Tag Archives: Zach Braff

The Baker Bunch

Cheaper by the Dozen

by George Wolf

By now, you’re probably pretty familiar with the premise of Cheaper by the Dozen. But really, the best way for adults to enjoy this new Disney version is by using it as a way to gently introduce small children to more grown up issues.

Otherwise, it’s pretty insufferable.

This time, the heads of the blended brood are Zoey and Paul Baker (Gabrielle Union and Zach Braff), who first meet cute at the L.A. breakfast joint he owns. Their marriage and eventual offspring create a blended family full of diverse and seriously precocious siblings, step-siblings, and later a wayward cousin in need of some guidance. Throw in two ex-spouses (Erika Christensen and Timon Kyle Durrett) who are never far from the shenanigans, and that’s the way they become the Baker bunch.

Director Gail Lerner and the writing team of Kenya Barris, Jenifer Rice-Genzuk and Craig Titley all have extensive credits in series television, which would be a good reason why everything about this film screams “TV sitcom.”

Plot points are hastily introduced and heavily contrived, while any conflicts are soft-peddled and quickly worked through with barely a bad mood or sass mouth in sight. One thing you will see is some surprisingly modest set design (especially for those high school basketball games, yikes) that too often seems fit for an afterschool special.

The Bakers get a corporate offer to franchise the diner and market Paul’s special cooking sauce, so the gang moves on up to a sprawling house in Calabasas that requires just one afternoon to completely move into.

But settling into a new home brings some challenges for everyone. There’s bullying, peer pressure, and dating drama for the kids, while the parents face bless-your-heart prejudices and questions about mixed-race parenting.

Union and Braff are both likable actors, and that’s all they are asked to be, because no one in the film comes anywhere close to resembling a real person. And much like these characters, all the worthy issues raised are treated with a “we got 23 minutes minus commercials” mindset and wedged in between telegraphed attempts at humor and constant mugging.

The PG rating is a bit surprising, because despite the warning of “thematic elements, suggestive material, and language,” everything here is as sanitized as a freshly minted urinal cake.

Cheaper by the Dozen, yes. And you get what you pay for.

Demon Seeds

Percy vs. Goliath

by George Wolf

Not that long ago, this film was called Percy and ran a full two hours. Since then, it’s gained a word and a half in the title while losing about twenty minutes of run time. What’s left is a rushed, but fairly standard telling of a real life everyman’s battle with a corporate behemoth.

In the late 1990’s, Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser (played with weary conviction by the iconic Christopher Walken) was sued by the Monsanto corporation for “patent infringement.” Their claim was that Percy was planting his fields with some of Monsanto’s patented GMO seeds without a license.

A multi-generational family farmer, Percy argued that he has never planted with anyone’s seeds but his own. His father taught him to be a “seed saver” and store the most robust seeds for use the following year. Any Monsanto seeds found in his fields, Percy argued, must have traveled by wind or passing trucks.

Monsanto’s lead counsel Rick Aarons (the always welcome Martin Donovan) ain’t buying it, and Percy’s folksy lawyer Jackson Weaver (Zach Braff) advises Percy and his wife Louise (Roberta Maxwell) to cut their losses and settle.

But Percy’s moral code – along with plenty of encouragement from environmental activist Rebecca Salcau (Christina Ricci) – lead him to the courtroom. Once there, the introverted Canadian farmer gets more attention than he bargained for, and pariah status in his own community.

The script from Garfield Lindsay Miller and Hillary Pryor hits all the required notes, but director Clark Johnson (2003’s S.W.A.T) never provides the breathing room to let events in or out of court truly connect. While many films are wise to trim the fat, the twenty minutes gone from PvG feel haphazardly culled, leaving behind whiplash edits and stalled resonance.

Led by the sympathetic Walken, the ensemble cast is uniformly effective, but caught in a scattershot narrative. With its mind on justice for the little guy, local and global farming conflicts, manipulation from all sides and above all, doing the right thing – Percy vs Goliath has many hearts.

And while all those hearts may be in the right places, what holds the film back is a tendency to take the early advice that Percy ignored. Make the cuts and settle.

Old Bandits Society

Going in Style

by George Wolf

More than once, Going In Style tells us “it is a culture’s duty to take care of its elderly.”

If only the film had a funny way of showing it.

Instead, director Zach Braff takes three screen legends on a caper full of obvious writing, cheap slapstick and dressed up sitcom filler.

An update on the 1979 George Burns/Art Carney/Lee Strasberg vehicle, this new version stars Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Alan Arkin as Joe, Willie, and Al, three New York retirees who’ve just been screwed out of their pensions by corporate shenanigans. While Joe is fighting his home foreclosure notice with a smarmy bank manager, the bank gets robbed.

Joe’s impressed with the heist, and unimpressed with the detective (Matt Dillon) trying to track down the thieves, so why not give stickups a try? Let’s face it,¬†even if the guys get life in prison, how long could that be? Because they’re so old! Man, those age jokes just get funnier the more they’re repeated, don’t they?

No, they don’t, and screenwriter Theodore Melfi, fresh off some fine work with Hidden Figures and St. Vincent, hits a major pothole on his road to straight up comedy. Seeing how these three veteran actors play off each other should be a treat in itself, but too much of the leadup to the actual bank job has the trio stuffing whole roasts down their pants at the grocery or sitting around watching The Bachelor.¬†You know, because the thought of senior citizens watching that show is so outrageous!

Lazy.

It doesn’t help that Braff (Garden State, TV’s Scrubs) has all three actors overdoing the aches and pains of aging for most of the film, and only in the final few minutes, when the longtime friends are apparently rejuvenated by their crime spree, do you get the sense of any realistic characters with natural chemistry. The robbery itself, where Braff shows some stylistic flair and an instance or two of subtle visual comedy, seems stolen from another film entirely.

Perhaps even one that was interesting.

Verdict-2-0-Stars