Tag Archives: comedies

They Don’t Like Me, They Really Don’t Like Me

Official Competition

by George Wolf

Who’s more full of it: The cinema snob who dismisses whatever’s popular, or the escapist fan wary of any whiff of highbrow? Awards shows, or those who protest them too much? Film festival agenda twisters, or film festival attention whores?

Official Competition is here to nominate them all. Co-directors Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat (both also co-write with Andrés Duprat) come armed with plenty of knives, and their mischievous and wonderfully witty satire has them out for pretty much everyone involved in movie making.

When an 80 year-old millionaire (José Luis Gómez) decides his legacy should involve producing the film version of a Nobel prize-winning novel, critic’s darling Lola Cuevas (Penélope Cruz) gets the call to direct. But Lola insists on adapting “La Rivalidad” with a unique vision, one that starts with casting polar opposites in the lead roles.

Félix Rivero (Antonio Banderas) is the worldwide box office star, while Iván Torres (Oscar Martinez) is the legendary thespian. They will play warring brothers, while their own philosophical clashes grow more volatile – and more dryly hilarious – by the day.

And don’t bother looking to Lola for cool-headed problem-solving. She’d rather provoke the tension with a variety of creative exercises – such as wrapping her two stars in restraints and threatening to destroy their most prized awards right in front of their panic-stricken faces.

Subtle it ain’t, but funny it is.

And even when a joke or two lingers a beat past its expiration, this sublime trio of actors makes nearly every frenzied interaction a joy to behold.

Is Lola a motivational genius or a complete fraud? Does Félix have the chops to go toe-to-toe with the prestigious Iván? And does Iván secretly admire Félix’s success? Cruz, Banderas and Martinez are clearly having as much fun acting it out as we are trying to sort it out.

And like much of the best satire, Official Competition is talking about one thing, but saying something else. Its barbs aimed at the movie business may be silly, acerbic and insightful, but none can hide the respect this film has for the entirely mad nature of the creative process.

Call it a love letter, with a completely entertaining ‘smidge of hate.

Sex, Truth and Videotape

Ride the Eagle

by George Wolf

Small casts working on limited sets with wide open spaces. We’ve seen plenty of these films lately, and we’ll see plenty more. Because even under pandemic rules, creators adjust and create.

Director/co-writer Trent O’Donnell and star/co-writer Jake Johnson adjusted to the tune of Ride the Eagle, a lightly sweet lesson in living your best life while you still can.

Johnson is Leif, a harmless California stoner who plays bongos (oh, sorry, “percussion”) in a band called Restaurant. Leif’s been estranged from his mom Honey (Susan Sarandon, in a role that seems tailored to her) since she left to join a cult when he was 12.

But now, Honey’s dead, and she’s left behind a couple things especially for Leif. The first is her sweet mountain cabin up near Yosemite, which he can take possession of only if he pays close attention to the other thing Mom left.

It’s a VHS tape, filled with a to-do list that comprises Leif’s “conditional inheritance.”

“Is this legal?” Apparently, it is.

And luckily, Mom’s VHS player isn’t dead. So Leif dutifully goes about the tasks that Honey hopes will teach him things she regretfully did not: express yourself, eat what you kill, call the one that got away.

Sarandon’s on tape, and ex Audrey (a charmingly flirty D’Arcy Carden) is on phone and text, so this is nearly a Johnson one man show. Good thing he’s in his likable comfort zone, using his talks with dog Nora as an endearingly organic way to both inform and crack wise.

It’s all perfectly warm and amusing, but in need of precisely the jolt delivered by Oscar-winner J.K. Simmons as Carl, Honey’s ex-lover who’s not shy about detailing their love life.

“That’s probably not what her son wants to hear, I guess.”

No probably not, but we do. Simmons’s cameo punctures the bubble by putting two humans in the same room to reflect on the passing of another human. It’s funny and it’s fuzzy and it goes a long way toward making sure these ruminations on forgiveness and regret actually resonate.

The Honey do list isn’t preaching anything new, but Johnson and O’Donnell never pretend that it is. Ride the Eagle is a casual, come as you are and wherever you are affair, like some comfort food two guys thought was worth another serving during a worldwide crisis.

And they’re not wrong. Some golden rules are always worth a rewind, even on VHS.

Ride the Eagle comes to theaters, VOD and digital July 30th

The Rubber Meets the Road

Plan B

by George Wolf

Even before theaters shut down, there was no shortage of solid R-rated comedies getting woefully ignored. One of those was the wonderful Booksmart – which put a female friendship at the center of a Superbad-type coming-of-age romp.

Hulu’s Plan B takes the Booksmart model, mixes in some trusty road movie hijinx and even more sexual honesty than Blockers to concoct a teen sex comedy with plenty of smarts and sustained laughs.

South Dakota teens Lupe (Victoria Moroles) and Sunny (Kuhoo Verma) are best friends on slightly different social levels. The confident, outgoing Lupe is, ahem, “dating,” while the reserved Sunny has zero prospects and just pines for her crush to come over for a “Disney Plus and thrust.”

But then Sunny’s Mom goes out of town, so party! After Lupe’s cheery advice to “make good choices!” an impatient Sunny wants to get it over with already, leading to a very awkward bathroom hookup and an unfortunate condom accident.

Trading puke buckets and talking it over the next morning, the girls decide the best thing to do is get Sunny the morning after pill. This turns out to be a lot harder than they expect.

Moroles and Verma are both terrific, each finding distinct ways to give their characters authentic levels of the angst, curiosity, self-doubt and cautious confidence that are perpetually bouncing off teenage walls.

Once the search for Plan B involves a road trip to Rapid City, the script from Joshua Levy and Prathiksha Srinivasan delivers welcome surprises alongside inspired silliness and moments of outright hilarity (like the bit about Footloose and a doll museum).

There are some dry stretches along the way, but director Natalie Morales shows good instincts for when to pivot, and for making sure this teen sex comedy ends up speaking to some mighty serious issues.

So expect Rachel Dratch teaching abstinence by way of driver’s ed, but also young women exploring their sexuality amid an onslaught of mixed messages, double standards and threats to their freedom of choice.

Don’t let the dick jokes fool ya, there’s heart and brains here, too, and a sweet friendship illustrating the importance of unconditional love from your family, as well as the ones that feel like family.

And also dick jokes.

Funny How?

Here Today

by George Wolf

Billy Crystal is a likable guy, and frequently funny. Tiffany Haddish is a likable gal, and often funny.

So there are possibilities for some odd couple fun in Crystal’s Here Today, but almost all of them are wasted in an overlong, self-indulgent, misguided and unfunny misfire.

Crystal, in his first big screen directing effort since 95’s Forget Paris, also co-writes and stars as Charlie, a legendary comedy writer currently working on a TV sketch show. Haddish is Emma, a singer whose boyfriend wins lunch with Charlie in a charity auction. But when the boyfriend becomes an ex, Emma shows up at the restaurant instead, and an unlikely friendship is born.

Charlie’s memory problems are quickly becoming an issue, as are the flashbacks to a vaguely traumatic event involving his ex-wife (Louisa Krause). Frequent visits to the doctor (Anna Deavere Smith) help Charlie hide his condition from his grown children (Penn Badgley, Laura Benanti), so the speed with which Emma sniffs it out is just one example of the falseness that plagues the entire film.

From phone conversations to reaction shots to skits on Charlie’s TV show, there’s hardly an ounce of authenticity to Crystal’s direction. And because none of these characters feel real, Charlie’s dismissive attitude toward the younger writers’ brands of comedy – complete with an embarrassing riff on Network‘s “mad as hell” speech – comes off as sour grapes from Crystal himself.

The script, based on co-writer Alan Zweibel’s short story “The Prize,” has only enough humor to elicit some scattered smiles. The bigger goal quickly becomes telling us how Charlie comes to grips with his condition and his past, and more disappointingly, showing us how Emma puts her own dreams on hold to pursue her magically healing effect on this white family.

Crystal has enjoyed many high points in a long and legendary career. He may very well have more, which would help everyone forget the lowlight that is Here Today.

The Right to Bare Arms

Golden Arm

by George Wolf

You know it’s been 34 years since we got a funny movie about arm wrestling?

True, it was Stallone’s Over the Top and it wasn’t meant to be a comedy, but the point is…the drought is over! Golden Arm is here with a new tournament, new stakes and plenty of laughs.

Danny – aka The Dominator! (Betsy Sodaro) – is a tough lady trucker who enjoys a good bar fight and the womano y womano competition of arm wrestling. Danny’s good, but not good enough to beat “Fuckin’ Brenda” The Bonecrusher (Olivia Stambouliah) in the upcoming championship tourney.

But you know who could be? Danny’s old friend Melanie (Mary Holland, who stole so many scenes in last year’s Happiest Season). Mel might be a soft spoken wimp who can’t even stand up to rude customers at her struggling bakery, but Danny also remembers Mel as having one impressive right arm.

So we’re gonna need a training montage!

First-time feature director Maureen Bharoocha serves it up, along with some nicely organic info on the rules of the game that serve to get us situated (don’t forget to “suck and tuck!”). And as Danny and Mel take to the road, the debut screenplay from Ann Marie Allison and Jenna Milly provides plenty of room for inspired antics (the bit about Twister had me howling) on the way to the arms race that ends with a 15k Grand Prize.

Holland and Sodaro make an endearing odd couple, and it’s the pure engagement of their characters that keeps the film afloat during a shaky first act. But hang in, because from picking out Mel’s wrestling persona (“I’m ‘The Ex-Wife!'”) to a gynecologist’s detailed condemnation of the phrase “balls out,” it just gets funnier as it rolls along.

Call it “stupid funny” if you want, but it’s still funny, with some underlying themes about gender stereotypes, personal growth and female friendships that are far from dumb.

It’s the bawdy excess that’s in your face, so close you may even miss the wink-wink nods to both the Stallone flick and The Karate Kid. But those bits of subtlety are even more evidence that the rough edges in Golden Arm don’t come from sloppy construction.

With this one, it’s guns out, fun’s out.

Bad Heir Day

Coming 2 America

by George Wolf

A quip about unnecessary sequels is just one of several “wink-wink” gags you’ll find running throughout Coming 2 America. And though the original was heavy in sexism (even for 1988) and light on LOLs, there’s little doubt that the film’s huge fan base has been anxious for a follow-up.

Eddie Murphy teams again with director Craig Brewer, which is reason for optimism, since Brewer helmed one of Murphy’s career highs – 2019’s Dolemite Is My Name. But screenwriters David Sheffield and Barry Blaustein return from the original film, and while they thankfully update the sexual politics, the humor is again scattershot at best.

Most of the cast is back, including 90 year-old James Earl Jones as King Jaffe of Zamunda. He’s ready to pass the throne to Prince Akeem (Murphy), but is worried that Akeem and Lisa (Shari Headley) only have daughters, and tradition calls for a male heir.

What’s this? The loyal Semmi (Aresenio Hall) has been keeping a very big secret all these years, which means Akeem and Semmi must return to New York to find Akeem’s long lost son.

That would be Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler), who makes the trip to Zamunda for royal training with his mom (Leslie Jones) and uncle (Tracey Morgan) in tow. The additional family is good for Lavelle, and for us, as Jones and Morgan’s “fish out of Queens” antics give the film its most consistently fresh and funny moments.

They’re just aren’t enough of those moments to pump real life into part 2. The girl power is overdue and and love lessons are generic, each as predictable as getting more insults from the barbershop guys and more R&B stylings from Randy Watson.

Buy hey, you go to see Sexual Chocolate, you want to hear the hits. And if you’ve been waiting for Coming 2 America for reminders of what you liked the first time, you’ll get them.

Otherwise, a return trip isn’t necessary.

Shimmer Time

Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar

by George Wolf

Remember that opening of Napoleon Dynamite, where Napoleon was tossing a green plastic Army man on a string out of the school bus window? If you didn’t think that was funny, it was an early sign you were gonna have a bad time.

Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar opens with its own litmus test, as a kid on a bicycle is delivering papers while singing “Guilty” along with the Streisand and Gibb in his headphones.

If that makes you laugh, stick around, you’ll laugh more.

Things have been better for the always perky, cullotte-loving Barb and Star (co-writers Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig). They’ve lost their husbands, their spot in weekly “talking club,” and their jobs at the hottest furniture store in Soft Rock, Nebraska (not a real place, but it should be).

With mid-lifers in tube tops, a 24 hour CVS and a parade of guys in Tommy Bahama, Vista Del Mar, Florida promises a vacation paradise perfect for “finding their shimmer.” Plus, it’s the home of the annual Seafood Jam (“where the crowd’s on the older side!”).

After a Disney-on-Viagra greeting at the hotel, it isn’t long before the BFFs’ rock solid bond is threatened by the handsome Edgar (Jamie Dornan) and the chance to rent a banana boat.

Will the girls’ friendship survive all the fibs and sneaking around? And how long can Edgar hide his part in the nefarious plan by an evil genius (also Kristen Wiig) to kill everyone on the island with poisonous mosquitoes?

I’m sorry, what was that second thing?

Just know director Josh Greenbaum keeps a loose grip on a film that’s ridiculous at every turn but still full of good-natured, garish fun and about as many laugh out loud moments as dry patches. Even though Barb and Star are new to us, they feel like characters the two stars have been privately honing for years, and it’s the chemistry of Mumolo and Wiig (who also co-wrote Bridesmaids) that allows a bit about the name “Trish” to continue beyond all limits of good sense until you give in to the hilarity.

You’ll also recognize plenty of faces in the supporting cast, highlighted by Mark Jonathan Davis doing his Richard Cheese lounge singer persona and Damon Wayans, Jr. as a spy with a bad habit of spilling his personal info (“dammit!”).

Expect some goofy outtakes over the credits, and waves of silliness that just won’t rest until your frown is turned upside down! It may not be dynamite, but Barb and Star brings enough laughs to make spending time with them a pleasure.

Just don’t call it guilty.

Playing Dirty

Buddy Games

by George Wolf

Buddy Games has the smell of something that’s been sitting on a shelf for quite a while, thrown out to theaters now like a piece of rancid meat to a hungry dog.

The theaters that are still open may be starving for content, but this meal is rotten to the core.

Director/co-writer/star Josh Duhamel leads a group of lifelong friends (Dax Shepard, Kevin Dillon, Nick Swardson, Dan Bakkedahl, James Roday Rodriguez) as the “Bobfather,” rich guy ringleader of their annual brodown throwdown they call the Buddy Games. Indulging their “primal need to dominate,” the guys hit an outdoor obstacle course to compete against each other in a variety of events for a lame trophy and – most importantly – bragging rights.

But an unfortunate paintball-to-nutsack incident shuts the games down, sending Buddy Game Champ Sheldon (Bakkedhahl) into a downward spiral that leads to rehab.

So at the urging of Shelly’s mom, the boys revive the Games after five long and aimless years, this time with a $150,000 prize to the victor.

If you’re sensing a mix of Tag and Grown Ups, you’re close, just remove all the charm of the former, and add even more stupidity than the latter.

It’s a tone deaf, crass and almost completely humorless exercise in objectifying women and indulging the selfishness of entitled d-bags. The longer it drags, the more you just wonder: why? Why did Duhamel pick this for his directing debut? Why did Olivia Munn accept another role as “low cut shirt for the marketing”? Why are we seeing Nick Swardson without Adam Sandler?

But, like most of those Sandler comedies, it looks like the cast of Buddy Games had a blast making it.

I guess you had to be there.

Pennies From Heaven

Faith Ba$ed

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

I have seen Faith Ba$ed and I am outraged.

People that haven’t seen it are outraged, and you know what that is?

Outrageous, but not surprising.

According to writer and co-star Luke Barnett, people are upset at just “the idea of it.” And that’s an ironic protest that actually speaks more negatively about the Christian film industry than anything in this actual movie.

Barnett and director Vincent Masciale, both Funny or Die veterans, are more interested in the goofy exploits of two lifelong friends in California who are having trouble adjusting to adulthood.

Tanner (Tanner Thomason) is a ladies man bartender whose life goals don’t extend beyond drinking and hanging out with friends. Luke (Barnett) cleans pools while peddling the weight loss tea pyramid scheme of his entrepreneurial idol Nicky Steele (Jason Alexander in a bonkers cameo).

Luke and Tanner are big movie fans, and when they discover just how profitable the faith-based market is, a plan emerges. If they can make their own “Jesus” film and sell it to ChristFlix pictures, there should be more than enough profit to stuff their pockets and help out the local Elevate Church where Luke’s father (Lance Reddick) is the pastor.

The big question: can the boys snag Butch Savage (David Koechner, bonkers himself), the action hero from their youth, for the pivotal role?

Masciale, helming his second feature, brings an irresistibly absurdist vibe to the shenanigans that practically begs you not to overthink any of it. Sometimes we get character interviews as per a mockumentary, sometimes we don’t. The continuity and internal logic gets shaky at times, all of which falls perfectly in line with the movie within this movie.

Good-natured fun is certainly had at the expense of the faith-based industry. Margaret Cho’s appearance as a ChristFlix executive running down the rules of Christian films is every bit the bullseye of the horror rules in Scream, and the big Christian yacht rock concert (pay attention to those lyrics!) is subtle perfection.

But it’s the continued success of the Christian entertainment industry that makes it ripe for satire. And while Faith Ba$ed uses the setting to great advantage, its knives are never out for the believers themselves.

Because you know what else Barnett’s script gives us? A church community that is welcoming to all, one where people missing something in their lives can and do find real fulfillment.

And it gives us plenty of laughs, memorable quotes and overall nuttiness at a time when we could use it.

Oh, the outrage.

Strange Bedfellows

Irresistible

by George Wolf

Some of the best moments during Jon Stewart’s years on The Daily Show happened when his guest was some smug politician who had not done their homework.

Because Jon always did his, and the squirming politico would realize pretty quickly that Jon could throw some heaters. This funnyman was whip smart, too, and pretty handy with the b.s. detector.

It should come as little surprise, then, that Irresistible, Stewart’s second feature as writer/director, employs some purposeful, intelligent comedy as it sets about skewering today’s ridiculous political climate.

Daily Show vet Steve Carell is Democratic strategist Gary Zimmer. Stinging badly from the 2016 election, he’s inspired by a YouTube video of a former Marine hero dressing down the city council in tiny Deerlacken, WI.

Zimmer decides right then that Col. Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper) and his “redder kind of blue” appeal could be the centerpiece of a new nationwide project to expand the Democratic base. And it all begins with getting Hastings elected Mayor of Deerlacken.

This does not go unnoticed on the other side. Once GOP strategist Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne) and her crew come to town, the Mayor’s race in Deerlacken starts carrying some pretty high stakes – including one hilarious sexual side bet between the two opposing operatives.

After an impressively dramatic filmmaking debut with 2014’s Rosewater, Stewart returns to the satirical stomping grounds where he became a respected (and, to some, reviled ) voice that drove many worthwhile conversations.

Though the bite of this screenplay may be a bit softer, his narrative approach betrays a long game that trades the sharper knives for the chance at a wider reach. Because the cure for what’s infecting American politics is not going to spread through niche marketing.

Sure, you could call that a sellout, and for the first two acts of this movie you might be right. The “all politics is local” premise is certainly not new, nor are many of the talking points. But thanks to the two veteran leads, those points are just funnier.

Carell’s default manner is perfect for the quietly condescending Zimmer, an elitist who confuses nobility with blind ambition, and somehow thinks he has a shot with the Col’s much younger daughter (Mackenzie Davis).

The real treat, though, is seeing Byrne finally dig into another role worthy of her comedy pedigree. With the right material, Byrne is a comedic MVP, as she reminds anyone who’s forgotten that fact by making Brewster one hilarious, shameless, priceless piece of work.

Stewart may be known for his progressive leanings, but both the left and the right are in his sights here, along with unchecked political cash and obsessive pundits complicit in fostering the fear and shame game.

Easy targets? Sure. But if you don’t think Stewart’s smart enough to know that, than you never saw him blindside a back-slapping incumbent on late night TV.

Irresistible caters to your expectations just long enough to make you think you knew where it was going all along. The unassuming way the film upends those expectations might seem overly convenient, but it feels right, as if Stewart is practicing what he is taking care not to preach. And that’s just what might make it hard for mainstream America to resist.