Will Ferrell

Megamind (2010)

There’s so much to love about Megamind. The blue, bulb-headed villain-hero (Will Ferrell) begs for our affection from the start when he rockets to Earth after his planet and his parents are swallowed by a black hole. His pod lands in a penitentiary, and he is adopted by the prisoners who teach him right from wrong, or maybe that’s wrong from right. At school, his nemesis, Metro Man (Brad Pitt), wins over their classmates with spiffy popcorn tricks while he’s branded a freak and troublemaker. Failed by the system, rejected by society, the kid turns to the only kind of life that gives him validation – a life of super villainy!

Megamind is a bad guy by default, and he’s not very good at it to be honest. After he kills Metro Man quite by accident, he realizes that he doesn’t have what it takes to sow terror and destruction on Metro City (rhymes with ‘atrocity’ if we’re going by his pronunciation). He decides to restore balance by creating a new superhero, one who can give Megamind a sense of purpose again. And again, quite by accident, he creates the superhero Titan, or Tighten if you prefer, when a hapless news cameraman, Hal (Jonah Hill) happens to walk by his lair. But Megamind’s tendency for messing things up puts a wrinkle in his plans when Tighten decides that being bad is much more of a thrill than being good. Our villain finds himself in the unfamiliar position of playing hero in order to save Metro City.

It’s hard not to throw your sympathy behind Megamind. His large crystal green eyes are begging for approval. Ferrell zeroes in on his character’s insecurities. Megamind may talk a tough game, but deep down, all he wants is love and acceptance. As one of the few people who isn’t a great fan of Ferrell’s comedy, especially the physical side, I enjoyed this animated, less spastic version of the actor. The script is witty and filled with quirky sense of humor even if some of jokes may fly over the heads of younger kids. Also the animation is a thrill, whether or not you watch in 3D.

As sympathetic as I am to Megamind, however, I found the characterization of Hal/Tighten not just awful but actively harmful. That’s because he’s not an anonymous cameraman but the colleague of Roxanne Ritchi (Tina Fey), TV reporter and love interest of all three male leads. Hal has what seems to be an innocent crush on his very able and accomplished partner, but it becomes apparent that he is a misogynistic beast, a man-boy who feels entitled to a woman’s affections and who goes nuts when he doesn’t get them. His transformation only magnifies his destructive behavior, and some of the most offensive scenes play out like a Twitter pile on. Hal’s first move as Tighten is to woo Roxanne. Failing, he kidnaps her and nearly gets her killed just so that he can swoop in to save her. When she still rejects him, the guy explodes, bellowing, “I have powers, I have a cape, I’m the good guy!”

The movie’s messaging is confused, and ultimately the wrong one comes through. On the one hand, it mocks the notion that the superhero gets the girl simply by being the superhero. But at the same time, “the girl” is often at the center of the fighting between Megamind and Tighten, and she never controls her own narrative. Megamind has no problem using his relationship with Roxanne to bait his nemesis, never mind the fact that he gets close to her by shapeshifting into museum nerd, Bernard. At the end of the day, the trajectory of Hal’s character is this: I get the woman I want and deserve or else I will wreak havoc on society. We have enough of this corrosive thinking in real life. Why would I want to watch it in an animated movie?

Released: 2010
Prod: Lara Breay, Denise Nolan Cascino
Dir: Tom McGrath
Writer: Alan J. Schoolcraft, Brent Simons
Cast: Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Jonah Hill, David Cross, Brad Pitt, J.K. Simmons, Ben Stiller
Time: 96 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2018

The Campaign (2012)

the campaign film

When The Campaign was released in 2012, there seemed to be some restoration of order in American politics. Sure, Rick Santorum was convinced that he might actually win the Republican nomination, but when the campaign season ended, a predictable duo – Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan – stood atop the GOP dais, suit jackets off and sleeves rolled up, their million dollar smiles giving light to the darkness. It was a far cry from the Sarah Palin circus that had thrown the political world into tumult four years earlier.

Well, here we are again, caught in that ever-widening intersection of a Venn diagram that is politics and entertainment, and like some fraying red, white, and blue bunting, we can pull out The Campaign in the hopes of adding some Hollywood flair to it all. The principals involved in this production are not novices to the political entertainment sphere. Director Jay Roach helmed HBO’s Recount and Game Change, writer Chris Henchy penned episodes of the 1990s hit Spin City, and stars Will Ferrell famously played a president on SNL while Zach Galifianakis interviewed one in his web comedy, Between Two Ferns. To borrow this season’s buzzword, these guys are kind of establishment, and that hasn’t been a good thing.

The film throws a spotlight on much of what is wrong with today’s political atmosphere. Congressional incumbent Cam Brady (Ferrell), a Democrat from North Carolina, is a shoo-in for the upcoming election despite his sexual indiscretions. The dastardly Koch Motch brothers (John Lithgow and Dan Ackroyd), hoping to secure a deal with a Chinese company, exploit this and convince feeble family man Marty Huggins (Galifianakis) to run on the Republican ticket. Marty is no match for his bellicose opponent though, so the Motch brothers hire a slippery campaign manager (Dylan McDermott) to even things out. In no time, mud, and fists, are flying.

In a normal election year, say 2012, The Campaign would be an amusing companion piece, a gentle ribbing of our dysfunctional system. But it’s 2016, and we’ve entered a political twilight zone, one that necessitates art that dismantles lies, not just mocks them. This film is funny in an extended sketch comedy kind of way, with leads playing to extreme type and cartoonish villains who chomp cigars and get their comeuppance. It pokes fun at Sarah Barracuda and Dick Cheney’s shooting mishap and is at least equal opportunity in its send-ups, demonizing the money, the politicians, the operatives, the media, the electorate – basically everyone in this great democratic process. But it only ever feels familiar, never uncomfortable. There’s not much in here that hasn’t already been revealed by late night comedy or, on occasion, actual reporters.

The time is ripe for a film that doesn’t just cut close but cuts open the cancers of Citizens United and faux patriotism. The Motch brothers sneer and proclaim that in America “when you’ve got the money, nothing is unpredictable,” a truism but not a particularly shocking one. It seems just pointless for Cam to spout “America, Jesus, Freedom” and then gamely admit that he doesn’t know what it means but knows that people love him for saying it. We’ve moved past this point in our national discourse, and this film along with it.

Released: 2012
Prod: Jay Roach, Adam McKay, Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis
Dir: Jay Roach
Writer: Chris Henchy, Shawn Harwell
Cast: Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Jason Sudeikis, Katherine LaNasa, Dylan McDermott, John Lithgow, Dan Ackroyd, Brian Cox, Sarah Baker, Karen Maruyama
Time: 85 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2016

Get Hard

get hard

Get Hard arrives at a moment when America could use some truth-telling about racial realities, but rather than address these issues in a critical or even humorous way, the movie is a lazy assemblage of rape jokes and racial stereotypes. When hedge fund manager James (Will Ferrell) is arrested and convicted for nefarious white-collar crimes, the judge is determined to make an example of him, sending him off to San Quentin for the maximum ten years. James has thirty days to get his affairs in order and, after mistaking his car washer, Darnell (Kevin Hart), for an ex-con on account of his blackness, enlists him as his prison coach.

The formula is in line with your typical odd couple buddy comedy. Two guys from separate words learn to coexist and in doing so form an unlikely friendship. The set-up also follows a certain post-racial American narrative, or perhaps a post-post-racial one. On the one hand, Get Hard is pleadingly self-aware, almost too eager to make a statement about the persistence of stereotypes in a charged social climate. In an early scene, James is sitting in his luxury car and nearly wets his pants when Darnell appears at his window, ostensibly to return the keys and not to hold him up as James presumes. The gag is supposed to funny in part because it’s so depressingly accurate.

While the film acknowledges that there is an enduring race problem in America and sets up its story for satire, it doesn’t follow through. James proceeds to lecture Darnell on the virtue of hard work, citing himself as an example, and then offers a tone-deaf explanation on why his assumption that Darnell is a convict is statistically sound. The liberal-minded audience is expected to see through James patronizing and, let’s be honest, racist, attitudes.

Ferrell resorts to his usual over-the-top buffoonery and makes it easy to see his character for the privileged ignoramus that he is, but his casting also undermines the film’s message. You can’t really hate on Ferrell, so rather than seriously calling into question the character or the environment that incubates his way of thinking, James is elevated to the misguided but still likable, somewhat befuddled hero. Meanwhile, Darnell gets downgraded to supporting player. Sure, the latter needs to come up with enough money to send his daughter to a better school, one that doesn’t require her to pass through a metal detector every morning, and this is why he agrees to play minstrel and entertain James’s offer. The problem, however, is easily dispensed with a single check.

The real dilemma belongs to the wealthy, white protagonist who, as it turns out, is totally innocent of his crimes, was set up by his scheming boss and soon-to-be father-in-law (Craig T. Nelson), is abandoned by his selfish, beautiful young wife (Alison Brie), and now faces the horrifying possibly of being raped every day for the next ten years, so the movie insists. The focus is drawn on rescuing him from his shitty situation, and the character demands sympathy. Because while James may be a snob who mistreats his help and profiles like a cop on probation (okay, certain cops), he tries to fit in with Darrell’s actual con cousin and, most importantly, can’t bring himself to say the “n” word if his life literally depended on it. If that isn’t enlightened, I don’t know what is.

The movie is a letdown considering its possibilities. It allows the benefit of the doubt to those who want to feel good about race without calling anything into question. James is let off the hook on almost every account and Darnell, despite his handsome paycheck, will still be returning car keys to white, middle-aged hedge fund managers. It would have been nice to see Hart try riskier, more caustic material, but then we might be dealing with James levels of uncomfortable, and no one wants that.

Released: 2015
Prod: Chris Henchy, Will Ferrell, Adam McKay
Dir: Etan Cohen
Writer: Jay Martel, Ian Roberts, Etan Cohen
Cast: Will Ferrell, Kevin Hart, Craig T. Nelson, Alison Brie, Edwina Findley, Tip “T.I.” Harris, Greg Germann
Time: 100 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2015