Sift through comments on franchise sequel announcements and you'll find many crying afoul to Hollywood's insistence of resurfacing every last brand in their bank of titles. The desire for original content is reasonable but occasionally a cinematic follow-up does have the potential to be rich and rewarding. Revisiting characters who've seen time pass in their own lives is worthy of exploration — Peter Bogdanovich's Texasville Richard Linklater's Before Sunset and even A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas prove that theory. American Reunion reaches for that same dramatic arc reentering the lives of its core cast eight years after American Wedding. But instead of mixing comedy with any weighty issues the movie only tickles the nostalgia bone (and without f**king one pie in the process) — a hurdle that keeps American Reunion from being nearly as riotous as the original.
Life hits a wall for Jim (Jason Biggs) in 2012. He's a happily married man a father and a moderately successful employee of a faceless company. But after catching his wife Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) enjoying the company of a shower head it dawns on Jim that he's in need of a shake-up. Perfect timing: Jim packs up the family and heads to his hometown for his 13th high school reunion (sure why not) where he reunites with the old gang: Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) currently whipped into submission by his girlfriend Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) back from a trip around the world Oz (Chris Klein) now a superstar sportscaster fresh off a celebrity dance show stint and Steve Stifler (Seann William Scott) a law firm temp who continues to turn women into his own personal squeeze toys. The high school buddies devolve quickly into their old habits alcoholic antics and potty-mouthed rants by the red solo cupful. Good fun for Jim no fun for Michelle.
Instead of digging deep into its well-founded characters (which I swear is allowed in a raunchy R-rated comedy) American Reunion sticks to the familiar goofball scenarios of its predecessors. Which is passable because the core group who stuck through all three movies — Biggs Nicholas Thomas and Scott — make poop-infused pranks and slapstick shtick like a scene in which Jim and co. must get a drunken naked eighteen-year-old back into her parents' house without looking like total creepsters highly entertaining. Scott once again proves him an underused comedic talent making Stifler one of the few characters who can rattle off colorful cuss words while showing a glimmer of humanity. Same goes for Eugene Levy as Jim's Dad who finds his role beefed up now that he's once again single. Grieving for years over his wife's death Jim helps his advice-dealing pop hit the dating scene and Levy spins gold out of the silliest of situations.
The problem with American Reunion is everyone else. Chris Klein never clicks with the rest of the group (that's what he gets for skipping out on Jim's wedding) while the rest of the ensemble feel ham-fisted for cameo purposes rather than complimenting the storyline. Tara Reid and Mena Suvari return to the franchise to stand around and react to the ineptitude of their male counterparts. Natasha Lyonne is in and out faster than Jim's first time. Other brief character appearances are like bigfoot sightings. The idea of bringing the entire cast of the original back for more seems perfect but without proper pacing from writers/directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg (Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay) there's never a moment to enjoy it.
American Reunion is a flaccid entry servicing fans while coming through with enough laugh out loud moments to make one scream (In one scene Jim takes a page out of Michael Fassbender's Shame that will elicit audible reactions). If these were fresh characters we'd brush it off — but at the film's core is a lovable familiar bunch of knuckleheads that can't be ignored. And if Stifler wants to party you party.
In This Means War – a stylish action/rom-com hybrid from director McG – Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises) and Chris Pine (Star Trek) star as CIA operatives whose close friendship is strained by the fires of romantic rivalry. Best pals FDR (Pine) and Tuck (Hardy) are equally accomplished at the spy game but their fortunes diverge dramatically in the dating realm: FDR (so nicknamed for his obvious resemblance to our 32nd president) is a smooth-talking player with an endless string of conquests while Tuck is a straight-laced introvert whose love life has stalled since his divorce. Enter Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) a pretty plucky consumer-products evaluator who piques both their interests in separate unrelated encounters. Tuck meets her via an online-dating site FDR at a video-rental store. (That Lauren is tech-savvy enough to date online but still rents movies in video stores is either a testament to her fascinating mix of contradictions or more likely an example of lazy screenwriting.)
When Tuck and FDR realize they’re pursuing the same girl it sparks their respective competitive natures and they decide to make a friendly game of it. But what begins as a good-natured rivalry swiftly devolves into romantic bloodsport with both men using the vast array of espionage tools at their disposal – from digital surveillance to poison darts – to gain an edge in the battle for Lauren’s affections. If her constitutional rights happen to be violated repeatedly in the process then so be it.
Lauren for her part remains oblivious to the clandestine machinations of her dueling suitors and happily basks in the sudden attention from two gorgeous men. Herein we find the Reese Witherspoon Dilemma: While certainly desirable Lauren is far from the irresistible Helen of Troy type that would inspire the likes of Tuck and FDR to risk their friendship their careers and potential incarceration for. At several points in This Means War I found myself wondering if there were no other peppy blondes in Los Angeles (where the film is primarily set) for these men to pursue. Then again this is a film that wishes us to believe that Tom Hardy would have trouble finding a date so perhaps plausibility is not its strong point.
When Lauren needs advice she looks to her boozy foul-mouthed best friend Trish (Chelsea Handler). Essentially an extension of Handler’s talk-show persona – an acquired taste if there ever was one – Trish’s dialogue consists almost exclusively of filthy one-liners delivered in rapid-fire succession. Handler does have some choice lines – indeed they’re practically the centerpiece of This Means War’s ad campaign – but the film derives the bulk of its humor from the outrageous lengths Tuck and FDR go to sabotage each others’ efforts a raucous game of spy-versus-spy that carries the film long after Handler’s shtick has grown stale.
Business occasionally intrudes upon matters in the guise of Heinrich (Til Schweiger) a Teutonic arms dealer bent on revenge for the death of his brother. The subplot is largely an afterthought existing primarily as a means to provide third-act fireworks – and to allow McGenius an outlet for his ADD-inspired aesthetic proclivities. The film’s action scenes are edited in such a manic quick-cut fashion that they become almost laughably incoherent. In fairness to McG he does stage a rather marvelous sequence in the middle of the film in which Tuck and FDR surreptitiously skulk about Lauren's apartment unaware of each other's presence carefully avoiding detection by Lauren who grooves absentmindedly to Montel Jordan's "This Is How We Do It." The whole scene unfolds in one continuous take – or is at least craftily constructed to appear as such – captured by one very agile steadicam operator.
Whatever his flaws as a director McG is at least smart enough to know how much a witty script and appealing leads can compensate for a film’s structural and logical deficiencies. He proved as much with Charlie’s Angels a film that enjoys a permanent spot on many a critic’s Guilty Pleasures list and does so again with This Means War. The film coasts on the chemistry of its three co-stars and only runs into trouble when the time comes to resolve its romantic competition which by the end has driven its male protagonists to engage in all manner of underhanded and duplicitous activities. This Means War being a commercial film – and likely an expensive one at that – Witherspoon's heroine is mandated to make a choice and McG all but sidesteps the whole thorny matter of Tuck and FDR’s unwavering dishonesty not to mention their craven disregard for her privacy. (They regularly eavesdrop on her activities.) For all their obvious charms the truth is that neither deserves Lauren – or anything other than a lengthy jail sentence for that matter.
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I came to Friends With Benefits with the hope that writer-director Will Gluck would take aim at the romantic comedy with the same piquant mischievous zeal he displayed in 2010’s Easy A a film that earned him comparisons to such hallowed figures as Alexander Payne and John Hughes. And he does—for a while at least. The film springs from the gate with a fun revisionist élan promising to lay waste to the stale conventions that have long characterized the genre. A promise that in the end is sadly unfulfilled.
Attractive twentysomethings Dylan (Justin Timberlake) and Jamie (Mila Kunis) first meet as business associates—he’s a savvy web designer she’s a spunky headhunter who lures him to New York to work for GQ. Both happen to be recovering from nasty breakups (he was dumped by a Jon Mayer obsessive played by Emma Stone; her by a cloying slacker played by Andy Samberg) and they bond over their shared exasperation with relationships and romance.
One night wallowing in their mutual malaise over beer and pizza and an insipid rom-com (a fictitious film-within-a-film featuring uncredited Jason Segel and Rashida Jones) they hit on an idea: Why not use each other to sate our primal urges without all the hassles and complications that committed relationships entail? (That this is the first time either has pondered cohabitation strikes me as a bit disingenuous: Both rank among the upper-percentile of desirable people; surely the notion might have at least briefly occurred to them before?)
The pack is formalized by an oath sworn over a iPad bible app (the film is gratuitously tech-chic to the point of employing flash mobs as plot devices) and consummated in one of the film’s funniest scenes. Freed from any pretensions of romance and from any fears of embarrassment or rejection they approach the act from the perspective of two people seeking only to maximize their enjoyment. (He encourages her to look at it as a game of tennis.) They calmly recite their preferences idiosyncrasies and deal-breakers like agents negotiating a contract; during the deed they critique each others’ performance with utter candor offering helpful guidance when it’s called for. (She shows particular disdain for a technique called “The Tornado.”)
They’re hanging out they’re having sex; the only thing missing obviously is intimacy. It’s inevitable—at least in the peculiar moral universe inhabited by studio rom-coms—that one or both of them will come to crave it. And that’s when complications arise both for Dylan and Jamie and for the filmmakers. Faced with two roads Gluck opts to take the more-traveled one and Friends With Benefits gradually—and disappointingly—yields to convention affirming many of the rom-com tropes and clichés it initially seemed intent on skewering.
That the film is funny—wry and quick and (at least initially) irreverent—helps alleviate the let-down of its second-half surrender to formula. Kunis and Timberlake make for able verbal sparring partners their chemistry is real and their interplay natural and unforced. Accustomed to smaller roles and guest-hosting spots on SNL Timberlake acquits himself nicely in Friends With Benefits even if he at times appears outmatched by Kunis. I’m not quite prepared to forgive him for The Love Guru but I’m getting there.
SANTA MONICA, Calif., Feb. 10, 2000 - Want to get the goods on an "Ally McBeal" co-star's "undisclosed medical condition"? Then get thee to a supermarket and guiltily pick up the Feb. 15 edition of the Star -- wherein said "Ally McBeal" co-star seemingly spills the beans her very own self.
According to the article, tastefully titled "'Ally McBeal' Beauty Locked Up in Psycho Ward," actress Lisa Nicole Carson, who plays Ally's roommate Renee Radick on Fox's hit legal-eagle series, says she required hospitalization after smoking "a joint that was laced with PCP."
"I think the joint may have triggered a collapse in my nervous system," Carson is quoted as telling a Star reporter. "Now I'm here drinking lots and lots of water and trying to get the drugs out of my system."
The "here," according to the Star, is (or was) New York's Lenox Hill Hospital, where the 30-year-old Carson was allegedly admitted to a special ward.
Fox deferred comment on the report to Carson's publicist. A Hollywood.com phone call to said publicist went unreturned.
But last week, Carson's reps did disclose that the actress had recently completed a two-week hospital stay. The official statement on the topic of her "undisclosed medical condition" was devoid of detail. While Carson was seen (briefly) on Monday's edition of "Ally McBeal," it has been said that series producers are writing around her character for the time being.
As for Carson's take on the situation? "I'm [a] honky-tonk woman," she says in the Star. "I used to sing in a rock band and drink whiskey straight out of the bottle. I love my mommy and daddy, and when I'm good I'm very good, but when I'm bad I'm very bad. I'm very good at being very bad."
LEO WATCH: Okay, he wore (or so we're told) a gray suit and matching tie. He smiled for photographers. He nobly declined the requests of those who implored, "Leo, kiss me quick!"
We speak, of course, of Leonardo DiCaprio, in London on Wednesday for the Euro premiere of "The Beach." (The flick washes ashore in these parts on Friday.)
The red-carpet affair featured the U.K. version of the A-list crowd (which reads more like the lineup for a "Behind the Music" marathon): A Spice Girl (Baby); the guy who used to sing in Simply Red; and a couple of ex-Duran Duraners.
What -- nobody from Big Country?
'BEACH' BUMMED: Don't ask Ewan McGregor about "The Beach."
According to the British magazine The Face, McGregor suggested that the filmmakers behind "The Beach" -- the same team he'd done "Trainspotting" and two other flicks for -- had gone for the obvious commercial choice in casting DiCaprio.
Asked if he felt disrespected by McGregor, DiCaprio reportedly answered: "Yeah. You know, yeah, absolutely."
Here's the ironic twist: DiCaprio has been rumored for the role of Anakin Skywalker in "Episode II" of the "Star Wars" series. Should he be cast, he'd be playing opposite McGregor (who starred in "Episode I" as the young Obi-Wan Kenobi). And as fans know, Anakin will later become Darth Vader and, um, kill Obi-Wan. That's gotta hurt.
We feel for you, Ewan.
DON'T KISS, DON'T TELL: Don't ask Michael Douglas about love. Not when he wants to talk war.
At a recent interview with reporters to discuss his upcoming film "Wonder Boys," Douglas, 55, was speaking passionately about disarmament, according to Reuters. But when an impatient journalist blurted, "So how did you meet Catherine?" (as in Catherine Zeta-Jones), Douglas retorted, "At a nuclear rally." He complimented the reporter on not even bothering to make a transition.
"You really are bored, aren't you?" he asked.
Later, Douglas finally allowed that he met Zeta-Jones, now 30, by arranging a meeting through a friend because he was so impressed with her in "The Mask of Zorro."
And now back to the disarmament issue ...
QUICK TAKES: Looks like Whoopi Goldberg will exercise her hosting chops again -- but not at the Oscars. While Billy Crystal returns for another Academy Awards engagement, Goldberg has been tapped to host the Screen Actors Guild Awards on March 12 in Los Angeles. It will be aired on TNT ...
... In New Orleans, a federal appeals court stood behind Oprah Winfrey Wednesday, ruling that the TV talk queen did not defame the cattle industry in a 1996 show that sparked a headline-making 1998 veggie-libel trial.
... More fun at the Happiest Place on Earth. In Delaware on Wednesday, an appeals court ruled that Disney shareholders do have the right to sue the Magic Kingdom over that $140 goodbye package Michael Ovitz received when he left the company in 1997 after a grueling, um, 15 months on the job.
...Ain't it cute? Kirsten Dunst's prom date will be actor Josh Hartnett, her co-star from the upcoming "The Virgin Suicides." The matchup happened when Dunst asked Seventeen magazine entertainment editor Michelle Shapiro for date suggestions. Shapiro immediately walked up to Hartnett, who answered: "Sure."
MUSIC BEAT: D'Angelo's "Voodoo" spends a second turn at No. 1 on the Billboard album chart this week. Overall, the Top Five was virtually unchanged from last week: No. 2 was Santana's "Supernatural," Dr. Dre's "Dr. Dre 2001" held at No. 3 and Celine Dion's "All the Way ... a Decade of Song" stayed at No. 4. Christina Aguilera's self-titled album jumped to the No. 5 spot.
In singles action, the new No. 1 is "Thank God I Found You" by Mariah Carey's collaboration with Joe and 98 Degrees. Rounding out the Top Five: "I Knew I Loved You," by Savage Garden; "What a Girl Wants," by Christina Aguilera; "Get it on Tonite," by Montell Jordan; and "Smooth," by Santana, featuring Rob Thomas of Matchbox20.