Rough Night: Movie Man Jackson

Rick James said it best: Cocaine is a hell of a drug. Ten years ago at George Washington University, Jess (Scarlett Johansson), Alice (Jillian Bell), Frankie (Ilana Glazer), and Blair (Zoë Kravitz) become lifelong friends during their freshman year. 10 years later, everyone’s in the real world living their own lives. Jess is striving to become a city official, Alice is educating little kids, Frankie is taking up activism, and Blair is working to get full custody of her son.

This doesn’t leave them time to hang out. But because Jess is getting married to fiancé, Peter (Paul W. Downs), this is the perfect time for the college foursome, plus Jess’ Australian study abroad friend, Pippa (Kate McKinnon), to get together again for a wild bachelorette weekend. The city of Miami is the playground for clubbing, cocaine, and a nightcap that involves a stripper. Too much of a good time leaves the hired stud dead, and the women struggle with what to do with the body. It’s a Rough Night, indeed, that can soon turn into a rough life if the ladies are convicted of involuntary murder.

Are in the midst of a female ensemble comedy boom? Bridemaids came many years ago, but in the last year films like Ghostbusters and Bad Moms arrived within weeks of each other. And now, Rough Night is here, with a somewhat similar looking-film in Girls Trip on the upcoming horizon. Rough Night is certainly the darkest of the bunch, put together by Broad City directors/writers Paul W. Downs and Lucia Aniello. While the cast possesses the chemistry to make for a good summer comedy, Rough Night is a shot that goes down a little rough but isn’t impossible to take.

For the first going, Rough Night takes most of its cues and inspirations from the aforementioned Paul Feig feature and the first Hangover, placing its subjects in a glitzy locale right before the knot’s getting tied for some grown up debauchery. It’s all pretty basic, and pretty forgettable. Once the instigating moment comes, the movie does kick up a tad. While the direction of the story and twist is very predictable, a fun and bizarre side-plot is introduced during it that becomes the absolute best part of the comedy.

In an ensemble comedy showcasing big names in the genre such as Bell and McKinnon, it’s actually a male who steals the show and is responsible for the laughs the elicit the biggest response. In a bit of a gender expectation swap, Paul W. Downs plays the worried, “boring” bachelor male in Peter, with the joke being that his wine party is much more lowkey and simplistic than his fiance’s. And that is only the tip of the iceberg, which eventually leads to Peter making a “Sad Astronaut” mad dash to Miami hopped on Xanax and Redbull to find out what’s going on with his woman. It’s a very much absurd B plot, yet somehow works thanks to Downs’ timing, delivery, and facial expressions.

Unfortunately, the female fivesome doesn’t reach the comedic heights Downs and his character’s literal journey does. They all do a great job with chemistry, general banter and even heavier drama moments; they’re highly believable as a close-knit group of women who have a lot of history together. Jillian Bell feels like an acquired taste at this point; her particular style does little for yours truly. Zoë Kravitz and Scarlett Johansson, even in basic straight (wo)men roles, feel somewhat miscast. The “best” lines belong to Ilana Glazer and Kate McKinnon, the latter hamming it up ever so slightly in an Australian accent.

Perhaps it’s the dissimilar tones that exist in Rough Night that do not allow it, and the main characters by extension, to be as funny as it could be. Definitely Hangover III-esque vibes at times, where the viewer doesn’t know if this is a complete ensemble romp, or a darker comedy-drama trying to have the occasional funnybone jolts.

Whatever the case may be, Rough Night isn’t a completely awful night. But highly doubtful it will be a night one will look fondly upon years down the line.

C-

Photo credits go to etonline.com, slate.com, and elitedaily.com

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CHiPs: Movie Man Jackson

The only question to be asked is “Why?” In Los Angeles, the California Highway Patrol welcomes in two new members, Frank “Ponch” Poncherello (Michael Peña), and Jon Baker (Dax Shepard). Their reasons for being in the CHP differ. Ponch, a successful yet difficult-to-deal-with Miami FBI agent, has been assigned to work undercover within the department, while Baker is a rookie who has been accepted into the force on probationary status. Once a champion motocross rider whose injuries have taken a toll on the body, Baker is now in a failing marriage with Karen (Kristen Bell), and feels that becoming an officer is the only way to save it.

Ponch’s task while undercover is to figure out if there is some corruption going on in the department, as it is suspected that a few officers know something about a robbery in which millions were stolen in broad daylight. His partner on the case is Baker, since he’ll generally stay out of the way. Immediately the two do not click, but they’ll have to in order to solve the case in which they may be the only two clean cops on the roster.

The tagline “Chip happens” may be the lamest tagline a 2017 major movie release possesses. It serves as a sign of what’s to come. The 2017 feature movie re-imagining of CHiPs, from the late 1970’s TV drama series, is pretty lame. If this were a police test and CHiPs were a prospect looking to pass, they would fail, and I’m not even confident they’d be asked into the compound to take said test.

Where to start? Dax Shepard wears a lot of hats for this one, in charge of writing, directing, producing, and co-starring. The writing’s pretty abysmal, especially when one considers that 21/22 Jump Street have provided the perfect template for these types of remakes to succeed, or at the very least, be mildly entertaining with some meta-humor and/or self-realization of their existence.

What Shepard concocts here turns out to be a crime movie that is simultaneously predictable (corruption) yet still jumbled (extraneous details and leads that make little sense). Doesn’t help that it feels like at least a fourth of the dialogue consists of the words “dude,” “man,” “homey,” or “bro.” I’m often against having too many cooks in the kitchen from a writing standpoint, but maybe Dax could have used another hand to bounce ideas off of. All of this makes an average length runtime much longer than it is.

The action area is one area where CHiPs isn’t completely deficient. While nothing is spectacular, the few scenes do manage to be mild “high points” in a movie devoid of them, in particular, the vehicular chases, which surprisingly feature more carnage than one might believe. Maybe Shepard should just direct a traditional actioner, because it still comes back to the humor, or lack thereof.

Oftentimes, a buddy cop movie will succeed in spite of its shortcomings if its two leads have a good on-screen rapport and comedic timing. Peña and Shepard don’t have enough of it to elevate the material. Peña, who can do a lot in Hollywood, in particular feels handcuffed by Shepard’s writing. Little of this seems improvised. He’s trying, but the best humor garners little more than a chuckle or two, if that. He was funnier and more endearing in End of Watch. Little can be said that’s positive for the rest of the cast, either. They all fill the most basic thinly sketched characters, be it a shady lieutenant (Vincent D’Onofrio), a witchy wife (Kristen Bell), or love interests for our heroes (Jessica McNamee, Rosa Salazar).

At the start of the movie, there’s a disclaimer stating that the real life California Highway Patrol doesn’t endorse anything that happens in CHiPs. Neither should you.

D-

Photo credits go to IMDB.com, digitaltrends.com, and collider.com.

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Fist Fight: Movie Man Jackson

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Today is not a good day for high school English teach Andy Campbell (Charlie Day). At Roosevelt High, it’s the last day of school, and pranks are abound. As the mild-mannered pushover, Campbell is an easy mark for students to take advantage of. Doesn’t help that everyone in the high school is up for review, which means possible job losses. Not something Andy needs with a newborn on the way.

A most unfortunate situation that Campbell has with the volatile History teacher Strickland (Ice Cube) leads to the latter getting terminated. Fuming, Strickland challenges Campbell to an old school Fist Fight. Come 3pm in the parking lot, the entire school is going to see faculty members come to blows. Campbell worried about losing his job, but he needs to be worried about losing his life.

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Unbeknownst to yours truly, Fist Fight is an unofficial loose remake/re-telling of 1987’s Three O’Clock High, and even 2001’s Joe Somebody. That alone should tell anyone that isn’t a movie that is looking to reinvent the wheel, just provide some moderate entertainment. Moderate entertainment might not have been seen in the trailer, but Fist Fight is moderately surprising in its comedic effectiveness.

Written by Van Robichaux, Evan Susser, and New Girl’s Max Greenfield, Fist Fight’s plot isn’t something to heap a ton of praise on, and the premise, taking place in one day, can get a little stretched in places. But, there’s nothing wrong with being simplistic. And, the writers deserve one gold star with the overall setup. By placing the film in an end-of-the-year, anything-can-be-done scenario, it allows the movie to be accepted in all of its zaniness much easier. And though there’s the requisite R rated penis jokes and toilet humor, some legitimate physical comedy hits the mark along with improvisational dialogue here and there. Any implied statements about today’s state of education falls flat, though. Blackboard Jungle, this is not.

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Thankfully, Fist Fight delivers on its title. Spoiler alert: There’s no bait and switch. What’s advertised actually does happen, and quite honestly, it’s better directed than the average Hollywood fisticuffs action scene. I hesitate to say that it is reason alone to give the movie a view, but, anyone wanting an Ali-Frazier throw down (which will be most of the paying audience, myself included) will get one and likely be very pleased with it. Hearkens memory to the 1995 end fight in another Ice Cube comedy, Friday. Not a bad way to kick off a silver screen directorial debut, Mr. Richie Keen.

The cast in Fist Fight doesn’t do a whole lot differently from what they’ve been known for in their careers. Good, if you’re a fan, bad if not. We all know Cube for being the angry, mean-mugging expletive-laden character in everything he does, and we know Charlie Day for being the loud, eccentric, weird sounding passive wimp. They resume these characters here, and are good for what they are, playing off of each other well. Of the two, the story is told from Andy’s perspective, and he gets more of a character arc, albeit a fairly rushed one in the last 20 or so minutes.

Side characters are a mixed bag. Tracy Morgan impresses in his first role back on-screen as an oblivious loser coach, and Silicon Valley‘s Kumali Nanjiani delivers straight man humor. Much like the leads, Jillian Bell has a style and delivery that can grate on a viewer, or ingratiates herself to a viewer. Personally, not a big fan, but fits in enough here. The odd person out of all of this is Christina Hendricks, more weird than hilarious.

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By no means does Fist Fight score a comedic knockout. But by the end of the film’s runtime, laughs hit enough to score a split decision.

C+

Photo credits go to darkhorizons.com, movieweb.com, and ca.sports.yahoo.com.

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Office Christmas Party: Movie Man Jackson

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Ain’t no party like an Office Christmas Party cause an office Christmas party don’t stop. Christmas is coming around the corner at Zenotk, a Chicago-based technology company led by its manager Clay Vanstone (TJ Miller). Spirits aren’t exactly high in the office; the company isn’t meeting its profit goal, and the threat of layoffs and the branch being closed is high. Clay’s uptight CEO sister, Carol, (Jennifer Aniston), wouldn’t mind this, as she’s always had some jealousy towards her brother.

The only shot Clay has in saving his branch and the employees he loves is to land a big client. When the pitch he, CTO Josh Parker (Jason Bateman), and lead engineer Tracey Hughes (Olivia Munn) make to industry leader Walter Jones (Courtney B. Vance) fails, they have but one last card to play: Invite Walter to their annual “nondenominational holiday mixer,” aka Xmas party. Here, they can show why they are a company worth giving business to. Even if this fails, at least the company goes out in a blaze of glory, right?

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The party comedy. I never really think of that as a subgenre, but it absolutely is, whether as a launching pad to the rest of the movie, à la The Hangover or This Is the End, or the movie itself such as Project X, Sisters, and House Party. Throw the obviously-named Office Christmas Party into that subgenre, sharing similarities with the aforementioned titles. So what does this mean?

It means that Office Christmas Party is stretched pretty thin. Certainly, with a title like such, one’s not exactly expecting a well-woven screenplay. On one hand, kudos should be given to writers Justin Malen, Laura Solen, Dan Mazer, Jon Lucas, Scott Moore, and Timothy Dowling for trying to cobble up some story and character relationships around the massive party. And, they kind of achieve in the first act right before it.

On the other hand…that’s a lot of writers that have a hand in contributing to the story! Around the midpoint of the party, things start to go haywire in the script and not necessarily in the best comedic ways. Throw in some forced reconciliation and commensurate romances into mix as well. Some less interesting side characters and plots get promoted to “A” status while more interesting side characters and plots get cast to the storage closet. It does make a person wonder if a few less party planners  writers could make for a stronger offering.

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The party itself is riotous, maybe not full of non-stop hilarity, but definitely where Office Christmas Party gets the bulk of its laughs, supplied by a good portion of its all-star cast. Kate McKinnon and TJ Miller are probably the most valuable players, much more hit than miss anytime they’re on screen. Miller in particular brings the most honest-to-goodness nature, his manager reminiscent of a poor man’s Michael Scott which provides the movie with a little holiday sentimentality. Smaller character like Courtney B. Vance (huge surprise), Randall Park, and Rob Corddry steal scenes.

Not all of the all star cast is comedic fire though. There’s no bigger fan of straight man Jason Bateman than yours truly, but he is slightly dull here and not as funny as in previous films. Olivia Munn’s never really been comedic, and Jennifer Aniston, someone who’s proven to be legitimately funny numerous times (often with Bateman), is nothing more than a overly mean witch. The pimp character played by Jillian Bell sounds great in doses, but becomes annoying by film’s end once she becomes a central figure.

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Far from a fruitcake but not the best gift ever, Office Christmas Party is the proverbial gift card gift in movie comedy form. Won’t be mad with it and can certainly get some usage out of it, but not a gift to remember, either.

C+

Photo credits go to comingsoon.net, indiewire.com, and yahoo.com.

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Sausage Party: Movie Man Jackson

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Don’t play with your food, it plays with each other. In a common grocery store, every single food item fantasizes about being purchased by “Gods,” humans who will whisk them away from shelves, freezers, and the like and into “The Great Beyond.” No food truly knows what happens after leaving the store, but the consensus is that a life of freedom and care by the Gods is given.

For Frank (Seth Rogen) and his hot dog (he’s a hot dog, not a sausage) friends, getting purchased means getting to slide their meat into some plump buns. He has always had eyes on Brenda (Kristen Wiig). His mission is almost achieved by getting a coveted spot in the shopping cart, but an incident from Honey Mustard (Danny McBride), begins to put doubt into Frank as to whether the Great Beyond is heaven, or more akin to hell. The better question may be, does it even exist?

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Let’s call it what it is. Sausage Party, mainly from the minds of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (This is the End) is Toy Story (or any other inanimate object, for that matter) in edible form. In R-rated edible form. With that said, though, Sausage Party is rather thought-provoking, and may even be adept at leaving its mark on some viewers long after viewing. Is it funny? That depends.

Sausage Party feels most similar to Rogen and Goldberg’s 2013 comedy This is the End, albeit with a different message. Unlike that movie, which didn’t concern itself with the question of the existence of a higher power or whether a stylized Backstreet Boys-led heaven afterlife was real, Sausage Party actually does. The overall mature elements of the screenplay might just be the strongest element of the entire production written by the longtime duo, plus Jonah Hill this time around. What is also surprising is how we as the audience actually begin care for a few of these characters and their well-being, such as a deformed hot dog in Barry (Michael Cera). As far as technical quality goes, this is no high-budget Pixar offering, but it looks well enough, and ends up making some really memorable set pieces. Yes, set pieces, ones that feature action, horror, and something that would be right at home in the infamous 1979 movie Caligula.

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But even with surprising and pretty well handled themes, Sausage Party is a comedy that is 100% Rogen & Goldberg through and through, full of weed love and penis appreciation. Great news for Rogen fans, bad news for non-fans. Yours truly personally falls in the middle. The premise does allow for some good comedic wittiness that didn’t always appear in their other films, but the hardcore raunch does begin to take its toll after a while. The third act may be better enjoyed under the influence of a substance. It is the 50/50 hit/miss rate towards humor that leaves this comedy a little disappointing.

And while one should assume full responsibility for stepping into a R rated comedy, it can be argued that Sausage Party does veer into the very uncomfortable territory here and there, with one character in particular as a literal douche. Voiced by Nick Kroll, Douche is rarely funny, actually disturbing in some of his actions, and doesn’t really add to any of the plot’s proceedings. Gum is pretty hilarious, however as a clear nod to Hawking.

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Love Seth Rogen’s cut of comedic meat? Sausage Party is one that will absolutely be filling, along with some interesting ideas that are actually satisfying to digest. For all others, its comedy doesn’t fill all of the laugh holes on a consistent basis.

C

Photo credits go to nytimes.com, comicbook.com, and moviepilot.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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Keanu: Movie Man Jackson

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Keanu is a F-B-I agent!  Okay, not quite. Keanu is a kitty cat who has wandered the streets of Los Angeles before making his way on the doorstep of Rell (Jordan Peele), a stoner who is going nowhere. Right on cue, all of the frustration and sadness in Rell’s life is taken away after one look at the irresistible feline.

However, after one night hanging with his cousin, uptight and semi-pushover Clarence (Keegan Michael Key), Rell comes back to a broken-in apartment with no sight of Keanu. Their only lead leads them to hardened gang-leader Cheddar (Method Man), who has possession of Rell’s baby, and is willing to give it back. But, only if the duo, mistaken as two legendary hitmen, is willing to carry out some jobs to further Cheddar’s criminal empire.

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Since the conclusion of Chappelle’s Show, the world (and by world, I really mean Comedy Central) has looked for that one comedy sketch series that could match Dave Chappelle’s apex reach on popular culture and national relevance. And to be honest, the station has failed with attempts like Kroll Show, Mind of Mencia, and even Inside Amy Schumer, even though Schumer is one of today’s “It” girls. The long and short of it is that the popularity of Chappelle’s Show will likely never be replicated. But, out of all shows to follow Dave’s, Key and Peele seemed to be the “closest” to it as it pertains to cultural relevance and popularity. With their show now ended, it’s only fitting that the talented duo make a movie in Keanu, their first full-length feature together.

Most fans (I’m one of them) of the style that Michael Peele and Keegan Michael Key put out should be right at home in this movie. Hell, director Peter Atentio has even directed multiple sketches from the show, and the beginning looks exactly like the beginning of one of their bits. With that said, fans may be a little disappointed when it is all said and done. The story is very much of the fish out of the water variety, with a little bit of a John Wick element thrown in for good measure.

It isn’t completely stretched, and seeing everyone put everything on the line for this adorable kitten is amusing, but it is drawn out very thin in places.  It does get better as it goes on, however, after a lukewarm start. Perhaps a few easter eggs that reference a few of their notable sketches could have been implemented, and anyone who remembers Strike Force Eagle 3 will see a massive opportunity to use a call back there in the climax. I know, doing that may be derided as lazy; I suppose it is just impossible to not see moments where they could have been used. One has to believe that the two have much stronger material to delve into down the line. Maybe this is the case of leaving your audience wanting more?

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Aside from artist George Michael being present in the way that other artists/icons of yesteryear are used for neverending jokes in R rated comedies, (seemingly starting with Ted), just about all of the laughs come courtesy of Key & Peele. Whether they are moonlighting as hardcore gangsters with a healthy love of the N word, or suburbanites who have no place in the criminal underworld, they are consistently funny, Once the script allows them to toggle back and forth between what they are and aren’t, the hilarity comes more frequently. Their comedic chemistry is second to none, and they deliver the humor in multiple ways, which isn’t always easy.

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Compared to many of their short sketches, the 98 minute runtime of Keanu lacks the potency and flat out hilarity. Still, there’s more than enough here that shows that Key & Peele are comedy cats that are going to be around for as long as they want to on the silver screen.

Grade: B-

Photo credits go to collider.com, esquire.com, and rollingstone.com.

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Dirty Grandpa: Movie Man Jackson

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How long does grieving over a soulmate take? Not long if you’re ready to bone. Retired Army General Dick Kelly (Robert De Niro) has just lost his wife of about 40 years to cancer. Most in his family are worried about him, including his grandson, Jason (Zac Efron), a young lawyer who specializes in “LSC agreements and SEC contracts.” Or something like that. Jason’s also a week away from getting married to Meredith (Julianne Hough), who is something of a control freak, but still so perfect for Jason.

Dick and his wife always used to go to Florida around a specific time in the year, and that isn’t changing with her no longer on this Earth. Only issue is, Dick doesn’t have a license, and convinces Jason to drive him. Reluctant, he does so, thinking that Gramps just needs to do this as part of the grieving process. Turns out, this is no grieving trip. Gramps is a Dirty Grandpa, looking to have the single fun he wasn’t afforded when in a union. In the process of trying to hook up with women as young as Jason, Dick hopes to show his grandson that it is never too late to live a little.

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It is acceptance that the months of January and February, known as Dumpuary in some corners, must feature a few stink bombs released in cinemas amid the award hopefuls and previous year holdovers. In 2016 Dumpuary, Dirty Grandpa is one of those stink bombs.

Not all is deplorable, though. With a name like Dirty Grandpa, no confusion is had as to what is to be expected. In fact, yours truly would say that the ‘Dirty’ part in the title doesn’t encapsulate just how crass, blunt, and simple-minded this movie is. OK, that sounded like a huge negative, but in a way…it is sort of a positive. Director Dan Mazer (Da Ali G Show, writer of Borat) certainly has no shame/fear in potentially offending a lot of groups. Every bit of the R rating is utilized and not gone to waste, if that sort of thing counts.

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However, using every bit of the R rating does no good if your comedy isn’t funny. Dirty Grandpa struggles to build substantial momentum in the laugh department, and there just isn’t one scene that is standout or ball-busting with the humor. There are a few scenes worth some chuckles, but with little consistency, the crassness begins to feel like cheap laziness at shock value, hoping that it alone will spark some laughs. It doesn’t help that the story and its endgame is seen about 10 minutes in, a love child of The HangoverThe Wedding Ringer, and any road trip movie (for the hell of it, let’s say Sex Drive) ever seen.

Some chemistry is forged with Zac Efron and Robert De Niro, and these two do serve as the highest points of a low flick. Efron isn’t all that different from most of his adult roles, and I’m sure that many scenes he has in this will become gif-ed to the end of time appearing on women’s Pinterest and Tumblr walls. But as he’s shown recently, he has no issue being the butt of jokes. And as the straight man here, he’s privy to tons of them. It is a shame that the writing is so shoddy, because he and De Niro do try hard. Make no mistake, if this aint the rear of De Niro’s filmography, it is close. Still, it does seem like Robert is having fun with the role, and as such, even with the material is falling flat, he draws some enjoyment out of things.

With their chemistry relatively strong, it would have been better to rely on the duo more. Because, Dirty Grandpa may feature the worst cast of supporting characters to appear in a comedy in quite some time, from Aubrey Plaza (horny co-ed), to Julianne Hough (uptight fiancée) and Adam Pally (stoned cousin). They are all unfunny, but they pale in comparison to Jason Mantzoukas, playing a character of “Tan-Pam.” He’s dull as soon as he appears on the screen, and sadly, he stays on the screen way too much.

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Despite its stars’ efforts, Dirty Grandpa has little comedic vitality, and no amount of Viagra, Efron, or De Niro can change that. Not worth venturing out of the home into Snowmageddon 2016 to view this.

Grade: D-

Photo credits go to maxim.com, aceshowbiz.com,and filmonic.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: Movie Man Jackson

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“The journey sucks. That’s what makes you appreciate the destination.”

Like father, like son. Over 30 years have passed since Clark Griswold took his family cross country on a Vacation to Walley World. Through hell, high water, and Aunt Edna, he got them there. His son, Rusty (Ed Helms) is now a father of his own, with a wife, Debbie (Christina Applegate), and two sons James and Kevin (Skyler Gisondo, Steele Stebbins).

Even as a domestic pilot, Rusty feels like he is becoming more distant from his family than he would like. What is the remedy? Certainly not the annual vacation to Michigan. No, this time, Rusty decides to load up the clan in a 2015 “Tartan Prancer” and begin the journey to Walley World. Genetics are passed down from father to son, and so too are vacations from hell.

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National Lampoon’s Vacation arrived in theaters July 29th, 1983, and it really served as the template for most, if not all, road trip movies following it. Exactly 32 years later, the 2015 version also arrives on July 29th. It occupies a middle ground of being a direct sequel, but from a story structure aspect, it is a remake. Perhaps a “requel” or a “semake?” Hybrid words withstanding, yours truly completely understands why some will despise this, which I’ll obviously get into. Vacation—not a shocker—does not come close to the simplistic brillance of the 1983 installment. As a 2015 R-rated comedy, however, worse does exist.

In 1983 NLV was a comedy that earned its R-rating, but mostly relied on smart writing and dialogue. There are moments in the new Vacation, written and directed by John Frances Daley and Jonathan Goldstein (Horrible Bosses 1 & 2), that are reminiscent of old, where the material is crude but delivered with the lightest of touches; implied and not overt. Also found are some fairly clever homages to those familiar with the Chevy Chase vehicle, but they work for those who have yet to see it also. But, there are equal moments of dumb, blunt, and slapstick crudeness that often weigh things down.

That may sound like I have disdain for lewd and crude R-rated comedies, but I like to believe I don’t. Honestly, a few of those dumb moments had me laughing pretty hard. But what is a surprise is the reliance on the vulgarity, which can at times be very dark (suffocation, underage sex crimes) and more uncomfortable than it needs to be for something in the Vacation series. The charm is just harder to be found in this one.

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To get to Walley World is the true goal of Vacation, but it can become lost, mainly because this film never makes Walley World feel important. Let me explain. In the first, despite everything Clark and company went through, it was clear that all wanted to get to the theme park. Who can forgot the Marty Moose national anthem to illustrate this point? This go around, only Rusty truly wants to go, and Walley World is hardly brought up aside from the beginning and the end. It makes the film feel cobbled together in its craziness instead of building to something substantial.

Enough comparing though, which yours truly hates to do but it is hard not to. The Rusty role, always filled by a different actor in each installment, falls to Ed Helms this time around. He does serve up a lot of the movie’s comedy, and Helms fans should be pleased. Applegate is OK as her character gets a lot to do, as are the kids, though they are written weakly, especially the youngest Griswold who is a pest with 60% of his dialogue being curse words. The performances themselves are fine, but taken as a family unit, the four never seem to give that family feel. At least they ride in a hilarious (fictional) vehicle of the Tartan Prancer, which also provides quite a few laughs. It pokes fun at today’s latest technology and stuff, not knowing what everything does or needing the bells and whistles in the first place.

Many side characters filled by notable actors and actresses make their way into the Vacation universe as well, none being better than Chris Hemsworth as Stone Crandall. For basically his first comedy, he is very natural and charismatic, using his sex appeal to generate humor. Easy for sure, but effective. And of course, Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo make their grand appearance for a brief period in the runtime, serving to link the past to the present. Pleasure to see them, certainly, but nothing more than fan service.

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Rusty says at one point in a meta-line that the new Vacation will stand on its own. It is admittedly hard to look at it that way, as this post seems to indicate. But if one is able to, the trip does provide a humorous experience in stretches.

Grade: C-

Photo credits go to nytimes.com, tfcar.com, and mirror.co.uk.

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson