Friday, February 4, 2011

2010: My Year in Movies (part 3: Comedy)

Onward and upward to the seven 2010 comedies I saw (in 2010):

The Bounty Hunter *
Hot Tub Time Machine ***1/2
Date Night **1/2
Get Him to the Greek ***
Just Wright **
Cyrus **1/2
Toy Story 3 ****1/2

It's hard to describe just how much of a train wreck The Bounty Hunter really is. The two attractive leads have zero chemistry, the jokes are lazy and unfunny, and the plot is one of the most illogical you'll ever come across this side of an MST3K episode. Honestly, the best part is when they do an action scene to a Ke$ha song. And even THAT barely scratches the surface of one of the worst movies of 2010. It's not even one of those "so bad it's good" movies. It's just painfully bad. I watched it, evidently, so that others might not have to. Please avoid so that those two hours will not have been in total vain.

Hot Tub Time Machine is a rollicking fun trip back to the 80's that allows John Cusack to do what he does best---look sad and toss off snarky one-liners while getting the girl. Rob Corddry, however, is the real scene-stealer, and if this movie isn't evidence that he can carry a Hollywood comedy all by himself, then I don't know what else he has to do. A running joke with Crispin Glover is also immensely satisfying and, surprisingly, never gets old. Hot Tub Time Machine is lewd, it's sloppy, and it's one of the funniest films of 2010.

Date Night is one of those can't-miss comedies that doesn't, but then it doesn't exactly obliterate its target either. Tina Fey and Steve Carell are likable, comedic heavyweights, but the script largely plays it safe and gives them little to do except be swept along by the plot-heavy antics. There's (long) car chases and gun-play aplenty, and it all feels like it's taking away from comic opportunities rather than creating them. There are laughs to be had, especially in some particularly funny scenes involving a shirtless Mark Wahlberg, but Date Night is more of an amusing diversion than a memorable comedy...a kind of date night movie, really.

Get Him To The Greek borrows heavily from The Hangover formula and, for the most part, succeeds in replicating the off-the-wall comedy of its inspiration. Russell Brand reprises his character of Aldous Snow from Forgetting Sarah Marshall, a scene-stealer from that movie that showed some surprising depth. Attempts to build on that original depth, however, are a bit forced and take an unfunny, grim turn near the end. Sean Combs has a nice turn as a record producer (stretch?), and Jonah Hill is funny as always.

I went to the red carpet premiere and after party for Just Wright (ooooh lala), and I hung out with Spike Lee, Dwayne Wade, Common, Queen Latifah, and lots of famous black people I couldn't identify if my life depended on it. There was free food (nom nom nom), free booze (glug glug glug), and I got my face projected on the rooftop of the Empire Hotel (see above). These qualities alone earn Just Wright two stars. Unfortunately, the movie can't add to that 2-star total. Just Wright is one of those female-fantasy films, the answer to every movie in which Seth Rogen, Michael Cera and Jonah Hill get the impossibly hot girl. Plot: Fat girl in her mid to late 30's wins the heart of a studly NBA player at the expense of her impossibly hot, much younger, modelesque sister. I'm fine with the fantasy, but come on, make it at least as smart as the films where Seth Rogen gets the girl. The actors are likable, especially Latifah, but this is strictly for women in denial about the real world.

Speaking of Jonah Hill, Cyrus was an early 2010 release which earned high praise from many critics. In some respects, Cyrus is a good comedy, one full of dark humor and edgy, unexpected moments. Unfortunately, it also feels like an incomplete movie. I rarely say this about a film, but the characters and story of Cyrus deserved about 20-30 more minutes to truly earn the resolution they arrived at after just 92 minutes. This isn't Get Him To The Greek (109 minutes) or Hot Tub Time Machine (101 minutes). It's a more complicated movie, one in which the humor derives from characters, not plot or clever set-ups. I felt a bit cheated at the end, but that's probably an indication that I liked most of what came before.

I knew I'd enjoy Toy Story 3---it's a Pixar movie, after all---but I didn't expect to appreciate it as much as I ultimately did. As a former screenwriter, the script is a virtual role model for classic, Hollywood movie-making. It's sort of...perfect. The pacing, the roll-out of the set-up, the complications, the's all...perfect. If you were going to teach screenwriting and story structure, this is one to look to. Add in the right amounts of wit and whimsy, the correct dose of sentimentality, that beautiful Pixar animation and, voila---a truly fantastic movie for all ages. Pixar makes it look easy, but I assure you it's not. It's a lot of talented people working to an impossibly high standard...and going beyond. Toy Story 3 cracked the list for Best Picture nominees, and it is MUCH deserved.


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