Movie Review ~ Becky (2020)


The Facts
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Synopsis: A teenager’s weekend at a lake house with her father takes a turn for the worse when a group of convicts wreaks havoc on their lives.

Stars: Lulu Wilson, Kevin James, Amanda Brugel, Robert Maillet, Joel McHale

Director: Jonathan Milott & Cary Murnion

Rated: R

Running Length: 100 minutes

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review:  When I was in my early 20s, I accompanied my parents on a trip to Las Vegas where we gambled, hit the buffets, and saw some shows.  It being our first time in the city, we did all the things the tourists do and by the time the week was drawing to a close, all my parents wanted to do was to take a night off and relax in the room.  I wanted to see one more Vegas show so I grabbed a last minute ticket to some random extravaganza playing at one of the off-brand hotels.  Sitting in my seat, I couldn’t believe my luck when before the show an announcer came on to tell the audience that going on between acts would be Kevin James!  Wow!  The King of Queens himself!  I waited through the dreary first half only to find out that a) it wasn’t the Kevin James I thought it was and b) this Kevin James was a lousy magician.

You’d understand, then, why I was trepidatious when reading the plot summary of Becky which listed Kevin James as an escaped neo-Nazi prisoner that terrorizes a family.  I mean, surely this time it really wasn’t the same guy, right?  Could the magician have gone into acting or was this really the funnyman known for his comedy turns on television and a string of half-hearted attempts to be a movie star?  Was James making a play for a more hardened character, distancing himself from the silly Adam Sandler umbrella he’s stayed safely under for more than a decade?  Admirably, Becky shows a new side of James but unfortunately for him the performance is part and parcel of such a repugnant film that the effort hardly seems worth noting.

Ever since her beloved mother died, Becky (Lulu Wilson, Annabelle: Creation) has had trouble adjusting to the new normal.  Her father Jeff (Joel McHale, The Happytime Murders) has tried to let his emotional daughter have her space to grieve but he’s decided to take steps to move forward, announcing his engagement to single mother Kayla (Amanda Brugel, Suicide Squad) at the start of what was supposed to be a father-daughter weekend at the family lake house.  Annoyed at the arrival of Kayla and her young son, Becky storms off to her tree fort in the woods…right about the time escaped prisoners Dominick (James, Pixels), Apex (Robert Maillet, Pacific Rim), and a few of their old friends show up on the hunt for an item stashed away.

As the audience, we’ve already seen the extent to which Dominick will go to get his way after his bloody flee from custody and a grisly crime that’s thankfully only hinted at.  He may have met his match, though, because Becky is an easily aggressed powder keg waiting to blow and doesn’t take kindly to the violence she witnesses going on in her home.  Thus begins less of a cat and mouse game but something more akin to two lions circling one another, with each devouring anything less important that gets in their way.  Becky uses her problem solving quick thinking and knowledge of the area to her advantage while Dominick relies on brute force to draw her closer, leading to a blood-soaked showdown.

The movie I’m describing sounds like an appealing and clever home invasion thriller and I bet the script from Nick Morris, Lane Skye and Ruckus Sky had some snap to it when it was originally conceived.  It wouldn’t be hard to sell me on a Home Alone meets survival horror movie but it’s a question of taste that has to be examined.  Under the direction of Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion Becky is about as repulsive an endeavor as you’re likely to see in 2020.  The bad taste on display is so egregious, from violence against animals to violence against children, it’s just absolutely no fun to watch and not even that fun to write about after the fact.  I’ve seen enough of these types of films to know that I don’t need to watch one that involves grown men beating up underage kids and killing pets – is that the kind of entertainment we’ve found ourselves craving and wanting to celebrate as a good time?

Honestly, it doesn’t help matters that Becky herself is awful – rude, dismissive, stubborn, and nihilistic, it goes beyond the typical beleaguered teenager and invites you to not so secretly want to root against her.  There’s the suggestion that maybe Becky has an evil streak in her as well, but no one involved behind the scenes was thoughtful enough to explore that more intriguing side to the character.  You get the feeling Wilson was trying to give her a sinister edge that wasn’t entirely on the page, but it’s largely silenced by Milott and Murnion’s glee for gore.  Instead of finding moments to see deeper within Becky’s psyche, we’re treated to another horrific bit of sleaze, often involving a sharp object and viscera.

Having two comedians (McHale and James) in dramatic leading roles also gives the movie a strange imbalance because there’s a sense of waiting for one of them to break during the deadly serious scenes.  McHale just isn’t cut out for dramatic acting and even his comedic turns are skating on thin ice, at least James does something with his part that feels like some homework was put in.  It’s not a revelatory performance but it’s a fine effort that should be noted and explored in further films down the line.  If the other supporting players offer little in terms of surprise, it’s only because there isn’t much space allotted to them seeing that Becky and Dominick suck up the air from most scenes.  Let’s also not forget that the entire movie hinges on Dominick being after something (I won’t reveal what) that makes precious little sense to anyone but him.  That all these characters should be swept up in the nonsense simply adds to the pointlessness of the whole exercise.

I felt really gross watching Becky and if it was something I’d casually picked out on Netflix, I probably would have turned it off twenty minutes in.  While I like the concept of what the script had laid out, it skewed too young and overly irresponsible for me and that left it feeling vacuous, like an experiment that failed to meet its potential.  It’s bloody and it’s brutal so gorehounds will likely sniff this one out fairly quickly, but will the connoisseurs of revenge thrillers go for a film served up with such foul ingredients?

Movie Review ~ The Happytime Murders


The Facts
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Synopsis: When the puppet cast of an ’80s children’s TV show begin to get murdered one by one, a disgraced LAPD detective-turned-private eye puppet takes on the case.

Stars: Melissa McCarthy, Elizabeth Banks, Maya Rudolph, Joel McHale, Leslie David Baker, Bill Barretta, Dorien Davies, Kevin Klash

Director: Brian Henson

Rated: R

Running Length: 91 minutes

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review: Continuing the entertainment industry’s penchant for turning the sweet and cuddly into rude and raunchy, The Happytime Murders comes from none other than the son of Jim Henson, creator of The Muppets. Brian Henson grew up in Muppet-land and even directed Muppet Treasure Island and the enduring chestnut that is The Muppet Christmas Carol. Like a former child star that decides to pose in Playboy, Henson wants to show us all how grown up he is by pandering to the lowest common denominator, not just in jokes but in filmmaking. The results is a gross, stupid movie that elicits a few shocked laughs but more often than not earns a somber silence.

At the screening I attended for The Happytime Murders there was a problem with the projection and they had to stop the film about five minutes in. This turned out to be a blessing. Not only did it get rid of the foreign language subtitles that had been mistakenly turned on but it also gave audiences a chance to see what a second viewing of the movie might be like.  And it wasn’t pretty.  The first time a puppet swore, there was a huge reaction from the crowd. When a female puppet said something repulsively filthy, you could hear shrieks of stunned cackles. Then the movie stopped to fix the issue and they started it from the beginning. The next time these same jokes came around not ten minutes later, there were light titters but the odd feeling we knew it wasn’t truly funny the first time.

Aping on the classic film noir, the film follows disgraced cop turned private investigator Phil Philips (voiced by Bill Barretta, Muppets Most Wanted) as he teams up with his former partner (Melissa McCarthy, The Boss) to solve a series of murders. All the victims were members of a popular kids show, the first of its kind to show puppets and humans on equal ground, even though in reality puppets are seen as second-class citizens humans can do whatever they want with. At the same time, Phillips gets tangled up with a femme fatale client (voiced by Dorien Davies) being blackmailed who has more than her fair share of skeletons in the closet.

The set-up is not so far afield from the likes of Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett but I doubt either writer could have ever thought they’d be mentioned in a review about trampy puppets that secrete, excrete, and swear like sailors. Screenwriter Todd Berger’s weary script resurrects ‘90s-era groaners in between languid exposition and tired twists. Any audience member that’s watched a police procedural in the last three decades will be able to spot the killer and figure out their motive long before our hero does.

There’s probably no point in poking holes in the logic here but I’m going to give it a go. The way that Berger and Henson see it, puppets are little more than socks filled with fluff so it’s easy to watch them get torn up, blown up, or wrung out without cringing too much. Yet at the same time we’re led to believe that a human can receive an organ transplant from a puppet that supposedly isn’t made of any kind of tissue and just how are these puppets popping out Easter eggs when frightened or ejaculating silly string when excited? If they aren’t more than stuffing, where is the glitter pee coming from? I won’t even get into the scene set in a sex shop that features an octopus doing terrible things with their eight arms to a ecstatic cow.

Poor McCarthy, she’s regressing right back into the gutter humor that did her no favors in films like This is 40 and Tammy. While she’s made a bid in the last few years for respect with Spy and Life of the Party, here she’s slumming it once again and apparently without much arm-twisting. This is a tired performance from an actress that usually shows boundless energy. The same sorrow can be felt for Maya Rudolph (Inherent Vice) who gives great moll but is stuck delivering her lines to a puppet – it’s a lot of energy being spent for absolutely no result. Elizabeth Banks (Pitch Perfect 3) another actress like McCarthy that has experience with ribald comedy, deserves some sort of award for sportsmanship for the scene where she peels a carrot in order to sexually excite a trio of rabbits.  Proving he’s definitely no movie star once and for all, Joel McHale (Blended) pops up as a grimacing FBI agent and manages to miss every potential laugh.

The most shocking thing about the movie is that, based on the audience I saw the film with, parents actually are considering it OK to bring their kids. This is nowhere near an acceptable film for anyone under 17 and this is coming from someone who saw a heap of inappropriate films in the theater before I was old enough to drive. Parents…please, don’t bring your kids to this. YOU don’t even have to go…and, in fact, you shouldn’t.

Movie Review ~ Blended

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blended_ver6

The Facts:

Synopsis: After a bad blind date, a man and woman find themselves stuck together at a resort for families, where their attraction grows as their respective kids benefit from the burgeoning relationship.

Stars: Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Joel McHale, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Kevin Nealon, Jessica Lowe, Terry Crews, Dan Patrick, Bella Thorne, Emma Fuhrmann, Alyvia Alyn Lynd, Kyle Red Silverstein, Braxton Beckham

Director: Frank Coraci

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 117 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review: Let me take you back to 1998 when Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler first teamed up for the retro fun of The Wedding Singer. Here was a movie that capitalized on the enormous appeal of Barrymore and the comedic shenanigans of Sandler that hit the right notes, poked fun at itself, and had the most excellent rapping granny that left the audience in stitches. Six years later, Barrymore and Sandler tried to recapture that chemistry in 50 First Dates, a pleasant but arguably lesser bauble for the duo that nonetheless brought Sandler ever so briefly back from the absurd films he was drifting into.

It’s 10 years later and while Barrymore (Cat’s EyeBig Miracle) has matured in her film selections and even displayed some genuine strength in her performances, Sandler (Hotel Transylvania) has regressed even further. After years of delivering knuckle-dragging doofus roles I’m wondering if Sandler’s manager suggested re-teaming with Barrymore again as a way to hit the reset button on a career that was flagging. Barrymore, bless her heart, took the bait and the end result is Blended.

I’ll say that Blended started out with a curious promise of something better…so much so that I remarked to my theater companion that, though the film was uniquely dumb, I was actually enjoying it. Clearly the movie was going to end up in the “Pleasant” category on my Enjoyable Time at the Movies scale.

Then I guess the inevitable happened. Once the audience was fooled into thinking the movie wasn’t going to be the lame write-off we’ve come to expect from a Sandler film, that nice rug of laid back fun was yanked from under us and Blended became another obnoxious bore of a flick that isn’t worth your time or your second-thoughts.

One thing the trailers fail to inform you is that precious little time of the film is spent in the African setting that’s in most of the promotional materials, even the poster. In fact, you have to wait at least 45 minutes before Africa is even mentioned and by that time you may be diagramming your escape plan from the theater. There’s some business of Barrymore and Sandler being set-up on a date, one that goes horribly wrong at the local Hooters. Ivan Menchell and Clare Sera’s wafer-brained script miraculously has the two meeting again, all in service to the single parents being in the right place at the right time to hear about an unused vacation package in Africa purchased by the head of Dick’s Sporting Goods.

OK…if anyone can legitimately watch this film and tell me how middle class Sandler and Barrymore manage to find the funding to go on this trip I will write a song about you and sing it in a slow straight tone ala Carey Mulligan in Shame. Even more…how Dick’s employee Sandler manages to have the private number of the owner of Dick’s in his cell phone. Or why Barrymore’s co-worker (a so-so Wendi McLendon-Covey) who was dating Dick would put her in touch with a man that she just dumped. At that point, the movie completely lost me and it never recovered.

The conveniences continue when Sandler and his three girls and Barrymore and her two boys arrive at an African resort that looks straight out of Epcot Center. The suite the two blended families have to share, the indignities they all suffer, and the attractions they embark on are over the top and provide zero laughs along the way. It doesn’t help that all five children are the kind of home schooled straight out of acting class teeth gnashers either…

It’s hard to develop any sympathy for both children and adults in the film because they’re either incompetent dipsticks (like Kevin Nealon and Jessica Lowe) spouting the kind of giggly double entendres that went out of style when people stopped saying “righteous”, incorrigible snobs (Joel McHale, the very definition of autopilot) with lackluster line deliveries, or a mixture of both.

Director Frank Coraci (a frequent Sandler collaborator and director of The Wedding Singer) isn’t talented enough to hide the many weaknesses of the script or coax some semblance of authenticity from the performances. Someone also dropped the ball in telling the extras that not only should you not look into the camera, you shouldn’t stare into it for long stretches of time when the action takes place elsewhere.

Running a truly punishing 117 minutes, I’d expect any sane audience member will not only be able to predict the ending but will know the exact dialogue and setting where it’ll take place. Even after the credits begin to roll, Sandler and company aren’t through with us because anyone who is desperately trying to rouse their friends rendered comatose from lack of laughs will be subjected to Sandler and his real life children bleating their way through the kind of home spun song that you’d record in a Hallmark card to give on Mother’s Day. Truly awful.

The third time’s for sure not the charm where Barrymore and Sandler are concerned. At this point, Sandler should start paying us to come see his films, though I’d require compensation in advance. Barrymore, to her credit, remains ageless and shows flashes of the breezy carefree nature that has always made her a bright light…even if she’ll never be an award worthy actress. A definite pass and an early contender for worst of 2014, Blended throws its audience on the rocks.

The Silver Bullet ~ Deliver Us From Evil

deliver_us_from_evil
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JBxTF_DxN8k

Synopsis: A NYC police officer joins forces with an unconventional priest schooled in the rituals of exorcism to combat the possessions that are terrorizing their city.

Release Date:  July 2, 2014

Thoughts: I can’t help it.  I eat these based on a true-story-demonic-horror-films up with glee.  I appreciate that it appears we’ve moved past the B-movie trash filmmaking these slick horror films have employed for years and into a more sophisticated take on the scare.  Scott Derrickson earned high praise from me for directing two of the more superior horror films in the last decade, Sinister and The Exorcism of Emily Rose, so I’m inclined to have faith that Deliver Us From Evil will follow suit.  This first teaser trailer may be longer than I’d have liked but it has a nice little payoff.

The Silver Bullet ~ Blended

blended

Synopsis: After a bad blind date, a man and woman find themselves stuck together at a resort for families, where their attraction grows as their respective kids benefit from the burgeoning relationship.

Release Date:  May 23, 2014

Thoughts: Wow…it’s hard to believe that it’s been sixteen years since Drew Barrymore (Big Miracle) and Adam Sandler (Hotel Transylvania) first worked together in the smash hit, The Wedding Singer!  That 80’s set film was a pleasant retro flashback and succeeded because Barrymore was operating a peak charm and Sandler’s laid-back vibe had yet to be obliterated by a seemingly never-ending string of juvenile garbage films.  After reuniting in 2004 for 50 First Dates, Barrymore and Sandler are joining forces again to see if lightning could strike for a third time.  While Sandler’s films have miraculously made a boatload of money and Barrymore works consistently, neither has made a memorable film for ages…so could this pleasant (but very silly) looking comedy really work to their advantage?  The Wedding Singer director Frank Coraci is back on board which could be a good thing…until you see he was also at the helm for dreadful efforts like Around the World in 80 Days, Zookeeper, and Sandler’s Click.

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