Month: August 2016

Bedazzled (2000)

bedazzled 2000

Every generation deserves a good Faust retelling, and Bedazzled is not one. A remake of a 1967 film by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, this millennial version sees Elizabeth Hurley as the seductive Devil and Brendan Fraser as the hapless mortal who toys with eternal damnation. There is plenty of material to be mined, but the film trades philosophy for stunts, reserving the core of the story for the last ten minutes.

The movie instead relies on a repetitive circle of literal wish fulfillment. Elliot Richards (Fraser) is a socially awkward IT assistant, the kind of guy who tucks his sweater vest into his pants and doesn’t realize that his coworkers aren’t busy but just trying to avoid him. When another painful night of social rejection ends with a dismissal from Alison (Frances O’Connor), the woman of his dreams, he wishes aloud that he might be luckier in love. Out pops the Devil in all her slinky glory to help Elliot do just that. It’s not so much his happiness she has in mind though. She easily tempts him to sign away his soul in exchange for seven wishes. After bungling his first on a lousy McDonald’s order, he gets down to business, confident that he can finally find true love with Alison.

The film proceeds to cycle through Elliot’s wishes, all of which get thwarted in some way by the Devil. Seeing his low status amongst his coworkers, he desires wealth and power, which he gets in the form of a South American drug lord. When he wishes that Alison was his wife, he forgets to add love into the equation, and she cheats on him with a younger, more oiled up lover. Elliot picks up on the Devil’s game and learns to tweak his wishes but to no avail. He eventually gets what he wants when Alison can’t keep her hands off him, but he gets a few surprises himself that cause her to reconsider any sort of relationship.

Each wish is a chance for Elliot to grow, and Fraser shows some of the frustration that turns his character into a more generous person, but Elliot was never in need of a great transformation. He was just an eccentric guy desperate to make friends. If anyone needed a change of heart, it was his coworkers, and of course the Devil, who we’re never really sure what she wants to do with all those souls. The moral dilemma that the Faust story provides loses its potency with a tame, good-hearted protagonist and a goofy merry-go-round of wishes. Elliot’s imagined scenarios, some of which are a bit off color for 2016, skip along mostly for laughs until the game is up. Though Fraser and O’Connor are adept at switching up their roles and even Hurley manages to seduce with her perfect teeth and flawless skin, the movie is first, a mismatched battle of wits and second, a belated morality tale.

Released: 2000
Prod: Trevor Albert, Harold Ramis
Dir: Harold Ramis
Writer: Larry Gelbart, Harold Ramis, Peter Tolan
Cast: Brendan Fraser, Elizabeth Hurley, Frances O’Connor, Orlando Jones, Paul Adelstein, Gabriel Casseus
Time: 93 min
Lang: English, some Spanish
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2016

The Bounty Hunter (2010)

the bounty hunter

The Bounty Hunter, much like actual bounty hunting I assume, is a messy affair that stretches the bounds of credibility and takes off in a hundred different directions. It gets you somewhere, but you might go screaming and kicking along the way. That’s because this is one of those romantic comedies both roundly derided by critics and garlanded with multiple Razzies.

Well, rotten tomatoes be damned because I liked this movie about as much as I was prepared to dislike it, which is to say a lot. I won’t be adding it to any “best of” list, but it is a thoroughly enjoyable romp that’s a welcome alternative to the sedate romantic movie night in. An energetic action-romance-comedy, it embraces all its genre tropes to the point of predictability yet still finds a creative spark in its execution.

Investigative journalist Nicole (Jennifer Aniston) and ex-cop turned bounty hunter Milo (Gerard Butler) are a divorced couple still at each other’s throats. He tries to bring her in after she skips a court appearance and bail is revoked. But when her instincts lead her to a possible murder at his former precinct, they have to figure how to work together rather than how to constantly unhandcuff themselves from bedposts. The relatively straightforward plot turns into a free-for-all, however, when at least a half dozen supporting characters parachute in and out as bondsmen, bookies, and snitches. Before long, it’s not just a story about the couple pursuing a possible murderer and crooked cop but also about evading gambling debts and delusional lovers.

At many points, the film just turns into a frantic chase, through a golf course, through a tattoo parlor, through a strip club. You’re not really sure who’s after who, and one crony is just as good as any other. But the chaos hums along thanks in large part to an unrelenting cast. They dive into the absurdities so whole heartedly that I couldn’t help but jump on for the ride.

Aniston and Butler make an explosive team and are appealing whether together or apart. Having betrayed my generation by never watching Friends, I finally understand Aniston’s star power. She’s a clever actress, asserting herself physically and emotionally as Nicole. Instead of walling off different sides of her character, she manages to be at everything at once, a dedicated journalist batting away obstacles and a lover cognizant of her own shortcomings. Butler also impresses by lifting a generic role into a character I could love and hate. It was satisfying to see Milo get tased in the neck after chucking Nicole in his trunk, but it was also easy to forgive him when he admitted his romantic feelings, albeit while ducking debt collectors who were using his ex-wife as collateral.

The supporting roles don’t go unappreciated either. Jason Sudeikis milks his scenes as Nicole’s obsessive coworker who takes it on himself to protect her from Milo. Christine Baranski and Cathy Moriarty both add dramatic flare as Nicole’s mother and a snarling bookie, respectively. Everyone gets their chance to add their own brand of eccentricity to the film, and the sum effort somehow works.

Released: 2010
Prod: Neal H. Moritz
Dir: Andy Tennant
Writer: Sarah Thorp
Cast: Jennifer Aniston, Gerard Butler, Jason Sudeikis, Jeff Garlin, Cathy Moriarty, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Peter Greene, Dorian Missick, Carol Kane, Adam LeFevre, Adam Rose, Christine Baranski
Time: 111 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2016

27 Dresses

27 dresses

It occurred to me while watching this movie that romantic comedies are a lot like bridesmaid dresses. Occasionally you come across one that you can bring out again and again no matter what the occasion, but most are unsightly things that manage to serve its purpose and then should never be seen again. 27 Dresses falls into the latter category. A lackluster romcom that wears like a drab shift, it hangs limply on an uninspired and disjointed script, vainly hoping that attractive stars and overtures to fairytale weddings will give it life.

The film tries to revolve around Jane (Katherine Heigl), a woman who knew she was destined to be a bridesmaid from a young age when she rescued a relative from disaster on her big day. Twenty-seven weddings and many years later, she still hasn’t lost her love for love’s big day. But even as she sees her friends off in wedded bliss, she remains single, pining for her boss, George (Ed Burns), who mistakes her devotion for superior administration skills. Her best friend (a delightful Judy Greer) has it right when she gives Jane a crisp smack in the face after one too many teenage bouts of infatuation.

I say the film tries to revolve around Jane because plot and message get tangled as more people enter the picture. Jane’s perfect sister, Tess (Malin Åkerman) arrives for a short visit but ends up staying much longer when she becomes smitten with George, lies about her love for tofu and dogs to earn his affection, and gets engaged. Jane is helpless to stop the whirlwind romance and is resigned to playing the sacrificial lamb. Meanwhile, an interloper offers a sometimes sympathetic ear. Kevin (James Marsden) meets Jane as she shuffles between two weddings one night. A writer for the style pages, he aspires to report on real news and sneers at the institution he writes so eloquently about.

The film juggles two romances but doesn’t have enough hands to keep up with both. The story bounces around between ideas of infatuation, betrayal, and loyalty, not appreciating the fact that Jane and Kevin are the ones giving the film structure. Her optimism balances his cynicism. She gives an impassioned defense of weddings that is a mission statement for romcoms everywhere while he offers a moderating influence on their excesses. Though it’s clear who has the winning argument, the joy of marriage that prompts Jane to wear her twenty-seven dresses and to grudgingly plan her sister’s wedding is nowhere to be found. Even as Kevin warms to her pure-hearted perspective while surreptitiously writing an exposé on the perpetual bridesmaid, you simply have to take his word that’s there’s something deeper to all this, that maybe true love is by itself all you need. Don’t trust the film to show you what it looks like though. While Heigl and Marsden are serviceable in their roles, there’s little in the way of actual love, not in the brief nuptials, not really between either couple, and not amongst Jane’s friends and family.

Released: 2008
Prod: Gary Barber, Roger Birnbaum, Jonathan Glickman
Dir: Anne Fletcher
Writer: Aline Brosh McKenna
Cast: Katherine Heigl, James Marsden, Ed Burns, Malin Åkerman, Judy Greer, David Castro
Time: 111 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2016

The Wedding Date (2005)

the wedding date

If you think of The Wedding Date as an early showcase for Amy Adams, then the film is worth the time and effort. Adams, in a supporting role as the lead character’s half-sister, also called Amy, steals the show in more ways than one. It’s her wedding that is at the center of all this, and the already shaky relationship between the two sisters is further threatened by a secret she’s been keeping. By the time it all comes spilling out, the actress lets loose a dramatic range that makes you realize why she’s gone on to star in movies of every genre and to earn five Oscar nominations. At first chipper, jealous, and grating, she transforms into a fragile woman, penitent but unsure how to atone for her mistakes.

Adams’s performance excepting, however, there’s little to recommend this film about a woman who hires an escort to pose as her wedding date in order to get back at her ex-fiancé. Longer than its short running time suggests, it’s terribly morose for a romance and is not at all the comedy the trailer makes it out to be. The film is instead preoccupied with a seriousness that has little meaning. Besides her stepdad (Peter Egan), Kat (Debra Messing) is not fond of her family and goes to her sister’s wedding in London out of obligation. To make matters worse, Jeffrey (Jeremy Sheffield), the fiancé who dumped her right before their wedding is there as the best man to Ed (Jack Davenport). She figures the best solution is to bring Nick (Dermot Mulroney), whose services cost a cool $6000.

An emotional pallor dampens the whole affair with almost none of the relationships bringing light to the proceedings. Kat is understandably determined to make Jeffrey pay, but once she’s in that position, she’s not sure what to do or how to do it. Her relationship with Nick is similarly muddled. She doesn’t have the confidence to orchestrate their fake romance to her liking and, because it is just the thing to do, finds herself falling for him. Adams’s strong performance makes me wish for an emphasis on the sisters, since that’s where the real conflict seems to be anyway.

Overall, The Wedding Date is a dull party, one that can’t even make use of its picturesque filming location. Its occasional and awkward intrusions into romantic comedy territory, like when Kat pours water down her shirt to catch Jeffrey’s eye, misfire. The cast does a poor job juggling the script as well. Messing mimics a certain gravity, but you can sense her comedic senses ready to break out. Mulroney, also unsure how to balance his character’s smugness and sensitivity, just smolders, so much so that he puts out all the fire. Then again, there wasn’t much to begin with.

Released: 2005
Prod: Jessica Bendinger, Paul Brooks, Michelle Chydzik, Nathalie Marciano
Dir: Clare Kilner
Writer: Dana Fox
Cast: Debra Messing, Dermot Mulroney, Amy Adams, Jeremy Sheffield, Jack Davenport, Sarah Parish, Peter Egan, Holland Taylor
Time: 85 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2016

Cuban Fury

cuban fury

There’s a bit of Cuban but not so much fury in this romantic dance flick. Despite a winning cast and pulsating soundtrack, the movie hews too closely to convention and offers nothing that hasn’t been done better elsewhere. It shakes and spins largely on the charms of star Nick Frost, who turns out to be an ace romantic lead.

Frost plays Bruce Garrett, an erstwhile salsa dance champion who ended his career after school bullies shoved sequins down his throat. That would do it for just about anyone. Bruce is content to leave that episode of his life entirely in the past but changes his mind when his new boss, Julia (Rashida Jones), confesses her love for dancing. It doesn’t take long for the bejeweled satin shirts and brushed leather, one-and-a-half inch heel shoes to come flying out.

But it’s not just his past or a bout of serious nerves that he’s dealing with. Bruce must also contend with Drew (a deliciously hammy Chris O’Dowd), a slimy, cocky coworker who gives himself far more credit than he deserves, in every aspect of life. Drew takes every chance to belittle Bruce and steal the limelight, whether at a sales presentation or at bowling night. He isn’t below outright lying and theft either and steps up his tricks in order to win over Julia.

Almost everyone shines in his or her role. Frost wears his romantic leading man role well. Bruce is sweet and sympathetic without being too much of a pushover, and every insult he takes only spurs him on. O’Dowd, meanwhile, does a great job of losing any and all of his heartthrob bonafides as the smarmy foil to Bruce. Jones is less of a standout, appealing to be sure but fading as little more than the object of desire. The rest of the cast compensate though with over-the-top flair, not in an oppressive way but with energy and a sly wink that makes you want to cozy up next to them. Olivia Colman is Bruce’s supportive sister, Rory Kinnear is his suspicious golfing buddy, and Kayvan Novak is his talentless but cheerful classmate.

For all their efforts though, the cast can’t outperform the dry script. There are bursts of wit, but the return isn’t worth it. Even the dance sequences fail to sustain the excitement. The general tenor of the jokes leans towards sexual insecurity and traditional gender norms, particularly in regards to dance, and that’s just not very funny these days. Also, the story doesn’t do much to push the boundaries of the genre. Of course that may not have been the point, but that’s why Cuban Fury is a romantic comedy just like any other.

Released: 2014
Prod: James Biddle, Nira Park
Dir: James Griffiths
Writer: Jon Brown
Cast: Nick Frost, Chris O’Dowd, Rashida Jones, Olivia Colman, Ian McShane, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Alexandra Roach, Rory Kinnear, Kayvan Novak
Time: 98 min
Lang: English
Country: United Kingdom
Reviewed: 2016