Millennium Entertainment via Everett Collection
Jack Black is the sort of comedic actor that you either love or absolutely hate. We think it all depends on which movie you saw most recently. Some of his work is hilarious, some... regrettable. Now that Black is gearing up for a new indie comedy The D-Train — co-starring James Marsden and written and directed by Yes Man screenwriters Jarrad Paul and Andrew Mogel, via The Hollywood Reporter — we decided to go through some of his well-known roles and figure out when Jack Black's boisterous style of comedy works and where it falls flat.
Funny: High FidelityThis adaptation of Nick Hornby's novel is mostly John Cusack's story, and Black only pops up every once in a while. Scaling Black's more outlandish behavior back to smaller doses is usually the way to go, since his brand of humor can grow tiring easily.
Not Funny: Shallow HalBlack plays mostly straight man in this Farrelly Brother's comedy, and the film would actually benefit from some trademark Jack Black energy. Here he feels neutered, and boring Jack Black is way worse than obnoxious Jack Black.
Funny: Tropic ThunderBen Stiller's film is completely off the wall, and Black's high-energy humor fits right into the tone of the film. He's just as loud and ridiculous as everything else going on in the film so it works.
Not Funny: Tenacious D in: The Pick of DestinyThis is a classic case of Black doing way too much and overstaying his welcome. The comedy stylings of Tenacious D might work wonders onstage, but not in a full-length, poorly written movie that banks on Black flailing like a buffoon.
Funny: BernieIn Bernie, Black shows some hidden acting talents and does something completely removed from his normal persona. The actor delivers his best performance ever; Richard Linklater's dark comedy is a clear sign that Black should keep stretching his range.
Not Funny: Envy To his credit, this piece of s**t never gave him much of a chance.
Funny: Be Kind RewindOn the contrary, Michael Gondry's off-kilter ode to community and creation gave Black a venue to use his big energy to great effect in the many of the home movies that need to be outlandish and absurd. The film is so weird itself that Black really works here.
Not Funny: Saving Silverman We don't care how many times you watched this when you were a freshman in high school. Black is much funnier sharp than he is dumb as rocks (and Saving Silverman is sub-rock dumbness).
Funny: School of RockBlack's shtick works better at material for a younger audience, which is part of the reason why the Kung Fu Panda movies are such a huge success. Here his high energy and manic charisma is used to enthuse kids with a love of music, which makes him an altogether charming and funny hero.
Brilliant: Orange CountyIn a moment of panic, Black took off his socks before diving into a swimming pool to save his drowning brother. Something about that screams comic genius.
So on which side will The D-Train land?
A massive hit never ends at its own conclusion for better or worse. Lost Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland The Blair Witch Project and other pop culture milestones spawned plenty of imitators of wavering quality that trickled on to screens until the phenomena tapered off. Joyful Noise the new film starring Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton is one these auxiliary creative endeavors a direct descendant of the cheeky drama/comedy/musical hybrid Glee. But instead of teenage issues and pop covers Joyful Noise swaps in familial struggles gospel tunes and a sizable serving of Christian faith. The combination results in a movie that lacks the jazz hand energy of Glee but packs good-natured laughs to keep someone awake for its two hour duration. More "noise" than "joyful."
Mere minutes after the passing away of choir leader Bernie Vi Rose (Latifah) inherits the position—along with a serving of negative vibes from Bernie's wife G.G. (Parton) who was hoping to take the job herself. The new responsibility is only the beginning of Vi Rose's troubles as she attempts to balance her rebellious daughter Olivia's (Keke Palmer) raging hormones her son Walter's (Dexter Darden) Asperger's syndrome her husband's absence during a military stint and her own old school God-faring ways. Hardships are whipped into further chaos upon the arrival of Randy G.G.'s rambunctious horny grandson who shows up at rehearsal with an eye on Olivia and undeniable vocal skills. Randy's rock and roll edge is readily embraced by the group but even with the national gospel championship on the line Vi Rose isn't ready to toss tradition aside.
Joyful Noise is a mixed bag sporadically entertaining when director Todd Graff (Camp Bandslam) lets his two commanding stars flex their comedic muscles or belt soulful tunes. Latifah and Parton can do both with ease—Latifah has a natural charm while Parton essentially fills the "kooky Betty White" here—but instead of letting the two fly Graff breaks up the action with overwrought drama and bizarre side character stories. The script injects a lot of ideas into the picture—loss of faith modernizing ideologies coping with tragedy sexuality under the eye of God—but every tender moment is fumbled. A gut-wrenching conversation between Vi Rose and her autistic son should have weight and the actors do their best but the material doesn't service the emotional complexity of the scenario. Instead it opts to cut to a musical number. Another sequence involving the overnight demise of another character is even played for comedy even when it causes one woman to question her beliefs.
Thank God for the musical numbers which have enough energy to brush the flimsier moments under the rug. The Glee-inspired pop tune covers (Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror " Usher's "Yeah"—both tailored with religious modifications) aren't nearly as interesting or powerful as the straight-up gospel songs. But unlike the tunes Joyful Noise doesn't have rhyme or reason. A mishmash of played out character stereotypes narrative cliches and enjoyable but erratic music the movie feels more like a cash-in than it should. Latifah and Parton are a sizzling duo but the vehicle built for them is a clunker. As Vi Rose might say the only way to have a great time at Joyful Noise is to believe. Really really hard.