Talking Movies

August 26, 2014

Let’s Be Cops

Two struggling friends from Ohio pretend to be LAPD cops, and are played by two TV actors pretending to be film stars. Is that meta?

lets2Justin Miller (Damon Wayans Jr) is a struggling video-game designer. He has a pitch for a tense realistic video game called Patrolman, but his boss Todd (Jonathan Lajoie) would rather check his phone than listen to it. Justin’s roommate Ryan O’Malley (Jake Johnson) lives off the proceeds of an unfortunate advertisement and ‘coaches’ local youngsters, including Little Joey (Joshua Ormond), as a way to relive his glory days as a college football quarterback. After being humiliated by Russian mobster Mossi Kevic (James D’Arcy), and being shunned by their old college buddies when they misinterpret masquerade ball for costume party, they discover their costumes hold the secret to self-esteem and pretend to be cops. Soon Justin is wooing waitress/make-up designer Josie (Nina Dobrev), and Ryan is helping Officer Segars (Rob Riggle) take down Mossi; which turns fun make-believe into dangerous reality.

Let’s Be Cops isn’t very funny. Some sequences (especially Justin’s second presentation) telegraph their punchlines, while others; the unfortunate name-tag of Chang on Justin’s uniform, invading the flat of nymphomaniac Annie (Natasha Leggero) to do a stakeout, impersonating a Dominican gangster Pupa (Keegan-Michael Key); just lead to quite uncomfortable routines. Perhaps it’s asking too much from director Luke Greenfield (The Girl Next Door, Role Models) and his co-screenwriter Nicholas Thomas (a former Playboy Entertainment executive), but haven’t we already seen a movie featuring the demented antics of cops trying to be cool? Wasn’t it called Superbad? And wasn’t everything that Seth Rogen and Bill Hader did in it far funnier than anything Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr do in this movie? The most interesting performance here is Riggle’s swivel on a nickel between boisterous bonhomie and wounded professional outrage.

Vampire Diaries star Dobrev is wasted as the token love interest, even though this will probably do more for her post-TV career than her far more interesting but smaller part in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. D’Arcy and Andy Garcia are victims of this movie’s thriller structure sucking out what little comedy oxygen there was.  I don’t watch Johnson’s shtick for free on New Girl so I can’t recommend paying to see it in a cinema. Wayans Jr’s shtick is far more interesting because it’s so puzzling. He prances around, flaps his hands, whinnies, and screams – what precisely am I supposed to be laughing at?  That, as Josie states, he’s a straight man who employs gay mannerisms? Is that funny? Am I misinterpreting in seeing here a coy way to laugh at gay people without laughing directly at them?

Let’s Be Cops isn’t a very memorable comedy, but neither is it truly obnoxious. It’s just well-staged mediocrity whose American success confirms a growing transatlantic chasm of comedic tastes.

2/5

August 21, 2013

The Mortal Instruments

Love/Hate star Robert Sheehan gets his chance to shine in the new Twilight, which wastes no time in skipping to that franchise’s most farcical elements.

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Absurdly named heroine Clary Fray (Lily Collins) turns 18 in a Brooklyn apparently inhabited entirely by British and Irish immigrants. Trading an awful poetry reading for a nightclub jaunt with best friend (who wishes he was more) Simon (Robert Sheehan), Clary finds herself the witness to a seemingly mystical murder by Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower) and Isabelle (Jemima West). The next day her mother Jocelyn (Lena Headey) is kidnapped by Pangborn (Kevin Durand), who then tortures Clary’s father figure Luke (Aidan Turner) for Jocelyn’s secret; exposing Luke as a werewolf. Jace saves Clary’s life, initiating her into the Shadowhunters – an ancient society of warriors against demons led in Brooklyn by recluse Hodge (Jared Harris). The society is fading away because renegade member Valentine (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) stole their creation matrix, before Jocelyn stole it from him; only Clary knows how but her memories are magically blocked…

The Mortal Instruments is great fun for its first act. It almost feels like Kaboom director Gregg Araki at his most playful let loose on a Stephenie Meyer story treatment adding very tart jokes and acidic gay characters like Shadowhunter Alec (Kevin Zegers) and warlock Magnus Bane (Godfrey Gao) to shake up the Mormon moralising. And then suddenly the movie loses its knowing outrageousness and becomes instead a case study of Damon Lindelof’s concept of ‘story gravity’. The stakes have to be raised so high that the film burns thru plot points in an hour that took it the original Star Wars three movies to deliver, and even has characters chiding each other for not recognising that story gravity requires a terrible ‘secret’ to be revealed. This film doesn’t earn Star Wars’ surprises, or an outrageous appropriation of The Matrix.

After rendering JS Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier a demon-hunting weapon everything descends into a ludicrousness that left the target audience of teenage girls in fits of hysterics during ‘emotional’ scenes, groaning at a ‘revelation’ involving a family insignia, and cringing at a closing insistence on criminally unsuitable romantic tropes. This is not the fault of the actors mind. Collins is an adequate sub-Nina Dobrev, and Jamie Campbell Bower delivers his zingers without distracting us from how really really good-looking he is. The great Durand is underused, but, despite a cockney accent, smuggles in some Donald Sutherland touches, and acts opposite Robert Maillet; who’s even taller! Headey meanwhile shows Rhys-Meyers how to have the presence to appear for just 10 minutes but make an impact. Director Harald Zwart includes pleasingly visceral horror, but he’s ultimately defeated by the wildly uneven screenplay.

I don’t really want to see more instalments of The Mortal Instruments but it’s frankly impossible to guess what Cassandra Clare fans will forgive.

2.5/5

October 3, 2012

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Director Stephen Chbosky adapts his own acclaimed 1999 young adult novel for a movie that treats high-schoolers as seriously as Adventureland did college graduates.

Socially isolated teenager Charlie (Logan Lerman) starts high school after a summer of depression over his best friend’s suicide. His parents (Dylan McDermott and Kate Walsh) are loving and acerbic, but as little help emotionally as his sister Candace (Nina Dobrev). Charlie remains haunted by the memory of his dead aunt Helen (Melanie Lynskey), the one member of the family who truly loved him. However, when he strikes up a friendship with flamboyant senior Patrick (Ezra Miller), and becomes instantly smitten with Patrick’s step-sister Sam (Emma Watson), he is absorbed into their tight-knit social circle which includes Scott Pilgrim stars Johnny Simmons as self-loathing jock Brad and Mae Whitman as would-be photographer Mary Elizabeth. But even as Charlie tears thru the novels given to him by teacher Mr Anderson (Paul Rudd), and blooms into a Rocky Horror performer under the tutelage of Sam, a traumatic end to the year awaits him and these beautiful people…

The range displayed by these young stars is startling. Lerman played the charismatic rebel in Meet Bill and Miller the troubled loner in We Need to Talk About Kevin, yet here Lerman is impressively subdued and Miller is an exuberant joy. Watson meanwhile is luminous, and I would always have regarded her as merely competent. The acting is impeccable even in the smaller roles. McDermott is wonderfully cutting, Whitman hilariously narcissistic and garrulous, and Walsh has an astonishing reaction shot. Cameoing Vampire Diaries heroine Nina Dobrev meanwhile just can’t seem to escape boyfriend drama (here with Ponytail Derek, despised by her entire family) and caring for a drug-addled younger brother. Chbosky also triumphs in making his novel utterly cinematic, from a Dexy’s Midnight Runners sound-tracked dance where Charlie truly joins Patrick and Sam’s clique, to Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ blasting out on the radio as Patrick roars thru a tunnel while Sam stands up on their truck.

The central idea of the film, “We accept the love we think we deserve,” is played brilliantly as a piercing insight into the damaged relationships pursued by the central trio. Despite their cool mix-tapes, sardonic wit, and good hearts Patrick and Sam are made to feel like losers by the wider school and so accept less than they deserve. Meeting Charlie oddly may be a spur for them too. Chbosky delightfully never unequivocally locates this film in Pittsburgh until a Penguins reference in the penultimate scene, an ambiguity mirrored in our uncertainty about Charlie’s mental state and past. But unlike the frustrating vagueness concerning Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s damaged hero in The Lookout we know definitely that Charlie is fully functional, just highly medicated, and dealing with immense guilt. The patient reveal of his damaged psyche makes its eventual revelation all the more powerful as it explains many different thematic strands, including a brutal and chilling cafeteria fight scene after which Charlie blacks out.

Chbosky has made a film of great wit, charm, and emotional depth that stands comparison with Michael Chabon’s Pittsburgh novels. This is a film to see and love.

5/5

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