In just about every one of Kevin Hart's scenes in Ride Along, there's a joke that is just aching to find its way out of the diminutive, rascally comic actor. Hart is a small-scale physical comedian — of the same ilk as Jack Black — who puts nuclear-degree energy into his facial contortions, anatomical outbursts, and the delivery of every gag in general. If only he had material that was crafted with the same energy.
Unfortunately, nothing else about Ride Along seems at all "hard at work." Not the script, which pads a lifeless story with lazy comedy, and certainly not his screen partner Ice Cube, whose only stage direction seems to be "frown, and be taller than Kevin Hart." So lifeless is Ice Cube that even his machismo-obsessed straight man bit doesn't really work. Instead of the virile and intimidating "bad cop," he comes off as a disapproving middle aged dad without much to show for his own life.
But the script pairs the wily, overzealous high school security guard and video game junkie Ben (Hart) with no-nonsense lawman James (Ice Cube) on the titular ride along, with the scrappy cop-wannabe hoping to prove to the force veteran that he's good enough to marry the latter's younger sister. In earnest, he's not. Ben never puts any respectable effort into learning the tools of the trade, insisting on employing his amateur style and controlling the radio despite his proclamations that he wants, and deserves, James' trust. And James is no saint either — he's irresponsible on crime scenes, violent with perps, and disgruntled to the point of being unable to work with anybody else on the force. These are not good police officers... of course, you'll say, this is a comedy. But where are the laughs, then?
They're not absent entirely, you just have to look for them. In a movie so focused with big, broad humor, it's the smaller comedy that actually lands best. Hart's background mutterings and fumblings, his emoticon-laden texts to girlfriend Angela (Tika Sumpter, whose only stage direction seems to be "smile, and never wear a full outfit of clothing"), and a bizarre repetition of the word "weird" from supporting player John Leguizamo. All good for unexpected chuckles, while jokes like Hart facing off with a pre-teen or being blown backwards into a brick wall after firing a large gun are all lazy, familiar, and flat.
Structurally, the script is a mess. Ride Along spends far too much time on set up — we get it, Hart and his soon-to-be-brother-in-law Ice Cube don't get along — and far too much time on wrap-up — there's a gigantic, dramatic warehouse shootout that, in any other movie, would be the climax, but there's plenty more to go after that — without any cohesive middle to make the movie feel like... a movie.
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Hart, who leaps at every comic opportunity like a kangaroo (wallaby would be more appropriate), is suited just right for a buddy cop comedy, but he needs something fresh with which to work — a real character, an interesting story, actually funny jokes. Even just one of these would be fine!
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When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
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Well, that was perfect. I hoped — heck, I envisioned — I would be able to write those words as soon as it was made clear at the end of last week's cliffhanger episode that Leslie (Amy Poehler) and Ben's (Adam Scott) impending wedding would be moved up three months to that very night. And so, thank goodness that after the vows have been said, the champagne has been toasted, and DJ Roomba has made his final sweep, they still ring true. For Leslie and Ben, for all of Pawnee, and for Parks and Recreation fans everywhere, the wedding was perfect.
The question that has always lurked just beneath the surface on Parks and Rec is whether Leslie Knope can truly have it all. An ambitious career woman who puts all her heart and soul into her work – by God she will see her pit project all the way through to Pawnee Commons' completion if it kills her! — Leslie has not always been lucky in love. From her early awkward flirtations with Mark Brendanawicz (Paul Schneider) to her emotional breakup with Officer Dave (Louis C.K.), Leslie's romances have never measured up to her impeccably high standards. But that was okay. Because, for Leslie, her dreams of sitting on the Pawnee City Council trumped all else.
Until, that is, Ben Wyatt arrived in Pawnee, clipboard in hand, to slash the Parks Department's budget and find a place in Leslie's heart. It became clear to viewers even before Leslie and Ben figured it out for themselves that Ben was a man worthy of our Leslie's affections. Here was a man who would be a partner to Leslie, who would encourage her and support, who would seek her guidance and look to her for encouragement and support in return (and, it's worth adding, has a nice butt). So then, there we were: it was Season 4 and Leslie had found love — but could she win the election? Yes. Then, it was Season 5 and Leslie was engaged — but could she find a way to get Pawnee Commons made? At the end of last week's episode we learned she would.
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For five seasons now we have danced around the question (only occasionally did the career vs. romance battle bubble to the surface explicitly), and now, on the night of Leslie's enormous professional victory, we are surprised to discover that Leslie feels that her happiness can only be increased by marrying — literally — her personal with her professional life. I couldn't help but ask, would the wedding, threatening to shadow her professional achievement, prove to be one giant step backwards for working women, or one giant step forward for Leslie Knope, Career Career Woman?
The wedding episode answers this question in the opening minutes in the most Parks and Rec way possible: with a joke. Before they rush to the altar, Ben needs to make sure it's okay with Leslie that she take his last name. It's kind of a dealbreaker for him, he says, that she become Councilwoman Mrs. Ben Wyatt. As Leslie's face falls and we watch her struggle to find words to express her dissatisfaction with the idea, it dawns on her that Ben is joking. Of course. Ben knows, just as we know, that Leslie would never stand for that — and that he would never ask it of her. This is Leslie we are talking about here, a woman who keeps framed photos of Hillary Rodham Clinton and Ruth Bader Ginsburg next to one of her own mother in her office. Ben's joke serves not only to make us laugh, but to remind us that this will be a very Knope wedding. It will not be normal or calm or hide any sort of anti-feminist agenda — it will simply allow Leslie to be the happiest she has ever been. It will be, like Leslie, exceptional.
And so, we're off. What's an event in Pawnee without more than its fair share of crazy hijinks? Leslie needs a dress and the couple needs rings, a marriage license, and an officiant. And they need to find them in an hour, after all the stores and city offices are closed. Good thing Leslie's gang is a resourceful bunch. Ron makes rings from a sconce in Ann's house, Andy and April wake up a city hall employee to sign the marriage certificate (and adopt a grandma in the process), Jerry — it turns out — is already ordained, and Ann fashions Leslie a dress from clippings and documents of all of Leslie's proudest accomplishments. So, like the best screwball comedies, everything comes together in time (as we all knew it would).
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Except, we are only fifteen minutes into the episode and things are coming together too quickly. Leave it to a drunk Councilman Jamm (Jon Glaser) with a megaphone to bring things to a screeching halt. "Boo parks! Boo Leslie!" he yells from the back of the aisle, parodying the old witch from The Princess Bride. Ron steps in to keep the peace but ends up socking Jamm in the teeth, landing them both behind bars.
Leslie, still dressed in her wedding finery, bails Ron out of jail and brings him, at his urging, back to City Hall for some time to unwind. They walk the half-lit, empty corridor side-by-side, the sound of Leslie's heels reverberating in the silence, until they arrive at the Parks Department. "You are a wonderful person, your friendship means a lot to me, and you look very beautiful," Ron says. As what is about to happen dawns on Leslie, Ron takes her arm and steers her into her wedding.
Surrounded by their best friends, Leslie and Ben recite their vows. A black-and-white montage — which is completely cheesy but at this point I'm almost crying and don't care — reminds us of some of their landmark moments: their first kiss, their breakup from their breakup in the smallest park in Indiana, and Ben's surprise proposal. "I love you and I like you," Leslie says. "I love you and I like you," Ben responds. "I love you and I like you both!" I yell at the TV.
To summarize her feeling that all is right the world, Leslie tells the camera, "I love my husband, I love my job, and I love my friends." In this moment, Leslie Knope has it all.
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You realize NBC lied to you. Thursday's wedding was no "one hour Parks and Rec wedding," as advertised in the promos and on the NBC website, it was a fantastic, magical episode stuck together with a sub-par one like peanut butter on stale bread. Hot on the heels of "Leslie and Ben," how could "Correspondent's Dinner" be anything but a letdown. How do you go from perfect self-actualization to honeymoon gifts and petty feuds with only a commercial break in between?
"Correspondent's Dinner" pits Leslie against the Pawnee Sun, the local paper who makes it its mission to roast Leslie in its pages. When Leslie realizes someone at the Sun has hacked her email account in order to dig up what little dirt there is to be found on Leslie, she sets out to expose them. Or course, she succeeds.
While Leslie's story gets first billing and monopolizes most of the episode's time, Andy and Ann's B an C plots are actually of much greater consequence. After learning that he failed the police exam, Andy has decided "Life is pointless and nothing matters and I'm always tired." It's heartbreaking to see Andy "sad and sweaty" when he's usually "happy and sweaty," as April puts it. Andy is far and away the most likable character on the show, and we want to see him succeed. We can't help but wonder along with depressed Andy, what will he do if he can't become a cop?
After enlisting April and Andy's help to find a new charity for the Sweetums Foundation (of which Ben is now President) to support, Ben realizes that Andy has a knack for problem-solving and a keen eye for charity work. In the closing moments of the episode, Ben asks Andy to work for him at the Foundation as a part-time assistant, an "idea mean," if you will. By way of acceptance, Andy embraces Ben in a bear hug. I'm happy for Andy's happiness, but am skeptical of whether this will prove to satisfy Andy's newfound ambition.
The final, and potentially most poignant, element of "Correspondent's Dinner" is Ann's continued search for a sperm donor. At the end of "Leslie and Ben," Ann decides Chris would make the perfect father — uh, duh — and in "Correspondent's Dinner" she works up the courage to ask him to artificially inseminate her. He needs some time to think on it. Uh, duh. While I'm still not completely sold on the idea of Ann having a baby, the storyline does allow us to see new depths of Ann. For the first time in the series, Ann's plot has higher stakes than Leslie's. As Leslie basks in her marital bliss and professional fulfillment, we turn to Ann for emotional conflict. Will she find what she's looking for in Chris, in her hypothetical baby? Only time will tell.
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[Photo Credit: Tyler Golden/NBC]
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Top Story: Emmy Fashions Sold Off to Charity
Emmy fashions worn by the likes of Jennifer Aniston and Edie Falco will be auctioned off on eBay for charity, The Associated Press reports. For the second year in a row, the "Clothes Off Our Back" fund-raiser, created by actress Jane Kaczmarek from Fox's Malcolm in the Middle, asks celebrities to donate their red-carpet outfits from such designs as Prada and Vera Wang, to benefit the Cure Autism Now Foundation and the Union of Concerned Scientists, AP reports. Last year, Friends star Aniston donated her dress after winning the award for best actress in a comedy series and it raised $50,000, Kaczmarek told AP. Stars participating this year besides Aniston and Falco include Cynthia Nixon, Sean Hayes, Dule Hill, Debra Messing, Ellen DeGeneres, Bernie Mac and Jennifer Garner. The auction is to begin Sunday evening and run for 10 days.
Sopranos Lead Internet Emmy Predictions
GoldDerby.com, considered to be the Internet's No. 1 award predictions website, has given the best odds to HBO's The Sopranos for the Emmys Sunday night, including the award for best drama series as well as the prizes for actor (James Gandolfini) and actress (Edie Falco). For best comedy series, odds are on CBS' Everybody Loves Raymond, with HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm a close second.
Man Held for Trespassing on Schwarzenegger's Property
A man was arrested Sunday after sneaking onto Arnold Schwarzenegger's estate in Brentwood, Calif., and stealing items from one of the family's vehicles, AP reports. Richard Sathianathan, 32, was charged with two counts of trespassing, and one count each of prowling, vehicle tampering and petty theft, authorities told AP. Sathianathan pleaded innocent and remained jailed on $50,000 bail.
Diaz Makes Small Screen Debut
Cameron Diaz will make a guest appearance in the television pilot Why Blitt? executive produced and directed by those wacky Farrelly brothers, Bobby and Peter. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the semi-autobiographical pilot centers on 5-foot-tall Ricky Blitt, an aspiring screenwriter who has a dismal love life and no-end job but hits the jackpot when his script for The Cameron Diaz Show is picked up and he heads to Hollywood.
Huppert, Penn Honored in San Sebastian
Isabelle Huppert, Sean Penn and Robert Duvall will be honored with lifetime achievement awards at Spain's 51st San Sebastian International Film Festival, AP reports. As well, films scheduled for competition include Joel Schumacher's Veronica Guerin, starring Cate Blanchett, and Jacques Rivette's The Story of Marie and Julien, starring Emmanuelle Beart.
Simon & Garfunkel Tour Selling Out
Looks like lots of fans are anxious to hear Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel sing "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" once again. Tickets to their first tour in 20 years are selling like hotcakes, Reuters reports. The opener Oct. 18 in Auburn Hill, Mich., is completely sold out, as are shows in Chicago; St. Paul, Minn.; and San Jose, Calif. Dates in Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio, and in Sacramento and Oakland, Calif., were at a 90 percent sellout, according to Reuters. "We just put Chicago and St. Paul on sale, and they both sold out within minutes," Jerry Mickelson, co-president of Chicago-based promoter Jam Productions told Reuters. "Tickets just blew out so quickly. Demand is huge."
Role Call: Bratt Pounces on Catwoman, Diaz Stung By W.A.S.P.S., Danes Shops 'Til She Drops
Benjamin Bratt has joined Halle Berry in Warner Bros.' Catwoman, a film based on the DC Comics' Batman foe. According to the Hollywood Reporter, Bratt will play Det. Tom Leone, a love interest to Berry's Catwoman. The film also stars Sharon Stone as a villainous cosmetics magnate…meanwhile Angels star Cameron Diaz has signed onto the war drama W.A.S.P.S, being co-produced by actress Mimi Rogers' Millbrook Farm Prods. Variety reports the film follows the first female pilots recruited during WWII…20th Century Fox is giving Steve Martin's novel Shopgirl is the big-screen treatment, with Martin, Claire Danes and Jason Schwartzman attached to star. The film centers on a girl (Danes) who sells gloves and other accessories at Neiman Marcus. Feeling useless in her job and unfulfilled by a romantic relationship, she is bowled over when a rich, divorced older man (Martin) enters her life.
Bobby G. (played by John-Luke Montias) is a petty coke dealer who lives and peddles his merchandise in New York City's Hell's Kitchen the area between 34th and 59th Streets from 8th Avenue to the Hudson River. Although he's sort of a punk who gets beat up on what seems like a regular basis Bobby G. is well liked by the locals including a blind man named Popeet and a shifty figure called Dollar Bill. His girlfriend Lucy (played by Susan Mitchell) turns tricks for a living but dreams of moving to what she believes to be an idyllic Puerto Rico to escape her miserable existence in the city. When a kid looking to score a kilo of cocaine approaches Bobby G. he brokers a deal with a high-level drug dealer and hopes to make a big enough profit to leave this crummy profession for good. But the deal goes terribly awry and before he knows it Bobby G.is involved in a murder with his life spiraling out of control. After a series of bizarre twists Bobby G. finds redemption--or just the opposite.
As a small-budget independent film Bobby G. Can't Swim can't impress with high-priced special effects so much of the film's appeal rests on the actors and their performances. Although some of the acting is slightly below par Montias who also wrote and directed the pic is able to carry most of the film on his own abilities. He completely emerges himself in the role of Bobby G. and delivers an impressive performance as the small-time coke dealer. Bobby G.'s character however is a bit underdeveloped: The most personal piece of information we find out about him is that his last name is Grace. As his girlfriend Lucy Mitchell is decent enough but her character is a little grating; she looks and sounds too much like a cross between Debi Mazar and Fran Drescher. In the role of Bobby G.'s drug supplier Coco Vincent Vega is more memorable especially in the scene where he finds out that Bobby G. may have put him and his family in danger. Also impressive is Norman Middleton in the role of a blind peddler named Popeet especially considering he has never acted before.
If you've ever thought that your ludicrous life would make an interesting film then you will understand where writer/director Montias is coming from. According to the production notes the film--and its cast of characters--is based on Montias' real-life experiences while working as a bartender in Hell's Kitchen. However the concept of that one final hit going wrong is not a new one--think Nine Queens or The Score--and Bobby G. Can't Swim's theme of redemption is handled in a similar fashion. In a movie that takes the protagonist through a series of life-altering events before eventually seeing the error of his ways Montias does it with a unique band of characters that gives this otherwise tired plot a refreshing spin. And while many independent films tend to be self-centered and too often about the director's vision and less about the viewer's enjoyment of the film Bobby G. Can't Swim actually does both successfully.