Month: May 2016

Simply Irresistible (1999)

simply irresistible

So there’s a magic crab. And that’s how things get started in the lightweight romantic comedy Simply Irresistible. It stars Sarah Michelle Gellar as Amanda Shelton, a young woman who inherits her mother’s longstanding restaurant but runs it into the ground with her lack of cooking abilities. During her last visit to the market before the restaurant closes, she encounters two strangers, one jolly and one handsome. The first insists she buy a basket of crabs, but one gets loose – the magic one – and bites the second in the ankle. He is Tom Bartlett (Sean Patrick Flanery), a manager at the upscale designer store Henri Bendel who is trying to break things off with his girlfriend, the latest in a string.

Thanks to the crab, Amanda instantly becomes a skilled chef, a transformation never explained in detail. That’s just as well because there are few ways in which exposition would improve the story. Unlike other romcoms, this one doesn’t try to mask its fantasy in a veneer of reality. But it aims higher and tries for the breezy grace of old school Hollywood romances. Unfortunately, the movie stays grounded, going through the motions of love at best. There’s a grand centerpiece set, a restaurant that curls around a dazzling dance floor. There are heavenly éclairs that send people into fits of ecstasy. Patricia Clarkson in particular has a lot of fun as Tom’s assistant, fluttering about his couch in a giggly trance. There’s also a customer at Amanda’s restaurant so enamored with his meal that he wants the experience again, backwards.

These things are fun because they are silly, but only if translated well onto the screen. Gellar, who my Buffy-loving friends constantly remind me is something of a hero, lacks the energy I imagine she brings to her role as a vampire slayer. As Amanda, she is content to go with the flow and is more befuddled by her good luck than anything. She doesn’t take charge of the story, defaulting to a sweet but hopeless grin or to her BBF (black best friend), played with much more charisma by Larry Gilliard, Jr. It would be better if he didn’t spout motivational basketball metaphors, but at least he does so with flair.

Flanery also helps where he can. He’s game for the euphoric convulsions the part requires, like when he’s stuffing his face and writhing about in a gold elevator, but there isn’t enough chemistry between the him and Gellar to make the magic feel, well, magical. The script falters too when Tom cools on Amanda, reasoning that he’s been bewitched and wants to maintain control. There’s not much consequence when there’s not much of a relationship though.

Released: 1999
Prod: Jon Amiel, Joseph M. Caracciolo Jr., John Fiedler
Dir: Mark Tarlov
Writer: Judith Roberts
Cast: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Sean Patrick Flanery, Patricia Clarkson, Dylan Baker, Christopher Durang, Larry Gilliard Jr., Betty Buckley, Amanda Peet
Time: 96 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2016

The Do-Over

the do over

It’s Friday night, I’m watching The Do-Over – on the day of its Netflix release, and eating leftover pizza. It’s not the ideal situation, in life, but it’s not dissimilar to the sad state of the two main characters in this Adam Sandler film, the second in a four picture deal between the actor and the streaming site. Sandler stars with frequent collaborator David Spade as two longtime friends who are dissatisfied with their current lot and who try to start anew by faking their deaths. A marked improvement on his previous effort, the mind-numbing westerns pastiche that is The Ridiculous 6, this isn’t exactly atonement for previous crimes against filmmaking, but it does achieve a surprisingly heartfelt ending.

That’s not to say The Do-Over goes light on the raunchiness that tends to punctuate Sandler’s movies. There’s plenty of lad humor, including a scene involving Luis Guzmán and schweddy balls that you’ll want to forget. The movie also does its best to fill its quota of homophobic boy’s club jokes (think dildos and jumper cables). Sandler’s not exactly pioneering or progressive when it comes to his comedic sensibilities, and a couple suggestive scenes involving a burly biker named Dakota and a limber German hitman do what they must to fulfill certain clichés.

Still, the movie aims beyond a strictly frat crowd. It begins at a 25th high school reunion where Charlie (Spade) and Max (Sandler) reconnect and use the opportunity to commiserate over their unrealized teenage dreams. Despite marrying the prom queen, who had twins with and then divorced their skeezy classmate (an unrecognizable Sean Astin), Charlie has not literally or figuratively gone anywhere. His greatest adventure remains the one time he saw his friend’s mother naked in the shower. Meanwhile, Max is an FBI agent, at least that’s how he introduces himself, in desperate need of a jolt in life. When a relaxing day out on a yacht ends with a giant bang, both guys decide to turn things around.

At first their new identities, stolen from a couple of unclaimed corpses, get them the kind of life middle aged men dream about. It’s all fast cars, fancy houses, and fine women, in Puerto Rico no less. But soon word gets around that Charlie and Max’s alter egos, Dr. Ronald Fishman and Butch Ryder, who had been testing a successful cancer drug, are back from the dead, and that upsets quite a few people. It’s a lot of speed racing and dodging bullets from there. As the two try to throw off assassins and unravel the mysteries behind their new identities, they also find themselves in the company of Dr. Fishman’s gorgeous young widow, Heather (Paula Patton).

It’s not that satisfying as far as the women’s roles go. In an unsettling case of white guy wish fulfillment, a cloyingly sweet Patton gets paired with Spade, or Ned Flanders in human form. Kathryn Hahn also makes an appearance as a wig-wearing psycho ex who stalks Max down every dark corridor. The ending pays off, however, in ways that shouldn’t have fooled me but did. Though the two actresses engage in a needlessly slow motion fight scene that serves men’s fantasies more than it does notions of female strength, both subvert expectations in ways that ease some frustrations about plot and character.

Released: 2016
Prod: Adam Sandler, Kevin Grady
Dir: Steven Brill
Writer: Kevin Barnett, Chris Pappas
Cast: Adam Sandler, David Spade, Paula Patton, Kathryn Hahn, Nick Swardson, Matt Walsh, Renee Taylor, Sean Astin, Natasha Leggero, Luis Guzmán, Catherine Bell, Jackie Sandler, Michael Chiklis, Torsten Voges, Stan Ellsworth
Time: 108 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2016

The Million Pound Note (1954)

million pound note

If you needed a reason to be charmed by Gregory Peck, The Million Pound Note does the trick. But then again, so does any number of the actor’s films. Notorious nice guy and paragon of the incorruptible everyman, Peck just can’t help himself when it comes to winning over his audience. Even when he isn’t the dashing bachelor reporter or the righteous Southern lawyer, he possesses an effortless allure that’s impossible to turn away from. As Henry Adams, a penniless American stranded in turn of the century England, Peck transforms from a scrubby seaman (inasmuch as the actor can be made scrubby) into a dapper millionaire, all on account of a playful bet by two wealthy brothers.

Adapted from a story by Mark Twain, the movie explores the artifice of wealth, elbowing society not so much for the way it worships real money, and power, but the mere suggestion of it. Oliver Montpelier (Ronald Squire) believes that a million pound note will convince anyone of the holder’s worth while his brother Roderick (Wilfrid Hyde-White) maintains the actual exchange of cash counts for something. Henry gets caught in this game that only the obscenely rich can initiate and immediately reaps the dividends. He sates his empty stomach on a hearty lunch and several tankards of ale and then tries to exchange his rags for more respectable attire.

The film adopts a very Twain-like tone in the way it laughs at the pretense of enormous wealth. At first, condescension oozes out of shopkeepers suspicious of Henry’s entitled manner. The smugness immediately dissipates when he presents his note, and upturned noses are pointed down. Word gets around that there’s an eccentric American millionaire about town, and the fear of offending someone in this moneyed class leads people to give into their assumptions. He’s allowed to acquire everything on credit, from a simple top hat to a stay in luxury hotel suite.

Casting an actor with Peck’s reputation emphasizes the absurdity, contrasting his sensible character with the frivolous and disingenuous nature money seems to inspire. He mines a lot of comedy out of these misunderstandings as Henry, in various states of bemusement, can’t quite believe his luck. Being the honest Gregory Peck-like man that he is though, Henry tries to juggle the fawning elites with a proper sense of self-restraint. He befriends a fellow pauper (Reginald Beckwith) and the two bond over the fact that they are trespassers to this paper world. Still, he can’t help but enjoy the pleasures that come to a man with one million pounds to spare even if he is also conflicted about the deception. The film begins to lag at the halfway point when the plot turns into variations on the same theme, and the writers belatedly introduce a love interest to energize the movie. Henry’s attachment to aristocrat Portia (Jane Griffiths) furthers his misgivings since he knows there’s an end date to this charade.

Alt Title: Man with a Million
Released: 1954
Prod: John Bryan, Ronald Neame
Dir: Ronald Neame
Writer: Jill Craigie
Cast: Gregory Peck, Ronald Squire, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Jane Griffiths, Joyce Grenfell, A. E. Matthews, Maurice Denham, Reginald Beckwith
Time: 90 min
Lang: English
Country: United Kingdom
Reviewed: 2016