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 Blackening


The Facts:

Synopsis: Seven friends go away for the weekend, only to find themselves trapped in a cabin with a killer who has a vendetta. They must pit their street smarts and knowledge of horror movies against the murderer to stay alive.
Stars: Grace Byers, Jermaine Fowler, Melvin Gregg, X Mayo, Dewayne Perkins, Antoinette Robertson, Sinqua Walls, Jay Pharoah, Yvonne Orji
Director: Tim Story
Rated: R
Running Length: 96 minutes
TMMM Score: (6/10)
Review: As a moviegoer, is there anything more rewarding than sitting in a theater and being a part of an audience that is participating, really participating, in a film? Yes, I’m talking about laughing when it’s a comedy and screaming when it’s a horror film, but also actively listening during a drama and sniffling appropriately during a tearjerker. I’ve come to appreciate these moments and missed them when we didn’t have them during the pandemic. That shared experience is largely back in full force, and audiences are apt to get a dose of laughter and screaming with the release of The Blackening, and it’s the chief reason I would suggest seeking it out. 

Now, is The Blackening a good film? That’s another question I would have to qualify based on your expectations. In the grand scheme of all things horror related, The Blackening is a weaker entry in the larger horror canon. Its cheap production values and quickie filmmaking suggests a fast shoot and even quicker editing. On top of a severely miscalculated performance, the script from Tracy Oliver (Girls Trip) and co-star Dewayne Perkins starts strong with several meta jokes that land with a bang but wimps out quickly with a series of lame diversions that aim to distract but merely mask an unwillingness to make bold moves. 

Morgan (Yvonne Orji, Vacation Friends) and Shawn (Jay Pharoah, The Mitchells vs. the Machines) have organized a weekend away for a handful of their college friends, most of whom haven’t seen each other for years. They’re all connected in various ways. Some are besties, some are frenemies, and some are rekindling romances that had gone south. There could also be a killer among them because once they arrive, a hidden room is revealed, one with a profoundly offensive board game that will test their knowledge of black history and pop culture. Get the answer right, and you advance toward safety. A wrong response yields deadly consequences.

The opening of The Blackening gets the film off to a neat little start, a nifty tip of the hat to several horror flicks from the late ‘90s without being a direct copy. There’s a fine line between parody/spoof, and the kind of comedy being employed shows that thankfully the screenwriters know the difference. The audience has room to breathe, get comfortable with the world Oliver and Perkins have created, and become familiar with the comedy-horror tone used throughout. These early scenes work because the cast is incredibly engaging, and that immense charisma helps to carry The Blackening through some of its third-act stumbles. 

Without revealing any spoilers, I’ll say each cast member gets their moment in the spotlight, for better or worse. The betters would include Antoinette Robertson as Lisa, the would-be Final Girl, if it wasn’t for Grace Byers as Allison, sticking by her side and evading the killer. Perkins plays Lisa’s gay best friend, who is shocked to learn she’s gotten back together with Nnamdi (Sinqua Walls, White Men Can’t Jump), a himbo that had previously broken her heart. It’s disheartening that Jermaine Fowler (Coming 2 America) goes so far over the top as Clifton. While everyone else is playing grounded (as grounded as one can be in this kind of niche film), his performance is so outlandish that it feels like he’s been entirely graphed in from another movie. It stands out for all the wrong reasons.

Director Tim Story (Shaft) is experienced with doing commercial projects, so The Blackening has a slick, professional look. It’s clear that the budget was limited for this one, and I would have loved to see what a little more time and money could have been spent to tweak it a bit more. Perhaps a sequel would provide more of that amped-up experience, burgeoned by the goodwill this initial outing built. If you can overlook the finale’s lack of creativity and energy that starts to deplete around the halfway mark (and how many horror movies have you seen that began with 0% of both?) The Blackening is one to investigate, especially in theaters with a packed audience.