Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Due Date

I guess director Todd Phillips was due to make another weak comedy, to get it out of his system before making The Hangover 2. This is a bit of an inconsistent mess, occasionally brilliant, but more frequently boring or just plain irritating, and unfortunately by it’s very nature one is forced to spend the entirety of the film thinking of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, which it’s not even in the same league as.

See if you’ve heard this before. An uptight businessman (Robert Downey Jr.) is trying to fly home to his family for an important event, but is stymied in his efforts, and reduced to getting a ride with an overly sociable chubby fellow (Zach Galifianakis). The two then have a series of wacky misadventures together traveling across the country in a variety of vehicles, as Mr. Uptight grows to truly hate his companion before eventually deciding that he may in fact not be quite so bad after all. Sounds like the most original plot in the world, right?

But of course the overall originality of the plot doesn’t matter so much as how effectively done it was, and it’s really not that effective here. There are some big laughs -- I’m sure I laughed much more than is really healthy when Downey dealt with a misbehaving child by punching him in the gut and threatening to beat him further if he told anyone -- but overall it seems like Phillips was more interested in being mean-spirited and uncomfortable than funny, and the film suffers for it.

Take, for example, the character of Darryl (Jamie Foxx). A friend of Downey’s, he arrives in his car to rescue both of them after yet another ugly mishap, and when they reach his house Galifianakis immediately starts suggesting to Downey that Foxx is sleeping with Downey’s wife. Naturally Downey believes him and fires off a terse voice mail to his wife asking if he’s going to be dealing with a surprise when the baby is delivered, and that’s pretty much it. The next time it’s brought up, it’s when he’s hastily apologizing to his wife for being a headcase. There’s no real drive to it whatsoever, it’s just uncomfortableness for the sheer sake of uncomfortableness. And pretty half-hearted uncomfortableness, at that -- Danny DeVito would have made this material much nastier and funnier.

I think that’s really a large part of the problem. Comedies need to be really tightly wound in order to work: you don’t really need to look any further than the aforementioned Planes, Trains, and Automobiles for a perfect example. Due Date is simply too laid back and aloof, setting up several situations without giving them any proper follow-through. The only ones that are permitted to truly escalate are scenes involving lots of vehicular destruction, as if Phillips had just gotten done watching The Blues Brothers before storyboarding.

Phillips just got done making one of the best comedies in recent years with The Hangover before this, and with The Hangover 2 currently in post-production, I can only hope that he felt that he needed to get all of his bad ideas out of the way before doing his big money film. As for this one, you can definitely give it a pass. I’d say it was past it’s due date, but the very thought of saying such a thing makes my testicles want to shrivel up.

Rating: * ½


Sunday, March 6, 2011

Birdemic: Shock and Terror

I should probably explain, right before I go anywhere with this review, that despite the three star rating I’m giving this film, it’s actually a pretty terrible movie. It is, however, one of those blissfully, transcendentally awful movies that rises deep down below its limitations to give us a piece of truly inspired filmmaking. This should be viewed as part of a double feature with the likes of Battlefield Earth or Plan 9 for those that enjoy such fare.

But I get ahead of myself once again. This is the story of Rod (Alan Bagh) and Nathalie (Whitney Moore), two twentysomethings that run into each other and begin a whirlwind romance. He’s a rising young software salesman with impeccable business sense (at one point he’s on the phone with a client and offer’s them whatever his competitor did plus a 50% discount, and is quite proud of himself for making the sale even though with that kind of business acumen his company will soon be going under) and she’s a lingerie model who sadly never gets naked. After a really uncomfortable date (they enjoy each other’s company just fine, though there’s all the awkward pauses and stilted lines that one would expect from a movie where the cast is reading their lines from cue cards and there’s only one camera which needs to keep being turned off and repositioned instead of splicing footage together), they spend the night together and wake up to find a town in flames. It seems that the seagulls have gone crazy and begun waging war on humanity, and also now when they collide with anything they explode. Oh, and they can also spit acid at people, as birds do. It’s now up to them and a few other scattered survivors to try to fight their way out of town and to safety.

So, where to begin with the review proper? I suppose I almost have to start with the unique CG on display here. You know how in some Hollywood blockbusters, they have these big elaborate bits of CG that just seem slightly off somehow, like they look really impressive on their own but don’t quite seem to actually be sharing space with the non-CG stuff on the screen? Now imagine someone (someone in this case being writer/director/producer James Nguyen) using lots of CG, except the entire film has a budget of $10,000, and so no effort whatsoever is made to try to get the murderous birds to seem like they even exist in the same film. I want to talk about how no effort was made to shade them properly so they don’t look so much brighter than the actors they’re in the frame with, but that seems almost beside the point when half the time they don’t even interact in any way with the actors, instead just flying in place and slowly flapping their wings while the humans wave weapons frantically at the air (you can see this in the trailer below, by the way). It’s a truly inspired decision to make the CG this bad, and I for one cannot wait to see how Nguyen utilizes 3D for the sequel he’s currently filming.

Then there are of course the other problems with the movie, which comprise everything else. I’ve already touched on the general acting, and you can see easy examples of that in the trailer, so I won’t say much more here beyond that, while nobody gives anything close to a good performance in the film, our hero Rod is easily the worst, and I fully respect the decision-making process that led to him becoming the lead despite his obvious handicap. There’s also the curious musical choices, which tend toward the cheerful muzak end, leading me to assume Nguyen just grabbed the first pieces of public domain music he could find and called it a day. Then there’s the reasoning behind the bird attacks, which are the typical “Man is destroying the environment and that must be the reason!” explanation that we frequently get with killer animal movies. However much I may agree we need to combat global warming, I’m not certain the cause is really being helped by such as this, you know? There’s also the tremendous amounts of padding to help get the film up to 90 minutes. There’s the standard horror movie padding, of course, where every so often a new character will be introduced solely for the purposes of being swiftly killed, but we also get ponderously long bits where the camera just shows bits of scenery while the soothing muzak plays. You can see that better in the alternate trailer (not included below, but which is still on Youtube -- No, I‘m not doing all the work for you, you lazy slackers), which is literally just a minute straight of scenery shots with no people at all, and then a minute of crappy CG birds flying in place with no people at all. The opening title credits, in particular, give us five or six minutes of just someone driving around, like we finally got an American version of Solaris….wait…

So with all of that in mind, you should have a pretty solid idea by now as to whether this is the movie for you. After all, a substantial chunk (one might even call it the vast majority) of the general movie going audience has little patience for a film so blatantly inept and amateurish (note that I don’t say bad, as every year we get plenty examples of movies worse than this that become big hits), but I have to assume that there’s a few people out there that read the names Battlefield Earth and Plan 9 and want to check this out, and it is to those people that I give these stars for. It’s one of those rare brilliant terrible movies, and one that everyone should find time to see.

Rating: ***