Bad Moms: Movie Man Jackson

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The PTA has more power at a school than the superintendent, apparently. Since the age of 20, Amy Mitchell (Mila Kunis) has been a mother. She is the lynchpin of her family—cooking, cleaning, and being a chauffeur in addition to working a demanding part-time job. In other words, she is a good mom, but also underpaid, overworked, and underappreciated.

She’s not the only one. After another overlong PTA meeting led by the prissy Gwendolyn (Christina Applegate), Amy tells her how she really feels. That same night, she meets new friends in Carla (Kathryn Hahn) and Kiki (Kristen Bell), who are in the same overworked and unappreciated boat as she is. Wanting to get away from their maternal responsibilities, the three start doing what they want to do instead of what others expect for them to do. Are they becoming Bad Moms in the process, or just blowing off some much needed steam?

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No one doubts the importance and hard jobs mothers (as well as fathers, but in this case, mothers) have. Each and every single one who takes their maternal job seriously needs to be commended. But, does a comedy about mothers eschewing their responsibilities honestly have a lot of legs for the majority of the viewing public? I tend to think not. Bad Moms might resonate a lot with the specific target audience (mothers), but for everyone else, there may not be all that much here.

The writers of The Hangover Trilogy and 21 and Over team up again to write and direct another comedy. Jon Lucas and Scott Moore take on motherhood, with the message being that no mother is a completely perfect mother, nor should they be. The message is a good one, and does make for a feel good moment near the end. However, it is a message that never finds a sweet spot until the end. Does being a “bad mom” mean getting hammered on weeknights, taking the daughter to play hooky, etc? Sort of looks that way.

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Yours truly probably wouldn’t have minded the incongruous message as much if there were sizable laughs in Bad Moms. Again, while the intended audience may find the premise full of laughs and zippy dialogue (older women in my theater couldn’t stop laughing), yours truly found most of the movie lacking in energy and in big humor. Additionally, it is also aimless in plot until about the second half, in which finally there becomes some goal that Kunis’ character aspires to obtain.

The cast tries, but they’re probably not as well-equipped to handle such writing shortcomings. As the lead, Mila Kunis grounds the film as needed, and not surprising, is the most relatable and realistic character. Her flanking buddies are filled by Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn. Bell’s role is essentially the straightest of the straight woman, while Hahn’s is much more of the wild card, over-the-top variety. Simply put, Hahn’s foul-mouthed, jackhammered character is a character one will either dislike or like; and actually, a large part of the enjoyment of the movie may hang on what side the viewer falls on because she does get a good amount of screentime. Sadly, I fell more on the dislike side.

Taking on the antagonist spot is Applegate, who is the most memorable character as a PTA ice queen. She’s flanked by Jada Pinkett Smith and Annie Mumolo. Comedy doesn’t seem to come naturally to the former, while the latter is playing a dumb henchwoman Nothing needs to be said about the men, who are all dopes, save for Jay Hernandez. There are some unforeseen cameos to be found that add fleeting moments of hilarity.

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Bad Moms carries an overall good message, but scattershot humor at best and nonexistent humor at worst. If only a little more motherly love was applied to its other areas.

D

Photo credits go to etonline.com, highnoblesociety.com, and Today.com

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She’s Gotta Have It: Movie Man Jackson

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(Originally posted as part of the Decades Blogathon 2016, hosted by Tom at digitalshortbread.com, and Mark at threerowsback.com. Another thanks for those two wonderful bloggers for having me!)

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When you’ve gotta have it, you’ve gotta have it. For young Nola Darling (Tracy Camilla Johns), She’s Gotta Have It. It, for her, means sex. And not just sex with one guy. In Nola’s case, she’s having it with three guys: The rigid but good-natured Jamie (Tommy Redmond Hicks), the conceited yet cultured Greer (John Canada Terrell), and the pint-sized yet hilarious Mars (Spike Lee).

Each man offers something different, which is why she is unable to commit to only one. Eventually, each guy gets tired of being a spoke in the wheel, and each man is ready for Nora to be his sole queen. But is Nola ready?

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Now days, hearing the name Spike Lee doesn’t exactly inspire the best of thoughts, at least for yours truly. That’s not to say that he’s a bad guy, or terrible at his craft. I just feel like now, in the 21st century, one doesn’t necessarily think of his films, but rather, the individual. I’d be willing to bet that most people today, this blogger included, think about Spike Lee the New York Knicks fan, or outspoken political—sometimes to a fault—activist, rather than director.

She’s Gotta Have It is a reminder that Spike Lee, the director before all of the excess, was just a director cutting his teeth for the first time in a feature, putting his imprint on a movie. She’s Gotta Have It is permeated with an avant-garde style from the first moment on, unabashedly different from the rest in its style, approach, and storytelling.

Aside from an obvious reference to another movie in which leads to a transition in color, it is filmed primarily in black-and-white with what appears like a decision based purely on cost (reportedly $185,000). But, the aesthetic decision adds to the film’s style, as well as the jazzy soundtrack, and it being actually shot in Brooklyn. Even the sex scenes are shot with so much precision and care, and help to see how the main character can find so much pleasure in the act.

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Even though 1986 was a few years removed from the inundation of blaxploitation movies on the market, it was still a fairly big surprise to see a movie featuring nothing but black individuals in a setting that wasn’t a plantation or a ghetto. Lee’s characters, while not necessarily of great depth, are not entirely one-note, either. Through a documentary setup used at choice times, Spike allows the main characters to reveal a bit more about themselves than what would be afforded if it weren’t used. While this choice isn’t flawless in execution, and sometimes looks as if the actors are reading off of cue cards, this does forward the story enough and provides context to what is happening on screen. As another aside, it does leave to some humorous moments especially with Mars, played by Spike himself, who provides laughs at the right times in what could be a dull affair without it.

Written by Lee himself, the screenplay dealing with the essential themes of love versus lust and by extension, monogamy versus polygamy (minus the marriage) is simple, but fairly profound. Are humans designed to be with only one mate? Is it a bad thing for a woman to be with multiple partners? Why is it that males are thought of as studs and women whores when the situations are exactly the same? Perhaps the strongest aspect of Spike’s screenplay is his neutrality, as his final shot leaves it up to the viewer to determine if Nola is in the right or wrong, content or dissatisfied with her decision.

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Please baby, please baby, please baby, baby baby please!  She’s Gotta Have It may not be quintessential Spike Lee (depending on your viewpoint of the director, that may be a good thing, though) but it is one of his more accessible films. Still relevant, as well.

Grade: B+

Photo credits go to huffingtonpost.com, filmlinc.org, and screenrant.com.

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Barbershop: Movie Man Jackson

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They say that whenever you need to know what’s going down in the neighborhood, the Barbershop is the best place to find out the scoop. In Chicago’s South Side, Calvin (Ice Cube) runs a well-known barbershop that is a staple in the African-American community. His father had once run the shop, as did his father’s father. This is Calvin’s, but he views the shop as nothing more than a nuisance and cash sink.

Looking to get ahead, Calvin ends up selling the shop to a local loan shark, Lester Wallace (Keith David), who wants to turn it into a strip club. Immediately getting sellers remorse, Calvin quickly sees what the establishment means to its many inhabitants, like eccentric yet wise Eddie (Cedric the Entertainer), and young man Ricky (Michael Ealy), trying to stay our of jail. For them, the barbershop is more than a place to just cut some hair or get a line up, but a place to congregate and just talk.

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One of the things yours truly remembers about the late 90’s-mid 2000’s was the influx of urban movies that always seemed to pop up a few times during a year. A few were solid, but most were average and bad. At worst, viewing one of those bad urban flicks made me feel very embarrassed to be a member of the intended target audience, for the simple fact that the worst perpetrators highlighted the worst about black culture. Barbershop is one of the better ones in the genre, having real heart in combination to being funny.

The story that director Tim Story (Fantastic Four, Ride Along) and writer Mark Brown tell is a rather simple one. Great thing about the story is, that even with its predominately black cast, it doesn’t feel like it is solely a story for black audiences. It is somewhat like Friday in its “day in the life setup,” without the non-stop humor.  The main theme has to do with community, and what comes with it by way of what is called “healthy dialogue” by one character.

The community can be applied to anything, from a barbershop to a church to a neighborhood. If there is a piece of the story that doesn’t work as well, it would be the B plot of the ATM theft, led by characters played by Anthony Anderson and Larenz Tate. While they are funny, their antics don’t integrate as well into the overall happenings of the story as one would think until right at the end, in which at that point it comes off as contrived.

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Barbershop is an ensemble piece, but I’d say it is a one man show, and not the man who is first billed. Ice Cube is serviceable as the lead, and has a little more to do than most of his roles. And, it is refreshing to not see him mean mug his way through a whole feature. Other roles filled by Eve, Troy Garity, Sean Patrick Thomas, and Michael Ealy (the latter two having a little more depth than initially thought), add to the film. But the true standout and scene stealer is easily Cedric the Entertainer as the elder statesman barber Eddie. His line about Rosa Parks not doing anything may live in infamy (or at least at the time it did), but that shouldn’t take away from just how awesome Cedric is here. He’s simultaneously at the forefront of the funniest moments, as well as the poignant ones, which isn’t always easy to do.

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Barbershop is entertaining and amusing while having a simple yet resounding message that doesn’t feel corny. Definitely a cut above most urban comedies.

Grade: B

Photo credits go to editorial.rottentomatoes.com, imdb.com, and youtube.com.

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Daddy’s Home: Movie Man Jackson

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Didn’t Usher make a song about this? Some guys love being fathers more than others, and radio executive Brad Whitaker (Will Ferrell) is one of those guys. After a medical mishap, Brad is unable to give his wife of eight months Sara (Linda Cardellini) any kids, but he has happily taken to being the stepdad to her current ones Megan (Scarlett Estevez) and Dylan (Owen Vaccaro).

It has been a process, but the kids are gradually taking to Brad as their new father figure…until the old father figure Dusty Mayron (Mark Wahlberg) reenters their lives. The two clash instantly as Whitaker’s conservative and mild-mannered personality is an 180 from Mayron’s aggressiveness and brash demeanor. It’s father-on-father war as only one can emerge to be the unequivocal dad.

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Daddy’s Home is no The Other Guys. Comedy is different for many people, but every time yours truly watches that movie, I laugh just as hard as I did the first time, if not harder. TOG is one of my favorite comedies, ever. Daddy’s Home isn’t on the level of that 2010 movie, but, it does have two things that movie had: Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg.

Honestly, what was described before about the film’s plot is it. Definitely not elaborate or innovative, but it provides opportunity for ample laughs. And ample laughs are had. Comedy plots can occasionally suffer from not knowing when to end and going on too long. Credit is given to director Sean Anders, who has penned and/or directed more than a few recent comedies (to some questionable quality) such as Horrible Bosses 2, We’re the Millers, and That’s My Boy to name a few, in providing Daddy’s Home with a well-paced runtime that does not drag near the end. I’d go so far as to say that its climax, with a little heart sprinkled in with “clever” writing, is the high point of the film, as a climax should be. About the only time Anders’ feature plods along is during the 15-25 or so minutes at the beginning. Laughs are a little more sparse early on compared to later points.

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The Other Guys may not be universally loved, but even the detractors would likely have to admit that Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell had a great amount of not just chemistry, but comic chemistry. That chemistry carries over to their latest team-up. Like TOG, Wahlberg’s character is kind of a hothead and Ferrell’s a pushover, but both balance each other out. Ferrell gets the more riotous moments, but Wahlberg’s smugness is hilarity as well.

The only aspect of their chemistry that feels a bit off, and it is probably not their fault, is that they aren’t able to go all the way sometimes. Daddy’s Home is PG-13, and in scenes, there did appear to be some uncertainty as to whether to scale back and focus on the family and feel-goodness, or go all in on the raunchiness. As a young adult, this doesn’t bother me a ton, but I don’t believe this is a family film for youngsters, either, despite it sort of being so thematically. Some families found out the hard way in my theater after overhearing them talk about the content.

Most of the comedy comes from the aforementioned two squaring off, but there is assistance found in supporting players. Sadly, Linda Cardellini’s wife character can be all over the place with her alignment, and the kids are not exactly grating, but do push the limit here and there. On a positive note, Hannibal Buress and Bobby Cannavale bring chuckles in their screentime. But the scene stealer is Thomas Haden Church as Brad’s boss, who has no shame in sharing his unfathomable past love stories in the most deadpan and monotone fashion.

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Daddy’s Home is not at the head of the household of comedies, but Ferrell, Wahlberg and a few others do make a generally funny movie that is pretty hilarious at times and better than its trailer would indicate. It’s one that builds momentum as it moves along, and serves as a nice addition to Ferrell and Wahlberg’s comedy filmography.

Grade: B-

Photo credits go to YouTube.com, and IMDB.com.

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Sisters: Movie Man Jackson

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“A house is just a building. A home is a feeling.”

Luther Vandross, take it away. Sisters Maura and Kate Ellis (Amy Poehler, Tina Fey) have made many memories in their family home, most of which were parties growing up. While older and irresponsible sister Kate’s memories are more wild, younger and dependable sis Maura’s memories are more non-eventful. Regardless, the house has meant a lot to them.

Which is why it is a shock when they discover that their parents are not only selling the house, but have, for all intents and purposes, sold it when the two return to Florida. Efforts to talk them out of the decision are unsuccessful. But, with the house still in the family’s possession for another day or two, the siblings decide to go out in a blaze of glory by throwing the ultimate rager for old friends and potential new ones.

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With the rise of female comedians ascending to superstardom like Melissa McCarthy and Amy Schumer, it almost feels like stalwarts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, even with the massive success had in hosting the Golden Globes and appearing in other comedies, have taken a backseat when it comes to silver screen features. Reunited in a film for the first time since 2008’s Baby Mama, Fey and Poehler show that even with an average script, they’ll still draw laughs out of an audience more times than not.

It’s Fey and Poehler! Which means that their chemistry is just about second to none. The ladies are completely believable as sisters, and so is their banter. Hearing the two go back and forth is going to be comedic heaven for big-time fans of the two, but for others who aren’t complete diehard fans, it can be very much hit-and-miss, especially in the first 30 or so minutes. The only people they are allowed to play off of in the early goings, aside from each other, are esteemed actors James Brolin and Dianne Wiest, who happen to do OK with being the butt of jokes, but nothing to truly split the sides.

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Like any good party though, Sisters starts picking up until after some time has passed and the patrons start rolling in. Honestly, it’s like Project X-lite with all of its structural destruction, directed by Jason Moore (Pitch Perfect), but with better talent/characters, better production, and an actual plot. That doesn’t mean it is a great plot, it just does what it needs to do as the party escalates beyond containment. Like quite a few comedies, the length of the runtime is felt in the third act. And, the themes of growing up/being responsible, and learning to live a little are, on a frequency scale of 1-10 for commonly used themes, about a 9. But, they work, and some people will surely connect with them.

But again, it’s the numerous other characters that drop in that give Sisters most of its hilarity. Maya Rudolph is wonderfully over-the-top and plays Fey’s foil perfectly. The appearances by those who have starred/are starring in other well-known comedy sketch series doesn’t stop there, with Greta Lee (Inside Amy Schumer), Rachel Dratch and Bobby Moynihan (SNL), and Ike Barinholtz (MAD TV) getting ample time to add to the hijinks.

John Cena fans, rejoice! Just like in Trainwreck, Cena’s appearance is one of the funniest scenes in the entire film; unfortunately, his screentime is less than what he had in Schumer’s feature. It’s a shame, too, because there’s potential to be had with both Fey and Poehler. Still, the old “Doctor of Thuganomics” has proven in 2015 that he’s game for bigger roles in comedies should he get tired of the WWE thing.

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In a nutshell, Sisters is essentially like any other comedy that revolves around a huge shindig, save for the older attendees and the strong sisterly chemistry Poehler and Fey bring to the party. Sisters ain’t the party of the century, but spending two hours at it is far from the worst thing in the world.

Grade: C+

Photo credits go to youtube.com, theguardian.com, and lamag.com.

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Vacation (Red Band Trailer): Movie Man Jackson Analysis

Holiday road a-oh-oh-ohh-a-oh-a-oh-ohh! Some thirty odd years leater, an all grown-up Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms) decides to do what his dad Clark did when he was a youngster. Go on a cross-country trip to Wally World to reconnect with his sons and wife Debbie (Christina Applegate). Why aren’t they flying? Because getting there is half the fun, you know that.

Often imitated but never fully duplicated, the original 1983 National Lampoon’s Vacation still stands (in my opinion) as the best family trip movie that goes completely wrong at every stop. It is a template that Are We There Yet, RV, and Johnson Family Vacation have all tried to replicate but never got right. Remakes/reboots are often derided, but this has a natural progression that makes it feel less forced. We’ll see.

As trailers go, this is pretty average. If it makes for a better comedy by not spoiling the really good parts though, yours truly is all for it. All trailers should refrain from showing too much (though that rule is thrown by the wayside as of late), but for comedies, I believe it is more imperative to keep the cards close to the vest. Aside from the end with the mighty hammer of Thor, nothing stands out as amazingly funny, but I’ll stay optimistic. Ed Helms is a funny guy, there may be an attempt at meta humor, and who knows what cameos could be found here. Hopefully the kids aren’t too annoying.

Time to load up the Wagon Queen Family Truckster. Vacation arrives July 29th, 2015.

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Get Hard: Movie Man Jackson

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“No, you made me hard!”

Let’s Go to Prison, or at least prepare to do so. Big time businessman James King (Will Ferrell) has it all: The money, the mansion, the sexpot fiance (Alison Brie), and the support of his soon-to-be wife’s father Martin (Craig T. Nelson), who is also his boss. Simply, he is living life like a king.

That is, until the feds come to his home at an engagement party to arrest him on counts of fraud and embezzlement. James is going into lockup, but not at one of these home-away-from home type joints like Martha Stewart was in. He is being sentenced to do his bid in San Quentin, one of the worst, if not the worst, prisons to do time in. Given 30 days to get his stuff in order, James needs to learn how to survive inside, to Get Hard for what is in store. Where does he turn to? His car washer Darnell Lewis (Kevin Hart), because statistics have taught James that one in three black men have served or are serving time, and Darnell must be one of them. Taking James’ stupidity and exploiting it for financial gain, Darnell agrees to prep him, despite having never been incarcerated.

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The trailers for Get Hard should easily give one an idea as to what the movie is going to consist of, which are laughs primarily based around racism (overt and covert), hip-hop culture, and an endless barrage of male sexual organ jokes. Even without seeing the trailers, just seeing the title and the two stars headlining this movie probably gives the idea as well. Funny in places but not consistently for yours truly, Get Hard is a middling black-white comedy.

Even with its blunt title, in a alternate universe it isn’t hard to envision this comedy saying a little bit more than it ultimately does about race in society, the Horatio Alger myth, and things of that nature. For the first 15 or so minutes, this “analysis,” if you will, looks like it may happen. Director Etan Cohen, not to be confused with Ethan Coen, is very clear to point out the haves and have nots, and the way he shoots the opening of the movie with the contrasting locales of inner-city LA and Bel-Air makes it seem desperately like he wants to say something substantial about issues affecting the world today. But something is missing, something like Trading Places, like the brilliant Wesley Morris alludes to, has. And, as Dan the Man states, it is hard to put a finger to say what exactly it should be doing, but the feeling cannot be shook that it wants to say more, but perhaps doesn’t know how.

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All of this is to say that Get Hard ends up feeling stretched out with the story as it is, which until the last 20 minutes in which it transforms into a buddy cop-ish affair, is essentially Hart’s character running Farrell’s character through various situations he is likely to see in prison, from rape defense to riots. Some are funnier than others, but a few of the moments run too long.

There’s a fine line between tolerable and overkill, and scenes that reach the overkill stage include Hart impersonating a Black, Hispanic, and gay prison member for what seems like an eternity, and a mission where Ferrell’s James has to learn how to perform fellatio in a bathroom stall. If cut in half, these comedic scenes may have had more potency. Instead, they just become awkward the longer they go on.

The writing and scene structure could use some work, but Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart deserve credit for making it work the best they can. Sometimes making it work here means going off of the cuff and playing off of each other. Initially, I had a skepticism about whether Hart and Ferrell would work together, and I can’t definitely say why I felt this way. Truth be told, the two meld nicely, and future collaborations can be imagined. Sure, there are the aforementioned times where the seemingly unscripted dialogue goes on too long, and some one-liners are painfully weak, but that isn’t an indictment on how well they work together. Slightly off-tangent, but for whatever reason, there’s something about Ferrell and the certain looks he gives off that still manages to get some laughs after all of these years.

It is up to Ferrell and Hart to carry this, but for the short time he is on screen, rapper T.I. is a nice supplement to the duo. He’s the stereotypical drug dealer and gang banger as Russell, which, based on T.I.’s real life upbringing, is hardly a stretch. But, to paraphrase Ferrell’s character’s when describing Russell to Hart’s character, “he is just so damn charismatic.” Craig T. Nelson and Alison Brie are present as well, but aside from a opening scene, Brie is forgotten and Nelson could have been played by anyone.

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As stated before, there’s an alternate universe where Get Hard uses its two stars to make a wonderful, hilarious satire on society and its inequality problems. There’s also an alternate universe where Get Hard is completely abysmal. In this universe, Get Hard is an alright comedy that isn’t limp, but not a raging stiff either. Consider it a semi.

Grade: C-

Photo credits go to upi.com, aroundmovies.com, and theonlinelist.com.

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson.

Hot Tub Time Machine 2: Movie Man Jackson

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“Life is about do-overs, OK?”

Can I get a hot tub, again? Hot Tub Time Machine 2 picks up more or less where the first left off. After repairing the past, the present is different from what Lou (Rob Corddry), Nick (Craig Robinson), and Jacob (Clark Duke), previously existed in. That is to say, they’ve exploited their knowledge of the future to make themselves very rich and influential, be it the founder of Google Lougle, the son of the man who made Lougle, or the creator of every massive radio hit in 30 years.

Everything is all well and good until an unknown gunman shoots Lou in the groin at a party. The only chance of saving his life lies in the time travel aspect of the hot tub, where the group can travel back to the  moment of the assassination to stop the shooter. However, the crew doesn’t land in the past, but the future. From here, they have to solve the mystery: Who shot Lou? It is the only way to ensure their lives and all of their ill-gotten gains do not vanish.

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The first Hot Tub Time Machine  wasn’t too bad, and garnered a lot of support upon home release. It took the 80’s and made something pretty amusing, even if viewers didn’t grow up during that time period. With that said, it probably didn’t deserve a sequel, and based upon how many people were unaware of Hot Tub Time Machine 2‘s existence, it is debatable as to how many truly cared.

Even at a doable 93 minute runtime, HTTM2 begins to get old a third of the way in, which is a downer if the trailer was seen. After viewing that, yours truly wasn’t expecting a high quality comedy, but a legitimate level of amusement looked like it could have been had with the possibilities of oscillating between the past and the future, however helter-skelter-ish that may have been. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen until (mild SPOILER) literally at the end (end SPOILER). What is left is a mostly uninteresting whodunit quasi-murder plot in a visually dull future.

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HTTM2 doesn’t go completely without laughs, but aside from an extremely raunchy moment taking place on a futuristic TV show meant to poke a little fun at society’s focus on sensationalism and shock value, there isn’t much beyond the here-and-there chuckle. As one could expect, there are callbacks to the original that keep continuity (who is really going to watch this without seeing the first?) but many seem to exist and feel like a crutch for uninspired jokes.

Maybe the most newsworthy thing about this sequel is the absence of John Cusack as Adam. Sure, the first was a multi-man effort, but he was a big part and did a solid job. While it may be easy to point towards Cusack’s exclusion as a big reason why this isn’t as good, on the other hand it is truly doubtful that his inclusion here would have made for a massive increase in quality, if any. And if you believe John, he was never asked to return early in the development, meaning that director Steve Pink, producers, and writers had more than enough time to make a better script than what is found here.

As Cusack’s replacement is Adam Scott as Adam Jr. He is the dope, oblivious to anything and everything but doesn’t add a ton here and his presence in the story never truly fits. Of course, the other three return, headlined this time around with Rob Corddry. His Lou is still abrasive, selfish, and mean-spirited, which made him funny before. This go around those traits are amplified and not in an overall good way. Though still capable of delivering a few funny moments, Lou is more of an irredeemable monster this time, and his eventual self realization and “change” near the end is hard to accept. Character-wise, he is comparable to Alan from The Hangover: Hilarious in the first, jerkish and cantankerous in the second.

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Craig Robinson is alright, but now it feels like he is himself in everything. The best thing about this one might just be Clark Duke. His role is more important this time, and sort of serves as the glue that holds things afloat as opposed to a complete sink. Truth be told there is some chemistry among the threesome, but for what existed in the way of a plot. there needed to be more of it.

Sharing more in common with recent comedies than just a 2/To in its title, Hot Tub Time Machine 2 is yet another check in the column of comedy sequels that really didn’t need to be made, or even greenlit. This hot tub is basically inoperable.

Grade: D

Photo credits go to comingsoon.net, blogs.indiewire.com, and cinemavine.com.

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Baggage Claim: Movie Man Jackson

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“The magic isn’t in getting married, it’s in staying married.”

Not exactly the Mile High Club, but still just as bizarre in practice is Baggage Claim. Montana Moore (Paula Patton) is a thirty-something year-old flight attendant who is tired of being alone and husband-less. Her mother has tied the knot many times, and even her younger college-aged sister will be doing so before her. She has no problems in dating men, but nothing ever sticks, and it seems like the only man who truly knows her is longtime childhood friend William Wright (Derek Luke).

Vowing to be engaged by the time of her sister’s wedding rehearsal dinner, Montana and co-worker friends Gail (Jill Scott) and Sam (Adam Brody) hatch out a plan that will place Montana on the flights of numerous ex-boyfriends, all in an effort to see if one of them is Mr. Right. Thirty days, 30,000 miles. Finding love must truly be in the air.

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Looking for a positive with Baggage Claim? Everyone has really, really white teeth that could blind even Helios. Otherwise, Baggage Claim is a movie that has been done before, but undoubtedly in better ways. Sure it is occasionally amusing in parts, but really, it is just on airplane mode throughout, providing the same narration, staples, and characters that are common to the genre.

Yours truly hates picking on premises for their believability, as the very act of watching a movie forces an audience to suspend disbelief at least a little, but this one pushes the limits. Finding a fiance amid a throng of failed exes is one “highly unlikely, but alright I can roll with this I guess” sort of acceptance (What’s Your Number did this mostly already), but doing this in 30 days on numerous flights is a little too much to buy into. Even with the odd setup, the ending is of no surprise, seen easily by the time the first third of the movie ends. The rest just serves as filler, a futile attempt to inject some uncertainty from the journey from point A to B.

But perhaps the real kicker is seeing Montana, played by Paula Patton, struggling so much with finding a man with her amazing beauty. This does happen a lot in romantic comedies with the actress being too gorgeous to imagine her struggling with finding a partner, but one cannot help but wonder here that with a more plain-looking woman, maybe the premise could be bought into easier. Paula Patton isn’t plain looking in the slightest. Robin Thicke, what were you thinking man?

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A predictable plot can be overlooked with solid laughs, which Baggage Claim does not possess much of. Only Jenifer Lewis (mother of Patton’s character) and Taye Diggs have solid experience in comedy, and while the former is nothing to write home about, the latter’s appearance is probably the funniest thing of the entire film. Patton is certainly a pleasure to look at, but as the focal point, she struggles both comically and dramatically . She can’t be knocked for a lack of trying, but little of it comes natural.

Being a leading lady might not be in her cards. Acting probably shouldn’t be in the cards of Christina Milian and Trey Songz either, adding to the list of most singers/rappers/musicians who appear to lack the skills to hit the desired notes on the silver screen. Jill Scott, also a singer, isn’t as terrible and makes an average tandem with Adam Brody, but their character are familiar templates seen way too often before (sex-crazed woman best friend, gay male best friend). They wear thin quickly.

About the only people who are solid in this from a traditional drama standpoint are Dijmon Hounsou (in a limited role) and Derek Luke. And with that said, it is kind of sad that they are even in this for yours truly, because both can and should be doing so much bigger projects in Hollywood. It seems like just yesterday both were turning in amazing work in Blood Diamond and Antwone Fisher, respectively.

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Largely unfunny and feeling longer than it is, Baggage Claim is just another routine romantic comedy missing a lot of the comedy part. Expect a lot of turbulence with this viewing.

Grade: D-

Photo credits go to rottentomatoes.com, blackfilm.com, and vibevixen.com.

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson.

Top Five: Movie Man Jackson

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“If you don’t have an audience it is hard to put on a show.”

Dylan, Dylan Dylan, Dylan, Dylan? That video may be funny, but for Andre Allen (Chris Rock) in Top Five, funny isn’t what he wants to be anymore. Allen was once a man known as “The Funniest Man in America,” and near the top of the movie business for “Hammy”, a punchline-dropping police officer grizzly bear. Even if the critics derided his efforts, he’s living pretty large via multiple sequels.

Living large does have its consequences though. In those moneymaking years, Andre has picked up a vice or two and has really just started to put the pieces back together thanks to his new, reality TV star & socialite fiance Erica Long (Gabrielle Union). As he has become clean, Allen also aspires to do more serious work. When reporter Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson) uncovers more of Allen’s story for a magazine interview, it becomes clear that Allen is much more than a few funny lines.

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Sometimes trailers do not do a movie justice. Shocking statement, right? To yours truly, Top Five is one of those movies. Upon watching the trailer, it didn’t seem to have as much clarity as to what “T5” is about. To yours truly at least, while it featured some funny bits and accomplished comedians, there was some trepidation as to whether this was just a stretched and even non-existent screenplay with overly loud and cringe-worthy characters. Luckily, those fears were alleviated.

Top Five is top quality. It is first and foremost a comedy, featuring many uproarious, racy, and raunchy lines of dialogue in a dialogue-driven film. However, there are some very big and bold moments revealed in flashbacks that break up the talkative moments and may serve up the largest laughs. These did seem to run a little long, but this may be a personal belief. To spoil other reveals would be a travesty. While primarily a comedy, to label it sorely as such is to overlook what else it does well.

Just like how Rock’s character here mentions that he has so much more to offer than just comedy, so does this. There are layers present here that go deeper than just some guys clowning around, though that does exist in spots. About the only stumble that occurs within the screenplay is the introduction of a subplot with a key character that seems to be important, but upon further review, especially as the character goes through another reveal, it could have easily been removed without missing a beat. Putting on a triple threat hat here, Chris Rock not only stars, but pens and directs a film that combines its comedy with some real smarts and analysis as to what defines someone, personal perception v.s. public perception, the rigors of fame, and more.

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Honestly, it is reminiscent to Birdman in many respects, with the only sizable differences being that the aforementioned movie is a little more surreal and features more directorial flair, whereas Top Five is more grounded and realistic, with a lot more (too much N****s in Paris!) background music from Kanye West and Jay-Z, both respective producers here. Rock has gone on record saying the aim was to capture a documentary feel, which is present. Aside from these contrasts, the parallels between the two are mind-blowing.

As Andre Allen, Chris Rock submits his best performance to date. He moves the story forward with his narration (he is giving an interview after all), which gives the character a high level of connectivity without it feeling expository or self-important. When he needs to be subdued and somber, he is able to do so. His counterpart’s performance in Rosario Dawson deserves much praise as well. She has this look in her eyes that almost make it seem like she isn’t acting, possessing a very strong chemistry with Rock that is needed as many scenes depend on the two’s chemistry.

Featuring an ensemble cast from Tracy Morgan to Gabrielle Union down to Kevin Hart and others, T5 gives each a moment or two to shine while simultaneously boosting Andre’s told story. Even if they are minor, they all play a part in who Andre is and who is he is trying to become.

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Proving the 3rd time is the charm with acting, writing, and directing in a singular film, Chris Rock does a stand-up, celebratory job in Top Five. It should probably hold down a spot easily as a 2014 top 5 comedy, but the real surprise could be it holding down a 2014 top 5 overall film spot.

Grade: A-

Photo credits go to eurweb.com, screenrant.com, and youtube.com.

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson.