Best Friend from Heaven (2018)

Y’all, I don’t even know what to say about this movie, except maybe I’m being punished for making my mom watch Masterpiece Theater when she really just wants to watch Hallmark. I will gladly take a white folk’s romance about blasé dog trainer over this one about a talking dog angel any day though. I’m being charitable when I say that it makes no damn sense and that there’s a lot of un-Christian behavior for a purported Christian movie.

The whole thing is premised on the death of a dog, Gabriel, on his owner’s wedding day. He finds himself in doggy heaven, which is really human heaven but with a different entrance, and escapes back to earth before he even gets a paw in the pearly dog flap. However, he finds that he’s invisible and has the voice of…Kris Kristofferson, all of which makes his afterlife mission a bit difficult. Tara (Winny Clarke) and Pete (Christian Von Krause), it turns out, didn’t marry that day or any day thereafter. Now their faithful pooch wants to set things right and make sure the two say “I do.”

This is where the writing teacher in me gently presses my students about missing character motivations. Why did Tara and Pete decide to call off their wedding entirely? Why, since they are clearly still in love and intent on staying that way, didn’t they postpone their nuptials or opt for a smaller ceremony? Crucially, why is the whole town blaming Jerry (Will King), the kid delivering flowers, for running over Gabriel when Tara was the one who left the gate open and the dog was chasing a damn squirrel?!

Thankfully we’re not in a high school English class, so I’ll instead say that I can’t believe someone got paid to write this shit. There are so many gaping narrative holes that this was bound to sink. You just can’t fix poor Jerry’s story with a few patch-ups. I don’t know what is wrong with this mean-spirited town and church congregation, but everyone avoids him. They treat him like a leper despite his genuine remorse and willingness to atone for his actions.

So, feeling really bad but also inspired by the preacher’s “it takes a village” sermon, and by Gabe, Jerry decides to plan another wedding for the bitter couple. He needs the help of other congregants though, help which they give in exchange for Jerry’s free labor at their own places of business. Seriously, WTF, folks? Tara and Pete can stage another wedding if and when they want, and none of this should involve Jerry dressing up like a clown and becoming target practice for kids with handfuls of birthday cake.

And let’s not forget doggy St. Peter (I didn’t get the name of the character or actor), who comes to earth and takes on a human form when he realizes Gabe is missing. I don’t know if this makes more sense in the heavenly realm, but somehow, dude thinks he’s going to find Gabe by putting up “missing” posters and asking people if they’ve seen a dog they know is already dead.

But, hey, maybe it’s just me. Some people will enjoy this movie and find Kristofferson’s gravelly monotone endearing. Others will appreciate the syrupy message about community, albeit one that comes without much sense of true forgiveness. I tend to like my pop Christianity a little more Doubt and a little less Heaven is Real, so take your pick.

Alt Title: God’s Best Friend
Released: 2018
Prod: Patrick McBrearty
Dir: Justin G. Dyck
Writer: Keith Cooper
Cast: Kris Kristofferson, Will King, Winny Clarke, Christian Von Krause, Brian Scott Carleton
Time: 88 min
Lang: English
Country: Canada
Reviewed: 2019

Little Italy (2018)

It’s hard to believe that Little Italy is an actual film made in 2018 when all the stereotypes it employs suggests it was made at least three decades earlier. But I checked and then checked again, and it was indeed released eighteen whole years into the twenty-first century. Now I’m writing about this embarrassing romance featuring two young Italian-Canadian lovers and a pizza contest.

Which is what you would think when you see Emma Roberts and Hayden Christensen, right? Right? In roles they were born to play, the two actors dive head first into this story about childhood friends caught in their parents’ pizza feud. Alexa and Leo both grew up in Toronto’s Little Italy and watched as their fathers went from best friends to best enemies after an unexplained dust-up at the annual street fair. The incident caused dads Sal (Adam Ferrara) and Vince (Gary Basaraba) to part ways and establish their own pizzerias. Now with Alexa newly returned from abroad, the families’ love-hate relationship is about to head into its third generation.

Having studied and worked as a chef in London, Alexa is not thrilled to be back in town. She dislikes her neighborhood’s parochial ways and is fed up with Sal and Vince’s pettiness, though she works for a demanding celebrity chef (Jane Seymour) so not sure what she’s complaining about there. Luckily, Leo helps smooth out her transition, and the two pick up their friendship where they last left off. At least this is how things start off. Then a pretty flight attendant shows up at Leo’s doorstep and he won’t shake off his aimless friend, Luigi (Andrew Phung), or his soccer habit. Their fathers exacerbate things when they enter the two into a neighborhood pizza contest as a point of pride. Alexa starts to rethink her feelings towards Leo and this whole damn Little Italy pizza business.

Roberts and Christensen make a cute pair, and I wouldn’t mind seeing them reteam for another romcom. They have the familiarity of two best friends and lovers, and that makes it a little easier to forgive their characters when the writing isn’t up to scratch, which is most of the time. Alexa and Leo slip into a comfortable relationship, and their simultaneous ease and awkwardness with one another at this new point in their lives is acutely felt. Their fights, however, don’t make a lot of sense and are seemingly injected into key moments because that’s what the plot necessitates.

Rather than leaning into a strong story, the movie instead relies on cheap, tired jokes, and there’s a lot to choose from. The portrayal of Jogi (Vas Saranga), an Indian worker at one of the pizzerias, is the most offensive. I like the nod to the changing nature of ethnic enclaves – Jessie (Amrit Kaur), also Indian, works next door and Luigi is a gay Chinese bar owner – but FFS, Jogi gets on the table, dances with an old white lady, and cracks on about Aladdin taking her on a magic carpet ride. I, an 80s kid, am still recovering from exactly this type of scene. Then there’s the hokey depiction of Italian Canadians. Of course they sling around accents like they’ve stepped off the set of Jersey Shore, and of course they pepper their insults with choice Italian phrases and exaggerated hand gestures, and yes, grandma (Andrea Martin) and grandpa (Danny Aiello) are getting it on the confessional. Okay, I don’t know if that last point is a stereotype or just a sad cliché. That couple is probably the sweetest and purest thing in this movie, but I am going elsewhere for my octogenarian romance.

Released: 2018
Prod: Vinay Virmani, Ajay Virmani, Pauline Dhillon
Dir: Donald Petrie
Writer: Steve Galluccio, Vinay Virmani
Cast: Hayden Christensen, Emma Roberts, Danny Aiello, Andrea Martin, Adam Ferrara, Gary Basaraba, Alyssa Milano, Linda Kash, Vas Saranga, Amrit Kaur, Jane Seymour, Andrew Phung
Time: 102 min
Lang: English
Country: Canada
Reviewed: 2019

Bon Cop, Bad Cop (2006)

This Canadian buddy cop movie starts like most buddy cop movies do, with two grouchy detectives accidentally ripping a victim’s body in half. It’s a gruesome beginning but it’s also darkly comic and a sign of things to come. David Bouchard (Patrick Huard) and Martin Ward (Colm Feore) are called to the Ontario-Québec border after a body is discovered dangling from the boundary marker. David, a Quebecer who doesn’t give a damn about your police procedures, and Martin, a Torontonian who gives a great many damns about all police procedures, butt heads while trying to pass the investigation back to the other side. It’s to no avail because both are assigned to the case. They have to figure out who’s behind the murder while also overcoming their cultural and linguistic differences.

Having neither caught up on the minutiae of intra-Canadian rivalries nor brushed up on my high school French, some finer points of comedy flew over me. There’s a lot of French word play that I imagine is great fun for francophones, judging from David’s many smirks, but even if you don’t keep pace with the lesson on conjugating expletives, the humor is broad enough for those of us accessing the subtitles. Laughs come not just from language and wit but also from cultural and personality differences.

David and Martin are opposites in every way, the one exception being their competence at police work. The odd couple pairing is a worn device, and this film relies a little too much on stereotype to draw out their characters. Of course the headstrong David wears a black leather jacket and pummels suspects into his trunk. He’s “Rambo on steroids” according to Martin, a guy who prefers black turtlenecks and chatting with perps over a glass of ginger ale. But even if David and Martin are predictable, actors Huard and Feore have a strong chemistry that leans into their characters’ stereotypes, giving the detectives and their relationship a lot more crackle.

The fiery back-and-forth between the two feeds into the absurdity of the story, which again starts with a half-shredded corpse before escalating into a deadly plot that threatens the (fake) professional hockey league, at least the Canadian side of it. David and Martin don’t just have one murder to solve but several, and all are a matter of national importance because, well, hockey. The stakes are high, but the action and comedy live up, much to the enjoyment of me. There are some small but satisfying laughs. My favorite might be towards the end of the film when the killer gives chase to Martin, except that the former is wearing a gigantic mascot costume and can’t negotiate the staircase with his gigantic mascot feet. The more intense scenes deliver too, such as the time David busts his way, warrant be damned, into a suspect’s house. He’s pretty proud of himself, until a weed garden is set alight and he has to crawl out of burning building filled with marijuana smoke under the cover of a bathtub. It’s high times for all.

Released: 2006
Prod: Kevin Tierney
Dir: Eric Canuel
Writer: Leila Basen, Alex Epstein, Patrick Huard, Kevin Tierney
Cast: Patrick Huard, Colm Feore, Lucie Laurier, Sylvain Marcel, Pierre Lebeau, Ron Lea, Sarain Boylan, Sarah-Jeanne Labrosse, Louis-José Houde, Patrice Bélanger
Time: 116 min
Lang: French and English
Country: Canada
Reviewed: 2018