Talking Movies

December 4, 2019

From the Archives: Fred Claus

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

Vince Vaughn’s getting no presents this Christmas. Despite being Santa Claus’ older brother Fred Claus is a self-centred jerk who spends the film being hostile to people and ruins Christmas for everyone by making the elves shirk their toy-making work so they can join him partying. Obviously this naughty boy needs to be taught that it’s bad to be so selfish, and about the true meaning of Christmas, and – wait…does the world really need another Santa film? Children just about recovering from the trauma inflicted by the dead eyes of the soulless characters in The Polar Express must be kept away from Fred Claus for the love of God. There is a problem with the elves… John Michael Higgins as Willie and Ludacris as DJ Donnie for some reason aren’t subjected to the clever tricks of set design and camera positions used on the Hobbits in The Lord of the Rings. Oh no, someone thought it would be simpler to CGI their faces on to the bodies of smaller actors. The result is quite disturbing, as their faces don’t quite synch up with the rest of their heads.

Elizabeth Banks is gorgeous as Santa’s Little Helper and is given no character. Paul Giamatti is oddly anaemic as Santa Claus, as if he’s not entirely sure how he got roped into this movie, while Vince Vaughn is just not funny as Fred Claus. Reuniting with his Wedding Crashers director David Dobkin they fail to strike comedic sparks and he’s too abrasive for a kid’s film. There is an agreeably chaotic delivery of presents by Fred standing in for Santa but really it’s the Superman absurdities which keep you interested up to that point.

Superman action figures modelled on Brandon Routh are prominently displayed in the early scene where Vince Vaughn gets arrested, prompting his trip to the North Pole. He is picked up by Willie, who achieves amazing speed in his sleigh by the use of a team of what must be Krypto the Super-reindeer. Kevin Spacey aka Lex Luthor then arrives in a chopper to music very similar to his theme tune in Superman Returns. Why is his efficiency expert Clyde so evil? Because he topped the naughty list in 1968 and so didn’t get his Christmas wish for a Superman cape. His subsequent refusal to stop wearing glasses because Clark Kent wore glasses only prolonged his bullying and he became bitter and twisted, bent on punishing Santa someday. But damn it all if Clyde doesn’t have a Christmas miracle too and, finally donning the Superman cape, repents. All this and Roger Clinton, Frank Stallone and Stephen Balwdin alongside Fred at Siblings Anonymous too! It’s a pity that Vince Vaughan is so charmless that even his obligatory moral transformation is not enough to inject some real Christmas spirit.

2/5

May 2, 2013

21 and Over

The writers of The Hangover turn  director with another elaborate tale of a drunken night’s debauchery, and the  results are even unfunnier than you’d fear.

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Driven pre-med student Jeff Chang (Justin Chon) gets an unwelcome surprise on  his 21st birthday when his best friends from high school, Miller  (Miles Teller) and Casey (Skylar Astin), arrive on his doorstep to party. He,  however, needs an early night because his fearsome father Dr Chang (Francois  Chau from LOST) has arranged an  interview for medical school at 7am the next morning. Bullied by the coarse  Miller Jeffrey cracks and gets very, very drunk. When he passes out Miller and  Casey realise they don’t know where he lives. And so begins an odyssey thru  sorority houses, frat parties, pep rallies – quite often in the company of  Jeffrey’s friend Nicole (Sarah Wright) – to try and find someone who can give  them an address to deliver the comatose Jeffrey to. But the strained friendships  threaten to fracture from drunkenly revealed secrets…

This is the type of R-rated comedy  which believes that comedy is derived from being crude and being obnoxious, not  from being witty or, God forbid, delivering jokes. If you have to explain a joke  it’s not funny – yet writer/directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore actually do that  for the one successful joke in their movie thereby semi-ruining it. 21 and Over has some mildly amusing moments in  its final act, but then you realise you’re responding to them because they’re  shamelessly cribbed from the finale of Ferris  Bueller’s Day Off – Jeff’s dad roars towards chez Chang while a  semi-conscious Jeff tries to make it home first – not because anything funny is  happening. Russell Hodgkinson has a wonderful character moment as The Chief,  but, like the lyrical image of a buffalo wandering around the campus, it  deserves a better film.

I’ve written before that Seth Rogen and  Jonah Hill always add a rambling absurdity to their R-rated comedy, and this  film actually attempts that approach with a discussion of JGL; but it  fails miserably. There also appears to be a nod to 50 Shades of  Grey in the sorority sequences, but then the pay-off is Eyes Wide Shut. Really this film is all about  Miller – an incredibly obnoxious character who is racist towards Asians,  Latinos, Jews, and, well, everyone really. Amidst the slow-motion vomiting while  riding a bull, the stretchy member involved in an accidental circumcision, and  the inexplicably topless cheerleader, you’ll think two things. Rogen mis-fired  when he tried to use an obnoxious lead in The  Green Hornet, yet this film, like The  Change-Up and The Hangover  doesn’t think it needs to make its protagonist likeable. Or, indeed, the  supporting characters; the abrasive jock Randy (Jonathan Keltz) is as  unnervingly plausible as Bradley Cooper’s Wedding Crashers thug. Characters can be compelling rather than likeable, but  that’s really a dramatic prerogative. And, after The Hangover and The Change-Up, this is yet another paean to permanent adolescence by  Lucas and Moore, and ironically these asinine, simplistic, foul-mouthed and  predictable valorisations of irresponsibility are just getting old…

Did you know that it’s just over 10 years since The Rules of Attraction was released in  Ireland? Why not catch up with that classic of cinematic college debauchery?

0/5

October 22, 2009

The Goods

Jeremy Piven stars in a raucous comedy produced by Will Ferrell who also makes a cameo. Will Ferrell involved in a raucous comedy?! What won’t they think of next? Some sort of telephony device enabling you to talk to people who aren’t in the same room as you?

This is a film for people with simple expectations from comedies, like boobs, but unlike last year’s Sexdrive which turned out far funnier and subversive than it had any right to be this is a comedy which makes tasteless jokes without being hilarious or subverting stereotypes. Piven is obviously having the time of his life in the lead role of Don Ready, whose business card reads “I move cars mother****er”. Ready is the ultimate smooth-talking used-car salesman, whose speech about smoking on planes as an act of patriotism earns the applause of all the passengers before he turns the flight into the Zoo Plane from Bill Murray’s Hunter S Thompson film Where the Buffalo Roam. His associates are Ving Rhames and Anchorman stalwarts David Koechner and Kathryn Hahn. It is Ferrell’s cronies who raise concerns… Ready pimps out Brent Gage (Koechner) to the bi-curious Ben Selleck (James Brolin), owner of the car-dealership Ready is in town to save, leading to endless homophobic jokes. Meanwhile Hahn’s pouting redhead Babs Merrick spends the film lusting after a 10 year old boy who she tries to get drunk so she can ‘wrestle’ with him. The boy in question looks 30, thanks to a ‘hilarious’ medical condition (pituitary gland disorder), but acts 10. Still, obviously a comedic idea conceived before Roman Polanski got arrested.

There are good moments dotted throughout the film. There is a nice gag about the three types of girls who become strippers, Ready displays an admirable disregard for logic in his quest for a new woman and his long-lost son, and Charles Napier (Austin Powers’ General Hawk) has a number of godlike sequences including inciting a riot, and assaulting a Korean salesman in revenge for Pearl Harbour after Ready makes a speech about how their mission to save the dealership by selling the entire stock over the 4th of July weekend is the apotheosis of patriotism. Will Ferrell’s cameo is as bizarre and unfunny as his brief appearances in Starsky & Hutch and Wedding Crashers but even so he does deliver the line “Oh Christ, that dildo’s back” wonderfully well.

Piven is a talented comedy performer and he carries this film well. Director Neal Brennan has worked with Dave Chappelle but screenwriters Andy Stock and Rick Stempson are newcomers and they do not impress. This raises enough laughs in its incredibly short running time of just about 82 minutes if you’re looking for undemanding viewing on a drunken night in, but, just as its faithful adherence to clichés of comedy films make it feel longer than it is, the laughs that it raises are from profane outrageousness rather than genuine wit and will leave a nasty taste in the mouth afterwards.

2/5

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