Every month, Ken Lowery and I take a look at some of the trailers for upcoming films to spot the good, the bad, and the tax dodges.
It’s April, which historically means…well…it’s time for studios to get some write-downs set up.
DW: As much as I have to grudgingly admit that there’s a cheeky exuberance to admire in the concept here (Space Nazis on the Moooon!), this has the same desperate stink of a joke that’s gone too far that Snakes on a Plane had. There’s definitely something to be said about letting your nerdy obsession fly in a glorious, id-fueled display of rampant spectacle and self-conscious pandering to the “awesomesauce” crowd , and very occasionally we get gems like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow or Lost Skeleton of Cadavera out of such exercises. But more often than not we end up with Sucker-Punch.
This has “guilty late night Netflix viewing” written all over it.
KL: There are Two Kens battling it out over this one: the snide Ken that wants to crack wise about how Grindhouse-ads-turned-movies have a lot to answer for, about how probably the last thing we need is another mash-up movie composed of the scraps of the Internet’s cutting room floor. The other part of me says, oh come on, this is fun, even if it’s going to be shitty. Most of the fun movies like this from yesteryear were also shitty.
Hm. Laying it out like that, it seems like both sides say “don’t see it,” and really the only question is “do I hassle people for seeing it?” And who has the time, really?
KL: This one’s aimed squarely at me: the first American Pie came out my senior year in high school (right after I’d graduated, in fact), and I guess this one’s meant to capture the spirit of the fabled, uh, 13th high school reunion. And there isn’t an actor here who isn’t thrilled to get a big movie push again, except maybe Alyson Hannigan, who’s doing just fine.
Did you see Mena Suvari in Stuck, by the way? She was excellent.
OK, back to Reunion. Back in 1999 I was really very excited about this movie. Really! I had long-winded speeches built up about how it was necessary to always have raunchy comedies freaking the norms, or however the hell I talked in 1999. Then I saw the movie, and… ehhh. It was a mild cultural phenomenon, but I wasn’t feeling it. It wasn’t just that I didn’t relate to these people; it’s that it felt like it was scripted by old men going entirely by ‘80s comedies about high school, and not actual high school experience. I don’t feel like this will be any different.
DW: I somehow missed the entire American Pie thing as a thing the first time it happened. I think I might have watched the second one at a movie night a friend’s house once. All it did for me was confirm that, yes, Seann William Scott is pretty. It’s not as if I’ve got a thing against wannabe transgressive gross-out comedies; they’re actually pretty hit or miss with me, though the ones with half a brain tend to appeal to me more. But as far as these things go, I think I actually liked the Another Gay Movie parody version of the franchise more than the actual franchise itself.
So, I look at this, and apart from noting that the target audience has now aged to the point where they’re having kids (and quite likely have aged out of wanting to see this sort of thing), the only thing that really strikes me is that Seann William Scott hasn’t aged too badly.
DW: Believe it or not, we generally do try to avoid looking at the films that genuinely look like absolute garbage for these reviews. But sometimes one stands out from the pack even then, and the sheer terribleness it radiates becomes worthy of some discussion in and of itself.
The biggest question here is, of course, “why does this even exist?” At one point the Farrelly Brothers were the go-to guys for shitty, unfunny alleged comedies, before being surpassed by the “Adjective Movie” guys in the “so cheap any revenue puts us into profit” category of inexplicable releases. Is this their attempt to retake the crown, while simultaneously proving all those complaints about the creative bankruptcy of Hollywood by bastardizing a licensed property that is meaningless to new audiences and only serves to alienate and anger existing fans? Or is there some market of people who desperately need to see Z-List reality show “celebrities” being physically abused on a 70 foot screen that is being under-served?
In any case, everyone involved in this production, from the studio executives who green-lit it to the interns fetching Snooki coffee, should be ashamed of themselves, and in a just world would be barred from ever working in the entertainment industry ever again.
KL: None of this makes any sense, except perhaps the April release date. With movies like this I try to imagine how it got made, in a very specific, literal fashion. I try to imagine the pitch session. I try to imagine several levels of producers round tabling and agreeing that this was their picture.
I like to imagine the casting calls, the auditions, the script rewrites, the table reads, the marketing kickoff, the screening of the dailies, the long hours in the editing booth. Hell, I like to imagine the craft services table. I like to imagine the thousands of people, millions of dollars, and years of collective lives spent on remaking The Three Stooges, a movie hated from the second its existence was whispered to the wider world years ago. For a project nobody likes or has ever liked or been enthusiastic about, for the entire cycle of its creation to its delivery.
I like to imagine how no one with enough pull, at any point, said “No.”
No one at all.
Think about that the next time your spec script is savaged by some junior producer in an ill-fitting suit.
KL: I have something of a complicated history with co-writer/producer Joss Whedon, and for that matter with much of the material turned out by co-writer and director Drew Goddard.
I’ll focus on Whedon. I have given the man many, many chances to impress me the way he has impressed a lot of my friends: I have seen a season of Buffy, a season of Angel, all of Firefly, Serenity, and have even read Astonishing X-Men and Fray. I tried, y’all, I really really tried, and with the exception of Fray Whedon has always firmly fit into the B- camp of genre creators. (I liked Fray a lot, but I haven’t read it in years, so who knows if it holds up.)
His ideas are moderately clever, but nothing new to people who spend any amount of time in the trenches of the same genre. It’s all just OK. Not bad, not great – a journeyman’s idea of what science fiction, horror, satire, and other genres can do. (See also Lost and most other things Goddard has been involved in.) I’ve heard some positive advance buzz for Cabin in the Woods, which I guess is going all “meta” with the cabin-in-the-woods horror genre (ugh). I’ve also heard some less-than-positive responses.
Guys, I am being completely sincere when I say I love nothing more than being proven wrong about creative talents I have previously written off. But I don’t think this one is going to do it, either.
DW: I’m in a remarkably similar situation to yours here, Ken. I really have never been impressed with anything either Whedon or Goddard has done, and in Whedon’s case in particular I have real problems with his body of work, both thematically in in execution. But the “meta” aspect of this, from what little we’ve seen, does actually interest me. I mean, realistically, this is probably too little too late in terms of looking at these particular tropes and themes in a clever and original way (look at how thin Hemsworth is here, this was clearly shot before he even started thinking about buffing up for Thor), and genuinely good films, thinking mostly of Tucker and Dale vs. Evil here, have come out in the meantime and touched pretty similar ground.
If it were anyone else but Whedon and Goddard involved here, I might be willing to express some cautious optimism. But it is the two of them, so I’m expecting a moderately clever idea botched by clumsy execution and ham-fisted attempts at pop savvy.
KL: Anyone else get a real strong Escape from New York/LA vibe, at least in the basic premise? The lone badass sent in to rescue the President’s daughter from a vile prison. I suppose you subtract the meanness of Carpenter’s vision and add in lots of sci-fi slickness, and this is what you get. Two untested directors, so who knows what to make of that.
I will say I’m a big ol’ Guy Pearce fan and I have followed him into some questionable territory. I don’t think he’s ever done a proper turn as an action hero, and he has some promise there. Handsome, but weathered. No high hopes, but I’ll be watching the reviews on this one a bit closer than most of the rest of the month’s releases. Hopin’ for a sleeper.
DW: I am completely with you on the Escape vibe coming through. That’s a pretty high bar for a sci-fi action film to set in my mind, but it’s not as if anyone else has been going for that particular jump in a lone while.
And as I’ve probably bored people by pointing out before, putting Luc Besson’s name on a poster does get me to take notice. Even when (or perhaps especially when) the film otherwise looks like an assembly of action film clichés. Add in a fondness for Guy Pearce and some genuine curiosity at the prospect of seeing him in an action film, and I think we’re looking at what is, hopefully, at worst an evening out for something dumb but fun.
DW: Oh, man, a children’s animated film that actually manages to look both genuinely entertaining and nice to look at? Those have gotten so rare I’m actually really impressed that there’s even a slight glimmer of hope that this could be a quality film.
The track record for Aardman has been pretty good, and even if there are no real “laugh out loud” moments in the trailers for me, I’m still sold. Just the promise of something fun is enough for me at this point.
KL: I like the Pirate of the Year Awards concept, and I like the fact that this could potentially be a pirate movie that manages to be less than 2.5 hours long and promises to have no endless Johnny Depp-in-a-dream-desert sequences.
OK, it’s not fair to this movie to say it’s good only in comparison to something that’s very, very bad. Peter Lord is a reliable guy and I’m pleased that he can continue to do the thing he does, which is to make fun, original (OK, this one’s an adaptation, but you get me) animated movies that don’t make it their central mission to insult the intelligence of the audience. I won’t be going out of my way, but I have nephews, now, and I’m glad there’ll be a movie they can like that isn’t Shrek 7.
DW: “Mystery writer solves mystery” may be a hoary cliché, but it’s one I actually don’t mind. I generally prefer “writer confronted with killer inspired by writer’s fiction” as it’s less abused, and frankly I’m not a fan of the pandering nature of the “historical figure in genre story” trope. So we’re kind of all over the map here in terms of whether or not this is something I can take seriously, even setting aside the issues of how pretty Luke Evans is and Cusack’s residual charisma.
Which is a pretty over-detailed way of saying that this one is going to have to come down to the reviews. It’s the sort of thing I’m maybe kinda-sorta interested in, but it has enough warning signals (direction by James McTeigue being a big one) that I feel the need to be moderately cautious.
KL: Totally agree, Dorian. Honestly, who knows how this one will go? I remember reading an interview with John Cusack shortly after the release of 1408 where he said he’s only made about 10 movies that he really, truly believed in. I’m paraphrasing him and probably not doing him justice; the point he was making was that of all his work, he considers 10 of them to be something he’s supremely proud to be part of.
I don’t know if this will be one of those works. I kind of doubt it. I just hope the final product has some levity to it; the concept is well and good, but if it’s all deadly serious all the time, fuggedaboudit.
KL: Is there something about Jason Statham that says “protector”? This is an honest question. In most of the films in the Jason Statham franchise, he’s protecting someone. A passenger, a child, bare knuckle boxers, bad dudes who go tragically un-shot. Anyway. Jason Statham action movie. I don’t think I’ve seen the past 15 of these, but I certainly don’t mind their existence – he’s a damn sight better than Sam Worthington, in that he has an actual personality.
DW: I’m fairly uncomplicated when it comes to my Jason Statham movies. I’ll see them. It really just comes down to that. But, yeah, it’s not easy to argue against the point that he always seems to play the same type of character. It’s probably because they’re mostly just the same film with a different Macguffin swapped in at the script stage. The only exception to that rule would be the British mystery and/or crime-dramas he pops up in once in awhile.
Nobody goes to see a Jason Statham movie for the script anyway.