A Bad Moms Christmas: Movie Man Jackson

Tis the season to be jolly—errr, overworked. The threesome of friends in Amy (Mila Kunis), Kiki (Kristen Bell), and Carla (Kathryn Hahn) is up to their limits in stress. Why? It’s Christmas season, which means a lot hustling here and there, cooking, and being responsible for every gift and event. All the ladies want is a relaxed, lowkey time of year with their loved ones.

Those best laid plans go to the wayside when each of their moms come in ahead of schedule to complicate matters even further. There’s Amy’s mother (Christine Baranski), the perfectionist, Kiki’s mother (Cheryl Hines), the suffocator, and Carla’s mother (Susan Sarandon), the deadbeat. To take Christmas back, the three younger mothers need to be the strong women they are and stand up to the ones that birthed them into this world.

It’s easy to see why one wouldn’t necessarily be excited at the prospect of A Bad Moms Christmas, the sequel to last year’s surprise hit Bad Moms. The state of recent affairs as it pertains to mid-to-big budget comedies over the past few years isn’t exactly a laughing matter. And there’s the whole sequel aspect that many movies—especially comedies (looking at you, Dumb and Dumber To, Zoolander 2, and Hot Tub Time Machine 2) —drop the ball on. It’s with surprise, then, that A Bad Moms Christmas is the rare comedy sequel that is on par with and possibly better than the first.

Co-directors and writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore return to direct the mothers finding themselves under immense stress again. Bad Moms rightfully tapped into an audience that was underrepresented in a movie-going audience, and achieved in becoming a sleeper hit. But intentional or not, it did feel a little too narrow on the four-quadrant movie scale. Not so with A Bad Moms Christmas. The broadening of scope to the holiday season generally makes for a more enjoyable time and an easier connection for a wider viewership, as we’ve all been there—mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, grandmas, and grandparents—experiencing the stresses of the St. Nick season. While not for all ages, it’s easy to see this becoming a staple in Christmas rotations and top 10 Christmas movie lists.

A Bad Moms Xmas is kind of dark. Not dark in a dark comedy sense (the vulgarity is doubled this time, for better and for worse), but thematically, tackling parenting issues of negligence, perfection, and attachment and seeing how these pressures can manifest down to the next generation of parents in a family. Some of it is forced, but this does give a little more emotion and depth to the storyline on this go-around. As for more heavy negatives, “Bad Moms 2” shares some of those common ones found in the modern R comedy, namely an over-reliance on montages, being vulgar for vulgar’s sake, and a runtime that runs long in the final act.

But overall, A Bad Moms Christmas delivers more than not on what it’s designed to do: Make an audience laugh. That is somewhat attributed to the returning threesome of Kunis, Bell, and Hahn, clearly having fun to the point where they seem to be legitimately laughing during the back-and-forth between their characters. But, they, along with everyone else, happen to be honestly overshadowed by the “Golden Girl” trio of Cheryl Hines, Susan Sarandon, and Christine Baranski in what happens to be amazing casting. Hines is gloriously twisted from the get-go, and Baranski has moment upon moment of excellent lines and running jokes delivered to stoic perfection. Of the three, Sarandon’s character is the distant third as Hahn’s mom, “Isis,” a little too mean-spirited to earn consistent humor as Hines and Baranski do, but nonetheless, at least she’s not in Tammy.

Whether a product of very disappointing big comedies or low expectations equated to sequel-itis, it comes as a surprise that A Bad Moms Christmas is not only competent but actually worth some real hearty laughs. Joy to the (comedy) world.

B-

Photo credits go to imdb.com, YouTube.com, metacritic.com, and collider.com.

For additional detailed thoughts on films both small and large, games, and the key moments that comprise each, check out ThatMomentIn.com

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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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Torque: Movie Man Jackson

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Wasn’t this movie already made? Yes. Biker Cary Ford (Martin Henderson) is returning to California after a six month hiatus in Thailand. He didn’t leave on the best of terms, leaving his now ex-girlfriend Shane (Monet Mazur) twisting in the wind with no reason as to why.

His return is quickly thrown into chaos. Henry (Matt Schulze), leader of a vicious biker gang called the Hellions, frames Ford for the murder of a rival gang leader’s brother. Now, Trey (Ice Cube), leader of the Reapers gang, is hell-bent on exacting revenge on Ford. He has to clear his name before Trey gets his hands on him.

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Cars suck. Those words are literally seen spinning on a street sign during the first few minutes of Torque, a movie that makes no mystery as to what it is “inspired” by, that being The Fast and the Furious. Or perhaps, just maybe..it is parodying it? Whatever the matter may be, Torque doesn’t aim that high, and as such, it is hard to really be all that let down.

The connections to Torque and TFATF are clear. Both are produced by Neal H. Moritz. Both feature super-fast vehicles and testosterone-fueled characters (with Matt Schulze appearing in both). Both have relatively basic plots, with the latter being a little more “meaty,” however. To compare a movie to another isn’t the best thing to do, but when director Joseph Kahn states his intentions of making a “piss-take” version of F&F, it is impossible not to.

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So, things blow up, bikes go faster than the speed of sound (especially in an end scene that is simultaneously bad and good in the opinion of yours truly), and product placement is as blunt as an Iron Mike in his prime punch. This certainly isn’t a film to take seriously, so don’t. But, if one doesn’t mind sequences looking a little video-game-ish in execution, Kahn does manage to create a few cool and over-the-top moments in Torque‘s 84 minute runtime. This is a positive, as there’s no futile effort to draw out more from a skeleton plot.

Of course, 84 minutes, counting end credits, is hardly time to build on anything substantial, including characters. The stars themselves aren’t too bad, actually. This role seems like it was made for Martin Henderson to be one of the next big action starts, but unfortunately, the movie itself quells any hopes of that. Henderson’s got the look, and he is likable. He’s just…ultimately there, though, as if he knows that there’s really no reason to try hard.

Everyone phones it in, really, saddled with one-dimensional roles. Ice Cube, and his whole crew in his biker gang, do nothing but mean-mug and be hard-asses. Cube feels like he’s playing himself, minus the intentional humor like his character has in, say, the Jump Street franchise. Matt Schulze comes off as a more dickish Vince from the first Fast and Furious, which was—you guessed it—played by Schulze. Jaime Pressly, Monet Mazur, and Christina Milian all look amazing in leather pants, and serve as the super basic romantic interests of the lead characters.

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Torque is quite satisfied with being bad, and that it is. It knows it early, the stars know it early, and the viewer knows it early. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t a few cool moments, but it does mean that aiming to be bad does not often translate to an entertaining movie. Really, when’s the last time you remember a movie being intentionally bad that was good? Hardly ever happens.

Grade: D

Photo credits go to fanpop.com, craveonline.com, lowcal250.com, wikipedia.org, and mtv.com.

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Max: Movie Man Jackson

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“Max just has to know you want him.”

The other, smaller, Max of 2015. Out in Afghanistan, US Marine Kyle Wincott (Robbie Amell), makes rounds with his most loyal friend, German Shepherd Max. Max servers as his eyes, ears, and support during the most harrowing of times. Sadly, Kyle loses his life during a patrol with his unit, and the aftermath proves to be traumatic for the war dog.

Back at home in Texas, Kyle’s family learns of the heartbreaking news. His indifferent brother who-has-a lot-of-growing-up-to-do Justin (Josh Wiggins), was never all that close to his older sibling and keeps to keep to himself amongst his family. But oddly enough, he is the only person with whom Max is not hostile towards once Max comes home. As Max is Kyle’s last piece in the world, the Wincotts take him in to prevent him being put down. Slowly but surely, Justin slowly begins to grow closer to the dog, who changes not just his life, but everyone’s.

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At the core, Max is a coming-of-age story, and this can be seen in the first 15-20 minutes. The exact way it will unfold is unknown, but generally, one knows that in some fashion, the dog is going to somehow help the younger brother grow into a young man. That does happen in Max, but so does a bunch of other stuff. This other stuff ends up making the movie more like random bits of shrapnel scattered about.

Coming-of-age stories happen all of the time, and when done right, they can still work. No, they don’t reinvent the wheel, and can be pretty basic. But, they can provide a sometimes captivating story. Max, while far from captivating, works best when it focuses solely upon building the bond between Max and his new guardian Justin. As melodramatic (the whole film is scored to the hilt) and rushed as this bond is, it did mildly tug at the heartstrings of yours truly.

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The thing that is weird about this, though, is the fact that director Boaz Yakin (Remember the Titans) is not content with that emotional core being enough. As average as a movie with only that would likely be, at least there would be no struggle with trying to decipher what Max wants to be. There are so many other side plots introduced that it does end up marring the heartfelt impact. Look hard enough and one can see Yakin trying to make social commentary on xenophobia, stereotyping, and racism, but it all comes off as more cringeworthy than educational.

Another subplot exists about weapons being dealt to Hispanic arms dealers in something that is probably meant to bring light to the difficulties ex-soldiers have in finding work upon returning from duty. In the movie, it never quite comes together, and ends up moving Max from a family-friendly offering to more of a very dark PG-affair. Really, the last third of the runtime evolves, or perhaps devolves, into a thriller/action. It becomes clear that the rating restricts what Yakin wants to do, and the editing in the final act sort of reflects this.

The canine who plays Max is the definite star of the movie. Maybe he can be the next Rin Tin Tin or Pal in show business. As far as his human counterparts go, they are serviceable. Lauren Graham and Thomas Haden Church are no slouches, but play the average middle-class parent roles that could be filled by anyone. Josh Wiggins is the sidekick for all intents and purposes to Max, and he seems to be a little shaky in his performance in spots in what is only his second film. Aside from common names in Graham, Church, and Jay Hernandez, much of the heavy lifting here is left to those who play teenagers. Like Wiggins, the people playing the roles have very limited experience in film, or even acting for that matter, and it unfortunately shows more times than not.

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Though some credit has to be given to Yakin for trying to diversify a standard coming-of-age story, sometimes the best path is sticking with the well-worn one. Max suffers from not knowing what it really wants to be, taking multiple but ultimately small bites at different ideas instead of a big but fulfilling one.

Grade: D+

Photo credits go to kidsmoviehq.com, usatoday.co, and dailymotion.com.

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