Movie Review ~ The Wedding Ringer

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Two weeks shy of his wedding, a socially awkward guy enters into a charade by hiring the owner of a company that provides best men for grooms in need.

Stars: Josh Gad, Kevin Hart, Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting, Cloris Leachman, Jenifer Lewis,  Olivia Thirlby, Mimi Rogers, Ken Howard

Director: Jeremy Garelick

Rated: R

Running Length: 101 minutes

TMMM Score: (4.5/10)

Review: I suppose it’s not exactly a ringing endorsement to say that this new Kevin Hart and Josh Gad comedy isn’t nearly as bad as it looks.  The kind of raunchy bro-fest film a critic dreads an impending screening of, I wasn’t prepared to enjoy it as much as I did.

Well, enjoy is maybe too strong of a word…let’s go with tolerate.  What we have here is a C-grade script given the B-movie treatment thanks in no small part to an A-list star.  Yes, I’m finally giving Hart (Ride Along) his due because the role was tailor made for his talents and the comedian delivers the least annoying performances of his skyrocketing career.

In an opening scene before the studio logo is even displayed (interesting choice), we meet roly poly Doug (Gad, Frozen, Thanks for Sharing) as he goes down a list of casual male acquaintances in the hunt for a best man for his nuptials to Gretchen (Cuoco-Sweeting) less than two weeks away.  Moving around in his youth left him no time to make real friends so here he finds himself about to get married with no family to speak of and without any groomsmen.

Enter Jimmy (Hart), who runs a company that provides his best man services for a price.  Doug hires Jimmy to be his stand-up guy and Jimmy organizes a group of groomsmen that, as Doug puts it, “look like the cast of The Goonies grew up and became rapists.”  From there it’s a ribald mix of frat boy humor involving peanut butter on genitals, a rowdy old vs. young game of muddy tackle football, and in the film’s most hilarious sequence, a grandmother (Cloris Leachman, The Croods) in flames.

Don’t worry if all this raises some major flags in your movie-ometer…it’s certainly no prize of a film.  The basic premise is ludicrous and the movie hammers home the kind of clichéd gender stereotypes usually reserved for in-class demonstrations illustrating how far we’ve come as a society (Men don’t cry! Women have feelings!), and a romantic subplot for Hart seems to be there only because they found an actress as short as Hart is.  Even so, I found myself engaged by Hart’s energy (he’s less screechy and ADD-ish here than ever) and entertained by the proceedings though I knew I had no real right to.

It’s important to note that the usually exasperating Gad is toned down here.  Even if the actor is subjected to one too many injuries to the face or crotch, Gad doesn’t let the role morph into one big fat joke.  I’ve never watched Cuoco-Sweeting on The Big Bang Theory so can’t speak much to her historically but let’s just say her work here screams “TV Actress On The Big Screen”.

Not great, not awful, but pleasing when it stays away from the vulgar and gross out teen boy shenanigans that form its core, The Wedding Ringer doesn’t aspire to be anything more than what it is…and that worked just fine for me.

Movie Review ~ The Judge

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Big city lawyer Hank Palmer returns to his childhood home where his father, the town’s judge, is suspected of murder. Hank sets out to discover the truth and, along the way, reconnects with his estranged family.

Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong, Dax Shephard, Billy Bob Thornton, Ken Howard, Emma Tremblay, Balthazar Getty, David Krumholtz, Sarah Lancaster, Grace Zabriskie, Denis O’Hare

Director: David Dobkin

Rated: R

Running Length: 141 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review: I can imagine the script for The Judge came together by accident.  Perhaps a pair of screenwriters were both walking around a local coffee shop with two scripts, one was about a big city lawyer defending his estranged father on a murder charge and the other was about a hot-shot attorney who retreats home after discovering his wife was cheating on him.  Maybe the two writers stumbled into one another, sending their loose-leafed scripts up in the air in a flurry of white paper and when they picked themselves up they couldn’t discern what pages belonged to which script so they decided to just combine them and sell the unified work as The Judge.

I mean, that’s one theory right?  And it’s a lot more acceptable than knowing full well and good that The Judge was no accident, made with purpose. No amount of revisionist history can save this film from being one of the worst motion pictures in my recent memory, squandering the talents of its able-bodied cast for 141 of the most ghastly minutes you’ll spend in a theater this year.

Reminding me a lot of the equally awkward This Is Where I Leave You, The Judge miraculously ups the unpleasantness factor by offering not one moment that feels genuine; at least This Is Where I Leave You had a few redeeming qualities about it …and was forty minutes shorter.

Seeing early trailers, I thought The Judge held some promise considering the pairing of two Roberts in a courtroom drama.  Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Iron Man 3) seemed like the perfect actor to be matched with Oscar winner Robert Duvall (Tender Mercies, The Paper) and sparks were expected to fly.  I’m not sure any combination of actors could have risen above the tone-deaf script that veers schizophrenically from comedy to drama, never succeeding in either arena.

Returning to his all-American hometown after his mother’s unexpected death, legal eagle Hank (Downey Jr., looking disturbingly skeletal…where’s the full faced lad from Less than Zero?) clashes with his father (Duvall), a respected town judge.  As he reconnects with his brothers (Vincent D’Onofrio and Jeremy Strong) and an old flame (Vera Farmiga, The Conjuring, totally wasted though she’s miscast in the first place), he’s drawn deeper into the unresolved past with his dad after the judge is arrested on suspicion of murder and put on trail by a vengeful prosecutor (Billy Bob Thornton, wearing a Colonel Sanders wig and flashing his receding gum line every chance he gets).

Now I’m not going to deny that there’s a good idea somewhere in the plot and perhaps if director David Dobkin wasn’t so interested in wringing the ever loving emotional life out of every single scene then The Judge may have fared better overall, serving as a minor distraction for Downey Jr. between his Marvel superhero commitments.

Nearing the end of this folly, I turned to my companion and exclaimed “There are so many emotions in this movie!” and it’s the God’s honest truth.  No emotional well is left undrained by Dobkin and co. as they move us through self-serving scene after self-serving scene.  I began to wonder if the entire movie wasn’t some elaborate prank where every acting clip shown on the Oscars wasn’t recreated in one film. There are courtroom confessions, tender moments bizarrely played out in front of masses of people, tough good-byes, difficult hellos, old wounds reopened, and healing apologies delivered as one single tear rolls down a cheek.  It’s all simply too much.

It’s an ugly film too. When the backdrops aren’t horribly digitally inserted the film takes place in houses, bars, and courtrooms that have “natural” light coming through the windows by way of 1000 watt search lights, suggesting cinematographer Janusz Kaminski (Lincoln) has shot the movie like a Christopher Nolan directed episode of Judge Judy.

Culminating in a borderline offensive finale that wears its manipulation as a badge of honor, I can’t recommend enough steering clear of this mish-mash of a missed opportunity.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Judge

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Synopsis: Big city lawyer Hank Palmer returns to his childhood home where his father, the town’s judge, is suspected of murder. Hank sets out to discover the truth and, along the way, reconnects with his estranged family.

Release Date: October 10, 2014

Thoughts: Though I’ve seen the poster and the trailer for The Judge several times now, I still fight with telling myself that it’s not the latest adaptation of a John Grisham thriller…not that the preview doesn’t suggest something similar to Grisham’s sweaty courtroom dramas that were all the rage in the mid-90s. With a nicely meaty role, star Robert Downey Jr. (The Avengers) ,may have found a nice antidote to the Iron Man/Sherlock Holmes track he’s been on for the last few years. Paired with Oscar winner Robert Duvall (Tender Mercies), I’m looking forward to seeing the two generationally different actors work alongside one another.