams' conflicted emotions well. Ledger too does a nice job as Skip Engblom the boys' "mentor" who introduces them to a whole new world rides a great meal ticket for awhile--and then loses it all when the boys move on to bigger and better things. Sorry Skip.
Coming off the heels of his award-winning 2001 documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys writer Stacy Peralta decided he wasn't quite done telling his Z-Boy story trying his hand at dramatizing the whole experience. This time around he elicits the help of director Catherine Hardwicke whose disturbing indie Thirteen proved she can get underneath a teenager's skin. Smart move. Her documentary style of filmmaking with that grainy handheld feel fits the Lords of Dogtown milieu perfectly. The camera chases after the boys as they skate sneak onto private property to surf empty pools and rock like rock stars. Peralta also calls upon his old buddies to help out including the now world-renowned skating champion Tony Alva who choreographs many of the stunts and apparently teaches the actors not only to skate but skate in true Z-Boy fashion. Maybe hardcore skateboarders will notice the errors but for a novice like me it is a fun ride. The only real problem with Dogtown is Peralta's greenhorn attempts at fleshing out a drama. As a documentary the Z-Boys experience is exhilarating as it follows these real-life mavericks' efforts to take skateboarding to a whole new extreme. But as a full-blown feature film it's a little harder to perpetuate the momentum.
After nine grueling years we can finally stop wondering what happened that fateful day when Lloyd Christmas (Eric Christian Olsen subbing for Carrey) first crossed paths with fellow dimwit Harry Dunne (Derek Richardson replacing Daniels). It's 1986 the first day of the new school year and our two IQ-challenged heroes literally run into each other as they race to class. Before you can screech annoyingly they're bosom buddies and the star pupils in the school's special-needs class. Only the class is a scam organized by the conniving Principal Collins (Eugene Levy) to bilk the high school of a $100 000 grant. Of course there's no doubt these oblivious oafs will ruin Collins' plan to run off to Hawaii with horny lunch lady Ms. Heller (Cheri Oteri). Unfortunately we must first endure the forced and blatant rehashing of Dumb and Dumber's funniest moments. Cue bathroom mishaps endless games of tag a fire at a gas station and fights over a beautiful but attached gal (Rachel Nichols). Director Troy Miller even ends this shameless exercise in redundancy by duplicating the predecessor's hilarious final scene featuring scantily clad beauties. Miller and co-writer Robert Brener also offer very few new nuggets of information about the wheeler-dealing Lloyd and the sweet Harry. We do find out how Lloyd chipped one of his front teeth but that's pretty much it. By the time school's out it's clear that it's less fun watching juveniles act like juveniles than watching men act like juveniles.
"Imitation is the sincerest form of plagiarism " Carrey recently quipped to David Letterman about Dumb and Dumberer. He's right. With his bowl-head haircut and chipped tooth the gangly jug-eared Olsen could easily pass for a pimply faced teen-age Carrey. Close your eyes and you'll even swear it's Carrey uttering Lloyd's catchphrase "I like it a lot!" But Olsen doesn't possess Carrey's uncanny elasticity. His facial contortions look taut and strained not rubbery. And that robs this prequel of much of its comic possibilities. That said Olsen's undaunted by the task of making audiences believe he's not a pretender to the porcelain throne. He's always working to wring out as many giggles as possible from the lazy and inane script no matter how humiliating. Richardson however doesn't even try to muster as much as half of Olsen's energy and enthusiasm. He sleep-walks through the mayhem waking up to occasionally run his fingers through his unruly blonde 'do or to shoot off fretful glances whenever the going gets tough. The dumbest thing about the film though is that it gives Levy nothing to do except grope the game Oteri. You can't fault him for being bored embarrassed and unwilling to bring down this house with his customary scene-stealing antics. That leaves Bob Saget--of all people!--to provide the film's sole guffaw. All he's required to do is repeat an expletive--think fecal matter--again and again. But he's so consumed with spewing out this cuss-word that you wonder whether he's just releasing his pent-up frustrations about what his post-Full House career has amounted to. Who can blame him?
Congratulations Troy Miller you've done the impossible: make the fart-friendly Farrelly Brothers look like comedy sophisticates. Miller knows what's amusing and what isn't--he's worked for HBO's hilarious Mr. Show and Tenacious D. But he treats Dumb and Dumberer as nothing more than a cheap and cheerless attempt to belatedly exploit one of Carrey's early rubber-faced farces. Needless to say this is not the best way make us forget Harry and Lloyd's fitfully funny cross-country trek in their shaggin' wagon. Miller displays no respect for the Farrelly Brothers' commitment to passionate and painstaking execution of even the most simplest and crudest of gags. He merely bangs everything out with a minimal interest in style or originality. So there's no pleasure to be found in Harry and Lloyd's classroom disasters or their Jackass-inspired cart ride. He's also very sloppy with trying to maintain the facade of the 1980s. It's tough imagining you're back in the Me Decade when he has Lloyd prancing like the village idiot to Vanilla Ice's 1990 cringe-inducing "Ice Ice Baby" or he neglects to remove from a store rack a magazine with Chelsea Clinton on the cover. Then again perhaps Miller couldn't afford to hire someone to keep an eye on such Reagan era-related errors. So just how cut-rate is Dumb and Dumberer? Check out Lloyd's chipped tooth-it looks like someone barely remembered to black it out with a marker pen.