Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Double Review: "Tammy" / "22 Jump Street"

Looking for some laughs this summer? Well, here are two big budget movies that are about as funny as concentration camp footage! 

It's been a while since I've been to the movies, and that's for good reason. For one thing, even matinee tickets nowadays cost in excess of ten bucks American, which is at least five or six dollars too many. Secondly, new ownership at my beloved Starlight Six Drive-In has implemented some downright Hitler-esque policies as of late (the Nazi scum got rid of the tofu dogs!) and rather than support their goose-stepping business practices, I'd rather take my wallet elsewhere (and by elsewhere, I mean nowhere, 'cause there's a shit load of free movies I can watch on YouTube whenever I damned please.)

But those aren't the primary reasons why I've avoided the cineplex like an AIDS-infected barbed wire fence lately.

Between the three hour long "Transformers" rehashes and the shameless Disney cash-ins and the increasingly dumb comic book offerings and the needless "Godzilla" remakes starring the dad from "Malcolm in the Middle," this may very well be the single worst summer at the box office EVER.

Given the option of watching Disney hokum, crappy CGI kids movies or whatever Tyler Perry's crapping out these days, it SEEMED like going the R-rated adult comedy route was the right path to take for a weekend double feature.

Folks, I was wrong. So very, very wrong.


Tammy (2014)
Director: Ben Falcone

When it comes to box office draws of the 2010s, none are as unlikely as Melissa McCarthy, the dough-faced anti-Sandra Bullock who became an unexpected star after her breakout (and sink-clogging) performance in 2011's "Bridesmaids." After "The Heat" and "Identity Thief," McCarthy seems to have found a niche of sorts playing semi-sociopathic dunces -- in short, they're the kind of roles that we're tailor-made for Roseanne Barr 25 years ago.

The thing is, although Barr's pseudo white-trash psychosis would be believable (if not all that far removed from reality), McCarthy's characters just come as painfully one-dimensional. "Tammy" is McCarthy's worst vehicle to date, a really, really uninspired CINO (comedy-in-name-only) that may have one or two cheap chuckles within its 90-minute run-time. The rest of the film is dedicated to inconsequential background dressings so bland and uninteresting, you tend to wonder if the filmmakers couldn't have made a better, more focused film in a 22-minute sitcom pilot.

Tammy herself is a crude, dumb and completely unsavory character. The film begins with her losing her job as a burger flipper (and for good reason), and then segues into that old chestnut/convenient plot mechanic for lazy writers, the coming home to find your spouse cheating on you sequence. She then meets up with her mother, and decides to embark upon an aimless road trip with her alcoholic and diabetic grandmother -- played by Susan Sarandon, in a role about as far removed from "Dead Man Walking" as you can conceivably get as an actress.

To say the film is "directionless" would be an understatement. The two end up buying a jet-ski, and granny ends up shacking up with some blues bar patron while Tammy tries to put the moves on his less-than-interested son. Eventually, Tammy and grammy both wind up in the slammer for getting into a supposedly comedic brawl outside a liquor store. The saving grace there, I guess, is that it actually contains one of the few truly funny moments in the entire film, a scene in which Tammy encourages some underage drinkers to take up bath salts instead.

To procure money to spring her grandma from jail, Tammy decides to stick up a burger joint. Now on the lam, the duo wind up at a mansion inhabited by middle-aged lesbians (enter Kathy Bates and that Asian chick from "Grey's Anatomy"), but of course, justice eventually prevails and Tammy winds up behind bars ... for all of like two seconds, before she's rescued by daddy Dan Akroyd. Apparently, the bail for armed robbery is a whole hell of a lot lower if you're a woman, I take it.

The film concludes with everybody going to Niagara Falls and having themselves a gay old time, with Tammy (now a convicted felon, mind you) somehow wooing the disinterested suitee from earlier in the film. If all of this sounds painfully uneventful, it truly is -- at certain points in the film, it feels like "Tammy" didn't even have a script, and they just dubbed in a plot in post-editing after filming a good 300 hours of ad-libbing.

Bad movies are one thing, but bad comedy films are an entirely different kind of animal. If a horror movie fails to scare you, or a romantic movie doesn't make you feel tingly or sentimental, it's not that big of a problem. Unfrightening horror films and unemotional romantic films, hypothetically, can still prove decent overall films, but an unfunny comedy movie? It fails at the core essence of what it supposedly is.

"Tammy" is an utterly lifeless film. It doesn't feel funny at all, and you can almost sense the displeasure the actors themselves feel being in it. It's stupid and uninteresting and completely unrefined, with paper-thin characters and a script so by-the-numbers, you half expect to see connect-the-dot markings show up on the celluloid. It's not the worst film of the summer (which should you tell something about the general quality of Hollywood films nowadays), but it's so utterly forgettable that odds are, you will have removed the film from your memory bank as soon as the end credits start scrolling.

This is a poor film, in just about every category. Worse still, it's not even an exceptionally poor film that embraces its own awfulness. Mediocrity is sometimes a grimmer fate than abject failure -- a truism that "Tammy" seems to go out of its way to validate for the summertime moviegoing masses.


Two Tofu Dogs out of Four.


22 Jump Street (2014)
Directors: Chris Miller and Phil Lord

I never saw the first "21 Jump Street," but I'm a huge fan of the other works in Chris Miller and Phil Lord's oeuvre. Ultimately, the sequel is one feature length, self-referential gag -- what some would call "reflexive," I tend to prefer calling "lazy" and "half-assed" instead.

The big problem with "22 Jump Street" is that, despite its self-awareness of being a half-hearted sequel, it never really rises above being anything other than just another half-hearted sequel itself. The movie tends to go out of its way to remind us just how similar it is to the first film, and how its nothing more than a cash-grab-designed retread. Strangely enough, the film feels less an apology than it does the smarmy self-reflection of a student turning in a crappy term paper and boosting about their C-minus grade. The filmmakers, so it seems, can't even pretend to pride themselves on releasing such an uninspired production.

The film -- a really, really on-the-nose parody of buddy cop movies -- features Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill as undercover cops trying to break into a drug ring at your all-American, cliche-filled college campus. Tatum's football aspirations, alongside Hill's under-the-cover exploits with an art school student, drive a wedge in their homoerotic-beyond-words relationship and throw a monkey wrench into the subterfuge mission. Hilariously (not really), no one in the film believes they could pass for college freshmen, yet no one in the film seems to have enough brain cells to put two and two together and determine they're narcs. I suppose you have to suspend disbelief for comedy films like this to work, but "22" takes it a step further and asks you to hang your intelligence on the coat rack as well.

I suppose there are some funny moments in the film. There's a great scene where Tatum flips out after finding out Hill is boning the daughter of Ice Cube, and there's a fairly funny split-screen drug trip sequence (featuring, of all things, Creed's "Higher") but beyond that, there's really nothing within the film too funny -- or intriguing, to be honest.

"22" is a post-comedy-film, and I mean that in the term's most negative sense. The intent of the film, ultimately, isn't to make you laugh but impress you with the scope of its own knowledge -- literally the entire film is one oblique pop culture nod after the other, with the self-aware "yeah, we know it's a sucky sequel" gimmick serving as the film's only real adhesive.  Interestingly enough, the same hook was used in another underwhelming sequel, the disappointing "Muppets Most Wanted," earlier this year. Methinks were seeing an emerging trend here, regrettably.

You may enjoy the TV stars galore -- that mustachioed guy from "Parks and Rec" and the Lucas Brothers, among them -- but you will rarely find yourself laughing because of the wit and insight of the script itself.

The absolute best thing about the film is its end credits -- which, yet again, really tells you all you need to know here. The filmmakers quickly give us previews of the next fifty or so "Jump Street" films, which of course, share the same plot device of the first two films. The best bit, probably, is the advertisement for "22 Jump Street" action figures, which feature a kid being shocked a plenty by the torrent of four-letter words flowing out of Ice Cube's plastic cakehole.

"22" is entertaining at parts, but as a whole, it's very underwhelming. I'd consider it a marginally better film than "Tammy," but not by much. As with "Tammy," the film just feels forced, like the people who made it really wanted to do anything other than work on the actual film. It's an uninspired, unenthusiastic flick, and that lethal lethargy permeates every second of the onscreen product.

Unfortunately, this appears to be where Hollywood comedy is headed for the foreseeable future. Whereas prior Hollywood genre classics like "Slap Shot," "Blazing Saddles" and "The Kentucky Fried Movie" had no qualms about shaking the politically correct hegemony, today's comedy's are just too god-damned full of themselves to be either compelling or funny.

The irreverent comedy film is dead, and the era of the post-post-modern self-reflexive comedy film is upon us. In other words, if you plan on having a good laugh, it looks like your local cineplex is going to be off-limits for the next few years, at least.


Two Tofu Dogs out of Four


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