Movie Review ~ Please Don’t Destroy: The Treasure of Foggy Mountain

The Facts:

Synopsis: Three deadbeat co-workers fend off hairless bears, desperate park rangers, and a hypocritical cult leader while searching for a priceless treasure.
Stars: Martin Herlihy, John Higgins, Ben Marshall, Bowen Yang, Meg Stalter, X Mayo, Nichole Sakura, Cedric Yarbrough, Sunita Mani, Conan O’Brien
Director: Paul Briganti
Rated: R
Running Length: 91 minutes
TMMM Score: (6/10)
Review: Having climbed down the other side of (The Treasure of) Foggy Mountain, I can safely admit that I didn’t go into it with the highest expectations.  While I have been slowly warming up to the trio of young comics that make up the comedy group Please Don’t Destroy, I was dubious about any attempt to stretch their brand of humor for anything longer than their allotted five-minute absurdist videos shown weekly on Saturday Night Live.  What started as fitfully funny frolicking in the halls of 30 Rock has evolved into an often dependably humorous effort by rising stars that clearly know their target audience.

I’m not their target demographic, by the way, but even so, I was surprised at how entertaining, engaging, and clever their first film was.  Not only that, but it’s also far better assembled and performed than it has any right to be.  With more technical polish and jokes landed per minute than your average SNL upstarts, Please Don’t Destroy: The Treasure of Froggy Mountain eschews any feeling of playing like an extended sketch.  Instead, director Pete Briganti teams with stars/writers Martin Herlihy, John Higgins, and Ben Marshall to sand off any rough edges, revealing a potential late-night snack you can watch at home that I’m guessing will pair well with fast food and an adult beverage (or edible) of your choosing.

Best friends Ben, Martin, and John have been inseparable since a grade-school talent show where budding magician John (John Higgins) had an unfortunate accident with a fire trick gone awry.  Now they all work at Trout Plus, an outdoor supply store owned by Ben’s (Marshall) dad (Conan O’Brien, The Mitchells vs the Machines), who dreams of his son taking over the business but can’t trust him yet with the responsibility.  As Martin (Herilhy) prepares for an adult baptism to please his religious girlfriend, they suddenly realize they’ve gotten stuck in an old routine that hasn’t allowed them to grow.

Then John remembers an old compass they found near Foggy Mountain when they were children and learns that it may hold the key to finding a lost treasure (a bust of Marie Antoinette) worth a bundle and thought lost forever.  If they can locate the item, it would solve many of their current issues related to money, family, and plans for the future.  The only problem is that the men are little more than boys and have yet to face any real challenges in the world.  Entering an unknown wilderness puts them up against a mysterious guru (Bowen Yang, Dicks: The Musical) and his bizarre cult, two park rangers (Meg Stalter, Hacks and X Mayo, The Blackening) with their own interest in the treasure, rogue wildlife, and their own insecurities of falling short of their potential.

Narrated by a self-aware John Goodman (10 Cloverfield Lane), the script is filled with several clunkers and off-color lines that will have you rolling your eyes at their bad taste.  Thankfully, there are far more jokes that land dead-center bullseyes and grand visual gags, often at the extreme expense of one or more of the leads (usually Higgins).  Never veering too far into gross-out humor, most of the laughs come from genuine one-liners and not from the more insipid asides that could have threatened to cheapen the movie had they gone on longer.

For once, having Judd Apatow (Trainwreck) on board as a producer helps move things in the right direction.  Apatow has shepherded many young talents forward in this industry and works with this trio to extract the best moments.  Yes, it does start to drag near the end when Yang gets more slack than is necessary, but up until then, it’s a brisk walk in the woods with a charismatic crew.  Add in Stalter and X Mayo, who bring in a boisterous edge vastly different from what the men are putting out, and you have an array of comedy styles to choose from.

I was surprised to read that the initial script for the film was written and sold before Please Don’t Destroy was hired onto SNL (Herilhy and Higgins are sons of former SNL producers/writers…so that had to have helped) because this feels like a project that would have been greenlit based on their increasing popularity.  That a studio and Apatow saw something special in this before any of the SNL hoopla had hit speaks volumes to the quality of the first pass and the subsequent revision of the script and performances low on the obnoxious meter have given Please Don’t Destroy: The Treasure of Foggy Mountain a leg up on similar SNL features. 

Movie Review ~ The Mitchells vs The Machines


The Facts:  

Synopsis: A quirky, dysfunctional family’s road trip is upended when they find themselves in the middle of the robot apocalypse and suddenly become humanity’s unlikeliest last hope. 

Stars: Abbi Jacobson, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Michael Rianda, Eric André, Olivia Colman, Blake Griffin, Fred Armisen, Beck Bennett, Chrissy Teigen, John Legend, Charlyne Yi, Conan O’Brien, Sasheer Zamata, Elle Mills, Jay Pharoah, Alex Hirsch, Griffin McElroy 

Directors: Michael Rianda & Jeff Rowe 

Rated: PG 

Running Length: 113 minutes 

TMMM Score: (7/10) 

Review: Were this a time when we were back seeing movies in theaters, a film like The Mitchells vs The Machines (which was originally set to be released in 2020) would have been one that made me glad for stadium seating that allows me a nice distance between the screen and my seat.  There’s so much going on in the movie that it often becomes an overwhelming mash of color, ideas, and sound.  As a child, it would have served to stimulate a number of my senses in just the way the animators at Sony meant to but as I get older, I find that these mile-a-minute delirium exercises put a serious crimp in the overall way I absorb the story.  That means the performances land with a little less oomph and the sweetness at the heart of the screenplay from writer/directors Michael Rianda & Jeff Rowe can’t quite get its hands in a firm enough grasp at your heartstrings to tug away whenever it wants to. 

It’s definitely not for lack of trying, don’t get me wrong.  Rianda & Rowe are willing to go to great lengths and expend copious amounts of energy and animation to send home the message about the importance of family and, more pointedly, family time.  In this ever-expanding world of technology when it can be easy for us to self-isolate, families spend less quality time together than ever before and it becomes an effort to get everyone (parents included) out of their “screens” and involved with one another.  In Rianda & Rowe’s brightly hued world, a service known as PAL (voiced on the mainframe by Olivia Colman, The Father) is installed on nearly every phone and also into many of the machines the country uses on a daily basis.  Think of it as Alexa from Amazon, just with a wider net and a much more sensitive skin that’s easily rankled. 

Katie Mitchell has a number of PAL powered devices and for good reason, she’s a budding filmmaker that’s been at work since she was a small child making movies involving her family and dog.  As she has grown older, she feels like she doesn’t fit into the small-town life and craves a creative community of like-minded individuals (note the rainbow-pin on her jacket and later references to her relationship with Jade) that speak her language.  More than anything, her once inseparable bond with her dad Rick (Danny McBride, Sausage Party) has frayed and father and daughter barely know each other anymore, much to the dismay of mom Linda (Maya Rudolph, The Way Way Back). 

When tensions rise the night before Katie is set to leave for college, Rick makes a terrible error in judgement and decides to make up for it by gathering the family (including always-worried brother Aaron) and road-tripping his only daughter off to school instead of having Katie fly out there on her own.  A bad idea at first, it proves to be a stroke of genius because the family is together when a new model of PAL is released, causing the previous version to erupt in a jealous rage.  Using a virus to take over her replacements, she begins to enslave the humans in a giant prison. However there’s one family that won’t go down without a fight, one that’s rediscovered their strength as a team when put through a series of high-stakes battles with bots.

It’s never quite clear to me what endgame PAL was after but it doesn’t really matter in the end. The Mitchells vs. The Machines is about watching a family that has drifted apart find their way back to one another when put into a perilous situation.  I may question how young children would react to some frightening situations of appliances coming to life and attacking them and just the overall thought of electronic world domination, but it’s delivered wrapped in such a buoyant bow it’s hard to fault anyone involved too much. (I’m easily swayed, clearly.)  Running long at nearly two hours, there’s a lot of story packed in that wound up feeling repetitive and padded for time…that might be good for a theatrical release but when you’re at home I’m always in favor of a shorter sit for the family-oriented flicks.

Despite the presence of a talented comedian like Rudolph and someone that likely had a ball making this like Colman, the voice work is strangely muted here.  There’s so much in motion around everyone that it’s odd for there not to be any standout among the voices heard.  Even two rogue robots voiced by Beck Bennett (Zoolander 2) and Conan O’Brien (The Lego Batman Movie) that wind up working with the Mitchells sound interchangeable throughout.  I kept waiting for some spark to be lit, and while Colman comes close and Rudolph finds it late in the film when her character hilariously finds her inner warrior the movie comes to a close with barely any embers glowing.

For Netflix families that haven’t subscribed to Disney+ or Apple,+ which have had several impressive animated films over the past few months, there is now a viable option for entertainment in The Mitchells vs The Machines.  It’s fast, loud, and firmly a movie of today, but it will surely catch not just the eye of your kids but probably yours as well.  Not only are there positive lessons to be taken away from the sweet-natured heart of the film but its animation is stunning.