Posts Tagged ‘comedy’

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For a film about, ostensibly, an out-of-control holiday rager, “Office Christmas Party” spends surprisingly little time at the titular soirée.

That’s not to say that the after-work-hours shenanigans aren’t highlighted on screen – they are, in droves – but the festive goings-on are frequently backburnered in deference to a thinly constructed plot that moves from a hail-mary attempt to save a company to a hail-mary attempt to save the company’s boss.

That boss is Clay, played by the wonderful T.J. Miller (Silicon Valley, Deadpool), an amiable man-child who inherited the Chicago branch of his deceased father’s generic tech company, which he manages with the aid of right-hand-man Josh (Arrested Development’s Jason Bateman) and right-hand-woman Tracey (Olivia Munn).

Times are tough but the company is getting by, that is until interim CEO and Clay’s big sister Carol (Jennifer Anniston) orders mass layoffs ahead of a potential branch closure. Clay’s last shot at saving his family of quirky subordinates is landing a big contract, which in turn hinges on wooing a client by charming him at the annual office holiday party.

It’s a rambling setup that takes a bit too long getting to the point: that the company’s future will be decided by the quality of an otherwise benign office mixer. But once that toy is wound, it springs to life with an eruption of energy, supplied by the expansive and comprehensive cast of comedy bit-players, including Rob Corddry, Randall Park, Sam Richardson, Vanessa Bayer and, in particular, burgeoning national treasure Kate McKinnon as a Human Resources director and surrogate office mother.

Act I is all setup, paving the way for an Act II that is a mosaic of barely contained chaos with all the destruction, nudity and tomfoolery you would expect before the final portion abandons the party scene for a chase through the snowy streets of Chicago.

The *twists*, if they can be called that, can be seen coming a mile away — a snow machine that runs on bags of nondescript white powder is a glaring example — and the plot functions less as forward momentum than a guardrail to keep things from flying off track. But once the outline is established, the ensemble provides more than enough justification for the cost of admission.

Grade: B

‘Office Christmas Party’ opens nationwide on Friday, December 9.

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Somewhere in Suburbia, USA, human resources drone Jeff Gaffney and his interior designer wife Karen (Zach Galifianakis and Isla Fisher) are living generic middle-class cul-de-sac lives when their curiosity and fascination is piqued by the arrival of new immaculate, world-traveled neighbors Tim and Natalie Jones (Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot).

Don Draper and Wonder Woman moving in next door would be enough of a counterpoint to the nebbishness of Galifianakis and Fisher, but there is, of course, more to the story as Tim and Natalie turn out to be government spies looking to bilk information about the high-security firm that their mild-mannered neighbor works for.

What follows is textbook formula for the “My friend is a spy!” genre, with Hamm and Galifianakis bonding over home-brew and a near snake poisoning  and Fisher playing the amateur sleuth whose suspicions leads first to a protracted and unfunny lingerie scene for Gadot and finally the big reveal that kicks that back half of the film into motion.

Of course Galifianakis and Fisher will be forced into a covert operation on behalf of God and Country. It’s a foregone conclusion, as are most of the major plot beats in the film equivalent of a paint-by-numbers sketch.

And yet, throughout the predictable proceedings, the charisma of the cast is able to keep things relatively afloat. Hamm and Gadot ooze charm without really bothering to show up and act, while Galifianakis and Fisher bounce off the walls. The results is a reasonably entertaining, albeit unmemorable, way to spend two hours with a soft PG-13 rating that allows for *just enough* adult humor in an otherwise harmless comedy.

Grade: B-

Keeping Up With the Joneses opens nationwide on Friday, October 21.

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In 2013, two dude-bro brothers named Mike and Dave posted an ad on Craigslist looking for dates to accompany them to a wedding. You likely heard the story, as the stunt quickly gained the viral ubiquity of our fleeting national attention.

And like clockwork, here we are three years later with an irreverent comedy based on Mike and Dave’s antics (an eventuality overtly prophesied in the Craiglist post in question). As the down-to-business title suggests, this is a movie about Mike and Dave, played by Zac Efron and Adam Devine, who need wedding dates, which they find in Anna Kendrick and Aubrey Plaza through the miracle of the internet and daytime talk show television.

Both men are well-intentioned and affable manboys whose life-of-the-party aspirations are inevitably undone by flying too close to the sun. This premise is introduced in probably the only coherent and comedically consistent vignette of the film, as Mike and Dave’s family visits with a slide-show montage of their past destruction and a mandate to arrive to their sister’s upcoming nuptials with plus-ones in tow as a protective measure against their accidentally destructive nature.

There are a few more laughs to be had, but not many. The movie plays as if SNL devoted an entire episode to a single sketch: it’s largely improvised and occasionally funny, but most of the jokes fail to land and everything would be better with a few more celebrity cameos. To their credit, Efron, Devine, Kendrick and Plaza are committed to their bits, working overtime to squeeze a few more drops of comedy blood out of the stone that is the film’s outline of a script. But their performances are also grating, particularly Plaza, who is forced to relinquish her otherwise capable comedy timing in favor of a barely two-dimensional caricature of a “bad” girl playing nice.

At every turn “Mike and Dave” seems desperate to position itself as a spiritual extension of Wedding Crashers, going so far as to name-drop the earlier film in a particularly on-the-nose scene. But while leads Efron and Devine exhibit some of that Wilson/Vaughan chemistry, the surrounding film is severely lacking in the showmanship and ingenuity of better comedies.

It’s a failed attempt that barely entertains for its shorter-than-it-feels running time.

Grade: C+

*Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates opens nationwide on Friday, July 8.

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*Portions of this review were originally published during coverage of the 2015 Sundance Film Festival

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Director Leslye Headland showed her chops for raunchy R-rated comedy with 2012’s Bachelorette, but in her follow-up, Sleeping With Other People, the filmmaker proves she can balance the belly laughs with a surprising amount of heart.

More than a decade after meeting and losing their virginity together at college, Lainey (Alison Brie) and Jake (Jason Sudeikis) reconnect at a sex addict support group. Neither are true addicts, but both are in a bit of an emotional rut and they form a platonic relationship over their mutual taste for romantic self-sabotage.

That their friendship evolves into something more complicated comes as no surprise, but the way that the film handles the emotional evolution of its comedic stars is surprising. Sudeikis, in particular, dials down his typical shtick to deliver a pseudo-dramatic and genuinely nuanced performance as a man looking for something in all the wrong ways.

The result is a charming and spirited take on modern romance that defies genre and isn’t afraid to poke at big ideas without sacrificing laughs.

Grade: A-

*Sleeping With Other People opens in Salt Lake City on Friday, October 2.

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In 2009, Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart co-starred in ‘Adventureland,’ an excellent, soft-spoken charmer about theme park workers in the 80s.

It’s been a winding road for both actors since then. Eisenberg earned an Oscar nomination for The Social Network while balancing paycheck work like Now You See Me and Rio with obscure indie projects like The Double and Night Moves.

Similarly, Stewart presumably bought several houses with her Twilight money before spending the last few years rebuilding her indie cred with prestige dramas like Camp X-Ray, Still Alice and Clouds of Sils Maria.

Which brings us to 2015, with the actors reuniting to star in ‘American Ultra,’ an action comedy that tries to be both fresh and familiar, and ends up befuddled in the process.

Eisenberg and Stewart play Mike and Phoebe, a pair of underwhelming stoners in love in Liman, West Virginia. He wants to give her a better life, but his panic attacks and frequent drug-related interactions with law enforcement keep them firmly rooted in a status quo.

But their inertia is actually part of a government conspiracy. Their lives are blown up – literally and figuratively – when CIA assassins are sent to kill Mike, who is in fact a latent government operative with a bad case of the Jason Bourne memory wipe.

Mike is reactivated just in time to defend himself and his lady love, prompting an ever-escalating amount of government fire to rain down upon them. But no amount of action choreography and shaky camera can mask the fact that Eisenberg is completely unconvincing as an action star, and the movie’s BIG TWISTS are as easy to spot as a freight train in broad daylight.

The carnage, which arrives in abundance, is played for laughs. But the attempts a Pineapple Express-esque synergy are squandered by lazy corner-cutting by the writers. For example, Walton Goggins plays a particularly deranged assassin named Laugher, who laughs a lot. It’s supposed to be clever, it’s not, and it speaks to the glaring lack of anything that resembles character development in the undercooked script.

Stranger still is the cast that turns up to stain their reputations. I can only assume that everyone owed the producers a personal favor, as there’s no other way of explaining the presence of Goggins, Connie Britton, Bill Pullman, Tony Hale and John Leguizamo.

All involved would do well to let ‘Ultra’ fade into obscurity.

Grade: C

*American Ultra opens nationwide on Friday, Aug. 21.

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*Note: Portions of this review were originally published in January as part of a series of capsule reviews for the Sundance Film Festival.

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Remember *that* guy in high school? The guy all the girls wanted and all the other guys wanted to be? For alumni committee chairman Dan (Jack Black) that guy is Oliver Lawless (James Marsden) and getting Oliver to come to the school’s 20-year reunion is Dan’s master plan at saving the event and establishing himself as one of the cool guys.

Of course, convincing Oliver to make the trip home requires Dan to take things a little too far, and the bulk of The D Train consists of Black as humble schlub, trying to keep cool while his personal and proessional life unravels.

Jumping between Los Angeles and Dan’s home base in AmericaTown, U.S.A, ‘D Train’ gets good mileage out of the unrealistic envy people place on each other’s lives. Dan, happily married and comfortably, if not discontentedly, married, fails to recognize the value of his situation compared to Oliver’s, whose acting career has peaked with a Banana Boat commercial and who can only dream of being as successful as Dan believes he is. Oliver’s narcissism feeds off of Dan’s idol worship like an overheated appliance, sucking up energy until it explodes.

If that sounds a little heady for a comedy, it is. And the failure of the film to strike a balance with its comedic impulses results in a movie that’s as uncomfortable in its own skin as its protagonist.

Ultimately the film takes a relatively simple premise and stretches it beyond comedy into increasingly bizarre territory. The result is a not-unenjoyable film that plays more odd than funny.

Grade: B

*The D Train opens nationwide on Friday, May 8.

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In a weird way, ‘Hot Pursuit’ is a feminist film. It proves, or at least provides evidence, that female-driven comedies can be just as obnoxiously asinine as male-driven ones.

Using the tired trope of the odd couple buddy comedy, ‘Pursuit’ sees Reese Witherspoon’s straight-laced officer Rose Cooper on the run with cartel wife Daniella Riva (Modern Family’s Sofia Vergara) after a witness transport assignment goes south. It’s like 3:10 to Yuma, only instead of the Wild West and gun-slinging outlaws our heroines find themselves having heated debates about their choice in undergarments and using the carcass of a deer to slip past a pair of corrupt cops.

The presence of Vergara is hardly surprising, as her non-Modern Family career has been marked by this kind of lazy, low-brow chucklefest (last year’s ‘Chef’ being a notable and baffling exception). But it’s Witherspoon who shines a too-bright light on the insipid goings-on. This is a woman who earned an Oscar for Walk the Line and appeared to returning to better things with last year’s Wild (for which she scored her second Academy nod). You could almost chock it up to a typical post-Oscar slump (see: Halle Berry in Catwoman, Charlize Theron in Aeon Flux or Sandra Bullock in All About Steve) except for the fact that Witherspoon also *produced* this film, meaning she knew exactly what she was signing up for but still took the job.

Every joke in this film is roadmapped miles ahead and arrives with the subtlety of a freight train. It functions less as a comedy than as an exercise in cinematic sleepwalking and manages to make 90 minutes feel like a monotonous eternity.

Grade: D

*Hot Pursuit opens nationwide on Friday, May 7

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