Tag Archives: Will Ferrell

Poles Apart

Downhill

by George Wolf

If you’re a pair of American filmmakers out to remake an exceptional foreign film from the last decade, you gotta pick a side.

Are you gonna put some bankable U.S. stars up front and just add your name to someone else’s originality, or do you have a vision that can make the story your own?

To their credit, co-writers/directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash choose the latter path for Downhill, their take on Ruben Ostlund’s 2014 stunner, Force Majeure (Turist). Faxon and Rash won an Oscar for their The Descendants screenplay – so the boys can write – but this makeover ultimately lands as a pleasant exercise stripped of the insightful bite.

The catalyst remains the same: a traumatic event changes the way a couple sees each other. Pete (Will Ferrell) and Billie Stanton (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) are on a lavish ski vacation in Austria with their two sons. Eating lunch on the resort’s outdoor porch, the family is terrified when an avalanche appears to be heading right for them.

Bille clutches her children in fear, while Pete grabs his phone and runs.

Turns out it was a planned snow release and everyone’s fine, but the Stanton marriage has been shaken to its core, no matter how hard Pete tries to revise history with another couple (Zach Woods and Zoe Chao).

Faxon and Rash do Americanize the story well, as Billie first looks to blame the resort (“I’m an attorney!”), and Pete, continually wallowing in the loss of his father eight months prior, becomes a personification of rationalized selfishness.

But while Ostlund used the secondary couple as a device to invite us into a near clinical deconstruction of societal assumptions, Faxon and Rash introduce a new “B” story involving an aggressive resort concierge (Amanda Otto) who lives on the wild side. It’s an uneven trade of insight for zany, and can’t move the film from an uneven headspace that’s too serious for comedy but too light for drama.

Downhill does give us the chance to see Will and Julia go head to head, and that is no small treat. Ferrell is a natural as the big awkward goof trying to come to terms with himself, but make no mistake, Julia Louis-Dreyfus is the reason to see this movie.

Billie is confused, hurt and angry, and Louis-Dreyfus sells it all with total authenticity, often with little to no dialog. She finds real depth in terrain that’s often shallow (such as Billie’s flirtations with a younger ski instructor), ultimately offering more proof that, in case you’ve missed the last few decades, JLD is a flat-out treasure.

And much like Billy Ray’s updated Secret in Their Eyes five years ago, Downhill has a humdinger of an ending to deal with. In the original film, Ostlund gave us an organic twist that managed to re-frame all that came before. Faxon and Rash’s take feels a bit like hitting the Ohio slopes after a trip to Vermont.

There are similarities, but the thrill is gone.

If you’ve haven’t seen Force Majeure, Downhill is a perfectly acceptable vehicle for two well-loved stars. If you have, well, see it again.

Who’s Yer Granddaddy?

Daddy’s Home 2

by George Wolf

It’s weeks from Thanksgiving, but already the hot toy this season seems to be the onscreen Christmas countdown, marking off time until the big day.

We saw it just last week, to disastrous results, in A Bad Mom’s Christmas, and now Daddy’s Home 2 arrives carrying stockings with slightly better surprises inside.

By now, macho Dusty (Mark Wahlberg) and sensitive Brad (Will Ferrell) have settled into a comfortable “co-Daddy” arrangement with their blended families, so much so that they’re planning one big blendy Christmas this year. The kids won’t have to run from place to place. It’ll be great, right?

Enter Dusty’s mas macho dad (Mel Gibson) and Brad’s uber sensitive pop (John Lithgow), and we’re all headed through the woods to a luxurious mountain cabin for some contrived, snow-covered shenanigans boasting rampant ridiculousness and only scattershot payoffs.

Writer/director Sean Anders returns from the first film with the standard playbook for lazy comedies: a series of zany skits loosely connected with little regard for logic or continuity. We’re prodded to laugh at Brad’s suitcase being left at home, and then again when Brad has to wear a women’s bathrobe since he has no clothes of his own!

Moving on, Brad has an endless supply of wardrobe changes the remainder of the film.

Anders’s resume features solid comedic work (She’s Out of My League, Hot Tub Time Machine, We’re the Millers and Horrible Bosses 2), but also embarrassments (Dumb and Dumber To, That’s My Boy). DH2 can manage only a few sequences that recall his creative peaks.

A fight over the cabin thermostat leads to some inspired laughs, as does Brad’s attempt to prepare a young boy for life in the friend zone, and Ferrell’s natural comedic gifts are able to squeeze a chuckle or two from Brad’s constant attempts to prove his parental worth.

With the additions of Gibson and John Cena (as the ex of Dusty’s girlfriend) the sequel ups the ante on the crises of masculinity that anchored the first film. The female characters are still afterthoughts, and some of Gibson’s antics (considering his rep and the current revelations coming out of Hollywood) seem awkwardly ill-timed.

By the time a completely over-the top-production of “Do They Know It’s Christmas” (“I love that song! I play that song in August!”) is happening, Daddy’s Home 2 seems content to aim no higher than the guilty pleasure aisle.





Mr. and Mrs. Vegas

The House

by George Wolf

It’s a simple formula, really: D = sO2.

A comedy’s desperation is equal to the speed at which the outtakes start rolling, squared. Which means The House is mighty desperate to send you home laughing.

There’s plenty of talent involved, but it’s a film held together with barest of threads, as if the prompt for writers Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O’Brien (from the very funny Neighbors films – so what gives?) was merely to round up some funny people and hope they do funny things.

Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler are certainly funny, and they star as Scott and Kate Johansen, who start to panic when their daughter Alex (a curiously bland Ryan Simpkins) is accepted to Bucknell University.

They can’t afford Bucknell University.

Teaming up with their crazy, Vegas-loving friend Frank (Jason Mantzoukas) the Johansens open a secret neighborhood casino, kicking off a wave of uninspired riffs on stuffy suburbanites acting all Soprano and shit.

Cohen, making his feature directing debut, leaves plenty of contrived loose ends behind in search of the next forced gag. Fred and Barney may have pulled off a similar premise for 23-minutes in an old Flintstones episode, but The House is built on a less than sturdy foundation.

Verdict-2-5-Stars

 

 





Hard to Take

Get Hard

by George Wolf

A lump of coal on Christmas Day. Ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife. The movie Get Hard.

What are huge disappointments, Alex?

Correct.

Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart are two of the funniest people around, and it’s easy to see the potential in an onscreen teamup. The problem is the project that brought them together should have died in the idea phase.

Ferrell is James King, a high-rolling hedge fund manager who lives in luxury but still can’t please his trophy girlfriend (Alison Brie). At their lavish engagement party, right in the middle of jamming on guitar with John Mayer, James is hauled away by the Feds and charged with securities fraud.

Ignoring his lawyers advice to take a plea deal, James is found guilty and sentenced to 10 years in San Quentin. Given 30 days to report, James turns to Darnell (Hart), the guy who details his car, to teach him how to survive inside.

See, Darnell is black, so James just assumes he’s been in prison, and that’s just one of the stereotypes the film tries, and fails, to have fun with. In the right hands, race, class and sexuality can be fertile ground for sharp comedy. Those hands never touch Get Hard.

Ferrell and creative partner Adam McKay (who gets a story credit) have been on target before, even managing to work some scattered moments of social commentary into their hilarious lunacy. The mistake may have been relying too much on director/co-writer Etan Cohen, who shows no instinct for restraint. The film is overplayed on all fronts, giving it a crass, borderline nasty and often humorless air.

With the “revenge of the common man” storyline you get the feeling the intention here may have been an updated Trading Places. It isn’t long, though, before you wished they’d have just done a straight-up remake, and spared us the buzzkill that is Get Hard.

 

Verdict-2-0-Stars

 





Countdown: Best (and Worst) Actors Playing Athletes

 

Major League‘s 25th anniversary meets Draft Day‘s opening weekend, and it got us chatting about the more and less convincing onscreen athletic performances. Remember Chelcie Ross as Eddie Harris, veteran Tribe pitcher and Jobu hater? How old was that guy, a hundred? (Fun fact: he was 47.) We believed he was a MLB starting pitcher almost as much as we bought Denis Leary playing a grizzled NFL coach. But is anybody worse? And does anybody do it well?

Most Convincing

Kevin Costner

It really doesn’t matter the sport. He’s convinced us as a baseball player several times, and a golfer. And it’s not just the easy athleticism or the mechanics, but his comfort with lingo and team relationships. We’re sold.

Jamie  Foxx

Any Given Sunday lacks a lot. A lot. But one thing it absolutely possesses is a realistic athlete in the form of Jamie Foxx. He has grace and skill and his onfield performance is almost enough to compensate for Al Pacino’s screeching.

Woody Harrelson

The guy can play basketball. Hustling on a playground or finishing a semi-pro career, Harrelson has some skill on the court. Dunking or not, tell Aunt Bea we said he can ball.

Chadwick Boseman

He had some big shoes to fill in 42, and not only does he look the part off the diamond, he actually swings a bat and throws a ball with the confidence of a man brave enough to play Jackie Robinson.

Charlie Sheen

Sheen’s passion for baseball is well-known, and he took his role as an MLB pitcher seriously. Whether he was throwing just a bit outside or right down the plate, Sheen had pretty smooth delivery. Hell, maybe he Tribe should sign him up.

 

Least Convincing

And we’re not talking about Will Ferrell, who put his lack of athleticism to excellent use as a basketball player (Semi-Pro), skater (Blades of Glory), soccer coach (Kicking and Screaming), NASCAR driver (Talladega Nights). Ditto for Will’s buddy Danny McBride, whose casting as a 100 mph fireballer in East Bound and Down is equally ludicrous. No, these are the folks who were wildly miscast as serious athletes.

There are a lot of options here. Rob Lowe in Youngblood as hockey player who clearly cannot skate. Or Madonna in A League of Their Own. Or pint sized Michael J. Fox playing basketball in Teen Wolf – sure it’s a comedy, but is it the basketball itself that was meant to draw giggles?

There are other real standouts, though.

Wesley Snipes

Snipes wins. The guy was forever being cast as an athlete, and though he looked good in a uniform, team sports were clearly not his bag. You might not know it from casual viewings of Major League – yes he made that catch at the wall but notice you never see him throwing – but between The Fan and White Men Can’t Jump, you do.

Bernie Mac

In Mr. 3000, Mac plays an unlikeable, retired hitter planning to skate into the hall of fame on just his career hit total:  3000 exactly.  But when an error in the stats reveals he’s short, he goes back to the diamond regardless of the fact that Mac had clearly never held a bat in his life. Usually it’s the throwing motion that gives an actor away, but Mac was so unconvincing at the plate we actually missed the technique of Wesley Snipes.

Anthony Michael Hall

In 1988, Uma Thurman was still unknown, Robert Downey, Jr. was still high, and Anthony Michael Hall was still a 90 pound weakling. So whoever decided to cast him as the number one high school football recruit in Johnny Be Good was clearly sharing  Downey’s brownies, because Hall wasn’t just far too small to be taken seriously. He looked like he was playing with his eyes closed.

Anthony Perkins

Three years before his breakout brilliance in Psycho, Anthony Perkins played another character with mental illness. Mental illness he handled well. Unfortunately, in Fear Strikes Out, that character – Jimmy Piersall – was also a Major League center fielder. Tee ball players show a more commanding grasp of the game. It’s hard to imagine anyone looking more lost than Perkins looked at the plate, in the field, heck, in the building.

Tim Robbins

While Bull Durham may be the greatest sports movie of all time, with much of its success due to casting, choosing Tim Robbins to play pitching phenom Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh clearly had nothing to do with his presence on the mound. Robbins is a limby, wobbly mess and that was the ugliest windup in sports movie history.

 

 





The ‘Stache Takes Manhattan

 

by George Wolf

 

According to facebook comments, there are humans out there who don’t think Will Ferrell is funny, and say they don’t understand all the fuss about Anchorman 2, and you know what was really funny? Delta Farce.

I am not one of those people.

Look, I’m not going to tell you The Legend Continues is as funny as the original, because , Great Odin’s Raven!, you’d know I was lying. But it is funny, sometimes downright eye-wateringly hilarious.

The swinging 70s have given way to 1980, as Ron Burgundy (Ferrell) and his news team move to New York to join GNN, the very first 24 hour news network. After finding themselves on the graveyard shift, Ron, Brick (Steve Carell), Brian (Paul Rudd) and Champ (David Koechner) set their sights on moving into primetime and taking down the network golden boy (James Marsden).

Ferrell and co-writer Adam McKay (who also directs) get more pointed in their satire of TV news in round two, which seems a natural progression. Occasionally, things get a tad too obvious, but the overall subject of the sad state of broadcast journalism is still so ripe for ridicule that the film is always able to recover pretty quickly.

Two curious plot points hold this new Burgundy adventure back from striking ratings gold, one involving Ron’s health and another concerning his strange choice of new pet (don’t worry, Baxter’s still around). Both subplots fall flat, bloating the film by at least twenty self-indulgent minutes that were better relegated to the deleted scenes section of the DVD.

The other 100 minutes, though, are chock full of nutty goodness. The four core actors again excel at this rapid fire, improv-heavy brand of comedy (especially Koechner, who jumps up a notch this time) and the new faces (Kristin Wiig, Meagan Good, Greg Kinnear) blend in well. Expect some inspired sight gags (keep an eye on that news ticker), well-played homages to the best moments from part one, a litany of welcome cameos, and a small reprise at the end of the credits.

While this Anchorman lamp may not be quite as lovable, you’ll like this lamp, you’ll really like this lamp.

 

Verdict-3-5-Stars