Movie Review ~ Nightmare Alley (2021)

The Facts:  

Synopsis: An ambitious carny with a talent for manipulating people with a few well-chosen words hooks up with a female psychiatrist who is even more dangerous than he is. 

Stars: Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Richard Jenkins, Rooney Mara, Ron Perlman, Mary Steenburgen, David Strathairn, Holt McCallany 

Director: Guillermo del Toro 

Rated: R 

Running Length: 150 minutes 

TMMM Score: (8.5/10) 

Review:  ‘Tis the season for directors that just ‘get’ movies to be coming back to theaters with a vengeance.  Filmmakers that simply understand the language of cinema and the power of the medium have had some time to either tweak their projects that were delayed due to the COVID-19 lockdown or have been continuing to work through the pandemic to finish their anticipated flicks on schedule.  And it’s so good to have them back because as much as we like to believe that moviemaking is more and more like a collaborative process, when all is said and done the buck stops with the director because it’s their vision that dictates what the tone of the film is going to be.  That’s why you can spot a Steven Spielberg (West Side Story) movie from a mile away or recognize the latest from Paul Thomas Anderson (Licorice Pizza) as it draws near, not to mention waffling around an Adam McKay satire (Don’t Look Up) and deciding if it’s for you or not.

Another director that has become instantly recognizable is Guillermo del Toro and maybe more than anyone I’ve already mentioned the Oscar-winner for The Shape of Water has a signature style that couldn’t possibly be anything else but him.  The early trailers for Nightmare Alley were classic del Toro, with the noir-ish period setting that we know was set in the past but how far in the past was anyone’s guess, well, if you hadn’t already read the 1946 novel by William Lindsay Gresham that inspired it.  Not just a well-respected filmmaker but a celebrated film fan as well, del Toro engineered those trailers and even the marketing of Nightmare Alley to be as mysterious as can be, keeping hidden the true plot of the film and it’s worked out wonderfully in creating interest to see just what is down this Alley of del Toro’s creation.

While you won’t get any spoilers out of me, I will say that like many of the foreboding places that frightened us when we were young, Nightmare Alley is a movie that gets less intriguing as more light leaks onto the shadowy plot, but for a time it does it’s work considerably well.  It also gives some already strong actors even more rich moments to add to their lifetime achievement reels.  If only the plot could be as finely etched as the performances that are floating through the piece, then we might have had something as grand as del Toro wanted to give us. 

Joining a traveling circus to escape a past we learn in doled out fragments, Stanton “Stan” Carlisle (Bradley Cooper, A Star is Born) remains a silent mystery for most of the first hour of Nightmare Alley.  Observing the carnies and hucksters who entice onlookers into the cheap freak show, he eventually moves onto working with Pete (David Strathairn, Nomadland) and Zeena (Toni Collette, Muriel’s Wedding) on their clairvoyant act.  Learning the secrets of their success becomes an opportunity for Stan and before you know it, events occur which send Stan out into a world removed from the carnival folk where he puts the “powers” he has gained to use as a way of reinventing his life.

Years later, he’s working with fellow former performer and girlfriend Molly (Roony Mara, Side Effects) in a sophisticated act for high-paying customers when an elegant but hard-edged woman (Cate Blanchett, Where’d You Go, Bernadette) tries to trip him up and expose him as a fraud.  How this woman plays into Stan’s life and what is means for his future is where the real story of Nightmare Alley begins…and where this part of the review has to end because I wouldn’t dare reveal the twists which begin to entangle with deadly results anyone that gets too close to Stan.

An overly hesitant first act/hour is mere set-up for Blanchett to swoop into del Toro’s grandly staged Nightmare Alley and remind us all how much she loves her job. In a cast of VPs, she’s ready for noir, elevating each scene to its chilling maximum potential.  The centerpiece scene between Blanchett and Cooper is a considerable crown jewel of filmmaking for 2021 and is rightfully being shown ad nauseum in clips for the film and in campaigns for both actors for awards consideration.  I don’t know if the movie will make it across that line but if anyone has the potential to get there, it’s Blanchett for her gorgeously mysterious and dangerous efforts here.

As expected, del Toro provides visuals that are impressive without being needlessly flashy. Cinematographer Dan Laustsen, The Possession, a long-time collaborator with del Toro, clearly speaks the director’s language and their work in tandem gives the film its flawless period look, along with Tamara Deverell’s beautiful production design. Though overly episodic at times and more simplistically predictable than I would have anticipated, it’s also stunningly rendered by its creative team. Expect to leave Nightmare Alley wishing to have had just one more scene for a few characters left dangling. The 150 never-boring minutes you spend in your seat with Cooper and company does fly by, though.

Movie Review ~ Dream Horse

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A Welsh cleaner and bartender persuades her neighbors and friends to contribute financially to breed and rear a racehorse. The group’s unlikely investment plan pays off as the horse rises through the ranks and puts them in a race for the national championship.

Stars: Toni Collette, Damian Lewis, Owen Teale, Joanna Page, Nicholas Farrell, Siân Phillips, Karl Johnson

Director: Euros Lyn

Rated: PG

Running Length: 113 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  When settling down to watch this quaint, PG-rated bit of molasses, I suddenly felt the urge to seek out a skein of yarn and start to knit a very large, comfy sweater.  There’s something about the tiny Welsh village setting, gentle plot mechanics, and, if not vibrantly colorful, then slightly washed-out characters which just calls for a knit one, pearl two pattern to keep your hands busy.  It will at least keep your mind from drifting too far away from Dream Horse which feels like a movie that’s been around the track a few times and is almost ready to be put out to pasture.  However, like many final laps, this one rallies at the most important moments and reminds you why the structure has worked so well time after time.

I remember seeing ads for Dream Horse last year before all the release dates shifted and I give credit to its US distributor Bleecker Street for holding on to it a full year after it was originally due to come out.  They could have moved it to a streaming release like many of their higher profile releases (Supernova comes to mind) but instead they’ve let it out of the gate right as vaccinated audiences are being told they can head back to the theater (and follow the mask mandates).  While many viewers will be clamoring for the rock ‘em sock ‘em blockbuster titles, there are a good number who will see this one as a quieter bridge to ease their way into a picture larger than their TV with a soundsystem that goes just a little higher than the one they have in their living rooms.  That it works as a pure audience pleaser at its best moments doesn’t hurt either.

Ah, but does it ever take its time getting there!  I honestly wasn’t sure Dream Horse would ever move from a trot to a full gallop during its first hour which establishes the plan made by supermarket cashier Jan Vokes (Toni Collette, Muriel’s Wedding) to form a racehorse syndicate among a group of villagers in Cefn Fforest, a former mining town in South Wales.  Her vision is to buy a mare and pair it with a thoroughbred racing stallion.  The foal the two horses would produce would be “owned” by the group who would front the costs for all of the expenses it cost to raise the horse.  When the horse grew into its potential, any profits from championships won would be divided among the neighbors.

The script from Neil McKay tends to move quickly over some of the finer details within this initial set-up and doesn’t bother filling in some other gaps along the way (Jan has two children who we never see or hear much of which have left her and husband Brian as empty nesters) and this can be frustrating to a viewer wanting to get more character bang for their buck.  What McKay and director Euros Lyn do like to spend time with is in the mundanity of syndicate meetings that follow the typical trajectory of Jan having to convince those initially hesitant to come onboard only to then almost be ousted from her own group that suddenly feels they know better. 

Often in these sporting films the “sport” winds up being the least interesting thing on screen but in Dream Horse it’s the opposite.  Just as I was thinking the film would be a disappointing misfire, albeit a well-performed and well-intentioned one, Lyn and cinematographer Erik Wilson (Paddington 2) stage the first of several races that will raise your blood pressure far more than you’d expect.  Add in Benjamin Woodgates (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse) score which is equal parts rousing and relentless and it creates a feeling like you’re right there cheering from the sidelines.  It creates a dramatically different sensation than the rest of the film, one that invests in emotions almost by accident.

Although the actress is able to disappear into most any working-class role with ease, it’s not quite the performance from Collette I think is in her wheelhouse.  I just didn’t connect with her connection to the horse, only later on when you see how the horse represents something much more than we originally think does it begin to make sense.  During the film’s laudable closing credits (done with gusto in a music hall style sing along) we see some of the real people involved, making one appreciate how well Owen Teale (Tolkien) transformed into the rough and rumpled teddy bear husband of Jan…down to the set of teeth that look assembled from the Tooth Fairy’s junk drawer.  There’s perhaps one too many leads fighting for attention, meaning Damian Lewis (Run This Town) gets overshadowed (unintentionally) by Teale and a few of the more memorable residents of Cefn Fforest.

I’d be lying if I said the final twenty minutes of the movie didn’t aid in almost entirely erasing that first stodgy hour, so while it doesn’t totally wipe the slate clean, Dream Horse crosses the finish line in a well-earned position.  It will at least help others, like me, finish up some knitting projects that went by the wayside if they watch it at home.

Movie Review ~ Knives Out

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: A detective investigates the death of a patriarch of an eccentric, combative family.

Stars: Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Lakeith Stanfield, Michael Shannon, Ana de Armas, Don Johnson, Jamie Lee Curtis, Christopher Plummer, Toni Collette, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell, K Callan, Riki Lindhome, Edi Patterson, Raúl Castillo

Director: Rian Johnson

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 130 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: Readers, there’s a mystery to solve and I need your help finding the solution.  Who killed the whodunit?  The suspects are as follows.  Studio execs that didn’t see the value in continuing to produce mid-range budgeted films that would often make their money back but didn’t have franchise possibilities.  Screenwriters that grew lazy with their material and started to rehash well-worn plots that didn’t keep viewers guessing as much as it did counting down the minutes until the inevitable twist was introduced.  Audiences that stayed away, preferring their trips to the theater be reserved for spectacles of populist entertainment.  The death was slow but not unexpected, with the last gasp occurring in the dead of a summer’s night in the mid 2000s.

A life-long fan of mysteries, I’ve been starving for an old-fashioned whodunit, the kind of jigsaw puzzle of a movie that wasn’t just about unmasking a teen slasher but doing some detective work to get answers.  It’s probably why I welcomed 2018’s remake of Murder on the Orient Express with an extra warm hug (more than most critics) and why I was eagerly anticipating the release of writer/director Rian Johnson’s Knives Out.  Here was the pre-Thanksgiving feast I’d been waiting for and if the early previews delivered on its promise, there was a distinct possibility it could lead to more of its kind in the future.  Boasting a star-studded cast, cheeky humor, and a solid but not entirely complex enigma at its core, Knives Out is decidedly entertaining but curiously lacking in connection.

You’re in a spoiler-free zone so read on with confidence knowing nothing not already presented in the trailers will be discussed. 

Famed mystery novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World) has been found dead the morning after his birthday party where his entire family was in attendance.  Originally ruling the death a suicide, the police have gathered the family for another round of questioning when an anonymous tip attracts the attention of famous detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig, Skyfall).  One by one, every family member recounts their memory of the last night they saw Harlan alive, each producing a slightly different take on the evening.  Only Harlan’s young attendant/nurse Marta (Ana de Armas, Blade Runner 2049) seems to be able to speak the truth, but then again she has a physical aversion to lying that causes her to…well, you’ll just have to see for yourself.

The first forty five minutes of Knives Out is occupied with Blanc and Lieutenant Elliott (LaKeith Stanfield, The Girl in the Spider’s Web) getting to know the family better, giving us a chance to see their internal dynamics as well.  Daughter Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis, Halloween) is a self-made businesswoman married to loafer Richard (Don Johnson, Paradise) and their charming but churlish son Ransom (Chris Evans, Avengers: Endgame) is the clear black sheep of the family.  Running his father’s publishing house is Walt (Michael Shannon, Midnight Special) and he grows frustrated with his dad’s refusal to take advantage of the profitable endeavors he has been proposing.  Married to a third sibling that passed away, Joni (Toni Collette, Krampus) and her daughter Meg (Katherine Langford, Love, Simon) are kept close even if behind closed doors they aren’t truly considered family.  Then there is Harlan’s mother (K. Callan, American Gigolo), a near silent crone that’s always watching and definitely always listening.

That’s a lot of people to juggle, and I haven’t even discussed a few extra bodies, but by some miracle Johnson’s script manages to make time for all of them.  Still, it never quite feels like enough.  Viewers will be surprised how little certain stars are participatory as the movie unfolds.  Sure, they have an impact on the plot and get moments to shine but with an ensemble this large it’s natural to miss out on featuring everyone all the time.  Thankfully, Johnson (Looper) learned a thing or two from his time on Star Wars: The Last Jedi and knows how to pepper the movie with spikes of energy if the pacing is starting to drop off.  Each time the plot seemed to be hitting a bit of a wall, it pivoted in some tiny way to keep you off kilter.  I would have liked there to a bit more, ultimately, to this family.  The way it’s scripted, they are slightly walking jokes waiting for a set-up and punchline.

As for the mystery of what happened to Harlan Thrombey, well I wouldn’t dream of giving that away.  What I will say is that I appreciated Johnson didn’t cheat when all was revealed.  Having seen enough of these movies over the years I can easily start to piece together the clues and so when I saw them pop up I started to place the important pieces to one side.  When it was time to step back and see the big picture, it was nice to see it all fit together…and not precisely in the way I thought it was going to.  The performances and cinematography are key to pulling this kind of sleight-of-hand off more than anything and Johnson’s cast of experienced professionals all are more than up to the challenge.

The biggest take away I have for you is this: Knives Out is a lot of fun.  In a movie-going era where so many films that get released are dependent on existing intellectual property, it’s a welcome relief that a studio like Lionsgate went the extra mile with this and supported Johnson in his endeavor to try something old but in a modern way.  It’s a little light, if I’m being honest, and I’m not sure what a second viewing will be like.  I know I do want to see it again and that’s saying something.  It’s supposed to snow this Thanksgiving weekend where I am in the Midwest and I can’t think of a better way to spend a gloomy snow day than in a warm theater watching a movie like this play out — the community experience for this one should be fun.

The Silver Bullet ~ Hereditary

Synopsis: When Ellen, the matriarch of the Graham family, passes away, her daughter’s family begins to unravel cryptic and increasingly terrifying secrets about their ancestry. The more they discover, the more they find themselves trying to outrun the sinister fate they seem to have inherited.

Release Date: June 8, 2018

Thoughts: I’ve been following the reports out of the 2018 Sundance Film Festival and Hereditary is a title I’ve seen pop up on more than few must see lists.  Now, it’s well-known that not every title that makes it big at Sundance goes on to perform like gangbusters at the global box office (hello, The Birth of a Nation) but I’ve a happily nagging suspicion this horror film from first time director Ari Aster has the goods to go all the way.  I’d see Toni Collette (Muriel’s Wedding) in almost anything but am especially excited to see her take on this role; while the actress has been a value-add to anything she lends herself out to, it’s about time she gets another solid hit under her belt.  There’s enough creepy goings-on in this trailer to entice but not spoil…and that always intrigues me to see more.  It’s not coming out until June but distributor A24 has proven it has excellent timing so I’m confident Hereditary has fallen into worthy hands.

Movie Review ~ Krampus

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A boy who has a bad Christmas ends up accidentally summoning a Christmas demon to his family home.

Stars: Adam Scott, Toni Collette, Emjay Anthony, Allison Tollman, David Koechner, Conchata Ferrell, Stefania LaVie Owen, Krista Stadler

Director: Michael Dougherty

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 98 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: ‘Tis the season to be merry, not scary, but don’t tell the makers of Krampus that.  In fact, try to put aside your notions of what a “holiday movie” is and hunker down with this chilly chiller that aims to give your yuletide some monster movie madness.  Part Gremlins, part National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Krampus may not be destined for a yearly Christmas watch but it’s still fine entertainment, a more than decent bit of counter-programming to more traditional festive choices.

Popular in Austrain folklore for hundreds of years, the Krampus is a massive goat-like creature that has a fondness for punishing bad boys and girls that are most certainly on Santa’s naughty list.  I’m a little surprised that it’s taken this long for Krampus to headline his own Hollywood film but time has shown that Christmas is one holiday that movie audiences don’t like to see sullied with blood and gore (unless it’s in a “respectable” Scorsese or Coppola picture).

Released so soon after Black Friday, the opening credits of Krampus elicit some knowing chuckles playing over a slo-mo scene of chaos with customers at MegaMart pushing each other down and climbing over employees to get the best deals. Overzealous deal seekers are tasered and beaten as ‘It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas’ sweetly plays in the background.  This opening tells you exactly what kind of movie you’re watching and helps set the tone for what’s to come.

Pre-teen Max (Emjay Anthony, The Jungle Book) just wants Christmas to be the way it was when he was younger, when his family spent more time together and everyone still believed in Santa Claus (ooops, spoiler alert?).  Nowadays, his sister (Stefania LaVie Owen) has better things to do and his parents (Adam Scott, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty & Toni Collette, The Way Way Back) have lost some of their spark.  With the arrival of his timid aunt (Allison Tollman) and obnoxious uncle (equally obnoxious David Koechner, Hit and Run), their brood of heinous hellions, and a boozy grump of an aunt (Conchata Ferrell, Erin Brockovich), things go from bad to worse when Max inadvertently conjures up our titular monster.  Arriving with a bitter snowstorm and a host of creepy creatures to do most of his dirty work, Krampus stalks the snowbound family now holed up in their house without power or heat.

Director Michael Dougherty made a slick little Halloween horror film in 2007 called Trick ‘r Treat, an anthology film heavy on atmosphere that’s earned a cult following over the years.  He works a similar magic with Krampus, turning a hectic Christmas family gathering into a fight for survival as one by one the relatives meet grim, yet not overly gruesome, ends.

Working within the confines of a PG-13 rating without pandering, the movie is low on grotesque gore, opting instead to focus its efforts on several nicely spooky sequences that mix impressive CGI seamlessly with practical effects. There’s even a clever nod to television holiday specials with an animated sequence accompanying Max’s Austrian grandmother’s (Krista Stadler) recounting her previous run-in with Krampus when she was a young girl.  Horror fans with a bloodlust should look elsewhere because there’s little to be found here.

Over time audiences have soundly rejected horror films like Silent Night, Deadly Night that set out to make Santa and the holiday itself something to fear.  That’s not the case with Krampus.  Dougherty actually is celebrating the time of year and lamenting the loss of tradition that heavy commercialism has been chipping away at.  There’s a good moral to the story and though it starts off tentative and takes a while to get going, it has a terrific final act.  At times I wanted the film to be more than it was, maybe a little scarier, maybe a little less on-the-nose in its observances…but it’s a pleasing diversion that tickles as much as it terrifies.

The Silver Bullet ~ Krampus

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Synopsis: A demon seeks out naughty people to punish them at Christmas time.

Release Date: December 4, 2015

Thoughts: In 2007, writer/director Michael Dougherty crafted a splendid little anthology film, Trick ‘r Treat, that quickly attained a cult status among horror aficionados.  It had a fair share of scares but even better it had something that’s missing from most fright flicks…atmosphere.  A sequel to Trick ‘r Treat is in the works but Dougherty fans won’t have to wait long for his next jolt joint because clearly he’s still in the holiday spirit with December’s Krampus.

Using the anti-St. Nick figure popularized in Austrian culture as inspiration, the film centers on a dysfunctional family that gathers for the holidays pitted against a horned beast intent on keeping things not so merry and bright.  Dougherty has a wicked sense of humor and with wise-acre comedians Adam Scott (The Overnight) and David Koechner (Hit and Run) on board I can kind of see where this one will land on the comedy vs horror scale.  Toni Collette (Muriel’s Wedding) also pops up, lending a little dramatic credibility.  It looks like good scary fun that I hope won’t veer too far into campy territory.

The Silver Bullet ~ Miss You Already

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Synopsis: The friendship between two life-long girlfriends is put to the test when one starts a family and the other falls ill.

Release Date: TBD 2015

Thoughts: I love the movie Beaches.  There, it’s out there for all to read.  Yep, it’s one of those “chick flicks” that require a box of Kleenex and a god hug from someone you love when it’s over…but it does the trick time and time again.  I mention this because having seen the trailer for Miss You Already several times now I keep thinking how much this feels like a Beaches for a new generation.  Toni Collette (Tammy) is the friend that seems to be dying with dignity while Drew Barrymore (Blended) takes on the supportive chum that dries her tears.  Hopefully director Catherine Hardwicke (Twilight) can throw a few curveballs our way because while this looks like it could be fitfully entertaining, it also gives off a whiff of an also-ran affair.  Maybe it’s just that Barrymore seems so out of place here (no shocker since she got the role after both Jennifer Aniston and Rachel Weisz bowed out) but it’s Collette that will get my butt in the seat.

Movie Review ~ The Boxtrolls

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A young orphaned boy raised by underground cave-dwelling trash collectors tries to save his friends from an evil exterminator.

Stars: Ben Kingsley, Isaac Hempstead Wright, Elle Fanning, Dee Bradley Baker, Steve Blum, Toni Collette, Jared Harris, Nick Frost, Richard Ayoade, Tracy Morgan, Simon Pegg

Director: Anthony Stacchi, Graham Annable

Rated: PG

Running Length: 97 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: I’ve been a fan of the last two films from Laika Entertainment, the stop-motion animation studio based in, of all places, Oregon. With Coraline and ParaNorman, the company showed that they weren’t afraid to craft a children’s film out of dark subjects and seemed to gleefully bask in their penchant for the ghoulish. It’s true that Coraline and ParaNorman have their intense moments as well as providing a way for parents to perhaps begin more sensitive discussions with their children about life and death.

Laika’s newest film is the Oscar nominated The Boxtrolls, based on the novel Here Be Monsters! by Alan Snow and it finds the company coasting rather than accelerating as they tell another fractured fairy-tale filled with oddball creations. While the film is entertaining in spurts, I found my mind wandering more than it should – even in the most desolate of rehashed children’s tales I can normally find something to latch onto but I found my grip never fit with what Laika’s team was offering.

Featuring the voices of such trusted players like Ben Kingsley (Iron Man 3), Elle Fanning (Maleficent), Toni Collette (The Way Way Back), Jared Harris (Pompeii), and Tracy Morgan (Rio 2), The Boxtrolls is centered on an orphan boy raised by trolls in a town prized for its taste in cheese. When a mean ole exterminator desperate to break into the upper crust makes a deal to rid the city of the troll vermin in exchange for entrance into high (blue) cheese society, it’s up to the young lad and his precocious gal pal to save the say.

Stuffed to the gills with wondrous stop-motion imagery, the film fills you up pretty fast in the visual department and at times it all becomes a troublesome blur. Where Laika’s previous efforts felt like a good mixture of style and substance, at 96 minutes The Boxtrolls seem to stay with us a little too long. No question that the film offers better entertainment than the majority of similar films aimed at families, but I wanted to be enchanted more than impressed.

Movie Review ~ Tammy

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The Facts:

Synopsis: After losing her job and learning that her husband has been unfaithful, a woman hits the road with her profane, hard-drinking grandmother.

Stars: Melissa McCarthy, Susan Sarandon, Allison Janney, Gary Cole, Mark Duplass, Toni Collette, Nat Faxon, Dan Aykroyd, Kathy Bates, Sandra Oh

Director: Ben Falcone

Rated: R

Running Length: 96 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (0/10)

Review: There’s a special place in cinema hell for movies like Tammy. Movies so bad, so rancidly unfunny that shelf space has been reserved for them in the fiery pit right next to most Adam Sandler films, Xanadu, Exit to Eden, Cool as Ice, This is 40, and Nacho Libre. What earns Tammy higher honors than most is how it squanders every single thing it has going for it: a popular (if fatally misused) lead, a stellar cast of gifted comedy veterans and/or Oscar winners, and a prime summer spot from a top studio. Yet it’s all for naught as the movie starts off bad and only gets worse over the next punishing 90 minutes.

It’s way past April Fool’s Day but go ahead and send your worst enemy to see Tammy anyway, preferably at an evening show where they’ll shell out nearly $20 to suffer through the unbalanced comedic misery. For you see, Tammy is the awful gift that keeps on giving; never once taking into consideration that it has no laughs, no likable characters, and is as unpleasant as a Silkwood shower after a bad sunburn.

The movie is downright uncomfortable from the get go as it opens on an unkempt Melissa McCarthy driving to work while stuffing potato chips into her mouth and then running over a deer that she then tries to resuscitate. Bloody and covered in animal mess, Tammy eventually shows up to work where her boss (Ben Falcone, Enough Said, McCarthy’s true partner in film crime seeing that he’s not only her husband but the co-writer and director) promptly fires her. Before you can say “It can’t get worse, can it?” it does when Tammy arrives home to find her husband (Nat Faxon, The Way Way Back) having a romantic dinner with a neighbor (Toni Collette, Muriel’s Wedding). Faxon and Collette’s few scenes are so under rehearsed and awkward that my only conclusion is that they must have been visiting the set for the day and did this under duress or as a favor.

With no job and no husband, Tammy walks a few paces down the block to her parents’ house where she has a brief encounter with her unsympathetic mom (Allison Janney, Bad Words, only 11 years older than McCarthy) before heading off on a sorta road trip with her boozy grandmother (Susan Sarandon, Cloud Atlas, 13 years older than Janney). Sarandon was a last minute replacement for Shirley MacLaine and evidently no one bothered to redesign any costumes or wigs because Sarandon looks positively awful…and younger than Janney. With no old age make-up to be seen and the kind of grey mop of a crazy cat lady wig usually reserved for a haunted house, Sarandon may be the least convincing old person ever seen on screen. The Oscar winner is usually pretty game for anything but McCarthy and Falcone’s script is so unfocused that she’s never afforded the opportunity to really make something of her aging alcoholic granny.

No, instead of trying to instill some life into the tired old road trip formula, McCarthy and Falcone manage to find new ways to make traveling cross country boring as hell. The problem is that McCarthy keeps attempting to beat everyone to a certain punchline…and in doing so winds up making it worse for herself. Instead of this being the kind of R-rated female-driven raunch fest that’s made a comeback in the last several years, it’s a painfully dull series of scenes featuring McCarthy’s buffoonish and grating style of comedy. Where is the winning sincerity that made her an overnight star (and an unlikely but deserving Oscar nominee) in Bridesmaids? Instead of continuing on that route of using her comedic skills for good, she’s been wasting her gifts in garbage like Identity Thief, The Heat, and cameos (This is 40, The Hangover Part III) meant to be funny that come off as irritating.

Everything about McCarthy’s performance seems familiar…mostly because it’s just a rehash of the simpleton characters she’s played onscreen and in increasingly slack appearances as host of Saturday Night Live. There was a time when I thought McCarthy had it all in the bag, but it’s becoming crystal clear that she’s a comic with limited longevity even though her off screen persona suggests someone you want to have an 80s style sleepover with. McCarthy (and the audience) deserves better than this…but as the co-writer and producer of Tammy she can’t blame anyone but herself.

The one redeeming piece of Tammy is a heart to heart scene between McCarthy and Kathy Bates (Titanic, playing a wise old lesbian) that, though remarkably genuine, comes too late in the game to change my overall feeling toward the picture. The scene offered a glimmer of the poignant comedy I think McCarthy may have at one time been aiming for but it’s gone in a flash in favor of more inane dialogue and slapdash film-making.

Truly terrible, Tammy is another nail in McCarthy’s career coffin she appears to be more than happy to be lying in. It’s the kind of film where you sink lower and lower in your seat the more banal it becomes. The audience I saw the film with started off laughing heartily but soon trailed off into sparse uncomfortable titters as everyone became aware just how rotten it all was. I can’t imagine I’ll see a worse film in 2014 and think that anyone that makes it to the end deserves some sort of certificate of achievement. Avoid at all possible costs (but do take my advice and send your nemesis to a midnight screening).

The Silver Bullet ~ Tammy

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Synopsis: After losing her job and learning that her husband has been unfaithful, a woman hits the road with her profane, hard-drinking grandmother.

Release Date:  July 2, 2014

Thoughts: Ok…let me just say something that no one seems really willing to say: Melissa McCarthy has not delivered on the promise put forth in her rightfully praised breakthrough (and Oscar nominated) performance in Bridesmaids.  She just hasn’t.  She hasn’t.  You can disagree all you want but having watched McCarthy rehash the same character in films like Identity Thief, This is 40, The Hangover Part III, and The Heat not to mention her last severely awful hosting gig at Saturday Night Live I’m just not on her bandwagon anymore.  Like The Heat, this first trailer for Tammy has zero laughs, finding McCarthy pulling the same shtick we’ve seen her do countless times.  That’s depressing considering the impressive roster of actors involved with the movie like Susan Sarandon (Jeff, Who Lives at Home), Dan Aykroyd (This is My Life), Kathy Bates (Titanic: 3D), and Allison Janney (The Way Way Back).  I’m actually dreading this movie.